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[Pages 299-303]

A Small Remnant

by Daviv Motosov

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

As soon as Germany invaded Russia in June of 1941, I left Kurenets and joined many others in the waves of the storm to escape the Nazis until I reached a town in Siberia by the name Novosbirsk, where I settled during the war years. After some time, we started hearing horrible rumors from refugees who arrived from the occupied areas. The rumors were about bloody massacres and annihilations carried out by Hitler's thugs against our people. My heart was filled with worries about the fate of my tortured brothers and particularly my dear family members who stayed in Kurenets, trapped in the jaws of the predatory beast. Everyday they came to my heart, and images of their bitter fate kept coming to me. These images were very disturbing, so disturbing that I couldn't get any rest. I knew very well what the Nazi monsters were like. I experienced their cruelty personally during the days when I was a POW of the Germans in 1939. I could hardly wait for the day when the evil rulers would be annihilated. Though my heart was filled with worries and anxiety. Despite all the rumors and all the news I received, I still had some hope that one day I would see the town of Kurenets with its Jews the way I wanted to see it, but to my great sorrow it was never to be. Finally the war reached an important point. The Russians had their first victories in battle and the Nazis started retreating from the Red Army, which took control of the situation, going from victory to victory and town after town was freed from the hands of the invaders.

At the beginning of June of 1944, I went to the town of Gorki. This was a time of summer vacation for me and I wanted to spend it with my sisters who lived in Gorki ever since the first World War. Everyday I sat by the radio and listened with great anticipation (bated breath?) to every bit of news from the front. And here, on one summer day, the announcer, Levitan, announced in Russian, “Today, after bitter, cruel, and prolonged battles, our splendid army freed from the oppression of the Nazis, the towns Ilia, Kriviczi, Kurenets, Dolhinov, Vileyka…”

My excitement and anticipation kept increasing, and in my imagination I was already back in my Kurenets. Despite the fact that I knew very clearly that my brothers, the sons of my nation were annihilated almost entirely, I still hoped in the depths of my heart, that maybe someone from my large family in the area had survived. The thought of returning to Kurenets would not let go of me, not even for a minute, and after a sleepless night I woke up early in the morning, determined to go there. My sisters tried to stop me from immediately leaving since the war still going on. Maybe they were right. The entire area knew that Kurenets was still in a war situation and there were pockets of fighting all around, but all their reasoning could not prevent me from going.

A day later, with a small suitcase in my hand, dressed in a Red Army uniform, I left on my way.

I experienced an unbelievable journey embarking on the very extensive and intricate road from Gorki, which was situated Far East from Moscow, all the way to Kurenets. Renowned diaries of adventurers that I used to read in my youth were nothing by comparison to all that I experienced during that journey, where the roads were destroyed and many of the trains never reached their destinations, consequently I had to rely on every kind of transportation, including my feet.

After eight days and nights I arrived in Vileyka. From Vileyka it was impossible to find any transportation, so in the usual tradition of the Kurenetsers, I walked to my hometown by foot. It was a beautiful summer day. With each step closer to Kurenets, my heart beat faster, and my head would spin. Would I find amongst the ruins, which I was told about on the road, any of my family members alive? While I was walking the ancient cedar trees, I saw from afar, an image of a man coming towards me. When he came closer I recognized him, it was a goy by the name of Kasia Siamka's. He was our neighbor in previous years. He also recognized me. With all the excitement, we kissed each other. At that point, I didn't know that Kasia was a collaborator with the Nazis and that his hands were stained with the blood of the Jews. I asked him, “Kasia, who is alive from my family?”

Kasia didn't answer anything, he only bowed his head, not looking at me. I didn't ask anymore. I understood the tragedy in its entirety. I said goodbye to him and continued walking ahead, but without any excitement and with no anticipation. I knew now that I would not find any of the dear ones alive, and soon I would enter a huge graveyard that was named Kurenets.

Here I reached the first homes on Vileyka Street and as a person who is walking inside a horrible nightmare, I approached the market square. And all of a sudden… Empty space… Only the tall chimneys came up from the ruins. All the houses that used to be in the central market and the nearby streets had disappeared… I didn't meet one living soul. I stood in silence at the middle of the market, not knowing where I should go from here, the empty market.

Suddenly I saw two figures walking from afar, near the ruins of the house of Zalman Gvint Z”L. Those two figures were coming close to where I was standing. They were two Jewish girls. I recognized them as Freydl the daughter of Mendel Alperovich, and the other was Hana, the daughter of Chaim Avraham Alperovich. They didn't recognize me. I introduced myself and together we started walking towards the few houses that remained intact.

The first remaining house was in Kosyul (?) and until the edge of Myadel Street. We sat on the front porch of the house of Ruven Dimmenstein Z”L, and one by one, the few Jewish remainders started coming there. The Jewish residents of my hometown who had stayed were broken, lacking any energy. They were all in shock and depression. They came to me and greeted me. The entire evening, until midnight, we sat there and I listened to their stories of grief and mourning for the annihilated town and its people. Now, when I think of it, I can hardly remember what I felt that moment. All I can remember is that I couldn't say a word. IT was as if I became frozen. The images of the tortures of the martyrs and the pain of their last moments kept coming to my eyes, but as much as I tried to really comprehend what happened, I could not help but ask, “Is this a nightmare? How could this be true? No, no, it is a nightmare.”

Reality, reality, reality. The conclusion was very cruel. From the two thousand souls that our Jewish town contained, only about 100 survived. The family of Natka Hana's invited me to stay with them, and I couldn't sleep that night. At early morning hours I lay down for a few minutes, but as soon as the sun came up, I left the house to see the place where the town's Jews were annihilated. It was a small field near the house of Dov-Bar Shulman Z-L.

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On the graves of the martyrs of Kurenets
Standing from right to left:
Atta Harnas, Nachamka Zimmerman, Ruven Alperovich and David Motosov

A beautiful summer morning, filled with excitement was teeming around me The sun came up with all its glory as I experienced many days before. And there I stood, like a pillar of stone, on that piece of land that was saturated with the blood and the dust of all those who were once the people of my town, my friends, my relatives, and my dear family. My dear ones, what were your crimes and your sins that such a horrible punishment was given to you? Weren't your lives a life of honest toil? The life of people who day and night worked for the welfare of your families? To educate your children, and to keep the rules of God and the rules of the state of which you were citizens? Why were you given such an awful penalty? What did you feel when you knew that you had reached your last moments and cruel death that the wolf-like people prepared for you? My dear and honored father, did you forgive me for saving myself while leaving you there? I fell on the wet meadow that already grew on top of the huge grave of the martyrs and tears streamed unstoppably from my eyes to the land.

Already that day, after I paid my respects at the cemetery of my dear mother, Z-L, I was ready to leave Kurenets forever, but the remnants who were left there didn't let me accomplish my decision. They begged me to stay there so that together we could get revenge on and bring to justice all the Christians that robbed the victims and spilled their blood, and collaborated with the Nazis. Twenty-one months I sat in Kurenets. Every day I heard from the remnants as well as a few righteous Christians testaments of the annihilation of the Jewish residents of Kurenets. I heard and recorded testaments of each of the more than one thousand people who perished in Kurenets. I was told that there were about four minyans, among them also my father's, who would meet and pray during the Nazi era. My father prayed in the minyan of Rabbi Zishka Z-L that was situated in the yard of Zalman Gvint Z-L. On the day of the annihilation, 9/9/1942 (the Hebrew date is Kafzain in the month of Alul, Taf Shin Bet, three days before Rosh Hashanah), my father and others were praying in the minyan and from there they were taken to the locale of the annihilation in the central market. When they started with the action, my father and Leib Dinnestein Z-L, covered themselves in their tallits and jumped into the fire, yelling, “Shma Israel!” In this act they brought glory to God's name.

A Christian man by the name of Bakatz, a very dear person from Vileyka Street told me that on noon of that day that the action took place in the midst of the most active moment of the killings. He decided to go there, to the killing field, so that one day he could tell the next generation of the details of what he saw and heard. He walked through the fields and gardens and the Stiyenka, and when he came near he heard the yells and the cries that reached the heavens. Here and there he saw bodies all along the way. He kept seeing bodies all along the road, Jews who mostly likely tried to escape, but the killer's bullets had caught them. Bakatz told me that in the yard of Ruven Zishka Z-L, there was the naked body of a young Jewish girl, and all of a sudden there was a storm and a big leaf flew in the air, and fell on the young girl's body and covered her intimate parts. Bakatz continued saying, “It seemed to me that the heart of Mother Nature filled with pity for the martyred girl, and Mother Nature was ashamed to watch her miserable nakedness.” Yet not far from here, people who lost all resemblance to human beings, amidst bestial ceremony, killed without any shame. Bakatz told me that he couldn't be there anymore. The smell of the burning bodies was unbearable, so he returned home. No, no, I cannot continue recounting the details. I don't have the spiritual force to continue with the details.

A few words on a little wooden plaque that we put on the killing field told that here were buried such a number of people, women and children, and here the fate of almost two thousand people that once were the holy community of Kurenets perished. Days and weeks passed, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur came, and we decided to have ceremonies during those days, ceremonies of public prayer. The people who came to pray were very different than the usual we'd see in the Jewish synagogue. Most were very young. There were a few older people, but you could hardly find one Jew that looked respectable enough, having a long beard, for example, to walk in front of the ark. Despite all of that, we celebrated everything as Jews were accustomed to. We started with a prayer. They gave me the assignment of going in front of the ark during the minha prayer of Yom Kippur. Filled with emotions of fear and excitement and nervousness, I started praying. I remember the old Hazans and leaders of prayers in Kurenets. I remember Reb Itzhak Zimmerman Z-L, Itzi Hatzi's [father of Charles Gelman], he had the most beautiful voice. His Hebrew was lively and his diction was pure and perfect. I remember Reb Mendel Alperovich [father of Rachel Alperovich, Emma Tzivoni, and Eliyahu], the husband of Nachama Risha, that had such a sweet voice, filled with sentiments and would reach the depths of your heart. He would pray the morning prayer of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the last I remember was Zusia Benes, who prayed with dedication and excitement and with Hasidic fervor, and until this very day I remember his beautiful kaddish prayer. So then, while I was praying, I tried very hard to imitate his beautiful kaddish prayer.

Many times I prayed in my life, but I do not remember any other prayer that had such tragic sentiment and such a broken heart as my prayer that day. Depressed and in shock, shadows of men, we stood there, the remnants of our town. Tiny remnants from a splendid holy community, and our tears flowed like a river…

On the graves of the martyrs of Kurenets
kur300a.jpg [14 KB]
kur300b.jpg [16 KB]
Left to right:
Yankle Alperovich, Yizhak Fidler, Meir Mekler, Zelig Liberman, Aba Naruzki & Moshe Liberman
  Left to right: Leizer Shulman, Gutel Gordon, Zelig Liberman,
Moshe Liberman, Aba Naruzki, Akiva Levin, Meir Mekler,
Yitzhak Fidler, Yankle Alperovich, Orzhik Alperovich,
Moshe Mordechai Dinerstein & David Zimerman
kur300c.jpg [18 KB]
kur300d.jpg [14 KB]

Family and friends returned to Kurenets in order to relocate the remains of ones they had lost. This mission was carried out in secret for fear that the government would disallow their efforts or that people living in the surrounding area would return to search the remains for riches as they had done before the surviving Jews of Kurenets in the 1950s' taking the bones of their slaughtered brothers and sisters to a Jewish burial.

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