The Destruction of Motele
(Motolí, Belarus)

52°19' / 25°36'

Translation of Hurban Motele

Edited by: A. L. Polick

Published in Jerusalem, 1956


Project Coordinator and Translator

Edward Ehrlich

This is a translation from: Hurban Motele (The Destruction of Motele)
by A. L. Poliak. Ed. Dr. Dov Yarden, Jerusalem, Council of Motele Immigrants, 1956 (Hebrew, 87 pages).

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Tables Of Contents

Title Page
Translatorís Note
Dear Sons Of Our City!
1. The War
2. Reports Of Terror
3. German Rule
4. The Sneaky Theft
5. The Final Joy
6. The Beginning Of The End
7. The Extermination
8. Extermination Of The Women
9. Finishing Off The Survivors
10. Wanderings
11. Between Hope And Despair
12. The First Extermination In Jonava
13. The First Visit
14. A Meal Together
15. Hope and Despair
16. David Kroyitskiís Story
17. And Your Life Hangs On A Thread
18. Crying In The Night
19. Destruction Of The Remnants
20. A War For Survival
21. The Discovery Of Water
22. To The Hiding Place
23. Description Of The Second Extermination
24. The Sound Of A Broken Leaf
25. A Polite Request: Get Out
26. Over The Grave Of Our Loved Ones
27. The Way To Jonava
28. Life In Jonava
29. Transports
30. Ghetto
31. The First Memorial Day For Our Martyrs
32. The Destruction Of The Ghetto

The Destruction Of Motol

by A. L. Polick

Translated from the original Yiddish and originally edited by Shimon Yojok

Edited by Dr. Dov Yarden

Published by the Former Residents Of Motol In Israel

Jerusalem 5716 (1956)

Printed In Israel

Translatorís Note

The English translation is based on a previous translation from Yiddish to Hebrew. Although Yiddish is also written in the Hebrew alphabet, it itself is a European language and various letters and combinations of letters are used to indicate vowels. When the original text was translated into Hebrew much of the phonetic information of various proper names was lost. In order to assist the reader searching for a particular name, there is a Transliterations section indicating the original Hebrew and its English transliteration for all people and place names.

The original Hebrew language copy of "The Destruction of Motol" was mimeographed and is not widely available in Israel or in the Diaspora. It is my hope that this English translation will make this first hand account of one community during the Holocaust available to a wider audience.

Rosh Hashana Eve, 1997

Dear Sons Of Our City!

You have in your hands the first document containing a description of the destruction of our city as recounted by an eye witness, a Holocaust survivor. The description that was written mostly in Yiddish, translated and originally edited by my brother Shimon Yojok was then mailed to someone from our town living in Israel. The simple words coming from a heart filled with anguish present to us this frightful chapter and remind us of the enormity of the tragedy that cut us off from our dear ones. A voice calls out from this abyss of suffering commanding us to do the little in our power for the souls of those killed: to raise a memorial in the form of a book that will inscribe as a remembrance their names, show their pictures and tell the new generation of the humility of those that left us never to return. This you can do. Turn your attention to the recent past, but so removed from us, and let the memory of our dear ones who were cut off before their time enter into your hearts. The time is short. Every passing year weakens and distorts the memory. While there is still time let us save from the void what can be saved. We will build a sanctuary to our loved ones in which will dwell their souls so that we can unite with then and so that their children who came after them will know who were their parents and from what source they drew their strength and willpower in the Diaspora until they fell helpless and defenseless into the hands of the enemy and oppressor.

The following members of the Jerusalem committee merit a blessing for their assistance in publishing these pages: Sharmayahu Bartov, Yehudah Gotanski and Shmuel Pisatski. My special thanks to my brother Shimon Yojok -- committee member -- who translated this work from Yiddish to Hebrew and who invested in this work much of his energy and talent.

The editor


The City Motol that existed for centuries is about 40 Persian miles 1 from Pinsk at the center of Poloisiyah. The name "Motol" can be traced back to the legend of the Swedish conquest of the entire area in 5408 (1608 C.E.) in which a female Polish spy murdered one of the Swedish ministers of war and stole important military documents. In order to revenge the murder that took place in Motol - for which there is no historical record of an earlier name - The Swedish army encircled the town and set fire to all its sides and with it its people and property. Only one Jew escaped from the inferno - Mordechai "Motol" the grave digger - who hid himself within the cemetery in a hole that he had dug until the army retreated after it finished its destruction and plowed the earth so as not to leave a memory of what once was a city. Mordechai the gravedigger labored diligently to build a small house. The beams were created in the nearby forests and after a short time the house became an inn for the many merchants making their way from Pinsk to Minsk. The house acted like a magnet principally to the Gentiles of the area who always were after the "bitter drop" and who were able to get plenty of it cheaply from Motel the gravedigger and cheer each other on in their language: "Poydium du Matoliyah" - in other words let's go to Motol. After a time, Jews and non-Jews began to concentrate around the house and slowly the city returned and reformed itself and again became an important city of the area. But the name "Motol" was on everyone's lips and stuck to the city until the Nazi beast turned it to a city without Jews.

It was a city of laborers, merchants, artisans, but also filled with a yearning for a spiritual and cultural life. Despite the life of hard work and poverty of most of its Jewish inhabitants, there was not a person who did not send his child to a "Heder" that supported a high level of elementary learning for our people. The "Chumash" 2 and the Bible were taught in the "Heder" as well as serious understanding of a page of Talmud. But its brightest areas of learning were expressed in the love of the Land Of Israel that was implanted in the hearts of the young and the great effort invested in the acquiring of the Hebrew language and its grammar by all the children of the "Heder" and also the knowledge of our people's history throughout all its periods. The leaders and notables of the city during the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot - between terms - and would seriously discuss the results of the preceding term and carefully plan the upcoming term, and the teachers also would come under their supervision, and more than once the teachers would be replaced with better ones.

This effort produced a youth that was educated in both Jewish and national cultures. The best of its representatives left for the sake of their education to Pinsk, Vilnah, Warsaw and the most daring of then went overseas - some to a Yeshivah and some to a university and some of them were world renowned.

Motol was not really a city or a village but a town and within were about 120 Jewish households. Two "main" streets crisscrossed it and the other three or four streets huddled together at its sides were more like alleys or courtyards then streets. The one main street whose length was about two kilometers long wound its way from Jonava by villages and thick forests to the train station. The other side descended to the city's center and split near the "Pilnah" a long and deep brook never wider than one hundred feet and across it a bridge joining the two sides of the city. Gentiles lived on both ends of the second street that encircled the old cemetery and continued until the shore of the "Yaselda" river that bordered the city from its north east side. And so the city was naturally divided into two also by its character. The sides had special names. The west side was called "Marak", i.e. the market. The east side was called: "Nishtut", i.e. the new city.

The residents of "Marak" were the veterans that according to historical records originally settled it during the 17th century. While the residents of "Nishtut" were the more recent residents who settled in the city over the years. The distinguishing mark that could differentiate between these two groups was imprinted on the eyelashes of the veterans that helped form their thin mocking looks towards the newer residents. The veterans who had managed to become urbanized and who had grabbed all the best professions looked "down their noses" at the laborers, the ordinary people of "Nishtut". But in fact, this superiority was never openly expressed. Instead, this intellectual pride created an admiration of writers and interacting with the alert and vibrant youth created the exalted type of nationalistic, intelligent and proud Jew.

A small town, and in some ways primitive, but the community life was highly organized. The Jew carried this burden with courage and endurance.

A small and weak community - with two synagogues, a Rabbi and sometimes for not short periods - two rabbis - one for the people of "Marak" and the other for those of "Nishtut", two butchers, "heders", sick funds, hostels, a respectable library that was acquired with much effort by some very stubborn people, bath house, Mikve, Hevra Kaddisha, two study groups, a few "Ain Yakov" 3 groups, Psalm reciting society, and also some regular Minyans for various groups of Hasidim and all this thanks to the generosity and volunteerism of the town's Jews. Warmth, loyalty and love of Israel and love of fellow man ruled the town. Beyond the usual quarrels, petty squabbles and competitiveness, there was warmth and mutual support that all of "Israel is responsible for one another." More than once, a merchant willingly took money out of his own pocket to save his competitor from legal problems and the police.

At the center of the "Marak" was situated the Great Synagogue, that besides serving as a place for prayer and conversation, was also the focal point for all the important events in the town. The Great Synagogue was the meeting hall for selecting a Rabbi and division of the wheat for Matzot. Also the Rabbi "Mora d'Atra" would give his traditional sermon on the Great Sabbath and during the High Holidays in the Great Synagogue. Even if the vast majority of the attendees to these types of events were from "Nishtut" who were enthusiastic over the lively subjects - unlike the people of "Marak" who were coldly indifferent - nobody doubted the seniority acquired by the "Marak" during the years past. This apathy quickly forced a wedge between the residents of "Marak" and their synagogue. The youth that was raised in the cool atmosphere slowly grew apart from religion and left it to the elderly. The heart would feel a twinge from the emptiness of the synagogue on the Sabbath and holidays.

Unlike the Great Synagogue of "Marak", the smaller synagogue in "Nishtut" was crowded on weekdays and festivals from the early hours of the morning until late by the many worshippers that passed through it, Minyan after Minyan, followed by Minyan after Minyan. At first, laborers, carpenters, masons, butchers, village peddlers and cart drivers, to be followed by shopkeepers and people from the market. Later came the merchants of manufactured goods and educators. And finally came the last of the Minyans - the Rabbi's Minyan in which participated besides the Rabbi, the elderly and leaders of the community, students, scholars, young men and Jews who simply were not hard pressed to earn a living.

On the Sabbath and holidays, the synagogue's courtyard strained to contain the young and the old. The young would crowd in the corners of the "Polosh", wise with youth's enthusiasm about affairs of the day full, full of advice on enlarging the library, making plans for the annual Hanukkah and Purim shows, trying to increase manpower at the shelter and so forth. With the increase of Jewish political parties, the debates turned into propaganda and everyone tried to attract support to his own party, and the peace and tranquillity between friend was replaced by grudges and feeling of political "one upmanship", and with this the club began to replace the synagogue until slowly the youth drifted from the sanctuary and became indifferent to religion and the enthusiasm of the "Polosh" died away.

A special charm enveloped the town when the heavy heat of the Summer days died down during the evenings. The flocks returned from pasture. They met, tired from the day's labor and would sprawl themselves all of the "Prizbs", hanging out near the houses and on the shaky benches or they would wander in the early evening's breeze with the fringes of their Talit Katan waving in the breeze, and the air filled with odor of hay and garbage, the joy of work and the night with the sounds of life. The mooing of the fat cows with their full udders mixed with the bleating of the calves and with the neighing of the horses and the colts, barking of the dogs, chirping birds getting ready to sleep blending in with the musical sounds pouring from the shepherds' flutes and shrieks of the Gentiles accompanied by the hysterical laughter of their women returning from work to their villages. The housewives would quickly set the table and prepare dinner and their monotone voices calling their children would shatter somewhere in the distance.

In contrast to this was the gray tedium of life in the town during the Winterís short days and long nights while a snow storm raged outside or rain angrily stuck the earth. During these nights the loneliness and cold grew. How few are the occasions in the town that elevated its isolation and allowed it some light and joy. A wedding, a Brit, an engagement would bring a little happiness to dissipate the gloom. It was natural that the youth would seek relief at a friendís house, meeting form time to time, singing songs full of longing, trading stories and jokes, eating fruit, snacking and that is how they passed the time.

The Rabbiís house deserves a chapter unto itself. Motol was lucky to have produced some outstanding Torah scholars who were snatched up the by larger cites. The Rabbi was a symbol that always personified grace and beauty. He would always be well groomed and exacting in his dress and his festive appearance would dissipate the gloom. Everyone felt affection for, honored and admired him. The Rabbiís home was the fortress to which everyone turned towards. All hurried to its entrance: some for advice and wisdom, some for a heart to heart talk and some to unburden themselves. The Rabbi would receive everyone pleasantly, with patience; he would guide and encourage, train and develop, tactfully extend a helping hand to those who need it. He himself lived modestly and was the victim of a poor and restricted life. His blessing went with the youth on their way to Zion. He put out his heart and soul to strangers, without being granted the right to reach the land of his dreams, to which he gazed at with love and awe all his life.

The ax of the Holocaust against the Jews of Europe carried out by the German people and their helpers, fell on our small city. Our town stood as an isolated island in a stormy sea surrounded by Gentiles, that for hundreds of years emanated light and learning, material and medical help to its Christian neighbors. But this did not help it or its Jews. Friendly relations with the Gentiles that prevailed for centuries were forgotten, in front of the Christians of the city and with their full cooperation, Jews were cruelly murdered in cold blood. To the two cemeteries of the town, were added another two major burial places - a mass grave for the men and a mass grave for the woman and children. Besides these, there remains almost no courtyard in the town that does not contain an isolated grave of a Jew who did not wish to leave his home or was caught hiding and was murdered and buried in place. And the Jewish Motol, the small isolated city in the swamp of "Polisiyah" is no more.

How was it almost wiped off the face of the Earth? How was the fate of the warm hearted Jews who were overflowing with love of Israel, faith and tradition stretching back for generations decided by profane evil doers? How were they uprooted from their land and their homes? What did the few remaining homes look like, half destroyed and sheltering the despised blood thirsty Gentiles. Reflection on these questions came from the mouth of a witness that escaped, his eyes glinting with death.

With simple but penetrating words, the refugee describes to us the frightful path of destruction. The harrowing picture of the cruel march of our brothers and sisters to the death pit passes before his eyes. Only the heaven above and the Earth below heard their cries and felt their tears and listened to their sights and confessions.

While reading these words, we join with our dear martyrs. May their memory be a blessing. Do not let the Earth hide their blood, do not let their cries be contained until a God fearing avenger obtains retribution from the foes for the spilt blood of His servants.

Shimon Yojok

I am the poor man who saw the staff of his rage... I am the miserable creature who was chosen by the hand of providence, for some reason, to see with my own eyes the destruction of our city, our brothers, our sisters, our children and old people by the German nation, its officers and its armies.

I am the only one saved from the wrath of God and who suffered the sorrow, distress and hardship. And I vowed that if God would allow me to survive, I would write a book and tell the world what the German people did to us - they being a people considered advanced and cultured - so that our people would take revenge and make judgment when the day of retribution and peace arrives; and so these terrible events would serve as a warning to the Jewish people scattered over the Earth, that there is no security in any of the lands of their exile except in their own country from which they can fight back against all who raise against them.

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