Translated by Judie Goldstein
Kushnir Eliahu and Friede (Zalkin)
The Jewish population of Krynki impatiently awaited the arrival of the Red Army, and as soon as our workers heard that the Soviet military crossed the border, they did not wait long before taking over the government in the shtetl. Before the Polish police had managed to leave Krynki, there was already a red flag flying from City Hall.
Jews welcome the Soviets with an outbreak of joy and enthusiasm. Communists jumped up onto the tanks and kissed the soldiers. The people were just plain happy.
Shortly the enthusiasm on the part of the followers of the Soviet regime began to cool. But to them, after the Polish regime, they wanted to try communism. The government quickly suspected those, for example the doctors and pharmacists, who did not declare party affiliation.
Generally the Jews were happy. The factories, other enterprises, and fixed property were nationalized. But even those who spoke out against the Bolsheviks, such as wealthy men and manufacturers, gave thanks for escaping the peril, knowing that they had at least been saved from a sure death by the bestial Nazis. The Soviet government very quickly forced them to go to Siberia and in fact thanks to this they survived. But for those who were not sent away, their material situation worsened and some tried other occupations. However, a lot of Jewish families that previously could not make a living, now had positions as officials or other work and they were happy.
The situation for the refugees, who arrived from Central Poland and did not want to become Soviet citizens, was very serious. They were sent deep into Russia.
The regime in the shtetl stabilized with time and instituted a Soviet way of life. People worked, the Jews lived and hoped for better times. A typical witticism in Krynki at the time, attributed to the rabbi of the Slonimer Hasidim, was the German occupation is death, but the Soviet – an eternal prison.
The first of September 1939 the terrible murderers of Jews, may their names be erased, attacked Poland and the first call up of the sad war was announced. Immediately, all the young men eighteen and older were mobilized and my oldest brother, Heshel, was among the first. Later, he was captured by the Germans, became a prisoner of war and never returned.
These were difficult days when one had to bid farewell to so many acquaintances, comrades and neighbors. Everyone knew how serious the situation was and who knew when the war would end?
Everyday new information arrived, as the Jew-murderers crept further and further into the center of Poland. A heavy sadness, like a dark cloud, overcame everyone. There was one remaining hope: that America and England would come to help and things would once again be good.
But the world was busy with politics while people were falling like flies. Everyone's ears turned to the radio and then great bitterness. The latest information brought fear and all around there was darkness. We were not allowed to move around later than nine o'clock at night –a condition of war.
We quickly heard the hum of airplanes. We ran out and the metal birds already flew unhindered, shooting up the square where the young men had been gathered together to march off to the front. Already nobody knew where the front was.
On the eighth day it had already reached Grodno, bypassing our shtetl. We were terrified. The orthodox fasted and said Psalms, but to no avail. The police and the leader of the shtetl were ready to flee. There was a great panic. People hid in their houses and were afraid to stick their noses out.
Meanwhile the murderers, on motorcycles wearing large metal helmets, drove into the shtetl and secretly told us that the Russians were coming to our town. The rumor quickly spread and there was hope again in everyone's heart.
On the tenth day after the war broke out, the police and all the Polish government officials fled Krinik. The entire population was frightened and terrified. We received information that the Germans were ten kilometers from us. We could already clearly hear shooting from heavy artillery and tanks. In the sky was the noise from airplane formations. The sirens, indicating that people should hide, had already stopped. Everything was dead. The streets were empty; a deathly stillness lay over everywhere. From time to time the heavy steps of Yakov Kozoltchik (Jankel Khazir), who was alone, with a stick in his hand, walked the dead streets. And every step resounded with an echo. We sat in the house with the windows shuttered.
From time to time we would hear heavy artillery and the sound hung in the silence. I crept up to the attic and looked through a hole to see the highway that went from Sokolke to Bialystok. I saw Kozoltchik walking alone in the street, holding a loaf of bread with salt in his hand. With long strides he walked out to the highway. I saw two rows of metal helmets. They came closer. There was a loud yell: "hands up!"
Yakov put down the bread and salt and raised his hands over his head.
Several minutes later the heavy steps of the Germans were heard. They were going back to the road they had arrived on. They were a reconnaissance group – about twenty people.
The fifteenth day of the war. Nobody knows anything about what is happening at the front. The majority had hidden their radios and the shtetl was cut off.
Suddenly we hear the drone of an airplane. It circles several times. A red star can be clearly seen on the wing. We see two hands tossing out paper that flew in the air. Notes fall on our heads. People run out to catch one. So do I. I catch one and quickly run home with it. My father takes it with trembling hands. Everyone stands around, as my father reads:
To the citizens of Western White Russia:
You are a member of our people and we going to help you. Our government and Comrade Stalin have ordered the Red Army to cross the border of White Russia to ensure your life and well-being.
The Foreign Commissar of the USSR
V. M. Molotov
There was joy in Krynki. People hugged each other with tears streaming down their cheeks, tears of joy and luck.
The shtetl was truly dancing in the streets. Everyone was beaming as they met their friends and chatted and talked politics. Everyone was in a holiday mood.
People took flowers and called out to welcome the Red Army. My brother Heykel ran around beaming with joy and my mother cried from joy and sorrow because their eldest son could not be with them. She ran to get some information about our eldest brother who had not returned – but to no avail.
Meanwhile a new life began. All private enterprises were liquidated and cooperatives were formed. The factories were nationalized and my father went to work in a shoe-making cooperative. Life returned to normal.
The banishing of the manufacturers (our next door neighbors with whom we had lived for so many years) began. People were depressed and nobody knew what tomorrow would bring. Our neighbors, Potchebutski, were banished. And because of this a few from our shtetl survived, even though they were tormented and a lot had their health was destroyed. But they lived to take revenge.
Depression ruled in our house: we expected to be sent on our way because of our relationship to the party. My mother was brought in but only to frighten her. Oh that they would be sent away so that somebody would survive!
Meanwhile a crowd of people from Poland, refugees, among them my young man from Pabianitz arrived. All the strangers were ordered to leave Krynki, which was then a border city, in three days. We decided to travel together [my young man and I] deep into Russia, having the privilege of choosing a place because my uncle, Ayzik Tsigel, was one of those in charge of transport. We traveled to Minsk thinking that we would be able to return. A childish fantasy!
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