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[Col. 1797]

Children Saved From Satan's Hands

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[Col. 1799]

Saved Children

The editors

Translated by Janie Respitz

…Of all the sadness, the worst sadness was a mother's, when being chased by a terrifying death, left her children with strangers, with a glimmer of hope they would survive. From all the tortures, the most horrific to witness with one's own eyes, was the cruelty in which the Nazi murderers tortured these young souls. When we read about the tragic, painful and miraculous experiences of those who managed to survive, it is astonishing: How in the world did the Taybeles, Estherls, Moishelehs find the courage and wisdom to escape the hands of the murderers that awaited them? The children of Sventzian region experienced exactly what the adults did, the violent ways of horrors of war, torture, sorrow and loneliness. The same curses chased after and them, and they found no rest. But how often were they stronger, smarter and more tenable than the adults?! This is how they remained child –pure and innocent. For years these innocent babies were carried through the storm of fire, blood and hatred. While millions of children around the world enjoyed sun and light, the same sun brought Jewish children darkness and tragedy. The sun was used as a tool in the hands of the wicked, so they could discover the steps of the children that ran away and managed to escape. Hundreds of evil men would chase after one hungry child. From thousands of children from the cities and towns of Sventzian region, very few survived. Except for one or two, the enemies succeeded in poisoning their childlike hearts and fill their heads with hatred towards Jews, their own Jewish mothers and fathers, who returned from this difficult nightmare, from the giant mass graves. Huge praise must be bestowed upon the Kovarskys, the Garshins and others who performed the holy act of saving Jewish children who survived from Satan's hands. These young people returned from the battle fields, understood the great fortune, that there were surviving Jewish children. With great humanity and national responsibility, they sacrificed and fought for revenge, to defeat the stained enemy at its own race, to resurrect the longing for parents, help them to rediscover themselves, and to once again merge with the Jewish people, its tradition and history.

 

[Col. 1801]

My Fight to Save the Children

Sender Kovarski

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

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The fight was difficult and complicated. This fight was against the fanatic–religious Christians, with whom we fought for Tachum Ester's son. He was raised a Christian together with their own daughter. Many Christians remained under the influence of the local priest, who advised against returning Jewish children.

When Itzhak Yocnes returned to Sventzian, he told us what Chana Ester (Rabotnik) had told him, about her in–laws child that is in Christian hands. We immediately began our search and found this child, who was with the Christian we knew, Kutchinska: with whom we started to negotiate with in order to return the child to us.

She said no close relative survived the war and therefore there is no one to make demands.

We then, with much kindness towards her, provided papers and promised her a large cash reward. This didn't produce any results–she became angry and through the priest, she would not release the child into Jewish hands. The priest told her that she would commit a “sin”, even though the child was born a Jew. Kutchinska found out and became emboldened, that the Sventzian law ruled against Yocnes from getting his daughter returned to him (also held by a Christian family). Our begging did not produce any results.

In those days (after the war), a woman from an organization from Poland came to Sventzian, who undertook to help find missing Jewish children (who were rescued by Christians).

[Col. 1802]

We sent her to Kutchinska, to meet with her as the child's mother's sister, and to return this boy! Kutchinska almost threw her out of her house and from this time onwards, she kept her house locked. She would not allow any further contact between the boy and a Jew!

Several months passed, the few survived Jews were preparing to depart Sventzian to Poland and from there to other countries. We still continued our struggle: one day I went to Kutchinska, bringing sweets, but the door was locked. I presented myself as Sender, son of Leizer Kovarski, her former neighbour on Vidzer Street, and she asked me to approach her window and I said–“I come to you with good intentions, with sweets for the children, with some money and you won't welcome me into your home?”

In the end I convinced her and she let me in. I made her understand that my aunt Funes' child was her nephew, and she wanted to turn the process over to the judge and the child would be taken from her. Should we get a judge to decide this matter or is it not better to settle this matter in good faith, between us? I propose a solution, which will be beneficial to both her and a dowry for her daughter.

“Why do I need a dowry? The boy will get older and he will become my daughter's husband!” Her words torn my heart out! With great heartache I spoke of the great injustice that had been perpetrated against the Jewish people. You robbed us of everything and now you want to rob us of our Jewish children?

[Col. 1803]

She tried to respond–she found the child on the street and saved him from death! She understands my pain, but the priest won't allow it…I tried to go into the room where the boy was, but the door was locked. Through a crack I saw a small boy with dark, scared eyes looking towards the door. A blond girl was sitting next to him, and he began to cry, “Mamusia”, I don't want to go to those “black” (dirty) Jews! They want to kill me!

The anger within me grew and I said to her: you will be held responsible for this!

She broke into tears and weakened her stance…I left 10,000 ruble and asked her to sign a paper, that she is giving the child of Chana Ester to his aunt Feige Rubin.

Crying, she asked me to postpone the signed paper for later, but when she opened the door both children ran to her. The boy didn't stop crying. She calmed him down and instructed him to go with his uncle. She dressed the boy. It seemed he didn't even own a winter coat. It was a frost outside. I took off my winter coat and wrapped him in it. I carried him through the streets to the home of the Flexser family, where the woman from Warsaw was waiting, whom I presented as the aunt of this child.

Laden with gifts I returned to Kutchinska and with some other Christians as witnesses, she agreed to sign the paper that she agreed to return the child of her own free will.

That same evening, a Vilna ensemble performed a concert in Sventzian, after which I returned to the Flexser house to check up on the child. First, they tell me the child cried endlessly before going to sleep. Then, the Christian, Kutchisnska, came by and took him in her hands, promising to take the child for the evening and return him in the morning.

I became embittered, and the first thing the next morning, as she hadn't returned the child, I went to her. No one was home. The neighbours who were witnesses, went to the priest. After several long hours, they returned, the priest said to return the money and gifts and take back the child!

Like a lunatic, not knowing what was best, I ran to the church

[Col. 1804]

to talk to the priest, to appeal to his emotions and to his wisdom! When I entered the courtyard, I saw the priest through the window, sitting with other people, drinking tea. I thought I would see Kutchinska and the child, but they were not there.

I scuffled through the maze of buildings, the cold entered my body. I wanted desperately to find a place to warm myself, but I couldn't abandon my mission. My heart told me that he child was somewhere in one of these buildings.

Suddenly, a building, where the watchman lived, a side room was lit. Quietly I approached the window, where I saw Kutchinska with both children. The little boy was crying and she was consoling him. I heard: she will never leave him again, and in a few days when the Jews are gone, she will return him to her home.

I vowed to follow her to her home and kidnap this child!

I didn't go to work the next morning, waiting in my hideout, kept watch on the house. I noticed Kutchinska and the priest entering the house. As I was standing around in such difficult circumstances, I decided to take another approach with the child, trick the child.

On the third day I went to Kutchinska to enquire about the well– being of the child. She became disoriented when she saw me. The child was not with her, but she wanted to keep the gifts and money and wanted me to returned the signed paper and was willing to return the child.

I told her the aunt had already left for Poland and the money was to be used for Kutchinska to buy clothing and other necessities for the child. The aunt's only request, she begged that the child not be raised in the Church and with its anti–Semitic tendencies! Kutchinska was overjoyed and left immediately to seek out the priest and relay our encounter.

At that time, a young man was living at the Flexser's house, who worked for the NK.V.D. I told him the story of my intent to kidnap the child once he returned to Kutchinska's. I left with some sweets, but when I arrived at Kutchinska's, the door was locked. At that moment, the N.K.V.D. man knocked at the door

[Col. 1805]

and lied to her that he was sent from the court of Vilna and that he had the signed document that she received 10,000 ruble for the return of the child. He held her accountable that she stole the money and the child! He was going to take her to court.

Kutchinska became pale from fright and after many tears and pleading, opened the door and gave me the crying child.

Together with Moshe Shutan, the cousin of Chanele Goldberg (now my wife), and Yehuda Sorski, we took the child to the train, which was going to New–Sventzian. There the Bitusunski family, the woman Rubin, were waiting the survived child of the funes' aunt (?).

Rivka Bitushunski washed the child, fed him and put him to bed. At the Bitusunski's house, there was also little Teibele, who was also returned from a Christian family. This child also survived a terrible war and understood the needs of this little boy. Their fate had ben similar. She sat next to him and said: don't be scared of your aunt, she is very nice and sweet, and she brings me wonderful toys!

The little boy stared at her with wounded eyes and she said to him again, “I was in the same situation as you are.” She was with strangers and was also very frightened to be returned to the Jews! Now she is happy and the Jews are very kind to her and bought her many beautiful things. He relaxed, then fell asleep.

Three in the morning, we left with the sleeping child on a train for Vilna. There we went to Liba Gurevitch–Gershonovitch.

In the days to follow, Feiga Rubin was ready and available to help me retrieving more children. She took the children from the orphanage and accompanied them to Poland.

Returning to Sventzian, my brother told me that the authorities were searching for me. I was being accussed of kidnapping a child with many lies! I left immediately to the authority who showed me the charge filed against me by Kutchinska. He was bewildered when I showed him the paper signed by Kutchinska and the 2 witnesses, that she willingly handed over the child. I told him the priest was meddling in our affairs. He was bewildered, he wanted to cancel the trial, but was under pressure, so the trial had to proceed and I had to appear at the precinct every 3 days until the day of the trial.

[Col. 1806]

If there was going to be a trial, I wanted to finish with it as soon as possible, in order not to delay my trip to Poland. After hounding them, the trial took place 3 weeks later.

It was a Tuesday morning, at the courthouse the priest and a large group of his Christian followers, assembled. I was all alone. None of my friends nor my brother were present. I didn't even have a lawyer to represent me! I didn't want to lose the trial by their very organized one. The judge opened the proceedings: I planned the kidnapping of a child that Mrs. Kutchinska had saved and had risked her life for this Jewish child! Her lawyer said, “In the name of Hela Kutchinska”, that I entered her house by force, threatened to murder her and the papers were signed under duress of death. The witnesses and authorities were all falsified and I took the child with force and falsehoods!

Now it was my turn to defend myself, I asked Kutchinska 2 questions: can you tell the judge who are the people who signed the papers ? and can she name the persons who helped her carry the 5 parcels she received from me? The lawyer asked the judge that these questions should not be answered. The head judge threw out his request, and Kutchinska had to provide the names of her neighbours: Kantorovitch and Vitkofski. I remain steadfast, that the witnesses signed these papers of their own free will and Kutchinska agreed willingly to hand over the boy. It was the priest who later objected!

In my final argument, I placed the blame on the fate of the Jewish people and the mass destruction that the Germans created. I praised my fellow Christians that I hold in my highest esteem, who in those dark days risked their lives to save a Jewish child! My upbringing was the same as the Christian values, as that of Hela Kutchinska's. The money and gifts were showing our deepest and sincerest appreciation for the humane deed she performed of saving a Jewish child from death!

[Col. 1807]

She showed deep understanding for my wish that the child be returned to his mother. The misfortune arose when this religious woman went to the priest and confided in him: he said–return the child to the Jews? For this you saved him? He wanted to convert this child into a Christian child! This kind woman is being influenced by these fanatics! Hela was a pawn in the priest's hands, he is using her to bring up this child to become an enemy of the Jews! He is the cause of this antagonism and doesn't want the aunt to have access to this child, who wants only to see the child of her murdered sister and bring him gifts. This was a terrible blow to the aunt, who suffered from loosing her entire family and the only one left is this boy.

When I came to Mrs. Kuthinska's house she insulted me by calling me “cursed Jew!”, She terrified the boy saying that Jews were the “Black Devil”. This was like a knife in my heart!

After all that we suffered, does a saved Jewish child have to become an enemy of the Jewish people? To be raised by a priest to instill this hate in him and against the Jewish people? Are this the values of a Christian?

I believe in my heart that Ms. Kutshinska is not guilty in all of this, even though it breaks my heart. She is blessed with a kind and good heart. She is poisoned by the priest and the actions of these fanatics, that is why I didn't want the money returned. I am willing to give her additional support that will she will need in the future. We trusted her when she said she would return the child in the morning, and when she didn't show up that morning we knew that the priest was influencing her decision.

The lawyer tried to interrupt my speech. He said I was insulting people who had nothing to do with the trial. He underlined that the priest was the leader of the Christian community and his integrity is sanctioned by the Soviet regime in the region. After this interruption, I was told to proceed with my speech. I painted a picture of our despair, our desperation, our lives were uprooted in Sventzian, the murders in Poligon of 8,000 innocent lives that were thrown into a mass–grave. Here also lies the mother of this child!

[Col. 1808]

My ears are still ringing from the cries of this murdered mother! “Save my son! Don't allow him to become an enemy of his people!” I felt the tears running down my cheeks and I almost collapsed from the anguish I was portraying. The attendants ran to me with fright and the judge asked whether we should end the all my strength and begged for the trial to continue, I didn't want to lose this trial.

I called the witnesses who signed the paper, and they said they knew what they were signing.

So, I asked them, when did they learn that Kutchinska changed her mind… and they answered, from the priest. He said, “Do not return the child to a Jew!”

After painting the picture, the trial proceeded and eventually the aunt was granted custody of the boy. The judge told Mrs. Kutchinska that her grievances were agaisnt the aunt.

The demands were thrown out.

After I arrived in Poland, I became involved again with the fate of the Jewish children. I was in contact with the woman to whom I had given the child, she was a representative of “The Organization of Finding Hidden Children” in Poland and she was involved with a religious party. From here, I was informed, that the child was sent to Switzerland, then to Eretz Israel. I felt relaxed and calm, and when I reached Eretz Israel I wanted to know what happened to this child. I searched all the orphanages and other institutions, without any success. I never found out what happened to this child, at least he came to Eretz Israel.


[Col. 1809]

This is the Story of Teibele (Anka)

Aryeh Anat, (son of Zeev Popiski)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The town of Nemenčinė is situated on both sides of the river, on a sand route, along the wide slope, between ridges of hills covered with tall pine trees, as you go from the city of Vilna toward Dvinsk [Daugavpils], approximately 21 kilometers past the bridge over the Viliya River on the north bank.

A few years prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, a tall, thin, broad–shouldered, jolly youth arrived from the town of Kaltanėnai. His name was Berl Wolowicz. He came to work in Aharon Popiski's flourmill, that was once there. The place of the mill, Hamarna, was about four kilometers from Nemenčinė, over the river on the south bank.

A Jewish family named Endelman lived in that town. They had an only daughter, short and pretty, named Rachel.

When he was among the local lads and girls one Sabbath, Berl noticed the young, beautiful Rachel, and began to court her seriously and persistently, until one bright day, he decided to get married and build his own home among the Jewish people. This was in 1938, one year before the outbreak of the Second World War. They had a daughter nine months later, called Teibele.

Teibele was only just over a year old at the outbreak of the war between Germany and Poland in September 1939.

Before the town was conquered by the Nazi troops, the local Lithuanian and Polish “fine youth” had already pillaged. Jewish lives were a free–for–all, and their property was for pillage and plunder. Any Jew who had a friend or acquaintance in a nearby village searched for a hiding place. They would pay the villager money in order to take them in and hide them.

Four kilometers from this town, in the forests, there were several isolated houses, about a kilometer apart from each other, called Podksziosz. A farmer widow named Marcinkiewiec lived in one of those houses next to the forest. This farmer always made her purchases from Rachel's parents' store. Berl and his wife went to Podksziosz with their little daughter. They went to Marcinkiewiec' isolated house in the forest and knocked on her door. After a long wait, noise was heard from inside the house and the voice of the woman was heard, asking “Who is there?” “It is I, Rachel, the daughter of the merchant from the town of Nemenčinė. Open the door for us,” she pleaded to the farmer women who was peeking out the window with suspicious eyes.

[Col. 1810]

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Yona Wolowicz (Teibele) [1]

 

The door opened for them, and Rachel explained the reason of their visit to her. The women did not make it too difficult for them, but it was possible to discern from her words that she needed money in order to arrange the matter in the best way possible. Of course, Berl and his wife Rachel understood the subtle hint, and placed their money and gold jewelry in her hands.

She hid them in the attic, behind the bales of straw, so that nobody could see. Three days later, they were transferred to a hiding place in the forest, some distance from the house. The hiding place was a sort of long pit, as tall as Rachel was when standing, so that Berl had to “stand” in a sitting position. There was a layer of hay thick enough to sleep upon. It was on a small hill. There were young pine trees around, the branches of which merged with each other, almost like a mist above the ice. Above the hiding place, covered with branches and weeds, there was a sort of chimney to the skies, covered completely so that nobody could notice.

Before they entered the hiding place the woman gave them a thin rope, so that she would be able to give them the necessary food. One end of the rope was tied to a pine tree, hidden so that it was almost impossible to notice.

As was agreed, she brought them food and drink once a day, after dark, when all the neighbors were in their houses.

Day after day, at the same time, after darkness had spread over all creation,

[Col. 1811]

the woman would pack a package of food, leave the house through the back door leading to the yard, as if she was going to feed the animals in the barn. She would go around the yard, peer in the darkness, stop for a moment to look and hear whether someone would appear suddenly to disturb her from carrying out her holy task of offering help to a friend in need. When she was certain with all her senses that nobody could see her, she disappeared between the barn and the storehouse into the direction of the hiding place in the forest.

Every evening, she set out for the forest, each time through a different exit point so that she would not catch the attention of anyone, and also so that she would not leave a noticeable trail from trampling too much on the grass and weeds of the forest, for an enemy and adversary might catch her in her disgrace and annihilate her from under G–d's heavens along with her meager property for offering assistance to Jews.

After about two months, on a Sunday when she was in church in the town of Nemenčinė, as she was exiting to the street after the services, her ears caught on to some snippet of conversation as one was saying to the others: “What do you say about Marcinkiewiecowa?[2] They say that she needs multiples of her normal quantity of food.” The first took hold of the shoulder of the second and brought her close, as if she wanted to trust her with a deep secret: “They say that she… got rich from Jews.”

The conversation continued about the property of Jews, about gold, jewelry and other valuables, about the danger lurking with hiding Jews, and about the annihilation of them from the face of the earth. The farmer woman stood astonished the entire time overhearing the conversation, with flames spitting fire in her heart and soul. She returned home in a depressed mood. She sat and thought about the oppressive things that the two women were discussing. This means that it was no longer a deep secret, and how long would it take until it reaches the ears of the police and their dogs? I will inform them [the Jews] tonight about what has happened, to prevent both their and my complete annihilation. She made a firm decision.

A quiet discussion in an oppressive atmosphere took place between the farmer and the Wolowicz family. Finally, the village woman agreed to take their daughter Teibele to her home and raise her and protect her until the day would come… They were forced to leave the hiding place and to wander around the forests of the area in constant hunger, with barely a moment of rest, from fear and uncertainty.

They would visit their small daughter from time to time after sunset, in the dark. Their caution was insufficient, however, and one evening before it was completely dark, when they were going to visit their daughter they ran into a young girl who recognized that they were Jews. She followed them secretly and saw where they went in. The young girl hurried straight to the police and informed them about what she had seen with her eyes, and the isolated house into which they entered.

Berl and Rachel were at the table in the house of the farmer women. They were sitting on a wooden bench, facing the two front windows. Suddenly, Berl noticed a person appearing from the trees of the forest, apparently carrying weapons. They got up quickly, placed their daughter on the clay floor, and each ran through a different door in the corridor of the house. They ran in different directions, thinking that one of them might survive and raise their young daughter, so that she would not remain alone and orphaned in the frightful world, and would not be alienated from her people.

The gunshots from the Lithuanian militia first hit Rachel. She fell, wallowing in her blood, and died on the spot. They only injured Berl as he was fleeing from them across the threshing [where the grain stock is trampled to detach the kernels] floor, hiding among the bales of hay. They did not leave him be – their victim who was escaping with his wounded body. They removed him from his hiding place, and, with blows to his head with a gun,

[Col. 1812]

murdered him in a cruel, frightful manner. They did not receive a Jewish burial. They were buried as donkeys where they fell.

These are the words told by the Christian farmer woman, the only light in the great darkness of that time.

 

Y. Avicz Relates:

I returned to the city of Vilna from the far–off depths of Russia in April 1946. From the Jews whom I met, I found out that there is a sole survivor from the entire community of the town of Nemenčinė, and he knew that the daughter of Berl and Rachel Wolowicz survived thanks to the dedicated, pleasant stance of the village women Marcinkiewiec. After the murder of her parents, the men of the Lithuanian militia entered the farmer woman's house and wanted to murder the girl as well. She fought against the criminal murderers with her strong arms, hands, and fingernails. With full force, she avoided giving her over to their hands, sullied with the blood of pure, innocent martyrs. Finally, when she saw that they would overcome her, she preached to them Christian morality, saying that Jesus their Messiah will not forgive or pardon them for the sin that they were about to carry out in murdering the girl, whom she had baptized about a half year earlier. She was prepared to die together with her, and would not let them murder a tender, pure Christian soul. They backed off after the reproof, but decided to imprison her and the child.

She endured seven levels of hell with inquisitions and torture at the Lukiškės jail[3] in the city of Vilna – and she won! She was freed with the girl after two and a half months, and returned to her isolated house.

One summer day, I went out to the town of Nemenčinė to meet with the aforementioned Jew, named Dov. He survived thanks to the belongings that he gave over to a farmer in return for hiding him. He knew the parents of the girl, and knew the place where she was located. Therefore, he agreed to meet me at the house of the widow in Podksziosz, to take back the daughter who was my relative.

 

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Forlorn in the forest, by Rivka Ben–Sira

[Col. 1813]

When we entered, we greeted her as is customary there, and told her who we were, and what I wanted as a relative of the girl. She told us about the entire tragedy that took place before her eyes, and how she literally saved the little girl from the talons of the murderers, stressing especially the word “little.” We asked her directly regarding the matter: “What sum of money do you ask for?” The farmer thought a bit and said, “100,000 rubles.” After some negotiations, we left the house without positive results, and returned to Nemenčinė as we had come.

I began to visit that house weekly. I became friendly with the girl and won over her heart and her pure, tender 248 limbs[4]. We became very close. I won her over to the extent that if was late in coming, she would stand outside waiting eagerly.

Teibele's appearance was frightful and terrible: she was thin as a stick due to malnutrition, and as short as a baby. She only wore a cloak on her body, and lice swarmed upon her. I bought her new clothes.

Once, when I was sitting in conversation with the farmer women, I raised the question of her education: “You will be forced to send her to study, and of course, she will need new, clean clothing, and from where will you get such? I have a recommendation: I will support her with everything during her period of study, and she will live with you during the vacation. Do you agree? If you are afraid that I will take her from you, come along with me. I will pay all expenses.”

She responded: “I cannot give you a clear, decisive answer now on the spot, for various personal reasons. Therefore, we will deal with this issue next week, on Sunday after I return from church services.” I agreed to her words, with the hope that I would finally succeed in convincing her.

At 10:00 [a.m.] on Sunday, I set out on a wagon to my intended destination, her house in Nemenčinė– Podksziosz. I saw that the farmer woman was standing on the porch, pacing to and fro. I got off the wagon, approached her, and greeted her as always, as was customary amongst the villagers. Her response was cold and almost hate–filled. As I attempted to go up the stairs of the porch in the direction of the door, the woman jumped opposite me and against me as a wild beast and stood in the opening of the door. Her elbow on the side blocked the entire width of the door. I was surprised at her sudden change of attitude toward me, and I was unable to guess why.

“What happened, Mrs. Marcinkiewiecowa?” I asked with great surprise. “This is the way you are. You repay a good deed with a bad. You are like your Dov!” I took advantage in a hiatus in her flurry of words and asked her an innocent question: “What did I do wrong?” The woman refused to speak to me at all. When I recommended that I enter so we can discuss, she responded: “You will not enter, and your feet will not cross the threshold of my house anymore!” When I swore with everything that was dear to me and to the soul of the girl Anka that I know of no connection with Dov Benin, aside from him showing me the place where the girl was located, her heart softened, and she agreed to let me in to the house, to discuss, and to clarify the chain of events during the time of my absence.

The women said as follows: Last Monday, Dov came to me in a drunken state, barely standing on his feet. He said to me: “We will take the girl into our hands for better or worse. The law is on our side, as you are guilty of anti–socialist education and external improper care that is likely to damage the tender soul of the girl. I will bring representatives of the government her to show them her physical and spiritual state, and the court

[Col. 1814]

will put you in jail for cruel treatment.” I remained seated in my place without able to move or to utter anything. After a few minutes, I she continued: “This is your thanks for my deeds, as I stood against the beasts and did not permit the Satanic murderers [to perpetrate their deed], and took my life in my hands in front of them.”

I had not expected to hear such a shame and embarrassment. I sat as if on thorns and scorpions. My flesh and soul were burning like a flame, and my face turned red from embarrassment and shame as to what a drunk “person” could do, and could destroy within a moment. The women continued: “It would be better, do a good deed for her parents. Take them out of the donkey grave, and bring them to a Jewish burial.” My tongue stuck to my palate from the reproof of this upright, honest, and proud woman, one of the Righteous of the Gentiles. My soul was singed from her degrading and disparaging words to a Jew, a drunkard. I stood up from the table with my head dizzy, and went toward the door. I blessed her with great peace. I did not receive a response from her.

I traversed the four–kilometer distance from Podksziosz to Nemenčinė on foot with great speed. My anger toward Dov was burning so strong, as I wished to give him the overflowing portion coming to him. To my great disappointment, I did not find Dov at home. I waited at his house for a long time, and he did not return. I returned to the city of Vilna with a broken, tormented heart.

My sublime, high objective, to return a daughter of Israel to the bosom of her nation, seemed finished. In any case, I tried through letters to urge her to remain in touch with me, but I never received an answer. I was astounded at the good, dedicated woman, and her embittered stance – to the extent that I recognized her uprightness and clear thought. It was not her own thoughts, for there were foreign, inimical ideas operating around her.

I had no rest from this matter for two months. I attempted to get in contact with Dov several times by travelling to Nemenčinė to meet him, but I always returned as I had come, with his absence from his house. I asked his neighbors and acquaintances if it was possible at all to ever find him at home? There response was always short and consistent: “We only have seen him for a few moments.” I even remained once until late at night, and he did not return. It is possible that he was evading me, knowing what had taken place through his tongue. After a few months, as I was sitting in my room toward evening, the door opened, and a tall, handsome man stood before me, stated my name, and removed an envelope with my family name on it from his coat pocket.

I nervously opened the envelope. I removed a thick piece of paper from it, upon which was written:

My dear friend, relative, and fellow townsman!

From my letter you can see that I am living, alive, and functioning in this world. I survived, and my daughter Danka (Dvorale) is with me. My husband and sons fell victim, among the first in the slaughter in Ponar near Vilna. I know that Teibele, the daughter of Berl and Rachel Wolowicz, is found around Vilna, in Nemenčinė. Help the special messenger to go to her place, and bring her to me. I hereby beg in all forms of request to give to one of the Righteous Gentiles full and dedicated assistance.

I hope that you will do everything in your power to ensure that this objective will succeed. I thank you from the depths of my heart. May G–d repay you for your deeds.

Your friend and relative:

Signed: Bilha Gurshin

[Col. 1815]

In order to be sure that this was not a trap set for me, and to find out if Bilha had indeed sent it, I asked him for details about her appearance, town, and relatives. He told me everything as if he was one of the townsfolk. I chatted with him to find out as well if he was to carry out his mission on a voluntary basis, or for money. He got very angry when he realized my thoughts: “Do you need money, I will give you what you need.”

I set the table with liquor, bread, and herring. We drank lechayim [a toast]. To his questions, I told him how he could find the place where the girl is located if Dov refused to give him the needed assistance. He left me in a high spirit, and disappeared in to the darkness of night.

 

Bilha Gurshin Relates:

Anka was walking hand in hand with a Russian on the streets of Vilna, going toward the railway station. They were chatting, and he bought her sweets and some toys. Then, the railway station was in front of them. There was still some time until the train left for Bialystok, therefore he went to the first–class restaurant in the railway station and purchased a meal for her. She ate unwillingly, and between each swallow, she turned her head to all sides. Who knows what was in her tender, stormy soul? The train arrived at a fortuitous moment. They went out to the platform to travel. The little one was stubborn, and refused to ascend the steps of the car.

He sat with Anka in the compartment of Russian soldiers. They were chatting, discussing all kinds of levity and laughing out loud. One asked: “Why is the girl so bitter?” “We have gone a long distance, and she is very tired,” was his answer. In the meantime, a second soldier began to take interest in her. He took advantage of him [apparently the one guarding Anka] passing the time by looking in a newspaper so intently that he did not see how Anka had disappeared.

As if from a snakebite, he got up from his place to move from the door of the compartment to the hallway of the car. He passed through and counting people with measured steps, peering into each compartment through the glass of the door. At the back of the wagon, he noticed a group of men and women standing and speaking in anger: “Who is this, who snatched a Christian girl and is trying to transfer her to the accursed Jews?” Anka stood among them and pleaded to them, pouring out her heart: “Good people, save me from the Jews, they kidnapped me from Podksziosz. I have 20 zloty. Take them and bring me back to my mother and my brother Tomek.”

Were it not for his superior, who knows what might have happened?

This time, as they were sitting in the compartment, Anka sat next to the window and her temporary guardian behind her in the seat next to the door, with crossed legs covering the width of the compartment to the bottom of the second seat, so as to prevent easy access.

They arrived in Bialystok at a propitious time, and went to the house of Bilha Gurshin. He told her everything that had happened during the journey, being thankful that he had finished: “I spoke to her heart in a good way, and turned her attention to the good fortune waiting for her with her aunt. From my senses, I realized that my words were not absorbed in her tender mind, and her thoughts were directed toward the environment and house in which she grew up and was educated. I also realized that the poison of hatred and disgust for anything connected to Jews had struck deep roots in her soul. Anka sat bitterly, turned into herself, without uttering a word from her mouth. It was impossible to talk to her and to find out about the turmoil afflicting her. At times, she groaned from the depths of hear heart, and uttered the one word: “Home

[Col. 1816]

to my mother.” The tears in her eyes and the occasional groans had an immeasurably bad effect on me. I knew that I was doing a positive thing by returning a girl to her nation and people, and providing her with a more progressive and free education without the previous dark ideas. My conscious was completely clear.

A new period began. There was jealousy over every small thing between her and my daughter. I became the judge, and Anka did not always like my verdict. Neighbors alerted my attention because they saw Anka wandering about the outskirts of the city as if she was searching for something hidden. I was forced to open my eyes and supervise her more carefully, which stole from me precious time that was needed to earn our livelihood. I also had to instill new ways in her, ideas looking toward the future as a Jewish child, and to encourage her to forget the spirit of life in which she grew up and was educated. A bundle of difficulties and challenges were poured over our head.

One day when I returned from visiting acquaintances, I did not find Anka at home. I asked my daughter, the neighbors, and acquaintances from the house and the nearby area, but nobody saw her. What do we do now? Where can we look for her without help from the police? Having no choice, I turned again to my employer, who had influence with government authorities, to encourage them to search for Anka. He calmed me, saying: “”Everything will work out. Only patience and calm nerves are needed.”

They searched for her for three days, and found her with a certain Christian woman in a remote suburb of the city. She did not give her over easily. She demanded a comprehensive investigation as to where I got her from, and believed the words of the girl. With the force high level police, they took her out from the crowd of inciters and transferred her to the police station in the area of the city in which I lived.

On a Sunday morning, I was summoned to the police station to identify the child and take her home.

I endured the seven levels of hell with vengeful cross–examination until my eyes saw Anka's face before me. Anka refused to approach me. A policewoman intervened and said, “Friends, pay attention! The girl claims that this is not her mother. Her true mother is in a remote village near Vilna called Podksziosz. Perhaps we should wait until we investigate to find out if the words of the girl are true. Do we have time to investigate the mother?” The head of the division did not agree to extra headaches for his superiors. Hand in hand with Anka, with a heart full of happiness, we walked toward the exit of the police office and went out to the road swarming with masses of people after church services. Anka took the opportunity and began to shout out for help, asking people to save her from the Jews who kidnapped her from Podksziosz and transferred her to who knows where. “Good, merciful people save a Christian girl from a Jewish woman!” was the last shout I heard from her. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a stormy, angry crowd, headed by a young women burning with murderous wrath toward the Jewish people. She grabbed Anka's hand, which I was holding, and removed it from my hand. She put her other hand on my shoulder, as if to distract me. The stormy crowd were in ferment and shouted in a commotion: “Death to the accursed Jewess! Kill the despicable person! She is certainly preparing for their Paschal offering – with the blood of a Christian girl for matzos.” No explanation or papers that I showed them could influence them. A cold sweat covered my body, and a shiver went through my flesh as I saw death before my eyes once again – despite the fact that I had become used to it for a long period of five years of Nazi conquest, when I was a wanderer, without any rights of existence on earth. Then, I desired to remain alive and I won. I decided this time as well to remain alive

[Col. 1817]

and to somehow escape from the wild crowd desirous of a vain sacrifice. I turned to one man who seemed more settled than the rest and said to him: “You know what I am telling you, come to the nearest police station, several tens of steps, and we will determine whether or not my words are true?” “Right, right! We will indeed go to the police, but you will go with us, without trying to escape and flee.” Anka and the woman disappeared during those moments. I did not despair, and I was firmly determined to free her from the unknown woman and bring her back to the bosom of my family. This time as well, I was forced to turn to my acquaintance. He related to me in such a good, merciful way, that I have no words to thank him for his sublime deeds.

I was not at home when one of the N.K.V.D men came to inform me to appear at their office on a certain street the next day regarding the claims of the girl. Nobody dissuaded me from going. My acquaintance advised me to go, so as not to arouse the slightest suspicion, and he would make sure that everything would be arranged to work out positively. I appeared at the office of the captain of the inquisition at the address in the notice at exactly the right time. I went through several obscure administrative procedures, meant to instill their fear upon you, before I reached him. When I appeared in the designated place, it was as if he did not see me. He paced back and forth, making you wait for something unknown. Suddenly, it was as if he woke up. He turned to me face to face, and asked an incidental question as if he did not sense your presence. He shouted: “What are you doing here, and what do you want?” I took control of myself, put on my good spirit without getting flustered over the drastic approach against me, and presented him his notice. He lowered his head, raised his eyebrows, and surveyed me from top to bottom with his inquisitive eyes. “Hmm… This is you? Why did you not appear at the time designated in the notice?” I was indeed self–assured at that time, but.. he did not permit me to continue with my explanation. He said in a questioning and commanding voice: “Since when does a Russian captain, especially of the N.K.V.D. have to wait for any person? You could not come before the time and wait for me!” I was quiet. “Why are you quiet? I have means at my disposal to make you talk?”

“Do you know that Anka claims that you have kidnapped her from her mother who lives in Podksziosz, and that you are unrelated to her. If it is proven after the investigation that the girl is telling the truth, do you know how many years of prison you will receive. Ten years of harsh labor!” “The girl is mine. Here are her official papers. However, at the time when I was in dire straits, on the verge of annihilation, with a strong will to put an end to my life, I made sure she would survive.” I informed him of the terrible, frightful things I had endured. I noticed that he trembled, and a chill passed through is body. He suddenly rose from his chair, and said with a trembling voice: “You are owed a medal for your strength of survival! Take your child, and be happy.”

“Anka! Anka!” he called loudly. The side door opened, and Anka was brought straight to me by a police woman. “Please, strong fighter, take your desired one and your happiness. Be healthy, so that we do not have to bother ourselves again.”

Anka was with us in the home again.

Once when the teacher punished a portion of the class for not doing their homework, Anka was among them. When they took them out from the class, she disappeared from the school and did not return home. Certainly the teacher had forgotten who Anka was, and from where she had come. I had warned the teacher more than once about negligence in this matter, with regard to punishing this child. In order to draw her near, a completely different approach, more from the heart, a soft approach, with an understanding of her soul was needed.

I went to my acquaintance, as usual, to once again save the girl from the talons of the detractors. However, this time he almost refused to fulfil my request due to the danger involved in interceding with the authorities. He explained to me that the investigation was liable to become complicated: “I hereby advice you as a friend, take her to somewhere far off, and thereby prevent a bundle of problems for both me and you. This is the last time that I will get involved.”

I gave her over to a Christian woman in the city to raise her, educate her, and to ensure that she would be weaned away from the place from whence she came. After about two months, I transferred her to the city of Łódź, and went to visit her every two weeks in the children's home. A special Jewish committee took care of the children, transferring them onward to Israel or America.

My daughter and I moved to live in Łódź about a half year after Anka was transferred there. I dedicated myself to her here, in the new place, for a full year, until she was sent via France to Israel with olim.

 

Moshe and Shifra Relate:

When we were informed about Anka, who is Teibele, via a letter from Bilha Gurshin, our happiness was immeasurable. We waited for more than a year until our financial investment reached fruition. Anka–Teibele arrived in Israel via France, through the Youth Aliya. From the family of olim, she went straight to the home of my sister Rivka.

Our household was happy with the new guest–daughter. There was nothing that Anka asked for that was not provided.

She was freed from the army in 1959 and went to study in a teacher's seminary in Jerusalem. She only completed one year. During the summer vacation, she met her mate, Ari Weinberger from Brazil, who had come to Israel on a visit. They got married.

 

Sve1534.jpg

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Teibe (or diminutive Teibele) is the Yiddish form of Yona – both meaning “dove”. Return
  2. The ‘owa’ suffix to a name in Slavic languages implies a female. Return
  3. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luki%C5%A1k%C4%97s_Prison Return
  4. A traditional Jewish number for the bones of the body (not accurate of course, but used colloquially and also used in the prayer for recovery of the ill). Return


[Col. 1819]

My Mother Commanded me to Live

By Arie Anat (son of Zeev Popiski)
As told by Dvora Rozenzweig–Vinokur

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

Sve1819.jpg
Dvora Rozenzweig–Vinokur

 

This took place during the time when the gas chambers were functioning in full force in all the cities of Poland, daily suffocating thousands upon thousands of people from all countries of occupied Europe, ripped apart and torn asunder by the Nazis and their disgusting, dedicated assistants: Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Poles. They suffocated them and burned their bodies to ash, scattering it over the four corners of the earth. The bodies of our dear parents were burnt in the crematoria next to the gas chambers. How did it happen that I remained alive? How?… My mother commanded me to live! Do not ask how I emerged alive from the frightful Sodom? Behold, I am one of those whom death skipped over, perhaps it forgot about me completely, not paying attention to such a baby as me, as it was hovering and sweeping over the impure land with its great work of complete destruction.

There was one great miracle: my mother held me with her teeth and sharp nails, and did not allow me to be offered as an offering to the angel of death.

We overcame them… My mother commanded me to life! Miracle, miracle, miracle! A miracle in every place! We set out on paths, through forests and fields, in the darkness, cold, howling wind and pouring rain.

 

Death was Always a Shadow Close to Me

In my memory, I will rummage through the stories of my mother, and I will write about everything that we endured during our time of wandering, from the time of my birth.

I was born at a time when death reigned in full force on the Jewish street, and mercilessly swallowed up entire communities in the district of Švenčionys and region of Vilna.

I first saw the light of the world in the town of Vidz. At that time, a war was being waged on the battlefields between the children of light and the children of darkness, taking many victims.

From then, death did not leave me be for a moment. It hovered around me, in my proximity, against me, with each and every step, wishing to annihilate me.

This was the end of the summer of 1941.

When the Vidz ghetto was liquidated in 1943 before I was two years old, all the Jews of the town were transferred on foot to the district city of Švenčionys, from where they would shortly transfer all the Jews to work in the city of Kovno.

We were loaded onto transport wagons like chased animals. The wagons were packed with no space. It was hard to maintain a stance due to the great crowding, and the lack of

[Col. 1820]

sufficient fresh air to breathe. The first victims were the sick, the weak, the elderly, and the children. They would faint, suffocate, and die while standing.

There were hours and hours of travel… Suddenly there was the creaking of breaks. The train stopped, and there was the sound of shouting in German, Polish, Lithuanian, and Latvian. A mixture of languages as Babel, with some sort of commands being heard: Open the doors! Exit! Exit! Shouting was heard from the evildoers, accompanied by whipping on the “flesh” [1] and bones of those tortured, sticks on the shoulders, and butts of guns on the heads of those who did not hurry to exit and jump off the wagon… Were we in Kovno? Mute glances were exchanged between the people. With their look of astonishment, they understood the “work place” as they saw the gigantic pit in front of them, surrounded by a wire fence.

As they jumped out, before they had figured out what was going on, and as they were being prodded toward the pits, the heavy machine guns were already rattling and spewing forth hellfire. The “work men” murdered and annihilated wagon after wagon, without fear of punishment or G–d.

 

Sve1820.jpg
Under the wings of the raven by Rivka Ben–Sira

 

Did a miracle not happen? When a person is found in the valley

[Col. 1821]

of beasts, the vale of murder in Ponar, and escapes under a shower of shots, with bullets shrieking and zooming around him, over his head, and he escapes onward and onward?

My father ran holding me in his arms, while my mother held my four–year–old brother's hands. When my father realized that shortly my mother and brother would fall behind, he slowed his forward pace a bit, transferred me to her arms to make it easier for her, and took my brother in his hand to make it easier for her. The machine gun bullets, sowing death, hit them, and they both fell.

My brother wept so bitterly: “I still want to live, Mother,” he pleaded. His voice got weaker and weaker. The hands of the murderers silenced him with a second shot.

I cried and cried. My mother took me in her arms, nestled me against her body, and with her remaining energy fled from that place, from the death in the vale of death of Ponar and the accursed surroundings.

I was not yet two years old.

Two other women were running with their daughters. A bullet grazed the head of one of them. She fell, with her small arms raised upward. Her cry of “Im…” [2] remained fixed in the cold air. Her hand was extended toward her fleeing mother, calling out for her help: “Don't leave me.” It remained hanging in the air for another moment, and then suddenly fell forever, with no end, to the end of days.

The mother continued to run and escape from death, without looking behind her, without turning her face. On the second side of the grove there were fields, meadows and fruit trees before the autumn. Above our head there was a clear sky and the sun that was warming and caressing, even in the coolness. Bu the light? How much light was it spreading? So much light…

Light!? It was our enemy in body and soul, betraying us and turning us over to our enemies! It was death! To us, darkness and blackness – was light! Without it, it would be impossible to exist and to escape from death.

My mother and I were one body and one soul. She dug under the tall bushes in the grove until the wrath would pass.

We began to walk, to walk and to set out in the dark to where our eyes directed us – only to escape from there with our remaining energy, as far as possible from this “work place”… to the endless place.

My mother moved toward the town of Daugeliškis in the area of Švenčionys. We hid during the day, and walked slowly but in a wearying way during the night, without food, as our energy waned.

Suddenly a wagon hitched to a horse moved, with Lithuanian farmers in it. They peered out from the side, as if from the ground, noticed her, and attempted to forcibly load her onto the wagon. With her remaining strength, my mother resisted those who “were concerned.” The corpulent, stout Lithuanian hit her over the head with a fist, shocked her, and tossed my mother onto the wagon as a valueless object, as if tossing sack of hay.

He brought her to the local prison, to the German guard in the town, in the home of her brother–in–law. They were discussing amongst themselves: “Is this not Moshe's sister–in–law?” Each of them had their own theory. They decided to transfer her from this world to the world of truth, so that there would not be a living witness to their deeds and iniquities.

Sunday was their holiday, the holiday of their creator and messiah. My mother's ears heard a vibrant discussion amongst friends: “It is not appropriate to dirty our hands on a holiday,” said one. Their firm decision was to kill her the next day.

In the darkness of the windowless room, it was hard to find

[Col. 1822]

a remedy or salvation. My mother did not rest. As an animal in a trap, she paced to and fro, and felt the walls and the porthole above. That was the only escape from death, so that she could save our lives again this time from the talons of the wild beasts.

Her gaze fixed upon the iron trellis of the porthole. The space between the second last bar and the one beside it was slightly wider than the others. She decided to endanger herself and make an attempt through the diagonal, facing downward.

She removed her worn–out, simple clothes and created a sort of rope. When she saw that it was not long enough, she also took off her cloak, tore it into wide pieces, and added to the rope. She tied me to one side, and tied the second side to her left hand. Like the leaping of a wild cat, she jumped upward and grabbed one of the bars with her right hand. She attempted to move her head through the trellis, but did not succeed. She turned to and fro, leaned a bit to the side, and her head went through the diagonal opening. Her thin body and bones somehow moved through. She tied the rope to the trellis, and lowered herself quietly and slowly onto the wooden floor. With several steps, she crossed the hallway to the next room. The room of the diary keeper was empty of people. She took the bench, brought it to the door of the prison room, climbed up, and untied the knot in the rope. The rope was in the hands of my faithful mother. She raised me upward, and brought me through the trellis.

My mother ran like a madwoman through yards, jumped over fences, crossed fields, and went straight to the adjacent forest to hide from the Lithuanian “human” beast. We escaped through the thicket of the forest: escaping from an enemy and adversary who was liable to pursue us. My mother heard the ringing of bells. The alarm bells of the firefighters? Yes, yes, they were ringing! They were summoning all the destructive angels against us. There they were, the accursed dogs, almost next to us. They were searching and foraging through every shrub and thicket of trees. One more small step… They literally tread on our bodies. A miracle!… They skipped over us and moved on. We were saved! Soaked to our bones, with my mother's feet bleeding and deathly frozen, we knocked on a door with light. There was a house in front of us, alone and forlorn, built in a corner between the trees of the forest. She knocked on the door delicately. Who is there? The voice of a man was heard, and the door opened. The man did not permit us to enter. Her pleas and entreaties to his Christian heart to at least let us dry off and warm up were to of no avail.

We began to wander again. The tribulations, difficulties, suffering, and hunger were with us again. I was bloated from hunger and cold. Our legs and feet were scratched and wounded, without appropriate care or a secure spot to heal them. When we found a heap of hay or straw covered with a roof and semi enclosed with wooden walls, or even with bales of wheat that were forgotten or remained in the field before they were taken in, at the edge of the forest and the meadow or next to the river, we were the happiest in the world.

How good for us was the darkness in the hay? We could rest, strengthen our dry bones, and sore, tired feet.

It was as if her eyes were fixed on one point, a bit further than the village, to an isolated house among the trees, separate from the forest. Perhaps it was a bathhouse? We walked toward the house on our failing feet. Then we were inside. It was a bathhouse. It still had some heat, which caressed our face and bodies. What joy was on Mother's face: the water in the large iron basin was still warm. Mother stripped me and herself to our birthday suits. We bathed and enjoyed the rare opportunity. A piece of soap rolled out from a corner under the bench. Mother washed and scrubbed me with soap. Herself, she only washed in

[Col. 1823]

in the warm water to spare the soap, leaving it to wash our dirty, filthy clothing, which was full of lice.

As she was so busy and occupied with cleaning, and happy with such a rare opportunity, she completely forgot where she was, and the inimical, murderous environment. Suddenly, her ears heard a faint, barely audible creak. Then, there was knock on the door that had closed on itself from the power of her pull. A shudder passed over her flesh and skin. Her eyes wearily turned toward the open door, where a Lithuanian was standing with a hunting rifle on his shoulders. He was shouting and threatening to turn us over to the German police. Her pleading and begging on bent knees and hands wrapped around his boots and feet softened him, as he placed his eyes on Mother's ring. He extorted her last memento of her wedding – a gold ring with a diamond. We remained alive that time as well. It was simply a great, rare miracle in the frightful den of beasts.

The winter progressed in its full strength. It was freezing, and snow covered all existence. The paths, roads, trees of all types, fields and meadows were all covered in white. We were cold, hungry, and oppressed in body and soul.

Could we maintain a stand to fight with two mighty enemies? Having no choice, my mother slowly got used to her new situation. She prayed with her soul that wet, soft snow would fall. The footprints of our bare feet could not be covered and left a trail for the enemy. In wet, soft snow, it was possible to erase them with a pine branch tied behind her. We made our way at night from place to place, without resting after searching for food for our hungry mouths, as we were up to our knees in snow. From time to time, mother stood for a few seconds and rubbed my hands and feet in snow so they would not freeze.

It was before nightfall. The cold sun had not yet set behind the forests, and the voice of youths, joyous and happy, could be heard almost next to us. We were finished! There was no time to escape. Mother placed herself in the snow, with me below, covering me. They almost passed us, but suddenly the last of the group shouted to the rest: “Look, there is someone frozen under the snow!” Mother trembled from cold and fear together. The end of our suffering and tribulations was at hand, and there was no way to prevent it. The youth approached and tried to turn her around and lift her up, to see if she was alive or dead. She panicked when she saw him. He calmed her, saying, “Don't worry, we will not do anything to you, we are also persecuted by the Germans. We are from the underground.” With amazed eyes , he looked at Mother and said, “You are Moshe's sister–in–law, are you not?” Mother asked him to bring something to eat. He promised to do so. After a short time, he brought a jug full of milk and a half a loaf of bread, about two kilos. Mother pleaded with him to bring clothes, a pair of old shoes, but he refused, and explained: “You know our people, and how depraved and denigrating are the times. They know and recognize everyone's clothes. They would even recognize someone's shoelace. They could figure out whose clothes it is from the buttons… Don't be angry, and don't tell anyone that I gave you even this little bit of help.”

One night, when we were at the edge of the forest, we heard voices in German. Their coarse and arrogant laughter did not bode well. There was no way to escape from the place. Mother took me, and we both fell into a sewer pit full of snow. We sunk, and sunk…

It was dark in the forest, the area, and the roads. One could move and search for a distant settlement or an isolated house to live, to seek a morsel of dry bread.

[Col. 1824]

Behold we were next to a house. A giant dog attacked my mother, biting and barking. She did not let up from her, and I was screaming. Mother fell down without strength. It seemed that the end had arrived, and her minutes were numbered. Soon, the dog would tear her body to bits.

A voice calling his name from the darkness distracted him. It left my wounded, bleeding mother alone, and disappeared to the voice that called him.

Before us was a tall village man, wearing a coat as was customary in the winter, and with boots on his feet. My mother pleaded and wept before him. “You are a good–hearted man, a savior and rescuer. You saved me from the claws and teeth of your faithful dog. Do me another favor, have mercy on us, and give us something to eat. The dog exhausted our last energy. We are starving to death.” Without saying anything, he returned to his adjacent house, and brought a full loaf of bread, large, and fresh, under his shoulder. He gave it to my mother. Before he gave it over to her hands, my mother noticed that there was a knife with a long blade tucked into his boot. She thought: certainly the knife is for us. The bread under his arm is only to trick us so that we will not escape. He turned around and went back to his house, closing the door behind him as he entered. He certainly did not hear my mother's blessings.

We set out again on the roads, with bare, wounded feet. Night after night, week after week, persecuted more than before, as if the circle of tribulations and difficulties was closing in around us. We had no way of escaping the trap. My mother had no more resourcefulness to maintain our stand under these circumstances in this hateful environment. She decided to go to the ghetto in Vilna.

As we crossed the long path, we found ourselves around a village. We were surrounded by Polish Christian youths, shouting, “Look, look! Here are two forlorn, dismal Jewish women. Death to them for killing our messiah!” The calls were repeated over again, and incited the rest of the group to come. A “rescuer and redeemer” in the form of an adult villager came and saved us from them.

We were in the Vilna ghetto, where “life” still took place. People were taken to work in distant places, by foot, tens of kilometers per day back and forth. My mother was among them, and I was left alone in the common house, without special supervision. I knew how to “arrange things” and hide myself in all sorts of “holes.” The adults, good people, had pity on my and gave me some of their meager food, a morsel the size of an olive. I would look in their eyes while they were eating, and saliva dripped form my mouth.

How happy was mother when she greeted me on her return from work and saw that I was still alive, in a hidden corner so that nobody would see. One morning, when she went out to the physical labor, she returned to the block as she had left, saying with sadness and sorrow: “They did not go out to work today. Something unusual has taken place.”

I was the only small child together with the adults in the block. It seemed to me that no other children were still alive. When my mother realized that there was no escape, and that she would have to go on the way of all flesh, to the gate of the ghetto, to the gathering place for the “selection” she covered me with a sheet, tied the four corners with one knot, like a package. She left a little space open for breathing, and descended the states of the building, with her “package” behind her shoulders.

In the concentration and selection area, who for the rod and who for “mercy,” the young people who were still strong and healthy were sent to one side. Women, older people and weak people were sent to the other side.

[Col. 1825]

We were behind the “sorting.” The living “gathered material” still moving, passed through the gate according to the command of the Jewish ghetto police. The “package” on my mother's shoulder, with me inside, began to rebel and to throw herself to all sides, since there was not sufficient air and she was suffocating. I burst out in wailing. My Mother, hearing what was happening behind her ears, opened it with her hands, and widened the airhole a bit. She sensed inquisitive eyes on her, and looked around. She did not lose her composure. She left the line, and leaving the line was not simple. Somehow, she pushed herself between the crowd of those being sorted with her elbows and her “package.” My mother found herself outside the sorting, and ran quickly through the slope of the hill to the grove. None of the guards said anything, paid attention to her actions, or looked at her. They did not stop her.

We were among the trees of the grove. The trees were naked and frightening. Here and there, a yellow leaf that had not yet fallen was still hanging from a branch. A cold, stormy wind whipped them incessantly until destruction. The trees also hated the yellow color and tried to toss them down. Next to the trees, there were still small piles of yellow leaves that the wind had heaped up. Mother gathered the small heaps into a single large one, and dug a sort of long pit in the melting snow and mud. She covered the two “forlorn creatures” with the yellow leaves.

This was the only time that the yellow color protected Jews and became a redeemer, savior, and helper.

We were in the cellar, in a hiding place with two other women and their children. Complete silence pervaded there, as a cemetery. The quiet and silence was interrupted by the crying of a baby. The baby's mother tried to calm it and stop its wailing. She tried again and again, but the baby continued to wail in a louder, shriller voice. The mother got upset, and was afraid that the wailing would turn everyone into the hands of the enemy. She took the pillow from the baby's head, put it over its mouth, and silenced the baby forever.

There was complete silence in the cellar. The hiding place was a cemetery. And the mother? She survived… for how long?

We escaped from the hiding place. Bullets from guns again shrieked over our heads and around house. There was almost no escape from them.

The woman escaped together with us, and advised my mother quietly: “Cast her aside, and it will be easier for you. You no longer have the energy to run and carry her on your shoulders. Cast her away and save yourself!”

A fifteen–year–old girl fell beside us, severely injured. She was lying on the ground, tending to her wounds. Her voice weakened as she pleaded with her mother: “Do not leave me in my groaning. Help me, take me with you. I am young.” The mother ran onward and onward, moving in all directions. She advanced a few more steps and fell on the cold ground with full force.

Broken and weakened from the tribulations, hunger, and escapes, fighting for her life, my mother had no more energy to maintain herself. She decided to put an end to her suffering. One dark night, she brought me to the edge of an isolated village and left me alone in the garden next to the house. She covered me with the rest of her rags that she removed from her body, frozen with frost. She quickly disappeared, so that nobody would notice her with a wicked eye. She stood a distance away and looked, to see if I would be taken in by the residents of the adjacent house. She wanted to die with a quiet, calm heart, and a clean conscience.

I cried and wailed bitterly, pleading, “Mommy, Mommy! Where are you? Why did you leave me?” The door of the adjacent house opened, and

[Col. 1826]

a woman appeared next to me from the darkness. She looked on me with pity, lifted me with her arms, and brought me into a large, spacious room in the house. The light of the lamp spread weak rays along its length and width. I was with a Polish family.

The next day, a problem arose in the family: What to do with me, whether or not to inform the police? The woman said: “Perhaps she is a Jew?” The husband reacted in a slightly more humane way and said: “It does not matter to me who she is! We will raise her as a Christian girl, and this is the commandment.”

My light hair, blue eyes, and the Polish language that mother had taught me throughout the time of our wandering helped me, and did not fail me. They took me for a gentile foundling, and I remained with those Poles until after the war.

My mother, standing before the gallows, changed her mind at the last minute and escaped from the dangerous place. Death was in her own hands. She never forgave herself for losing her mind, not having any recourse, and for the travesty that she perpetrated against me and my future. As she was alone and childless, she never rested. She secretly came out of her hiding place at any appropriate time to see me from afar.

I became a member of the villager family. They loved me very much, and dedicated themselves to my care, with their heartfelt, good attitude. My clothes were always clean and nice. I prayed every morning to Holy Mary, kneeling on my knees toward the icon that hung over the bed. Of course, I completely forgot my entire past. My throat and tongue uttered all the hate, venom, curses, and invective that I learned in this Polish home. I became on of them. My mother was completely forgotten from my heart and memory, and left my soul.

Despite their positive relations, my “mother” did not hesitate to punish me with a rod on my naked body for every small misbehavior. She had no mercy on me, even when tears came from my eyes like streams of water, and bitter pleas came from my mouth. I loved my “father” more, because he never punished me. One day, he fell ill, and died after a while. They dug a grave next to the house. Every day, I lay over his fresh, pleasant grave and wept bitterly, pouring my heart out to him. I recited prayers and pleas to the Creator for the elevation of his soul. I loved him very much, and made decorations around his grave so it would be orderly and neat. I planted flowers on top, and protected it so that it would not be damaged. I went to church services with the family, and sang in the church choir. The priest would chat with me privately on occasion, and teach me Christian doctrine and morality. He comforted me, saying that a day would come when it would still be good for me. He knew that I was the daughter of Jews, and he never said anything that might crush me.

When I was four years old, my “mother” took me to the house of the priest, asking him to baptize me with the holy water. The priest spoke to her softly and nicely, explaining and promising to forgive her for this sin in particular. When he saw that the woman was stubborn, and did not understand is innuendo, he said to her openly: “I will not baptize this little girl as long as the war has not ended, and we do not know who her parents are.” The women left the house of the priest with a clear conscience. She was calmed for the time being. Having no choice, she waited impatiently for the fortuitous moment that would come.

Since my mother was alone and childless in an area that was unfamiliar to her, she decided to seek refuge in the next village over to where I was, with

[Col. 1827]

a poor women, who was alone, isolated, and widowed. She had a young child, and was pregnant herself.

She lived in a gloomy hut at the edge of the village, somewhat far from the houses. One night after dark, she knocked on the woman's door and begged her to take her into her house, where she would be a great help to her in her tribulation and difficult life. The women agreed to my mother's request, and housed her in the attic, where there was straw. She gave her her husband's coat to cover her body against the cold that pervaded outside. My mother knew how to sew very well, therefore my mother advised the women to advertise that she would take on hand sewing jobs, fine and good. The widow did so.

My mother became a sewer, secretly without anyone knowing. The widow closed the door by placing a large crate against it. She covered the windows so nobody could see. During the time that my mother sewed clothes and garments for the women of the village, the widow stood guard. Shen she saw someone approaching the path to the house, she took the place of my mother, taking the thread and needle in her hand as a sewing expert. To measure the dress, my mother would peek through a crack in the ceiling located at a place facing the area they were measuring the dress. She looked carefully, with a discerning eye, lest, heaven forbid, there be an error that would require an additional repair. When the customer left, she came down and returned to the room. She fixed what was necessary with a professional hand. There was light and joy in this gloomy hut. The poverty turned into abundance and a plentiful food. They were not hungry as in previous days, and there was also heating wood in the yard. This ideal situation continued for several months until… one bright day, when my mother was in the attic after figuring out the measurement of the customer, my mother detected the agreed upon sign was given – opening and closing the iron gate of the heating stove twice – indicating that there was no danger. My mother came down from the hiding place and stood in the room in front of the strange women. From her great surprise, my mother remained fixed to the wooden floor. The customer was surprised by the appearance, and did not believe what she saw before her eyes. She crossed herself in the customary fashion, saying, “Oh Jesus and Holy Mary! What am I seeing? You are hiding a Jewess? Have the Germans not been looking for her for several weeks already? Is this not for sure!” She shouted loudly, and left the house, slamming the door.

My mother, unable to move and escape, stood in the room as a dreamer. I am finished, she thought to herself. The village woman left after a few minutes. My mother escaped after her, running toward the forest to trick and mislead her.

My mother returned from the forest only when it started to get dark, and hid behind the house, calling out to the widow and consulting with her about what to do now. She explained to the woman that it is not appropriate to endanger her life and that of her family in order to save a Jewess. Therefore my mother said, “I have decided to leave you and to become a wanderer once again.” No!” said the woman with an iron will.” Remain together with me. We will trick them, and we will yet see good.” She moved my mother to a secret place, farther from the house. When the widow returned, the village mayor and his men came to her house, claiming that she would bring tragedy and destruction on them all if the matter were to become known to the Germans. They strongly demanded of her to place my mother far away, so that she would not even be seen in the area. “I distanced her from my house and my area,” answered the woman in a firm voice!

Humane, tolerant feelings continued to pulsate in the heart of the widow. After an interruption of a few days, they began work anew.

[Col. 1828]

They were sevenfold cautious of every step. The widow measured and marked up the clothing for repair herself. My mother only sewed, mainly at night to the light of a lantern.

The widow went into labor. The labor was especially difficult, and her screams reached the heavens. My mother urged her to fetch one of the women of the village to help her. She refused to listen and call someone to help, lest she endanger my mother's life.

The German troops were being defeated. They were attacked on all fronts from the east and west, and were pushed backward toward Germany. Liberation neared our area. The city of Vilna and its area was also liberated from the enslaving yoke and boot of Nazi Germany. My mother emerged from her hiding to the light of the liberated world, in order to liberate me from the strange, inimical environment, and to return me to my people.

I had become a Christian in all limbs of my body and soul. I hated Jews as did the Poles, with a blinding, burning hate, as I received from my “mother's” kerchief. I swallowed the venom, hateful poison, curses and invective as the truth. My mother moved to live in our village. She attempted to draw me near to her and talk to me at any occasion, to explain to me and remind me of the events that we endured together. At times, I listed with great patience, but for the most part I escaped from her. Finally, I escaped to another village, about ten kilometers away, because of her.

When my mother saw that I had disappeared, being five and something years old, she went to the Christian woman's house to inquire about me and to find out why I was absent from the street. “Your daughter escaped from you, is afraid of you, and I do not even know where she went and where she is hiding.” Her response was brief and curt. My mother pleaded with her and explained that she should understand her soul. Finally, when my mother realized that her words were for naught, and would not move her from her inimical stance, she threatened to start a court case against her for hiding a child that was not hers, in an improper, negligent situation, with hunger. The Christian woman became afraid, and brought me back to her house from the village. My mother's joy cannot be described in words. She was the happiest woman in the world when she saw me on the street again, playing with the children as in previous days.

Passover was approaching. My mother brought me matzos to eat. I took one matzo from her and ran to street. When the children saw the matzo in my hands, they all shouted: “Throw away that matzo! It was kneaded and baked with the blood of Christian children!” I dropped the matzo. The children ran and each picked up a piece of it, chewing and eating it. I escaped home. She cursed my mother with the worst words of denigration that I had ever heard, on account of the embarrassment from the children, because of the matzo that she brought me. I fled from her.

My mother once again discussed with the Polish women, to convince her to give me over to her hands, or else she would approach the state solicitor. The Polish woman stood her ground: “No! This is not going to happen. You can approach anyone you want! I will not give up the girl whom I have raised and cared for under any circumstance! Do not attempt to convince me, for your efforts will be for naught. This is my daughter, and I will not give her up under any circumstances. Furthermore, there is no law in existence that will force me to give her over to your hands!”

My mother thought about how to break the strong will of the Polish woman. Suddenly, my mother got up and said, “You know what? Perhaps the priest will adjudicate between us?!” She agreed at first, but she almost regretted it on the way to the house of priest, as she recalled his words:

[Col. 1829]

“We will wait for the baptism until the end of the war. Perhaps her parents will survive, and will come back to take her.”

This time, my mother used sharp words of reproof against her, that literally burnt her flesh and soul: “You don't trust your priest? All that is holy in the Christian religion? I, a Jewess, recognize his uprightness and justice, and I have full faith in him.” From great embarrassment that a Jewess reproved her in public and declared that she does not believe, she remembered the words of the priest and agreed to give me to my mother's hands.

It was no simple matter for my mother to separate me from the family that I had gotten used to, and was one of. My mother expended many explanations and countless speeches until my lack of trust in her dwindled.

How many new birth pangs did my mother and I endure until she convinced me, and I agreed to leave the village, my “mother” whom I loved, and the entire environment in which I was raised, How much spiritual and other difficulties did I endure until my mother saw the first fruits of her efforts, and her face shone with enjoyment and happiness. Her efforts were not in vain. She returned me with my heart and soul to the nation to which I belonged and into which I was born!

My mother won over my heart and soul once again as in past days, and we once again became one body and soul. Thanks to my mother, I am again with my people, my birth heritage, amongst my brothers and sisters. My national pride returned to me, and my Jewishness rose to life with greater strength and full consciousness of our eternal destiny.

My homeland and I – we both rose to live through tribulations, difficulties, and persecutions, which we overcame.

My mother commanded me to life!

She maintained me literally with her fingernails and teeth, and did not allow me to be given over to the murderers who were thirsty for Jewish blood: the Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Ukrainians, may they be cursed, and may their names be blotted out forever!

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. It is not clear why flesh is in quotations in the text, but my guess is that the author is hinting that the tormented people were more bones than flesh at this point. Return
  2. The first syllable of the word for Mother. Return


[Col. 1829]

The Yachnes Twins

Communicated by Sender Kovarski

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Sonia and Yitzhak Yachnes had to give away their twins when the Sventzian Ghetto was liquidated. They were born at the beginning of the war. They left them with a poor Christian family for a large amount of money. They were led to Vilna with the rest of the folk, where Sonia died and Yitzhak survived the many work camps in Estonia and Germany. He was liberated in Dachau and with the survivors he left for Italy with the hope to make Aliyah to Israel.

In Italy, he was reunited with the survivors of Sventzian, whose help he needed to find out the fate of his twins that he left with the Christian family. After a while he received an answer, one daughter was at the same Christian he left them with, and agrees to return her, the other daughter was given to another childless Christian family.

The Jewish survivors did not wait long for Yitzhak Yachne's answer, they took the child from the Christian, which was left at the Jewish orphanage in Vilna.

Yitzhak left immediately to find the second child. Not long after arriving in Sventzian, he discovered the whereabouts of the Christian family.

[Col. 1830]

When he arrived at the village, and inquired about the child, he was told she belonged to them. She gave birth to this child and she forbade Yitzhak from entering her house.

Yitzhak wasn't deterred and didn't leave the village. He got acquainted with a neighbour, he promised him money to keep watch, that the Christian woman should not try to escape with the child. This kind neighbour told Yachnes that the child was brought to this village in 1943, and this fortunate couple told all the villagers that the child was a sister's child.

 

Going back to Sventzian

Sve1830.jpg
Shoshana Yachnes in the Army

[Col. 1831]

Sve1831.jpg
Fruma Yachnes

 

Yitzhak Yachnes went to seek help from the mayor, but he didn't want to get involved and referred him to the court, which gave an order, that the Christian cannot leave the village with the child. She had to wait for the trial.

Yitzhak believed that as the father the court will bring justice. This child was given to the Christian family to be rescued from death by Hitler's murderers.

[Col. 1832]

The court didn't care about the father's rights and gave the child to the adopted parents. They verdict was in order to protect the child from going to a new environment.

Yitzhak didn't accept defeat, he appealed to the court in Vilna. During the process, he rendered a heart wrenching speech, he recounted his life – threatening experiences that he lived through, that his strength came from finding his children. His speech made a great impact. The court pronounced that the child should live with the Christian family until age 18, then she can make her own decision where to go.

Yitzhak appealed again, this time to the Russian high court of appeals, and this time he was awarded the return of the child. When Yitzhak left to take back his child, the Christian fled the village with the child. Thanks to the help of those Jews who were still in Sventzian and New Sventzian, and especially with the intelligent Nechama Tzinman, they eventually found the hiding place.

The Jewish youth led an organized effort, they rescued the child. Together with the other daughter, Yitzhak and his daughters left for Eretz Israel, all 3 of them, where they are till today.


[Col. 1831]

“Righteous Gentiles” Have Saved My Child Esther

David Soroka

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

My child, Esther, was born in Vilna in 1940. When the Germans arrived and set up the ghetto, we were living on Shavelski Street. Our house maid, Jadzhe Lukovska, who worked for us for many years, had to leave us. Gentiles were not allowed to work for Jews and if they found her in the ghetto, she would be punished as well. At the beginning, when they were taking young children from their parents, Jadzhe

[Col. 1832]

came to us to take the child with her. She assured us, that if we remained alive, she would return the child.

With heavy hearts, we decided to give her the child, to rescue her from death.

My wife didn't want to let the child leave her hands,

[Col. 1833]

but I warned her of the hardships and dangers. In the end, I convinced her and made the arrangements to bring the child myself to Jadze.

 

Sve1833.jpg
Esther Soroka with her husband and child[1]

 

As I went to work outside the ghetto every day, I left with my child hidden under my coat and went through the gate. No one noticed.

Jadzhe Lukovska waited for me by the church on Rudnitzker Street. She was so happy when she saw me with the child and took her from me.

I left for work at the ? and when I returned at night, I passed through Small–Stephen Street, where Jadzhe lived. Approaching her house, I heard the crying of the child, Mame, Mame. My heart was aching from fright and I quickly decided to return without seeing her.

When the Vilna Ghetto was liquidated in 1943, my wife and I were sent to work at the Fur Factory in Kailis, and Jadzhe found a way to bring our child so that we can see her from a distance.

[Col. 1834]

When they liquidated Kallis, we were sent to Kovno, where I remained for 6 weeks, then I was sent to Stuthof. My wife remained in Kallis several more weeks, and then was sent to Ponar with the remaining Jews.

After the liberation, I returned to Vilna to look for the child. Everywhere I encountered anger, and it took a long time before I found out that the priest of the Rudnitsker Church, his parish and amongst them Jadzhe Lukovska, my former maid, all left for Poland.

I left for Lodz, and from there, together with a friend, we left for Woltsh, near Bydgotsz. This was 1946, when the Kielcer Pogrom occurred, and travelling by train was a death trap. Finally, and with great difficulty I arrived, only to learn that Jadzhe had died 2 months earlier. My question, where is my child?

I came across a woman and she showed me through a window, a child playing in the garden and she called out to her, “Teresa, your father is here!” She came running, and took a look at me and said,–––but this is a Jew! My father is on the front! She ran back to play and I stood paralyzed in my spot!

I stayed overnight with this Christian and the next day the priest summoned me to him. He was very friendly and told me the child was not converted:

 

Sve1834.jpg
Dovid Siroka when he took back Esther

[Col. 1835]

…“a lot of Jews were saved in my Church. I saw and suffered your pain and anguish what I saw around me, a folk that is washed in blood, we cannot force their children to be converted!”

I remained in the village for several days in order to gain the trust of this child. In the end I was able to take my child with me to Lodz. At the train station, the Polish neighbours, their children and the priest who played with my Esther, all came to say goodbye. I wanted to give the Christian woman more money, but she answered me–we wanted to save your child from the hands of those bloody murderers, not for money”

[Col. 1836]

We arrived in Lodz and it took a while to distance her from her Christian beliefs. We finally made Aliyah to Eretz Israel after 3 hard months at sea on the “Exodus”, enduring more difficulties.

In the end, my Esther became a real Israeli child, grew up and married. Today she is a mother of 2 children.


Translator's Footnote:
  1. I believe the identification of these people is wrong Return


[Col. 1835]

My Child Kept Me Alive

Rivka Feigel–Falant

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve1835.jpg

 

When the war broke out between Germany and Russia, my husband Leib and his family wanted to escape to Russia. But, as I was pregnant, the family decided to remain at home, as it was risky for me to travel. The first 3 months we remained in our homes. All at once the “tumult” started: the Jews of Sventzian were to be deported. We were frightened. The first would be the men. So my husband Leib Gurwitz and my father Peretz Feigel ran away to White Russia, to hide in Konstantinova, near Svir, in the turpentine factory of Faiva Yonishki. I waited for a miracle, that perhaps we would not have to escape. But the day of the evacuation arrived quickly, a Saturday morning; they chased the Jews from their homes to be sent to Poligon. Not paying attention to the orders, as I was in the last stages of pregnancy, I decided to save myself together with my sister– in– law Chava Gurwitz. We ran by foot to Lyntup. The next morning a decree was issued to arrest all the newcomers that arrived from other shtetls and to send them back.

They gathered 38 people from Sventzian and sent them back. A miracle happened: a Polish policeman from Lyntup noticed that I was pregnant and came to me and said: Scream, that you are having labour pains! I listened to him and went to the S.S. man and he told me to go to the hospital. Instead, I and my sister– in– law went back to Lyntup. After 4 days in Lyntup, with the help of a Polish doctor and a midwife, I gave birth to my daughter Esther. This was October 4, 1941.

[Col. 1837]

Sve1837.jpg
Esther Gurwitz–daughter of Rivka Feigel

 

After 3 months in Lyntup with my husband father and sister– in– law, we returned to the Sventzian district where the “necessary” Jews still remained. These were Jews working for the Germans and we hoped that we would be amongst those to remain “useful”. We remained like this until February 1943, amongst the “useful” ones, but the time came that we also going to be liquidated, sent either to Vilna or Kovno. My father, hearing the news, said to us: you are young and you must save yourselves. I advise you to give your child to a Christian family for safekeeping and it will be easier for you to find hiding places. In the beginning I didn't want to listen to my father's advise, but slowly, it became clearer, that we will all die together! If we want to save the child, and hopefully if we remained alive, we can take the child back.

We found a childless Christian family in a small village that took pity on us. With a broken heart and flooded with tears, I handed over the child to the Christian. But after 3 days she returned Esther to us. She was too scared to keep her and we had to find another home for her. In the end, we found a poor Christian with a young son the age of Esther, and with the help of some money, she took our child.

As long as we were in the Sventzian ghetto we left frequently to see her, even when they brought us to Vilna

[Col. 1838]

we didn't cease contact with the Christian and kept in contact. We remained in the Vilna ghetto until September, then, through Moishe Shutan, we were sent with a group of 20, to the Narach woods.

Our contact with our child was cut off. We got news from time to time through the Lithuanian partisans. One time we heard that the Christian wanted to give our child to the Germans. Her neighbours told her that we were in the woods with the partisans, and it wouldn't end well for her. The partisans will take revenge on her!

It was Christians who brought food to our child from time to time. They knew all that was going on, and the Christian with whom we left Esther, was in a difficult economic situation. The Germans took her husband for forced labour to Germany, and if not for her father, who became a beggar, she wouldn't have survived.

On the advise of the priest, she converted our child and gave her the name, Krisia Tragadeiti, from the word “tragedy”.

My husband Leib Gurwitz died November 14, 1943 during a partisan raid. I remained with the partisans until the liberation. When it became clear that liberation was close, I had an idea, if my Esther is alive, and the Red Army is in Sventzian, I would retrieve my Esther (and found my sister– in– law Chava Gurwitz, who also came out of hiding, at the Christian,) to take her back with me. We had no difficulty getting back our child, she (the Christian) really did not have the means to keep her. She(Esther) didn't recognize me, but we got reacquainted very easily. There was no motherly love nor enough food to eat at the Christian's home. She was three and a half and didn't feel any closeness. She immediately gained my trust and wandered into my arms.

My good fortune was overwhelming, that my dream to bring my child to Eretz Israel with me came true, where I got the means to raise her, educate her in Yiddishkeit and give her a better future. Her grandmother lived to see these joys and together we brought her to the “Chuppah” (wedding ceremony).,


[Col. 1839]

We Shall Remember Until the Last Days of Our Lives

Dr Shlomo Stein z”l, New York

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve1839.jpg

 

My Dear shtetlach of the Sventian region, remembering you, I become overwhelmed with a longing, bathed in pain; I find it difficult to remember and to put down on paper the memories that shine from our childhood years, that was so abruptly interrupted in New Sventzian, Sventzian, Svir, Haydutitchok and Michaelishok.

I remember my place of birth, Sventzian, its friendly and brotherly existence!

Sventzian, your brightness with all its intellectual people I remember, Rabbi Aharon Tzinman and his family; Svir, where my mother was born, where my grandfather Rabbi Schmuel Hirsh Soleveitchik and many of my relatives lived; Haydutitchok and Michaelishok, where I spent time as a 17 and 18 year old, as teacher in the nearby Tarbut–Schuls, I will never forget you and will forever keep your memory and language alive. Day and night I am filled with tears when I think of you. It pains me and I cannot be at peace, that our beautiful way of life, which was rich in tradition of our Jewish folk went up in smoke. That gruesome picture of the mass grave in the Baronover woods does not let me rest, the “Rakarnia” on the Ziemiene (river)––– which remains before our eyes as a gruesome symbol (a pain in our hearts) of the destruction and death of our community, words that cannot describe the suffering, pain and loss caused by this enormous tragedy!

My heart is crying and aching for the “righteous”, for my dear and beloved, for the ”sweet and innocent “, for the Holy murdered souls; for our beautiful life and for a generation that is lost, for those wonderful people, who will always remain in our hearts from those beautiful and brotherly shtetls, that were, without mercy, destroyed and erased!

Let this book shine an everlasting light to remember those pure and holy souls and let it be a reminder, every day to our last dying breath, to remind others, what that “Amalek” did to them!

 

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