The Decline and Fall of Jewish Life in Podbrozie
By Ben Zion Lapp
Translation by Yocheved Klausner
Podbrozie belonged to Poland until the first of September 1939, when the Second World War broke out. On the 17th of September, the Soviet army marched into town. On the 28th of October, the same year, the Soviets gave up the entire region to Lithuania, and our town was occupied by Lithuanian troops. In June 1940 the Soviet army returned and remained there until the outbreak of the GermanSoviet war.
On June 22 1941, the Germans began bombing the Lithuanian cities Vilna and Kaunas, and our town Podbrozie was bombed as well. The target of this air attack was not only the military objects in our area, but also the important railroad junction. The first German air attacks caused terrible panic among the Jewish population.
The Jews packed their belongings and fled the town to acquaintances among the farmers in the surrounding villages. They believed that in the villages they will not be troubled as in town. The next day, however, they realized that it was not safe in the villages either. We heard, for example, that in the village Karkaziski, some 3 kilometers from town, Lithuanian officers broke into the house of the Jewish family Schmukler and shot both brothers Leizer and Moshe, and in another village Lithuanians shot the brothers Mirski and Chaim Zaken.
Myself, my wife, my father and my fatherinlaw, my wife's sisters and her brotherinlaw, together with the Werfel family we all went to a village not far from our town, to the home of a Christian acquaintance. Suddenly we observed, through the window, several Lithuanian officers who stopped our host and asked him whether he was hiding Jewish refugees.
We dropped to the floor and tried to be as quiet as possible, and the Lithuanians did not notice us. After a few minutes our host came in, pale and frightened, and when he realized what we had done, he said that we saved ourselves from certain death for the time being. He had assured the Lithuanians that there were no Jews in his house, that all the Jews had run away. The question was, however, what will happen if they would demand to enter the house and search it.
We all realized that the village was not a suitable hiding place and we decided to return to Podbrozie. On the way we were stopped by Polish hooligans who tried to steal our horse and our belongings. We began asking for mercy and thanks to a Christian acquaintance that came to our rescue they let us go and we continued our journey home.
By that time the town was without regular governing authorities and deserters from the former Lithuanian army ransacked the place. Only on 29 June was Podbrozie formally occupied by the German army. The civil administration was given to the Lithuanian police, which was manned mostly by hooligans and murderers. They soon demonstrated what they were capable of: they would enter the Jewish houses, forced the Jews out and drove them to the army barracks and there they shot them on the spot.
Thus perished: Chaim Levenski, the tinsmith Chanan Schneiderowitz, Kopel Sklyarowitz, Idel Kolbak, the Lieberman brothers and others.
On July 15th the Lithuanians shot over 60 people, among them were: the old rebbetzin [the rabbi's wife] with her two sons, 70yearold Israel Baruch Bawarski and his niece with her husband and children; Yitzhak Silber with his wife and child; LeibeNachum Glass with his wife and four children; Tadd with his wife and children; Abrashe Sklyarowitz with his wife, son and daughter; Kivelewitz with his wife, and several other families.
They were driven to a small forest near the mill, where a pit had been dug beforehand, and shot them upon arrival. Welvel Abramowitz, the old rebbetzin's son, was the sole survivor. He managed, miraculously, to escape from the very grave. Later, he became a partisan and after the war he returned to Podbrozie.
Right after the executions, official restrictions against the Jewish population were issued. At first it was demanded that all Jews wear white patches on the front and the back of their clothes. Later it was changed to yellow patches. Jews were not allowed to walk on the road or on the sidewalk, but only in the gutter and in single file, like animals. Jews were not allowed to shop in the market, not allowed to trade or have any negotiations with Christians and other such atrocities.
The private clinic of the Jewish dentist Kune Suzanne was closed and all the medical instruments taken. The Jewish doctor Reizhevski was forbidden to treat Christian patients. Jews were ordered to give all their radios to the authorities. In general, even those who were still alive were made to feel the hand of the German wild beast.
One day an order was issued, that all Jews men women and children gather on the square near the police building. All were certain that it would be the last moment of their lives, that the entire Jewish population will be murdered. Gloom spread over town, sobbing was heard in every corner.
After everybody gathered in the square, the military commandant came and made a speech. He explained that every Jew must work, that without work they will not receive food, and so on.
Right after his speech, a large number of Jews were sent to repair a road not far from town. Others were sent to the forest to chop trees, still others to the army barracks to clean the toilets.
Soon a Judenrat was formed, its object being to carry out all German orders concerning the Jews. In particular, the Judenrat would assign people to work and collect the imposed contributions.
Several days later, a new order was issued, requesting all the Jews to move to a ghetto, which was to be located in the two Christian streets: the Arnian and Bayarel Streets. The residents of these two streets were to occupy the vacated Jewish homes.
Christians began streaming to the houses of their Jewish acquaintances, each trying to catch a better house, with good furniture and riches.
Many Jews dug large pits in their gardens and hid boxes full of household objects, in the hope that they will sometime return to their houses. Others gave all their belongings to Christian acquaintances, hoping that they will be returned in better times.
Some of the Christians, however, asked the Jews to give them their valuable possessions, squarely telling them what do you need these things, all of you are going to be shot anyway…
Meanwhile, rumors spread horrible rumors. Christian neighbors reported that in the surrounding villages and towns all Jews were slaughtered. In Njemenczin, for example, the Jews were taken to a place outside town and all were shot.
Christians, who came to Podbrozie on market day, would cross themselves when they still spotted some Jew. Often we heard them talking to each other, saying that it was a miracle that so many Jews are still alive in Podbrozie.
Receiving all these terrible news, we in the ghetto began to think of ways to save ourselves. The Judenrat collected money in order to try to bribe the Lithuanian police. We asked them at least to let us know when they planned to liquidate the ghetto.
In this gloomy atmosphere we lived in the ghetto 26 days, from the 1st to the 26th of September 1941. Friday, 26 September, we heard that they were going to liquidate the Podbrozie ghetto. All Lithuanian teachers, postoffice workers,
forest watchmen and tens of hooligans and underworld people were mobilized, to help chase out the Jews.
We decided to escape to Belarus, where the situation was not as dangerous as in Lithuania. Many of the Podbrozie Jews arrived thus to Kimelishak, Svir, Michaelishak, Lintop etc. Some were caught and shot right away.
I and my family, together with the Feller family, 9 persons in all, decided to hide in a cellar of a neighboring house in the ghetto. The door of the cellar we covered with hay. When the police came to look for Jews, they did not notice us, luckily. We heard them entering the house and looking around.
Shortly after we hid in the cellar, we heard shots and loud cries and weeping, mostly of women and children. We realized the slaughter of the Jewish population had begun.
We remained in the cellar the night between Friday and Saturday and the entire day Saturday. The second night we began thinking of going out of our hiding place to look for some food the entire time we had not had even a sip of water. We all crawled out through a hole in the wall. It was a very dark night and we walked through the fields until we reached the house of a Christian that we knew, Gajdamowitz Gaspar. The Feller family went to another Christian, Stalewski, where they had left the day before their 6monthsold child.
At midnight we knocked on his door. His sister opened, and seeing that we were still alive, she fainted. They took us in and we told them how we were saved, but the wife explained that they were afraid to hide Jews in their house.
Her brother overheard our conversation. He got out of bed and dressed, then came out to us and asked us to follow him. He led us into a small shed and there we spent the night.
In the morning he brought us food: bread, eggs and hot coffee. We all opened our eyes in wonder. He explained, that for the time being we must not leave our hiding place, because death is lurking everywhere. Later the situation will perhaps improve. He led us into a place covered with hay and we remained there all day Sunday.
Sunday night, Gaspar brought the Feller family to join us. Stalewski had flatly refused to give them shelter.
The entire week we hid all 9 of us in the hay. Gaspar made great effort to bring us food. We noticed, however, that his entire family was very agitated, worrying that perhaps their neighbors would suspect anything. About a week later, Gaspar's uncle came running and very distressed: he told us that we must leave as soon as possible and run away, because the Germans and Lithuanians are searching the entire region, looking for hidden Jews.
Frightened, we all crawled out of the hay. Gaspar was already waiting for us in the courtyard. He took us aside and told us that the old man, his uncle, is simply afraid to hide us. But Gaspar had prepared for us a plan: one family will remain in the same place and the other will hide in a shack nearby. He will bring us food every day, but his own family must not know.
So we separated from the Fellers and went to our new hiding place. Often Gaspar would bring us some food. In this place we spent over five weeks.
One day, Gaspar came in and brought the news about the annihilation of the Podbrozie Jews. For the first time we heard what had happened and how horribly the 8,000 Jews in the Swenciany region perished.
We all admired the goodness of heart and the devotion of the Christian young man. When he was alone at home, he cooked for us a pot of potatoes and brought it to us. The neighbors probably (and hopefully) thought that he was carrying out food for the pigs or the horses.
In time, we told him where we had buried our money and valuables. He went there and dug them out and brought us everything. We wanted to give him part of the money as a reward, but he refused categorically: You he said will need it more than I.
News reached us, that in Belarus the situation was a little calmer, so we thanked him for all he did for us and told him that we have decided to leave for Lyntop [Lyntupy]. He told one of his friends and both took their wagons and took us to Lyntop.
There we realized that Lyntop is about to be annexed to Lithuania as well, so we didn't wait and started on foot toward Svir. On the way we were caught by the Belarus police. The news about this reached the Svir Judenrat and they bribed the chief of police and we were released.
And so we became official residents of the Svir ghetto. We went to work, like all of the Svir Jews, to chop wood, carry stones and other jobs. In the Svir ghetto, it was possible to buy food products, and we decided to send a messenger to Gaspar and ask him to send us some money.
In a few days the man returned and brought money and some other things.
We were not hungry any more, since we were able to buy food products. But together with the money we received through Gaspar the terrible news that the family of Doctor Reyzhewski, Berl and BenZion Eingeltzin and Jonah Kevin with his family all were murdered in the Barany village.
At about that time, tragedy struck Svir: a large group of young Jewish men were sent to work in a neighboring town, and soon we heard that all of them were murdered.
I was transferred to work in another village and I was able to bring my family with me. We didn't stay there long, since we were soon transferred to the Michalishok ghetto. From there we were sent to Vilna, where I worked at the railroad.
During that time, the Svir and Michalishok ghettos were destroyed and most of the Jews were murdered at Ponar.
One day I found out that my wife's father and sisters were hiding in a village 60 kilometers from Vilna and we managed to correspond with them. They sent us a cart and we went there. A Christian friend prepared for us a special hiding place under the roof of a stable.
We spent there about two weeks and we were glad that we had found a shelter with the help of such a good man, when suddenly terrible news hit us again, like a thunder: not far from us, a hiding place with many Podbrozie Jews was discovered. In the group were Feige Barawski with two sons, ChaiaRivka Munitz and her son, Shmuel and Tzviya Shmidt and their child. All were shot, including the Christian man who had helped them.
This tragedy made a frightful impression on the Christians, who helped to hide Jews. All became terribly frightened, and our Christian not less than the others. He was scared, and we had to leave our hiding place.
We didn't know where to go. During the day we stayed in the forest, at night we would walk through the fields, looking for food and a place to rest.
Finally we found another Christian, who agreed to hide us in an attic for 25 poods  of grains a month. Soon, however, he changed his mind and we had to leave. It was raining on that day. Not far from the place there was a large swamp with tall trees, so we went there, and at night we would go looking for food. Some of the Christians in the neighboring villages, who were aware of our plight, had pity on us and would bring us food from time to time.
Finally we arrived to another village, where one of the farmers agreed to hide us. We remained there for a longer time, until Polish partisans came looking for arms. Seeing the partisans, we quickly fled to a nearby wood, because we had heard that the Polish partisans, as well, used to murder Jews.
We stayed a few days in the wood. It was raining and we suffered much. Suddenly, Polish partisans stormed the place
and began shooting at us. My wife and her two sisters fell dead. They shot at me as well but did not hit me and I managed to run away. I found a little ditch and I hid there it was full of water. I waited until it was dark, then I crawled out and began to walk, alone, not knowing where I was or where I was going.
After days of wandering and misery I arrived to a small village, and without asking anyone's permission I climbed into a small attic over a stable, where I spent the night. I had no food at all, not even water. Nevertheless, I decided to remain there the entire day. When night came, I climbed down and began walking again, until I reached the home of the Christian who had given us shelter before. He took me in and I stayed there for three weeks, all alone. He treated me quite well.
One morning, my host came running and said that troops of the Soviet army were stationed in the village. It was simply unbelievable that I was free, that my troubles and suffering has come to an end.
I went out of my hiding place and made my sorrowful summingup: my wife and her two sisters remained lying in the little wood; my wife's father died in the village and was buried in a fox's den. All my dear and beloved have perished.
I was the only one left alive. What shall I do now? Where shall I go? I decided then and there, that I shall do everything in my power to reach Eretz Israel. My wish came true: I live now in Haifa.
Translated by Janie Respitz
On the sad day of June 22nd 1941 I woke in the morning as usual and went to work as the manager of the bakery. Even though it was very early, the feeling on the street was unusual. Groups of people were standing on the street telling of sensational news which they had just heard on the radio. According to the reports, Hitler had attacked the Soviet Union and the larger cities
of the Soviet Union were bombed from the air. Everyone was confused and did not know what to do.
Truth be told, we always assumed war would break out between Germany and the Soviet Union, but no one thought it would happen so soon.
When I arrived at the bakery I met the baker
who was panicking. No one knew what to do. No one thought about working. I tried to encourage everyone by telling them it was our obligation to get back to work. I did not succeed in calming the crowd. Everyone was talking only of one thing. How can we save ourselves? Every hour is crucial, they insisted. We must run away as fast as possible.
I realized I had no choice and went home to discuss with my wife what we should do.
At noon, we heard Molotov's speech on the radio, and we no longer had any illusions. Molotov stated that German airplanes were bombing the peaceful cities of the Soviet Union such as Vilna, Kovno, Kiev and others.
I immediately decide with my wife to leave town. Our intention was to leave temporarily: until this will pass…we packed a few belongings and with the help of our neighbour Borukh Blushinsky we got a wagon and immediately set out on our wandering march. We eventually arrived in a village called Redzie.
The famers in the village received us warmly, even showing pity for our fate. Every day a farmer we knew went to town to find out what was going on. One day he returned and informed us Germans were patrolling the town but the administrative powers were given to the Lithuanians.
At this point we did not yet know of the mass murders the Lithuanians were carrying out in many towns, and we decided to return home. Returning with us were Blitz, Nosn Shapiro, Yisroel Bratanisky, my mother and brotherinlaw.
When we arrived at a small forest, not far from Podbrodz, Lithuanian bandits suddenly jumped out from behind the trees and with murderous eyes wanted to begin shooting at us.
Luckily, their elder asked who we were and where we were headed. He then gave an order to allow us to go.
Arriving back in town we soon became acquainted with the new Regime. Near the bakery a long line of Jews stood waiting for bread. A few Lithuanian police carried out their orders like this: they hit Jews over their heads with their rifles. Upon seeing this I returned home sad and broken. I felt with all my senses, difficult times were approaching.
The next morning, the regular German army entered Podbrodz. Right beside our house, a truck stopped and a German officer got out, grabbed a few Jews passing by and ordered them to bring water to wash his truck.
I was one of those fortunate water carriers.
Our fate was that no less, we had to accommodate the German military deputy commander. Within a week he began to give orders in town. He gave the command that all Jews must gather at the police station within an hour. When I arrived I immediately saw that all the guards were Lithuanian police.
A short time later our commandant arrived on a motorcycle accompanied by a Lithuanian honour guard. He made a speech and told us everyone had to go to work. Whoever does not work will not receive food…
After his speech he had the police register all the Jews according to age. I stood among the middle aged workers. He then shouted at me to join an older group. I later he realized he actually did me a favour. My job was to be a cook in the hospital.
A few days later notices were hung in all the streets stating Jews had to wear white bands with the Star of David. Jews were not permitted to walk on the sidewalks. They had to walk in the gutters on the sides of the street. They were also not permitted to walk in groups, just alone.
A day later they changed the order from a white band to a yellow patch
to be worn in front and in back. He then called for the establishment of a Judenrat to help the Germans carry out their orders.
Everyone in town suggested I sit on the Judenrat. At first I wanted to escape such an honour, but Yisroel Bratanisky convinced to take the position. He appealed to my sensibilities and convinced me to not to turn down this important responsibility. As long as the commandant lived with us I could be very useful to the town. In the end, I became a member of the Judenrat and was elected secretary.
The other members of the Judenrat were: BenZion Vilian chairman, Yisroel Batranisky treasurer, Meir Blitz, Dovid Suzan vice chairman, Nosn Shapiro and Blushinsky.
At a secret meeting it was decided Blitz would bribe the German commandant, and I, the Lithuanian. The other members had to meet with other high police officials.
The plan was to try and get them to tell when there would be an operation against the Jews, so we could plan to escape. A few days after the Judenrat was chosen the order was given that all Jews in Podbrodz had to live in the ghetto. The Lithuanian police chose two Christian streets. This is where all the Jews would be concentrated. At first they allowed people to bring as much as they could carry; later, they allowed Jews to take all their possessions.
We later learned, he was just answering to the S.S. In any event, the Jews would have to leave everything behind.
This is how the new chapter of Jewish communal life began in the ghetto.
In attempting to house the Jews who were thrown out of their homes, the members of the Judenrat had their work cut out for them, dealing with scandals and screams. One wants to live here and the other of course, there. Everyone believed he was maltreated and others were better off.
My family and I settled in with Rayzl Bavarsky in a house on Biarel Street. Our neighbour was
BenZion Vilian, the chairman of the Judenrat.
One house was chosen as the place to hold our meetings, receive people and take care of communal business.
Meanwhile we received the horrific news of mass slaughtering of Jews in Lithuanian towns. The town of Malat was 50 kilometres away. A farmer told us that on a market day when he was there, they shot all the Jews. This was the first we heard of mass murders and panic ensued in the ghetto.
The Judenrat immediately held a meeting and it was decided to bribe the military commandant. We bought a gold watch and sent Blitz to the high ranking German officer.
At first, when Blitz put the watch on the table the commander was insulted, but he calmed down quickly and took the gift. Meir told him the Jews appreciate how he restrains the brutality of the Lithuanian police.
The deputy commander lived in our house. I spent some time with him. Thanks to this we were able to save Leyzer Trachetenburg from a sure death. The deputy commander received wonderful fabric for a suit…
The chairman BenZion Vilian had another system to befriend the police. He would pour them a drink and learn a lot from them.
This role suited him. He was a cold calculating person, smart and bold. In a glance, he knew who he was dealing with.
However, this did not help. Our ghetto only existed for a short time. One day a Christian acquaintance came and told me a secret. They wanted to kill all the Jews.
Don't wait. Run away wherever you can.
Where should we go? I replied. There are Germans everywhere. Death looms everywhere.
The Christian did not leave it alone. If you want, you can find a solution to save yourself
he said. Go into the forest and dig a trench. Live there with your family. I'll help you. I promise I will not let you starve. I'll bring you food.
When I told my wife what my good Christian friend said she answered: You fantasized about this nonJew. Digging a trench and hiding in it is foolish.
In a short time we realized he was right. The healthy and logical plan of this farmer was more practical than our intellectual ideas. Unfortunately we paid for our blindness. If only we had listened to him.
A few days later I met the same Christian. He told me, in the town of Niementshin about 25 kilometres away; all the Jews had been shot. We immediately sent someone to verify this. It was true. That same night, Blushinsky and his wife escaped from the ghetto.
Friday, September 26th at noon we noticed two nice cars driving into town. Two high ranking German officers emerged. We approached our people but could not get any information. We later learned they came to plan the operation to take all the Jews to Poligon.
We did not know what to do. Jews began to gather and with the fear of death asked what they should do.
BenZion Vilian thought for a while. With an ice cold expression he turned to everyone and said these words which I remember clearly:
I advise we send all women and children out of the ghetto. Let each one escape to wherever possible. The main thing is to hide from the patrols. Do not let them notice a thing. After they leave, the men will follow. Jews, don't panic. This will only spoil our plans of escaping.
The crowd did not even wait for him to stop speaking. People began to run around the ghetto in a great rush. The Lithuanian police noticed the upheaval but did not have orders to begin the operation.
I entered our house and told my wife to take our 18 month old daughter Dvoyraleh with her to Kimelishk Street. I would soon join them there.
My wife stared at me in silence and began to dress. My brotherinlaw Yitzkhak came with me.
An hour later I joined them. We went into the forest and later arrived at an estate Novo Misla, 2 kilometres from our town.
A Christian from the estate promised to take us further. Meanwhile he took us all to his barn. His wife took Dvoyraleh with her to an onion warehouse and played with her there.
Later, that Christian brought us to a farmer not far from Kimelishok, whose address we got from Blushinsky before he escaped from the ghetto. The farmer was afraid to let us into his house. Even just to warm up a bit. We learned from him where Blushinsky was hiding and went to him. That Christian received us well and even allowed us to spend the night. However, we did not find Blushinsky there.
The next morning we left for the village Talushan where we finally met Blushinsky. He was hiding at Duchnovich's, the mayor of the village.
Blushinsky was very happy to see us. Thanks to his recommendation, a neighbour of the mayor agreed to hide us.
People in the village knew some Christians were hiding Jewish families from Podbrodz. The Christians were afraid and we decided to leave that village.
In the darkness of night we all left for Pastazhine and went straight to a Christian acquaintance Dombrovsky.
It is worthwhile to remember this man.
He risked his life many times trying to save Jews. We stayed with him for a longer period and he helped us sell some things so we could have some money to live off.
He told us in White Russia Jews were living calmly in the ghetto. Mass murders had not taken place. We began to make plans to go there. Blushinsky planned to go deep into Lithuania where the operations against the Jews had already ended. It was worse to go where they had not yet occurred.
One day a few acquaintances arrived and suggested we go to Baran where the family of our town doctor Rayzhevsky was hiding. At this time we experienced a miracle from heaven. We agreed to go to Baran. I asked if we could postpone our departure because on that day, Dombrovsky was slaughtering a cow and I wanted to have at least one good meal. My wife was very angry with my foolishness and let me have it.
The whole thing lasted about an hour and a half. We finished eating and were preparing to leave. Suddenly we heard shots from a machine gun coming from Baran.
We delayed our departure and a few hours later a Christian came and told us the Dr. Rayzhevsky's entire family was shot together with everyone visiting them.
This is a perfect example that people were not saved due to intelligence of heroism, but simply blind luck saved many Jews.
Meanwhile a Christian came and told us S.S personnel were going from village to village looking for Jewish refugees. That same night, Blushinsky ran deep into Lithuania, just as he had planned. We wrapped Dvoyreleh in a blanket (it was 30 degrees) and left for the forest.
It was a clear starry night. We sat down in the snow not knowing what to decide.
Suddenly Dombrovsky came to us.
At that moment he fell upon us like an angel. We were desperate. We believed only two choices existed for us: to die of cold and hunger in the forest or give ourselves over to the S.S.
Dombrovsky took us to his friend on a nearby estate. We arrived there around two o'clock in the morning. The owner was a Russian and Dombrovsky whispered something to him and he then led us in to a warm place. They brought some straw and laid it out on the floor. We were tired and broken. We fell into the straw like sheaves and fell asleep.
In the morning his wife brought us hot potatoes and we ate until we were full.
We remained there an entire day and could not decide where to go next. The owner of the estate agreed we could stay for a few more days. What would we do after?
At night I went out to get a bit of fresh air. Suddenly I noticed strange shadows lingering among the trees. At first I was frightened. Then I realized there was no need to be afraid. They were: my mother and brotherinlaw Bratanisky and the whole family.
It turns out they were also hiding in Baran. After the incident with Dr. Rayzhevsky they too ran to Dombrovsky who told them where we were hiding.
The owner of the estate received us all. We realized he hated the Germans as much as we did.
We remained there for a few weeks. One night around 11 o'clock we heard voices and shouting from many drunkards. Our host came in and quietly whispered to us these were young Christian boys looking for Jews.
We knew the Germans promised 1 kilo salt and 1 kilo sugar for every Jew. Our host did not disappoint. He invited them into his house, gave them a drink and the gang left.
We were saved, but not calm. If we were to be discovered we would be killed together with the owner of the estate.
We decided to go to the Kimelishok ghetto. What will be will be.
I wrote a letter to a friend in Kilmelishok and our host sent it. The question was whether they were prepared to take strangers into the ghetto.
Eight o'clock that evening, the peasant harnessed the horses and took us to Kimelishok. As there was not enough space for everyone in the wagon, the men and young women walked on foot. We planned on where to meet.
I went through the forest in search of a shortcut. I had been in the forest many times in my life. I don't know what happened that night, but I got lost. After a few hours I ended up where I began. All the others walked behind the wagon.
Our host arrived and our planned destination. Everyone stopped and waited for me. They waited and waited and I did not show up. Our host decided to go looking for me.
When he found me he hurled a few Russian curses my way for looking for a shortcut, and brought me to the others in the forest.
The night was dark and we continued on our way. When we arrived in town a member of the Judenrat was waiting for us. He took us to a small house and we all went to sleep.
The owner of the estate returned home.
Sleeping on the floor I suddenly felt someone caressing my head. It was my brotherinlaw Yisroel Bratanisky who murmured: Eltzik, Eltzik, is it you? You are alive?
I saw him standing there and crying. He told me they were sure I had been killed.
I heard him whisper a prayer to God, that I was saved. This is how this new period of our life began, our experiences in Kimelishok ghetto.
In the morning we began to get organized in the ghetto. The conditions in the ghetto were not strange to us and we quickly got used to them. Our friends in Kimelishok received us warmly. Because of us they were afraid.
The authorities gave an order they were not permitted to register strangers in the ghetto. The Judenrat was held responsible for this. Nevertheless, they gave me work and treated me equally.
One day, as I was going to work as usual outside the ghetto I suddenly recognized a familiar Lithuanian police officer. Apparently they sent him from Podbrodz to Kimelishok. As he had received a lot of money and gifts from me I wanted to meet him.
Once again he accepted gifts and remained silent about us being in the ghetto.
Meanwhile, things were happening in the ghetto that made us take up our walking sticks once again. They gathered all the Jews in the market place and made a speech about work and being useful. This scared us.
They also began to talk about soon liquidating the ghetto. I thought the best thing for us would be to obtain Aryan documents. I met a friend who prepared to passes for me and my wife. I was registered as a Pole and given the name Adam Kozlovsky. My wife was now called: Evalia Sosnovska.
I immediately wrote to my good Christian friend Kozlovsky near Podbrodz. He agreed to take my wife and child and promised to find me work.
Until today my wife cannot forget this kind Christian. This was a man with a gentle, delicate soul, which was very rare to find. Such people must be venerated. He did such good thing for Jews never looking for profit.
He should be inscribed among the Righteous Gentiles.
Even after I liberation he was insulted when I offered him money. He stated:
I saved Jews because my conscience told me to. I did it for God, for history and for humanity.
After I left my wife and daughter I received a document from the municipality and began to work outside the ghetto. I often sent a messenger to my wife to find out how they were doing. In her letter to me she wrote how she was lacking nothing. Yet she was not comfortable living as a peasant woman among Gentiles.
Slowly I advanced in my work and became a master of the first order. I rented a room in a Christian home and brought my wife to live with me. I worked as a specialist in the forest and my wife worked with all the Polish women. At night we would meet and return to our home.
More than a month passed and nothing suspicious occurred. One day the village magistrate came and asked to see my papers. I took out my pass and showed it to him. He took a good look and then wanted to put it in his pocket. I protested and energetically told him I had to keep the documents. If not, I would lose my job.
He told me to go with him to the municipality in Kimelishok and there things would be straightened out. I certainly did not like that idea. I began to speak with him softly and him not to cause me hardship. The outcome: he received a shot of whisky and a few Rubles and left me alone.
Another incident occurred one night when Russian partisans knocked on the door of the Christian's house. He did not open the door and the knocking became louder.
Finally he crawled out of bed, went to the door and asked who was there. I listened to the conversation and learned they were Russian partisans.
In a juicy Russian they asked him to open the door immediately. Otherwise his home will go up in smoke. He opened the door and begged for mercy that they not rob this poor peasant. They replied that Russian partisans don't steal. They asked that he willing give them food for their comrades. He gave them eggs and fat. They thanked him and warned him not to tell the authorities Russian partisans had come to him.
The situation for me and my wife became serious again. We knew if the Germans would know the Christians were helping the partisans, they would burn down the village.
Meanwhile, they liquidated the Kimelishok ghetto. We decide not to remain in the region.
I remember the day of the liquidation very well: it was the 13 day of Cheshvan )November 3, 1941). That day I lost my closest and dearest.
I must describe all the details of the liquidation of the Kimelishok ghetto. I went with Elke Krol to find out how our families were doing. He too had a mother, sister and many friends there. On the way we stopped in at a forest watchman who knew us very well. He and his wife received us well, gave us food and deeply regretted the situation of the Jews.
We sat there for a half hour and wanted to continue on our way. Suddenly his wife ran in and began to shout: They are killing the Jews of Kimelishok. They are shooting everyone!
We sat there frozen. She began to comfort us.
My dears, run away from here as fast as possible. Perhaps you can save yourselves.
We did not waste time and ran to our families in the village. Elke Krol was so disturbed it was impossible to calm him down. We barely made it to the village and immediately told our closest:
We must run to the forest right away. They are liquidating Kimelishok ghetto.
We managed to pack a few things
and food and ran to the nearby forest.
Lying among the trees we heard the shooting from the machine guns. We knew the Jews of Kimelishok were being shot. We thought we would go insane from pain and fear.
We lay in the forest with silent, sad stares and hurting hearts until nightfall. When it was completely dark, Yoske Blitz suggested he go to Dombrovsky and ask him what to do. It was the middle of the night, no one would see him and he did not feel it was dangerous. I wanted to go with him but he would not let.
I remained with my family in the forest. I decided to go to our Christian acquaintance and him what to do. He advised I go to his relative who lived about 10 kilometres from the forest. He hoped we would be able to hide there for some time.
We followed his advice and in the darkness set out to this Christian. We arrived dead tired and broken.
That Christian man chased us from his house. He was afraid to risk his life.
We returned to the previous Christian and crawled into an abandoned bath, where we lay for a few days.
After a few days, the region became calmer and the Christian suggested my wife and daughter go to his brother. We put a shiny cross around her neck. We said goodbye and cried. I remained all alone.
When my loved ones left I was very sad. For a few hours I thought I was going crazy. Then I took my pack with my few belongings and headed where my eyes led me.
I did not know the roads very well. I wandered without direction. When I had enough I went to Dombrovsky, the only Christian I knew in the region. He took me to the forest where Yoske Blitz and his family were hiding.
I remained with them for a few weeks. One day Yoske proposed he and his family would go deep into Lithuania and I should go to the Christian who was hiding my wife and daughter.
Blitz hired a wagon and made plans to leave. When the coachman arrived, I asked if he could take me to the village where my wife and daughter were. It was a dark night, and we all set out on the road.
The Christian received me with a bitter expression but did not send me away. A few days later his brother arrived and brought us a lot of food.
Since my wife looked Aryan and spoke excellent Polish we decided she should not hide. We would tell the people in the village she is from Warsaw; her husband was killed and she had nowhere to live. She came to the village where she has relatives.
What difference did it make to our daughter? She would play with the Gentile children in the village.
I was the only who had to hide. It would not be so terrible for them.
The Christian agreed and I remained there for six months.
At that time, big acts of sabotage were being perpetrated by the partisan divisions. They took down trains, burned bridges, and attacked German warehouses. There were raids throughout the region.
The Christian was afraid and hid me in a trench. The trench was so narrow and low, I couldn't even sit up. I crawled in on all four. There was a small hole on the side which I used as a sort of window.
One day the Christian brought me a Polish newspaper. Through the light coming through the hole I read news from the front. I read the entire newspaper as this was the only way to pass the time. I would read it from all sides and then
begin again. Reading by the hole became a type of sport, an enjoyment.
While in the trench I slowly became a politician and strategist orienting myself with the situation on the fronts. I knew Hitler and Goebel's speeches by heart.
From time to time my wife would come and bring me food. I would tell her the news and it appeared all my commentaries were correct.
After a while I tired of the sport of constantly reading Hitler's press and tried to spend my time doing other things.
I wrote riddles, collected expressions and finally attempted to write poems. When my wife would visit, I would read her my literature.
In my poetry I described my life in the trench and my hopes for liberation.
My daughter had just turned four. In honour of her birthday I wrote a poem.
One day, I serious discussion took place between me and my wife as to who would liberate us. My wife believed the Americans and British would liberate us. I held by my convictions that it would be the Soviets.
One cold day in January, the Christian came and asked me to come to his house at night. He had very important news.
When I went in, his brother was there. He showed me various newspapers which described the defeat near Stalingrad. This news cheered me up and began to believe there would be a victory over Hitler.
It appeared, these leaflets were dropped from Soviet planes and they ridiculed Goebel's lies.
When I heard this latest piece of news I kissed the good Christian and said:
If this is true, the sun has begun to shine on us! And that is how it really was. The Germans began
to retreat from all fronts. One could feel the despair in the German press.
Another chapter in our suffering is about the upbringing of our little daughter.
When we ran away from Podbrodz ghetto she was only 18 months. She learned Polish fluently. You could not distinguish here accent from gentile children. Nevertheless she was depressed and felt insulted. The Christian woman was not mean and cared for her well, but she failed to understand our daughter's little heart.
The Christian women called her the noblewoman because she could not get used to their food. Every day they ate beans and peas. She got tired of it and did not want to eat.
She played with our host's daughter. One day she pushed her and the gentile girl fell on a stone and was badly hurt. Her nose bled and her parents were afraid.
They took her to a doctor. Our luck was it was not a serious injury.
This incident put us in danger because they told our host my wife was responsible. With difficulty she managed to calm them down.
Among other stories that I told my Christian friend, I had hidden a lot of gold and after liberation I would pay him handsomely.
My wife was angry that I told this lie but I explained I had no choice.
Another problem was when the woman of the house went away and asked my wife to feed the children.
Once she asked my wife to give her daughter potato pancakes with bacon. Our daughter had to watch with envy how she fed the Christian girl and nothing remained for her.
Dvoyrele had a great instinct and felt she must resolve everything and concede.
In short, there was nothing to be jealous of her.
Meanwhile the Germans kept facing defeat. The Christians told us how the Red Army is getting closer to our region. The German front was trembling. The gigantic wild beast was leaving city after city and village after village.
When the Christian brought me a newspaper I immediately saw the news that the army is methodically retreating from Dukstas. I was amazed.
Dukstas was three stations from us, only 80 kilometres away. Was this not a mistake? Is it possible? It was hard to believe.
I waited impatiently for my host to come feed his horse, and could finally learn the truth.
I burned with fever: every second was like an eternity. Finally I learned this was really our Dukstas and the Germans were running like demons from all fronts.
My heart was beating strongly. I felt the big hour was approaching, the hour of liberation.
Being liberated, no one who had not lived through the Hitler years could conceive what these two words mean to a Jew who hid for years from the Nazi animal claws.
Being liberated meant going from darkness to light, just like our sages said: From darkness to great light.
This was our only dream, everyone's fantasy, our wish and desire.
One day, in the end of June 1944, my host suddenly knocked on the secret little door. He told us the Germans had retreated and the Soviets were 30 kilometres from our village. The problem was the Germans were burning villages as they were retreating. He wanted to escape with his family to the forest and wait there for the Red Army to arrive.
I remained lying in the trench startled. What would we do? We can be burned alive here in the trench.
I discussed it with my wife and we decided to take Dvoyrele and run to the forest, but not with the Christians.
Truthfully, it was very hard for me to walk.
I had been lying in the trench for almost 14 months, and simply could not move my legs. Nevertheless we dragged ourselves slowly deep into the forest and found a hole to hide in.
As my wife said, I looked like a real bandit. I walked in big torn boots, a pair of patched dirty pants, a jacket full of holes, and on my head a cap with a twisted visor. I looked like a wild animal.
I thought Dvoyrele would be afraid and not want to go with me. But she actually snuggled up to me and would not leave my side the entire time.
Suddenly we heard loud shots not far from our small forest. We lay as if electrocuted. We then heard soldiers passing, speaking German. We trembled with fear.
After 14 months in hiding, now, on the eve of liberation we can fall into their hands.
The Germans did not notice us. We later learned it was a German punishment division searching for hiding partisans.
At night, once it was dark, I sent my wife to look for the Christians and ask them what we should do. She returned to say we must return to our hole. It was safer there than in the forest.
Did we have a choice? A few hours later I was back in my hole. I remained only for a few days.
One day I heard shots from canons and machine guns. It was around noon .I heard the noise of trucks on the highway.
I felt my heart exploding from joy. I waited for this hour for three and a half years and it finally arrived. The damned Nazis were leaving the village.
The canon music lasted for six hours, and then all was quiet. I felt the dead
silence in the entire region. In the evening my host came knocking and told me the Germans were gone. They disappeared. Everyone was awaiting the Red Army.
The next morning he returned and told us the Red Army was 1 kilometre from the village. I jumped out of my hole. I began to shake his hand not knowing how to thank him for the good news.
The Christian advised me to crawl back into my trench. We still should be careful. I did not want to lie in there any longer.
OK, good. Do as you please.
It was July 4th,1944. I went into my host's house and was ashamed. We were saved, but we lost are best and closest. What will we do now? Where will we go?
I sat down on a bed and started to cry…My wife comforted me and said we should say goodbye to the Christians and return to Podbrodz. Perhaps we will find someone there.
We all cried. Then we took Dvoyrele and headed through the forest toward Podbrodz. Half barefoot and dishevelled we looked like real beggars. We were sad and as we walked could not say a word.
We stopped to rest a couple of times. My feet really hurt. Finally we saw our hometown from a distance. We did not feel happier. We felt we were nearing the destruction, the ruins of our homes.
Podbrodz was considered one of the nicer towns in Vilna province. We all loved it and we were sad. Why are we going there? To whom?
We approached the town and a stream of tears flowed from our eyes. We took control of ourselves and came to the first street. Everything blackened before our eyes even though the sun was shining.
We saw destroyed houses, broken windows and doors, scorched beams and ruins. No end to the ruins…
What is there to say? Podbordz looked like a cemetery. A dead silence ruled all the streets. Here and there we saw a Christian passing by who looks at us in great wonder, like we returned from the dead…
We stopped a Christian and asked if other Jews had returned to the town. He told us that in Eltzik Gordon's house we will find a few saved Jews. We went straight to Eltzik's house on Post Street and found him, BenZion Valian and a few more Jews.
There is no poet who can describe how we felt at that first meeting. It was a nondescribable experience.
We were barely able to speak. We all sat there and cried, cried over the horrific destruction we encountered.
The destruction of the individual, the destruction of all of Israel…
Seated: Golda Shapiro, Miriam Shapiro, Sholem Raytenburg with Miriam's child, Esther Flexser with her child, Khana Zilber, ____, _____, Soreh Kirshon (Bavarsky), Soreh RivkindLapp, Khane (Trakinsky) Rivkin, Miariasha Bratanisky, Mordekhai BarKhone, ___ Grunia (Norman) Patashnik,___, Riva Blushinsky
Standing: ___ (Shkurkovitch) Shokhet, Eliyahu Gordon, BenZion Lapp, Avrom Rivkind, Aharon Kuritzky, Mirsky, Dr. Shni
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
August 12, 1941 the Germans flooded our district. When they arrived in Podbrodz they immediately caught Jewish men and sent them for forced labour. One of them was shot. In another evening, with the help of the Lithuanian bandits, they forced about 270 men from their beds and shot them near Tishkevitch's mill.
The rest remained in their homes and no want moved around in the streets. The doors and windows were shut and we peeked through the cracks.
As our house was on Sventzianer Street we were able to see the motorized army passing. It seemed to us, their numbers were endless. We felt that death and destruction had arrived.
I brought in water and my wife Sonia wanted to light the samovar. Suddenly she started to squabble and scream run quickly and fetch the doctor.
I immediately ran to Dr. Rezshevski and brought him home. A short while late we heard a whimper from a new Jewish life. She had to arrive at such an evil time.
I went out to tell our friends the good news. They gave me a weak Mazel Tov. I learned from them that harsh decrees against the Jews were announced. Soon we will no longer be allowed to walk on the sidewalks and after five, we were to remain in our homes.
Besides this, all the Jews must wear yellow patches with a Magen David on the front and back.
A short while passed and new decrees were issued. All the Jews had to live in a ghetto. They enclosed all the Jews within two streets and the lack of space was unbearable.
As my father had a concession of beer and lemonade, he was invited to the commander.
They told him that the Lithuanians vouched for him, he didn't dilute the bottles and was an honest Jew. Therefore he will receive a permit to deliver beer and lemonade to the German army.
As they didn't allow us to have a horse and buggy, we managed with a two wheeled cart. My brother Leibke and I had to deliver our supplies to the commandant.
My first meeting with the commandant didn't go so well, my heart was beating and my nerves were rattled. Leibke remained with the cart and I gathered my strength and brought the first crate to the commandant. On the way I pushed my patch into my jacket so he wouldn't notice who I was.
He counted the quantity of beer and lemonade I brought and I was ready to leave. Suddenly I noticed that he was unshaven. This was a wonder to me. A German not shaving, there must be a reason?
I said to him a matter of fact toneWhy are you not shaven? He looked at me strangely and politely answered
I don't have a razor.
So I said to him, if you allow me, I will bring you soap to shave. He looked with strange eyes again and I thought to myself, I can do some business here with this yekke (German).
At the speed of lightening Leibke and I returned to the ghetto with our cart and told our story about a business opportunity. At that moment I put into my pocket six bars of shavingsoap and six bars of toilettesoap and I returned to the commander.
The yekke didn't know what to do with me. He asked me to sit and offered me some champagne. Word for word he told me that he is a teacher, has a wife and two children and is a VolkDeutsch from Czechoslovakia. He is going to fight for a greater Germany, but is very uncertain if he will live to see the end. He is lonely and wants to return to his wife and children.
I strongly felt that this commander could at some point save our lives.
One time in the middle of the night, an escaped Jew from Malat arrived in Podbrodz and told us that all the Jews had been murdered there. A terrible panic broke out in the Podbrodz ghetto. All the Jews came running to me to ask the commander clearly if he could help us.
The next morning I left to his office to carry out my talk. I asked if he received any letters from his family and what news they were sending?
He was in a good mood and told me one of his colleagues was quickly leaving with a pass and he would love to send a gift to his family. He didn't know what to send. I quickly answered and told him I will bring him a package in several hours.
In the speed of lightening.
I returned to the ghetto, and gathered women's' clothing, playthings for the children, a gold watch for him.
When I brought the commander the package he looked at me as if I was some sort of king. He didn't know how to thank me.
When I told him this was a gift from the Podbrodzer Jews and I was also a Jew, he became entirely confused. He grabbed his gun and wanted to shoot.
I remained calm and sweetly said that we wanted to offer this as a gift for his wife and children. What is the catch? He didn't deserve this? Their father and husband is going to murder them and they give him a present? Why should he receive a token of appreciation from them?
He settled down, put down his revolver, asked me to sit down on the sofa and excused his behaviour.
I asked him to hide the gifts quickly, as no one should notice them. I told him that I will bring him nicer things.
Slowly he gained my trust and he told me his life story and hopes for the future. He told me he was a Socialdemocrat and is a Nazi out of duty. What else could he do?
Word by word he told me that Hitler will not only destroy the Jews and Russia, but also Germany. He doesn't believe in Nazi idealism. As Hitler was successful in his early years of the fighting, in the end Hitler will lose the war and the end result will be greater than in the First World War.
Hearing such a confession I told him of our situation. The Jews of Maliat were murdered. The Jews in Podbrodz also await such a fate. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. We all believe that he is a good person and under his watch he would not allow such a slaughter.
He thought deeply, seconds of silence and finally said:
As long as I am here, nothing will happen to you Jews.
I returned to the ghetto to tell the Jews of my conversation. Everyone felt the sun started to shine again over the Jewish heads.
Several days later,
they actually felt the German actions grew milder. Jews went to work and received more food to live on. Life was somewhat easier than before.
We started to hope for better days. This ideal lasted only for several months. One time I received an invitation to see the commandant. In a few days the Jews will be divided and deported and a new commander will arrive in Podbrodz. He warns us to run away
as this will be the S.S. and it will be more difficult for the Jews.
The good times now ended, in a few weeks the murderspree started for the Jews of Podbrodz that brought death and destruction. Only a few managed to survive.
The Jewish community of Podbrodz was erased from the map.
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