Translated by Janie Respitz
Lake Lushi (Lake Lūšiai) is 15 kilometres long and 4 kilometres wide. It is connected through a small river to Lake Dringis (Lake Dringykštis).
On the other side of the lake there is another small river that connects lush to Lake Zhemiane (Lake Žeimenys) , which leads to Zhemanie (Žeimena) River which runs through the towns of Kaltinian (Kaltanėnai) and New-Svencionys (Švenčionėliai), until Podbrodz (Pabradė) where it flows into the Vilieh River.
An intensive lumber transport was carried out through these lakes and rivers and employed a lot of people. All winter, the lumber was brought from the forests to the shores, and in summer they were loaded on to barges and boats and brought to towns and villages.
Around Paliush, the sandy shores were lined with pine trees that grew on high hills. Nearby, there were large forests.
The settlement Palushi, got its name because in Lithuanian, Pa means – on the other side. Pa – Lushi, on the other side of Lake Lushi (Lake Lūšiai). They helped build the new Church that was very holy to the surrounding population. Prayers were held there every day. Religious Lithuanians came from the surrounding villages and tried to settle as close as possible to the church.
Jews from the surrounding area also came to this town , where they helped develop the fishing industry, became middle-men in buying and selling lumber and opened inns, restaurants and various stores. Jewish artisans also settled in Paliush and earned a living providing services to farmers and workers.
The first group of Jews built a Prayer House. Every Shabbes and holiday, not only would the town Jews come to pray, but the Jewish farmers from the surrounding villages.
In 1861, when planning the railway from Warsaw to St. Petersburg, which had to run through Vilna (Vilnius), Niementshin (Nemenčinė), Svenciony (Švenčionys) and Paliu (Paliūniai), the Jews from Paliush and other nearby towns tried to avoid having the train line run through their villages. They had influence as (in the end) the train station was built four kilometres away in Ignalina.
Time showed that the Jews from Paliush made a mistake. The train station played an important role in the local economy and Ignalina began to grow and Jews from Paliush Palush moved there. In time, Paliush became smaller.
However, Jews of Paliush loved, worked and did business here. Among the wealthiest Jewish families was Shmuel-Yose (Shmuel-Yosef) Gilinsky and his children: Zalman, Boruch, Dovid, Motl, Yakov and Bertha (Basia). This family was successful in lumber and fishing.
Near Paliush there was a village called Meiran (Meironys). Lazar Gavenda lived there. Together with Shmuel Yose (Gilinsky) he leased the lakes. He was connected to our town. He prayed in our House of Prayer, had good friends and was counted among the wealthiest men in town. His son Berl (Later known as Barney Gavenda) emigrated to America (Peoria, Illinois), became a great philanthropist and brought a lot of honour to our town.
Moishe Gilinsky, Khone Garber, Avrom Gilinsky, Lipe Gilinsky, Itze Yose Gilinsky, Khlayne Hirsh Gavende (Chlono Hirsh Gavenda) from Shakarva (Šakarva), Fyeve(Feive/Feivel) Gilinsky, Zalman Gilinsky and many others were admirable in there good deeds and character, with heart and soul. Many of their children emigrated to America, Canada, Brazil and Argentina. Until today you can find Gilinskys and Gavendas in these places. They were from Paliush, Meiran (Meironys), Gavik. The families that did not emigrate, merged with the town of Ignalina
The last Mohicans of the lakes, rivers and lumber merchants took their prayer houses and Torah scrolls and continued to build a Jewish future until the wild Hitlerism (Nazism) arrived and obliterated all the towns and villages that stood near the Zhemiane River (Žeimena River), New-Svencionys (Švenčionėliai), and buried everyone in the mass grave in Poligon.
Children! Grandchildren of the town of Paliush and surrounding communities do not forget the mass grave in Poligon!
Yerachmiel Kariv (Korb)
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
Edited by Rhoda Miller
The Germans warned Poland at the beginning of the outbreak of the Second World War, after capturing Czechoslovakia, through Hitler's speeches on the radio, Poland will become the corridor that they needed to invade the rest of Europe. This is what everyone was waiting to hear… the outbreak of the war. First the Germans bombarded several large towns in Poland, and we were glued to our radio sets in bewilderment of what was yet to come for our Jewish people. We learned that the Germans were advancing quickly, occupying Polish towns and other strategic places. We wondered how the German army advanced so quickly and was able to enlist the Polish Army in only a few days?
Two weeks passed, September 17, 1939, the Red Army entered the war and occupied the Ukraine and the eastern section of Poland. Also, the Sventzian region was now occupied by the Red Army.
When the first Russian tanks arrived in Ignalina, the Jewish youth rejoiced openly with them, praised them and were happy to see them as their liberators. Several days passed and on market day the Russians were buying our products at fair market prices. They bought everything, even outdated articles and paid well. Outdated shoes! All products: knives, forks, string, belts and especially watches (goods in Russia now, were almost a rarity during those years after the Revolution).
In a matter of a few days, all the watches were sold. They even bought the old watches that we inherited from our grandmothers and men's watches from the days of Sobieski and other things.
The Soviet Army did not remain long.
Quickly the Lithuanian region was taken over by the Lithuanians. Four kilometers from Ignalina stretched the border through Daugelishak to Old Sventzian. The Jewish folk had a little bit of a reprieve, they were happy for the time being. What happened later as a result of Polish antiSemitism, the German occupation and the Soviet dictatorship, is for later discussions.
The Lithuanians brought into our shtetl many products that they sold at very low prices.
This didn't last long. The Red Army returned and the Soviet style regime was established in Lithuania. From Minsk, a Soviet administrator arrived and the transportation of stones from Ignalina back to the Soviet Union began. The wealthier families, like Brumberg, Korb, Ostrinski,
Kuritski, and others were involved in the transportation of these stones. They worked very hard and as long as they were able to remain in their own homes and maintain a healthy environment, they were happy. Everyone knew that the situation could be worse. Every person of means worried not to be arrested or deported into [deep] Russia [Siberia]. We lived in this atmosphere for about six months, no one could imagine that the destruction of our shtetl and the massacre of our Jewish people was so close.
Hitler Attacks the Soviets
Until today, I do not know why I woke up on the morning of June 22, 1941 and opened my radio. It was exactly six in the morning, I was fiddling around with the stations and I suddenly stopped at Berlin! A loud and scratchy voice appeared, I immediately recognized it as Hitler's. A sudden shudder went through my body. He spoke about Russia and in the end he declared poetically the last word I transfer to my military. I understood immediately that this was a declaration of war against Russia.
I remained paralyzed next to the radio and didn't know what to do! I decided to find some other stations and hear different opinions about this event…
I started with the Moscow station and listened. They announced to the Soviet folk that Hitler attacked the Soviets, without warning. They announced, all is not as it seems. The Russian Army will decimate Hitler's Regime!
I ran into the streets to share this information with whomever I found; some heard the London radio reports that Germany had amassed over two million soldiers on the Soviet border. What will the outcome be?
We all had the same opinion: a dark cloud was approaching our Jewish people and they will pay dearly!
I opened the radio again, Kibart and Virbalen are now in German hands!
Kovno and Vilna were heavily bombarded. The Germans were now in Vilna and many were wounded and dead.
My son Israel came and told me the Germans had heavy artillery and tanks and by some miracle he had survived the bombardment.
Many friends gathered in our house. They all wanted news about Vilna. We turned on the radio: Filvishok and Suwalki were occupied. The Berlin station read out an appeal to the Lithuanians: Join the Germans and we will free you from the Bolsheviks and the Jews.
We didn't know what to do. Some said to run away. The main question, Where to? A few days later we heard that the Jews of Vilna and Kovno were being shot. A great panic developed in our shtetl. When the Russian Army left, the Lithuanian youth empowered themselves. A known Lithuanian policeman attacked Chaim Rimarin and Josef Glaz in the street for no reason. We were told that all the Lithuanian folk were arming themselves. These Lithuanian partisans did as they pleased. A whole week passed like this and Wednesday July 1st, we saw the first German motorizedvehicles [lastautos=armoured vehicle] arriving.
Friday, July 3rd. they caught Jews and rounded them up and sent them to work outside of the town.
They had to lay boards across the sandy ground and understandably, they were made to suffer greatly.
Shabbos morning all the Jews were rounded up for work and the Germans made sure that each Jew did his own lifting. Whoever couldn't manage received a harsh beating.
Monday, July 6, all the Lithuanians hung national banners and now bragged to the Jews and proclaiming the Regime was pure Lithuanian.
Placards were posted in all the streets that Jews were not allowed on the sidewalks, that it is forbidden to leave town, and every Jewish house must have a sign JEW posted. Every Jew has to wear a Yellow Jewish Star.
The First Tragedy
Thursday, July 9, 26 Jews were arrested. Amongst them was my son Israel. On Friday I went to the police to inquire what will happen to him. On the way I met a Lithuanian policeman that I knew and told him my story. I begged him to help me free my child. He listened and ensured me that in a few hours Israel would come home.
Immediately I returned to announce the good news, meanwhile we were lighting the candles for the Sabbat. The Shabbat came and no one appeared. We feared that the policeman had misled us.
Suddenly my wife started screaming: Israelka is coming! He entered the house still alive!
Saturday morning we learned that all the arrested were not released. First we thought they were sent to work, no one knew where. A few days later we found out all the 26 arrested Communists were shot.
This was the first great tragedy in Ignalina. Everyone knew me well and we knew that there were no Communists in the group, this was just the beginning of what was to come next!
Soon a rumor was circulating that the Jews of Lingmian and Kaltinian were next to be slaughtered. At first we didn't believe that this will materialize. We sent a Christian to find out the truth for us. He returned and confirmed that this was true.
Meanwhile, Dovid Soleveitchik came to us, our Jewish representative of Lingmian, to tell us that the German commander wanted to talk to the Jews. They wanted the Rabbi and myself to go to them. I went to the Rabbi but he was sick in bed.
I took Abba Katz and left to see the commander. We barely arrived at the headquarters when we were confronted by two soldiers, are we the two representatives of the Jews?
Without knowing the outcome of our reply we acknowledged that we were the representatives.
The two soldiers had a good laugh and they went into the storage room and brought us two large brooms. They ordered us into a room and told us the commander wanted us to clean.
We took the brooms and started to clean. The rooms were extremely dirty and we worked
the entire day. In the evening the soldiers arrived and asked us if we had a Talmud?
Why do you need a Talmud?
We need toilet paper in the bathroom, they laughed, there is no better paper than from your Talmud.
Late at night, tired and brokenhearted, we returned home. All the neighbours anxiously waited at our home for our return to hear the news. They wanted to know why the commander invited us to see him. We told them the good news and from then on the Jews of Ignalina no longer had any great expectations [they feared for the worst, during WW1, the Germans were more civil towards the Jews]. The Germans arrived to inflict their wrath upon the Jewish nation. In the meantime, news of the condition of the Vilna Jews reached us.
They (the Jews) were told lies that they were going to work, truthfully, they were being sent to their slaughter and shot [at Ponar].
Another time a Lithuanian neighbour who was in the military said all the Jews were taken from Ponevezh, to a forest outside Zarazai and then shot. He believes no one survived.
Peasants Bring the First Bad News
Several days later, on a Friday, Erev Shabbos Nokhmu [Shabbos after Tishe Be'Av], Yerachmiel Leibstain came to me and said some unknown girls were asking for me.
It a short while five girls arrived in our shtetl, one of whom that I knew, a teacher from Salok. They brought a letter with them from a friend of mine from Podbrodz identifying themselves, please help these girls return to their homes. Two of them were from Salok, Hirsch Brava's daughters, [I knew their father], one was a teacher in the Jewish Vilna Gymnasia, another a student in the public school. The other three, were from Zarasai County [NovoAleksandrovsk], one was a bookkeeper at Shopn's brewery, the other two were students at the Vilna University. They fled from a transport from Vilna, and he begs me to bring them to Salok. [another account= they were captured entering Moledechno and were relieved of their belongings and sent back to Vilna. They arrived on foot as train travel was dangerous, 50 kilometers, looking for help].
I made the arrangements. My daughter noticed the wagon with the girls had returned that same evening. The Christian driver told me when he arrived in Akhres, eight kilometers from Salok, a peasant friend of his told him in secret that the Jews in Salok were being murdered. So he quickly turned around and came back to me.
The five girls stayed with us. I paid the driver for two trips, 1000 rubles, and I asked him to keep this confidential. That is what happened.
One blow after another descended upon us. We heard about the destruction in Lingmian and Kaltinian, then Salok and then another shtetl. Also the Jews of Dukstas were murdered, news brought to me by a Christian friend Kugner, who lived near Dukst.
When I saw him I asked his advice, What is happening in Dukst? He didn't answer but I noticed how he started to cry and begged me.
I didn't let him leave. Tell me, what happened? Why are you so frightened? What happened there?
It is not good, Mr. Korb, not good at all! Run away! Run away before it's too late!
In one hour all the Jews from Tarangini, Zarasai, Dukst were brought to the forest. The men and the women were divided into two sides. They were ordered to undress and then pushed naked into the pits, which was prepared in advance by the local Christians.
The screaming of the woman and children are still resonating in his ears. The carnage that took place
will never be forgotten! This upset and frightened him. No one was able to escape because they were surrounded by the military on all sides. They were shot with machine guns and were then thrown into the pits. They didn't care if they were dead or just wounded, all were thrown in. The Lithuanian police told the Christian helpers not to describe what they witnessed, or they too will pay with their lives.
But he couldn't hold back. He came especially to Ignalina to warn me. The Christian Kugner…
Run away before it's too late!
I answered him, Easy to say! Where should I run? Where will it be better?
He gave me advise to run in the direction of White Russia. It is much better there!
They [the Germans] are advancing with mobilized tanks, you should know what to expect. This is death for you. Do not believe others if they tell you otherwise, be careful of lies!
I said goodbye to this honest peasant and asked him not to forget us. In the name of all the Jews of the town I thanked him for his pure heart and friendship and he left.
I wandered through our house thinking what we should do; I felt that Death as so close.
I called for my nephew Josef Gavenda and told him the sad news. Our answer was to find places to hide. Just to run was not the solution. We have to find Christians who were willing to hide us, one by one, or an entire family. Our sole purpose was to avoid death with strength and determination.
A Threat for Death and Destruction
I came home and told my wife Mirl and my children about the news. We are confronted with the beginning of our extermination and must find a way to save ourselves.
It is imperative we leave immediately. We need to carry with us our money and documents and leave one at a time.
September 10, the Germans organized trucks in our shtetl. Don't get into these trucks. We have to run away. I ran to Zastzianik Vachivki, two kilometers from Ignalina (where Leibe Chaim Elperin lived). I left alone as not to alert our Lithuanian neighbours and told my family that we should all meet there. I left with an empty crate and told the neighbours I was going to fetch potatoes from a nearby village. When I arrived at Elperin's house, I told them what was happening. We decided to send a Christian, whose son was a partisan, to make inquiries and see exactly the predicament we were in.
In the meantime I hid in the nearby forest. I thought it over, I will go to Budkevitch, the good hearted Lithuanian who I bestowed many favors. He will hide me. When Elperin came to the forest I requested him to deliver a letter to my wife where to find me. The letter was sent with his Christian friend Albina.
In the darkness I left the forest for Budkevitch. I begged him to save our lives. He only wanted to hide me, not my entire family. This was his great debt that he was willing to repay. Later, with some luck, I managed to bring my son Leibele to hide with me. He arranged for us to sleep in the attic in the hay. We overnighted in the attic. The next morning my older son Israelka came and told us that the shtetl is quiet and the
entire story of the trucks had been fabricated.
No one wanted to believe the story. Yerachmiel Korb created this unnecessary panic.
I was convinced to return to Ignalina and several quiet days passed. Four days before Rosh Hashana my Christian friend informed me again the trucks were arriving. They had been delayed, not rerouted.
Again I prepared to leave the shtetl. My wife Mirl went to Tzherniavsky, my daughter with Moishele and Israelka had to go to their uncle in Danilovitch, and Leibele and I will return to the Lithuanian Budkevitch.
Four days I remained like this and I grew restless. I wanted to be among my Jewish people during Rosh Hashana and pray with them.
For Rosh Hashana I returned home. The folk were angry with me that I created another panic.
They wanted to turn me over to the Lithuanian police and get rid of me and my erratic behaviour.
I met with them and asked,
Don't you know that all the Jews from Dukst, Solak and Zarasai were murdered for no reason? They looked at me with anger in their eyes and shouted, this is a lie! Falsehoods! They are alive and working in Rakishok!
And do you know the fate of the Jews of Utena?
Nothing! They are alive and well, living in their shtetl!
Everyone was agitated and angry. There was a large gathering of wealthy Jews, only one sided with me.
I will give a Christian 100 rubles to go to Utena and bring back the truth!
We all agreed. The Christian left. The second day of Rosh Hashana the Christian returned, There are no more Jews in Utena!
So, I asked, what do you have to say now?
Cursing the Lithuanian, they answered, he stole our money, he didn't even go to Utena.
The Jews of Ignalina were divided, some for, some against.
For Shabbos Tshuva he [Christian friend] told me again, that I should save myself. All the Jews of Sventzian and the region are being deported. The Goyim knew what was happening.
They [the Jews] again mistrusted my information. They went to the Vojt to inquire why the Germans needed so many trucks. The major, pretends not to know the answers,
fabricated a story that workers were needed in Kretinga, and the workers will be transported there from the Sventzian region.
This calmed the believers and they remained in the shtetl. But I decided to escape wherever I could. Thirtyone people decided to escape to the shtetlech of White Russia.
I remember everything. It was a Thursday, September 25, 1941, the Christian woman Shvilfa from Kucariski came to me, very frightened saying she couldn't repay the 100 rubles she owed me.
Mila I answered her, I don't need it today.
But they are deporting everyone from Ignalina today, who knows where I will be able find you?
How do you know this, that we will be transported?
I was at the voijt of Daugelishok, he shared his secret with me and asked me not to tell anyone.
I thanked her for the information and said goodbye. When she left the neighbours ran into my home to share my information. I told them the truth.
They began cursing [curse=a black year on the Gentile woman] the Christian and not believing the Christian lies, I disagreed with them.
No, I believe her.
These wagons will transport you to your deaths.
My instinct told me this was our final hour. I arranged for my son, as soon as it was dark outside, to join me and bring all our possessions to Budkevitch. Mirl and the children will go to Tzerniavski.
Israel worked at the train and I left to tell him the arrangements.
On the way, I went to Leibstein, the blacksmith, where I met a Christian friend and had to explain where I was going with the crate. I was going to fetch potatoes and actually took the opportunity to dig some up.
I saw Israel at the train station, winked at him to meet me where I would reveal our plan. Do not go on those trucks. Run away immediately after your work ends.
I left for Elperin's in Zastshianik and waited until dark. Then I left for my safe house. It was dark outside, I lay in the hay but was restless and couldn't fall asleep.
In the morning Budkevitch's wife came to me and I asked her to send a letter to my wife, where she will be met in Ignalina by our housekeeper. The housekeeper will then deliver the letter.
The letter requested that necessities, such as oil and food, be given to this woman. I waited impatiently the entire day for her return. I was anxious. Finally, Mrs Budkevitch returned with challahs and fish. I went to sleep in the hay satisfied.
I barely fell asleep, it was still dark outside when the dog started to bark. I heard light footsteps. Someone was coming, the sound was getting closer. Who can that be? Suddenly the door opened and I heard, Father, and recognized Leibele's voice. I ran to him and kissed him.
What news my child?
Not good, there is a huge panic in town, the officials were preparing the trucks for transport. I [Leibele] waited until dark, arrived at Elperin's house, and from there remained in the forest until dark. No one recognized me in the town of Bitsun and then I escaped to you. He climbed into the haystack and I noticed him trembling from fear and cold. I took off my coat and wrapped him tightly. Neither of us could fall asleep.
Mrs. Budkevitch came to us in the morning with a warm breakfast.
I gave her another letter to bring to my wife. I had buried a few thousand rubles in our house which needs to be found. She left with the letter.
Eleven in the morning we heard shooting. Our hearts started to race. We were trembling. We heard German voices and Lithuanian bandits and pleading from our fellow Jews. With great unrest we anxiously awaited for the wife [Budkevitch] to bring us some news.
She arrived at night and came to us. We saw the shock in her eyes. She was so disorientated she didn't know how to begin.
In the end her words hit us like a hammer over our heads. All the Jews from Ignalina were deported and my wife Mirl and the children were among them.
She left and our crying and wailing was endless. They will surely be killed. The day dragged, Leibele was cold so I wrapped him and he fell asleep. I couldn't sleep the entire night. The sun came up and it was a little warmer outside. Suddenly the door opened and we see, Mirl.
She came in with Mrs. Budkevitch. We jumped from the haystack and kissed her. We couldn't believe our eyes!
How did you escape? I was told you were on the transport with all the Jews?
Mirl was frightened, her eyes were full of tears. Finally she told us everything, how she managed in the last few days.
September 27, all the Jews of Ignalina were ordered to leave their homes and depart for the direction of New Sventzian. Most went by foot, the old and sick, the children were put into the trucks.
Mirl and her sister Chaia were in the trucks. A few kilometers from town the trucks stopped. What were they waiting for? She noticed they were close to Ratdzizka's house. She ran out of the truck to the house.
She heard her sister screaming, where are you going?
Through a crack she saw everyone continuing. She caught a glimpse of Lilianke and Shprinze walking with a group of four.
When it got dark outside she saw Yadviga Ratdzizka leaving her home and she called out to her, begging for mercy. Yadviga told her the Germans searched her home looking for Mirl, opening every room and cupboard.
It appears that the wife Levin with her two daughters were hidden in her attic.
Yadviga fed us all. We took advantage of the dark of night and left town.
I left to Zerviavka. I couldn't stay because I was recognized by a Lithuanian. I returned.
Again we heard shooting. Mrs. Budkevitch came with news that Jews not far from us were caught, Feigl and Brumberg with their son. They were shot. We understood that we could no longer remain here and had to change our plans. The problem, where should we go?
Perhaps to Danilovitch, but Mr. Budkevitch advised us to go to Vidz.
We said our goodbyes and departed again for our dangerous and perilous journey.
We walk, 100 meters apart, if one of us gets caught the others might have a chance to escape. We meet some scouts in the fields whose job was to lead people to Vidz. It was 35 kilometers by foot. We must listen for every sound and footstep. Not far from Viltande we heard two persons on a motorcycle so we crept quietly into the woods and lay between the trees. They drove by and didn't see us. We then continued on our journey.
The town Pakritze is on the way, are we near the shtetl of OldDaugelishok? We do not want to go through this town, so we detour through the muddy fields filled with swamps. We didn't have a choice.
Barely one kilometer later, we heard a Rover driving towards us, there is nowhere to hide, no woods in sight, just fields all around us. We don't want this to be our end so we flee deeper into the fields.
I ran a few hundred meters, Mirl and Leibel were ahead. This Lithuanian managed to catch up with me. He did me a favour and dragged me back to Daugelishak. It was by chance that I knew him. Yavitz, I say, what benefit do you get if they shoot me? I have a lot of money. Take the money and let me go. I gave him my wallet with more than 3000 rubles.
He released me an advised me to bypass the road. I managed to reach a small forest and waited for Mirl and Leibele.
I wait and wait but no one arrives. Perhaps they were caught and brought back to Daugelishak. I must continue, as the one who remains alive can later take revenge on these murderous beasts. I leave with a heavy heart. I see in a distance another Rover coming towards me. I throw myself into a ditch and hold my breath.
A miracle happens, the Rover passes me and doesn't notice me. Now I vow not to use the main roads, to continue my trek through the fields.
HalfNaked Through the Fields
On the way, near the town of Michaleva, a Lithuanian partisan saw me and forced me to stop. He started to search me. I told him one hour earlier I was robbed and they took all my money. He wanted to take me back to Daugelishak. I offer him my fine coat and a few pair of pantstake it all and let me go. I leave with the shirt on my back and halfnaked I drag myself through the muddy fields. I barely have any strength, it is cold, but I must keep going. It might warm me up. When I reached the Zabelener forest I hear someone calling out in Lithuanian.
Who is here?
I take several steps and quietly hide in the nearby lake. When all is quiet, I come out. Again a miracle! I survived!
When I came out of the water my foot was sore. The blood in my left foot pooled together, swollen, I dragged myself to the side of the road and sat down to rest.
About an hour later, after I crossed the Disner river, I arrived at the town of Grivali at Shidlovski's house (a Polish friend of mine). I had my first good meal and even managed to smoke a cigarette. I rested and told him about my troubles. I left with my wife and son and now I am alone.
You know, says his wife, an hour ago a woman and her son passed through our village and inquired if we had seen anyone passing through. Was this your wife and son?
How were they dressed?
Without a coat, without a headscarf and even without shoes.
I thanked her and believed they were mine.
Shidlovski harnessed his horse and wagon and took me immediately to Vidz.
This was Monday, September 29. When I arrived at my friend's home in Vidz, only an experienced writer can describe the emotions I felt when I opened the door and saw my wife Mirl sitting at the table, my Leibele, my inlaws and my entire family. We rejoiced at that very instant of seeing one another, we kissed and we cried!
They all thought the Lithuanian bandits had killed me! We all recounted our ordeals, how we made it to Vidz. Here I learned about the fate of the Jews of Sventzian.
They were packed like sardines into barracks in Poligon, several craftsmen, or useful Jews were taken to the Sventzian ghetto, but the majority were slaughtered.
As our son Israel was a good engineer, we hoped that he was among the necessary Jews.
In the meantime we needed to integrate ourselves into the Vidz ghetto. The Judenrat was not so eager and they wanted money. I told them the truth. I came naked, without any money in my pockets. It didn't help.
Several day later the Shochet came and gave me 50 rubles. I began to cry, how did my life become so unravelled? That I am receiving charity?
The Sochet understood my circumstances and said:
I want to help my fellow Jews, I feel fortunate to have a job and I want to help those in need.
He calmed me down and I took the money. It upset me when I thought about the thousands I gave to that Lithuanian bandit.
Nevertheless I was overjoyed that the three of us were alive, saved from the brink of death.
They Amputate My Left Leg
After some rest in Vidz, I began to feel pain in my left foot. I was advised to take warm foot baths, but it didn't help. The pain grew worse.
My cousin Michal Levin came on October 16, from Opsa, and presented me the option to return to Opsa with him. The wellknown Sejmdeputy Adamovitch lives there and when he heard I was in such a bad condition in Vidz, he wanted me to come to him in Opsa to help me.
I said my goodbyes to my family and friends and left with my cousin by foot.
I barely walked two kilometers when my left foot could no longer continue.
With great difficulty my cousin found a driver and we made it to Opsa.
The Judenrat of Opsa integrated me into the ghetto. The pain grew worse.
My cousin called the doctor, but the medicine didn't help. Then the feldsher [licensed barbersurgeon] came and he advised bloodletting. To be in such a life threating situation in an unknown place was frightening. I needed an operation.
The Judenrat of Opsa arranged a carriage and I was sent to the Braslav hospital for the operation.
In the meantime I received a letter that my Moishel arrived in Vidz and will come to visit me. I decided to wait. When he arrived I became more motivated and we left for Braslav together.
My friend Adamovitch accompanied us, introduced me to his doctorfriend and between them arranged for my operation.
His diagnosis was different from the feldsher, he told me the foot needed to be amputated above the knee.
The problem is where to get the narcotics? Adamovitch tried to help. I couldn't walk, sleep, stand, lie down or rest: the pain grew intolerable. My Leibele knew of the Christian doctor, formerly from Ignalina, who was now in Vidz, Kuchniev.
We were always on good terms with him, so Leibele went to him. He gave him the narcotics but requested 2000 rubles.
Leibele didn't flinch, he promised him the money
in several days.
Leibele ran 40 kilometers from Vidz to Braslav to bring me the narcotics. December 3, they amputated my foot.
I awoke from the narcotics and I was in a room full of Christians, if only Hitler could see this!
A nurse was changing my bandage and I thought, Jews with two feet were being murdered, is it of any consequence that a Jew with one foot will be allowed to live? Is this operation for nothing?
Nevertheless, I still wanted to live. December 8, my good friend, Adamovitch arrived.
Trembling, he said to me, he had spoken with the mayor of Braslav and nothing will happen to the Jews in Braslav.
And I answered:
I don't believe anyone. He [Hitler] told the world that all the Jews will be murdered. How can I believe him?
Adamovitch left and I remained another twelve days in the hospital. My son Moishe came and took me back to Opsa. I was still weak and continued to look for a solution to save myself. I still had the will to live, even with one foot. Mirl greeted me with tears. She thought only my toes would be amputated: she never thought I would be left with one foot.
Don't cry, my beloved! it could be worse! God gave us some more time. Our main worry now is to find a Christian to hide us.
The Road To Sventzian
Together with my cousin we decided, the four of us, to go to Adamovitch. His connections will be helpful for us to find hiding places.
We left late Friday night and arrived early in the morning.
He received us in a friendly manner but with uncertainty in his tone of voice. He had Christian workers and that put us in danger.
My children and wife had to return to Opsa and I was to remain at his home.
In a few days we will find another solution. This is how it went.
I remained eight days and Adamovitch himself took care of me. He fed me and I regained some strength. He even took out the night pot.
I was then able to stand, with the help of two sticks under my arms. His wife advised me all was quiet in Opsa and I can return.
December 27, Adamovitch brought me to Opsa and told me to hide Mirl and the children. It would be more difficult to hide a cripple.
I begged him to return me to Budkevitch's attic.
He is a good friend and will not refuse to help an invalid. But it is sixtyfive kilometers, a carriage will cost a lot of money and I don't have any.
Adamovitch thought and said: Good, I myself will bring you there. I remember all the favors you did for me and I want to repay you.
Mirl and I discussed the plan, our separation will be longer than we thought. My plan was to go to Budkevitch and it would be easier for Adamovitch to help her and the children. I alone will go to Budkevitch. Even though all the bandits were Lithuanians, it would be easier to find a friend amongst them [in Lithuania].
December 30 was freezing, the snow was falling. Leibele was anxious and left to see Adamovitch to arrange a sled for me. This was arranged for Wednesday six o'clock in the morning. Adamovitch will come for me. I must wait for him in the last house of the shtetl, at Voliak the teacher. My children brought me to Voliak by sled. Mirl and the children came the next morning.
My wife and children arrived the next morning. Adamovitch arrived. I departed from my dearest with many tears and great heartache and I left Opsa.
In the sled the severe frost entered my bones. I encountered many carriages on the road and it seemed everyone was looking at me, begrudging me because I was a Jew.
I kept my head down and didn't pay attention. My main concern was not to freeze.
I think of walking, then I remember I have only one foot.
The driver tells me we are close to Vidz, and I hope to rest somewhere.
We arrived at 11 o'clock and the driver asks if I want to go to a Jew.
I went to Dr. Kushnitz who had provided the narcotics. I can rest here quietly and need him to change the bandage and give me his prognosis.
The driver brought me into a room, and the doctor excused himself as he still had patients to see.
An hour later he came in to see me, asked about the operation and my way of life, and what brings me here in such a cold weather.
I told him I was going to Budkevitch, near Ignalina, to hide.
He discouraged me, the Lithuanians are like wild beasts, not one Jew will remain alive there.
I told him I had very good Christian friends there and after enjoying a good meal, a warm place and some rest, I continued on my journey.
We passed Podishne and Katchergishki and was close to the border. I think my plan is crazy, I am going to a place where there are no more Jews. Nevertheless, I feel my plan is the right one, no one except a good friend will hide an invalid, and these friends were in Ignalina. I need to take the risk and continue my journey.
I know each village and each house, I see the cursed mud that I blame for my amputation. I pass through Michaleva, where the Lithuanian bandit left me naked.
Suddenly the driver makes a wrong turn and we arrive in Daugelishok, the shtetl that I so feared.
When we left Daugelishok I thanked God that I survived this terrible road.
Night came. Not a soul was seen. The landscape was empty. We arrived at a forest and the sled drove quickly and I was certain all would go well.
Approaching us was a sled with three people!
Where are you coming from?
I didn't know that it was forbidden to ride from one poviat to another.
Who knew, who could have told us?
You must turn around and come with us.
We have no choice, the driver turns around and follows.
On the way a policeman asked me in Lithuanian:
Who are you?
An invalid, don't you see, here are my crutches. He looked and asked:
So, you still have a long way to go?
No, I answered, less than four kilometers.
If so, go there, sleep, and the following morning turn back. If we meet you again we will arrest you.
The Lithuanian police whipped their horses and they disappeared.
We both felt we were saved from death.
We got off the main road, took the sides roads passing Pakerze and Veliada and we were getting closer to Budkevitch. I was in need of rest and a good meal but when we approached the house, it was lit and looked like Budkevitch had guests.
The dog started to howl and only Budkevitch came outside and approached the sled.
I started to kiss him, and immediately noticed his coldness.
I begin to beg him to have pity on an invalid and allow me stay in the attic.
He warns me that at his daughter's [house], herinlaws are there, and he is frightened.
His plan was that I should go to the forest.
What shall I do there? Where shall I go?
I had remorse that I put Adamovitch's life in danger and he accompanied me all this way.
I ask him to drive me to Danietz's house
and put me close to his door. He agrees but he doesn't want to be seen.
We arrived at Danitz, Adamovitch removed me from the sled and placed me in front of the door. We kissed, parted ways and he wished me good luck.
When the sled disappeared, with difficulty I made it to the door and knocked.
Soon someone answered: who is there?
Your friend, Korb.
He opened the light and helped me in. He was alone.
His first question: where did you lose your foot?
I told him the story and my situation, he brought me milk, bread and butter.
I ate and began to make my request.
I told him about Budkevich and our long friendship, the inlaws and his refusal to hide me, and asked if I could remain several days in order to make another plan.
He thought it over, you will stay with me. But not in my house, but if I put you in the shed, you will freeze to death.
I ask him If I can stay in the cellar, if his potatoes aren't frozen, then nothing will happen to me. He agreed.
He gave me his bed, saying, my first night should be a warm one. I should get a good rest and tomorrow he will take me to the cellar.
He woke me when it was still dark outside,
get up, I don't want anyone seeing me carrying you out of the house.
Half an hour later I was settled in the cellar and Danietz locked up.
I smoked a cigarette and in the light of the smoke I saw my new dwelling.
Besides the potatoes, there were beats and bread. My first duty in the cellar was to write a letter to Mirl and the children.
Eight o'clock, Danietz brought me hot tea and bread, butter and cheese. Such a delight. I hadn't eaten such a breakfast in a long while.
Now, how was I going to pass the time without going crazy? What can I do? in the dark, I can't read or write. I need a plan. I decided to record the wanderings from Ignalina to Vidz, to Opsa and to Braslav and then again to Opsa. To have a memoire of where I was in these days of wandering. This will help me pass the time if I am going to survive.
In the cellar I had an unfortunate war with the mice.
They were the size of cats. They crept over my head and had to scare them away with my crutches. They weren't scared of me and came back.
They are the owners of the cellar and they wonder what I am doing in their territory?
I start to think that they are right. It is their home and rightfully so, I am their guest and I want to throw them out! I am doing to them what Hitler is doing to the Jews! It is not right!
The mouse theory helps me pass the day! But when they crawl on my head, I use my crutches.
After the mice, the humidity and dampness bothered me. The wetness clung to the stones of the cellar and my coughing started. It was bothersome and I had to make sure no one heard me. In addition, I feared blindness from the dark black cellar. Oh! An invalid and also a blind one!
On the third day I asked my boss to bring Rekst to me to deliver a letter to my wife in Opsa.
Rekst came and agreed to deliver the letter.
Twelve days pass, my coughing grows worse. Where should I go?
One day Danietz arrived sad and disorientated. I instinctively felt bad news coming my way.
The mayor discovered my stay in the village and I must leave immediately.
Don't be frightened! I ordered a wagon to bring you to Vidz.
No, no, not to Vidz, my dear friend.
It means death for me, as I just came from there.
God, so where do you want the wagon to take you? Do you have other Christian friends in this region?
Bring me to Maxim. Or to Martinav.
The wagon came and when it was dark
they took me out of the cellar and put me into the sled.
On the way the driver told me he didn't want Martinov to know who was driving me.
No one will know, drop me at the gate of the house.
When we arrived, he helped me off the sled and with my crutches, when he drove off I approached the house.
I knocked: who is there?
It is I, Yerachmiel.
He opened the door wondering why I came to him?
The police are here every day, he said. Besides, I am scared for my own son. He is working with the Lithuanian partisans and he can be a threat to you.
I propose that he bring me to Maxim. He doesn't have a horse. I have no choice so he carries me on his back.
Like a sack of corn, I had no other choice, he shlepped me across the fields to Maxim.
He also didn't want Maxim to know. Again I was dropped off, and I made my way. Maxim was overjoyed to see me alive.
He thought no one from Ignalina remained alive. I asked him to hide me, and after some thought, he proposed to put me on the oven.
Good! He helped me up. I was frozen and still unwell from the cellar, so in that moment I was happy with my new home. I soon fell asleep.
I awoke and heard his wife quarreling about me. Why is he is putting his life in danger for a Jew. She will not allow this!
She warmed the oven and I became so hot I couldn't stand it! What shall I do?
I ask Maxim to go to Ignalina to bring my former maid to discuss another hideout.
She arrived in the evening, bringing sugar and jam, and when I saw her I started to cry.
Sosiafind me a place to hide.
No Christian will hide a healthy Jew, let alone an invalid.
And what about Zak? I am almost naked.
Maybe you can find a jacket, a fur or some other things?
The next morning I received a fur, new pants, a vavel and some other small things.
All's well, but I still have no hiding place. Perhaps Maxim can bring me to his attic?
You will freeze, it is winter.
It doesn't matter, I'll manage. He brought me to the attic.
It was cold. Often he brought me hot tea and soup. I couldn't tolerate the cold any longer, and he came to fetch me from the attic. I was fed up. Maxim didn't have any other place for me.
Sosia had told me that Brumberg and Viduchinsky are living in the Sventzian ghetto, so I decided to write them a letter. What will be will be, at least I will be together with my fellow Jews.
Maxim's wife left with the letter and returned with the answercome to us.
I offered my fur, pants and others things to Maxim to take me to Sventzian, but his wife didn't want him to risk his life. But he didn't listen.
The next morning the horse and sled were prepared and we were set to go. The wife ran into the street and started yelling, Maxim do not go!
I want to calm her and promise her all kinds of things, nothing helped. She insisted and held onto the horse's reins so we couldn't move.
He tried to reassure her, this will be your death, she screams!
Maxim waits, jumps into the sled, whips the horse and off we go, leaving his wife screaming in the street.
In six or seven kilometers along the road, Maxim suddenly turns to me and saysYerachmiel, where did you hide your fortune?
I'll tell you, I reassure him. Probably Maxim was helping me as he knew me previously as the rich person. Meanwhile he didn't realize he was lost and not on the main road. I noticed our erratic up and down hill, not seeing my familiar telephone poles.
MaximI sayfind your way
and then I will confide in you when I buried my fortune. Perhaps you can find it?
Eventually he found his way, and I told where and how to find my money.
He can keep everything, the only condition, he must bring me bread and other products in Sventzian.
I felt that revealing my secret, a new energy flowed through him. He got off the sled, wrapped me warmly and asked if I was comfortable.
The cold worsened but we eventually saw Sventzian.
I was frightened that it shouldn't get light outside, in broad daylight I couldn't ride into the shtetl. I asked Maxim to increase his speed, and as quick as lightening we crossed the fields and I saw the first house.
I saw the mill, then the market square, I remembered every corner, every house. I looked everywhere, perhaps I will recognize someone.
Suddenly I notice Brumberg walking, looking at the sled and he recognizes me. He turns around and goes into a small street. I direct Maxim to follow him, Brumberg giving me a wink.
Maxim stopped at the house where Moishe Yitzhak Brumberg lived. He helped me down and with difficulty I entered the house.
Brumberg told me where I was, this was the Sventzian ghetto and Viduchinsky lives here.
I said goodbye to Maxim, asking him not to forget me and to tell the other Christians where to find me and bring me food.
Maxim turned around and left. I remained with my friends Brumberg and Viduchinsky.
This date is forever etched in my memory, January 18, 1942.
In the Sventzian Ghetto
Frozen, with tears and heartache I arrived at Brumberg and Vidutchinsky, we hugged and kissed like long lost beloved brothers.
Everyone in the house was crying: my circumstance and my appearance affected them.
We sat around for hours telling them my story.
From me they got firsthand information of the Jews of Vidz, Opsa and Braslav.
They had their own accounts to tell.
Vidutchinsky, they [the Germans] left behind because he was the pharmacist, Brumberg was taken to Poligon from Sept 26Oct 6 with all the Jews. No one believed that a mass murder would take place, they suffered from lack of space and hunger. He worked digging potatoes in the fields with Israelka.
My sonas he told mebelieved as engineermechanic that he would be freed and could take Sprintze with him.
On the second day they chose some men and told them they were needed for work, but shooting was heard, we were assured these were only sick and elderly.
Knowing that young people were being murdered, we abandoned all hope, the barracks were guarded by Lithuanian policemen.
No one stood up! The hairdresser managed to say, Bandits, you will be.
He didn't finish these last few words, he received a bullet. Rabbi Ushphal went to his grave wrapped in a Tallit. Brumberg managed to leave as foreman of the boots [footwear].
These were the useful Jews who were allowed to remain in the ghetto. They believed I could remain with them unharmed. I will not die from hunger.
The peasants brought us bread and potatoes and we bartered for clothing and shoes.
In the meantime, Motel Heshel Buskanyetz came to take me to Brumberg's house. He gave me a small room and a bed and I fell asleep, I was with my Jews.
The next morning Rochel Kroz arrived, or as they called her in the ghetto, Rochel the Zarazaier. She wanted to repay me for my previous goodwill, and she will tended to my needs.
She was well acquainted with the head of the police in the ghetto, she was the macherke in the ghetto (able to move freely).
She worked as a translator of Lithuanian to German.
She told him about me, that I was her stepfather and he [the commander of the ghetto] should pay me a visit. She left me tobacco, bread and salami and actually arranged for my wife and children to join me. As she promised, the head gendarme came to Brumberg and asked about the Jew from Braslav. Brumberg got frightened, but showed him my room. He came into the room to verify who I was. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and shook my hand
You will remain alive…
Rochke came to me the next morning, I thanked her for her friendship and asked her to help me blend into the ghetto, I didn't want to be that obvious.
They employed me as a glazier, brought me a workcard, and I was pleased that I now became a useful Jew, like the others, in the Sventzian ghetto.
I had friends and relatives visiting me, I didn't notice how the time was passing by.
And when there were no visitors, my plan was to write about the events that I experienced. I had a feeling that these notes would be of great historical importance after the war.
Meanwhile Rochel's help dried up, her superior was transferred to Eisishok, and her livelihood dwindled, barely receiving enough to sustain herself.
There were days of hunger, but I don't want to tell anyone the details.
March 5, 1942, was a great day. I received a letter from Mirl saying she and the children were well, not to worry and all was quiet in her zone.
Reading the letter, I think, perhaps they should all come here. They already cleaned out, and the useful Jews remained. Perhaps it was one of the safer ghettos [Sventzian].
At that moment Brumberg's wife comes into my room and tell me the Gestapo came last night and told the gendarmes the Jews need to be deported. But the gendarmes got them drunk and they left without enforcing the edict. I realized we were not as secure here as well. I didn't have a choice but to remain.
I dreamt of only one thing; after the war, whoever survives, will tell the world about the German and Lithuanian atrocities.
I stay in my room and write. From time to time friends pass by to tell me of the new decrees. Here they murdered the Jews and there they were deported and we don't know where.
Besides the three ghettos of Vilna, Kovno and Shavel, officially, the only Jews left are in the Sventzian ghetto.
All of Lithuania is Judenrein (cleansed of Jews) and the Yiddish kibbutz (community) doesn't exist any longer.
There is still a ghetto in White Russia, in Gluboke. We found out that most were murdered there as well, especially if they didn't have protectia.
This gives us some hope: we are useful, we are working hard and for free, but for us, the main thing is we are still alive.
One time I heard a terrible story: young people from Svir were told they were being sent to work, they arrived in Big Vileyka and together with other Jews, put in the Beit Hamidrash and were burnt alive.
It sent shivers through everyone. Everyone is thinking about death. The Jewish population decreases day by day. The Sventzianer Jews are still full of hope and believe their stars will burn forever.
I begin to have my doubts but don't want to damage their illusion.
Mirl Comes to Sventzian
May 3, 1942, I received a German newspaper. With a printed speech by Hitler, the Jews will no longer spread their vermin…
I told my friends: I don't know if all of Hitler's plans will succeed, but his plan is to eradicate all the Jews.
Nevertheless, I started to inquire how to bring Mirl and the children to Sventzian. If we are to die, let it be altogether!
How can I bring her here. All my Christian friends live far and I don't know how to get in touch with them. Hunger sets in and I don't have help from anyone. People were not good. They already suffered (went through hell) and perhaps with all they endured, they were so embittered. Like iron, that lay in the fire too long, they are now worthless.
Just a small percentage of the Jews were hopeful. The others lost faith. I longed for the Jews of Opsa and Braslav.
One time I received a letter from my niece Rivka Gilinski, who was in the Vilna ghetto, telling me that conditions were not better there.
A week before Passover I received news that the Jews of Opsa and region were deported.
The Jews of Braslav were rounded up and sent to Vidz. What will happen to them? Mirl was also in Vidz and wants to come to Sventzian.
The children remained at Adamovitch in hiding. Mirl has no money, what can she do?
Five days pass. Its Erev Pesach and friends are sitting in my room. The door opens and in walks Mirl.
We kiss and cry bitter tears. She tells me that the children are safe and cared for as if they were Adamovitch's own children. It seems that she was lucky. In Vidz she met a peasant who was an old friend, he was going to Sventian and took her along. We are happy that we are both together again. But where shall we get food to eat? Before I needed to find food for one person, now we are two.
God is good and exactly the same day we received a package of food stuffs from Radtzinski.
This is a good sign and I calmed myself.
Mirl, however, is not in the count of the ghetto. At this time new edicts were passed in the ghetto. They are always looking for someone. One time after such a role call Mirl hid at Rochele's. She was very frightened.
Our lives in the Sventian ghetto become more difficult day by day. We trembled from fear.
End of May the GebitCommisar Wolf arrived in the ghetto, he was responsible for the slaughter of the Jews in the Vilna province. We were told that he is particularly interested in killing the old, the sick and children. I feel that my situation is almost hopeless. Surely he will not let an invalid survive. I must run away again. But where? Who will hide an invalid?
Adding to all my problems, I received a letter from Moishele, that he is in Opsa and he is hiding with Leibele in cellars and attics. Every night another attic, he is working in a milk factory and has enough milk but no bread.
In order to get piece of bread he sold his boots. He is asking if there is way to bring Leibele to us? Then it will be easier on him.
We read the letter and cried. It seems that both sons are in the same predicament as us, and I was still thinking, that their lives were more secure.
Rochele advises us that a Christian friend of hers has a motorcycle and will bring him the following week.
Our lives were not secure in the Sventian ghetto, everyone was in disarray and in hiding. Many of the Jewish workers didn't come home at night to sleep.
All from our house ran away. Only Mirl and myself remained Everyone is looking for a hiding place.
We feel regrets about Leibele's situation, why are we bringing him here? Perhaps he will arrive and no longer find us here.
Several days later the ghetto became quiet again. It seems that Wolf came here only to order the ghetto be surrounded by barbed wire so no one could enter or leave.
The Judenrat must be careful that only the Jews who were on the list be allowed to remain.
We don't know what to do with Leibele, he may arrive and the ghetto will be locked, what will he do then?
July 31,1942, 11a.m, Leibele arrived. Twelve noon the ghetto was locked. He arrived in a car. He gave the chauffeur some cheese that he got from the milk factory.
He is unknown here and Brumburg was scared to have him in his house. He goes to sleep at Rochele's.
In the meantime a new edict came out, the Judenrat needs to bring young workers right away to the village of Stanislavav. We are told that if he [Leibele] goes to work tomorrow they will include him in the count.
Leibele says goodbye to us, takes a piece of bread and departs with the others.
Sunday Leibele returns home and brings us potatoes that he carried on his back. He told us that the person in charge was a good friend of mine and when he saw him he welcomed him politely. He gave him easier work and helped him out of many difficult situations. One time he even brought him a piece of bread with fat in the field. Leibele came to us every Sunday and brought us something to eat, this was a great help.
We also received a letter from Moishele that he is in Podbrodz, and he is working at a sawmill.
Police Commander from the Vilna GhettoGens His Speech for the Jews of Svenzian
Times in the ghetto became unsettled. There was talk that we were all going to be sent to Vidz. Others said that the Jews of Vidz were going to be sent to Sventian, no one knew exactly what was going on. A short while later the commander from the Vilna ghetto Herr Gens came to the ghetto. Before the war he was an officer in the Lithuanian army.
We welcomed him with a big parade, he held a speech and was amazed at the beauty of the nature. He said that if we allow rotten trees to grow, new young roots will not be able to flourish.
The young people applauded…the old people trembled. I immediately understood that there is no place for me here. Again the same question arose, where to go?
The ghetto is surrounded by barbed wire, not far away I see the mud and a pit filled with water. From both sides I see the Lithuanian police. How can an invalid like myself leave the ghetto?
Meanwhile we were informed that the Jews from Vidz were coming here. How are we all going to manage? There are about 400 Jews here already.
Now another 300 Jews will be arriving.
They arrived in Sventian and were packed into the school. A few hundred were put into the synagogue. The remainder were placed in different homes. Fifteen souls lived in one room. The lack of space and filth became frightening.
The ghetto had only one bathroom and one source of water. I saw this was not a place to live. Sickness will arrive. When I was told that the glazier Yitzhak Bak was going to replace windows in Daugelishok, I asked him to take me with him as his helper and I will thereby make a stop in Ignalina.
Rochele prepared my tools right away, but I needed a pass which was not easy to obtain. Several days passed and I didn't receive the pass.
I became angry with Brumberg and decide to run away to Stanislavav where my Leibele worked. Perhaps the foreman will take pity and hide me.
Brumberg is not certain if I can manage the ten kilometers on my crutches to Stanislavav. I assure him that I will go step by step, I will rest on the way until I arrive there.
At night a pit was dug out under the wires, Brumberg lifted the wires, I said goodbye to everyone, and managed to crawl to the other side. I lay still for a while until I noticed the policeman was occupied and carrying on with a shiksa. [Gentile woman] I got up and started to crawl in the direction of the mud. I discussed with Mirl that when I crossed the mud it was her turn to crawl under and follow me. I will wait for her. All my friends could not believe that a man with only one foot still had the desire to run away. And again I had another important date to remember… Wednesday October 26, 1942.
On One Foot from the Sventzian Ghetto
With difficulty I dragged myself to the pit but I could not cross on my crutches. I threw the crutches over the pit, I put one foot into the water and with my hands I crawled until I reached the other side. I rested a while. I took my crutches and wanted to go through the mud but it was not so easy. My crutches sank in the mud and I did not have the strength to pull them out.
I decided to crawl across the swamp on my stomach and to drag my crutches with me. Finally I managed to cross the mud.
Shortly after Mirl arrived. Even she wondered how I managed with one foot to cross the pit and go through such thick mud.
I continued step by step very slowly, I thought the road would be easier but it was a mistake. The road was a sandy one and my crutches sank into the deep sand and it was difficult to pull them out.
Mirl did not believe that I would reach Stanislavav, every 50 feet I needed to stop to rest. It was a warm day and the sweat poured down.
We see a policeman coming in our direction, we left the road immediately for the field. He passed and did not notice us. We continued on the road again. I started to count the telephone poles, until now we only passed 13 poles. According to my calculations we need to pass at least a hundred poles, how will I survive this? The strength is leaving my body.
A wagon is passing with a Lithuanian peasant sitting alone. I ask her: Can I ride with you? She looks at me, does not answer and whips the horse to continue further.
We are dragging ourselves, step by step. We rest again every so often. Suddenly we hear another wagon, we wait until it approaches us, sitting in the wagon is a stranger. I beg him to take me several kilometers.
He stops, thinks, and answers me in Russian.
Sit down I roll myself into the wagon and ask if he can take my wife with us, how can she go alone? He agrees.
On the way I realize who this peasant is, he is a good friend, I tell him who I am and he starts to tremble. It bothers him to see me in a such a bad situation.
Not far from the hamlet Svinta he dropped us off.
We thanked him and went through the gate. There were many Jewish workers here, they fed us and they showed us our accommodations for the night. The next morning the overseer arrived and when he saw me he said who are you?
I am a glazier. I'm going to Stanislavav to repair windows.
If you are a glazier I have work for you, come with me He takes me to his home and shows me the work to be done. I need to take out the shutters and put in the windows. I begin my work but I have no strength in my hands and I break a window. He tells me to stop working and to go eat. From the other workers I discover he is a Jew and lives /works for the Tatar.
A second night we spent in Svinta, we woke up early and decided to continue our journey to Stanislavav.
We took small side streets travelling slowly step by step, several hours passed when we reached a small stream. Over the water there were several small round stones and a man with two legs would have difficulty making this journey.
But this didn't frighten me, I got down on my stomach and crawled over the bridge. We arrived in a village hungry and dead tired.
We knew that in this village there were known Lithuanian bandits but we didn't have a choice, we passed two houses and went into the third one. Here we begged them for a place to rest. Barely ten minutes passed and three Lithuanian partisans came into the house, I didn't lose my cool and asked them for a cigarette. One gives me a cigarette and asks me where I'm going.
I tell them the old story, I'm a glazier and I'm going to Stanislavav to glaze windows. The partisans didn't bother us any longer and left.
I notice how the Christian finished eating and says to me Panie: I know you. My husband used to work for you in the forest. Oy, gutenu! What happened to you? Perhaps you would like to eat something?
We had a hearty meal and then continued on our journey. After a few paces I felt my foot could no longer continue, only on my hands…
The skin under my arms peeled off from my crutches, and it hurt badly. I barely made twenty steps with great difficulty, and had to remain on the spot. I rested and I continued another twenty steps, this is how we dragged ourselves for several hours. From time to time I made a greater effort in order to arrive quicker to my son Leibele in Stanislavav.
When I arrived at the work camp I couldn't speak to anyone. I travelled for fourteen hours on one foot on such a difficult road, the workers didn't want to believe me. I told them I didn't go with one foot but with both hands…
I lay down on the hard ground and wanted to sleep, the ache in my hands didn't allow me to fall asleep. My armpits were sore.
In the morning the foreman came in and welcomed me in a friendly manner, we cried.
Ra[m]balski, you have to save me, otherwise my days are numbered. Keep me here a few days, until I receive a pass to travel to Ignalina.
He felt sorry for me, heated a bath for me and we both washed ourselves. Then he brought me tobacco leaves to smoke, the food was plentiful.
Slowly the ache under my arm went away, I slowly regained my strength and started to plan ahead.
I asked Rambalski to go to Sventian to give an important letter to Rochele. In the letter I asked her to prepare my pass for Ignalina.
She answered me that the document had been signed, the delay is due to the unavailability of the glass. Rambalski goes almost everyday to Svenztian and brings back the same news. I write to Rochele again tell the engineer, that I hid a lot of glass in Ignalina. When I will be there I will give him half the glass.
I also needed to write in the pass that they should provide me with a wagon, I can't go with the train, because I will have to pass through Sventzian and I cannot be seen in Svenztian.
Rambalski brings the answer to me late at night. Rochele wrote that my plan with the hidden glass is a perfect plan. I will surely get the pass for you in the next few days.
Shabbos Nov 21, 1942 I received my pass from the Sventzian Judenrat and within three days I need to be in Ignalina to glaze the windows of the school.
Several words in German were written in the pass… the glazier Korb Yerachmiel, needs to drive to Ignalina to glaze the windows of the synagogue. He will be taken with a wagon and will arrive on the 21st of November. Signed by the engineer and the head of police.
I read the pass and couldn't believe how well she organized everything, especially that it was written to provide a wagon and not to be sent by train. I went straight away to Rambalski and gave him the news.
I have to leave right away and I need him to arrange for a wagon. He promised me the next day but the next day was Sunday and a Christian worker will not want to bring me.
That is actually good, my son Leibele will go with me, you just have to give him the right papers. He agreed. Sunday morning the wagon was harnessed and Leibele was ready to head out. As it rained last night, there was a frost in the morning, the road was very slippery. The horse slid and fell down.
Rambalski ordered another horse be prepared, an old and lazy one that cannot run fast. Finally we arrived in Stanislavav. Leibele held onto the reigns so the horses will not run and slip. I had a lot of time to think during the journey, I took pity on my shtetl which I helped build and lived in. How can I now look into these empty Jewish homes?
I know that I will not suffer any hunger here but my welcome will not be same. We passed Tzeiken, the Jewish homes are without windows and doors. We continue further and see the Christians going to church, now we are in Ignalina. I recognize every tree and every house.
My eyes begin to tear, I beg Leibele not to drive by our house, I cannot bare to see my misfortune. Night arrives, its dark outside and again I see my dear town Ignalina, its Sunday November 22, 1942.
Return to Ignalina
When we arrived in our shtetl Ignalina my heart burst and we started to cry. How difficult it was to see our dear old home so destroyed.
I have to be careful to whom I go, I have very good friends here, both Lithuanian and Polish, I weigh my options; my Polish neighbors will receive me well but they also fear the Lithuanians. Better to find a good Lithuanian, it will be safer with him.
I tell Leibele to go back to the mayor as he became an important bandit, and all the Jewish property is at his home. In front of me he will pretend to be good and pious. Besides this I need to brownnose because of the pass. Leibele listened to me and brought me to the mayor, when he saw me he started to kiss me and was happy that I was still alive. I felt something odd, from his kiss and from the smell of his brandy. At first I asked him to find a place for the horse and for Leibele to spend the night. He was very friendly and immediately found a place. Then he brought me into his home which struck me immediately with its familiar belongings [stolen property], everybody was eager to find out how I was saved and how I managed during this difficult period. I told them that I was sent as a glazier to repair the windows of the school. Leibele has to return tomorrow morning and my wife Mirl is in the work camp. In the morning the peasants brought the wagon which they filled with produce, potatoes, bread, meat and even sugar. Leibele left. I alone left to meet the Voijt, who was an honest and good Lithuanian. We found out later that he hid three Jews.
I told him my situation and he proposed to give me a room in his house. Nevertheless I knew that the room he offered would not be suitable and I thanked him for his good intensions. He called Svenztian and told the engineer that I had arrived.
He [the engineer] also needed a glazier and will keep me here. The engineer told him to procure glass from Kovno and he agreed I stay in Ignalina.
In the meantime I was recognized by Boyshi, a former employee and he invited me after lunch. I left with him and noticed he was living in a Jewish house with new furniture.
He put some brandy on the table and a full bowl of cotelets, (meat patties). He drank the whole time and I ate a little [without appetite]. He told me he bought the furniture on liquidation when the Jewish people sold their merchandise.
He had watches on both hands. On the wall hung a clock and on the ceiling a chandelier. It was clear to me where everything came from. Besides, he was very interested if I had hidden my fortune. Word by word he spoke, with intensity and with much emphasis, that the Rabbi's bed is there in his home, this was a big deal for him to sleep in the Rabbi's bed.
I thought that I would fall down and faint, I imagined the Rabbi saying his prayers in this bed and now, instead, here sleeps a drunk…
Darkness descended upon me when I went into his bathroom, there I found hanging on a nail a religious book which served as toilet paper.
I couldn't delay any longer as Boyshi came to the bathroom to see if I was okay.
I came out with tears in my eyes and said to myself: who by sword, who by starving, who by plague, and who by stoning [biblical text]….
If there is a God why did he forsake us? He gave the Rabbi's bed to a drunk who hangs a religious book in his bathroom….
On the way from Boyshi I encountered Greize, he lived on the right side of the blacksmith's house and also inherited a house with all its furnishings.
From there I left to find Sosia, our former trustworthy servant, she helped us several times but she was afraid of her husband who was a gangster and enemy of [the people] of Israel.
His brother was one of the first murderers, I didn't stop long and left for the synagogue where the Jewish work camp was now located.
I was greeted with terror, the windows were boarded up, in the women's section many sick people were kept, they were starving to death.
I left and gathered from the peasants some milk, bread and meat and delivered it to the sick ones. From the synagogue I left to see Marzinken, who was living in Kagan's house, across from the minian. He was a former foreman of the animals in the shtetl.
I rested there and ate, however I noticed that Kagan's furniture stood as before, nothing was rearranged, only the boss/ owner was new.
I looked at the windows and saw Kagans old curtains still hanging. The bedroom was open and the beds were covered with white covers. Next to the bed, instead of a divan, was a white cover from a Sefer Torah. He also was dressed in Kagan's holiday clothes and you can tell immediately a tailor did not make this garment for him [Marzinken]…
How can my heart sustain all of this? They sat on the Torah covers as if on a sofa!
I left Kagan's house depressed and returned to the Voijt. He brought me to the second floor and showed me a separate room where I should stay.
Officially it means that I am working for him and he needs me to paint the windows. When the Lithuanians will hear about this arrangement they will become angry, but he told me I should disregard it and not worry.
He tells me a secret that he is hiding three Jews… Ritva, with his wife and daughter.
We barely ended our conversation when the soltise came to the house and asked me if I had seen Tczernitch. He was your best friend, come with me, I will take you to him.
He [Tzcernitch] was glad that I was accompanied by the soltice, otherwise he would be afraid to speak with me. When the solstice left Tczernitch told me a secret, the Lithuanians were not pleased to see me wandering through the shtetl, it was a bad omen and could end badly for me. He claimed that I need to be careful so I returned to Grinevitch.
He tells me the same secret, they [the Lithuanians] are going to kill me, be very vigilant. I don't know what to do. From one side I believe that Tczernitch and Grinevitch are doing me a favor by telling me the truth but from the other side I'm afraid to go into the Jewish labour camp in the Synagogue because, according to the doctor, there is an outbreak of Typhus.
What shall I do? Where shall I go?
After much deliberation I decided to go to the synagogue. These were Jews mostly from Smorgon, Oshmiane and Vidz. I was told the camp director was not a bad person, but he has no provisions, they go from village to village begging for a piece of bread.
Basically, they [the inmates] are more scared of the epidemic than hunger. If the Germans discover the area is infected with Typhus they will surely kill everyone.
We discuss what to do, we decide to write a letter to the Sventzian ghetto and request them to trade the sick with healthy workers.
Several days later we managed to send away the sick to Sventzian and healthy workers arrived in their place.
In the mean time I encountered Andreievski and convinced him to hide Mirl. Leibel will come to me in the labour camp.
December 23, 1942, Leibel used his free time to bring wooden shoes from the camp to Sventzian and then returned to Ignalina to the labour camp.
He was exhausted and the German
Campdirector didn't want to take him for workdetail, no matter what.
I gave him a gift, a pair of warm gloves, and he counted him as a 17 year old and took him into the work camp. Leibel was happy to be back in Ignalina, even though it would be hard work.
Andreievitch came several days later, bringing a letter from Mirl, telling me how she made her way and how she is.
I calm down and returned to Tczernitch for further news. I found a newspaper at his home and read what was happening on the front. I remember exactly, January 5, 1943, Meskin and Zolan were in a heated conversation at Tczernitch's.
As I was leaving Tczernitch told me a secret, the Jews of Ignalina will be murdered and I must escape and find another hiding place.
I returned to the synagogue and shared this information with the Jews, they didn't believe me. The chief promised them work until March and they felt secure.
Leibele was the only one that believed me. I needed to find a place for him, not too far away, so he could escape at the very last minute.
My plan was that Leibel will go to Andreievski, Mirl and I to Denishoki and Moishe to a Christian near Dukst. The main thing was not to delay.
In the meantime I received a letter from my daughter inlaw in the Vilna ghetto, there is no room here and we have to go to a dacha… [dacha=country home=Ponar]
I understood the meaning, and we needed to leave Ignalina immediately: but how? I didn't want anyone to see us!
February 10, 1943, Radtzinski was with me and arranged for a sled to come,
he will bring me in the evening to his place. However when we arrived he couldn't stop at this place.
February 15, several days later, Simkun invited me for a meal and I accepted. On the way I was stopped by two Lithuanians who requested I accompany them to repair windows.
I quickly understood and told them I was presently very busy and I will contact them later.
Meanwhile Leibele arrived and told me he encountered Yelilovski and said to him.
Hand in your father, we already prepared a grave for him! I told Leibele about the two Lithuanians and now was the moment to disappear! The only one that can save me is Radtzinski.
Leibel must go to him and explain my life is in great danger. The best way for Leibel to leave the work camp was to ask the female doctor, my friend, to request a pass for him to leave.
That is exactly what happened and Leibel was freed from work for several days by the head of the work camp.
February 16, Leibel left to Radtzinski. I spent the day worrying, perhaps he changed [attitude towards the Jews] like the others?
Leibel returned with a happy face. Radtzinski and Zilen will come the next day, Thursday, to take me away.
I discuss with Leibel that if he is told that he will be resettled, it means death, and to run away to Andreievski.
Besides, when they come searching for me,
tell them I had to leave to repair windows.
The next morning Leibel went to the designated spot, not only was Radzinski and Zilen there, but also Zilen's son, and we all agreed to meet at the Tatar's house in the evening.
Fleeing My Shtetl
I said my goodbyes with all the Jews, told them not to trust anyone. They must find ways to escape when they come for them.
I told Tczernitch my plans and asked him to bring me supplies whenever he can. Leibel is still in a bad situation. I kissed him and left for the Tatar's house.
A cold wind was blowing and a light snow falling. I was careful not to fall.
Finally I arrived and entered, as I was sitting by the window I saw Ratdzinki's horse. The Tatar fed me and was friendly. I enjoyed my meal. He started speaking, but I couldn't concentrate. How was I to escape from here? Perhaps the two Lithuanians will arrive?
Meanwhile, night arrived, the wind died down and it was quiet outside.
I noticed Radzinski and Zilen preparing the two sleds and horses, I said goodbye to the Tatar and departed. I made sure no one saw me and slid in the sled with Zolin's son.
Several minutes we were outside the shtetl.
Several kilometers on, near the railroad, there were Lithuanians. We were in danger as no one was permitted to be out at night. I was scared.
I saw that Zilen's son was also frightened, but we continued on, Radtzinki following.
We leave one calamity behind but another one arises. We must pass though the hamlet of Kilatraki, where the civil servant is an antiSemite, a murderer, a Jew hater for many years.
I tell the driver about him and ask him to ride through as fast as he can and tighten the reins to make the horses run quicker.
Every minute is an hour. Every snap of a branch makes me tremble. Every creak of a door means an enemy.
When we passed this murderous village I catch my breathe. It was time for a cigarette.
Meanwhile Radtzinski caught up and asked the young son to change places.
I said thank God I left Ignalina and arrived here safely, now I must find a good place to hide.
We all agreed. At Radtzinski's there were always unknown workers,
At Zilan's lived a relative, who is crazy [demented] and we can't trust him. The bathhouse will be very cold.
We decide to go to Danishukev, where Mirl is hiding and we will be together.
The wife assures me that we will be safe. They are very poor but she will feed us.
She even gave me her bed and she slept in the kitchen. Mirl and I couldn't sleep, I was so upset. I told her how I escaped and how they wanted to murder me.
She told me about the honest and pious Christian, Yelivzheta, and constantly cries with her [commiserate together, each crying over their own problems]. There is such poverty in their house, they themselves have nothing to eat. All she possessed was a cow.
When I sent Mirl the 100 rubles she gave it to Yelivzheta who went to buy straw and hay for the cow.
Yelivzheta was very religious, she always crossed herself. She didn't like the Lithuanians, calling them bandits.
She was also in Poligon and with her own eyes witnessed the murder of the Jews of the Sventzian ghetto. She said these gruesome events will haunt her, she can never forget what she witnessed. Wild animals don't treat people like this, like these German and Lithuanian murders! She will do whatever she can to help the surviving Jews. Yelivzheta says the Day of Judgement will arrive one day for these bandits,
God will take revenge on them.
I feel better with these words and believe the best place is to hide at her place. I am hopeful. We are fortunate to come across this type of Christian, good an pious. If we can receive help [food] we can survive until the liberation.
Our New Hiding Place
Yelivzheta Ivanovitch grew up in Tambov with rich parents. She studied in her youth and wanted to become a feldsher ( barbersurgeon). She met a supervisor, Danishok, of an estate and got married. Several years later he met a shiksa and ran away with her. She never saw him again.
On this same estate, a Jew Siderovitch cut wood, and she became a tutor to his children. When the Germans arrived, they sent him with all the Jews to Poligon. Everything was stolen from the house except for two iron beds, a table and a long bench. The picture by Boris Abramovitch is hidden until today, under her watchful eye.
She told us many times how she went to Poligon to bring him [Siderovitch] food. The last time she went she witnessed the slaughter of the Jews, for weeks she had tremors throughout her body from that horrific sight.
She remained in that house, where the noblewoman of the estate also came to stay, sick and impoverished. She is called Ana Fietrovna. All was confiscated and the two remained together, poor.
Yelivzheta tells us with tears in her eyes how she swore upon Boris' picture that she will save as many Jews as possible from death. She is very satisfied that we are hiding in her place and she will help us.
The next morning I looked around the house, this was not what I expected.
It was not suited for a hiding place. There were large windows on all sides, it stood on the road not far from the railroad station. In the backyard stood a small structure made of thin boards and a torn roof, on the other side stood a warehouse and under the house was a cellar.
Yelivzheta. convinced me it would be worse in the warehouse, as people came there searching for food.
Mirl assured me no one came to the house. She quelled my fears.
Our main worry is where to find food.
Radtzinski had promised me food, several days past and nothing arrived. Yelivzheta agreed to take a letter to him.
Several days later, at night, I heard a knock on the door. We hid in the second room and Yelivzheta answered the door and screamed: Pan (Mr.) Radtzinski !
Even the other two Christians were amazed. He brought us food, a sack of potatoes and a loaf of bread and promised to return in a few days with more products, bread, fat and meat.
We said goodbye and the women immediately began to prepare a meal: to cook a pot with the potatoes.
They were happy and understood they needed to thank us.
Radtzinski came with flour, meat and butter.
The Christian women were so happy they proposed to bring Leibele to us.
I thought this would be unsafe for the three of us.
I asked Yelivzheta to go to Ignalina to bring news about me and to see whether Leibele has found a solution. When she returned she brought a letter with some peas and white flour.
Leibele wrote he was given new work and it seems that it would take awhile to complete.
The word in Ignalina is that I was killed, they even showed where.
This calmed us and also the Christians, who became more amicable towards us.
Fourteen days passed quietly. Then two guests arrived: Mrs Krekinova and her daughter.
When they arrived I and Mirl crept under the bed listening to their voices.
Mrs. Krekinova recounted how they killed Yerachmiel, Yelivzheta listened and asked: who is this Yerachmiel? I don't think I know him?
Mrs. Krekinova looked at Yelivzheta strangely: you did not know Korb? Such an unlucky man? They shot him in the forest and didn't even bury him.
When the guests left, Yelivzheta came with a smile and said: did you hear our conversation?
I acknowledged that I heard everything, we were all overjoyed that everyone thought I was dead.
March 10, Yelivzheta. returned to Ignalina and returned to tell us Leibele is now in Sventzian.
All the workers were transferred to Sventzian.
The next week, Yelivzheta returned to Ignalina and I asked her to meet Tczernitch, tell him the truth about me and to help Leibel. Also I needed some small stones [could be parts] and benzene for my lighter, I didn't want to loose contact with him.
March 24, 19, Thursday, Yelivzheta went back to Ignalina. When she returned, no letter. She was sad and told us that Tczernitch didn't know where the Jews from the synagogue were taken. Also the Jews from Dukst were deported. I was besides myself, I didn't know if Moishe had escaped.
March 26, the former maid of Ana Fietrovna, Yavze, came to the house late at night. She wanted to spend the night and wouldn't take no for an answer.
I felt a heavy weight! Where shall we hide?
I immediately slid through the window and went into the stable. I had to sleep in the dirt and endure the cold. I was afraid to close my eyes in order not to freeze to death.
From that day forward I pledged not to find myself in such a situation. I was lucky this time, however, if someone came in the daytime, I needed to have a plan. I didn't want to remain in the house in the daytime.
I sat in the stable during the day and at night went into the house. I lay in the hay.
Every evening Mirl waited and asked if I wasn't too cold in the stable.
April 8, Radtzinski came with news from my two children. He met them both in Sventzian and Moishe asked him for some money.
Again Yelivzheta left to see Tczernitch and returned to tell me that the Jews were told they were going to Vilna, instead they were sent to Ponar and killed. He told her to make sure she was careful. She became very frightened. I asked her to fix the roof of the outhouse [barn] in case I needed another place to hide. The question, we couldn't wait for warmer weather? How can we survive?
Another few days passed, daytime in the attic, back in the house at night. Suddenly, late one evening there was a knock on the door.
Yelivzheta asks who is there, we hear in Yiddish, pleading to open the door.
This was Tuvia Solomyak and Leizer Levitan, who escaped from Sventzian. They escaped together with my two sons and were hiding at the peasant Pioter's, who knew me and decided to hide them. They breathed new life into us, they were both safe.
Solomyak and Levitan told me my hideout wasn't safe. We hid in the attic during the day and at night they left for another Christian. We were alone again.
Yelivzheta didn't speak to me. If she needed to tell me something, she came to the stable and spoke to the cow so I would understand the situation.
April 22, Mirl had a difficult day. Ana Fietrovna got sick, and her former maid, Yavze came to care for her. Mirl spent the entire day under the bed.
At night she snuck out and joined me in the attic.
Lying under the bed, Mirl heard Ana and Yavze speaking and Yavze showed that she was a true antiSemite, that Hitler was right killing all the Jews.
Even Ana suggested that Yelivzheta should not hide us. Where can we go? We will contact some other Christian and try to find another place. She must be patient and give us a few weeks to find another safe place.
To calm him, I send her to Radtzinski with a letter, to give her a wagon with hay and straw for the cow. She returned with her wagon and again she was pleased with us.
Seeing the house [outhouse] full of straw, we decided to transfer there. At night a storm broke out and the house was blown over. All the neighbours came running to see the disaster, this was my sign from God, that he wanted to save us. We were happy that we didn't stay there.
A few days later, Radtzinski arrived laden with butter, tobacco and cigarettes. He began to repair the house and Yelivzheta was very pleased.
He also brought me newspapers and I had something to read. He also gave us good news from the front. The Germans were suffering many defeats. Hearing this news, Yelivzheta became more hopeful and happy. She seemed in a better mood. After all, she is also a human, and wants to live. The burden to hide Jews, she understood it consequences.
May 27, I heard a voice: Father, we got up and saw Leibele. He went up into the attic,
and told us, the peasant, wants money and they don't have any. Besides this, they have another misery.
Both him and Moishe have scabies [or crabs] and don't want to tell the peasant, they need to buy some salve to ease the itchiness.
We tell Yelivzheta the story and ask her to bring a letter to Tczernitch in Ignalina.
She returned with the ointment and with five dollars from Rekst.
Leibel left in the evening.
First we regretted this, then we realized that our hideout was not so secure.
Several days later Radtzinski came with newspapers where we read the British defeated the Germans in Africa.
My hopes are returning. The war will soon be over and we will be saved.
Oy, how can I survive to the end of the war?
Beginning June, early in the morning I heard an explosion. The Partisans blew up the railroadline near our village.
Yelivzheta became frightened again. It is not far from here and perhaps they will come to search our home.
That's exactly what happened. In the evening we heard soldiers entering the house and speaking with the Christian. They asked her to open the stable. They looked in and left after ten minutes.
We barely catch our breath when it all starts again. Death was at the door and we saved ourselves again.
I looked at Mirl, white as a ghost, her eyes filled with fear.
I try to convince her we should be happy that this ended as it did.
We continue and wait for better news from the front. It is several months that we didn't change our clothes nor washed,
we were infested with lice which bit us constantly.
Another problem arose: Yelivzheta brought Baranovski and his son to rebuilt the [ware]house and fix the stable. This lasted three days, we were not allowed to cough. Baranovski's son was searching for the ladder and Mirl quietly gave it to him. The shaigetz [Gentile lad] didn't notice, but Yelivzheta was not convinced and made a signal with her hand.
When Yelivzheta brought the milk to the dairy farm, she met Baranovski's daughterinlaw, who quietly called her aside,tell me, who are you hiding in the attic?
No one, how can you think like this?
Don't tell me stories, my nephew saw you winking at someone in the attic.
She lied for us, but this did not bring us any peace.
We decided to leave and find a new place.
Where shall we go?
The Departure from Yelivzheta
The only Christian who is our good friend and doesn't live far away was Zulan. He will be frightened because he has children, but if we arrive unannounced, he cannot refuse us.
I don't know the way and Yelivzheta doesn't want to take us.
I tell her to go ahead, make signs on the way and we will follow the route until we arrive there.
She agreed. She left and every twenty meters she placed branches on the right side. When we left the forest, she said we will reach a marker and then a field of corn. Crossing the field you will notice a house with a white chimney, this is the house of Zulan.
In the morning we said goodbye to Yelivzheta and left. I told Mirl, I will go first and she will catch up with and we will meet at the forest.
I turned around and didn't see Mirl. I continued looking all around. The skies clouded over and a heavy rain started. I couldn't turn back. I reached the forest, but I was puzzled why Mirl hadn't followed.
After several hours I left the forest, look at the corn field and think something happened to Mirl. I continue through the fields, it is difficult as it is muddy and my crutches are giving me a hard time. I finally reach the first house, but I notice that I went in the wrong direction. This is not the house with the white chimney. I must go back.
I am wet and its swampy, I am soaked through and through. But I don't have another choice. I drag myself through the corn fields. A miracle that it stopped raining! The sun started to shine and I warmed my body. I found a dry spot, rolled a cigarette and rested. I wanted to get up but I didn't have the strength. I needed to rest awhile longer.
Probably I fell asleep. When I woke up I noticed a horse tied to a tree.
Who brought the horse and did he notice me?
I stood up, it was already dark and I looked around. There was the house with the white chimney.
I crossed the corn field and other cultivated fields when I see a stretch of water. I have to cross it, I throw my crutches across to the other side and put my healthy foot into the water. I stretch out my hands holding onto a branch until I reach the other side.
I have no more strength but I continue till I see Zulan's house and bath and recognize it. I creep into the bath house and fall on the stone floor. I am glad I finally have a roof over my head.
I think how I am going to approach Zulan and suddenly two faces look into the bath house.
With delight I hear Leibel's voice saying to Mirl: Mother, father is here.
Thank God! We found each other again. They want to hear what happened, why it took so long for me to get here. I was overcome with fatigue and weakness and couldn't speak.
Leibele brings me cold water from a nearby well to freshen up. I drink and regain a little strength. I told them I got lost and had to return through the cornfield.
Mirl did as I instructed, but left in another direction.
She was afraid to go through the forest alone and returned to Yelivzheta. This turned out a good thing as Leibel came looking for her. They ate and left together following the markers. When they reached the cornfields the markers were erased by the rain.
Leibel tells us about his problems. The peasant was demanding more money and material goods, he made their lives miserable. What should they do?
I note this important date: Monday, June 28, 1943.
Alone in the Forest
Tuesday morning I hear something, and by the sound of his cough I recognize it to be Zule. He came in and we kissed and started crying. I told him about our situation and asked that he allow us to remain in his bath house for a few weeks.
He said we would love to help save us but feared for his children. He left and brought us food.
There was an attic and we all crept into it. Zule brought us some straw. Next to Yelivzheta's attic, this was a Gan Eden (paradise). We discussed that if Leibel couldn't stay at Adreievitch, Leibel should come here and Moishe should go to another Christian, whom I had earlier spoken about.
Leibel spent the night and said good bye the next morning to join Moishe.
Saturday evening we heated the bath and for the first time in five months we bathed, changed our clothing and finally got rid of the lice.
Sunday Radtzinski arrived with various products. We were especially happy to receive a newspaper where we read about the British attacks on the Germans.
Everyone was happy and hopeful. Zule's wife visited us in the upstairs attic of the bath to make conversation.
Mirl, in the evening, often left for a walk in the garden to breath some fresh air. The days dragged and we believed we could stay here until the end of the war. Everyone was so friendly and warm.
One time the wife's brother arrived, they passed the bath house and we heard,
him telling her how I was killed in a forest, not far from Ignalina. He sighed and said, what a pity on him!
When he left, she came to me and had a good laugh. We climbed down and couldn't imagine another dark cloud descending upon us.
August 23, Zule came to us in the attic. He told us in the neighbouring village of Vishnun, the partisans torched the train station and the Germans were sending searchparties in all directions. Probably they will search the bath house.
Darkness descended again in front of our eyes. We need to wander and find another place to hide.
Zule advised us to go into the potato fields and spend the night. We listened and spent the night on the damp earth between the potatoes.
His wife brought us a cooked meal and we were refreshed.
We lay in the field when suddenly I felt something biting me under my shirt, I pulled off my shirt and threw off the waterworm [watersnake] from my body.
You see, Mirl, even the waterworms are eating us alive!
Zule came at night and when he saw us curled together in the swamp, his heart began to ache and he started to cry. When he calmed down he asked us about our plans. The region was unsafe.
I asked him to bring us to Neverofski. I am sure he will hide me. Mirl will return to Yelivzheta. The main thing, don't forget her and bring her food.
Zule will go to Radtzinski and to request means to travel, several hours later he returned that he will bring us both to Neverofski. No one must know who is involved.
I gave him my word that I would not speak to anyone regarding this matter.
I said goodbye to Mirl and left for the house where the wagon was meeting me.
They put me in the wagon and covered me with straw. They left only a crack for air. I was told not to cough or make a sound as we will be driving through some terrible villages.
On the way I hear Radtzinski greeting an acquaintance. I wanted to cough but hold it in. We finally arrived. I was uncovered and I saw we arrived in the middle of a forest. Radtzinski showed me the way to Neverofski's house. I said goodbye and they told me to wait until dark to continue.
They turned around and off they went. I found myself alone in the forest. Another chapter in my wandering began: the date, September 5, 1943.
Six Months in a Pig Pen
I was in the forest and looked around. All the trees were familiar, some with the markings of our firm, the forest belonged to Lavrinovitch, which bordered on Neverovski's house. It was a beautiful sunny day. I waited until dark,
then I made my way to Neverofski's attic and bath house. I decide to sleep in the bath house and the next morning present myself to the boss.
I approached the bath house, opened the door and lit my cigarettelighter. In the corner I saw a vat with a cover and clearly can see that Neverofski is making illegal liquor. If he has a partner he will arrive and discover me. I go to the warehouse and am ready to fall asleep in the straw when I hear a commotion.
It was Neverofski's son, who had a fight with a neighbour, and he thought I [the neighbour] was coming to beat him up. I calmed him down and told him who I was, the old boss soon appeared and when he saw me he gave me a hearty welcome. He told his son not to worry. I was a good friend.
He invited me into his house and fed me. Then he proposed I sleep in the attic of the bath house.
In the morning he brought me breakfast and when I finished he told me his wife was afraid to hide a Jew and I must leave.
I offered him bribes and eventually I softened him. He let me stay, brought me food and newspapers. But I noticed he wasn't pleased.
September 8, I received a newspaper. I learned the British captured Sicily and Italy capitulated.
I used this information to calm my boss and his wife.
You see, Hitler lost Italy and he is sustaining heavy losses in Russia. It shows that the war will end soon.
Thirteen days later, September 19, he came to me frightened out of his mind: Yerachmiel, you must leave immediately, go into the forest
and I will come and explain to you what happened.
I did as he advised and I impatiently waited for him in the forest.
He told me a story, a relative got drunk and fired a shot. The police will come to investigate and I will be caught in the middle. I later found out this was a lie, to get rid of me. At that moment I believed him and asked him to take me to his cousin Karol.
He agreed like the others, no one should know who brought me.
When it got dark he took me to his cousin, he carried me on his back for three kilometers as he saw the distance was difficult for me. He brought me to a bath house, and left. I spent the night and in the morning when they came to take the animals to the fields I should present myself to Karol or his wife.
Karol's mother arrived in the morning to take the animals from the stable. I called out to her and when she saw me she got scared. I calmed her and asked her to take pity on me and to allow me to remain. After the War I will repay them.
She left and returned with some food. Then she told me the difficulties if I remain here, the old Neverofski has become senile, and could turn me in.
Karol came in the evening and told me what his mother told me and they were scared to hide me. He told me to go to the forest and he will bring me food.
I had no choice. I left for the forest. I saw that this was not for me. Where shall I go? To Zakarofski or to Kasimer? I remained in the forest the entire day, at night I returned to the bath house.
The nights were already cold. What was I to do?
October 8, I decide to return to Neverofski. I arrive, but the bath is boarded up, the warehouse is locked. I knock on the door, there is no answer. I sit on the porch and cry. Through the window the old Neverofski calls out,if you don't leave, I'm calling the police.
With a heavy heart I crawl down from the porch and leave for the forest.
I remember this is the night of Yom Kippur. I sit down and cry. Where shall I go? What shall I do? I am alone, on one foot, a cripple, without money, weak and tired? Thrown out and chased like a homeless dog.
I decide to continue on the road. Perhaps some kind Christian will help me. I wander not knowing where I'm going.
It was morning, I hear a hen crowing. I go in that direction [of the hen crowing] knowing I will find farmhouse. I leave the forest and arrive at a poor hut. I recognize this hut belonging to a Pole, an old friend, Bikofski. I approach the door and the dog begins to bark. Who's there?
Open up, it's a friend!
He approached the door and asked again, Who are you?
Yerachmiel, it is Yerachmiel Korb from Ignalina.
Yerachmiel? How is that possible? How did you get here? Everyone mourned you, they thought you were murdered.
He let me in and lit a lamp,
and looked at me in an odd manner as if I arose from the dead.
Tell me, how did you save yourself?
In short I told my story and asked him to have pity on me and find a place for me to hide. I wanted to live.
He thought for a moment, then brought me into the storagebarn and put me in the hay,Lie down here in the meanwhile, rest. I will bring you food and a warm glass of tea. Later we shall discuss the hideout. I lay down and as I was so tired I fell asleep.
I awoke in broad daylight, Bukofski's wife brought me food. I barely looked around to see my new palace. Breakfast was delicious. I thanked her from the bottom of my heart and told her the end was near and I will never forget their kind deeds.
The woman left and I surveyed my surroundings, the storage room had half a roof, the other half uncovered. The door led to a pig pen. Directly across was their poor hut. I always knew he was poor, but not this poor. His entire wealth was one room, with a feeding house, which was also his workplace filled with pigpens.
Bukofski brought me lunch, a warm soup, beans and meat, I couldn't believe my eyes.
Such a stroke of good luck! I had a good feeling, that my boss is poor, but a good human being. He will not throw me out. But the question, can I manage here?
At night I wrapped myself with the hay, but I was still cold. What will I do in the winter? In a great storm? I don't want to think about it. I have no other choice. Perhaps the war will be over by then.
This is how the days passed. Bukofski invited me into his home for the evening meals.
My Human Dignity is Lost
October 18, 1943. Bukovski went to Yelivzheta and Tczernitch, gave Mirl news of my whereabouts. He returned with a letter and news of the children. They were still at Andreievitch [Andreiofski, alternative name=error]. A worker arrived several days later to fix the other half of the roof. He made a place in the feeding house for me, between the pens. It was dark and I couldn't read. Perhaps it was better. I overheard them speaking in the house and didn't feel in the mood. I stayed from October 28 until November 2.
I am lying in the hay, it's about ten o'clock in the morning, the door opens and I hear German. Good morning.
I was out of breath. I bury myself deeper, then hear a second voice in German.
What are they doing here? What are they looking for?
I knew Bukofski left and his wife doesn't understand German. From their speech and carrying on I knew they were looking for schnaps. Someone told them that they were making liquor here.
I hear them cursing her and looking in all the corners, suddenly one soldier sees the pens, and calls his comrade: come here! A shiver went through me. Here is my death. The soldier begins to throw down the pens, I don't wait another minute.
I jump out of my bed, throw myself against a pen and scream on top of my lungs:
You see that we have nothing to eat. From where shall we get you schnaps?
They thought I was her husband. The poverty of the place lingered in every corner. The soldier that pulled down the pens, turned to the door and said to the other one: come out! Just another poor, wretched soul.
Butkovski returned at night and he heard about the miracle we encountered.
You have a great God! From that day I took better care and hid in the storage room.
A month passed. November 29, Bukovski said he needs to go to his sister and can deliver a letter to Mirl.
He returned that evening with a letter from Mirl. Rekst sent her 100 rubles. I have nothing to worry. The children are in the same place. The letter gave me hope and the will to survive.
The cold December arrived. It was not comfortable to remain here, I will freeze. I try to go into the stall. It is warmer there, but the terrible smell is unbearable. There were five pigs, two sheep, two cows, and a young horse. The bad odour came from every direction.
I returned to the [ware]house to catch some fresh air, it didn't smell here but it was cold.
I decide that in the daytime I will remain in the [ware]house and at night I will sleep with the pigs and animals.
Slowly I got used to the smell and made myself a separate corner. Another month passed this way.
December 24, Bukovski brought me news that Mirl and Yelevzheta were taken through a village, where to he doesn't know.
I become nervous and can't swallow my soup. It means, I lost Mirl. If they shoot Yelevzheta, Bukofski will be scared
and this means the children aren't safe, nor the other Jews that are hidden in other Christian homes.
I feel my head spinning and all my bones are shivering. How, I being the sick one, how did I manage to survive from such filth and such conditions without getting sick?
My clothes were so wet, they were dripping! The cold grew worse and at night I warmed myself with dry dirt in order not to freeze.
My hope was, if the pigs don't freeze, I will not freeze.
In the day I returned to the warehouse, where I cleaned the gift of lice, which attacked me, biting and attacking me like sharp knives.
Unfortunately, there was no bath here and Bukofski went to wash at the brotherinlaw's house. In the evening I washed only my face and hands.
This is how I passed January, 1944. February 2, I received word from Bukofski that my two children, Leibel and Moishe, were seen passing through the village Kanaish. I wanted to know where they were going. The only one is Tczernitch who can tell me, so I asked Bukofski to deliver a letter.
He said at the first opportunity he would go to Ignalina and so he did.
February 16, 1944 he returned with a letter and 500 rubles, he doesn't know why the children left and where to. I gave Bukofski the 500 rubles. He didn't seem the same, his mannerism changed towards me. I now felt that my food was not free.
February 26, another few days pass. Another incident occurs. A small girl enters the storehouse, I am not expecting anyone, and when she sees me she yells in fright: Yaki strachni! Yaki strachni!
Bukofski's wife didn't get anxious and ran to her:
This is not a man, this is an animal!
The answer worried me, perhaps she will not believe it. Who will she tell? The incident passed, she actually thought that I was some strange animal. I didn't have a mirror, I thought how I odd I must look from the dirt and fear?
March 2, 1944, I felt a pain in my heart. But no doctor is available to treat me. Bukofski's wife boiled some green grass for me and I drank it. I became worse. I asked for a glass of warm tea. It made me feel better.
I still was living among the pens. March passed, then April arrived, it was still cold.
Bukofski has to clear the filth from the stable and I need to go back to the storage room. The hay is almost all gone and I don't have anywhere to lie down.
If I tell anyone I spent the winter amongst the pigs and animals, no one would believe me.
A man must be a strong creation if he can endure this.
Shabbos, April 29, Bukofski fixed the storage place and brought some straw for my new bed.
After six months I left the stable and returned to the storage area and could breathe some fresh air.
The Red Army is Approaching
April 30, 1944, Sunday, it is snowing and a bitter wind is blowing. Bukofski's wife brings me food and I ask for news from the front.
Suddenly we hear explosions from a distance. I jump from joy! The front is getting closer
The Red Army is chasing the Germans out of Russia. Our liberation is close.
I listen to the bombardments and tell the Christian it [the explosions] seems to be coming from Polotsk. I take out a map that I cut out from an old newspaper and make a calculation that the Russians are about 200 kilometers from us.
The heavy thunder continues the entire day. I ask Bukofski to check the news on someone's radio, where we stand [our situation]. He left to his fatherinlaw's, the Russians are advancing very quickly and in about 4 weeks time they will arrive here.
The main thing, 4 or 8 weeks was not the issue, I couldn't live like this another winter. I will no longer have the strength.
I kept looking at the map, making calculations. Now, what are the Christians thinking? We will be able to talk differently to them knowing Hitler will be defeated!
I think about the children. I don't know where they are and they don't know where I am. Perhaps they are not too far, eighteen days pass.
May 18, Bukofski comes to me and tells me a young boy is asking about me. I go into the hut, light my cigarette, and there is Moishele. We kissed and cried.
How did you find me? Where is Leibele?
Leibel is close by, I will bring him here.
Wait until dark, so he came inside the storage room, he told me how he left Andreievitch to Budkevich's and why he had to leave again.
Leibel didn't have any shoes and a goya [Gentile woman] gave him a pair of volikes [boots]. As he passed through swamps he lost the volikes and walked fifteen kilometers barefoot. With difficulty they arrived at Kasimir Neverofski, he fed them but they couldn't remain. They left to Regnis, but couldn't remain there as well.
They finally arrived at Trimkun, and he hid them in the storage room. I gave him praise and hope. The war will soon come to an end.
Moishe left and I waited impatiently for Leibele to arrive. Late at night I heard footsteps, they arrived. Leibele looked terrible. He complained he was suffering from stomach problems.
I told them this is on account of not eating cooked food or clean food.
They tell me they went begging in the villages and the peasants thought they were partisans.
Arriving at Neverofski, he told them I had been there and he was sorry that I left. I was happy with my guests but warned them to be careful when they come to visit me. They can still catch us! Come only when its dark.
I thought to myself. Who can I trust? Only myself!
Daytime the shooting continued. The front was getting closer.
The children come again. Leibel seems lonely,
I want to hug him, but he says to keep my distance. Moishe also hears his words.
I told them no one in the family is sick. He must have a cold. He needs to drink hot tea with honey and it will pass. Don't lose your willpower and stay strong!
I tell them about my suffering during the First World War and how I remained alive.
June 25, Budkevitch, overjoyed, arrived to tell me the good news. The Russian army is in Vidz.
The children arrived and I told them the good news. Leibele said he drank several glasses of sweet tea and he feels better.
You see, you told yourself you had an illness. When we are free, you will eat and get better.
June 30, Budkevitch told me to come out of my hideout, the Germans were running away. They are leaving their supplies. The Red Army is in Moledechno and Postav.
My heart beats from joy! They are forty kilometers from us. Liberation can come at any minute!
July 6, Budkevich arrived to tell me that the military had arrived in Daugelishok. Everyone is frightened. Are these German or Russian? It is a few kilometers from Zastianik.
The children arrived, confirming the Russians had arrived. Leibele spoke with them.
He said it was a miracle, they came just at the right time.
Trimkund's fatherinlaw started screaming: shame on you, you fed and hid Jews!
If the Jews survive, this will not be good for us!
They were fighting and we ran away.
The next morning I heard airplanes flying overhead. They were bombarding the region. These were German pilots.
Budkevitch came running to tell us to leave the storage room. The Germans are fleeing, I no longer need to hide from them.
Our main concern now was how to survive the bombardment. We have no alternative.
Shabbos, July 8, Zastianek was bombed. They flew over our heads, the bombs fell close to us.
On the Ruins of Ignalina
Early in the morning I heard whistling and a loud thunder and pieces of dirt, lice and wood were flying all over me.
Budkevitch ran in and helped clean the dirt off me and said: you are very lucky! A bomb landed close by and dug a huge crater. I was overwhelmed and couldn't speak. After several hours I came to my senses.
I want to find my children and quickly leave for Ignalina. It is twelve kilometers from Zastianke to Ignalina. I am waiting, I need a wagon. Perhaps the Red Army will take us.
I wait and wait. Butkevitch runs in.
He tells me that my children are riding with the Red Army.
If so, I need not worry.
I will meet up with them in Ignalina. I decide to go to his fatherinlaw, one kilometer from Zastianke, who has a horse. Even my right foot was sore, but the urgency willed me to continue. I asked him to bring me to Rimchene, 5 kilometers from Ignalina. I will find a wagon there.
I was lucky, when I arrived at the first house and I entered, it was full of Russian soldiers. They all sprung to their feet when I told them who I was and how I survived.
From there I left to an old peasant friend in the middle of the village, who welcomed me and fed me.
I spent Sunday evening at his place. The next morning, Monday, I left for the carriage station, nearby the Vidziski estate where I knew the priest.
He was happy to see me and I told him all I lived through. He went into the street with me and stopped a motorized vehicle and requested they bring me to Ignalina. As I went inside, I heard a voice screaming in Yiddishis that you, Yerachmiel?
Ritva and Solomyak were sitting there, riding home. We arrived home, all choked up, and then went to my house.
It was an empty and desolate home. No pots, no furniture, empty in every corner. We didn't know where to begin. The Christians were worried we will take our revenge on them.
I think, of course we should take our revenge, but there is no one left. Me? the few left over skeletons that were barely alive, barely skin and bones?
We all sat on the ground, and couldn't speak a word.
No words…no tears, to lament for our nearest and dearest that were murdered in such bestial ways.
How do we lament our destruction…it is impossible! It is very difficult to put into words, to describe what we felt in those darkest hours.
The best writer would not be able to describe these events. We sat quietly and deliberated until I fought with all my strength to say these few words:
Dear friends, what we need to do now, is to tear kriah [rendering the garments when in mourning]and sit shiva [mourning].
We will not only cry for the all the towns that were destroyed, but also for the millions of Jews that were so heinously murdered, cut down by these humanbeasts, those wild sadists…
That day, when the first Jews returned to Ignalina, was July 14, 1944.
Actually, this is the historical date of the French revolution.
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
As soon as the Germans occupied Ignalina, they immediately sent the Jews to different workplaces. They were sent to work in Gupa, but they mainly worked on the railroad, others worked repairing roads outside the shtetl, to chop wood and to bring it from the forests.
I alone worked in unloading rocks, which the Russians, who were here earlier, prepared to bring to Russia. One time they brought us 26 arrested Communists, which they found hidden amongst the folk of our shtetl. None of them had any idea why they were labelled Communist. They worked with us a whole day and at night they were taken away. Together with them, without warning, they took me with them. The police threw us in a cellar and locked us up. My mother found out about this and ran to the police and pleaded with them for my release. This was 11:00 at night, an hour later, about 12, they released the other prisoners and took them to a nearby forest and shot them.
This was the first big Aktion(massacre) in Ignalina. A short while later, they enclosed us in a separate Ghetto. Then I started working laying rail road tracks, which led in the direction of Vilna. My workplace was about 20 kilometers from our shtetl. Every evening we had to walk home. It is understood that we arrived home in the Ghetto very late in the evening.
Friday, Erev Shabbos, when we arrived late from work, the Ghetto was surrounded on all sides by policemen. We felt that there was a great panic in the Ghetto, it was already quite late and no one was asleep.
We immediately learned the events to follow will bring only chaos. Christians came and told us from a good source, that all the Jews were to be transported the following morning to Poligon. People ran from house to house and still no one had a plan to bring forth. One person said we should run away, another said that nothing could or would happen, we were panicking for nothing. Most of us were paralyzed and were resigned to go to Poligon. Probably, one said, this is our destiny.
Knowing about this Idea, I immediately decided to escape from the Ghetto and was determined not to go to Poligon. I made a plan with several friends and we decided to go to Postov, where brother in law Feive(Feivel) lived with his family..
In the middle of the night we quietly left the Ghetto. We took side roads out of the shtetl in the direction of Meligan.
It was extremely dark and none of us knew the exact direction. We knocked on the door of a peasant and begged him to show us the road.
Luckily, he was a friendly person and showed us and directed us to the right road. We left him and again we only took side roads, when suddenly we heard someone chasing us. We wanted to run, but it was already too late. A group of Lithuanian bandits encircled us with revolvers in their hands and brought us to a nearby village and there they locked us up in a stall. In the morning, they threw us out of the stall, and brought us to Meligan. There they held us in a cellar.
It was then Shabbos, and the Jews from Meligan were praying in the synagogue. About 10 in the morning, the door from the cellar opened, and Jews from the shtetl were thrown into the cellar with us, still dressed in Tefillim on their heads.
It seemed they were brought directly from the synagogue. A few hours later they threw us out into the street, several wagons stood there. The bandits told us to get into these wagons, and we noticed that they were taking us in the direction of New Sventzian. When we looked around, we saw that there were about 100 wagons all going in the same direction. This was an organized transport and amongst us we knew Jews from Haydutishok and Shayatishok. They brought us to the Baronover woods and forced everyone into the military barracks of Poligon.At once, I noticed that the Jews from Ignalina were already there, and I wanted to join them. But they didn't let me.
Everyone spread themselves out on the floors. I spent a restless night. I had an intuition, that to remain in Poligon means Death. I promised myself to do everything possible and escape from here. I planned this with several friends and we did not wait another evening. We escaped through the window. We all ran in the direction of the forest. The police shot at us. I ran like a wild animal and succeeded in reaching the forest. It was very dark that night, but I noticed no one was behind me. I was left alone in the forest, not knowing where to go or what to do. I came to a stream and walking along the banks, not knowing where I found the strength to continue. Suddenly I came to a bridge and not far away I saw a peasant farm. How can I approach this farm and knock on the door? An elderly Christian woman came out and told me that the little shtetl, Kaltinian, is close by.
I decide right away to go to Kaltinian and then in the direction of Ignalina. Meanwhile, it got light outside and I had to get off the road, to hide in a ditch under a large tree.
I heard everything very clearly from the passersby on the road: it was a Sunday and the Christian peasants were going to church, walking or riding. I heard their conversations: they all spoke about the Jews. One said: all the Jews that were brought to Poligon will be put to death. A second peasant said: It is well deserved! All the Jews deserve to die! All these years they sucked our blood, live in fine homes, eat and drink, and now they must pay for this!
I lay in the ditch until it got dark again, I crawled out of this confined space and started to wander. I walk, but I do not know where to go. My vow was to go as far away from Poligon, from this Death! I continue on, and suddenly I see a house of an old Christian acquaintance of mine. I knocked on the door and identified myself. They wouldn't let me enter the house. I tell them that I haven't eaten for days, but it doesn't help. They don't want to give me even a little water.
It's very difficult. This is unexplainable. I go further, hungry and thirsty. I am thinking to myself, if I continue a little further to the town of Bizun, my old friend, Michal Kapusta lives there. I wander in the direction of this small town, hoping he remained unchanged(personality). He would certainly take pity on me and give me something to eat and perhaps allow me to rest for several days at his home.
Opening the door, Kapusta was very frightened, but he allowed me to enter his house. He opened up to me about his secret: he was hiding Dina Levine and her 2 daughters. He also allowed me to hide with them. For several days I stayed hidden together with the Levines.
One day Kapusta came from Ignalina and told us that the Jews that were hidden and then captured, were shot together with those Christians who hid them. Kapusta was too scared to let us stay with him longer. We had no alternative, and we had to leave his home. The Levines decided to go to their Christian acquaintance in Drisvietz, and I decided to go to Petrova, to Mudin(en).
Mudin welcomed me in a very friendly manner, and led me to the stable. I spent the night and in the morning he came to see me in order to tell me that the Levines were caught the previous night, were brought to Daugelishak and were shot right away. That was very lucky for me, that I didn't go with them. At Mudin's I remained 5 days. On the sixth day he came to me, just like Kapusta, and begged me to leave. He was very frightened to hide me. I didn't have any choice, so I continued again. I remained in the stable until dark, then started walking. This time I promised myself to go to Vidz. In Vidz I was told that all the Jews in Poligon were murdered. In Vidz I remained for 4 days only, and then left for Kazian, where I met my cousin Tuvia Solomyak. From there I left for Postov. There was a Ghetto in Postov, for useful Jews. They smuggled me into the Ghetto and made me a Postover(gave me an identity card). Several months later, Tuvia Solomyak also arrived in Postov, and here we met again. Meanwhile, for Postov, those same dreadful days were soon to come. We learned that the Jews from Yodi and Miar were also murdered and the entire region was living in fear and panic. We felt that these were our last days of living, our end was near.
One day there was an alarm. We were told that the entire Ghetto of Postov was encircled with policemen, so Solomyak and I immediately realized the end is near, so we quickly left Postov and went back to Kazian. Meanwhile, Solomyak reminded himself that not far from Kazian he knew a friendly German, and despite the odds, he decided to look for him.
The German saved us and put us up in his barn and every day he brought us food. We stayed here about a month, in the barn and in the forest. Very often we noticed that peasants came to the forest to chop wood and this frightened us. We didn't want to be seen. We thanked the German for his friendship and kindness
And decided to turn back to Vidz, where Jews were still working at different jobs.
Actually, this is how it was.. Arriving in Vidz, they caught us and immediately sent us to work in a camp in Podbrodz. There we worked in a sawmill.
From Podbrodze they sent us to Dukst, but we didn't remain there very long. An order came, that all the Jews should be sent to the Sventzian Ghetto, from where we would be sent either to the Vilna(Ghetto) or the Kovno(Kaunus Ghetto).
Arriving in Sventzian, we found the Ghetto in such a terrible condition. No one knew what to do. We had 2 solutions: one for Vilna, one for Kovno. No one knew if the conditions would be better. I had a feeling, that we should not go to either place. We have to flee!
I arrived at the conclusion, together with Solomyak and the brothers Moishe and Leibl Korb, to leave the Sventzian Ghetto and return to Ignalina Ghetto and hide there amongst our Christian friends.
We departed, the 4 of us and we arrived back at Kapusta. This was April 23, 1943. The roads were muddy, our boots were torn and we were trodding through the muddy waters. At last we arrived at Kapusta. He was not so happy to see us, but we stayed in his shed for one day only. The next morning we said our farewells. The Korb brothers left by themselves, Solomyak and myself decided to go back to my friend, Mudin in Petrova.
Mudin didn't open the door for us this time, he was very scared and therefore we had to continue our journey. We felt so abandoned and in despair.
We decided to go back to Sventzian, and to join the others and go either to Vilna or Kovno.
We passed several small towns and we didn't hide from anyone. On the way back, we met peasants on the roads who looked at us like we were idiots. How dare the Jews walk in broad daylight without fear??
From Sventzian they brought us to the Vilna Ghetto. I was fortunate to have work the entire time until liberation, in these conditions, I survived and was spared from death.
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