by Shepsl Kaplan
In March 1944, the Germans killed all the children from 112, who had been living with their parents in Kashidor. Of the 24 children in the camp, 22 were murdered. Three children survived, including, by luck, my son. These 24 children had been the only consolation and hope for the Jews in the camp, and the German atrocity struck at the heart of the 350 Jewish prisoners. This happened despite the impending defeat of the Germans. On March 27, at 3 AM, an SS special commando group of 100 drunken Germans and Lithuanians, armed with machine guns, surrounded the camp. All the Jews were summoned out, and it was soon obvious from the demeanor and disorder of the gunmen, that something terrible was going to happen.
Soon the SS commander ordered the 24 children, whose names were on his list, to be brought out. When the stunned mothers did not comply immediately, he ordered his men to get the children out of the barracks, tearing them away from their mothers, who tried to run after their children. They were beaten back brutally, and any of the older children who tried to escape, hoping for protection from their parents, were threatened with bayonets. The murderous band tore infants out of their mothers' arms. The hellish scene of weeping and wailing by the mothers and children was accompanied by wild yells of the militia, sounds which I will always recall when I think of this terrible scene.
Under a hail of blows, the mothers struggled to approach the commander and kneeling begged to be taken with their children. They were ignored and he stood like a statue while his underlings beat the women savagely with their bayonets. The women lay there, bloodied, anguished, at the feet of the commander. He was intent on the rows of the 350 Jews and that two missing children had to be found among the ranks. The two children were: Alek Radonski, from Kovne, 11, whose height enabled him to be concealed by his father Dr. Radonski, and Yosef Lipkovitch, 8, cleverly wrapped and agile, had slipped away from the doomed group and hid between the feet of Chaim Svirski of Olshan, who died after liberation.
The third child was my son, who had not been counted in the original list because he was mistakenly identified as four years older and had stood with me, among the work crew. The commander pointed at him and told his underling, He comes too, and he took off to search for the 24th victim. By chance, on that same day, the former camp commander of Kashidor, Sergeant Mutz came home on leave. My son had worked for him, saving donuts for him and polishing his boots. He had come to pick up his belongings, to leave for the front. His departure was delayed because the camp was blocked, so he had witnessed the whole affair about the children Aktion. When he saw my son being selected, he approached the officer and asked him to spare this boy, who had been one of his best workers.
Confused by all the clamor of the suffering women, and by the improper surprising request from Sergeant Mutz, the officer gave the order to load up the 22 children on two hay wagons, to the nearest train station in Kashidor. There they were jammed into an underground bunker. After a whole day they were loaded into a special train, together with children from other camps, and carried off to their deaths. No one of these children returned. Later it was learned that this Aktion included all the camps and ghettos in Lithuania and had lasted two days. Among the rumors about this event, it was said that the Germans had utilized the children's blood for transfusions for their wounded soldiers on the Soviet front.
by Haya Altman Abramovitch
My childhood ended at age 9, when the Germans drove us into the ghetto. I had suddenly grown up. I understood that that my dear mother must not leave the boundary of the ghetto, and I used to weep and implore her not to seek food from the Christians. I had heard that whenever Jews were caught outside the ghetto, they were severely beaten, even shot. So i didn't let my mother go to the peasants. I decided that I wouldn't be in such danger as an adult, so I took along some items to trade with the goyim for food. so I used to go to the Christians and bring back some potatoes and other food items on my back.
The crowding in the ghetto was terrible. We lived at Shepsl's house. In one room we slept in a double bed, my Bobbe Elke, together with Mama and my little brother, and I on the floor. Later my sister was taken to the Zhezhmir camp, along with all the other youngsters from Olshan. Our room was pervaded by longing and weeping why were we Jews suffering so much?
A year passed and in 1942 the Olshan ghetto was liquidated and we were moved to Oshmen. We moved into a shul. Nearby we had some friends who took us in. The Olshan Judenrat sought lodging for us. When a little room was found with another family, there weren't enough beds, so Bobbe Elke and her mother Milkhe stayed in the shul.
One morning when we were all asleep, my Mama woke me, Khayele! Khayele! Get up! I felt my mother's distress and fright. She had dressed Mairkhen, my little brother, and told me that I should stay here with him in the room. And where are you going, Mama? She told me that all adults had been summoned. I started to weep I wanted to go with her.
The Germans Take Away My Mother
We were among the last to arrive at the place, where groups were already standing. Mama held our hands and led us to the shul, where Bobbe had stayed. I saw police with cudgels in hand and I suddenly felt that my brother and I were being torn from Mama's hands, which I could no longer feel. We had been thrown into the shul basement, along with many people, weeping and sobbing. I tried to rejoin my mother, but the police didn't let anyone out. The lamentations intensified inside the shul. We thought we were going to be incinerated because we already knew that had happened in the Volozhin and Vishniev ghettos. We were kept until evening, when the last of the chosen adults were sent off and then we were released. And that's when my troubles really began.
Where should I go with my little brother? Who could give me advice? I didn't go back to our little room. I wandered on the street with my brother. Then I heard that all the mothers, fathers and grandmothers had been sent to Zelianke. I ran to the Judenrat and begged them to get the release of the mothers whose children are suffering. I hoped that perhaps she could buy her way out since she had a permit from the Oshmen Judenrat. That night I returned to the little room, now without a Mama. Only God could hear our weeping. Unfortunately, our own Vilna police had no pity. they were indifferent to our innocent parents. We passed the night, and next day seemed dark and hopeless.
In the Truck Leading the Children to Death, the Radio Was Playing
There were a few children in the truck. The radio was on, and the cries of the mothers were awful. My brother and I were weeping and he said, Save yourself Nechama is all alone. The truck stopped at the school and when the door opened, I begged the Germans to let me goI am able to workI have my card. The German yelled at me. Get out! I ran out of the truck and didn't realize I had left behind my dear little brother. I could only think that I wanted to live.
As soon as I got out, I went to a room where I met a very pale terrified woman. I told her that the Germans had released me; I wanted to hide under the bed. She told me in a tremulous voice that her child was hidden in the bed. I hid behind some wall hangings, but then some Ukrainians broke in, saw my feet sticking out, and dragged me back to the same truck with the same driver and radio. Again I begged him, reminding him that he had released me before, so he let me go again.
I returned to the room, confused and helpless. Then I heard dogs barking to hunt down the children. In the evening in the nearby shul, some Jews had met for prayers. I didn't dare show myself on the street, but I asked one of the praying men to let my sister know that I had been saved and she should come to me.
Our reunion was very moving. We embraced, wept and rejoiced. She didn't ask about my brother, she was so happy that I had survived. Our own survival was paramount under such circumstances. At night when the Germans had left, we went back to the same room as before. Our bed was now free, but our brother was gone. Then we realized that the Aktion wasn't ended, the trucks were still there, ready to load more innocent victims.
Often during the night we heard a child cry, and we knew that it was being hidden in a bunker. But it was useless, the Germans knew where to find them. There were instances where a Jewish policeman was helping the Germans to uncover the bunkers, and even a case where the policeman had helped to disclose his own family.
My Sister Hides Me in a Laundry Tub and I Am Saved
The Aktion lasted all day and night. On the second day, my sister and I went to the laundry workshop. She had hidden me with the laundry in a tub, under a long table. We hoped that the Germans wouldn't search in the workshops where ablebodied workers were, but they realized that children were hiding there, so they searched all the rooms, even came to our room. But they didn't find me, though one kicked my hiding place. I heard everything and almost suffocated with fear. It seemed a long time before I could get out of the tub after the Germans had left. My sister calmed me and told me that the Germans had gone but we had to wait a little longer. Slowly I climbed out and took some deep breaths. The people in the shop were overjoyed to see me, but I was unable to calm down, imagining that that I was still being hunted.
The KinderAktion and our ghettothese were the two most awful days of my life. It was difficult later to describe life in the ghetto. Only after things calmed down did we understand what had happened. Brothers and sisters lost each other. How could you save yourself and let your little brother go to his death? Deeply inscribed in our memory is the story of Chana Bruch Hirsh, who came home from work to find that her children had been taken away. I stifled my tears as I looked upon this beautiful woman. The murderers broke us down and left open wounds which will never heal.
by Haya KzurerKatz
On March 27, 1943, the Germans carried out their plan to exterminate the children in all the camps in the Lithuanian region. With German efficiency, the action occurred in all these places so that no child could be hidden.
The camp was surrounded, and all the children were assembled. The mothers came with the children and everyone was packed into the trucks. We later learned that in the other camps, only the children were taken, only in ours were the mothers also taken. My sister was 12 years old, but small for her age. She was taken immediately and I went after her. She was already sitting in the truck and I was climbing up the step to enter, the officer in charge yelled at me. I explained that I was getting my younger sister. The SS man shouted at me. Take your sister! And get out of here! Thus we were saved from death.
When we entered the camp, I dressed my sister in a long dress, an elaborate hairdo, and high heels, and she was able to pass among the adults. A German passed through to make sure that no children had been hidden, he stared at my sister and laughed because she looked so strange. He waved at her as if to sayshe should stay.
The same day, a boy named Lazar Gobi was shot. There had been some contact with the partisans, but very few knew about it. Money was collected to buy guns, and Lazar was involved. He already had a little gun, and when the Kinder Aktion was being carried out, the Germans found his gun. They discovered his hiding place and shot him on the spot.
Actually six children under five remained hidden on their own when they heard about the Aktion. Their mothers didn't know where they were. A little girl, four or five, Goldele Abramovitch, stood behind a hanger and didn't utter a word all day. When this was reported to the camp director, he said, Since there are no children left in the camp, I must report this. But he added, If anyone is able, he must take the children out at night. The neighborhood was unfamiliar, so the children were not taken out. In the morning the weeping children were loaded by the SS man Keitel into a taxi. The mothers had been told to dress them warmly to protect against the cold. After driving a few km., he took them out and shot them, as related by some peasants. The Germans also took mothers, and young people who appeared sickly like SaraMalke Soladucha and her daughter Mirke.
by Shepsel Kaplan
After the KinderAktion in Kashidor camp, many Jews fled to the forest and joined the partisan brigade, Svobodnia Litva. The escape happened in midday in sight of the German guards, who were supervising the prisoners at their work. The workers were divided into ditchdiggers, road work, and foresters, assigned to fell trees. The forest workers established contact with the partisans, and in March 1944 received a message from the partisan leader, that a number of them should join the brigade. The message spread with lightning speed, that all the working camp residents should meet at a specified place in the forest. In a chaotic disorganized manner, the inmates suddenly left their work sites and ran off into the woods and to their families in camp. The Germans were initially confounded by this unusual event, but quickly rounded up the rest of the workers, to herd them back to camp. The forest brigade disarmed the Germans and took them prisoner. Next day they released them back to camp, but kept their weapons.
The remaining 300 Jews were locked in a barrack under heavy guard, and for three days were given no food or water. On the fourth day, a special commando unit from Kovne came to liquidate the 300 Jews. The commandos began their retaliation on the Jewish patriarch Roth, a Czech Jew, recommended by the Kovne Judenrat. Roth had dutifully carried out all the orders from the Judenrat, and hadn't flinched from his assignment to choose ten Jews to send to a certain death.
The Germans accused Roth of having concealed the flight of the 50 Jews. The commando leader tortured Roth, tore out all his hair and beat him savagely. Roth barely survived because of his athletic strength. Together with the camp doctor, Rodanski, they were sent off. Rodanski was shot and Roth was freed, to go to Aleksat. Together with the commando leader, Roth visited all the barracks to translate into Yiddish the command. You have ten minutes to surrender all concealed weapons, or else be shot. You have a few minutes to live. Give up your guns, it's not worth dying on the spot.
After ten minutes, the inmates were expelled from the barracks and it was ransacked but only a bottle of juice was found. With this, the guard split the head of a Kovno Jew, to whom the drink belonged. They then savagely beat the Jews with clubs and rifle butts. The scenes were so gruesome and indescribable. After two hours of torture, they herded the Jews 3 km away from the camp, into a field next to a rail line. There was no letup in the beating, and shooting over their heads. We were crowded into cattle cars and taken towards the death camp Shontz.
Nobody could survive this camp. The strongest man could only survive a month. But then a strange thing happened that no one expected. The train stopped along the way and we were unloaded into the prison camp Aleksat, 7 km. from Kovne. It was a mystery as to why we were sent to Aleksat. The Kovne Jews said that the unexpected change was the result of the influence of the Kovne Judenrat on the man in charge, Gecke (though he wasn't there that day). The 300 Jews were sent to Aleksat temporarily until further orders. It was probably just luck, since camp Aleksat needed the slave labor of the Jews from Kashidor, whose fate had seemed so certain.
Pain and Destruction in the Aleksat Camp
When the Olshaners arrived in Aleksat, they joined about 1000 Kashidor Jews, men and women from the Kovne ghetto. They were quartered in the Lithuanian army base together with thousands of Russian prisoners of war, who would all succumb to hunger, slave labor, shootings and various other privations. In the kaserne was an execution wall. All the walls in the rooms of the three story wooden building were covered in Russian, telling of the terrible hunger, gruesome beatings, executions by shooting. The longing for home and family evoked compassion from our souls for the innocents who perished here.
Aleksat was considered one of the worst camps in Lithuania because of the heavy labor in the fields and the two camp directors, who were murderers and sadists. There were two separate detachments for men and women. Twelve hours a day we labored loading and unloading heavy stones and other materials. German soldiers stood and ensured that no one raised his head or straightened his back, punished by severe beatings.
The camp leader for men was an SS man, Mia; the Kovne Jews dubbed him ‘Leibele Fliess’. He was a coldblooded animal. Four times a day, at every opportunity he would savagely beat dozens of Jews to the point of exhaustion and unconsciousness. His helper, in charge of the women, did the same. She was dubbed ‘shorn head’. At every assembly, like a crazed animal, she'd use her whip, which she always carried with her, on the heads and faces of the women, who were driven to their labor bloody and beaten. Some collapsed when they came back.
The children in the camp were separated, boys with their fathers, girls with their mothers. In the month that I was in Aleksat, I didn't see my wife or daughter. Contact between men and women was disastrous. One could not even stop to have a few words at a chance meeting. If it weren't for the mealtimes, which supported relationships, the children could not have survived a month of hard labor.
For the month I was there, the food was tasty and adequate. But the camp chief used all legal and illegal means to restrict the food, to ensure that all food must go into the pot and not be stolen. There must always be some dry wood so that meals would be at the right time. He sought out places to gather dry wood, and at night he'd take a group of inmates on a truck to gather wood for cooking. When this went well, he'd slap the shoulders of his workers fraternally. It was quite different if the group was not so successful.
The Death March and the Escape From The Forest
In May 1944, the Germans shifted 250 of the 300 Aleksat prisoners, to the Roudamflime camp, near Koslov. This camp, our last before liberation, was deep in a forest of giant ancient pines, far from any settlement. After three months, we fled into the forest and joined up with the Red Army, leaving behind dozens of victimssuch as my wife, Bunye Kaplan, Zelda Soleducha from Olshan, Chana and Leah Brudne, and two sisters from Smorgen. They were killed as they were fleeing into the forest. Dozens were captured and executed on the brink of liberation.
The Kovne Judenrat made the decision to shift the Koshidor inmates to Roudamflime, because it had to fill the gap left by the murder of the Soviet prisoners who had been working there. At that point we were thankful to the Kovne Judenrat, although we knew they weren't doing it for our benefit to release us from hell, but to avoid sending those Jews who wanted to stay in the ghetto. The Judenrat had preferred not to mix the Jewish groups, so the Kashidor Jews were used to fill the nowempty Roudenflime camp. But we were glad to get rid of ‘Leibele Fliess’ and ‘Shaved Head’ and their bloody massacres which were inflicted daily on the Kashidor Jews.
In this new camp, we were driven into wooden barracks surrounded by barbed wire. The walls were infested with cockroaches. Russian prisoners had lived there before and had inscribed on all the walls descriptions of the horrible treatment inflicted on themhunger, sickness, execution. We knew that we could expect no better fate.
The regimen here was easier than in Aleksat, but the food was much worse. In May 1944, 50 more Jews were brought from Vilna. The labor was done in deep sandy pits. On three giant mounds stood three machines which ground up the turf which was then taken away to be dried. In this remote corner, we often thought that we'd be forgotten and be left over until liberation, but it turned out quite differently.
At midday in July 1944, we were suddenly assembled and informed that we had to march off to Kovne. We were allowed to take a small pack, but leave everything else behind. And in a few minutes all of us, including the sick, had to be ready to march. We were surrounded by 70 armed Germans, Letts and Ukrainians. We were told by the commander that if any bandits (i.e. partisans) came our way in the wilds, at any suspicious sound or a gunshot, we must fall prone with our faces down, or else we'd be shot.
Divided in four columns, the women in front, we started our last march. We were driven through a forest on a winding path, about 20 km. from a train station. The day was hot, the sweat mixed with dust covered our bodies and faces, ran over our eyes and we couldn't see more than 3 meters ahead. The suspicious behavior of the senior Jew, Dr. Bloisberg, who had just returned that dawn from Kovne with the troop of Germans, Letts and Ukrainians, raised the anxiety level . He had kept to himself, hadn't uttered a word, like the deceptive men of the Kovne Judenrat. He knew well about the horrors of that ghetto, how the Jews were driven into one area and the ghetto was liquidated. The houses were destroyed along with the people. On all sides the Jews fled and were shot down by the thousands.
In the course of the march, Dr. Bloiberg had kept his distance, and we suspected that he planned to escape with a few of his companions, and he disappeared unnoticed. [After liberation he returned to Kovne]. It was obvious that Dr. Bloiberg had sold us out. We were on our last march, and we had to flee into the forest to survive.
In the course of the more than three hour march with 10 minute rest, a large number of us had conferred and decided on a favorable moment to start running into the woods. Despite the inevitable costs a few would survive. During the rest period, families got together. The Germans didn't notice. The Jews agreed on a meeting point in case they got lost. Isaac Soladura lagged behind to confer with two Ukrainian guards serving the Germans, who foresaw their fate and they planned to escape with the Jews to join the partisans.
In close array, about 10 km from camp, in a spot where the forest was dense and the sun was setting, the two Ukrainians fired their guns, a signal for the Jews to start running on all sides. Fearful of an attack by the partisans, the Germans fell to earth and started firing. A number of Jews also lay down, who were too scared to run, or hadn't been informed about the escape plan. The shooting lasted about ten minutes. It seemed that the Germans were convinced that the shooting was onesided, so they got up, ordered the others to stand and resume the march.
One week later, the fugitives reassembled at the appointed spot and organized a group. The responsibility for maintaining the group of 150 men was assumed by Yerachmel Gershovitch, Mavshovitch and ‘Binele’, all from Kovne. They knew the Lithuanian language , were armed with a gun given them by one of the Ukrainians, and they entered the towns, got bread for or without money, brought it back and each person got an equal share.
Contacts with Soviet Units and German Troops
Yerachmial Gershovitch, now in Israel, told me about an episode while seeking food. Once as several of us were leaving town with a load of food and in a good mood, we encountered a group of armed German soldiers, in brandnew uniforms. Automatically we hid in the forest, but couldn't escape. They held us and asked in Russian and German, Who are you, where are you coming from, what do we have in our bags, what were we doing in the forest, and where did we get a gun?
It became evident from their calm ‘German’ attitude, their Russian speech and their radio receiver, that they were not German enemies, but a Soviet detachment. We told them we were a group of 150 Jews, escaped from a camp, hoping to join the partisans. They listened to us amicably, identified themselves; there was no reason to fear them. They promised to visit our group and to help as much as possible. In the morning eight men arrived, a lieutenant, two sergeants in brandnew German uniforms and five Soviet soldiers. We asked them either to take us with them or to help us unite with the partisans. The officer answered that it was impossible to take an unarmed group with them, and that the partisans would probably feel the same way. The only solution was to head in a different direction, and he suggested that he would lead us to a safer place, undisturbed by shepherds, hunters or gatherers.
In town, when we asked the Lett how he knew about us, he answered that everybody in town knew about the 20 men in the woods. We were dubious about him. He finally showed up two days later, with some bread, and next day led us into a thick forest with dense shrubbery. Every time we came to his place some suspicious activity was happening around his house. Only later did we realize that he was an agent for the partisans.
A majority of our group decided to trust the Lett, because we didn't have any other choice, and of course he could have betrayed us early on. That night we spoke to the Lett, promised to pay him for his help and asked him to lead us to that safer place. He didn't show up for two days, and we stayed put. Josef Potashnik and I went to him again and he explained that some important things had delayed him, and asked our pardon. He gave us a loaf of bread and said he would come at dawn. On July 20, he came and led us for two hours on a trail to a thick forest, where the weeds were six feet high. He told us to enter the woods carefully one by one, and the last one should restore the trampled trail. The forest was one km. from the town of Agurkishki.
The Punitive Squad Fires on Our Group
Two hours after we entered the forest, we heard heavy firing from all sides. That evening two girls from our group headed for the Lett to find out what was going on. They were met by his wife on the trail, who told them to run back into the woods. A company of Germans had arrived at their house with the goal of wiping out the partisans and the Jewish fugitives. We learned later that one of the shepherds had observed us and had brought on the punitive expedition.
From dawn to dusk, the shooting lasted without a halt, and could be heard from 10 km away and lasted for nine days. From a nearby trail, our enemies found a way to keep firing at us in the forest from all directions. We could hear them clearly, in German, Russian and Lithuanian. Fortunately they didn't venture into the forest depths, only as far as the thistles.
About 40 Jews were killed from the gunfire. A few from the group were captured in the town where they were seeking food. They were severely beaten and some were forced to lead our enemies to the location of the main group; they were all shot immediately.
Elia Kozlovski from Olshan, was caught and tortured, but did not reveal the location of his parents, brother, sister and others. Several days later his parents found his body and buried him.
The Consequences of Liberation
The Latvian came to us on the 10th day. He brought a pack of food supplies, and also the happy news that we were free. His area was now occupied by Soviet tanks, soldiers and officers. We shared a drink of congratulation and he invited us to come visit his home.
We didn't walk, we ran to his home to see the people who had liberated us. There we met the Soviet soldiers and officers. They were friendly and cheered and consoled us and urged us to help defeat the Nazis so that no trace would remain of them.
Their friendly words moved us to tears. The feelings of unavoidable doom had suddenly lifted, and we felt so thankful to our liberators. We stayed at the Latvian's house for two days. His wife cooked the best for us. And they had quite a lot, enough for everybody including the hundreds of Soviets who passed through their home. We slept on fresh hay in the barn and in the morning we went into the field to help gather and prepare the freshly cut corn.
On the third day we took leave of this wonderful Latvian family, whose name, unfortunately I don't remember. In gratitude, David Lifkovitz presented the wife with his last possessiona gold watch and chain. We left behind a letter in Russian, warmly thanking this remarkable family from Agurkishki, who had saved these twenty Jews from certain death.
The Death of Bunye Kaplan on the Eve of Liberation
Four years of bloody terror had ended for me, my two children, Rivke and Aaron, and 150 Jews of Olshan. Kreve, Smorgen,, Oshmen, Vilna and Kovne, liberated by the Soviet army. For me, liberation brought a deeply tragic component to my soul. On the brink of liberation, I lost the dearest part of my lifemy wife Bunye, the mother of our children. During the course of that bloody trail for four years, fate had held us together, only to lose her, leaving me with the tragic memory.
She has been gone for 15 years. Night after night I lay sleepless and agonize. During the day, my heart is weighed down, and to my last breath, I relive our sad experience. Broken physically and spiritually, my two children and I returned to Olshan, but we found no home there. Out of 1000 Jews, there remained 100 wandering shadows. All the others had been tortured like my Bunye.
How Bunye Was Lost
It happened as we were being hunted down in the forest by the enemy forces. During the 10 minute rest period, I had rejoined my wife and children. When a group of us decided to flee further into the forest, I asked them to flee with me. We planned to meet at plow number 3.
We were about 8 km. from camp, when, at an agreed signal, one of the Ukrainians fired his gun, and we all ran off in different directions. Concerned with a possible attack by the partisans, the Germans lay down and started shooting at the escapees. I held Bunye's hand and with our children, we plunged deeper into the woods. We jumped over logs, through thickets, fell and got up, and then I was hit by a tree branch which knocked me unconscious. When I recovered, it was night time, and i couldn't see anybody, my wife or children. I tore off my rucksack and with my last strength ran into the woods. I didn't know where I was. Exhausted, I sat down under a tree, thinking only about my wife and children.
At dawn, I thought I heard some steps and then I met a group of our refugees, among them my daughter Rivke. She didn't know what happened to her mother and brother. Then we all met at the meeting point. On the third day, another group of refugees arrived, including my 12 year old son Aaron. He was also unable to tell about how he came to be separated. By the end of the week, about 150 had assembled. The only missing ones were my wife Bunye and three other women, who had been seen running through the forest. This terrible event has remained as the saddest day of my life.
Back to the Old Home after Liberation
After we were free, the Soviets helped us get loaded into a truck which took us as far as Zhezhmir. There we visited our first camp, where dozens of children had died from hunger and typhus. then we went on a truck to Vilna, where we were stopped at a military post and identified ourselves. We were sent to a Jewish committee where we met some familiar faces, and stayed overnight. In the morning, August 2, 1944, we arrived in Olshan. Not much had changed, houses, streets, alleys, lake, pools, fields, woods were all there, but Jewish mothers, fathers, children were missing. The goyim, enemies of Israel, now occupied all the Jewish houses, and that was extremely painful for the returnees. Of the 225 families living there in 1939, only 70 souls returned.
For some time there had formed a collective in the big home of Velvel Tchepelinski after we had relinquished our individual homes. There were cases where the goyim had resisted returning the houses to the Jews. The Soviets had to exert their power.
We didn't stay for long in the shtetl. It was too horrible for the few Jews to get rooted again in their former lives. The hope to rebuild a family soon disappeared. A few who had returned from Germany, were initially content but then realized the bitter truth, that return was not possible. One by one, the 70 Jews began to leave their old homes, to wander into the greater world, to seek some consolation for their misery. I have established a home now in Israel.
The Trail of Pain My Father's Death
When the Germans took our town on June 24, 1941, my mother was left with me, a 10 year old sister, but no father. We learned later that he had been in the Minsk ghetto, in the Judenrat. He spoke German well. Through the Judenrat he was connected with an underground organization.
One day the Germans issued a demand for a large amount of food provisions. all of our shelves were stripped. My father got the word from the underground that he should divert some of it. The Germans were tipped off about this, and he was taken by the Gestapo and tortured, to disclose his contacts. He did not tell despite the terrible ordeals.
At first we lived in our own home, in a state of terror. But then we were all crowded into the ghetto. We all had to work, clean the streets, cut the grass, chop trees. We were very crowded, 34 families in a room. Often the Germans would enter the ghetto and demand gold, soap and other valuables. The Judenrat was always busy going from house to house to collect for the Germans. Soon the Germans sent many to the Zhezhmir camp and I was included. Daily we were driven out to work. I was helped immensely by a girl from Kreve, Chana Kapelovitch. She really took care of me and my sister who came later.
We tried to conceal a typhus epidemic lest the Germans immediately kill everybody. The camp commander, Stoltzman, whom we called Hoarse because of his voice, knew about the epidemic but kept it quiet. After the healthiest and strongest of the youths had died, the survivors were extremely weak, our hair had fallen out, and we looked like ghosts. It was very difficult to recover from the typhus, but we managed to return to work. A few of us would sneak into town to try to barter some of our things for a little bread or potatoes.
Once, when I finished eating, I went into town also, but at the same time a guard came into the camp, and counted the roll. When I returned, the guard was waiting for me (he was called ‘Reds’ because of his face) he said he would handle it at the evening meal. I was terrified, and when I stood in line for the cup of watery soup, he called me out and in public, slapped my face, saying,This girl has committed a serious crime. Without permission she has split off from the group to go into town. I was locked in, and after the intercession of the Judenrat, was told to ask for pardon, and to promise that it wouldn't happen again.
After the liquidation of the Oshmen ghetto, the Jews were sent to various camps, depending on where they had relatives. Those without relatives were taken to Kovne and to Vilna. Thousands of Jews who had registered for Kovne, were taken to Vilna, and then all were shot in Panor. Later when the Oshmen Jews arrived in Vilna ghetto, they found the remaining items and old photos of friends, and it was evident that they had all been killed in Panor.
My little sister had registered to come to Zhezhmir, and so we were reunited. When the adults went out to labor, the children remained in camp. They became very resourceful, wise beyond their years, and fully understood our dire situation.
New Camp, New Suffering
When the Zhezhmir camp was liquidated, we were taken to Ponyevyetz, where we worked building an airport. We lived in huts and living conditions were extremely severe. We were awakened at 4 AM for coffee, then on to hard work. When the front became closer, we were stuffed into cattle cars and taken further west. We suffered hunger and thirst and thought that we were on the final road. There was no hope of escape. Even if you could crawl out of a tiny window, where could you go? The area was totally strange, everyone was your enemy who would betray you to the Germans or kill you.
After a week we arrived in a forest. It was nighttime, we were treading on refuse and trash, as well as rucksacks. and we were terrified. The group before us started to shriek. I went further, our ranks swelled, and the terror spread so that we also started wailing. That was our first night in Shtuthof. We were driven into a large hall, where the SS men announced,Here below you, are buried the Jews who refused to give up their gold. So give up your gold voluntarily, and you won't be harmed. We thought this would be our last night.
At dawn, we were led into a barrack, surrounded by electrified barbed wire. Contact with the wire caused several to lose their lives. The SS had separated families on either side of the fence. If anyone neared the fence to converse, our enemies at the guard posts above turned on the electric current. We were tormented by the assembly calls at any time of day or night, when the sudden sound blast blaredAssembly! Line up! They called the roll often, and shifted the inmates to other barracks, so that one could never know where you were going to sleep next night, or what might happen that day.
The first few days when we still had a few items, we tried to hide them between the floorboards on which we slept, but when we were shifted to another barrack suddenly, we were left with nothing. Every dawn, the SS men came in, some women among them, and selected out those who appeared ill or exhausted. Later we were told by some Polish political prisoners that the camp had a crematorium.
The frequent assembly calls served to confuse the people, to hide their fate and to eliminate any resistance. The food was awful. Soup was brought in a large wooden vat. There were cases where the bestial fiends amused themselves by throwing a woman into the pot, then telling the prisoners to eat. Several days after our arrival we were told to bring all of our belongings, to be disinfected in a bath.
Near the ‘bath’ we saw long lines of people waiting. We had broken up and tried to destroy anything of value, lest the Germans take it . When it was my turn to go in, a man in a white coat asked me my age in Polish. When I told him 16, he let me go. We were all naked, but we didn't go in the bath. Women and girls, older than me, were set on an examining table to see if they had anything hidden inside. After this painful inspection, we were taken out of the camp in prison clothes.
Later we were taken to a children's home, where we were fed well. We were taught a trade so that we might get a workers card. It was also important to show that we were able to work, in case there was another Aktion. It was a good connection for the orphans, since we were given part of the food brought in by Jews newly arrived in the ghetto. Some Jews worked outside the ghetto, and often, though terrified, would bring in food obtained by barter with the peasants. As there were strict controls, these Jews were often caught and severely beaten. Their products were given then to the Jewish police, who then donated some food to the children's home.
We were taught Hebrew and sewing, and then given a little work. So, gradually we adjusted to our condition. When the Germans sent off some Jews to another camp, our ghetto became smaller. From the children's home we were sent to eat at a strange family's home, and sometimes we sat hungry, unwilling to go to these strangers' home. But we got used to that too. Our bed was very crowded. We were three in a bed, with four families in the room. I was sent to a class in housekeeping, while my brother learned metal work. Until suddenly everything changed, the terrible children's extermination, called by the Germans, ‘Kinder Aktion’.
We were terrified at seeing the faces of the Germans. There was chaos in the ghetto as people ran to hide in their ‘melons’. We also ran to the workshops, where Nkhoma worked, but they were already guarded and the streets were blocked. A loudspeaker from a car announced that no one was allowed on the street. Then we all ran into a twostory house, and with Nkhoma waited. We entered an empty room with a window facing the street where we could see all the action. But Nkhoma didn't want me to look out the window, lest we be seen by the Germans. We heard children weeping, and saw a mother trying to join her child in the car, being beaten back into her home. My heart was pounding, and I was overcome by dread. We looked for a place to hide. My sister had put me in the bed and covered me with pillows, but it was obviously inadequate. We were so confused, that finally we decided to await our fate. So we stayed in the room, hoping they would not come. Suddenly we heard the familiar steps of the murderous Germans. I wanted to show that I wasn't scared, though I was trembling inside. They directed my brother to come, but he started to cry and to beg that he wanted to stay with his sister. They didn't take Nakhman who lay in his bed kicking his feet. But they grabbed us and forced us into the waiting wagon.
German Peasants Bought Us For Labor
My 12 yearold sister and I were sent out as slave labor. When the Polish doctor who checked us didn't want to release my sister because of her age, he was directed by a SS woman to let her go. They want to worklet them. So four of us girls were sent to do farm work. After three months when we were sent back, the Shtuthof camp was unrecognizable. Typhus and other major diseases had decimated the camp. Hundreds died every day, survivors looked like ghosts. Between the barracks lay piles of shoes, thousands of pairs of shoes of all sizes, adult and tiny children's shoes. The atmosphere was suffused with death.
The Germans tortured us in many ways. We were starved, made to sit all day on our legs and were beaten if we made a move. The Polish kapo Max was remarkable. He had suffered so much from the Germans and he took it out on the Jews. He beat us brutally over the head with a stick. In the next block where there were 500 women, he forced them to exit within one minute. In fear of another beating, they all rushed frantically to get through the door and even jumped out of the window. There was much bloodshed and weeping. In addition to the brutal Pole, there was daily physical violence. Gypsy women were used as observers, and they also beat their victims at random.
Suddenly an edict was announced: Whoever wears trousers is to stand on one side; those in dresses on the other. My sister was wearing trousers, and I wore a dress. We would be separated, so I stuffed my skirt into my underwear and remained with the women wearing trousers, so I was able to stay with my sister. Then the healthier ones were taken out to dig ditches in Shtabov.
Amid all this misery, sometimes we tried to sing a little song:
Oy, Shtabov, you are so close to meI was young then and wanted to survive, and we believed we'd be free someday, but it seemed hopeless. We couldn't consider running away because it was a German neighborhood, which could offer only death.
Oy, Shtabov, how can I get rid of you
Oy, Shtabov, when will the time come
Oy, Shtabov, when we'll be liberated
The Orphans in the Camp on the Eve of Liberation
When the Russian forces moved westward, we were moved back to Shtuthof, and the Germans planned to liquidate the camp. German punctuality had vanished and the camp fell into disorder. It seemed like the Germans were about to evacuate, and intended to take us along. They divided us in sections, accompanied by armed guards and SS men and we were herded westward, parallel to the Baltic Sea, deeper into Germany. Snow fell during the day, and at night it covered everything, accompanied by icy winds. We were halfnaked and barefoot. We used wooden shoes covered with scraps from above, which became wet from the snow and soaked into the wooden shoes. Dozens fell along the road and were shot by the guards. And so we staggered along starving and exhausted, passing many bodies of our predecessors.
We stopped every night if possible, in a shelter like a cloister, or a barn. The nights were worse than the days. The wet rags adhered to our feet and we had to tear them off. Many women had frostbite. Death seemed preferable to life, but no one committed suicide. After a long march we reached a huge merchants barn where we were allowed to ‘rest’. We had started with 1200 women, and in six weeks, only 190 were still alive. Many of them died after liberation, and succumbed among the masses of the dead.
Those of us still breathing lay starving in the cold, under unimaginable conditions, infested with lice. We were resigned, this must be the last stage. The German merchant, owner of the barn, would order some potato soup for us, that had been prepared for the pigs.
So, sick and broken, dispirited, with frozen feet, the few survivors were finally liberated by the Soviet army on March 10, 1945. We were housed in a German town. The houses of the Germans were empty and open, their owners had fled into the forest. I was taken to a Soviet army hospital, where it was recommended that my feet be amputated. I refused and eventually they got better and healed. When I had regained my health, my sister and I, after an interval in Russia, made our very difficult way back to our destroyed homes in Olshan. There was no one left in our family. We encountered Shepsel Kaplan, who took great interest in us, and he housed us for a while. Later when I sought work in Oshmen and Vilna, my sister stayed with him. He was like a father to uswe'll never forget him.
by Chaya KatzKzurer
The Holy Death of my Father
When the Germans entered our town on 24 Jun 1941, my mother and I and my 10 year old sister were left fatherless. He was driven away several days before and we never saw him again. We learned later that he had been taken to the Minsk ghetto in the Jewish Judenrat. He knew German well, and through his activity in the Judenrat, he joined the Underground organization which was already active in the Minsk area.
One day, the Germans issued an order for the men to assemble, and to give up all their coats with furs, so all their overcoats were taken away. The Underground directed that part of the group should run off to the left, but the Germans had been informed that the Jews had had not given up all their coats. They were all taken by the Gestapo and tortured, to find out their connections. But my father wouldn't tell and he was tortured even further.
Nevertheless, we stayed in our own home, in terror and pain, with reports of daily outrages and tortures. Soon we were all confined to the ghetto. We worked daily to clean the streets, cut grass, chop down trees. The ghetto was quite crowded. We lived 34 families in one room. Often the Germans came into the ghetto and demanded we give up our gold, soap, and any other valuable material. We heard that the official of the Judenrat had also gone from room to room to collect items for the Germans.
Eventually the Germans took a group of young men from the Olshan ghetto and drove them off to the Zhezhmir camp. I was among those transported. Every day we were driven out to labor, and driven back at night. I was quite overcome, torn away from home. We were helped by a girl from Kreven, Chana Kapelovich, who took care of me, and also a second sister who arrived later.
Later, a typhus epidemic broke out in the camp. We tried to conceal this, for if the German higher authorities had known, our camp would have been promptly liquidated. The supervisor of the camp, called ‘the Angry One’ because of his voice, knew about it but didn't report it. The healthiest and strongest of us died, leaving behind the weakest. I lost my hair and we looked like shadows. It was very difficult to recover from the typhus epidemic. But we recovered and again returned to work. During work times we were sometimes able to sneak out and beg in the town for a little bread and potatoes.
One day I sneaked into town, but at the same time, an assembly was called in camp for rollcall. When I got back, one of the camp officers (we called ‘Red’ because of his face) told me that he would deal with me later when we got back to camp. I was terrified all day. After our evening ‘watersoup’. ‘Red’ called me out, slapped me, and announced that I had committed a crime by leaving the camp to go to town, I was locked up in the stockade. Then the Judenrat intervened and I was released after asking for pardon, and promising that I would not do it again.
Soon after, that Oshmen ghetto was liquidated. The Jews were scattered in all directions. After registration, the Jews were allowed to return to the gravesites of their families. Those who had no gravesite in the camp were taken to Kovno or Vilna. Thousands of Jews who had registered for Kovno, were taken to Vilna and Panor and were shot. Later when the Oshmen Jews were sent to Vilna, they found the remains of those tortured at Panor, including keepsakes and photos, witnesses to the slaughter of the whole group.
My little sister had registered to go to Zhezhmir. And that's how she came to me. All the children understood what their situation was, being clever beyond their years.
New Camps and New Tribulations
When the Zezhmir camp was liquidated, we were taken through Kovno to Panievyech, where we built an airport. We lived in booths under very severe conditions. We were awakened at 4 AM for ‘coffee call’, when we heard the shout. We were soon unaccustomed to coffee. Then we were put to hard labor. When the front became closer we were moved by cattle cars deeper into the east. We suffered hunger and thirst and felt that these were our last days. There was no possibility to escape. Where could you go even if you could crawl out of the tiny window? We were in a strange land, among hostile people who would either give us to the Germans or shoot us themselves. After a week's journey we reached a forest. It was evening, and underfoot we stumbled through discarded trash and rucksacks. Those ahead who found these items started to scream. We arrived a little later, in a crowded mass. When we saw what had happened to the first group we began to weep also. The crowd was so packed that it was hard to move. That was our first night in Stuthof.
We were directed into a large auditorium. We sat on the ground surrounded by SS men, who shouted, There before you, in a great cellar, are the Jews who didn't want to give up their gold. Give it all voluntarily, and nothing will happen to you. We had the impression that this was our last night. At dawn we were driven into a barracks, surrounded by electric fences. Many of those who touched the fences died. The SS me separated the families, daughters on one side of the fence, mothers on the other. The SS men guarded from above and turned on the electric current. We were harassed by the frequent ‘Appeals’. At any time, day or night, would suddenly come a rollcall. They counted the people, and often sent some away to other barracks. One never knew whether you would spend the night here or what would happen next day.
On the first day, while you still might have some things, some would try to hide them under the boards. But when they were driven into a different barrack suddenly. they were left with nothing. Every morning, SS men and women checked out the fatigued and beaten prisoners, to select those who really looked bad. At first we didn't know where they went, but later we were informed by a Polish cop, that they had been sent to a crematorium. The frequent rollcalls were meant to confuse the prisoners, so that they wouldn't know of their fate and would not resist.
The food was terrible. The soup was heated in a huge wooden pot. There were cases where the bestial enemies had a party and threw a woman in the pot, then told everyone to eat. A few days later, we were told to take all of our things with us in order to undergo a disinfection. After the ‘bath’, we sat for hours in a line. We tried to destroy everything we had, so it wouldn't be taken by the Germans. When it was my turn to go in, a man in a white coat asked me in Polish what was my age? When I told him I was 16, he sat me aside. We were naked, but we hadn't had a bath. Women and children, older than me, were set on a gynecology table and examined to make sure they weren't hiding anything. After this painful examination, we were given prison smocks and driven out of the camps.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Halshany, Belarus Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 25 Jan 2016 by JH