Translated by Sheila Garberman
The Partisan fighting spreads not only to the east but also to the west. Partisan fighting against the enemy is also starting to develop around Lida. In the ghetto the spark of revenge has started to develop in the minds of some people. The defeat of the Germans at the fronts has hastened the liquidation of the ghettos. Because the Germans are afraid of uprisings they prepare certain deceptive procedures to mask the preparation for the liquidation of the ghettos. The Lida ghetto is on the agenda for liquidation. VINDISH [WINDISCH} and VERNER [WERNER] (German Gestapo's) and their helpers with false smiles and lies are trying to influence the members of the Judenrat with whom they are in contact.
They do not want the people to know what they are planning.
I want to mention a conversation I had with a Czech from the SS in Lida who used to visit me often. The look on his face was different from usual. He asked if there was anyone else in the house other than ourselves, then he started to talk.
Hitler has lost the war. The propaganda ministers before the war prepared all the stories that the German army is near Moscow. However before Hitler loses the war all Jews will be liquidated though methods of pain and humiliation which were prepared before the war.
After this statement he gave me several revolvers and said:
These are for the enemy, but the last bullet leave for yourself so that your death will be less humiliating.
He then said goodbye and told us that he was being sent to the front and that we would never see each other again. (He was a member of the Czechoslovakian Social Democratic party.) This conversation did not leave me with a feeling of comfort and I could hear a voice inside myself: Go to the Woods. A few bullets for the enemy and the last one for me.
On a certain Friday Morning while all the people of the ghetto were going to work, my eleven-year-old son informed me that the Gestapo was coming.
Seeing through the window the murderers and the Polish police (PZADOWSKI) walking in the direction of my house, I understood that the situation was serious. Jumping out the window was impossible. By instinct, I opened the door to the street to meet the group. The first to approach me was the older policeman who asked me where REZNIK lived? I told him that him two doors down, where my wife's sister lived. Then I ran away. When I left the Postowski area going down Koszarowe street, I looked at everything and thought I am seeing this all for the last time. I went to the Judenrat to tell them what (I had heard) and to discuss further what might be done.
My sister-in-law told the Hitlerites that I went to the Judenrat. The Hitlerites went immediately to the Judenrat. I saw them coming from a distance and ran to Piaskes on the outskirts of town. Here is where the tragic portion of my life began. All doors were closed to me and no one would let me in. If I were to be found in one of these homes all members of that family would have been killed.
I went to the house of a Polish man who was an accountant of Bank Pulski in Lida. I had entrusted all my belongings and possessions to Mr. POISNER prior to the Nazi occupation of Lida. We had been neighbors. I told him my situation and I asked him to permit me to stay until evening when a few friends could assist me in leaving Lida. He responded that if I did not leave in a few minutes he would call the Gestapo. I left his house immediately and while walking was thinking about all the other Jewish people who had entrusted the Polish with their possessions believing in their friendship. In the end, all these friends became the Jews biggest enemies.
At Piaskes (the outskirts of Lida) I met my wife who had also run away from the house. She told me about the conversation her sister had had with the Gestapo. The Gestapo did not realize it was the same family. With the help of my wife I got in touch with the Bergermeister [Mayor] JAKOVITZ. I received instructions from the commander of the police that I should hide somewhere until early Sunday morning. There was a plan to be prepared to take me out of Lida. This plan was of course not done out of love for me, but rather out of fear that my arrest would also implicate them. I do not know where I slept Friday. I stayed in this house with another person whom I would meet three times.
The first time I met this person was in my night of fear, the second time with the Partisans in battle against the German and the third time after the liberation on the way to Israel. He was an honest partisan and one of the best fighters. He received the highest recognition from the Soviet Union for his fighting. Later because of false accusations in the name of Stalinism, the Soviets decided to eliminate him. He was forced to leave Russia illegally to go to Israel where he is presently. This is the famous BARUCH LEVIN.
Saturday I stayed with my brother-in-law SIMON BOJARSKY. Saturday night I was informed that I was to be taken to the direction of Wasanova (a town not far from Lida) on Sunday. After my wife placed the children with family she joined me.
Sunday morning a light snow was falling as I came to Mr. BOJARSKI's house by sled drawn by two selected horses. I had no time to think and did not know what my future plans might be. My wife and I were given two heavy coats from which our faces could not be seen. On one arm of the coat was a band that said SHUTZ police. We left Lida in silence, without words or tears as we said goodbye to our family. Slowly the sled gilded on the snow in the direction of Suvalski [Suwalski] Street to the highway to Vilna. As we leave we first see a group of Jews being chased to work. In the front I see Dr. KATOR. A great sadness was on their faces. I look at them out of a corner of my coat with which I was covered and think this is the last time I will see Lida. This is the way I left Lida.
One evening the commandant of the Jewish police, a former German Jew, came to visit us. He took us outside and said you must leave because the Gestapo is looking for you in Varanova, which is not far from Lida. While we were talking he showed us two paths: the right one to Lida and the left to Vilna. We left Varanova and walked in the direction on the path that he had indicated to us. As we walked we noted only the mute stares followed us from a dim light window. As we walked in that direction we came to a warm house and a warm feeling came over us. To our saying hello, a peasant answered and in a short conversation we realized we were with a Polish patriot. He allowed us to stay one night and gave us something to eat, for which we of course paid.
When we asked how we could reach Vilna, he proposed we should stay with them for several days. My wife went back to the Lida Ghetto with the intention of bring back the children. She brought back our older son NEACH (NOAH) to the peasant's house. On Sunday the peasant took us to Vilna by wagon. My wife had brought back false documentation from Vilna. Our documents stated that we were going to Vilna on an order from Rizemal commander to bring certain parts for Lida Warsstaten (factories). The letter was signed by the Gebit Commissar. The Gebit Commissar (Regional Commander) signed that we were worthless (?) Jews in case we meet with any Germans who might bother us. We traveled to BASTUN on the outskirts of Vilna where Lithuanians stopped us. Because we were walking they did not see our son in the wagon. They searched us very well and then let us go free because of the content of the letter. We were told we had to leave Bastun in two hours. The peasant was afraid and decided to turn around and in a few hours we were back in his house.
After a short discussion with the peasant about our future plans, the peasant proposed that our son work as a lesnik (a forest workman) in one of the forests not far from Varanova. In the forest there were a lot of Jews chopping wood. He told us that his son would take myself, my wife and our son to a place where we could stay with a peasant where his son lives. He said that his son would also get us working permits.
After agreeing on a fee with the son he agreed to take us to the new place. Around noon we came to that place in large forest. Every few kilometers there was a single house. The houses were called CHUTOR (a single house far from one another). We went to one of these houses. We meet a young peasant with wife and 3 children who had a normal work life partly from work in the forest and part from his own farm. He greeted us very warmly. We lived nicely with that family in the forest and it was not a bad existence, but not for long. Our son got along very well with the peasant's children and played together with them in the house and outside. The Polish family loved him as one of their own children. But the future had something else in mind.
One day the son of the forest workman was in Varanove stetl and was joking with a Polish policeman. (A former Polish legionnaire named PLASSCUK). While he was drunk he told the policeman the secret of a Jewish family (husband, wife and child) living with him in the forest. The policeman had no conscience and decided to liquidate these Jewish lives as he had also previously done.
On a certain Sunday in April 1942 the policeman came to the farmhouse. My wife and I were in the forest. Seeing the policeman my son hid in the stable. The policeman came into the house and not seeing anyone walked in the direction of the barn. My son tried to run but the policeman caught him and tortured him to try to find out where his parents were. With the idea of running away my boy walked in the direction of the forest. As he became closer to the forest he started to run. The policeman had thee bullets in his rifle. He fired the first two and missed the boy, but the third passed through the heart of the boy and he fell dead to the ground.
The first most precious member of my family laid far on a field far from a Jewish cemetery.
At the sound of the bullets my wife ran instinctively in that direction. She saw the flight and death of her child. She threw herself on the policeman and screamed what did you do? It became a struggle between them. He had no more bullets. The policeman struggled out of her grasp and he hit her with the end of the rifle. When the policeman heard the sound of a revolver and saw me and my fellow friends, he ran away. By the dawn of morning we buried our son not far from the forest near a blooming tree. The peasant assured us that he would take care of the grave.
We thought that we would be able to rebury him at the Jewish Cemetery at Lida. After two traumatic days we decided to take the road back to the Lida Ghetto.
I found out from them that the person that brought on the tragedy in Lida ghetto was arrested and in jail. They gave me the opportunity to see him and to verify to them if this was the person.
It is interesting to note that in spite of the fact it was forbidden for Jews to have communication through the post office, all news from one Ghetto to the other were known on a timely basis and accurate.
It was not hard for us to settle in the Vilna Ghetto thanks to a family named RODSIEWICH who provided a place to sleep and thanks to their son who worked in the working commander's office
Life in the Vilna Ghetto was much more difficult than in Lida since the Vilna Ghetto was locked up with many people in small quarters under the tight control of the Lithuanian Gestapo. But even with this situation it was possible to have a cultural life.
I do not want to take up space to explain the political and cultural life in the Vilno Ghetto. I am leaving it to be written by to those Jews who lived through the German occupation of Vilno prior to its liquidation, Historians should in moe detail about men like SUTZKEWER, KOWNER, DWORZECKI and others. I want to mention the Jewish Judenrat and the commander of the Jewish police LICHTMAN, KOTAK and others who refused to collaborate with the Germans and painfully gave their lives. Unlike DESLER, commander of the police in Vilno ghetto, and others who were traitors to their own brothers, who helped the German Gestapo in their dirty work. They later paid with their own lives, some by Gestapo and some by the underground parties.
After being in the Ghetto for two weeks I got a job with a group who worked outside Vilna ghetto in Porubanek. This group was closely watched by the Hitler-Yugents (Youth) and was in charge of Operation Todt. [note not in original: this was a notorious Nazi organization which had been in charge of the murder of all mental patients, residents of chronic care facilities, and the physically handicapped in Germany. These activities predated the Holocaust].
The work was done outside in the fresh air, but under the strong guard of a certain SS man whose ugly face was marked with burn spots. Inside he was 100 percent animal.
He put fear in everyone when he came for an inspection, which always ended with a killing. On most occasions it ended with the killing of one of the group leaders. Why they assigned me this job, I do not know today. But, I believe that it was in their mind to get rid of me. But faith wanted otherwise, Thanks to a big Polish woman, I managed to get closer contact with someone who sometimes made it easier for the workers and myself. Our relations went far and with his permission and that of the Gestapo I was given the opportunity to take machinery from Vilno to Grodno going through Lida. My desire was to get to the Lida ghetto to see my other child who was with the rest of my family.
When the auto got closer to Lida, I put on sunglasses to try to disguise my appearance so that no one should recognize me. I asked the Germans to let me off near the Ghetto at Postowski Street. My first impression of Lida was the same as when I had left, until coming to my house where my family lived. Many people looked at me but it appeared that they did not recognize me or did not believe I was still alive. Entering into the house I was shocked to see that everything had changed. The terrible massacre took many of my family my wife's two sisters, TZIVIA BOJARSKI and CHAJA NOIMAN, her husband and child together with my second child.
A little later some Jews came from work. One of them, MOISHE MARKOWITZ, born in Wractow, [Wroclaw?] who had lived with us, told me of the massacre of the 8th of May 1942. He was also convicted to die and saved himself by running away.
This is in short his story:
At dawn on the 8 th of May all the Jews were awakened from their sleep by the Germans by beatings and screams. The men, women and children were told to concentrate in one place in 4's. Of course with all their strength the families tried to keep together. With wild force they were chased in one direction. No one was permitted to speak or move out of the row. They were chase to the Koshoken (an outskirts where it was rumored that graves were being dug. The first (?) were chased from Postowski, Kladne, and Krupowski Streets and were surrounded by the Germans and their helpers with machine guns in their hands. On one side was a Zondergrup [Sondergruppe] with death inscriptions on their hats, together with them stood WINDISCH, HANWEG, WERNER, and others and then they started the selection and (Hebrew without translation) people were directed left and right. The Arbeits Commissar (Working Commander) helped to point out those to the left that were temporarily needed alive. Those who were not meant to live were murdered, beaten and chased to the right side.
They were all forced to sit or lay on the ground. When the job was done, all the Jews from the left where made to walk toward the Ghetto on Postowski Street. A little later all the Jews from the right were attacked with murderous beatings and were chased to the open graves with orders to get undressed and to hand over all valuables. The cries from the children and the spasming of the mothers could tear open the skies, but not the stonehearted murders. Among the cries could be heard the broken voice of REB HARON RABINOWITZ who went his last way with his WORD??? (his group of advisors). Jews do not cry, do not spill your tears, do not give the murders the enjoyment of hearing our cries and tears KIDUSH - HASHEM and tearing KRIA (the piece of cloth which is torn at a funeral by the mourners.) He went to the open grave.
On a certain day when I came to my work place the headman called me.
He told me that he was going on vacation to see his wife and children and he demanded gifts be ready on the day of his departure. Of course his demand was fulfilled.
A few hundred Jewish men and women were occupied at this place. Not far from this workplace was another workplace where people were occupied with chopping wood in the forest. The atmosphere was not very pleasant. It was guarded by a Lithuanian policeman. Once or twice a week Jewish auxiliary police led a group of workers to the Vilna Ghetto.
In these forests some had the idea of contacting the partisans to start smuggling out Jews to fight the Germans. This work was not easy.
Every thought had to be controlled and you had to be very careful with every word not only to the Germans and Lithuanians but also your own people. These people thought they would survive the war by working and they were ready sometimes to tell the Germans about plans that were being prepared.
On a certain day the Germans announced that all workers at the peat works* were to be transferred with their belongings to Vilna. The peasants from the near-bye villages were mobilized to use their wagons to take the Jews from the work place to Vilno. Certain rumors were heard about the transfer. It was already known that most being transferred from the workplace would be taken to Panar (an extermination place) [Ponari, Panerai], a place from where you never return. The fact that the transfers were being done by the Lithuanians and not the SS police eased minds somewhat. These people were brought to Vilna to a certain camp, not the Ghetto, and they were watched by the Jewish Police. My wife and I by chance came to the Ghetto.
After the Germans inspected the neighborhood of Kara, which previously was a working camp, they built barracks and concentrated everyone into one place and fenced the area in with barbwire and demanded persons for work.
During this time I brought in the commander of the Jewish police whom I trusted to work with us to transfer armed Jews to the Partisans. I also secretly told a doctor that his place was temporarily here [was only temporary here?] and that he ought to go with us to the forest. I placed his family with a peasant family not far from the work place to get the doctor to join us. I was bitterly disappointed by these two persons. People that were caught were placed in the barracks, which were easy to control day and night.
In one of the big barracks at the entrance closest to the camp office I divided a small room which housed by wife and I and also SHMITH with his wife, a former Judenrat member in Lida. In this little room we conceived all plans to transfer groups from Vilna Ghetto through our work to the partisans in the forest.
Translated by Philip Frey
It had happened at that time, that certain Jewish thieves had made a robbery attack on the Lida Pravoslav priest, and the Germans caught and arrested them. The robbers' wives appealed to the Judenrat in order that they should free their men, a thing that the Judenrat could, naturally, not do. Out of revenge, the thieves denounced the Judenrat to the Germans. The Germans had the entire Jewish populace led, through a small passageway, past one of the thieves, named Virobek, who pointed out all of the Vilna-natives, whom he recognized. All the Vilna-natives were shot shortly thereafter. Also all of the members of the Judenrat were arrested and after an inhuman investigation (in the course of which they confessed nothing and gave no one up) they were killed in a bestial fashion.
With this bloody episode (the Defilade(=march-past in Yiddish) here begins the writer's telling of his experiences in the Lida ghetto .The Editors
The Defilade took place a few days before Purim.
That daybreak, when people awoke and began to hurry, as at every daybreak, to go to work, they saw groups of armed Lithuanians in their yellow uniforms, and the fascist White-Russian police, led by a number of S.S gendarmes, that spread out over all the houses and with wild cries : Heraus (German=Outside), they began to chase everyone out of the houses, men, women and children. They did not even allow those to dress themselves, whom they encountered in their underwear. Whoever did not happen to grab some article of clothing to throw onto himself, ran out of the house in underwear. Sick and weak older people, who could not lift themselves from their beds, were shot in their beds by the beasts.
In the house, where I found myself, there was a young couple, the wife had a day before given birth to a child, which was factually a crime according to the Nazi ghetto-laws the woman was still very weak, the people of the house and her husband quickly threw a coat over her and supporting her under her arms they led her with the child out of the house before the murderers entered, if not, they would have shot her. But regardless they did not avoid death in the great slaughter. The woman's sister was with me later in the forest and she would constantly remind me about this very occurrence during the Defilade.
Beneath a hail of blows the murderers drove the Jews to the ghetto gate. No one had any other thought left, that this was indeed the final road to death. Therefore they began to run over the barbed wire on that side of the ghetto and to hide out where they might. But every escapee, who was observed by the murderers, was shot on the spot. In such a way masses of Jews were shot right in the first minutes.
Myself and another Jew were successful in climbing over the high fence of the ghetto near the workshops, which were outside of the ghetto. There several hundred ghetto Jews worked at different projects for the German army. We chanced to enter a warehouse, where there was a deep pit, in which there lay a metal tank, from which pipes led. Since there was danger, that the Nazis might come here seeking people hiding-out, therefore both of us crept down into the pit and shoved ourselves behind the tank, but there was only space for one, so we lay one on top of the other. And it did indeed turn out, that our assumption was correct. A short while later someone opened the door and then closed it again. If we had not at that time have descended into the pit, I would not have been writing these lines now. Simultaneously we heard shoot-
ing in the yard, and this was an indication, that the murderers had found Jews hidden in the yard.
The two of us remained in the pit a whole night long and we made different plans, what to do with ourselves, if the ghetto were no more. My brother in distress was indeed working in the workshops as a tailor, he was from Lida and knew the entire area around Lida. He comforted me, that no matter what we would be together.
When day began to break, we heard Yiddish being spoken near the warehouse, where we were lying. We ran up to a support for the wall and the tailor, I don't remember his name, quickly recognized, that these are the Jews, who were working in the stable for horses, and we quickly exited the warehouse in order to find out what had happened.
When I found out that no slaughter had occurred, I could no longer remain standing listening to their telling, because my consciousness and clear reason dictated, that I must already be in the ghetto and to catch the group of workers, who work together with me in the S.S. gendarmerie, before the go out of the ghetto. If I am not there to meet them, then I am finished.
Several days later gendarmes came into the ghetto and took away everything from the houses of the arrested council members. This was an indication, that the murderers had already extinguished their lives. That same day the beasts lead them out several meters from the jail and shot them.
Several days after that they also led the arrested Vilna-natives to that side of the jail and shot them.
Hereby I wish to note the bizarrely dreadful fact:
When the murderers shot the Vilna sacrificial offerings it was already nightfall. As the murders began to discharge series of bullets into the unfortunates, three fell immediately even before they were hit by the bullets. Those who were shot began to fall upon them and in such a manner they remained lying beneath the mass of slain persons and were soaked in their blood.
When the murderers completed their bloody work, they left quietly, leaving behind for the Jews of the ghetto to remove and bury the dead bodies on the morrow. Until midnight the survivors lay in this very terrible condition, and afterward they extricated themselves from beneath the hill of dead bodies and vanished into the darkness of night.
Later those in the ghetto were apprised of this story, when the three were already back in the Vilna ghetto. Two of them I remember by name. One was called Gamarski, he 'd lived in Vilna on Lipuvke, and the second, Antske Kentski, the youngest son of a well-known Vilna merchant. The lived thereafter in the Vilna ghetto until its liquidation. But death did nonetheless not avoid them and they perished later at the time of the liquidation of the ghetto. The third is Zalman Duktshulski, who lives in Israel.
Until the great slaughter in the Vilna ghetto, the murders operated in this manner, that all the Jews, whom they shot, afterward they commanded the Judenrat to send a cart to remove the sacrifices and to bury them in the cemetery. In this manner they first had the opportunity to see with what bestiality the murderers had comported themselves toward the unfortunate Jews prior to shooting them.
They also used to shoot they sacrifices with dum-dum bullets (explosive-bullets) in such a manner that there occurred heartrending scenes on the part of the families of the deceased, who were unable to recognize them, but only on the basis of the little pieces of clothing, which still remained upon them were they able to recognize them.
The bodies of the murdered members of the Judenrat were black with deep wounds and more than skin and bones did not remain after all the tortures, the beasts carried out upon them.
After the Judenrat's perishing the area-commissar gave a command, that a new Judenrat be created. At the beginning it was difficult to find candidates, who would be willing to enter the Judenrat and endanger their lives for the common good, but there was no other alternative and somehow they managed to assemble a new Judenrat.
Terrible oppressiveness reigned in the ghetto after the perishing of the Judenrat. They began to feel another atmosphere and it was agreed that the ghetto could survive difficult times.
A few weeks later a new tragedy occurred. This time they arrested more than seventy Jews who worked in a German entity-Boytn-Lager, this meant, a place, where they assembled the conquered trophies, which the German army had seized from their enemies on the battlefield. The Germans accused the arrested Jews that they stole arms from the Boytn-Lager. Despite that they found nothing when they arrested them, they took them all to jail.
As it turned out later, it was a denunciation by the Christian Polish workers, who worked there, and had, it would appear, indeed stolen weapons for themselves or to sell to the partisans, and in order to avert suspicion on the part of the Germans in the camp, they had denounced the Jewish workers.
After keeping them in jail for several weeks and torturing them, the ghetto soon had over seventy fresh sacrifices.
At the same time news arrived in the ghetto concerning slaughters perpetrated on the Jews of the towns of White-Russia. The mood started to become sad. People felt, that the evil hour began to appear for the Lida ghetto. Optimists comforted the nervous public and convinced themselves and others, that Hanweg, the area-commissar would not permit a slaughter of the Lida ghetto. Because he needs the Jews for their work. Especially, since the ghetto workshops produce such important things, which were so necessary for the soldiers on the battlefields: therefore he would not permit putting his useful craftsmen to death.
In such a way, they speculated (casuistically, as in a Talmudic debate) in the evenings, when they would return from the slave-labor.
For safety reasons, here also, as during those times in Vilna, in the period of the yellow shine, people sought various ways of sneaking themselves into the fortunate workshops, in order to have the shine(as in fortune shines upon) of a craftsman.
The Jewish confidant of the area commissar and overseer over the workshops and jewish laborers, who worked there, was an engineer from Galicia, an assimilated Jew named Altman.
When the liquidation of the Lida ghetto took place, his area-commissar liquidated him just the same as all the Jews of the ghetto. Together with the remaining Jews he was lead out to Maidanek.
Indeed a great confusion took hold of the Vilna survivors. After the fifty Vilner fell as sacrifices due to the informing by Virobek, they feared, that the area-commissar and the chief of the gendarmerie would take still other measures to capture more Vilner. Because of this there began amongst the Vilner a confused running from Lida back to the Vilna ghetto. There the situation at that time was, so to speak, stabilized, where 15,000 Jews were found, whom the Nazis for the present left alive.
Such a trip to Vilna was not only entailed the peril of death that lurked at every step and stride, but one also needed lots of money. A peasant, who risked transporting several Jews, along back roads in his wagon to Vilna, demanded a fabulous price. I, for example, could only dream about such, but those, who could pay and had an opportunity, did not let the danger stop them. In this way quite a few Vilna survivors were transported from the Lida ghetto.
At the same time a scurrying went on in the ghetto for one to supply himself with a craftsman-shine of the workshops or of another apparently safe facility. The whole ghetto literally was afever with this very problem. The craftsman-shine was considered the only way to salvation in the event of a slaughter. To run away into the forests, at that time, had not occurred to anyone in the ghetto, because they had not heard of any partisan-movement in the ghetto.
In such a frenzied and disoriented atmosphere they lived day and night during the month of May.
In the early days of May the area-commissar Hanweg sent for the representatives of the Judenrat.
He came out with the following words:
-It has come to my attention, that the Jews have hidden money and valuable articles, which at present have not been given over to my jurisdiction. I give you a term of three days to collect all the hidden gold from the Jews and to bring it to me. If this is not carried out within the term, I do not guarantee that which will follow, which will result because of this.When the representative came into the ghetto with the report, you can imagine, what sort of upheaval this evoked.
The Judenrat called for an assembly of the entire ghetto and related the area-commissar's words and they appealed, that those, who had gold and clothing, should bring it to the Judenrat, perhaps with it they might prevent a tragedy for the ghetto.
(Here it needs to be remembered, that immediately after the Jews were driven into the ghetto, the area-commissar commanded, that the Jews have to surrender gold and valuable objects under threat of a death-penalty.)
Despite they already felt, that no slaughter here, precisely as in the other ghettos, was to be averted, they wanted to create a spark of hope here, perhaps a little gold might soften the heart of the area-commissar and he would hold back the planned slaughter, and they began bringing gold and clothing to the Judenrat.
When the representatives of the Judenrat brought the area-commissar the assembled gold, he told them to come once again on the next day.
On the following day they received the following response from the area-commissar:
-According to my information-----he said------the Jews have more gold. I give you a term of another three days to gather up the remaining gold, which the Jews have hidden.The Judenrat again called an assembly and related the response by the area-commissar. This time they did not appeal as before, that they should hurry to turn in the gold and objects. A deep sadness poured out over their faces, and one could understand that nothing could shout-away the slaughter. They all stood with downcast faces. After a representative of the Judenrat said the Almighty will perhaps protect us from the great danger, all returned to their homes.
This was the 6th of May, 1942, two days before the great catastrophe.
The slaughters in White-Russia were carried out by an S.D. Command. Jews called them Tropi-Tschatschkes(a tschatschke is a trinket)', since they bore an emblem of a skull on their hats .
The slaughters in the towns were designated by the general-commissar over all western White-Russia. He was called Kuba, and his staff was located in Minsk. According to his order at the designated time period the slaughters of Jews were carried out by these Tropi-Tschatschkes, with the help of the local gendarmes, White-Russian police, and Lithuanians, brought down from Lithuania. Therefore at that time the Jews were wary, when they went to and from work, to see if there appeared the murderers with those hats, and when they encountered one or several of the murderers, a panic overtook the ghetto, and that night they expected the action. But it turned out, that they had come for some other reason, and all they suffered was a fright.
It is worthwhile to mention, that the bloodthirsty Kuba was later torn to shreds in his residence during an attempted assassination. That was an act of revenge by the White-Russian partisans and it was carried out in the following manner:
Getting close to such a bigshot was hardly easy. He was constantly surrounded by an entire staff of his security-people, who guarded his filthy bones. Therefore they needed the help of someone on the inside and lot fell to one of the maids, who served him, and had earned his trust. The partisans made contact with this maid and she was given the assignment of placing the actual bomb with a timer under his bed, that was calculated, to explode when the bigshot would be lying in bed asleep. And so it indeed was. When the murdered Kuba was sleeping sweetly in his soft bed, the bomb exploded and in an instant their remained no sign of his filthy bones.
When we, the workers at the S.D. Gendarmerie, would enter the ghetto to work, people were there awaiting us, they wanted to know, if there at the SS, perhaps had heard something, or if the Tropi-Tschatschkes had arrived etc. But right on the day before the slaughter we detected no extraordinary movement. As usual, completed our work at the customary time and went back to the ghetto.
Instantly the murders tore their way in with wild cries: Heraus (outside), heraus, and they began to chase the people out of their houses. It appeared at that moment, as if they were driving a herd of cattle from their stable into the slaughter house to be slaughtered Whoever did not appear to run out at that very second was brutally beaten with their gun butts, the beasts threw that bloodied person out onto the street and drove him to the ghetto gate.
On both sides of the street Lithuanians were arranged with guns in their hands and they continuously drove the confused Jews and when they approached the gate, the beasts commanded us to line up in rows of four and to march in the indicated direction to Kosharover street. There too armed Lithuanians stood on both sides of the street.
The front rows came to the place, where three streets crossed: one way, right, led to the Kosharover street, and a second, left, led back to the ghetto. At this place the rows remained standing.
In this place the selection took place, with its entire clique (of selectors).
There the whole band of murders was already assembled. The elders of the S.S-gendarmerie together with the chief heading the S.D.-gendarmerie and the area-commissar Hanweg together with his whole clique.
Families walked together. When they came up to the place, they had the Shine of their work prepared in their hand, which was inspected by the murderers and there was an immediate indication with a finger where he should be sent.
At the beginning the majority of those who had Craftsman Shines were sent to the left, which means, to live. Not A few heart-rending scenes took place, even with those, who were for the moment the fortunate ones. If the owner of the Craftsman-shine had, according to the count by the murderers, a family that was too large, it was torn apart. A portion were sent to the left and the remaining ones were sent to the right, to death. There were however many cases where families did not wish to part and they all went together to their death. The gallows-masters scarcely cared.
It turned out that it was my fate to go in the very last rows. The rows moved very slowly. With each step further my heart shook with convulsions. Each step further was a step closer to death. I did not create any illusions for myself, that I with my simple Shine would be left alive. Just as the last rows neared the selection place, suddenly the selection was interrupted and the murderers began to beat everyone with their gun-butts and to drive them to the right into Kosharover Street.
As it was later related in the ghetto, the selection was interrupted because, out of the more than 7 thousand Jews, who were found in the three separate ghettos, the gallows-masters decided to leave up to 1500, and since the appointed number was complete, they interrupted further selection. Due to this really fine craftsmen were sent to their death who had good shines and would surely have been sent to the left, if they had found themselves in the earliest rows, and so it was my fate to be driven to the right along with the persons of privilege (Yiddish sarcastic usage).
We were driven to the place, where the flock sentenced to death stood, and we united ourselves with them.
Soon there came a command to seat ourselves on the ground. One the face of it they wanted to be sure, they we wouldn't run away. We saw how the armed murders were placed around us and the machine-gunners were aiming at the sentenced people.
Simultaneously near to us we also saw two open trucks, on which there stood casks of lime and chlorine and a lot of shovels.
The cynicism of the murderers went so far, that they thought to further horrify the moods of the sacrifices and they no less stationed the trucks before the eyes of the unfortunates, in order to demonstrate, what awaited us. And truly the machine guns, aimed at us did not as much unscrew our nerves as the two trucks with the chlorine and the shovels.
Round and round us fields were spread and on the horizon we could see the edges of the forests.
At first glance you may ask:
Why didn't you run away across the fields, since the whole community of several thousand Jews saw what was happening? What did they have to lose in the face of death? I sat on the earth next to the next-to-the-last director of the Vilna People's-Bank at Pohulanke (street), Zakheim, whom I had befriended in Vilna even before the war, and we indeed were talking about the pain-filled question. He did not cease smoking one cigarette after the next, which he twisted into paper and he asked God, that his tobacco should last till his final breath. He took a golden watch out of his pocket and called out to me:
-----See, Engelshtern, this very watch, my wife bought it for me as a wedding present. No, the murders will not inherit it, and with these words he struck the watch against a stone he shoved the watch into the filthy earth. Afterward he called out to me again. These were Zakheim's last words:Just as he ended these words we saw a middle-aged Jew shoving himself through the midst of the thick mass of people. He was a baker and in the ghetto he lived in the second cottage next to mine. Here he was together with his wife and four little children. In the ghetto he was thought to be aloof. But this Jew with the aloof attitude understood a lot more than, all, who were here, what they had to do at the last minute. He slowly shuffled and called-out quietly:
---I am no longer young-he said to me---I don't have the strength to run. But you, Engelshtern, are still young, you must not let yourself be led like an animal to the slaughter, run away at the first opportunity, and at least die an honorable death
---Jews---he said---you can already see[Page 330]
what we're facing and what the murderers will soon do to us. We have one way out to save our selves. Lets take the stones here and throw them at the murderers and suddenly we can run away in every direction across the fields. They will shoot at us. Nu, so what, let them shoot, in any case they're going to shoot us.I remember, how I was carried away by his logical and understandable words, that I wanted to shake his hand. But no one listened to his words, everyone was occupied with his own thoughts. But he never ceased shoving himself through the thick mass and never tired of repeating his words.
My ears caught interrupted words from the men and women sitting there about the baker's entreaty:
---Perhaps we are not fated, because me sinned against the Almighty: no matter what we shall die. We no longer have the strength to live and to observe the grief of our children--and more and more other expressions.These aforesaid words give already the answer to the pain-filled question-why we did not run away across the fields.
We were exhausted by so much suffering and the boundless brutality, that we experienced every day. For what purpose to save yourself? Why to clutch at such a wormy existence. If in just a short while we could be delivered from this dark life.
Another moment should be mentioned here.
The German army found itself at that time deep in Russia, and we could not imagine, that they might quickly be repulsed from there.
And the entire community of Jews, a scant six thousand---men, women and children, sat as doomed persons, resigned, depressed and waiting with extinguished eyes, for the murderers to free them from the Hell of the world.
Soon the command was given to form ranks of four. At that moment a lamenting outcry and a crying by women and little children, that could have rent the heavens. The murders surrounding us were not moved. Apparently, they had already seen enough such pictures that they were already accustomed to the lamenting of the men, women and children, whom that had upon their conscience.
And immediately came the command to march. The sun that had previously shone so brightly, suddenly disappeared into the clouds, sort of as if it were ashamed to look at the depressed people, who are now being led to the slaughter. The wind howled and it seemed as if it howled at the fate of the unfortunates, who now are going on their final road. And indeed at that moment there awakened in me a desire for life, round and about I saw the green fields, the trees were blooming, nature, everywhere calls for life, everything is sprouting out of the earth, and we must now part with our lives.
Now we had already entered the narrow Kosharover street, Both sides of the street were thickly surrounded by the armed murderers. We are plodding with our feet in the deep mud of the unpaved street. Ever step brings us ever nearer to the last minute of our life.
In placing myself in the rows I had calculated to be the first one at the edge. My neighbors in my row already knew my plan, and they said, that just as soon as I would run out of the row, they would also follow after me. The murders were hard alongside me and I watched out for every glance of their eyes. With every glance I looked for a break in the fence, into which I might run at the right moment. Soon the long street with its houses will end. My nerves were stressed to the utmost. Lightning-fast I decided---now is the time to make an escape. I ran out of my line and into a gap in the fence. The other three in my row began to escape, and similarly at the same time from other rows. The murderers began shooting at the escapees, and with wild shouting.
When I was on the other side of the fence, I sprawled in the wet mud, held my breath and pulled my hat over my face and afterward spread out my hands, not allowing the slightest movement of my body, exactly as if I were dead I don't feel a bullet, that might have struck me. Lying there in this way I heard the murderers running around in the field, how they never ceasing yelling and shooting.
When the shooting ceased and I no longer heard their wild shouts, I understood, the rows of doomed Jews had already passed through the little street and I lifted my head a bit, in order to see what was happening around me. I saw a toilet, and when I lifted my head a bit more and saw, that no one was around there, I began to crawl on my belly toward the toilet and pulled myself inside. First now through the cracks I could see what was happening around the fields.
First when I could see the sprawled dead on the surrounding field around through the cracks in the outhouse (walls)
and at the same time, out of my mouth tore a cry from my deepest recesses:
---Oh, God, why did you let me remain alive, to further torment myself in the world? Why do I deserve this?Oh, how I did envy the dead at that moment who lay spread out over the fields and I whispered to myself:
----For them its already good, they are free of the life of suffering and for me my beaker of suffering is not yet full.My thoughts completely refused to work and in the first moment I could not consider my situation in which I suddenly found myself. My clothes were soaked from lying in the wet mud, that soaked me through and through, from which I shuddered with cold. The stinking smells of the filled-up outhouse nauseated me till I felt I was choking.
The shooting didn't stop for a minute, and at the same time I could observe through the cracks that automobiles were driving, in which high-placed Nazis apparently were sitting. They were riding to the murder site to observe how their comrades carried out the extermination of the Jewish people. These very automobiles were continually riding back and forth bringing new interested parties to get a look at the spectacle, how Jewish blood pours.
And so the minutes turned into hours of my sitting in the stinking toilet, being afraid to go out, lest I be dragged off to the graves, until it got dark and the shooting had stopped.
Soon I saw a lot of automobiles riding back and a while later I saw trucks, which were filled with clothing.
First then it became clear to me, that the sacrifices had to undress, before the murderers killed them.
At the same time I also saw the trucks riding toward the houses, where the Jews had slept before this night. The White-Russian police began to carry everything out of there and rode away with it.
When I saw this, it became clear to me already, that as soon as it would get dark, I must disappear from the outhouse, if not, I would again fall into the hands of the murderers.
Soon it was dark enough, and the automobiles stopped coming to carry away the murdered peoples things, I made up my mind, that this is the right time to slip out of this place. I apprised myself immediately, that they had placed sentries on the street, in order that the Christian population should not drag away everything from the houses during the night A thought seized me, that I should crawl on my belly, and in the darkness they couldn't spot me, always further from the Kosharover street, and afterward I would seek a way out, where to take myself.
I crawled out of the tiny room and began to crawl on my belly across the fields like a snake. In this way I crept across the muddy fields for along time, which were damp from the not-long melted snow, not knowing where I was, until I crept into a little wooded area. There I felt more certain and I decided to rest until daybreak.
When it became a little light I saw, that during the night I had traversed, crawling on my belly, a considerable distance. I no longer had any yellow-patches on me. When I was still in the toilet I tore them off. Then with quick strides I took myself deeper into the forest. I sought a deep thicket of bushes where I could hide-out. There I decided to lie there as long as I could hold out against hunger and thirst. I was almost completely spent, I lay down on the earth and soon was asleep. I was awakened by the howling of dogs, which came from far away, so I had a sign, the houses were to be found not too far away. I was unendurably thirsty but, but I didn't have the
audacity to leave my lair and to go to seek water. .I decided to remain lying in the lair until the next day. I thought that since I was near to the city it was a lot better to let another day elapse. Perhaps the White-Russian police are still around. In this way I remained lying in the lair until morning. I could no longer endure thirst. This was the third day that I had not had a drop of water in my mouth.
Before me stood the question: where should I go now?
There could be no though of going back to Lida. First I needed a house, where I could wash myself and clean up my clothes just a tiny bit., which were smeared with mud, so that I should not be suspected, of being an escapee from the slaughter.
I left my hideout and went looking for a house somewhere. Having gone a half a kilometer, I saw a house in the distance, so I went in
that direction. Approaching nearer, just as a peasant-woman went out of the house. I went straight to her and asked, if I might have a drink of water. She, at the time was looking me over, but she asked no questions went right into the house and came out with a dipper of water that she gave to me. I went at the water with terrible avidness, so that actually in very few seconds I had drunk the entire dipper-full and the Christian lady was standing there looking at me agape. She had already, it appeared, understood who I was and from where I came .
Returning the empty dipper to her, I asked her first of all if there were any strangers in her house and if she would permit me to wash myself off in her house. At this she invited me into the house without hesitation.
As I entered the house I encountered her husband there. They both could not stop looking at me. On their faces I could see amazement apparently at my awful appearance. Suddenly the peasant-woman began to wring her hands and crossing herself several times, she cried out: O Bozshe Moy (Oh, My God).
The peasant-woman a her husband were apparently very religious Catholics, and as I immediately began to feel, I had had very good luck to chance upon such a house. The immediately told me to take off the muddied clothes and they gave me a robe to put on. Afterward they themselves put my wet clothes on the heated oven to dry. She also warmed up a large cast-iron tub of water for me to wash myself, and afterward gave me food and drink. Tears formed in my eyes because of their goodness toward me. I thought: apparently, not all gentiles are corrupt. After eating I related my entire experience.
Both heard with wringing hands as I told of my tearful experience, and when I finished, the told me to climb up atop the oven and to go to sleep there.
First as I was lying on warm oven as my writhing limbs were warming up, I began to analyze my lot, putting the question to myself: Who knows , what might by now have happened to me, had I not accidentally chanced upon such good and honest people?
I slept through the night and before daybreak the good people told me to go into the barn and to burrow into the hay. In case, they said, neighbors from the surrounding houses come by, who my see me, it might possibly result in much trouble for them and for me, because they are hiding a Jew .
I crept down off the oven immediately, and took my clothing along into the barn, which had dried out in the course of the night, and after entering the barn as best I could I tried to clean the mud off my clothing.
I began to think: What to do next? Where shall I go now?
If I knew, I thought, that the ghetto in Lida still exists, I would have gone back to the ghetto, but how to find out?---I racked my brain.
When the good peasant-woman brought me food in the barn, I said to her, what it was that was bothering me. She soon decided by herself to go to Lida and to find out if there are still Jews in the ghetto.
At night the peasant-woman returned from Lida, and she related that she had met a group of Jews coming from work in the ghetto and they told her, the ghetto now is located in Postover street, and especially, that I need have no fear about returning to the ghetto.
As soon as I heard, I felt, as if a stone had been removed from upon my heart. At that moment the only way out was to return to the ghetto.
That night I slept in the hay in the barn and before daybreak after I heartily thanked the good people for everything, which they had done for me, I departed for Lida. But rather then to immediately go into the ghetto, as I was on the way there I considered, that I had better first go to the kitchen of the Judenrat, which was situated opuside of the ghetto. My assessment was, that amongst the Jewish workers, who work in the kitchen, I could learn more details about the ghetto, and if I might be able to legitimize myself there. I plotted, that I might for the time-being give them a little help in the kitchen, and when the workers will return to the ghetto at night, I would company them.
And so I did.
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