By Dovid-Leib Airesses
|Dovid-Leib Aires with his future sister-in-law,
Feigitzke Pores, waiting for her fiancé Moshe-Yitzchak Aires,
who was taking his time in Hachshara, 1925
|We performed at Maccabi right after Passover. I was the rabbi. Now a professional actor has joined us. We performed The Four Victims and the Vengeance. It's a drama.
Two weeks ago we performed The Jewish King Lear. I played the lead. I was the king. The crowd applauded loudly. You can imagine how happy I would have been if you'd here.
But I mustn't despair. The time will come.
The situation here is hard. There is no work. We barely have what to live on.
I am thinking of making aliya to Palestine. The cost is 900 Lit.
There is no chance of earning a living here. And I imagine that there I will be able to work and earn a living.
But it's all just talk. A poor man is considered a dead man.
I imagine the hard life in Palestine. Here it is good, but there it is better.
In my imagination I see myself making aliya to Palestine and touring around, and I feel so good. I am holding on to my mother Baile with one hand, and my father Chaikel with the other one.
But it is only a dream.
I yearn to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael I would travel to Palestine today. I would cover the cost of the trip by selling the two machines in my possession. But how do you get a requisition? If you can't get me one, perhaps a good friend of yours could do so? 
|Notebook No. 1
It was in the summer of 1940 when the Baltic countries, including Lithuania, were annexed to the Soviet Union. Russian soldiers were everywhere, and bought everything their eyes could see Later the factories were nationalized, as well as the wholesale shops, and there was no place to purchase goods and renew one's stock.
My home was in Dusiat, a small shtetl in Lithuania. We had a small shoe shop, and in it the Russians placed a female commissar who used to take the day's intake to the bank. The shop was attached to my house [on Maskevitcher Gass]. When the fall arrived, I remodeled the shop in order to install heating for the cold winter days, but I didn't manage to sell in the shop.
My Last Sabbath in the Shtetl
On a Sabbath in November 1940, at one o'clock in the afternoon, I set out for a walk with my oldest son [Yudel], who was then six years old. Outside the cold was bone chilling, but we were warmly dressed. The Sabbath day was peaceful. Here and there people could be seen walking in the shtetl, most of them elderly people who as was their custom every Sabbath, were walking home from the synagogue to eat their cholent and take a nap. The Sabbath could be felt outside. The fragrance of the quiet and peaceful shtetl was suddenly so delectable to me, as though I hadn't seen it for a long time.
As a memento to family Aires from brother and sister Aires
November 24, 1932
Photographer Ch. Sneiderman Rokiskis
We continued walking to the edge of the shtetl, and I had a pleasant chat with my son. When we turned to go back home, a girl of about fifteen years old approached us, and I saw in her face that she was distressed. In a slow, frightened voice she said Shabbat Shalom, and immediately afterward added in a whisper: Go home! I could hear the beating of her heart. In a trembling voice she told me: They have surrounded your house. Who? I asked. Soldiers, she answered. They are searching for you.
I was completely calm, because I knew that I wasn't guilty of anything, but when I told her that I wasn't afraid, I sensed that a change was about to take place in my life. I picked up my son, and he hugged me hard and stroked my neck with both his hands and my body with both his legs, as though he also sensed something, and in a worried voice he murmured: Papa, what happened to you? I calmed his fears: Nothing, my child. Let's go home. They're waiting for us. The street was already filled with people. The shtetl was tiny, and most of the residents were relatives and good friends. A man in uniform stood at the entrance to the house. I didn't know who he was or what his position was, but I noticed the red braid on his cap. I told him that I was the owner of the house and that the child in my arms was my oldest son. The man led me to my house, where the commissar was already waiting for me.
At that time, my wife Teibl, my younger son [Yitzchak-Chaikel] and my mother-in-law Sarah Aires and the two sisters Chaya and Rivka, who were our guests for the Sabbath, were in the house, and also my neighbor Kehat [Kagan] and his wife. They had all been ordered to sit on the floor and not to go anywhere.
The commissar removed a piece of paper from his pocket, and according to him it was signed by the chief commissar, permitting him to search my house, because I was accused of concealing merchandise, and that I had made improvements to the shop in order not to sell. That's not true! I said. But nothing I said was of any use.
They took up the floor and searched everywhere, but didn't find any concealed merchandise. When they wanted to take the merchandise that was in my house and also what remained in the shop leather, sandals and shoes I didn't let them. There must be a mistake! 8; I said. They decided that the merchandise would remain locked up in a room, until they verified what to do about it, and my wife and I signed that everything would remain where it was. As they were about to leave they pointed at me and the commander, with a cold face and the look of a thief, let slip that if I was called to the police station I should come immediately.
Consternation reigned. The women began to cry. I calmed them down saying; Never mind. It will be all right. They will find out that I'm not guilty. But I was uneasy. I felt that a great calamity was about to take place, but I didn't know what. I didn't have much time to ponder. The door opened again and two policemen entered and called me to come to the police station with them.
At the police station they greeted me politely, and the policeman explained to me that because the shop was registered in my wife's name, she was the guilty party and she would be arrested. What! I shouted. She is the mother of children! That can't be! And I can't imagine any guilt! I added that the shop was no longer in her name, and that I was the owner, and if there was an accusation, I would rebut it. The policeman was waiting for this as though for prey. He wrote down that everything was in my name, I signed and went home.
This was already late on Saturday night. It was dark outside and the electric lamps barely lit up the darkness.
My entrance into the house was a cause for great joy, but not for long. The children were already sleeping. I thought to myself that it was good that they were young and didn't yet understand what was befalling us. I couldn't fall asleep. I couldn't figure out what they wanted from me. I thought and feared that I might be separated from my home, my wife and my darling children, whom I loved so dearly. I wouldn't be able to live for even a day without seeing them.
I didn't have much time left to contemplate all this. Within an hour the door opened and the two policemen came in. You are under arrest and you have to come with us. You can eat something, but you are not allowed to take anything with you. It was almost midnight. I asked them to allow me to go into the next room, and I kissed my beloved children. That was their last kiss, and that is how I said farewell to them forever.
I was Sentenced to Five Years of Imprisonment
That was my first night in the police station. I thought about my oldest son and thought that there was no one as clever or beautiful as he anywhere in the world. I couldn't image how I would be able to live without my wife and children. Everything passed in front of my eyes. The night dragged on interminably... but I considered myself lucky that only I was there and my wife and children were still at home.
Daylight began to dawn. My cell was locked I kept my ears open and listened. Suddenly I heard a telephone conversation. Woe is me! I understood that they had gone to also arrest my wife I began to run around the room and went to the window, hoping to see someone. After a while the policemen returned and I heard them saying that my wife had grabbed the children, picked them up and said: I am not going. You had better shoot me, and not take me from my little children! They also said that the grandmother had picked up the youngsters and said: Go, my daughter. I will take care of them and will not give them to anyone. I will come to you as soon as I can They hugged and kissed and cried copious tears. The mother shouted: If there is a God in the world, don't abandon us!
My wife Teibl was brought to the police station At first they brought both of us to a jail in Zarasai, and immediately after that to a prison in Utian [Utena]. I was pushed into a room that already held several people. But my wife was placed in an empty room. Her screams that disturbed the silence of the night still ring in my ears, and I can't erase them from my memory.
When I was placed in the hallway, I immediately rushed over to the transom of the room in which my wife was being held, and before the guard began to shout at me I quickly said: Hold on! It will be all right! I felt a little easier for being able to say a few encouraging words to her.
I don't know when my wife was taken for interrogation, because the next day she was transferred to a different room. At two o'clock in the afternoon they called me: Airesses, come!
They took me into a room in which the interrogator was already sitting, and he began to speak to me politely, but in a cold voice: You want to return home. Tell me where you've conceal the merchandise and you will go home. I said: All the walls are covered in banners that show Stalin standing with a bouquet of flowers in one hand and the other hand hugging a child. And what did you do? You took a mother from her little children and imprisoned her!
Only answer the questions you are asked! - the interrogator raised his voice in a shout. I said that as long as I didn't know that my wife had been released and was with her children, I wouldn't say a word. You can bet that you will say something he answered me. Take him out! he hinted to the soldier, who immediately transferred me to the cellar.
The water in the cellar reached my knees. From out of the little window, by the light of a small oil lamp the guard kept track of my actions. I stood there for two hours. Afterwards I was again taken upstairs. It was hard for me to lift my legs, because my shoes were full of water. Water ran from my clothes, and I bent over at the entrance in order to wring out my wet pants a little. The interrogators didn't ease up: So, where did you conceal your merchandise?
I don't know what you want from me I answered again and again.
Time went on. They kept my wife there for nine days, and when she was released she immediately sent me rolls, because we had settled ahead of time that when she was released she would buy something and send it to me, as a sign that she had been released. I was held for thirteen days in the interrogation cave, and then I was returned to the Utian jail.
I was accused of refusing to sell merchandise, and the arguments of my attorney didn't help, nor the testimony of the eighteen witnesses who had bought from me. It was a show trial, meant to frighten the others. New prisoners came to the jail every day, most of them merchants and grocers. Who could have imagined, I thought to myself, that this would be our fate with the arrival of the Soviets? They scattered warm words on us, nice words, sang songs and held concerts for us. They used to stop in the middle of the street and actors would get out of the truck and put on a show for the crowd. Were these people capable of mistreating innocent families? In a short while the jail in Utian filled up with people, and each of them asked only one single question: Why? There were Jews there from various shtetls in Lithuania, each one bearing his own burden of pain.
My trial was held on January 1, 1941, and I was sentenced to five years of imprisonment.
In April 1941 the policemen entered the prison hall and ordered the prisoners to take their belongings and get into a truck. We were forbidden to sit or stand, and were forced to kneel. We placed our belongings under us. We were forbidden to speak. We were taken to the prison in Vilna [Vilnius], where we stayed for two weeks. My wife Teibl came to Vilna to see me and brought me warm clothes. We talked through the iron bars. We cried more than talked. It was as though our hearts foresaw that that was our last conversation. I recall that Micha Slep from my shtetl, also visited me there, and he was the last person I saw in Vilna.
|The waves of arrests that took place almost from the start of the Soviet regime (1940/41) in Lithuania incorporated many Jews. Several of those prisoners were already transferred to prisons and labor camps in distant areas of the Soviet Union that same year.
In accordance with instructions, each district was required to set up a suitable number of teams clandestinely that were allotted the major part of the mission, i.e. locating the candidates for arrest and deportation 
|Early on the Sabbath morning, the action teams raided the cities, villages and towns of Lithuania and with their guns drawn, broke into the homes of thousands of residents. The mass exile campaign, which began on Sabbath morning (June 14, 1941) and continued until the war broke out (June 22, 1941), was carried out, according to the orders, until the break of dawn. Thousands of deportees were loaded onto trucks and taken to train stations, and from there in an unknown direction.
For various reasons, not in every case were the candidates for exile told that this meant outside the boundaries of Lithuania. The purpose of the campaign was to purify the Lithuanian republic of counterrevolutionary elements
More than half the exiles came from the three large communities, Kovno [Kaunas], Shavli [Siauliai] and Ponivezh [Ponevezys], which were also cultural, political and economic centers. Even though among the deportees there were here and there small merchants from small towns, who relative to the other residents were considered rich men, or because someone from among the composers of the lists had something against them, generally the deportees were the cream of Lithuanian Jewry economically and politically.
|The majority of the deportees were kept imprisoned in camps and they were used for hard labor in coalmines, chopping down trees in the forests and other types of hard labor. A few of the deportees were sentenced for crimes they had committed before the Soviets occupied the Baltic countries, and they were deported to labor camps in different distant places The harsh northern climate, the hard forced labor and the unbearable living conditions decimated the deportees and many of them died there. 
Camp 37 in the Pechora Region
One morning, on April 30, 1941, they had us strip naked and searched our clothes. Afterwards they sat us in a prisoners' vehicle and drove us to the train, which stood far from the station, apparently so no one would see us. We were handed over to soldiers armed with rifles and accompanied by dogs, and every attempt to escape from there was doomed to failure. We were put into the railway cars, which were meant for transporting cattle; wooden planks were placed in the cars on two levels. Forty people were crowded into our car.
When the train began moving, I began to tremble. I couldn't make a sound. Where were they taking us? No one knew. The train flew across fields and forests. The wheels moved in rhythm, loudly and softly. The cars shook. I couldn't sleep, and just thought: Who knows what fate has in store for me? What are my wife and children doing now? Everything passed through my mind like a film, until I fell asleep. I turned from side to side, and suddenly a bitter shout apparently erupted from my throat. My neighbor grabbed me and whispered: What are you shouting?
The soldiers woke us up early in the morning. They unlocked the heavy locks of the door of the railway car, treated us to kicks and ordered us to get up. The train stopped in the station, and we didn't know where we were. After a roll call, we were given something to drink and a little food, and in the meantime, through the open door I noticed the writing on one of the houses: The First of May.
|Long Live the First of May
Der Emes [The Truth], May 1, 1941
We traveled for days and nights. At one station we waited for two days, and there they gave us bread and herring, which not everyone was able to eat. The bread ran out immediately. After drinking cold water, many people became ill and were transferred to a special car. Those who were hospitalized there never returned.
We only received bread again two days later. We continued traveling, and the trip was a hard one. They only opened the doors three times a day. We had a roll call in the morning and the evening, but we only received the small amount of food once a day.
We began to get used to our situation. We lay in the car and began to tell stories; each man poured his heart out. There were two Russian officers with us, who had been sentenced in Vilna to fifteen years of hard labor in the camps, and I remember that one of them encouraged me and promised that I would remain alive.
After a month's journey the train reached the end of the track, the doors were opened and soldiers with dogs waited for us outside. We were concentrated together, surrounded by soldiers, and ordered to sit. Standing was forbidden. Our possessions were collected in a special railway car, and when taking them out and calling out the names of the owners of the suitcases, the Russian prisoners rushed to jump on the property and remove the valuable items, and the rest was thrown on the ground. When we left the place it looked like after a pogrom
Luckily for me, the bundle of my property was in a sack on my shoulder. It contained two suits and a sweater, a pair of new shoes and underwear. We set out on our way without knowing for where were heading, accompanied by armed soldiers and dogs. We reached a wide river that was still frozen, but water already flowed at its banks. I reckon that we were about two thousand men. We crossed the river group by group. I was exhausted from the journey, and the package weighed heavily on my shoulder.
We were brought to a huge cabin filled with people, and there I met Jews from different places. I sat on my baggage and fell asleep. When I woke up I sensed that my seat was lower. The sack was torn and I discovered that my shoes and sweater had been stolen. I was agitated. If I had known that I was being taken to Russia I would have gone ahead and thrown myself under the wheels of the train, I said to a Lithuanian beside me. The man laughed so hard that his belly jiggled. He said to me: Silly guy. You're still young and don't know a thing. For a minute I entertained thoughts of despair, but then I thought about it again: I have to cope with fate, and I have to return to my wife and children, whose memory never leaves me. What are they doing now? How are they living without me? Melancholy thoughts went through my mind, but I knew one thing, that I had to be strong and to withstand everything so that I could return to my loved ones.
Two days passed. We were provided with rubber shoes and rags in which we wrapped our feet. We were divided into groups of one hundred men and were sent on foot to the Pechora Camp.
This was in the month of June, but it rained and snowflakes fell to the ground, as we were accustomed to in the winter in Dusiat. The camp, which contained three large cabins, was located at the thirty-seventh kilometer. It was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, and on the gate was a banner saying: We bless Stalin.
Among the prisoners of Camp 37 were Jews from different places, but most of them came from Poland. Among them was a fellow, not tall but strong, and we Litvaks had difficulty understanding his speech. He immediately warned us to watch out for theft, and advised me to sell the good things I had and buy food in their place. He brought a client, and I sold one suit for 60 rubles. I had two more suits, one of which I wore.
After lining us up and registering us, we entered the cabin and each man took a place on the log floor. We received soup, chewed the slice of bread and strolled a bit around the cabin. Tired and exhausted, I laid my head on my possessions and fell asleep. They woke us at four in the morning. There was great confusion. Talking and shouts could be heard from all sides. In answer to my question What happened? I was told that everyone had been robbed. I cast a glance at my stuff and discovered that I was missing a suit. And so I was left with only the suit on my body. The atmosphere was dismal. We felt like after a fire, with no chance of rescue. I felt that I was falling apart. Cold and heat went through my body. I bit my lips and decided to keep quiet. The main thing was to hold out!
We were divided into work crews. The head of my crew was a Lithuanian from Shavli. We were forty men, mostly Jews from Lithuania. We received soup.
We lined up outside, and were given spades, pick-axes and axes, and we set out in a line. The snow began to melt, and there were puddles of water. Water ran in narrow channels on the road, as though it was being prodded: quickly, quickly.
We joined other crews and energetically set to work at digging. We weren't used to this work. Our hands became covered in huge blisters, but we had to continue digging, because anyone who didn't fill his quota did not receive his portion of food. After the first day of work, when we returned to the camp everyone received his portion of bread, which weighed 600 grams, and a little soup. The bread was hard, as though it had been baked from cement, and it was hard to eat. The soup was doughy, but was gulped down hungrily. Tired and worn out, we fell to the floor That is how we worked day after day, from dawn to dusk.
We loaded the dirt into wheelbarrows and wheeled them on boards. Our strength gave out. As recompense for this hard labor we received only a limited amount of bread, but as our strength diminished, the tastier the bread became, like the taste of a sponge cake at home. We used to eat small pieces from it, in order to stretch out the feast.
The work at night, which began at five in the evening and continued until seven or eight in the morning, was even harder than the work in the daytime. One day, the manager of the colony entered our cabin and gathered up our belongings. To our question he replied that from now on we would be wearing a uniform. When we tried to make a fuss, we were immediately told to shut up, that in this place we had to hold our tongues...
The walk to work took about an hour. We were given food only once during the day soup, a spoonful of barley or potatoes, and 600 grams of bread, but if we didn't fill our work quota we only received 300 grams of bread, and they even didn't let us have the cereal, and we received only soup, which consisted of water and something in it The bread also consisted of a lot of water and little flour.
The situation deteriorated, and our bodies grew weaker and weaker, when suddenly the bread ran out. We had not tasted any bread for two days. We returned from the day's work tired and hungry, sat in the cabin and drank the watery soup, when suddenly the door opened and the natchalnik (camp commander) a heavily-built Gentile entered and in a deep and loud voice began to make a speech: We have no bread, because the trucks laden with sacks of flour are unable to cross the muddy roads. We have to go out and chop down trees and lay a bridge that vehicles can cross. The camp was located in the forest, and we didn't have to go far. We received saws and axes and set out to work. Some chopped down trees, others removed the branches and the rest loaded logs onto their backs in order to bring them up the mountain. At night they lit bonfires to light up the area, and they warmed us a bit.
Day had already dawned, and we continued working. We could barely drag our feet, but we were looking forward to the bread that would come. The logs were laid, and I think that the road was made accessible for trucks to pass, but as soon as the first truck got on, the logs began to sink, and the truck also sank and became stuck. We were ordered to remove the sacks of flour from the truck. The empty trucks began to move one after another up the mountain, but when the trucks advanced, the logs under them sank, and they had trouble moving. It was already two o'clock in the afternoon. This was the third day we had been working, without a drop of food or drink. When the trucks reached the top of the mountain, we had to lug the sacks of flour on our backs and place them on the trucks again. We worked vigorously. Sack followed sack, until all the trucks were loaded. The loading of the last truck was carried out with the last of our strength. We didn't carry the sacks on our shoulders, but under our arms. We had to worry about freeing our feet from the mud, because as soon as you freed one foot, the other one got stuck, and it was hard to free it. We worked barefoot. I was dizzy and felt that I was about to fall, but it was even worse to drop the sack in the mud Suddenly the driver ran up to me: Davai, davai, merkatse! [Hand it over, monkey] that is what they called the prisoners. I gave him a look, which apparently showed that I was about to collapse. I couldn't free my foot, and my strength ran out. The driver took the sack from me and took it to the truck. To me that driver then was an angel from heaven He spoke Russian, but according to how I felt he was probably a Jew. He immediately ordered them to support me and drive me to the cabin. That was my first attack of weakness
|While lying on the boards in the cabin, one thought went through my mind: I had to overcome everything and not give in! I had to bear everything and return home! I whispered that to myself over and over again. I saw my home in my mind's eye, and it was lovely. I imagined my child coming up to me, and I could feel his thin arms hugging and caressing me, and it was as though I heard him saying: I won't long for you Papa, I won't long for you. Those were the words he said when we parted
For a moment I didn't feel that I was lying on the boards. I was covered in sweat. It was a pleasant dream, and I wanted it to continue for a long time, but it ended.
I continued saying to myself: no, I won't fall apart
|Thus I wandered from colony to colony, from camp to camp. In the summer, there was daylight for almost twenty-four hours, and it was hard to bear the mosquito bites. When they hurried us to work in the morning, I used to say the Shacharit [morning prayer] in a whisper, say Avinu, Malkeinu, and add a prayer of my own. I felt that it helped me. I tried to pray so that no one would hear, because they might think that I had lost my mind and was talking to myself, and would make a laughingstock of me. On the way back from work I used to pray Maariv [evening prayer], and the road seemed shorter to me
Hard Labor in 55 Degrees Centigrade
In all the camps I was in, I came across Jews, Russians and Poles. There were prisoners who had already spent several years there, among them Russian officers from the Russo-Finnish War.
At the beginning, we comprised a Lithuanian brigade, headed by a Lithuanian. But when the war broke out on June 22, 1941, they scattered us among different brigades. The brigade to which I was attached was nicknamed Leshspal and it was sent to exceptionally hard labor. We used to chop down trees, saw off the branches and drag the logs to the river, where they used to float them to another destination. We had to drag the logs to the riverbank or to the railway tracks to load them onto freight cars. All this work was very hard and our food was extremely meager. For lunch [the main meal] we ate soup and a spoonful of some kind of cereal, and when we returned from work we received our portion of bread, 600 and sometimes 700 grams a day, and we had to leave some of it for other meals. It happened more than once that as soon as we returned to our cabin home, as we used to call it we again heard the siren calling us to go out and load trucks. This sometimes occurred during the day and sometimes at night, always after a hard day's work, without being allowed to rest.
Summer in that region is short, and it was again followed by rain, snow and strong winds, and after them came the frost. The weather fit our state of mind. We wore ragged and torn woolen pants and coarse woolen coats. It was hard to work under such conditions, unbearable. We envied people whose feet or fingers froze, because then they remained at rest in the cabin. They did not receive food and remained hungry, but at least they were in the warm cabin.
The hunger increased and the work was backbreaking. We were not given any fat, and our bodies reacted to this. It was very hard to bear the hunger, and many people used to go through the rubbish bins for peels that had been thrown out from the kitchen. Many of us became bloated, came down with dysentery and bleeding, and new corpses were removed from the cabin every day. The doctors and nurses tried to help the patients, but there was nothing with which to allay the hunger. People wanted to die because then the torture will end. That is what a Polish friend said to me. But in my mind there was only one thought: I have to overcome! It seemed to me that nothing bad would vanquish me. When I thought about my comrades in the camp This one is gone, and that one will die soon I felt that I had to struggle with myself and withstand all the trials and tribulations
They used to wake us up for work at four in the morning. We rushed to the kitchen for a bit of hot soup, and at five o'clock we were already lined up. There were still stars shining in the sky. The frost attacked our feet. The cold reached forty to forty-five degrees centigrade below zero. Our teeth chattered. It was impossible to talk. Everyone murmured to himself and mourned his bitter fate. Bonfires burned in the place where we worked, and we could warm our hands a bit. The frost covered the logs in the river and we had to break the ice with axes, pull out the logs and lay them on top of the ice.
One evening, in the depth of winter, a snowstorm was raging when we returned to the camp from work. Immediately after the roll call, and before we had a chance to drink even a little hot water, they already gave us shovels and we went out to remove the snow. Walking was difficult, and I used the shovel to protect my face from the wind and snow. My feet stuck in the snow and I had trouble freeing them. At midnight we reached a place teeming with people, and we heard voices calling Davai, davai! [Move, move]
In the meantime the storm abated and it stopped snowing, but the frost increased. The stars shone in the sky and lit the surrounding area. We were exhausted from the hard work during the day and the difficult walk in the snow, but we weren't allowed to gather our strength, because we had to continue raking and removing the snow. Dawn lit the sky and I was overcome by terrible fatigue. My hands no longer obeyed me. But I had to continue shoveling, because the snow again covered the roads. After a full twenty-four hours of work, we were replaced by another brigade and returned to the cabin.
A tin heater stood there. My face was boiling hot, but the heat didn't penetrate my bones. I warmed myself beside the heater. I forewent the food and lay down on the boards. In my heart I prayed that we would not be called again to the unbearably hard work. Thousands of people worked then at clearing the snow from the railway tracks, so that the freight trains could move.
Suddenly I was awoken from a deep sleep. Quickly, quickly, get up! People were already standing, but there were many who weren't capable of getting up. I felt that I was losing the last of my strength, and the hope of holding out was diminishing. After all, this was just the beginning, and the end was nowhere in sight! But I didn't have much time to think. When the pressure is so hard, you give in, and what will be will be. I didn't know what day of the week it was, and I didn't know when the Sabbath was. The winter was at its height. There was a rumor that if the temperature was below -55° C, you didn't go out to work. We lay on the wooden floor, wrapped in some way or other, and the frost rampaged outside. In the cabin there were two tin heaters going, and one of the prisoners, who wasn't fit for work outside, was in charge of keeping the heaters going. The people sat around them with swollen faces and feet, and said that the Angel of Death was hovering over them.
The windows were blocked with a heavy layer of snow, and when the door was opened, cold air blew in and filled the cabin like thick smoke.
|It didn't take long and the pleasure of idling in the cabin because of the extreme cold came to an end, when the natchalnik entered, wrapped in a fur coat and a woolen hat, and said: Outside! You have to hurry up and load a truck with logs! Several fellows got up and volunteered to go out. They were promised that they would receive 50 grams of spirits to warm up their bodies. The time was noon. The natchalnik came back and took another group that had been selected by the brigadier, I among them. We couldn't refuse. The commander consoled us saying that it was five degrees warmer. We could barely breathe from the cold. My knees refused to move. The wind penetrated into our bones as though it was sawing them.
When I approached the truck I hurried to find refuge from the cold underneath it, but in vain. I felt that my end would be here. There was a guard station nearby. I dragged myself to there while I could still breathe. The place was heated by a tin heater. I addressed the natchalnik and asked for mercy: Look how poorly dressed I am. I will soon freeze to death and then will be of no use. Please send me back to the cabin. I have a wife and children. The natchalnik interrupted me saying: Get him away from me, and the devil will take him! If he dies, others will come in his place. I jumped from where I was standing and in the voice of a wounded animal I shouted: Here, I am in your hands. You had better shoot me, my death will be easier. I continued shouting: Shoot me. Why are you hesitating? Do it quickly and give yourself pleasure. He got up, looked at me and said: The devil take you! Why did they bring you here? Go back to the camp, and the devil take you!
Shattered and broken I returned to the cabin, while I could still breathe. I lay down on the boards and tried to warm up my body.
The winter of 1941 went by with working at removing the snow, chopping down trees and freeing logs from the frozen river. When spring arrived my strength failed me and I fluttered between life and death
One spring evening, before the day's work was over, a military man arrived and the sentry ordered us to stand in a row. We lined up and began walking. We talked among ourselves and thought that we were being taken to the front. Here people were falling like flies, without any dignity. Perhaps there on the front I would succeed in eliminating a few of Hitler's men. And perhaps I might even survive. And even if I caught a bullet, I would be relieved of everything
We exchanged such thoughts and others. We were happy to return to the cabin, which was already full of people. We were given soup and bread, which was meant to be enough for the coming day. A voice was heard saying, Eat, and everyone take his belongings. When you hear the whistle, everyone is to line up in rows in the yard.
Many people were already standing in the yard. We received an order and began walking. No one knew to where. We walked throughout the night and day was already dawning. It was hard to keep our eyes open, and we could no longer feel the tiredness in our legs. When we reached the bank of a large river we saw a mass of people there from different camps. None of them knew where we were being taken.
Ferries began arriving, one after another, and we crossed the river in them. In the forest that surrounded the river we lay on the grass under the watchful eyes of the guard. Lie there and rest. A wind was blowing from the river; we were overcome by tiredness and fell asleep, until the calls to get up woke us up. Our crew consisted of about forty men, headed by our veteran Lithuanian. I would like to point out that when we were together in the camp, the Jews and Lithuanians took care of each other and we lived like one family
Afterwards they took us to a dense forest that extended for many kilometers. At a certain spot we were ordered to cut down the trees, saw off branches and remove them in order to prepare the area for a camp for us. The trees were huge and cutting them down was exhausting work. We used tractors. We worked nonstop, day and night, our hands became swollen and we could no longer stand on our feet
They set up an airport there. The work continued, and every once in a while new workers arrived. The summer was already over, the fall had passed and the first signs of winter had begun to appear. We were again sent to the Pechora Camp. We were again divided into brigades, and we again went out to work at hard labor.
Once when I was pulling a log of about three meters in length out of the river, the log slipped onto me, I received a hard knock and lost consciousness. They rushed a doctor to me, and brought me to the hospital on a stretcher. They placed ice on my body and I received an injection, but my fever rose and I was burning up. I remained in the hospital for ten days, and afterwards I was released from work for a month. I received 400 grams of bread a day and soup with a little cereal three times a day. During the day I used to go and help out a bit in the kitchen, peeling potatoes, and I received food in recompense. Others did the same, each one with a different illness, but we were all hungry. We used to eat raw potatoes, and if we were able to find a little salt then our luck was in.
At the end of the month a medical committee decided that I would be sent to a brigade that was engaged in light work. The head of the brigade was a Jew called Bronstein. He was an attorney from Czarnowice. Almost everyone in his brigade was Jewish. We did various jobs there: transporting water, sawing wood and digging. There was a brick-making workshop there and I also worked at making bricks. The designated rabbi, Margulis from Czarnowice, was also with us. Thanks to him we knew the days of the week and when the holidays fell, but we were even forced to work on Yom Kippur. When Margulis used to go out to work with us, we used to do the work in his place. That is what we did during the week and also on the Sabbath
We worked from dawn till dusk. We freed logs from the ice, and were jealous of people whose fingers froze. More than once I placed my fingers in the water so that they would freeze, but when the pain increased and was sharper than a knife, I used to think about what I was doing to myself. Hang on! I used to say to myself and rub my hands. Perhaps you will still need your hands. Hold out to the end and don't give in. Your wife and children are waiting for you. Thus I would encourage myself. To this day my fingers are slightly injured, and on cold days they sting. Many others remained crippled for life, like me.
There was a red-haired man with us, whom we called Rieze. He once asked the brigadier to allow him to light a bonfire and warm up beside it. He began to chop branches for the bonfire and cut off his thumb with the axe. In this way he was released from the hard labor. Many fellows did something similar. A few months later the Polish fellows were freed from the camp and drafted into the Polish army. But Rieze, whom I remember as a good-looking fellow, was not considered fit for the army because of his handicap. New people joined our brigade. We continued working and the winter of 1942 also went by in this way.
|Based on the Sikorski-Stalin agreement, prisoners and refugees who were formerly citizens of Poland were freed at the end of 1941, among them many residents of Vilna and its environs. Most of them moved south to Central Asia. Some of them were recruited for the Anders Army, and some of them even managed to get to Eretz Yisrael during WWII
Under the Authority of Merciless Thugs
I was placed to be the sentry in the vegetable garden. I used to pull a radish out of the garden, and even if it was still tiny, I used to eat it in order to stave my hunger a little. It was obvious that in order to stay alive it was necessary to eat, and to eat anything that came to hand.
The season for cultivating in that region is only three months long, and it is very quick. I was sent to guard at night, and I was especially careful to guard the tobacco, the leaves of which were already quite large. The garden was big and wide, and at the entrance there was a subterranean hothouse, covered with glass windows. Two experts worked there, seeing to seeds and shoots.
I watched over the garden, but it quickly became clear that the thieves were watching me. When I went to one side of the garden, the thieves used to break in on the other side, and using sticks they used to rip off tobacco leaves. How could I by myself overcome ten thugs armed with sticks? I shouted to the experts, but before they managed to arrive the thugs had already finished their work and disappeared.
The two experts were wicked Gentiles. Guarding in stormy, rainy and cold weather was hard, and I didn't even have a dog kennel in which to seek shelter.
One night there was a heavy storm, with rain and hail, and I couldn't continue standing outside. I wandered from side to side and felt that I was finished. My woolen coat absorbed the water, and with great difficulty I reached the hothouse and asked for shelter. I pleaded with the experts to let me in, but they didn't open the door to me. On such a night you wouldn't even put out a dog! Even now, many years later, when I recall the events of that stormy night I break out in a cold sweat. I lay down near the hothouse, covered myself with straw, and even though I was wet I warmed up and fell asleep. When I woke up it was already daylight. I couldn't say a word and my teeth chattered. I replaced the bale of straw and ran to see what was happening in the garden. The rain and hail had struck everything, and even in such weather the thieves were active and ripped off large quantities of tobacco leaves.
I complained to the commander that one person was not capable of guarding the entire area, and not long thereafter another guard was added, a broadly built man but as hungry as me. When night fell, each one of us went to guard his section. My friend fell on the radish beds and gorged himself like a really hungry person.
One night a group of people attacked the guard in the tobacco beds, and beat him endlessly with sticks. I raised an alarm, and the two experts came running, but the attackers managed to escape with the tobacco, and the guard was left with the beating .
Acts like this were caused by hunger, which greatly distressed the people. How to survive? That was the problem of the hungry people. When there was no food there were people who became addicted to smoking, and in order to obtain tobacco they even forewent their portion of bread. I didn't feel I could continue guarding in such a situation. I gave up the radishes and moved to a different job.
Every once in a while we appeared before a medical committee that decided on everyone's physical fitness, and we were sent to work in accordance with the committee's decisions. In this way we used to move from camp to camp and from job to job
One day the saw was torn away from its location, hit me and sent me flying into one of the pits, and my life and sufferings almost came to an end. I was injured and taken to the hospital. A few days later I was transferred to another brigade, headed by a man called Karalkov, whose face testified to the fact that he was a criminal. Types like him, who had already been imprisoned in the camp for several years, had status, in the way things were run there, and were appointed as brigadiers. We were worn out from the hardship, and to make sure that we didn't goof off; they used to give us supervisors that imposed terror on us. I was the only Jew among fifty people. Every day I was sent to drag logs and place them beside the train tracks, in order to prevent the snow from piling up on the tracks. I dragged logs from dawn till dusk. I worked in extreme cold and used to return home exhausted and spent, to lie down on a wooden bunk. Every once in a while I went to warm up my coat beside the heater, then wrapped it around myself and returned to my bunk. The cold used to wake me up, and then I again went to warm up my coat, and so it went
My clothes were stolen, and I was left dressed only in the woolen pants they had given me. They were torn and ragged, and I tied them to my body with a rope.
|Many people tried to evade the work on various pretenses. Whoever didn't go to work and remained in the cabin received only water and half the portion of bread. Many preferred making do with that and not going out to the hard labor. One night a search for shirkers was carried out. Three men came into the cabin and asked the brigadier if there were any shirkers there. When he said no, they asked him to look again, and then he said, Wait a minute, there is a Jew here. Take him if you want. I was then lying on the bunk, wearing only a shirt and underpants, covered in a rag, because before we went to sleep they used to send our torn clothes to the sewing shop, and we would get them back in the morning, before going out to work. The brigadier grabbed me and said: Hey, stand up and come! He lay on the bunk above me his body was huge and healthy! I saw that his eyes were moving from side to side. While I was still looking at him with a questioning look, he answered me with a strong kick in the chest, and I was pushed to the wall. When I said, All right, I'll go, but I am wearing only a shirt and underpants, I got another hard kick and fell. The three strangers helped me get up, I put on my sandals made from tires, and was dragged to the collection point. Approximately 400 people were standing outside.
The sky was clear, the stars were shining, and the moon shone. There was no mercy it was four AM, and it was probably -45°C outside. We walked for about three and a half kilometers and entered a large cabin, which stood on a hill across from the river. Two heaters stood there, but it was almost as cold in there as outside. A group of Jews adopted me, and wrapped up my almost naked body. In the evening everyone was given 300 grams of bread, but before I even managed to put it in my mouth, someone grabbed it from me. Another day went by without food, but that was nothing new.
At four o'clock, when they got us up for work and I was dressed only in a shirt and underpants I was determined not to go out to work in such bitter cold. A Polish man stood at the door, looking at the people who went out. Inside people lay wrapped up and shivering from cold. The Pole went up to each one and asked why he wasn't going out to work. I'm naked, I replied to his question. He grabbed my exposed leg and began to kick me. Suddenly he kicked me extremely hard and I was thrown to the doorway. That guard was also a criminal. People like him didn't go out to work, but made sure that others worked. When I landed, he ran over to me and continued kicking me. The procurator looked at me and according to my name he apparently could tell that I was from Lithuania. He was also from there. He asked the criminal: Why are you mistreating him? According to the list he is exempt from work. He is sick. Beaten and naked I crawled to the bunk and lay down. There wasn't an uninjured spot on my body. Outside the frost was grueling. It was inhuman to send people out to work in such cold weather. Many didn't last that day, and several of the prisoners died. When the people returned from work the door opened and the cold burst in. One of the prisoners managed to come up to the heater, and there he fell and died before my eyes
I remained in the cabin for four days, and had to make do with 300 grams of bread, but I didn't manage to eat that either, because it was immediately grabbed and stolen from me. It was hard for me to stand up, because I was nothing but skin and bones.
One day a doctor and nurses arrived. They listened to what I had to say, and after the doctor whispered whatever he whispered, the procurator ordered them to transfer me and other people to a different camp, so that we could regain our strength and again be fit for work.
My legs could barely carry me because of my weakness and the injuries I had received. I stayed in that camp for two months. I didn't work and began to recover and to return to myself. I used to help peel potatoes in the kitchen, and in exchange received a little soup. Two months later the medical committee sent me back to work, and I again ended up in the brigade of the criminal Karalkov. I again worked from dawn to dusk while Karalkov and his friends used to remain in the cabin, play cards and get a large portion of bread while our portion was reduced. We received only 300 grams of bread a day. In the morning we ate a spoonful of soup, and in the evening something that resembled soup. I felt that my end was drawing near. My hands froze, and more than once after defecating I was unable to pull up my pants. Once a certain Gentile noticed this, came and tied my pants to my body and helped me rub and warm up my hands.
|One day, upon arrival at our place of work, blood began to flow from my mouth and nose. I immediately entered the guard post. No one was there but a heater was lit and heating. I lay down on a long bench, with my head facing down to the ground, in order to stop the flow of blood, and thinking that my suffering was coming to an end. Then the brigadier Karalkov entered accompanied by a fellow from Moscow, about thirty years old. What the hell, where did all this blood come from? The brigadier Karalkov looked at me and shouted: Ha, ha, ha! All the Poles have died in my brigade, and this one is also almost finished. He continued to describe how the Poles leaned against the wall and fell. That's it, they're already dead, and this one is also near the end. The man from Moscow asked to look at me. He asked me in Russian what had happened. With great difficulty I told him in a whisper, adding: Is it a wonder? For over 15 days I have received only 300 grams of bread and something like soup once a day. He hushed me. Enough, you mustn't say anything. It seemed to me that there was Jewish blood flowing in his veins. He shouted to Karalkov: Did you hear what he said? The criminal burst out laughing and said: Let him die The fellow continued and said that now he understood that Karalkov showed a preference for his friends, who didn't go to work and remained to play cards, and even received the bread that was meant to go to the workers, and after the criminal said let him die, the fellow said: Die! No! I am arresting you immediately! He picked up the phone and then Karalkov began to plead and ask: Tell me what to do for him? How can we save his life?
I was immediately transferred to the hospital, where I remained for two weeks. My feet and hands swelled up. My legs looked like logs and I couldn't move them, because they were ulcerated and I had terrible pains. Two weeks later I was returned to the camp, and the ulcers had not yet healed. In the camp I frequently met with Rabbi Margulis, and we used to pour out our sorrows to each other.
I Searched for a Way to Survive
In the sewing workshop they used to mend old clothes and sew canvas gloves for the workers. The manager was a Jew from Kalvarija in Lithuania and I knew him. Rabbi Margulis advised me to approach the manager and ask him to employ me. My frame of mind at that time was very low, and the hope of survival had faded away. The work was backbreaking. I wasn't living, just suffering. I thought about Margulis, who intended to rescue me, but couldn't help himself. I went to the sewing workshop with Margulis, and the manager took me on to work. I worked there mending old clothes. I received food there and grew a little stronger, but my legs were still swollen. My mood improved, but not for long, because three months later I was again called to appear before a medical committee, and I was returned to my former job. Then there was a rumor that we were being sent to a camp in a place so cold that even trees didn't grow there!
When we parted the manager of the sewing shop gave me boots, a pair of warm underwear and 82 rubles. We parted as though we were relatives. With tears in our eyes and without a word we shook hands, and I got onto the train
The scenery there was white, covered in snow, but my heart was covered in dark thoughts I didn't know what was happening around me and what was in store for me. I just said to myself: I mustn't give in! I must withstand everything! The train began moving and picked up speed. I continued talking to myself, according to the clacking of the wheels: Keep firm! Keep firm! Don't give in! Don't give in! The railway car was filled with people, but silence reigned there. Everyone was absorbed with himself
At the gate of the camp a banner flew: We bless Stalin. At each of the camp's corners there was a watchtower. All sides were under guard and it was impossible to escape. The first night fell
We set out escorted by guards. The roads were frozen and the cold struck us to the marrow. We couldn't warm up even when walking. I bit my lip and couldn't make a sound. We walked without stopping until we reached a construction site on the banks of the river. We had to install a bridge over it, and to hurry and finish the job before the river unfroze.
We entered a cabin and warmed up a bit. We lay down on the floor, tired and exhausted.
Towards evening of the next day we went out to work. The machines made a terrible noise, and confusion reigned. There were more people there than could be counted. Night fell and a cold mist covered everything, and we could barely make out what was going on in the limited light. I noticed that the number of people gradually grew smaller. I looked around and wondered where you could go to hide from the cold and rest from the hard labor. I crawled between the logs that were meant to serve as the pillars of the bridge, and I lay there until daylight dawned. Then I realized that only half of the people were still there. The brigadier, who had already spent fifteen years in the camps, was a good man. He asked me where I had been and I said that I had lost my way and been cut off from another group. He instructed me at what to work and I waited impatiently for the break.
At six in the morning it was already completely light out. I was dizzy, and like a drunkard could barely stand on my feet. My strength ran out. When I entered the cabin I fell to the floor, and didn't want anything more. Every day that passed was worse than the one before it, and the thought went through my mind that I had to look for a way to bring an end to my suffering, as it was impossible to go through any more such dreadful nights. I looked at the people and their faces were despondent. My nose seemed to have lengthened, my eyes were sunk in their sockets, as though they had been screwed in, my hands shook and were swollen, and my feet had swollen and grown hard as a log, and the sores on them had not yet healed. I thought about all this and looked for a way to save myself.
At four o'clock they distributed the bread, which was immediately grabbed by the famished people. I didn't eat the bread and hid it in a bag, which I tied to my body with a rope. I didn't touch the bread, but just licked my dry lips. When we received soup, we kept digging in with our spoon in order to get every last drop.
|We again went out to work. I decided that my suffering would end that day. The cold and frost penetrated my bones. I remained standing beside the rail cart, and the brigadier came up and asked me why I wasn't working. I answered him that I was sick. Does your stomach hurt? he continued to ask, and when I answered yes he said: Okay, I'll send the medic to you. A stomachache was the sign of a terrible disease, and whoever caught it didn't live for even one more day. The medic, who was a young fellow, immediately appeared with a knapsack of medicines on his back. Nu, what hurts you? he asked. My stomach hurts. I answered. When he asked me whether I was bleeding, I answered in the affirmative. When we turned aside so that he could examine me, I whispered to him that actually nothing hurt me but that I felt that I was collapsing, because I had no more strength. I removed the bread from the bag and handed it to him. Here, take it. I haven't touched it. I am faltering and won't hold out. He was happy to see the bread and said to me: Come with me. The medic told the brigadier that I was really sick, and he was taking me to the infirmary. In the infirmary he said to me: If you had something to give me, I would put you in the hospital. Here you will die anyway, but perhaps in the hospital they will manage to save you! I have 82 rubles and a pair of shoes, I said to him. I can see that you are a good person and will willingly give them to you.
I lay in the cabin and pondered about what would happen to me the next day. The following day he sent me to a medical committee, and as usual, they interrogated me, asking me who I was, where I had come from and why I had come there. There was an older Russian doctor on the committee, with completely white hair and a beautiful beard. Beside him sat two younger doctors, a man and a woman. The older doctor examined me again and again, and said to the two young ones: Look and see for yourselves whom they send to erect a bridge. He is more suited to stand in a shop and sell shoes. He will soon die! He had apparently learned from my personal file that I had been a shoe merchant, and what sins I had committed to be exiled to there. The doctor wrote a note and the medic took me to the hospital.
I found many Jews among the multitude of sick people. Many were no longer capable of moving. It was a large and heated cabin. We received 500 grams of bread, 10 grams of butter, a little soup and a spoonful of cereal. People longed to remain there and not return to the backbreaking labor in conditions of hunger. I myself saw people eating pieces of soap to cause them stomachaches so that they could shirk work. Every once in a while a medical committee came and determined who was already fit for work, and new patients arrived every day, so that there was no more room where to lay them down. Whether a person was fit for work was determined by the condition of his skin. If the skin was already close to the bones, they no longer bothered the patient, because they understood what awaited him.
I appeared before the older doctor, Popov, and after examining my heart he said that they should allow me to remain there for two more weeks. I was delighted. The winter was almost over, the snow was already less thickly packed, and at night there was a light frost. I grew a little stronger, and after being examined, Dr. Popov called me to his room and said to me: Know that I feel pity for you. In the condition that you came to us, you wouldn't have lasted long. Now I am going to send you to easy work in a sovkhoz [a state-owned farm]. Spring has arrived and you will work a bit. I thanked him. He behaved towards me like a father with pity for his son. On his face was an expression of friendliness and a loving smile, as though he was doing a good deed. Now you can go. I again bowed to him in thanks. I couldn't say a word and my eyes were filled with tears. I became filled with hope that there were still good people left in the world, although there were certainly more bad ones.
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