Table of Contents

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Kaddish for our shtetl

by Gershon Winer

Donated by Batya Olsen

More than half a century has elapsed since the destruction of our shtetl Widze. Year after year, in the beginning of the month of Nisan, the Widze remnant in Israel gathers in Tel Aviv for the annual memorial, bringing to mind nostalgic recollections of home and family intermingled with remembrance of years of suffering and death. About 1100 cities and towns in Eastern Europe have their history, life, institutions and personalities recorded in memorial volumes along with personal testimonies on the tragic destiny of victims and survivors in the ghettos and camps and the heroic deeds of Jewish underground fighters. Widze is not among them. Our Jewish shtetl was erased from the face of the earth with no monument nor written record for future generations, for children, grandchildren, students and researchers.

The publication of the present volume finally amends for the omission. It took some years of planning, communicating with townspeople and their descendants dispersed throughout the world, assembling data, securing written memoirs, commissioning specific articles, searching libraries, editing material and assuring the necessary funding. Our obligation to past generations and our responsibility to the future have thus been fulfilled, at least as far as the printed word is concerned.

Let us begin with geography and continue with history.

A report issued in 1930 states: Widze is 26 kilometers by road to the train station at Dukst, on the Vilna-Dvinsk line, 125 kilometers northeast of Vilna. It is located in a beautiful area, surrounded by lakes, forests and also mineral springs which during the nineteenth century served as healing centers for near and far. Russians, Lithuanians, Poles, Tartars, and of course Jews, make up the local population. There's a Catholic church, a Greek Orthodox church, a Mohammedan mosque, and three synagogues of which the two smaller ones are of the Hasidim.

Throughout history, Widze, often spelled Vidzy, was regarded as one of the four largest market places in Lithuania. Established over 500 years ago in the Lithuanian kingdom, its history was marked by numerous wars: Russians vs. Swedes; Lithuanians vs. Poles; Germans vs. Russians. Prior to World War I, it belonged to Russia; afterwards, it became Poland. During World War II, again Russia, then Lithuania, later Nazi Germany, and finally it was incorporated into Belarus. The same fate was shared by many towns in the Vilna district. Widze was destroyed numerous times, in various wars and by fire. It happened twice in the lifetime of the previous generation. At the beginning of the First World War, battles in the area forced nearly the entire Jewish population to flee. About fifty who remained were subjected to persecution, torture and rape, while most of the town was left in ruins. After the war, less than half of the previous population of

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about 4,000 Jews gradually returned to rebuild their lives and the Jewish community. The last destruction began with the invasion of the Germans in June 1941, which culminated with the final chapter of the Widze ghetto, as the remaining survivors were transported to their death in the Ponar woods near Vilna on April 5, 1943. In the early 1990's there remained one old Jewish woman in town and she would not identify herself as a Jew.

I left my hometown at the age of eight. When I returned nearly sixty years later in 1989, the only landmark I could identify was the church with its two steeples that struck us with awe when we were children.

There were Jews in Widze already in the fifteenth century. The 1894 census lists the following breakdown: Catholics 661, Russian Orthodox 407, Greek Orthodox 320, Tartars 200, Karaites 5, Jews 4348. A 1931 report by a Jewish relief agency mentions a population of 450 families, among them 230 Jewish, in round numbers. This would mean some 1200 to 1500 souls. The sharp Jewish decline reflects the flight during the war years.

Widze earned “honorable mention” in our people's history on account of the conflict between Hasidim and Mitnagdim. The World History of the Jewish People by Shimon Dubnow records that in 1798, in the midst of a violent controversy dividing the Jewish community, as rabbis fought to suppress the newly emerging Hasidic movement, a Hasidic shochet of Widze was responsible for informing on irregularities in the Vilna Kehilla, which led the Russian authorities to arrest its leaders. Though the founder of Habad, the school of Hasidism which took root among Lithuanian Jews, Rabbi Shneur of Ladi, issued a call against further strife, mentioning the Widze incident by name, relations between the factions became even more strained following the release of the Vilna leadership. In a remarkable coincidence 130 years later, another controversy between Hasidim and Mitnagdim broke out in Widze, though not in such brutal form, involving once again the local shochet. I recall the episode when “Reb Mendl the shochet” (Klumel) was crowned by the Hasidim as their Rebbe, and prominent rabbinic personages were brought in to resolve the issues.

Widze contributed its share to the galaxy of personalities who played a leading role in Jewish life in the last century. Rabbi Joseph Kahaneman, founder of the Ponevez yeshiva in Bene Brak, the largest yeshiva in Israel, had served as rabbi of Widze for five years before the First World War. He established a yeshiva for 150 students which was destroyed in 1915. Israel Aharoni, who pioneered in zoological and botanical studies in Israel, was born in Widze and came to Palestine in the early part of the century. In his numerous research expeditions throughout the area, he assembled a fauna collection still preserved in a church museum in the Old City of Jerusalem. His autobiography written in Hebrew, Memories of a Hebrew Zoologist, made fascinating reading for me as a youngster. Our town also made its contribution to literature in the person of Natan Goren (Greenblatt), Hebrew essayist and literary critic, who held the position of chairman of the Israel

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writers' organization. Then there was the Yiddish poet, Baruch Gelman, whose volume of poems published in 1937 depicts local scenes and expresses the prevailing and often gloomy mood in the town, while striking a nostalgic tone. It was reissued in 1990 by the Widze Association in Israel. The young poet met his death together with his five brothers and sisters in the Widze pogrom of 1941. There was also Dr. Meyer Klumel (of the previously mentioned Klumel family) who played a leading role in the Zionist movement in Warsaw before leaving for Palestine in the 1930's, where he died in 1936.

Jewish community life presented numerous opportunities for religious, educational, political, artistic and recreational activity. Besides the three synagogues listed, functioning in the traditional pattern for worship and study, there was the Yiddish school building serving as the cultural center. Established in 1921 largely through the generosity of the Zlatkin family, it offered a six-year curriculum of Jewish and general studies. It was a secular school and, in keeping with the then accepted practice, all disciplines, including science, were taught in Yiddish. I recall to this very day a lesson in physics, conducting an experiment on how metal expands when heated. Most children of elementary school age were enrolled in the school. The teachers were dedicated intellectuals sent in from the central office of the Yiddish school organization in Vilna. These would become actively involved in the cultural life of the community. The memoirs appearing in this volume include nostalgic recollections of the teachers and the warm atmosphere generated in the school which was carried over to a wide range of extra-curricular activities, both in the school building and in the countryside with its woods and lakes. Students remember with fondest sentiments teachers such as Sioma Halpern and his wife Dina. The building also provided facilities for a choir, a dramatic group and had an auditorium for lectures and artistic performances.

Then there was the “Heder” of “Yankel der Lerer”, as he was known, the only one in town during my childhood years. The very appellation of “lerer” instead of “rebbe” is revealing as to the content of instruction and the religious and cultural climate of our shtetl. The traditional Heder curriculum throughout the centuries had been aimed largely at introducing the pupil at the tender age of seven or eight to the rigor of Talmud study, with its emphasis on legal technicalities and minutiae at the expense of everything else, with the exception of the weekly Torah portion. In contrast, our Heder opened up for us -- among other subjects -- the world of the Bible with its exciting tales of ancient Israel and the inspirational rhetoric of the Prophets. I still cherish fond memories of the book of Isaiah, recited with a chant along with the Yiddish translation by the “older” students of age 10, and how I envied them. The fact that many children attended both the religious Heder and the secular “Shule”, is a further indication of the prevailing unifying spirit, as borne out by the composition of the board of the school which included leaders of the religious community as well.

The marked division and even gulf separating the religious from the secular in Israel today, and to a somewhat lesser though significant degree elsewhere among

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world Jewry, did not exist in the Lithuanian shtetl before its destruction. This is not in keeping with the stereotype shtetl in the mind of the contemporary Jew. The fanatic zeal of the ultra-orthodox manifested in temperament, garb and practice which we witness today, was alien to the Litvak mentality. It is largely a modern phenomenon, though we find its roots among our Polish and particularly Galician and Hungarian brethren of previous generations. Beside the Yiddish school-cultural center which played such an important role, Widze could not boast of a Tarbut school, with its modern Zionist-Hebraist education, as some towns in the area. However, its only continuously functioning Heder was quite different from what the name generally conjures up in our minds, the curriculum reflecting the changes introduced by the modernizing tendencies of the Haskala (enlightenment) movement of the preceding century. Neither was there a Yeshiva, though as mentioned, one did exist for a few years before the first war. Nor should this be regarded as any negative reflection on the religious life of the community, its rabbis, synagogues and institutions. In this respect, it represented the norm rather than the exception in Lithuanian Jewry which nevertheless produced the leading Orthodox sages and Talmudic scholars in the twentieth century. And to this very day, the “Litvishe” yeshivas in Israel and abroad, with their ultra-Orthodoxy, are recognized as the most prestigious.

In addition to the cultural panorama, with its library, choral group, drama circle, guest artists and lecturers, the young people were politically alert and involved. There were Zionist youth movements, mainly Hechalutz, aiming to prepare for kibbutz life in Palestine. Communism attracted a high proportion of adherents -- some fulfilling their dream of crossing the border to help build the new socialist society, where they soon shared the tragic fate of other revolutionaries. Political and economic conditions being as they were, with their entry restrictions in Soviet Russia and Zionist Eretz Yisroel, the flow of emigration was directed to countries across the ocean. Many may have reached North America, but the majority of those who left Widze landed in South Africa and Argentina. The Israel contingent of Widze descendants consists largely of survivors.

A word about the economic picture which was no different from other communities: Jews were largely storekeepers and merchants. There were craftsmen -- shoemakers, tailors, blacksmiths, carpenters and coachmen, the latter being so indispensable because of the many hours of travel required to reach the railroad town. A 1930 survey refers to 120 storekeepers, 60 merchants, mostly of flax and 40 craftsmen. The economic policies of the government in their preferential treatment of the Polish working population placed ever increasing obstacles for Jews to eke out a living and compelled them to emigrate to other lands. Those who were forced to do so, were spared the fate of the Holocaust. Among them was my own father. Ironically, the anti- Semitism of the Polish government turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

The major thrust of this Memorial book is of course the Holocaust, just prior, during and immediately after. The prior begins with the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939,

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dividing Poland between them. Widze therefore “belonged” to the Russian partner and the Soviet army entered the town on September 17, 1939. For nearly two years, while the Second World War was being waged on the Western Front, the town was under Communist rule. This meant elimination of private property, and subjection of all forms of community activity to the Soviet system including educational and cultural institutions. Life became problematic but tolerable. The particulars are found in the personal recollections recorded in these pages. On June 22, 1941, Germany launched a surprise attack on the Soviet Union and Russian troops withdrew from Widze, with the Germans entering five days later. In the interim period, local criminal elements began to rob and harass Jews, until some semblance of “order” was restored by the occupying forces. For the nearly two years that followed, the tales of unimaginable woe that transformed that span of time into nightmarish horror in the ghettos and camps, are unfolded in this volume.

Initially, we had intended to present English summaries of the Yiddish and Hebrew memoirs of the Holocaust years as they appear in this volume. However, after exposure to the details of limitless brutality, the diabolic and endless torture, wanton murder, sadism, humiliation, starvation, deprivation, crushing labor, victims digging their own graves before being shot, relegation to vermin-like mass extermination, blood curdling scenes of bayoneting babes in arms, hiding in pits and animal dugouts, while the last spark of humanity, with few rare exceptions, extinguished even among one's own former Polish and Lithuanian neighbors -- I lacked the stamina to undertake such an agonizing task, not having been there in person. Then there are the acts of heroism, maintaining the human image under all conditions, joining the partisans in their desperate struggle against the Nazis, reunification of surviving members of families, waiting in DP camps before setting out, in some instances by illegal routes, to reach the promised land whose gates had been closed tight by the British rulers. All this and more is told in various versions, some appearing repetitious of others, but with individual nuances justifying their inclusion.

The present volume with its reminiscences, historical data, Holocaust testimony, also contains information on institutions and colorful personages, along with brief biographies of prominent personalities who emerged from the shtetl and left their impact in various fields of endeavor. Then there is local folklore representing a rich mine of characteristic anecdotes, idioms and nicknames -- and just about everybody was identified by a nickname, not necessarily complimentary -- the latter inspired by some physical, social or other trait and idiosyncrasy in the bearer's appearance, habits, behavior, occupation, status or relationships. All this, which added coloration to the local scene, does not readily lend itself to translation. An attempt has been made to render a few of the articles in an abbreviated form into English, while some of the material contained in the others has been incorporated in this introductory chapter. The contributions of the authors are published in the language in which they were submitted -- Yiddish, Hebrew and two in English -- with one or two exceptions translated from Polish. The commemorative pages for individuals and families appearing in this volume were made possible by the financial participation of Widze families in Toronto, New York, New Zealand and Israel.

Let this book be our recitation of the Kaddish -- in the very meaning of the words of the prayer itself -- the sanctification and remembrance of our martyred brothers and sisters and forebears, of the life they led and the death they met. Amen

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My experiences in the Widze Ghetto

by Henia Koritsky Lifschitz

(condensed from the Yiddish)

I was sixteen when my shtetele Widze was taken over by Nazi murderers. My entire family was annihilated and I remained the only survivor. I am regarded as having been saved from the Holocaust but no one was really saved, though we are still alive…..

Being a member of the Communist youth organization, I planned to escape. By the time I decided, it was too late. We were caught and returned to Widze. Even before the arrival if the German command, more than 100 Jews, including the rabbi and shochet were tortured and murdered by local residents. For days, their bodies lay in the streets. When our house was broken into by the bandits, we were somehow spared. But the house was stripped. There followed days of prison, hiding and finally the ghetto. Jews from neighbouring towns were brought in and three or four families crowded into every house. We were required to wear the yellow badge, prohibited from walking on the sidewalk and forbidden from appearing in public places. Entrance to or exit from the ghetto required a permit. Groups were taken daily for hard labour and returned, reduced in number. Gentiles were promised rewards of sugar or salt for catching escaping Jews. Once, I set out with a pail in my hand to the dairy outside the ghetto to return with the watery fluid that remained from the butter. For us, it was food. Noticed by the German police, I threw down the pail and ran with the Germans after me. I succeeded in crossing the brook and hid in the forest where I found a relative who had escaped mass slaughter in Swencian. I was hidden by a peasant who was rewarded by my friend with all his possessions. I hid in a hay stack. Food was brought by the peasant woman who came to milk the cows. Arrested by the Lithuanian police, I thought it was the end. But the Germans needed us for forced labour. The Yudenrat paid high ransom fees for us to remain alive. One day, I heard that there were Jewish guerrilla groups in the woods. A few of them arrived to take back with them the ghetto doctor, but he refused to come. They suggested I go along as a nurse.

This is how I joined the partisans and a new era began in my life.

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In the Shadow of Death

by Shlomo Ichitzik

(condensed from the Yiddish)

When the Red Army entered Poland on September 17, 1939, I returned from the Vilna Yiddish high school to my family in Widze. All shops had been nationalized under the Russians to be run by party appointees. My father, who had owned a mill, was reduced to eking out a living as a horse and buggy driver.

The Germans entered after June 22, 1941. In the interim period, local Poles and Lithuanians took over, giving vent to their accumulated hatred of Jews. Nazi soldiers were welcomed with flowers. The German officer, seeing the assembled crowd, pointed menacingly at the Jews. Soon, 200 Jews were rounded up at night, taken to the lake and shot, with only two surviving. My father was amongst those ordered to bury the dead the following morning. Massive atrocities were carried out by the local populace with encouragement of the Germans. Beards were torn out, young men and girls were ordered to bathe naked in the lake. From my hiding place in an attic, I witnessed the Lithuanian police chief accost a young woman, rape and murder her. There were some rare expressions of human decency. Once, when a Polish policeman caught a Jew, piercing him with his bayonet, his screams reaching the ears of the German commander, the perpetrators were put to death for “unauthorised” killing….. Some tried to escape to the neighbouring ghetto of Jubake. There, just before Passover, 2,000 Jews were dragged from their homes to the market place in the course of continuous beatings. I saw a mother carrying a crying baby in the forced march. Angered by the crying, a German soldier struck the child dead, the blood and brains sprinkling my face. The mother burst into insane laughter…..

After 16km of aimless walking, I escaped the Nazi march. I met a peasant who warned me that the area was infested with Germans. He gave me half a loaf of bread – another example of humanity. I returned to Widze and found my father still there. On pretence of being sent to labour camps, groups of Jews were removed from the ghetto and murdered. With the final liquidation of the ghetto at the end of 1942, only fifteen survived. Many had escaped to join the guerrilla bands in the woods. These often carried out reprisals against local Christians who had helped the Germans.

I reached Vilna having escaped the transport which was en route to Ponar. Jacob Ganz, chief of the Jewish police in Vilna, helped us enter the ghetto. Opinions differed as to active resistance within the ghetto. We succeeded in gathering some ammunition and escaped to the kazimar forest in the dark of the night to join the guerrillas.

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Widze Partisans

by Yisrael Ichiltzik

(condensed from the Yiddish)

A summer Saturday night in 1941, and the youth in town are in pursuit of a good time having no inkling of the approaching storm despite a sense of uncertainty as what the morrow would bring. I could not sleep that night not knowing why….

Next morning, Germany attacked Russia. Confusion and despair befell all the Jews in Widze. The Russians left and chaos reigned. Some of the young people began to escape to the east to reach Soviet territory. At the end of June, the motorized units of the Germans entered. A temporary local authority had been formed by the White Russians and Poles. A few months later, Jews were assembled in the centre of town. 28 were selected to be led behind the bridge, ordered to dig graves and shot. I escaped to the village of Ozierawy and from there to the woods where I joined up with Russian groups. Through a gentile acquaintance, I sent a letter to my wife Chana to report my whereabouts. He was caught by the Germans who discovered the letter and was shot.

We remained in the woods trying to dig shelters against the biting cold. Attacks were launched against us in the woods. There were 100 gypsies in our area. They too were liquidated by the Germans. In May of 1943, members of the Russian underground arrived, among them a Lithuanian guerrilla group. We had our own Jewish unit which joined them. The guerrilla forces in the woods gained strength from day-to-day with those who escaped the ghettos in the Vilna area. We had to retreat. The existence of a Jewish underground caused the Germans frenzied anger but the very presence of guerrilla groups made an impact on the peasants in the villages who began to fear our vengeance for their collaboration with the Nazi. This was the first time Jews inspired fear in their hearts. We would find out which peasants possessed weapons and in the thickness of night, we would expropriate them, thus increasing our arsenal. Our activity consisted in mining bridges, destroying telephone and telegraph connections, blowing up German echelons. Many among us lost their lives. But the threat of death did not deter us. We overcame the despair within us as new recruits arrived in the woods.

This is part of the story of the Jewish underground in the woods of Kozian.

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Destruction and Resistance

by Noach Swirsky

(condensed from the Yiddish)

I attended the Yiddish Folk shul in Widze, transferring to a Polish school after sixth grade. Coming from a Zionist home and as a member of Hechalutz Hatzair, I dreamt of joining the pioneers in Palestine to build our new homeland. My parents would have preferred me to become a merchant.

Life under Soviet occupation was beset with difficulty in changing “from capitalism to socialism”. With all private enterprise nationalized, my father was finally deprived of his butcher shop and sentenced to five years in a Russian prison on a trumped up charge. He was never to return.

When the Germans entered, I was working by day and hiding in attics at night to escape the headhunt. The Nazi were aided by Polish and White Russian criminal elements. In one raid, I was saved from being shot with the others because of my wounded leg. In the attacking party was a former schoolmate. The raids took place on Friday nights under the surveillance of the Germans. With the formation of the German command, a semblance of order was re-established, prohibiting wanton robbery and murder without authorization by the commander. Forced labour, first for men and later for women as well, was introduced. A Yudenrat was organized with a prominent leader – Liepe Levine – as chairman. It was his duty to carry out the orders of the Germans who imposed heavy fines and expropriated Jewish valuables.

The ghetto came into being in 1942 with Jews crowded into the area of the synagogues as their former homes were taken over by their non-Jewish neighbours. There is the vivid recollection of Jews dragging their belongings into the ghetto while being robbed by the Germans commanding the march. The houses in the ghetto were overcrowded which led to friction and bitterness. A popular game among the children was the “funeral game”: a chair was covered with a black rag and children joined in wailing and weeping. We slept on bare floors. The feeling was that we had reached the absolute limit of suffering, but each day brought new tortures. A rumour spread that we were to be transferred to the Swencian ghetto and a group formed to escape to the guerrillas in the forest and thus avoid final liquidation. Unarmed Jews were rejected by the underground groups, a policy not applied to non-Jews who always had the option of returning home or cooperating with the Germans. With one gun in our possession, we set out each night to scour the neighbouring villages in search of food.

In the fall, the Germans concentrated their military forces in the area of Kozian forest, burning down the neighbouring villages. Suspecting the peasants of cooperating with the underground, they gathered them in a barn which they put to

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fire. Many of us had our families with us and with winter approaching, our situation became even more perilous. The Germans were combing the woods. I and two friends separated ourselves from the rest and found a hut at the edge of the forest occupied by a peasant known to my friends. He took us in and fed us, being afraid of vengeance should he refuse. Then, he ordered us to leave. Returning to the forest, we found no one. There were now two alternatives before us: to be caught by the Germans or die of starvation. We decided to return to the Widze ghetto.

For an entire week, my hiding place was on top of an oven as an order was issued to transfer “useful” Jews to Swencian and make Widze Yudenrein. There was the ever gnawing question, what am I to do? On one side the Germans; on the other our “good” Christian neighbours of yesterday with whom we had bonds of friendship going back many years. And now they were showing their true faces.

I decided to make my way to the Swencian ghetto. Avoiding the main roads, walking day and night, drinking water from the swamps. I finally succeeded in getting into the ghetto where I found my mother. Arrested by the Jewish police, I was placed in a damp cellar and subjected to continued interrogation and beatings before being released. The Jewish police in the Swencian ghetto sought every opportunity to pursue and harass us, prompted by the fear that it would be their end if our weapons were discovered.

March 1943 brought the liquidation of the Swencian ghetto. The survivors were divided into three groups: to labour camps; to Vilna or to Kovno. The Kovno group was redirected to Vilna to the Ponar woods. An underground messenger from Vilna had brought us the news that graves in Vilna's Ponar had been dug. We were determined to escape that fate. There were 150 of us young people in the transport in caravan form stretching three kilometres. To create the impression that we were to remain alive, we were allowed to take our belongings. Aware of the Nazi plot, we decided to jump the transport and reconvene at the Swencian cemetery. My mother pleaded: “You are 16yrs old and you can be on your own. But your sister is younger. She will not survive and cannot join you”. I still see the look on my mother's face as I pulled my sister away. They all died in Ponar on April 5, 1943.

I had two guns and a revolver. We returned to the cemetery but no one being there, we took to the woods teaming up with Swencian acquaintances in the underground.

This is only part of the personal tale of dread, suffering and escape. The partisans of Widze have inscribed a heroic chapter in the history of the Jewish underground movement. As for myself, I was wounded in my food and hand and was subsequently hospitalised, returning to Widze after the war where I found my sister. But it was no longer my home. There was no point remaining in Poland where anti-Semitism was rampant. The Kielce pogrom after the war convinced us

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to leave Poland. We reached a repatriation camp, traveling through Czechoslovakia and Austria. A “Shaliach” from Israel helped us make Aliyah in 1949.

In 1951 I was married and we have been blessed with four children.

The Story of One Family – Malacki and Flekser

by Freda Malacki Nareve, Auckland, New Zealand

(condensed from the Yiddish)

Traditionally, family history is transmitted to the next generation by parents, grandparents, members of the extended family, close friends and neighbours. There is continued exposure to and reminder of tales of family milestones, occasions, traits, traditions and idiosyncrasies. Each is vividly described and is often illustrated with photographs and mementos. A dilemma arises if that vital link has been severed by the Holocaust. In 1941, when normal life came to an end, our only surviving family members were just 15 and 4 years old. To continue the tradition of transmission, we have compiled this history.

The Malacki and Flekser families had lived in Widze for several generations. Our paternal grandfather, Itzchak Malacki, married Taube Klumel and had two children: our father, Yankel-Dovid and his sister Musia. Itzchak was a Hasid who spent much time away from home studying. Taube ran a footwear shop to support the family.

Our maternal grandfather, Shmuel Flekser, married Freide Gantovnik from Stoyachoschok. They had six children: three sons, Yakov, Sholem and Baruch and three daughters: Slova, Tania and Kreina. Kreina was our mother.

Sometime before World War I, Shmuel and Yakov Flekser went to South Africa. Shmuel returned when Freide refused to leave Widze. Yakov settled in England and eventually established “James Flexer Ltd.,” a sack-making business. Sholem Flekser (later known as Albert Flexer) studied chemistry in Prague and then practiced as a chemist in Vienna. He arranged for his brother Baruch (Robert) and sister Kreina (Kora) to join him so that they could receive an education in a place were no “Jewish quota” applied.

With the mass evacuation from Widze during World War I, the Flekser family moved to Riga and set up a paint business using formulas supplied by Albert Flekser. Yankel-Dovid and Kreina married in Widze on march 27, 1925. They had three daughters: Leah (Liza) born in 1926, Esther born in 1929 and Freida (Freda)

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born around 1937. The Malacki's home was one of two similar two-storey brick houses not far from the town square. Musia Malacki was a member of the Tsentrale Yiddishe Shul Organizatsie and taught at the local Yiddish school She disappeared from Drujc together with her husband Getzel Drutanov and son Itzke. Kreine helped in the family business. Yankel-Dovid expanded the business to include the making and selling of footwear, leather and felt. He became a leading member of the community and a Jewish representative (lavnik) on the town council (gemine). Liza learned bookkeeping from a bookkeeper who lived with the family. She was later able to use these skills to support herself and her sister.

When Russia occupied Widze in 1939, The Malacki family was forced to leave the house and live above the shop. Yankel-Dovid worked outside Widze as a bookkeeper while Kreina worked as a school teacher in a village three kilometres away. Their passports were stamped with the number 11 indicating that they were enemies of the state. Kreina was later employed as a language teacher in the new secondary school at Widze.

1941 was the year that tore the family apart. Yankel-Dovid was taken from his home and shot by the local people. Esther never returned from a visit to her aunt, Tania Zilberman in Poneveczes and her fate is unknown. Kreina was concerned for her remaining daughters so just before the ghetto was established in Widze, she arranged for Freda to be taken by a Polish friend, Karlowichowa, to her farm nearby. Liza was sent to Musia in Druje which was mistakenly believed to be safer than Widze. Liza returned home six months later and accompanied Kreina to Swencian when the Widzer Ghetto was liquidated on September 20, 1942. Together, they left the Swencian Ghetto by train transport in April 1943. The railway carriages in which they were traveling were disconnected from the rest of the train in Vilna so they did not reach the transport's eventual destination of Ponar.

Liza and Kreina lived in the Vilna Ghetto at Rudnizker 17. Liza worked at the railway outside the ghetto. Kreina was a translator at YIVO (Yiddisher Vishenashaftlicher Institut). On July 4, 1943, Liza married Itzchak Porus. The young couple left the ghetto that night. Kreina's fate is unknown. She may have been transported to Keiserwald or Klooga concentration camp. On the night they left Vilna, Liza and Itzchak were separated during an ambush. Liza wandered to Narocz Forest where she joined Markov's brigade and she somehow managed to survive wounds and typhus. In September 1944, Liza returned to Karlowichowa's farm to collect her seven- year old sister Freda and at the age of eighteen, became her parent substitute. Liza and Freda lived in Widze from September 1944 to September 1945, at first with the Starobins and later in a room at the shoe factory where Liza worked as a bookkeeper.

Liza and Itzchak heard of each other's survival through mutual friends. Shortly after their reunion, Liza and Freda joined Itzchak's sister, Bronia Chosid, her husband Peretz and son Leon in Vilna. They remained there until November and then left by train to travel deeper into Poland. After a few weeks in Lodz, the group

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illegally crossed the border into Germany on New Year's eve 1945. From then until February 1949, they made their temporary homes in several DP camps – in West Berlin (Schlachtensee) until April 1946, then Eschwege until August 1946 and finally Landsberg am Lech.

In Landsberg, Liza, Itzchak and Freda made plans to go to Israel on Aliyah Bet. Their departure was delayed, however, when Freda contracted an ear infection. In the meantime, the family was contacted by a cousin in New Zealand. Sonia (nee Zilberman) and Bezalel Svirski brought Liza, Itzchak and Freda to New Zealand in 1949 to begin a new life in what appeared as paradise.

Liza and Itzchak had two sons: Jack born in 1952 and Michael born in 1956. Jack married Lynn Manskleid in 1980 and has two sons: Daniel born in 1986 and Joel born in 1989. In December 1964, Itzchak died as a result of a welding accident.

Freda married Robert Narev in January 1959. They have three children: Kim born in 1962; Rick born in 1964 and Ian born in 1967. In 1992 Kim married Joel Jaffa.

This brings our story up-to-date, providing enough of a thread to allow the family history to be transmitted to future generations.

A visit to Widze – September 5, 1996

by Dr. Joseph Katz, New York

(condensed from the Yiddish)

The last 22 miles to Vidzy – its official name in Belarus – north of the bustling town of Pastavy, is a rough and dusty ride over unpaved road. We learned later that Vidzy cannot afford to pave the road but did manage to improve the northeast road to Braslau. In the distance, the first sight of Vidzy is a skyline dominated by impressive church spires. On closer look, it is a backward and poor town with very limited development.

We arrived at 2.p.m. Our driver from Minsk (an unemployed Jewish research physicist from Vilna) finding the town-hall closed, headed directly for the high school – a wise move – as the teachers would most likely know the history of the town. The school house was an old two-storey building in a mild state of disrepair. The heating system consisted of individual wood burning stoves built into the walls of each classroom and a few additional stoves in the main hallway. The 300 odd students appeared healthy, content, tastefully dressed and well behaved. The teachers were friendly and conscientious. One teacher, a pleasant

[Page xiv]

plump and blond woman of about 35, offered to serve as our local guide. She told us that the present population is between 9 and 10,000 (from a pre-war level of about 3,000, half of them Jewish). She claimed that relations between Jews and Gentiles were seemingly good before the war.

Our guide first took us to the old Jewish cemetery, or what remained of it. It was a sorry sight with most of the scattered gravestones toppled. She told us that many of the stones were pilfered after the war to serve as foundations for new homes. It appears that many of the remaining stones were desecrated by pushed over. About 12 sturdy stones remained upright with their inscriptions still legible. These we photographed. About half of the remaining 150 or so stones were illegible, composed of softer stone and worn away by the bad weather of the ages. I searched hopefully for the gravestone of my father, Yakov Kaczerginski of blessed memory, who died in 195, but in vain.

Our teacher-guide said there is one living Jewish survivor in Vidzy. She is an old woman in her nineties who lives alone and refuses to talk to anyone about her Jewishness or of her wartime experiences. All that is known of this unnamed woman is that she is the sole survivor of her family; that she was a teacher in Vidzy and that her mother was also a teacher.

The next best choice was a 92-year old gentile woman, Sofia Bockkovskaja, friendly to Jews, who agreed to talk to us through our interpreters. She lived in a small dilapidated wooden house characteristic of the extreme poverty of the old people of Vidzy. She claimed she bought the house after the war from the Jewish owner who survived and returned briefly to Vidzy. Sofia B. recounted the following memories, the accuracy of which cannot be attested.

Over 50 adult male Jews of Vidzy were killed by local hooligans even before the arrival of the Nazi. Some Jews were sent to Swencian in 1942. Most Jews were sent to the Vilna ghetto by train and were eventually shot in the Ponar forest outside Vilna by the Germans and local collaborators. (This was the fate of my grandmother, Chana-Gitel Kaczerginski of blessed memory, along with all of her grandchildren accompanying her). 23 local Jews escaped in the outskirts of Braslau and found refuge in a house near the Jewish cemetery. They built a bunker under the house. The Nazi were informed eventually, raided the bunker but found it empty. A group of close to 20 Jews were hidden outside Vidzy by a gentile farmer. The Nazi, alerted by local informers, discovered the Jews and executed the entire group of 24, including the farmer and his family. The Levine brothers escaped. Another Jew was hidden in a nearby farmhouse. All the synagogues were destroyed. A stadium was built on the site of the wooden synagogue.

The present pastoral setting of the many small farmhouses of Vidzy – children playing, chickens running everywhere, fruit trees laden with ripe apples and plums which the presently friendly owners offered generously – has obliterated the horrors and terror that suddenly befell the Jews of Vidzy in former years.

[Page xv]

Lisa Porus and Freda Narev
Auckland, New Zealand

In memory of:
Itzchak Malacki
Toibe Malacki, nee Klumel
Shmuel Flekser
Freide Flekser, nee Gantovnik

Born and Died in Widze

Yankel Dovid Malacki
Kreine Kora Malacki, nee Flekser
Ester Malacki
Musia Drujanov, nee Malacki
Perished in the Holocaust.

[Page xvi]

Harold Wolfe and Phyllis Flatt
Toronto, Canada

In memory of:
Max Wolfe
Maurice Wolfe
Jake Wolfe
Rosie Saulou, nee Wolfe
Sarah Shulman, nee Wolfe

[Page xvii]

Dr. Joseph Katz
New York, N.Y.

In memory of:
Moshe Kacerginski – Katz, father
Yacov Kacerginski, grandfather

Perished in the Holocaust:

Chanah Gitel Kacerginski, grandmother
With her daughter (name unknown) and
Two granddaughters – daughters of Taibel.


Harry and Sam Schweitzer
Marlboro, N.J.

In memory of:
Chaia Gitel (Pekiel) Schweitzer

Who was fortunate to escape many atrocities of the war;
Raised two children (Harry Hirshke and Luba Lipke) alone
And had the strength and courage to emigrate to America to
Start a new life for herself and her family.


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