by Mordechai Gevirtig
Fire, brothers, a burning!
Our poor town, alas, is burning.
Raging winds there tremble
Force and breaking have taken hold of it -
Flames of destruction growing higher
Fire in all the city.
And you sit with your hands folded,
Fire, brothers, a burning,
Fire, brothers, a burning!
And you sit with your hands folded,
Fire, brothers, a burning
Don't sit with your hands folded!
Hebrew: Mordechai Amitai
It's burning! Brothers, it's burning!
Oh, our poor town, alas, is burning!
Angry winds with rage are tearing, smashing,
blowing higher still the wild flamesall around now burns!
And you stand there looking on with folded arms,
It's burning! Brothers, it's burning!
And you stand there looking on with folded arms,
And you stand there looking on with folded arms,
It's burning! Brothers, it's burning!
Don't stand there, brothers, with folded arms!
by Elchanan Sarvianski
On June 22, 1941, the Nazis breached all of the borders of the Russians in the territories which previously had been parts of Poland. Without a declaration of war, they attacked the Russians on a very broad front. Simultaneously, they marched to the 3 Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) from one side, and by way of Poland on the other.
At 4:00 in the morning, the Nazi German march began from Prussia towards Augustow, and at 4:30 in the morning they entered the city to the sound of drums. Most of the people of the city were still asleep, and Russian officers ran around in pajamas, terrified and afraid. Most of the Russian army was not in the city or in its vicinity. They had gone out a few days earlier for training. Therefore, there were almost no battles. When the people of the city awoke from their sleep, and saw the German army, panic gripped the Jews. Many tried to flee, by foot or by Russian vehicle, to Rigrod, Grayevo, to Suchovola and to Grodno, but all the roads were cut off. There was nowhere to flee to. All was lost. The only open road was to the forests. Those who tried to run for their lives by Russian vehicle or on foot to Grayevo also did not succeed. German shells came upon them next to Lissa-Gura. There my cousin Shmuel-Chuna Steindem (the only son of Leibl Steindem) was mortally wounded; in the crashing of a shell next to their vehicle, his arm and leg were severed. When the matter became known to his mother Reina, she almost lost her mind. When she got to Lissa-Gura he was no longer alive. Also, my brother Shmuel Yosef Sarvianski, may God avenge his blood, attempted to run for his life with the Commissar of the Wienkomt who lived next to us. They attempted to flee in the direction of Grodno, but they did not succeed.
The Germans spread throughout the city, caught people, and shot them in the streets. They entered Rechtman's yard, in the place that used to be the restaurant of Mitzeiyevski, and in the time of the Russians, the restaurant of the N.K.V.D., took out of there my uncle Hershel Bobrik and killed him on the spot. Afterwards they took Berl Kaplanski out of his house, and shot him next to his store at the corner of the market. In this way, they caught and killed more people, whose names, to my great sorrow, I no longer remember.
On the next day, the Germans went with the help of a prepared list, to the houses of people with deformities and the defectives, and killed them by shooting. In this way, they killed my cousin Yankel Sarvianski, Avigdor (Vigder the Lipsker), Daniel who was a porter for Markus, Max who used to polish the floors, Shachne, and others.
The Jews began to hide themselves in the fields and in the forests. Next to our house, in the fields of the gentile Stzashani, Mottel Pogomfri the smith and his brothers hid. After a few days the Germans pasted up an announcement, which called
to the Jews to come out of their hiding places, promising that nothing bad would happen to them, they would only be sent to work. The Jews came out of their hiding places, which they were already sick of. One night Germans came to Gershon Kolnitzki (the owner of the fur store. In his courtyard lived Bazialiya the Redhead Velb, the husband of the eldest daughter of Shai Bas and one other, Shmerl, a Suwalkian) in a military car, loaded all of them into the car, brought them to the cemetery in the forest, and killed them.
After a short time, they began to conscript the men for all kinds of work. The Germans employed most of the men in various work in the castle of the Yacht Club which was next to Lake Biale, and would return them each day to their houses. One day they transported them to the Shtzavra Forest, about 9 kilometers from Augustow, on the way to Suwalk. Behind the small church that stood on the hill, the dug pits were already prepared. There they shot to death most of the Jewish men from Augustow.
After some time the Germans decided to establish a ghetto in the city, and chose for this purpose the Barkai suburb, which sprawled the length of the dug canal (the Augustovi Canal), and
The place of the Ghetto during the period of the Destruction
the whole width between the canal and the Netta River, until beyond the waterfall which is next to the Varhaftig flour mill. The residents of the suburb were transferred to the houses of the Jews, and the Jews were transferred to the ghetto.
They would bring the people of the ghetto to work every day in the city. They employed them in cleaning the streets, and more. Next to the barracks stood a brick house, which previously belonged to the Polish army. The Germans
In This Place About Two Thousand Jews Are Buried.
On the Monument Jews are Not Mentioned at All.
turned it into a prison, and a place of torment and death for many of the Jews from the ghetto. Those in charge of this place of torture were two Poles from Augustow. The first was, in the period of the Poles, assistant head of the city of Ardziyevski, and the second, a smith, a murderer, by the name of Klonovski. This was told to me by my friends the shkutzim, with whom I studied in school, and who afterwards became security officers. Together with them I searched for the two of them in Prussia in the year 1946.
On November 1, 1942, the day of an important Christian holiday, the end of the ghetto came. The Germans conscripted horses and wagons from the Polish residents of the city, and began the expulsion from the ghetto. Men, women and children of our beloveds were commanded to walk on foot, under a rain of blows, in the direction of Bogushi, between Rigrod-Grayevo and the Prussian border. Among those marching at the head, was Malkah Shor (Dr. Shor's wife), and her friend Kielson. While the weak, the children and the old people were loaded on the wagons. Dr. Shor sat on a wagon, next to the weak ones, and helped them as best he could. Thus they marched and traveled in the direction of Bogushi. Many were shot on the way. Afterwards, the Poles from that area showed me a large communal grave of the Jews of Augustow who were shot there.
After the troubles of the road, those that remained arrived, finally, to Bogushi. There was an extermination camp there,
and there too many were destroyed. The rest were sent to Treblinka, and a few to other death camps. Fewer than a dozen lived to be freed.
Gentiles, including the maid of Yasha Rosianski (the Kadish family), told me that after the expulsion from the ghetto, when there were already no Jews in Augustow, Rosianski's son Yudke, would appear at night during the course of a week, by the maid, and receive food from her. Afterward he disappeared. There were in Augustow a few converts, who became Christian before the war, and married Polish Christians. In the middle of the summer of 1943, the Nazis put their hands on them too. They took out of their beds during the night Merke Pogomfri, the wife of Kashivinski (who had a printing press and a bookstore next to the church), the lawyer Yazi Korl, and Kleimashevski, brought them to the Jewish cemetery, and shot them. Two succeeded in escaping, and remained alive. One was the wife of a Russian Cossack, the owner of a haberdashery store, and the second, the wife of the manager of the Lipavitz. After the war she married Max Rechtman.
For half of the year 1944 the front came closer to the Augustow area. The great Russian advance was stopped on the banks of the river Sieno (about 6-7 kilometers from Augustow in the direction of Grodno). The front stayed there for about 6 months, while the two sides were dug into the two banks of the river.
The German murderers used that period of time to cover up the traces of the mass murder of the Jews in the Shtzavra forests, and to hide their deeds from the eyes of the world. They brought a group of Jews, who specialized in opening killing pits and graves and in the burning of murdered corpses. These Jews opened the pits, took the bodies out of them, and arranged them in a special barbaric German way they first put down a flat layer of trees, and on these trees they lay a row of bodies, and on the bodies they placed another layer of trees, and afterwards again bodies, and so on. Afterwards they set fire to the giant pyramid. For full months the Germans and the special Jewish command engaged in the burning of murdered bodies (here I must add that in addition to the Jews of Augustow, there were also found there the bodies of Russian prisoners, and about 500 Poles, from the Augustovian intelligentsia, who were taken as hostages and killed as recompense for the fact that the Partisans killed a few German officers in the Sejny forest). For a few months the smoke rose and ascended from the burning of the bodies of the murdered.
After they completed their work, the Germans enlisted the men of the villages in the area, with their horses and plows, and for full weeks they plowed the forest, until they flattened the place. The Germans thought that by also killing the Jews who engaged in the burning of the bodies of our martyrs, it would not be made known to the world about their murders, but fate did not agree; individual Jews from those who engaged in the burning of the bodies of our martyrs understood in the last days of their work that their end was also near, and succeeded in fleeing. Two or three of them remained alive.
According to the stories of the Poles in the Augustow area, and the city of Augustow, and from a description of the horrors from the mouths of the Jews of Bialystoki, I succeeded in drawing up a map of that place.
The German barbarians also did not skip over the Jewish cemetery that was across the river, and they desecrated it as well. They uprooted the monuments, and transferred them to all kinds of places in the city. They blew up the lion's share of the monuments, and with the shattered pieces they repaired the roads in the city, and made sidewalks. When I was in Augustow, and when I walked on those sidewalks, I was able to read clearly the names, or parts of family names, or other details on the sidewalks. The second part of the monuments, which were still whole, were collected on the other side of the river, and were designated for building. The Germans, when they finished uprooting the monuments, conscripted people and plowed the cemetery, and levelled it, and they did not leave any memory of it.
In this way the life of the Jewry of Augustow, which flowered and flourished over the course of hundreds of years, was brought to an end. A mother city in Israel whose Jews were destroyed and are extinct forever.
by Dr. Shor
1650 men, of the residents of Augustow, beginning from age 14 and up, mostly sick and elderly, were shot and murdered in the Shtzavra forest on August 15, 1941. The rest of the community was confined to the ghetto, in the part of the city that was known by the name Baraki. On November 1, 1942, the ghetto was liquidated and its inhabitants were deported to the German border, a place where there was a prison camp. They were confined there for about a month and a half, together with Jews from Grayevo, Stutzin, Goni¹ndz, Rigrod, Kolno, Staviski, and others, and their food 100 grams of bread a day, and watery soup. Two thirds of the camp were transferred afterwards to the gas chambers that were in Treblinka, and a third 250, plus 90 women, to Auschwitz. Of all these there remained alive: Bornstein (Shreibman's grandson), the driver Kalstein, the daughter of Noach Levinzon (the butcher), and the writer of the letter, Dr. Shor.October 12, 1945 The testimony was given before the Historical Council of Polish Jewry.
From among the families who were deported by the Soviet army to Siberia, there remained alive: Yaakov Borovitz and his wife, Nissl Borovitz, their daughter and son, Batya Blacharski and her husband, Max Rechtman, his daughter and her daughter, Dr. Raphael and his wife, the Kestin family, and Musya Varhaftig.
From within the testimony of Amiel Shimon, the son of Yosef and Sarah, 35 years old, a merchant from Bialystok (translated from Polish):- - - In the middle of May 1944, they took our group out of the Bialystok prison and transported us in a closed vehicle in which they transported to destruction, to Augustow. Armed gendarmes with machine guns and grenades guarded us. We were commanded to uncover the mass graves, to take out the bodies, to arrange them in piles, to pour pitch and benzene on them, and to burn them. In one pile, whose size was 6 x 7 meters, we arranged 1000 bodies. In Augustow we burned 6 or 7 piles like that. After the completion of the burning we were forced to crush the bones to dust with special work implements, and to sift the dust with a screen in order to make sure that there were no gold teeth, rings, or earrings in it. All these the Gestapo men would take immediately.
In Augustow we uncovered three large graves, and one smaller one. The big ones were 15 meters long, and the small one 5-6 meters.
In the graves Jews, Poles, and Soviet soldiers were mixed. All of them were murdered by shooting. We found hundreds of bullets in the graves. In the graves we found more than 100 prosthetics of elderly disabled people. That these were elderly we were able to see from their long grey beards.
We were in Augustow 10-11 days (from May 17 May 28, 1944). When we finished burning the bodies in Augustow, they transported us 10 kilometers in the direction of Prussia. There we uncovered 10-12 graves, 400 people on average in each grave. There we were engaged in the burning of the bodies for five or six days. We spent every night in a barn in Augustow, while the gendarmes lived in houses.
Avraham Karasik, a resident of Rechovot, told of the underground actions in the Bialystok ghetto. After the liquidation of the ghetto the Germans attached the witness to the Sonder-commando unit which was employed until the middle of July 1944 in the covering up the traces of the destruction in the Bialystok area.
The men of the Sonder-commando were forced to burn 22,000 corpses, which were taken out of tens of mass graves.
In May 1944, at the beginning of May, I was working in the welding workshop of the prison. An officer came and ordered 40 chains with rings at the end, at a length of two meters each. Also, a number of short and long hooks, and iron rods. He ordered this and it lay in a side room of the welder's shop.
The Presiding Judge: What?[Page 418]
Answer: They ordered it but didn't take it. It remained there. In May, I don't remember the exact date, Fridl came again he was the one in charge he was our regular visitor. We knew that if he came, something new had to happen. And to be expected. He took us out to the yard, he looked at us, and he said: You still look good enough. You will travel to work in building. They separated 10 men from us and left them in service in the prison, and the rest they told to go into the sewing workshop, and they tore a 10-centimeter hole in our clothing, and in its place they sewed a white fabric on the back and on the right knee. Afterwards they put us into the famous vehicle. They also told us to take the hooks and the chains, and we started to travel.
The Legal Advisor: Where did you arrive?
Answer: When the doors were opened, we saw that we were in the courtyard of the Gestapo on Senkavitza Street. There we underwent an additional search, and they took from us all the things that remained from the prison, pencil stubs, shoelaces.
Question: To where did they transport you?
Answer: We arrived in Augustow. There we found a place prepared for us: two cowsheds, and around it was a wire fence.
Question: Did they let you eat?
Answer: They gave us as much to eat as we wanted: bread and honey and pig meat, and they let us rest a few days. Afterwards they took us out to work.
Question: To what work?
Answer: To building work, however they said. They gave us digging shovels, brought us to a certain place, and indicated that we needed to dig.
Question: Who indicated the place to dig?
Answer: Our escorts, the S.S. men and the Motorgendarmerie (Motorized Gendarmerie). SS men were the ones responsible and the Motorgendarmerie were only guarding us.
Question: Who was the one responsible?[Page 419]
Answer: The name of the man who seemed to be the responsible one, they called him Heman, I don't know if that was his real name.
The Legal Advisor: Yes, there is one Heman, exactly according to the prepared form.
The Witness A. Karasik: That's what we heard from the mouths of the Germans that spoke, for we saw him a few times. On the first day that we began to dig.
Question: One minute, Mr. Karasik, you began to dig.
Answer: Yes, first of all we fenced the area with a wire fence and we made a camouflage of young trees in order to hide the place.
Question: Afterwards you began to dig in the place they ordered you to. They told you that you were digging for a building foundation.
Answer: They only said to dig.
Question: You dug. What did you uncover?
Answer: We came across something hard. And each one that encountered something hard moved to the side, but there too was the same thing, at a depth of about 25 centimeters. We uncovered the remains of bones. We told the Germans that something was laid here, and they answered: it's nothing, these are horse corpses. Take them out. We began to whisper with each other, because for us it was a complete surprise. We didn't know what it was. And then the Germans entered the pits and began to hit us. This Heman came specifically to me and began to hit and commanded that I throw the dust on his feet. I dug and I threw, and he didn't stop hitting. One of the Motorgendarmes saw this; afterwards his nickname among us was The Boxer. He called me to bring trees, and with this he saved me from certain death. All the S.S. men were drunk in that moment.
The Presiding Judge: The Motorgendarmerie were S.S. men?
The Presiding Judge: You said: the S.S. men.
Answer: Yes. There were S.S. men and there were Motorgendarmerie. They took part of the men to saw trees. We sawed trees a length of about 8 meters, and they ordered us to make a square pyre, and onto this pyre we needed to afterwards take out the people's remains, the remains of the people's bodies.
The Legal Advisor: What was revealed before your eyes was a mass grave?
Answer: Yes, this was a mass grave.
Question: What was its size?
Answer: Its length was 8 meters and its width was 2 meters. In a grave like this there were usually 250-300 bodies.
Question: And you were ordered to take out the bodies?
Answer: We were ordered to take out the bodies and put them on the planks of the fire. On every layer they added wood in a length of 1 meter, and in that way we made the pyre.
Question: How many bodies did you take out on the first day?
Answer: On the first day we took out about 1700, for the Germans ordered us to count every body, and if the body was disintegrated, they ordered us to count the skulls.
Question: In the graves you also found objects talleisim and tefillin?[Page 420]
Answer: Yes, there were all kinds of graves. It depended on the soil. In sandy soil the bodies were better preserved, and if the soil was black, the bodies were more disintegrated.
Question: What did you do with the bodies?
Answer: Afterwards the Germans set fire to the pyres and burned the bodies. The extra things that remained from the pyre we had to pound with the iron bars so that no bone would remain. We had to pass it through a sifter. Of course the gold that remained, teeth and also rings, chains and so on, the Germans commanded us to give to them.
Question: I understand that this agitated you and that you wanted to kill yourselves.
Answer: That is a very human word.
Question: But you didn't do that.
Answer: Because we couldn't, they didn't let us. They guarded us inside and they guarded us outside. Even if one entered the toilet, a guard immediately entered to see what he was doing there.
Presiding Judge: How many Jews were in this unit?
Answer: In this unit there were 40 Jews, afterwards a few more were added.
The Legal Advisor: Over the course of time did it become known to you what the unit was called?
Answer: No. They called it the Sondercommando. They indicated every time that we too would go up in the last pyre, for it was forbidden for the secret to become known. This the German Gendarmes said. We came to Grodno
Question: Slowly, slowly, on the next day you continued with the same work?
Answer: We continued with the same work. We even uncovered a special grave outside of the wire fence that we made. In the special grave there were 10 corpses, and before we uncovered them one of the gendarmes said: on top there should be a woman with a flowered dress. Afterwards it became clear that this was correct, it was so. And again they joked amongst themselves: You remember how this woman did somersaults, turned upside down, rolled around (I think that in Hebrew this is the correct translation) at the time that she received the first bullet?
The Presiding Judge: What was the word in German?
Answer: Somersaults. We took out these bodies and added them to the pyre.
The Legal Advisor: When you finished digging in it, to take out the bodies, what were you ordered to do with the open pit?
Answer: We were ordered to cover it and afterwards to camouflage it with trees and grass.
Question: Who showed you where to dig each time?
Answer: The S.S. men who were inside with us.
Question: When you finished the work in that place you were transported to another place?
Answer: We were transported to another place, not far from the first place, also still in Augustow, not far from the train tracks. There were 8 or 9 graves like those there.
The Presiding Judge: How many graves like these did you open in the first place?
Answer: In the first place there were also 7 or 8. After a year I wrote all the numbers, because I still remembered from each and every place. Afterwards, when I was wounded in the hospital I wrote it down on paper, so that I would have the numbers.
The Legal Advisor: How much time were you in this Sondercommando unit?[Page 421]
Answer: Until its elimination on July 13, 1944.
Question: That says in total?
Answer: Two months, two months and something.
Question: And how many graves did you open in that time?
Answer: I did not keep a sum of the graves.
Question: How many bodies did you burn?
Answer: 22,000 bodies, according to the facts that I have from each and every place.
Judge HaLevi: This is all in the area of Bialystok?
Answer: Bialystok, Augustow, Grodno.
The Legal Advisor: Afterwards you reached the area of East Prussia?
Answer: Yes. Our place was in the Gestapo yard of Grodno. From there we would go out to the surrounding area of Luna, to the surrounding area of Grodno. We dug next to an ancient fort and there we found bodies with gold rings on the hands. Apparently they were not Jews, people who been kidnapped on the streets and they exterminated them.
Presiding Judge: This was in the territory of Poland or East Prussia?
Answer: I cannot indicate exactly. Once we saw the border post. On the border post was the symbol of Prussia.
The Legal Advisor: Did you find the bodies of children?
Answer: Of children. Of old people and of women. We also found the bodies of Polish officers, and with these Polish officers the hands were bound behind them with telephone cords. From a grave like this we once took out 750 officers.
Presiding Judge: They were in uniforms?
Answer: In uniforms, exactly. In uniforms and in boots, so that we could even tell their ranks.
The Legal Advisor: Once they also exterminated people next to bonfires?
Answer: Yes, this was exactly on the festival of Shavuot, and this was the second time that I saw this Haman. They took the vehicle in the middle of the work and travelled to some place. After about an hour they brought 8 people, farmers, and they shot them on the spot.
The Presiding Judge: Poles?
Answer: Yes, Poles.
The Legal Advisor: And you had to burn them?
Answer: Yes, we had to burn them. And they said that we should also take off the clothing, whatever we needed. Of course no one touched it. If it is permitted to describe this sight then it was worth it. At the time that they brought the vehicle the vehicle was closed, the same vehicle that transported us to work and the vehicle that transported hundreds and thousands of people to death of course in the driver's cabin Haman sat, the driver sat, and one more Gestapovitz, they opened the doors and the men began to come out. Apparently they were not ready for this. Then Haman took a sub-machine gun and began to shoot at the men. The people were surprised by the shooting and began to scream and beg, but the additional bullets put an end to the men's convulsions.
This Haman approached and with his fingernails he grabbed the flesh of a young woman whose dress was slightly raised.[Page 422]
The Presiding Judge: These were women and men?
Answer: Two women and six men, apparently a whole family. Afterwards we asked the meaning of the thing, and the Germans said that they went to take pigs for us for the holiday. For them and for us, and these apparently objected and did not want to give, so they brought them to the forest and exterminated them.
The Presiding Judge: All the time of the work in this unit they gave you to eat?
Answer: Yes, as much as we wanted, and also to drink hard liquor, this was the well-known samagon. They also drank, but not samagon, liquor.
Question: And now, tell us, were there many graves of Jews that you found with the Magen David?
Answer: Yes, there were also graves that we found with the ribbon and a Magen David on the hand. This was a surprise for us. In these graves the eyes of all of them were bound with strips of fabric. In all the graves we did not find that. In one grave we found it.
Question: Mothers, children?
Answer: Yes. It happened once when we uncovered a grave in the area of Luna. The grave was adjacent to a village that once was. At that time it was no longer a village, but rather chimneys that stood in the place of the village. In this grave there were only women and children. There were no men at all. Afterwards it became known to us that the Germans said that the men fled to the Partisans, to the forest. At the time that we uncovered this grave we saw on top one woman who lay with a baby in her arms and a small girl on the side and one baby on the back, tied on with fabric. This was a shocking picture. And this boxer began to cry, tears ran down from his eyes, but the rest of the friends began to make fun of him
Question: What friends?
Answer: His friends, they began to make fun and laugh at him, and with that it was finished.
Question: Mr. Karasik, you worked in this work until the date that you reported?
Presiding Judge: This was until July 1944?
The Witness: On July 13, 1944, they liquidated us.
The Legal Advisor: And on that same day?
Answer: On that same day we worked in Zelonka next to Bialystok, it's about 6-8 kilometers.
Question: I will guide you with questions, be so kind to confirm for me if it is correct or not. In the middle of the work they ordered you to stop the work to burn the stretchers?
Question: You asked the guards if it was already your end?
Question: They too were nervous?
Answer: Very nervous.
Question: They took the tools from you, ordered to stand three by three and walk in the direction of the open pit?
Question: You saw that the Germans were walking behind you with automatic rifles cocked?
Answer: Not behind us, but in a semi-circle, in a horseshoe.
Question: You reached the open pit?
Question: What happened then?
Answer: I was in the first row. I saw that from the side there came Machon and someone else who the trees hid, I didn't exactly see him, and he took out a small pistol and fired a shot. Together with this we heard a cry: Friends! Run!
Question: In what language?
Answer: In Yiddish. One of our friends called out. I jumped into the pit, afterwards I jumped out of it, I jumped again and crossed the fence, and I began to run at full height.
Question: And you were wounded?
Answer: Yes, suddenly I received a few shots.
Question: Do you have to this day a scar from this wound?
Answer: Yes. Here (on the shoulder) I received a bullet.
Question: Finally you crawled to the Russian lines?
Answer: Yes, over the course of 9 days. On the first night there was another friend with me, we walked all night. Towards morning we saw the light. We very slowly came close to the light, and it was again the place from which we had emerged. The campfire burned. We lay there all night and on the next day at night we began to go by way of the forests in an easterly direction. Over the course of 9 days, with all kinds of adventures, we crossed the border. My friend was killed, and I was taken to a Soviet hospital, scientific.
Presiding Judge: Killed by what?
Answer: We don't know, this was on the last night.
The Legal Advisor: You were inducted into the Soviet army, you still participated in battles in Czechoslovakia?
Answer: Yes, thanks to an acquaintance, the director of the hospital that I was in.
Question: At the end of 1945 you were freed from the Soviet army and in 1947 you went up to the land, you were deported to Cyprus, and in 1949 you went up to the State of Israel?
Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, does my lord have questions for the witness?
Dr. Servatius: I have no questions.
Presiding Judge: Thank you very much Mr. Karasik, you have completed your testimony.
by Eliezer Aronovski
Like a child in its mother's arms the town of Augustow lies nestled in the surrounding pine forest.
The forest, like a blue dream, has always captivated the youth, drawing them to it. Especially in the springwhen the world awoke to the cracking of the ice, the blooming of the lilac, the sprouting of flowers, and the small town was enchanted by the smell of acacia the youth would follow the currents of spring and make their way into the forest.
There is no tree that did not hide a secret love under its branches. The initials carved in their barks are testimony to this.
During the summer the forest was full of vacationers. From tree to tree, they would stretch their hammocks. Lying in them, the people sought to draw as much of the fragrant odor of the pines into their lungs as possible.
Men bathed in the canal as naked as the day they were born, diving under the piers, smearing themselves in the tar and turpentine that oozed from the planks, like blood from wounded bodies. Further along the women enveloped their young wriggling limbs in the currents, blushing modestly as though ashamed before the daylight itself.
By the lakes Sajno, Necko, and Biale the youth wandered into the depths of the forest. Canoes slicing quietly through the water. Boy snuggling up against girl. Heart joining to heart. Lip to feverish lip. The forest was full of love and song. Every voice resounded in the distance, and the echo made it sound as though the forest were teasing - I can also sing just like you, with the self-same voice.
All this looked like God's Song of Songs come to life, as though each person were a verse, a word, in the great, creative composition, lived by the forest of love . . .
This is how life had gone for generations. Until the outbreak of the Second World War, where the song of life was drowned out by the screams of the tortured, by the death rattles of the tormented. The Red Army saved the town for a short time. But it did not last for long.
In the night of the 22nd of June 1941, the town was torn from its sleep by the crack of shelling and machine-gun fire, through the buzzing and
whistling of bullets and a howling of terrified people who did not know where to run . . .
German tanks broke the stone paving of the streets under their heavy passage. The Jews knew that the worst lay in store for them. And however dark was the night, it was darker in their hearts, sadder in their spirits. Some were resigned, preparing to go to their deaths, like hundreds of thousands of Jews before them. The young sought to save themselves in the darkness. Amid the gunfire they ran off into the forest, joining hidden paths to meet up with the partisans of the Red Army. Others succeeded in escaping outright. Some fell into the hands of the Nazi tormentors, and were tortured for several days with all manner of barbarian methods, beaten half to death, compelled to divulge who the leaders of the town were. Where were they hiding? Who were their friends? But the bloodied and battered faces, the torn wounded bodies and broken limbs did not give up a single word; they merely waited for the moment of redemptionfor the peace of death.
The Nazis, seeing that they would get nothing out of them, decided to hang them near the forest. The whole town was driven to witness the execution, in order to sow the seeds of terror. Surrounded by armed Nazi troops with bayonets on their rifles, crushed one against the other, clothes caked in their own blood, faces covered in bruises, bloodshot; blackened eyes; bodies hacked. They were led to the forest on swollen feet, barely able to move.
Behind them the townsfolk were driven to follow them to the gallows. They watched their own funeral procession on the way to the hangman. They also heard the sobbing and the choked back cries that tore at their hearts, of those who were afraid to weep aloud because the Nazis threatened: those who dared cry would hang on the trees along with them. Their hearts broke; they wanted to scream for the world, but fear of death forced them to hold back, like iron clamps, the wound in their breast, and they suffocated on the pain within.
One by one, the victims were strung up on the trees. Each, in their last minutes, said farewell from afar to their father and mother, their brothers and sisters, their friends and loved ones, and in sight of death, new energy flared up inside themthey
cried out like people whom death cannot separate from the world, because they already stand on the other side, where life is eternal. And with contempt for their executioners, purified by pain, they forged words from their feelings and thoughts with the flame of their souls, and the forest was full of noiseour spirit will live forever! Freedom cannot be choked with a rope! The Jewish people is eternal! You'll never destroy us! God will avenge our blood! You Nazi dogs! Cowards! Weaklings!
The Nazis were enraged by this display of Jewish audacity, of Jewish strength, enraged by the courageous words and scorn expressed on the very threshold of deathand so they ordered everyone else to return home; they herded them away, beating them with the butts of their rifles, threatening to open fire if they did not leave without delay.
Above in the treesbloodied, blue, swollenhung the martyrs of the town. The wind brought them the sighs in their bloody coattails, of all those who mourn them and what they experienced.
But the forest rustles with the last words of the hanged, which transformed into thousands of echoes, spreading from tree to tree, from the forest to the town, from town to village, calling and rousing with courage and faith: that mankindthe victor, purified from all this hell, would build a better, more just world for themselves and for all future generations.
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