Translated by Israel Efros
Edited by Jerrold Landau
…ARISE and go now to the city of slaughter;
Into its courtyard wind thy way;
There with thine own hand touch, and with the eyes of thine head,
Behold on tree, on stone, on fence, on mural clay,
The spattered blood and dried brains of the dead.
Proceed thence to the ruins, the split walls reach,
Where wider grows the hollow, and greater grows the breach;
Pass over the shattered hearth, attain the broken wall
Whose burnt and barren brick, whose charred stones reveal
The open mouths of such wounds, that no mending
Shall ever mend, nor healing ever heal.
There will thy feet in feathers sink, and stumble
On wreckage doubly wrecked, scroll heaped on manuscript,
Fragments again fragmented
Pause not upon this havoc; go thy way.
Editor's (Jerrold Landau) Notes: This English version of the poem, presented above, is sourced from the Complete Poetic Works of Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Israel Efros, ed. (New York, 1948): 12943 (Vol. I). It was translated with literary license, and does not exactly match the Hebrew text in the Yizkor book. The asterisk denotes the beginning of a significant diversion from original Hebrew.
by Liba Elgin
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay and Frieda Levin Dym
|My Devorala's Portrait
On the wall, to the left of my bed
I remember you well,
by Mariasha Yentes
Translated by Janie Respitz
In memory of all my friends, together with me in the summer 1942, left the Smorgon ghetto for the camps. We had no idea where we were being taken, and it did not dawn on any one of us that this [departure] was the end. We would never see Smorgon again.
* * *
From the first transport, only twenty, perhaps less, survived.
Let us all, the survivors, not forget the innocent who believed that justice would rule the world, and they would see the Land of Israel but were killed. Let's tell them: You, dear friends, will always be remembered.
When I pass railroads (we all worked near a stretch by the mountain Shzvir) and see people working with pickaxes and spades, or whenever I walk along railway tracks, I see all of you. I see Esther, Fanke, Roske, Basia, Isaac, Yoshke, Avreymke and others. They are standing and working there. I just have to approach, look and call out, and they will respond and complain to me:
Why do you always leave for the village? We always had trouble with you. Yoshke always had to sing, and Avreymke had to distract the supervisor so they did not notice someone was missing.
I want to respond and show them that I brought a piece of bread and a piece of torn newspaper with news that was two months old.
I go to them. Other people are working. Where are the [Jewish] patches? Where is the fear in their eyes? Where are they? Where? Where?
Then I remember this [conversation] was twenty years ago, and I say to myself, You are the one that survived. You have the duty to tell what happened. No one will believe that the weak Mariasha survived it all and endured. And you, [the] heroes of Smorgon youth, are gone. Woe is me.
* * *
In the summer of 1942, the majority of Smorgon youth were sent to the camps. In the first transport there were about 100 young people. Only a small amount survived.
They take us from the ghetto to the train station. Everyone needs to bring a knapsack with a few things to wear [along] with a wooden box or a small suitcase for small products. Parents give their children the best and nicest things they possessed. They (the parents) remain at home, in Smorgon, among their own. We are travelling to a far away foreign place, and no one knew where or even thought this would be our end, that they were leading us to our death. Even if this thought crept into someone's mind, he would not talk about it for fear that others would laugh at him. We are sure they were taking us away to work, because what value was it to them to kill us? They [already] destroyed entire towns. They forced all the Jews into a barn and lit the barn on fire. Anyone who ran out of the barn was shot.
The Germans had time to fuss with us, and besides, who sends people to death in passenger trains?! And for what reason would they kill us? We are healthy and able to work. The Germans needed workers; therefore, the truth is, they are sending us to work.
With us on the train are some refugees from Vilna. They say that perhaps they were taking us to Ponar. But we had to be patient and wait until we got closer to Vilna [to be certain].
Meanwhile, we pull ourselves together and find places on the train. We take out food from our wooden boxes. We did not think about what lay ahead or about those who remained at home and if we would ever see them again.
Tears run down from our eyes. It is dark in the train, and we are still in the Smorgon station. The cars bump into each other as they are being connected to the locomotive. Yoshke Katz shouted, Kids, no tears! Especially you girls! Whoever cries will be thrown out!
We hear a song, I'm going away, who knows where. Yoshke Katz sings and Manke Khadash sings along.
We begin traveling. Yoshke and Manke are singing Sing Your Troubles. We want to forget the circumstances of our travels. Where [are we going] to?
Yokhel's Rozke is sitting beside me, Mariasha, lets' close our eyes and pretend we are going on a field trip to Vilna. I'll tell you where we will go, what we will see. (Yokhel had lived with her parents for years in Vilna). She begins to name places and remember names of friends.
Yoshke and Manke continue to sing. Everyone joins in. Monke Khadash starts a new song. Who Sings on the Other Shore.
Suddenly we stop; the iron door creaks. I open my eyes. There is pushing, jostling, noise, and shouting.
The people for [the town of] Sal are coming. They will ride with us. They took all the youth from Sal.
Where are we going? What will happen to us?
Don't worry. All will be good. Hearts are throbbing. What's this about Ponar? We were afraid to ask one another. We travel on and try to sleep.
At dawn, we arrived in Vilna. From far away on the tracks we saw Jews. We recognize them by their badges. Up close, we see pale faces and fear in their eyes.
Where are they taking us? Where are we? We look at one another. Perhaps we will see a relative? Maybe an acquaintance?
We pull further [along the tracks]. The train is swinging; we're going. The two refugees from Vilna are standing by the windows and looking out, their faces white as chalk. We are almost at Ponar. They are biting their tongues so they do not speak. We tell Yokhele's Rozke to go to the window and take a look and see if we are at Ponar. They [the two refugees] do not let her approach. It does not look good as they are whispering. Suddenly both shout out!
We pass it. We are going to live.
Folks began to joke around. Moshe Danishevsky (son of Boruch Velvel) began to sing: Miracles, a Chanukah songthe most appropriate song under the circumstances.
Now we were sure they are taking us to work.
We pass [the town of] Lanerverave, and the train seems to be going faster.
The train stops. Through a small window we saw Radzhisky written [on a sign]. We never heard of such a city or town. The door opens, and the Germans take a few men off. They force the people from Sal and a few from Smorgon to climb down.
Finally we arrived in Oran. Here, they forced everyone down. We were about 60-70 people.
Dusk falls; it is raining. We are in a small town and on the road. From a distance we see Germans. They surround and line us up with our knapsacks on our backs and our boxes in hand. How difficult! You have to go but to what and where? We understood [that we will be put to] work. Will we have the strength to carry on? A question, a thought: What happened with the others? A qualm [comes across us], and we pulled ourselves to continue. Oy! I can't walk any further! I am sure I'll soon fall over.
We are walking through a forest, and I remain standing. Fanke Kreyn is beside me. We have no energy to continue, especially carrying our packs. Isaac Gas comes to us and takes our packs and carries them for us. Yoshke Katz tells a joke, but he is not singing. Here one does not sing. No singing. We enter a fenced-in yard with barracks. We put down our packs and marchfor inspection and enumeration. They line us up and told us to remain standing; the camp commander will soon talk to us. We were trembling, hungry and wet from the rain. We stand in the yard and wait. Our hearts pound, What will he say to us?
Then the commander arrives wearing a green uniform. He has a sadistic expression on his face. He begins his speech. We obviously did not understand everything (although what Jew does not understand [some] German!). The main points we caught. We were nothing. We had to work hard; if not, they would do to us what they did to the Jews from Oran. He tells us all to look to the right. You see that hill? That's where they are, and that's where you will be. He calls Yoshke Katz out of line. He was the tallest of all the boys.
You will be in charge. Remember! Work! Work! And now return to the barracks!They separated the men and the women.
A great fear takes over. Who knows what they will do with us.
We become familiar in the darkness with our four cornered room. In the middle are three levels of wooden plank beds. They are strewn with straw. From all four sides there is a narrow passage. On one side there were two benches and a red plank on a scaffold which is apparently our table.
In the darkness we climb into the bunks. Me, Manke Khadash, Kreyne's Fanke, Yokhele's Rozke, Merke Kapalovitch, Esther Kapalovitch, and Baske Levin took the top bunk. We assume there would be more air [up top].
We lay down but we cannot fall asleep. One thought worried us: what will happen tomorrow?
* * *
All of us, boys and girls, are on the railway tracks. The older women work in the kitchen. The Germans do not treat us too badly but the food is inedible. Most of us are able to trade things for food. From work, we sneak into the village and barter a dress or a blouse for butter, eggs and cheese.
We receive mail from home. Bad news: it is bad in the ghetto. Most of the youth are sent to Shezhmir. What kind of place is that? We did not know. At work we meet people from Smorgon and a few women from Alkeniky and from Radzhisky. We work long hours, from darkness to darkness. We have a half hour break for lunch.
During the short break, Yoshke Katz sings. Even the Germans enjoy his singing and as a result are kinder and in better moods. We use that opportunity to sneak away to the village and pay a peasant woman to bake us bread.
Now the question [to ask]. How do we bring hot bread back to the camp? Luckily the bread is ready after work. Everyone returns to the camp. Avrymke Danishevsky remains with us. We can trust him; he is brave.
It is my job, together with Avreymke, Rozke and Isaac Gas to deliver the bread. How we manage, with luck, to bring it to the camp, I have no idea. A few friends wait for us impatiently at the gates of the camp and when they see us coming, one of them strikes up a conversation with the guard. We then quickly toss the two bags of bread over the fence. The bread, thank God, is now in the camp. But how can we now enter the camp unnoticed? We have an idea: Avreymke Danishevsky would be the fall guy and run toward the gate holding a package. The guard catches him, hits him and takes away a half loaf of bread. When the guard is preoccupied with him, we sneak back in.
Once again we are all together. We are working hard but not starving. We help one another, and we all go to work. Only the older women stay in the camp during the day.
Suddenly, girls from Vilna arrive. Among the girls are [soon to be] wonderful friends and a few profiteers. One that we called Rozke Cossack is the so-called camp leader. She wants to profit at our expense. She begins to bully everyone in the kitchen, taking the substance from the soup and leaving us only the liquid. We then learn from the Vilna girls about the cruelties of the Vilna ghetto. They shared with us the songs from the Vilna ghetto.
Yoshke Katz quickly learned the melodies, and sang I Want to See My Home Once More. He also sang Dr. L Buznansky's song Bombs. We sang along.
Bombs, bombs, my dears,When we would sing Bombs, Bombs, it would make us feel a little better. God!, let us live to see the bombs fall and put an end to all of this [suffering]. Who has the strength to endure?
We are waiting, any minute now you will come and throw fire,
And if on us that's also good.
A beautiful life led by haste
Now you have become a slave.
Children, women and the aged
They continually slaughtered us.
Bombs, bombs, my dears,
It haunts my thoughts, my soul.
Will we people still remain
The heart yearns for revenge
For our troubles and pain.
Bombs, bombs, my dears.
In the camp, we are able to approximately calculate when Rosh Hashana would begin. Ten days later was Yom Kippur. While working, Moshe Danishevsky and Yoshke Katz would sing like cantors, and they sang Kol Nidre. Among us still are some very young children like Hirshke Levin (the son of Berl, the barber) and Yankele Khadash. God neither hears our cries and nor sees how our tears pour over the ground we worked. We fast all day. At night we lie on our cold bunks and think about home, the holidays, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in Smorgon. We cry and cry.
Later, our group is divided. Some, including me, are sent to Ignolina, and the rest are dispersed to other camps.
When I arrive at Ignolina ( near Svintzian) there is already snow and frost. We gather in the women's shul. There are 30-40 of us from Smorgon: 8 girls, 2 couples, 2 families, and the rest are young men.
It is cold outside and hard to dig into the frozen ground. The guards are evil. We are no longer singing. When we return home, everyone tries to warm up a bit by bringing a few small pieces of wood to heat. Then we would tell anecdotes as it is impossible to fall asleep in such cold. When we finally fall asleep late at night from exhaustion, it is soon time to wake up.
When I open my eyes, I would see Leybl Akerman, a sixteen year old boy, standing and praying. He did this ritual every morning.
This is how the days and months drag on, without any major changes in our miserable lives.
We learn the horrible news about the Smorgon ghetto from Isaac Gas. He went with a German to Smorgon to bring us warm clothing. He did not find one Jew in Smorgon. A few are in Ashmene, many are in the camps near Ashmene and a few are in Zelyonki.
They take us to Svintzyonke. A typhus epidemic breaks out. Some of the sick are taken to hospital in the Vilna ghetto. Avreymke Danishevsky devotes himself to the sick. Such a strong man will not get sick, but he did, and died in Svitzyonke.
The majority of our sick are in the Vilna ghetto hospital. With great self- sacrifice and fatherly concern, we are cared for by Dr. Shumelisky. In the hospital there are patients from Smorgon and also from Zhezhmir. The plague is rampant there as well.
How good it was to lie in the hospital, on white sheets on a soft bed with a pillow under my head. On one side of me lies Manke Khadash, on the other side Basia Levin and across from her, Ete Podberesky. We are running high fevers and hallucinating, but we still recognize each other. Our heads are shaved, but who cares. We are lying in kingly beds. We have splitting headaches, and we can barely speak. If we are to die, better here and not like Avreymke who never even warmed up before he died. Basia Levin jokes as usual and Manke Khadash takes charge. We are slowly recuperating. Manke is already singing. We began to realize we are in the Vilna ghetto hospital. We knew we have to get out of there as soon as possible in order to escape danger.
Our feet were shaking, our heads spinning, everything is topsy turvy. But we have to leave. Where do we go? To whom do we belong?
I go to the barber from Minsk Street who is now in Vilna ghetto. I go with my last bit of energy. I look around. What's going on? People are dressed as people. There is a theatre and a Jewish police force.
The Smorgon Jews from the first transport live in the Vilna ghetto at 8 Ashmene Street and work on the railroad. Among them there are friends who are well settled; for example, one is an assistant to the head chimney sweep. This is the best profession in the ghetto. Who can compare to a chimney sweeper! Who will be like him, who will be equivalent to him! He struts around like a peacock. He distributes products through the chimneys. He's a Jew, a notable man. He acquired his affluence thanks to the luck that goes with him as he climbs over the roofs and goes through the streets and barriers undisturbed.
Friends from Smorgon come to me and help me to return to the Ashmene ghetto to my mother and sister. The story goes like this: the Ashmene ghetto needed someone who can work in an isolation room. I go to the Vilna Jewish Council. I have pain in my feet and can barely take a step. People help me by holding me up from under my arms. We meet a girl from Vilna who was previously in Aratz. She was walking with her boyfriend, a policeman. They invited us to come for cholent (a Sabbath stew) on Saturday.
I remembered my head was shaven. Everyone can see that I had Typhus. Woe is me! People have pity on me. Jews are merciful people.
We go and eat cholent: real Kishke (entrails) and potatoes. The potatoes get stuck in my throat. If only the tears from my heart could soften them.
Some of the people of Smorgon in Vilna talk of escaping to the forest, but for this we would need weapons. The partisans would not let us join without weapons and we have no money to purchase weapons. Besides this obstacle, I am still sick. Perhaps it would be easier to go to the forest from the Ashmene ghetto.
We talk about our sad situation. The girls from Smorgon have tears in their eyes. Yoshke Katz notice the sadness and says a song is better than tears. Better to tell jokes and laugh than to pity yourself. We remember the cholent and the girl with her policeman.
Yoshke Katz sings the song The Policeman written by L. Rosenthal.
Who says that falling in love can only happen in palaces and I in the ghetto it is a disgrace?
I was smitten over my head, actually, with a simple policeman. This was Avreyml. I loved every bone in his body. He was a guard at the gate.
He took all the girl's packages. From me, he took nothing.
He calls me beautiful (in Russian), my love, - I will guard you with my life. With me you will lack nothing, if you agree to be mine.
He comes to my room every evening. All weak he is faint. I serve him buckwheat cookies that I made myself.
We go walking from Rudnitzker to Kamnitzker and back.
My friends point at us: Oy, Basia has found such happiness.
If God wills it, there will be a wedding.
The neighbours of my room will burst with jealousy.
* * *
I must go to Ashmene ghetto. I begin to work in the hospital. It's hard to be confined in the ghetto. If only I could work in the space, to get out of the enclosure once a day. Such luxury is not for me. The Judenrat (Jewish Council) brought me here and I must work for them.
In Ashmene ghetto, there is a pharmacy and a pharmacist. He is not ashamed to ask us to wash the floors in his house .This task is one of the worst insults for a young girl, especially because he has a daughter my age at home. How many tears did I shed! More than in the camp. Who can handle this humiliation!
We work in the hospital with great devotion. There are many from the camps brought here from Baranovitch with horrible abscesses on their skin and various diseases caused by hunger, cold and uncleanliness. For them, the hospital is home. They feel so lonely and lost. Later I work in the isolation room with Typhus patients.
A part of our first transport arrives in the Ashmene ghetto including Baske Levin and her brother Yoshke. Fanke Kraines and Issac Gas also arrive in the last days before the liquidation of Ashmene ghetto. We know we will have to leave Ashmene. Those who have relatives in the camps can go to them. Some will go to Vilna ghetto. Some are talking about going into the forest.
What do we do with our parents? How can we leave them? If we save ourselves, what will happen to them? If we have to die, we all die together.
It is 1943 and the Ashmene ghetto is liquidated. We are given the opportunity to go to Zhezhmir. I go with my mother and sister on a wagon to [the town of] Sal. In the Sal ghetto, we find people from Smorgon, among them, the teacher Katz. They come to the station to meet us. Katz is aged! He's very happy to see us. He asks us what has happened to us and where we suffered. I look at him. Something is missing, but what? Oh, yes! His pipe. In school it was always in his hand. If only we could help him find a bit of tobacco.
We sleep at our friends in Sal. Who can sleep. Our hearts pound and say that we will not see them again. In the morning, my school friends Baske Grays and Merke Engar come to say goodbye to me. We go to our teacher Katz. He's not working today and accompanies us to the train station. We say goodbye to him. It's so hard to separate from our teacher; he showed us our first numbers, taught us math and history. How did he sin, how did we sin, so we should suffer like this!
We travel in a freight car and do not stop until Vilna. We remain in Vilna for a few hours. Some people from Smorgon snuck in but the Germans did not see them. We continue en route to Kovno. Once there, we all get off with our packs at the Kashudar station and are loaded onto trucks and taken to the Zhezhmir camp. I'm with Eta Fadberezky, Lybe Berkman, the one that prays, Merke and Khaimke Mirsky, and Yoshke Katz. These are [my] friends from the first transport and we stay together.
We are already in Zhezhmir. It is a small town on the Vilna Kovno highway. The local Jews were killed by the Germans and Lithuanians, and buried half alive. Now they bring Jews from Smorgon, Olshan, Kreve, Svir and Mikhalishko. The women are in the Shul the men in the women's section. Wooden planks used as bunks were brought into the Shul. We are put in a room with 10 other families. We take up two planks. With us are Alte Yablanovich with her sister and little brother, the Karpels, and many others. People are pushing, it's crowded. With difficulty we climb onto our bunk.
I'm already used to these troubles but always among familiar people I know from home. Here, there are a thousand people, many unfamiliar.
I meet a childhood friend Khaike Sadavitch. I am happy to see her as it has been a long time. She informs me on how to get settled in this place. Seeing Khaike me gives me hope, and she tells me that Georg will come in the morning and take me to work. He is a mean German and looks only for full grown and healthy girls.
Until [the following] morning I have a whole day and a whole night [to acclimate]. Khaike takes me to their building and shows me her bunk. The camp commander is in the second building and is a Jew from Fadbrozh but now a refugee in the Smorgon ghetto. A little further on is the infirmary which has two doctors and a nurse who were sent here from Vilna. There is a big bakery where they bake bread for the entire camp. There is also a kitchen. Almost all the inmates eat from the kettles although the soup is made from horse meat. There is a bath and our boys from Smorgon heat it every week. We can get some hot water from them. There is business in the camp as things are traded, bought and sold. There is Tzipe Bayle Reyze. You hand overt things and she brings you goods. She earns from this [business]. Most of the business is in the hands of people from Alshan. It is said they bring in meat and other good things. But you need to have money; whatever they had was stolen from them.
A few girls work in the German's barracks. They steal medication and bring it into the camp. A few girls also work in the office. We get some news from them about what the Germans are planning next. In the German's barracks there is a carpentry shop, and the weaker older women work there. Golde Tabarisky is among them. I try to get my mother work there as the carpentry work is not too difficult. It is warm in the workshop; you can even cook something there. My mother and Golde would cook a yellow bean stew. It was delicious. I did not know there was such an amazing dish in the world of gastronomy. I was that hungry.
Whatever we anticipated and predicted, happened. Georg took me to work on the tracks. Railroad work was not new to me. I would sometimes run to the village and trade something with the farmers. My sister is still a child and she too is working on the railroad, but her work is easier. There are a lot of small children in the camp.
Every morning there is roll call. A few Jews from the Judenrat are guarding us; one is better, one is worse. One holds a stick in his hand (to hit us) but rarely uses it. The other one does not even have a stick. The German camp commander likes to receive bribes. With someone like him, a taker, we can get by. We call him the guy with the hoarse voice. He knows there are typhus patients in the camp. However, when a German commission come to investigate, he hides the sick. He does this [subterfuge] for his own benefit. He understands very well, if he is not commanding a [productive] Jewish camp he would be marching on the front!
We meet Jews from the other camp. We share news: sad news from Vilna and greetings from the Kovno ghetto. About 20 men from Zhezhmir work for a German company in Kovno. The news from Vilna is that when they liquidated the Smorgon ghetto, some Jews asked to be sent to Kovno. Together with the Jews from Sal, they went through Vilna. The kids working on the railroad jumped into the train cars their parents were in. Instead of going to Kovno on April 26, 1943, they were all taken to Ponar. From the group from Smorgon, one man from the outskirts was saved. I do not know his name. Issar Mirsky from Krever Street jumped out of his [certain] grave and escaped. Yabitch and his daughter were shot when they tried to run away.
In Zhezhmir there are many children without parents. Their parents are in Sal and Svir. A sadness hangs over the camp: who knows what will happen to us tomorrow.
There are rumours spreading that we will be sent to Estonia and Latvia. Some of our inmates leave from the Vilna ghetto to join the partisans in the forest. Some fell on the way. We are also talking about escaping to the forest. But how could I leave my mother and little sister?
The mood in the camp is uneasy. Everyone is apathetic and indifferent to everything. Every time a vein pulses, we want to live and escape from this place.
The Kovno police arrive with trucks and want to take us to Kovno. We have no choice as the work in Zhezhmir is ending. If we must leave, it may as well be to Kovno. My mother and sister are with me. We enter the ghetto. They call us Polish or Russian Jews.
In Kovno, there are Jews who had been rounded up in Czechoslovakia, Austria, and France but they were held in the 9th or 7th fort.
The Jews in Kovno ghetto accept us warmly. They find us places to live in the church and movie theatre. They set up 20 bunks, distribute products, and ask us about friends. With luck, they bring some packages of food for the children. They invite us over. Their small rooms are poor but warm. Families live together.
A few days pass and we observe everything. We understand that if something were to happen, us Polish and Russians will be the first scape goats.
People are needed in Kushedar. Kushedar is three kilometres from Zhezhmir. We are familiar with the area, and we think, maybe, we will succeed in an escape. The majority of our youth sign up for the transport to Kushedar. I remain because my sister is sick; she is in the Kovno ghetto hospital. The rest are ordered to work. Khaya Melnik and I are ordered to work in the trench near the railroad. We sort military items brought from the front. At work we could profit by putting on a few sweaters, a pair of boots and yet careful not to be caught. We are surprised: German military coats, with bullet holes, soiled from battle.
We did not know how to begin. Our hands were trembling, but we had to work. We are very excited each time we find a piece of newspaper in a pocket. Even though the story was a few weeks old, it was still news for us. From work we are able to sneak into the village. I thought perhaps I can send some help to my mother and sister from here.
They transported me to Kushedar with some friends. It was a small camp, almost exclusively composed of the young. We work in peat. The guards are White Russians and Ukrainians. The master is Dutch and the camp commander is a German. We are permitted to go to Zhezhmir on Sunday afternoons with a guard. We do not work on rainy days, and we sneak out of the camp and go to the village. We trade things and we send food to friends and family in Kovno ghetto. The Jewish camp overseer is a Czech Jew. The doctor and nurse are from the Zhezhmir camp. The food from the kitchen is not bad. The barracks are small, but not over packed. There is a girl from Svintzin , Leyke Svirsky. She writes poems describing our life in the camp.
We whisper about joining the partisans.
One dark night they kill the Dutch master and the German camp commander. The Russian guards tell us to run away. We are afraid to obey them; perhaps this order is a provocation. None of the Jews leave the camp. All night we heard horrible shooting. We are struggling with the idea: on one hand, run away and be free; on the other hand, we are afraid the murderers, the Germans, would take out their anger on our parents who are in the ghetto.
A week later I take my mother from the camp. She wants us to remain together no matter what happens.
With a heavy heart I say goodbye to my childhood friends. Who knows if we will ever see each other again.
I return to the Kovno ghetto. I work in fields of potatoes, cabbage and beets. It is a good place as I do not need to steal; for good work, they give us enough food. The problem is we have to carry aheavy bag two kilometres back to the ghetto. We want to fill the bag as much as possible.
We live in the cinema. We are more comfortable than in Zhezhmir. My mother is working in a brush factory. I receive letters from my friend in Kushedar.
They do not let us stay. They sent us to a camp in Paliman, and we are the only ones from Smorgon there. Everyone in the cinema helped us pack. We say our goodbyes and cry. Golde Tabarisky and Sananike ran to the Judenrat asking they not separate us. It did not help. Our hearts told us we were seeing each other for the last time.
A short time later, they send everyone from Smorgon in Kovno to Latvia as part of Action 3,000.
In Paliman, they refer to us as the people from Zhezhmir. They order my mother to the kitchen so we would all have something to eat. We are the poorest in the camp. The other inmates help us in a very delicate manner so we would not feel insulted. We are extremely sensitive.
I work in a brickyard. It was difficult work. Others work on the train tracks. A year passes. I know that the boys from Kushedar went to the forest. We also speak about leaving. After the liquidation of the Smorgon ghetto, Kayle and Simke Shwartz, Leybl Kapelovitch, his wife Chana and their children arrive in Paliman.
My mother has a heart attack. The people from Kovno now in Paliman look after her. They even bring the best doctor from the Kovno ghetto. They do so much for her, and she actually gets better.
I am at work. The Gestapo surround the land, and they take all the children and adults who appear sick or weak. My mother hides in the kitchen; however, they find her. My little sister sees them take away our mother and cries and begs them to take her too. Nothing helps. She was not a small child any more. The German respond to her, Next week they will also take you from here.
Our mother left for the train station holding the hands of two unknown children.
My sister does not move, as if frozen.
They bring us back from work after the kids and sick adults were moved. The tears and cries of parents who returned from work to learn their children had been taken away is too difficult to describe.
In this operation, Actions Against Children, the following adults and children from Smorgon are killed: my mother Khaya Sore Entes, maiden name Axelrod, Leybl and Khane Kapelovitch's son a little girl, Tzipe, her sister and two children.
The very same day, Actions Against Children took place in Kovno, Kushedar and Zhezhmir.
We are still hopeful they take them all to a work camp, or perhaps to Germany because the front is nearing.
We work on the railroad that went from Minsk, Vilna, and Kovno through East Prussia deep into Germany, and we observe how the White Russians run away with their families by train to Germany. Minsk is already in the hands of the Soviets; Smorgon as well too. Oh, if we could for a moment, look into the faces of our enemies! They celebrate our tragedy. Our evil neighbours are joyous when they see how the Germans torture us! But the Russians are returning!
We did not have the privilege to see Smorgon freed from the Germans! They send us further. The entire camp is being sent back to Kovno and we go by foot. We are indifferent. We think: should we escape? They will capture us, and we have no strength to run and hide. Early in the morning we arrive in the Kovno ghetto. I find my friend from Kushedar. They brought her here as well. A few [friends] ran away. I go look for them. I come with my sister and they do not ask about my mother. They understand what happened to her.
They keep us in Kovno for two days. We hear shooting. Are they bombing? No, it is heavy artillery. Maybe a miracle will happen and they will not take us from here to Germany. We have no luck, and they take us by train to Germany. Some jump from the train when it slows. They do not feed us or give us any water. We arrive at the determined place and we all disembark, numbering one thousand. They separate the men and the women. The women are put in wagons and drive around German towns and villages. We arrive at the second place. The gates open and S.S let us in. We enter a yard and we look around to see plants, flowers, and beautiful buildings. What kind of place is this? From a distance we see tall chimneys. It is a metal casting factory. Is this where we will work?! They take us a little further, and we see barracks surrounded by electrical wires. They lead us into a yard and order us to give up our money and precious items. I did not possess anything; I already sold my mother's rings in the Kovno ghetto to buy her medication when she was sick. I remember how my hands trembled when conducting the sale. The Jew who bought the jewelry from me also sighed: woe to the daughter who has to sell her mother's wedding ring in order to save her life. So, I did not have any precious items left, except for photographs of my parents, uncles, aunts and their children. I now also had to part with the pictures. How difficult it is to part with the images of their lives, from their dear, loving faces. Everything is thrown into a big pile. They will certainly burn everything. Nearby there is a pile of shoes, tall as a wall. Shoes, dresses and coats are thrown separately. Everything is done with the famous German accuracy. Naked, we undergo a gynecologic exam. It is the first time in our lives we saw such a chair. We are trembling. Who knows what they will do to us. We then go through a bath. We wash ourselves, and they give us striped shirts and pants to wear. Whoever is short gets long pants, and those who are tall get short pants. They make us look like freaks. We can hardly recognize one another. Hungry and cold, they lead us into the barracks. Only now we learn we are in Katzet Shtuthof near Gdansk. Hundreds of women are in one room, with five levels of bunks. From dawn until 8:00[AM] we stand on our feet for roll call and drills. For breakfast, we receive a cup of coffee, a piece of bread with margarine from the tip of a knifean added blow (insult). For lunch soup made from nettle and other grasses. The female guards are White Russian and Ukrainian murderers. The head guard is a Pole named Max. An evil man. One morning he enters our room when we are still asleep, and a woman in her sleep shouts: Fire! Hundreds of women wake up from her screaming; everyone is confused and frightened. We all begin to shout, It's burning! Panic breaks out. Max is outraged. He begins beating and flogging left and right. Many women die.
An operation takes place. They gather the children and the elderly and burned them in the local crematorium.
Four weeks pass. They give us (but not all of us) wooden shoes, a wooden spoon, a bowl or a cup and send us to work digging trenches. There are 1200 women in the transport. They house us in tents. We march to work in rows of five, each with a shovel on her shoulder, accompanied by the S.S.
In this camp there were a few people from Smorgon: Me and my sister Rokhele Leah Mera, the sisters Khieni, Esther and Sore, Male Gurland, Tzirl with Bayle Katz, Toybe Magids, Feygele Alperovitch, Fruml and Khane Alperovitch, Khaye Melnik, Frume Khadash, Rokhele and Ete Fadberezky, Kaze Legat, Frume Golde and Imke Lasikov, Elke Pamatchnik, Rokhele and Dobe, the tailor's daughters, Sheynke and Yehudis Danishevsky, and a few girls from the outskirts. We are 10 in a tent. We stay together at work. Esther Luria was with us in the camp. In her book Jewish Women Enslaved, published in Rome, she describes our pain and our appearance in the rags that we wear.
Among the women from Smorgon, only a few receive shoes. My sister and I walk to work barefoot, trudging through the snow. A Christian takes pity on us and tosses us an old pair of slippers. I cannot express the joy this gift brought to us. Later what luck! we receive wooden clogs. But the snow would stick to the wooden soles and before we could pull them out of the snow, we receive blows from the guard.
* * *
We are free. The Russian soldiers tell us to go on the road that leads to Chekhochinek. We fill ourselves with potatoes and we also raid a warehouse of food. We attack the food like ants, taking bread, canned meat, cheese, and we go on our way. We arrive at Alexandrova station. The Christians do not let us in as we are neglected, dirty Jewish women. We wait at the station. I go into town and beg for warm water and some rags to clean up and get dressed.
We continue to make progress, and we arrive in Chekhochinek. The Russians tell us to go to a pension. I walk in and look into the mirror on the wall. I am frightened by my own appearance. It was more than a year since I combed my hair. I feel like my whole body is stinging.
I think: how can such a creature become human again?!
God, how can we live to rid ourselves from the neglect and lay down to sleep in a warm bed? We go to the baths every day. I can sit there for hours. As much as I wash, it is not enough. We receive cloth and sew dresses and blouses. They give us military coats.
I want to go home. I want to go to Smorgon to see who has survived.
We arrive in Grodno. We undergo an inspection and interrogation by the NKVD. They keep us locked up for a week. After that hell, they give us tickets to Vilna. From Vilna, I will go to Smorgon. My heart wants to see my birthplace, and the next morning I leave. I arrive at the train station in September 1945. It is the same station [I remember]. The same peasants surround the station. Where are the Jewish wagon drivers? It is dead silent. I walk down the tracks. This is where Axelrod's house was. No! This is not Smorgon! Everything is burnt. Burnt houses, burnt Jews. Where are you? Here I become stubborn. I cannot make peace with the reality of the destruction. I want to see the dormitory. What I see is the cemetery. All of Smorgon is one big cemetery, from Sinitsky until the church.
I was told in Vilna that there were a few Jews in Smorgon who are staying at the Kapel's or with Rivka Glezer. I arrive at Rivka's in the evening. Yes, I find a few Smorgon Jews. They told me Motke Tabarisky recently returned from Russia. I go to Kapel's. There too I found a few who returned from camps in Russia.
Remaining in Smorgon is impossible. The Christians in town look upon us with open hatred. We are too big in their eyes. They look at us with hatred as if they were asking: You survived? Too many of you have survived!
I return to Vilna. Yitzkhak Dnishevsly tells me about the Kibbutzim in Poland and the Zionist Movement. From Poland, they go to Israel, and Sore Alperovitch is in Israel and lives in Hadera.
In December 1946, I travel to Lodz. I choose a Kibbutz. It is a training place where they prepare you to go to Israel. [Finally] going home. I am with my sister in the Kibbutz until 1948. The same year, we arrive in Israel.
by Rivka Markus (Yamnik)
Translated by Janie Respitz
I was born in Smorgon. My father's name was Yakov Markus. My mother's maiden name was Tsilia Danishevsky.
We were three children: me, Taybele and Notele.
We had an iron business in the market. Our father was a community activist and a general Zionist.
It is 1941; the war breaks out. There is a panic in the city. We don't know what we should do. Everyone is running away. My father said we will do what the others do. We packed, taking as much as we could, and left Smorgon.
We left by foot, burdened with packs and bags. We left our house in a mess, we didn't even lock the door.
We walked all night without stopping. In the morning, when it was light, there was a squadron of German airplanes bombing. We laid down on the ground. The bombing lasted a few hours. When it ended, we continued on our way. The peasants spread rumours the Germans were throwing gas-bombs.
Hungry, exhausted and petrified, we entered a peasant's house and asked for food and a place to rest. The peasant and his wife took pity on us. They gave us fresh bread and milk and allowed us to spend the night. We stayed with them for a few days. However, their neighbours arrived and told them if they don't send us away immediately, they will massacre us and murder them.
We had to continue our journey. My mother's aunt lived in Lebedove. We decided to go to her. We stayed with her one week. The town was relatively quiet. It was bombed by the Germans and the local non-Jews did not persecute us. The problem was with food. It was hard to get produce. The peasants were afraid to come to town on market days. Mother and father decided we should return to Smorgon because there was no place to escape the Germans. A truly safe place was impossible to find.
Mother was afraid to have father travel with us. The Germans would capture him and take him to work. So, our father and the youngest Notele, remained in Lebedove. My mother, my sister and I headed back to Smorgon. If we find it quiet in Smorgon and the road is not dangerous, we will return to get them. We were sure our separation would be for a short time, so we barely said goodbye to our father.
We arrived in Smorgon. We were happy to find our house not burned. We found our grandfather, Berl Danishevsky, our mother's father, in our home. His house was burned so he came to ours.
Mother returned to Lebedove to get our father and brother. My sister and I remained with our grandfather. When she arrived in Lebedove, she could not find our father. The S.S came and took him away with all the other men. They took them all to Molodechne on foot. She actually found him in a camp but was unable to free him from the Nazi claws. With a broken heart, she returned to Smorgon to look after her small children.
When we saw our mother return with Notele and without our father and how sad she was, we broke down with bitter tears, as our hearts told us we will never see our father again and we were now orphans.
Rumours reached us that they sent them from Molodechne to Sal or to Lide. Mother wanted to go look for our father, but our grandfather did not permit her. An old man, he was afraid to be left alone with the children during such terrible times. We never heard from our father again. None of those captured in Lebedove and other places and sent to Molodechne survived. The Nazis shot them.
Every day brought new troubles. Within a short time they created two Ghettos, one on the outskirts and one in Smorgon in the Shul court. We took a few things and went to the ghetto. We joined a family by the name of Sarakhan. Living with us in the same house were my uncle Meyer Golberg and his family. This means his wife Mania, their daughter Bayla Estherke, and my father's sister, Sorele; The Pamachnik family (father, mother and four children); The Mirsky family (mother, father and two children); my grandfather Danishevsky; The Perl family. Also, Sarakhan's sister. One can imagine how crowded it was. So many people living in one house. We did not complain. At least we were among friendly Jews.
We had some ideas how to obtain food. My mother would sneak out of the ghetto and trade possessions for food with familiar peasants. We even had a young refugee eat with us one day a week, just like the Yeshiva students used to do.
Every morning we gathered for roll call. Then the overseers would send us to work where we tore up grass or cleaned the pavement. Our overseer was a Polack named Kashekovsky. He was a young gentile who had gone with us to the same high school. He would beat us brutally, insult us, order us to sing and demand how to carry our brooms.
There was a Judenrat (Jewish Council) in the ghetto. It was comprised of Rabbi Markus and Rabbi Slodzinsi, Yavitz, Noyekh Goldberg, Mirsky, Perl, Abrasha Tsirulnik, Sarakhan and a few others.
Every day there were new edicts. Now the commissar demanded gold, then, Persian lamb coats, leather coats, ordinary clothes and boots. Because we lived with people from the Judenrat, we were informed. Every demand from the Nazis was accompanied by a threat: if it will not be obeyed by the determined time, we will all be shot. We spent many sleepless nights.
My mother packed the clothes that had to be delivered.
As there were a few wealthy Jews, the Judenrat was able to fulfill the demands of the commissar.
Every day we would receive terrifying news: in Lebedove they burned the Jews alive and at Ponar, they shot hundreds of Jews. The same things were happening in other cities and towns.
We lived in great fear. Who knew what tomorrow would bring?
Fortuitously I was sent to work with my mother. We had to keep the school clean and run it as a soldier's residence. The soldiers would come to sleep and then leave for the front. We would also clean the field kitchens. For this work, we received provisions. As long as we had our own food, like bread and potatoes, we were able to avoid non-Kosher food. We distributed our provisions among the needy, hungry families in the ghetto. Our work had another advantage: we received from the Germans news about what was happening at the front and throughout Germany.
Besides cleaning we had to heat the ovens, do laundry and mend [clothes]. I was only 14 years old. Working with me were ten girls around my age. I remember a few of the names: Bayle Goldberg (killed in Estonia), Esther Pamatchnik, Musia Melnik, Berta Perl (killed near Danzig) and Fania Rubinchik.
Our fate was in the hands of the commandant. When he was less of a wild animal than your average Nazi, our lives were a drop easier. We were permitted to go the village and trade goods with the peasants. In exchange for food we would give clothes, jewelry or money. But when the commandant behaved like a mean dog, things became terrible. We could not bring any food into the ghetto, and we suffered grave hunger.
Early one dark morning they ordered everyone, small and big, old and young, to line up in the yard. There was a great panic and we all thought our last hour was approaching. They counted us to be sure no one was missing. The Judenrat prepared a list for the commander of all the young people, one from each family, to send to a work camp.
I was on that list. Because I was working for the local command, the administration held me back and sent my younger sister Taybele. It broke my heart to say goodbye to her. My mother and I were very frightened. She should not, God forbid, perish as my father did.
I continued to work for the local commander. Our troubled life went on as before. They began to talk about the liquidation of the Smorgon ghetto happening soon. We had a good idea how this would transpire. We knew a large number of ghetto-occupied Jews will be killed. [Yet] We were desperate and helpless. What could we do except live in fear of death. I could not rid myself of the thought of them taking me, and without any reason, kill me. Under the ash of dark despair, there was a spark of hope and a will to live. Under these circumstances, the will to remain alive was strong.
One day they informed us of the need for more people in the work camps. Anyone who had a relative in a work camp can choose to be transferred to that camp. I chose to go to the work camp in Zhezhmir because my sister was there.
They took us to the station and packed us into freight cars. We took some clothes to wear and something to eat. Before I left, my mother had the shoemaker make me a pair of boots. They were red. Mother was afraid they would pull the boots off my feet. They were too nice for a Jewess so my mother smeared them black.
We spent three days on the train. The cars were very cold, and they did not give us any food--not even a drink of water. They kept us confined and would not even let us out to go to the bathroom. When we arrived, the Germans opened the doors, saw what was going on inside the train car, and shouted that we were filthy pigs.
When we arrived in Zhezhmir they took us to a closed gate. When we entered we saw a synagogue and another building that was a hospice.
They counted us to make sure no one escaped on the way.
They housed us: 300 women in the synagogue which had three rows of bunks. Everyone was at work so the building was empty. I impatiently waited for them to return from work so I could see my sister. Late that evening, my sister arrived. I was thrilled to find her alive and healthy, although hard-worked.
We received our first lunch in the work camp. It consisted of potatoes in a lot of water with bits of garbage and leftovers from the Germans' meals added to it. What the Nazis left on their plates, the cooks would add to our soup. Along with this dish, we would receive a small piece of bread, the same size for everyone, and margarine. When the supervisor saw my boots, he immediately wanted to remove them from my feet.
I found a bunk on the third level near my sister. I accepted the hardships of camp life. There was very little water. We had no water to drink or wash with. I decided to cut off my braids as I couldn't [would not need to] wash my hair. Water was such a rare commodity in the camp that looking for water meant risking your life. Near the synagogue there was a Mikve (ritual bath) and bathhouse, but they were so neglected you became even dirtier if you washed there.
There was no lighting. We would light small pieces of wood we brought from work. Every woman would light a piece which smoked and emitted carbon. In the morning the women's faces would be black from the soot. The air was smoky and stifling.
Early every morning, bells rang to wake us. They gave us black coffee and we tried to wash our faces and hands.
We worked at paving the road. We worked very hard, digging earth and carrying large stones. Twelve o'clock brought us lunch: water with potato and a bit of flour mixed in. If they slaughtered a pig, the cooks took the water from washing the pig and poured it in.
A few women would risk their lives and sneak out of the camp to try and trade clothing for food. Those who did not have extra clothing would take from those who were better off. In gratitude for their efforts of trading clothes for food, they would receive an (another) equal share of the food.
From time to time, a truck transporting the supervisor of the work camp would arrive. The supervisor loved to take bribes. He would bring provisions that parents in the Ashmiene ghetto would [package and] send to their children in this (Zhezhmir) work camp. He would also bring letters and other items.
My mother, her father and my little brother Nosn were in Ashmiene ghetto. Smorgon ghetto had already been liquidated.
The sanitary conditions in the Zhezhmir camp were so terrible, a large percentage of women and men contracted typhus including myself. There was a Jewish nurse in the camp who looked after the sick. As I was recovering, I had a dream I was at home in my bed with white sheets. When I awoke I took that dream as a sign that I would recover quickly. The nurse told me that in my feverish state, I shouted and asked to be taken away from the window because the Nazis would shoot me. She took care of me and gave me coffee, kasha with water without a drop of milk. When I recovered, I was so weak, I could not take a step. I leaned against the wall. It took a while until I could stand on my feet again. It was dangerous to let anyone know you were sick as they would take the sick out of the camp and shoot them. The Jewish camp supervisor would isolate the patients, and would make excuses why they did not show up for work. There was no medication and people were afraid to ask for some. The German administration should not learn about the sick.
I was lucky to have extra clothes. I gave them to my friend. She snuck out of the camp, and traded them for bread, a piece of butter, and pork fat. Thanks to the extra food, I regained my strength and returned to work.
One evening we returned form work exhausted, only to learn that the Jews in the Ashmiene ghetto, where our families were, had been shot. Of course there was nothing we could do. We cried and wailed for our loved ones all night. In the morning, having calmed down, we hoped that the news was just a made up rumour, and we did not have to accept it as truth. Instead, we hoped they liquidated the ghetto and sent the Jews to other camps. As my heart told me a few weeks later, the parents from Ashmiene ghetto arrived at our camp. Among them, my mother, grandfather, and my little brother Nosn. The families united and everyone was very happy. Such joy! Suffering, but together. They enlarged the camp and we were able to live together. Work continued as usual without interruption or calamities.
Suddenly, tens of trucks appeared. We were very worried. We thought they came to take us away. When we inquired, they told us we were being transported to Kovno ghetto.
They [ended up] liquidating half of the Zhezhmir camp. Only 150 persons remained. Among those who remained was my grandfather. After arriving at the Kovno ghetto, the Jews there received us warmly and put us up in the synagogue. I was together with my mother, sister and brother. My uncles' family, the Goldberg's, were also with us.
One late evening, we heard a knock. Who could be knocking? The Jewish police of the ghetto. Terrified, we opened the door. We asked, what do you want? Who are you looking for? The police replied, We are looking for someone named Rivka Markus. That's me! I got ready to go with them. My mother began to cry, and asked where they were taking me. They replied I was on a list of people who were being sent to another camp. It was difficult to separate. We were afraid we would never see each other again. The crying of my mother, sister and brother did not help. They walked me for a while through the dark streets and brought me to a jail. There were other women there who were also on the list. We all cried through the night and did not sleep a wink.
Early the next morning, the Germans arrived to take us from the jail and put us on the trucks. I succeeded in hiding in a corner and was the last one remaining in the jail. On her way to work that morning, my sister Taybele spoke to the head supervisor of the factory and told him I was being transferred to another camp. He interceded on my behalf and I returned to the place I had been working [at the Kovno ghetto].
One day, many Germans entered the camp. They went from house to house removing the people. We did not know what was happening. However our neighbour, when she saw the Germans approaching, took me and a few other girls, mainly children, and threw us into the cellar, locking the door. We remained there for 24 hours, dazed and afraid to breathe, fearful the Germans may find us. We heard their steps on the floor--their boots over our heads. We heard shooting but did not know what was going on outside on our small street. When all was quiet, a few crawled out of the cellar. They returned to tell us that thousands were sent to Estonia. Among those sent were my uncle Goldberg and his entire family. We never saw them again. They were all killed.
For a short while, life in the ghetto was jeopardized. They sent us all to another part of the ghetto. My sister and I continued working in the same factory. Our mother also continued to work at the same place.
One day as we were sitting and working in the rubber factory, people began to discuss terrible news. Hundreds of trucks with S.S entered the ghetto, and they were removing all the children from the ghetto. Many workers had left children at home when they left early that day for work. We could barely wait for the hour when we could return home. We were still hopeful we would find the children at home.
As we approached our house, our brother Nosn did not come out to greet us as he did every day. We have not yet lost hope because our mother left for work, she told Nosn, if anything should happen, he should hide. He [assumed] he was hiding somewhere. We searched for him in the cellar, in the attic, in the yard Nosn was nowhere to be found. We now full realized our tragedy. We sat in our winter coats and cried all night from despair, and did not go to work in the morning.
We assumed the Germans, the evil animals, were satisfied with the [number of] victims, but we were fooled. The next day, more S.S. arrived with dogs and searched for more hidden children. When they found children hiding, they threw them from top story windows, or tore them to pieces, or dragged them by their hair through the streets beating them to death. This [savagery] is how the wild Germans romped through Kovno ghetto for the entire day.
In desperation, we wanted to accompany the children, but they chased us away. Rivers of children's blood [ran] and seas of mother's tears poured for many days. In cases where the mothers were able to stay with their children, they notified us that all the children taken were brought forth and shot.
We spoke to the supervisor of the factory and asked if our mother could work with us. This way we could be together even at work. He agreed.
There were rumours that the Nazis were going to liquidate the Kovno ghetto. Some Jews began to build Raspberries (hiding places) under or inside the houses. Some people achieved [created] outstanding architectural accomplishments. We had nowhere to hide and we were resigned to our fate: what will be, will be.
One Sunday we were ordered to gather. They lined us up and led us through the streets of Kovno. Where to? Is this the end? After a few hours of walking we stopped by the river bank. We saw a barge. They put all of us on the barge and began to think: what kind of death awaits us? Shooting or drowning?
It was spring, 1943.We are sailing on the boat (barge). They gave us bread and sausage to eat. We travelled like this, in fear, for a week. We saw a big city and they tell us it is Kenigsburg. We remain in Kenigsburg for half a day. [At least] a quarter [if not] half of the Jews from town brought us bread. We sail on and arrive at shore. We deboard, and they lead us on foot. We see a sign, Shtuthof. We knew there were crematoriums there and a great panic ensued. There were more than one thousand people arriving and knew no one left alive. Those who had money, gold or jewelry, threw it into the toilets, just to be sure the Germans did not get their hands on it. Parents kissed and said goodbye to their children. Everyone was crying. We chewed on our dry bread and thought this food was to be our last feast. This is how we spent the night--in a barrack waiting for our verdict.
In the morning, the Germans, together with the camp Kapos , came and took us to the baths, made us undress, took our clothes and anything we had with us. We remained silent. One thought consumed us: these were our last hours, if not, minutes.
After washing, we were taken from the bath and made to wear the things the Kapos gave us. We dressed and did not recognize one another in the comical clothes we were wearing.
I actually chose a pair of slippers with high heels. They came in handy. Next they lined us up and sorted us. My sister and I were together, but we pretended to be strangers, since these evil people tried to separate relatives and tear apart families. We stood four in a row: my mother, my sister, Basia Glezer and me.
They directed us to the barrack, gave us bread and margarine, and distributed mats to spread on the floor. We were trying to figure out [their plan]: we were ready to die and now they are letting us live. It was unbelievable.
We slept the night, rested from our journey and our moods improved. We are hopeful that the Germans apparently needed us to work for them.
Early the next morning there was roll call. A Russian woman was the supervisor of our block. We were standing and waiting to be counted for over an hour. Then they told us to return to the barrack. A few people stepped out to see where we were. In front of our eyes was a huge area filled with barracks. On one side there were barracks for men, on the other side for women. Down the middle, there was an electric fence so we could not approach.
We were very happy when we saw our grandfather on the other side of the fence. We exchanged a few words.
A week later we were commanded to exit the barrack and line up in [groups of] fours. When we saw the Germans, we understood something tragic was about to happen. They began to sort us, some to the left and some to the right. My high heels made me appear taller and in good shape. We also tried to make my younger sister look older. We placed sand under her feet so she would appear taller and pinched her cheeks so she would look healthier. Our efforts did not work. They took my younger sister out of our line and sent her to the left. My mother immediately realized what was happening and when the German looked away, she grabbed my sister and brought her back to the right side.
They took us out of Shtuthoff and made us walk for a few days. We arrived at an empty place, without any barracks or shelter. The Germans told us they would hold us here to work. They immediately began to pitch tents. We were 10 to a tent and laid on the bare ground, not even having straw to lie on. It was already the fall [season], and we slept on the frozen ground. They sent us to work digging trenches. We worked from dark to dark, from early in the morning until late in the evening. Returning to our tent after work, we received watery soup. This was our lunch and supper. There was no water for washing or drinking.
It was the beginning of 1944, and it was getting colder. We did not have anything warm to wear. The supervisors were S.S., mean murderers. They beat the women at work for no reason, just for the pleasure of beating and scaring us. We lived under these conditions for four months.
Once again they divided us. The weak and sick were being sent to their death.
The rest of us, the strong and healthy and able to work, were taken to a train station, and placed on passenger trains. We understood that something was not right in Germany. We had no idea what. We were so downtrodden, we had no strength even to hope or await something better.
We arrived in Debek. From there we walked an entire day and arrived at a place filled with barracks. Again we were divided and were placed 30 women in one barrack. In the morning they woke us, gave us coffee and bread, and took us to dig trenches. Here [in this barrack], there was straw on the floor and mats. The head of the camp was an S.S evil man. Before they took us to work, they counted us and the commander said we should work hard until blood pours out from under our nails.
We had nothing to eat, and it was cold. The ground became harder from the frost making digging even more difficult. Later, they gave us coats. We tried to figure out how to stay warm. We took straw from the mats and stuffed our coats. We looked like monsters. Many among us died from various diseases. Water was a rare commodity, and if they caught a woman stealing water, they beat her to death.
A thick snow fell. I was without shoes. How does one go to work barefoot in the snow? Luckily, they brought us wooden shoes. I was happy to have something to put my feet into so I could go to work and not catch a cold. A few more months passed.
Suddenly chaos [erupted]. They dragged us out of the barracks, lined us up, and ordered us to walk. Under strict supervision of the S.S., we walked all day without stopping until late at night. We were hungry and frozen, and it was snowing. Where were they taking us? Finally they took us to a stable and informed us we would spend the night here. They gave each of us 3 overcooked potatoes. We slept in horse dung and without any straw. Early the next morning they took us out of the stable, lined us up, counted us and ordered us to march again. We hoped we were going to a specific place, and we would arrive there quickly. We continued walking for days without any food. We slept in stables. Some of the women had frozen hands and feet. Those who lagged behind were shot. Our rows were diminishing; we were becoming less and less. When we saw a woman die and left on the road we thought: this will be our fate.
After weeks of walking , we arrived at an estate. They led us into a barn with cows that were well maintained and clean. We were happy. There was electricity and water for the cows. We washed and warmed ourselves near the animals. We also stole potatoes and potato peels from the cows. My mother, finding a small box which she used as a pail, milked a cow and gave each of us some milk to drink. We were jealous of the cows. They were clean and calm and were sure of their lives. They were not anticipating death any minute.
The following morning, after sleeping in the barn, we received three potatoes and set out again on the snowy roads. It was hard to leave the cows and the clean, tidy barn.
By chance, we learned that many women were hiding in this village where the estate was situated. But we did not know which of the farmers would take pity on us and take us into hiding. So we continued to walk where we were being led.
We walked and walked. We were exhausted and searched for our last bit of strength. Starving and faint, if we found a bone of a dog or a cat on the road, we shared it: for example, everyone would have a lick, then hide it for later.
The road was sown with the women our escorts shot. We were in such a state of despair we did not even notice the area we were walking through.
I was so distraught. I was thinking of committing suicide and putting an end to this painful march. I decided not to budge, thinking they will just shoot me. I tell my mother and sister my suicide plan and say my goodbyes. They both began to cry and begged me not to do it. I tore myself from their arms and remained the last one in the line of marchers. I stood beside a tree and waited for an S.S to approach. My mother and sister cried and called out to me, but I remained standing as if nailed down. When the S.S. approached, I said to him, I'm not walking anymore! I can't go on with this march any longer. The S.S. looked at me with amazement and said, Go on, you young goat! I did not understand what was with him [his response] and why he did not shoot me. He shot so many other women. Perhaps he enjoyed spite. He would not shoot me because that's what I wanted. He was punishing me by not fulfilling my wish and making me suffer longer and continuing on the march.
It was New Year's night. The S.S took out a cookie from his pocket, gave it to me and told me to join the others in line.
My mother and sister were overjoyed. They wondered however, about the strange behaviour of the S.S guard. I shared my cookie and left with them. This miracle gave us strength. We regarded it as a sign that we will be saved from the Nazis and will live to see better times.
During our march we came across a German military division running haphazardly as well as a number of German citizens running away with their belongings. We understood they were running from the Russian military which was approaching and marching victoriously.
We worked up a bit of courage, but fearfully thought: before we live to see revenge, and wait for consolation, we could lose our souls as we were so exhausted.
We continued to walk in this manner for 10 days. We arrived at a place that looked like a camp. A gate opened wide, they counted us, and we were led in.
We were handed over to others and brought into a large barrack without electricity. The barrack was packed with women, and we all laid on the ground. Those who had frozen noses, hands or feet screamed from the pain. No one could help. Dying on the floor with us were women including Alta Yablanovitch and Berta Erl.
The filth in the barrack was beyond description. The air was infected from the gangrenous feet and hands. We sat awake all night, and in the morning we tried to figure out where we were. We were surrounded by a high fence. The women who had already been there a while told us there was an airfield and our location not from Danzig. On our own initiative we looked for a barrack with running water and faucets. The [new] barrack was cold and damp, but cleaner and without the horrific scene we experienced the previous night. On our own, we moved there. They gave us bread and soup with potato peels.
A few days passed. They did not send us to work, and on the third day, they told us to prepare to leave. Coincidently, our friend Basia Glezer met a woman she knew that worked in the kitchen. The woman told her to return to the barrack and remain there. She should not leave because they will make us walk until we die. We decided to stay. What will be, will be. Another reason we stayed is that my mother had frozen feet and could not walk any more. Together with my mother, sister and Basia Glezer, we went to the other woman's barrack. It was clean and the bunks were covered with straw. There were electric lights and a wood burning oven. There was warm water for washing, a luxury we could not even dream about. I found a bunk with a straw bag, and my mother and sister found another. We were actually very happy. The women in this barrack were healthy and brave, and they influenced us with their faith and confidence.
There was a men's section in the same camp. Among the men we found a friend from Smorgon, [his name was] Kraynes.
We remained, and the other women from our group continued walking. At night, many trucks came into the camp, and we thought our hours were numbered. In the morning we learned they took all the sick women away. Life in the camp was risky. Some people were sent to work in the camp, some outside. I worked 10 metres outside the camp. When I arrived at work I saw a large grave filled to the top with hundreds of female corpses, piled one on top of the other.
The same week, they sent us to work in the middle of the city, digging trenches. We found the streets, houses and free people very interesting. It had been a long time since we had seen such remarkable things: people dressed like people, not like wild wrecks.
That is how the days passed. We dug trenches regularly. Suddenly we heard a siren, and the guards shouted to us to fall to the ground. We knew these were Russian planes and bombers. We got pleasure seeing our guards prostrate and afraid. Their pride and arrogance disappeared completely. We understood the Russians were approaching quickly. Our camp was situated on an airfield that was vulnerable. We knew that at any minute it would be destroyed and we would be buried in the ruins.
At this time a few women in our barrack contracted typhus. My sister Taybele was among them. She had a high fever and lost consciousness. My mother and I left for work and the sick remained in the barrack. My mother snuck away from work, took off her yellow patch and went to the hospital to ask for medicine. I had no idea where my mother disappeared during work, and I was very worried. During the day, sirens continued to go off numerous times. Again, Russian planes. I finished work, and had to return to the barrack. My mother was still not around. Basia Glezer calms me down and convinces me that my mother is waiting for the other women to return from work so she can return with them. I calm down because I knew I could trust my mother. But I am remained distressed. Later, my mother arrived, medication for my sister as well as bread and a chicken. We all delighted to have a bit of chicken broth.
The following day they did not send us to work. The German supervisor came in and told us that in a few minutes, the entire airfield will be destroyed. Whoever has any strength should run away as far as possible.
We took the nurse and brought her to where the supervisor showed us to go. There was a deafening bang from the explosion. We fell to the ground. Suddenly, the middle of the day was dark from smoke and ash. We lied down like shadows, and when all was extinguished and quiet, the same German came back to us and told us to return to our barrack. Yet, we returned to find everything destroyed. The barracks were down, and those who did not escape in time, died in the barracks. We found a barrack not totally ruined and moved in. Night fell and [the skies] darkened. We realized we were on the front. We thought: who knows if the Germans will let us live to see our liberation which seemed to be very near. In the middle of the night, we heard the guards call the girl who worked there, to leave the camp with them. Basia Glezer looked outside to see what was happening. The Germans took the girl and sent her away. Their intention was to show an example of a camp woman, healthy and good looking.
The Germans gave up. Before leaving they threw hand grenades in the bunkers. We still did not believe the Germans were running away, and we remained without guards. We thought we would wait a few days to figure out what to do.
March 29th, 1945. We see two Russian cavalries approaching. Three weeks later, my sister recovered from delirium and regained consciousness to learn she is free.
by Mariasha Yentes
Translated by Janie Respitz
Who from Smorgon was not in the Tarbut dormitory and does not remember the neighbours?
When playing hide and seek, we would hide in the vestibule of a neighbour, or when a naughty boy chased us we would also hide in the vestibule of a neighbour. One of the closest neighbours was Leah, the bathhouse attendant. Who in Smorgon did not know Leah the bathhouse attendant?
When at school, if someone hurt his hand, foot or nose, the best place to go was to Leah. She would give us a cold compress. Leah's vestibule was dark and black. A white goat stood there. To hide there was a real pleasure. When the boys, may they rest in peace, wanted to harm us, Leah would save us. She would take us from our hiding place under her large shawl and take us away. The boys had no idea where we disappeared to.
Leah's married daughter lived in the same house. She also knew us very well. On many occasions our running and yelling woke her babies.
Years passed. In 1937 we graduated from the Tarbut school, and practically forgot about Leah and her daughter and grandchildren.
However, I met her in the ghetto. As soon as I saw her, I remembered her, never to forget.
It was 1943. I had already been in a few camps. I was recovering from typhus. I arrived in the Ashmen ghetto. There were no longer any Jews in Smorgon. The remaining Jews from Smorgon were in the Ashmen ghetto.
They opened a hospital. There were a few doctors and nurses working in the hospital. There were many sick people. All the beds were full. There was no medication. I was sent to work in the hospital. I was to pay attention and learn practically how to care for typhus patients because having had typhus, I was immune. They created an isolation room because the typhus epidemic was spreading through the ghetto and camps.
The hospital was full. The patients were mainly from the Baronovitch camp and other places.
On Saturday they brought a patient on a stretcher, barely alive, emaciated. She was burning up.
I approached the patient trying to help the nurse. The patient whispered:
Mariashinka, you don't recognize me? It's me Sheyne EshkeLeah the bathhouse attendant's daughter: Save me. Run, get the doctor. I have four babies at home. They killed my husband.I ran to the doctors, woke them up and asked them to come quickly. They knew about her condition and told me openly: the woman is dying. If we had medication we would try to do something. With bare hands, there is nothing we can do.
I cried, begged and argued.
Save her. She has small children. What will happen to them? Who will care for them?I remember the extinguished look in Dr. Seliver's eyes that were filled with tears, and the blueness of his lips.
Dr. Dalinsky said: She will today and tomorrow; it is better not to think about it.
I sat by her bed all day. In my mind I saw her children. That night she died in my arms.
It took me a few days to get over it. It was the first death I witnessed from hunger and cold.
I kept thinking of the fate of her children. I did not yet know what the German murderers could do to innocent babies. Later I saw what they did to Jewish children and I curse the German people. All the mothers from other nations, that saw our tragedy, could have helped save us, but did not want to save any Jews, any Jewish children.
by Sherke Kaczerginski
Translated and Edited by Jerrold Landau
Quiet, quiet, my child, let us be silent
Graves are growing here,
They were planted by the haters,
As they passed through here.
All the roads lead to Ponar now,
Father went, not to return,
And with him our light.
Still, my child, don't cry my jewel.
Do not cry in pain!
Our pain, in any case, the enemy
Will never understand.
Seas and oceans have their border,
Prison also has its end,
But to our plight
There is no border,
There is no border.
by Elka Baranovsky
Translated by Janie Respitz
My maiden name is Krochmalnik. We lived at 10 Gzhive Street. My mother's name was Etl. Her maiden name was Laskov. My father, Avrom Krochmalnik, was a tailor and according to the townspeople, he was an honest and clever Jew. As I remember, my father was active in municipal committees and societies.
It was 1922. Many people who had previously left Smorgon began to return. Our family returned to our home town as well and we started our lives all over again. It was not easy to get organized. We did not complain. We were used to these problems of poverty and suffering.
My father had a brother, Itche Blum, in America. He came back to Smorgon and helped us out. He was very generous. After a few years in Smorgon, Itche got married and returned to America with his wife. He left us his house. We moved into his house and rented ours.
At this time, my brother Chaim went to Zionist training camp in Grachov, and my sister Rivka went to Tel Chai near Lublin. In 1929 after 2 difficult years of preparation, Chaim and Rivka left for Eretz Yisrael. In 1933 my sister Chana left for Eretz Yisrael as well. I graduated from the Polish school Pavshechnia and went to work as an assistant bookkeeper for Mr. Rosenblum, the owner of a store.
It was the 1930s. In town there was an old Rabbi named Plotkin. He had two daughters, Bella and Hadassah, and a son. The Rabbi died, and one side brought another Rabbi named Sladzinsky. Bella married a Rabbi called Marcus. As he was the son-in-law of Rabbi Plotkin, he inherited the Rabbinate in Smorgon. A huge fight broke out between the two sides. They held elections to determine who will be the next Rabbi. They fought bitterly. People were buying votes at high prices. My father stood firm for Sladzinsky. Rabbi Marcus ultimately was chosen. This story is the occasional example of the religious communal life, that we, the youth, did not get involved with.
The youth had more important matters than fighting over a town Rabbi. We founded an organization called Vitkin. We had a few members. The majority of the youth in Smorgon belonged to Hashomer Hatzair, Freyheyt, Poalei Zion, and HeChalutz.
Our leader was Ruven Grinberg, who now lives in America. A few years later we became Gordonists, and at the same time we accepted Unity, led by the teacher Bernstein, may he rest in peace. We also joined HeChalutz. Chaya Brudne, Nechama Yakobson, and I were chosen for the committee. We organized the youth from the Tarbut school. Each one of us led a group where we had to do actual work. We organized a few parties and undertook flower days. We collected money for The Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency. The most difficult task was collecting money. Collecting 10 or 20 groshen a month was like the parting of the Red Sea. However, difficulties did not stop us. The work we did for Eretz Yisrael was not only a holy obligation, but also an honor.
I definitely remembered the conferences. One was a get together with Gordonists from Vilna and our branch. We rented a barn and a peasant's hut in the village Shvitlan. We held our meetings in the barn. Arye Tishler from Lodz was the leader. After interesting deliberations and resolutions were passed, we formed a choir. We sang and danced and felt like one family. We all ate from one pot in which we cooked and brought to the table. Romances also sprung up. People corresponded. Personal letters went from Vilna to Smorgon and from Smorgon to Vilna.
Then there was the conference for Smorgon Unity together with Unity from Old Vilayke. We rented wagons and set out on our journey. Except for the pouring rain, the event was very sweet. The anticipation of meeting new devoted friends warmed us up and fostered a sunny atmosphere. Among the male leaders were our teacher Bernstein, Grinberg, and friends from the older group. The female leaders included myself, Batia Kaplevitz, and Baila Megida. They received us very warmly in Vilayke. Dubin, who was from Vilayke, led the conference. We made a lot of new friends from the Vilayke members of Unity.
We also actively participated in the organization bazars. We spent entire evenings knitting and embroidering items to raffle at the bazar. Our friend Riva Grinberg, may she rest in peace, was very active. So was our teacher Fisher, may he rest in peace, and others. I do not remember all the names.
Until 1939 I worked as a bookkeeper for Rosenblum as I mentioned earlier.
The end of that year I got married. My husband's name was Zelig Levinson. In 1940 I gave birth to a son. In 1941, the Russians entered Smorgon. They sent Rosenblum to Siberia. He was a rich man and they considered him a class enemy, a bourgeois. Now he lives in Holon, Israel.
I begin to work at Utilny Artel, sorting rags. Jews from Smorgon went through the villages collecting rags and brought them to the warehouse. We sorted them and shipped the rags on to packed trains heading to Russia. My husband worked in the regional distribution centre. They would bring the farmers flax, mushrooms, chickens, eggs and other produce. My husband, Zelig, was the buyer of the produce and the manager. He supervised the distribution to various places.
The Second World War broke out on June 22, 1941. My husband was mobilized into the Red Army. The city of Smorgon went into a state of panic. People were trying to leave. My brother-in-law Levinson harnessed his horse and wagon and packed all he could. The whole family was ready to depart. I ran into my parents and asked them to leave with us. My father refused to leave the city. My begging did not help. He explained. If we are fated to die, that's how it is inscribed. I want to die at home, not wandering somewhere strange.
I said goodbye to my father, took my child and joined my father-in-law and mother-in-law. On the road we caught up to my husband. He escaped from his mobilization point. He hoped that with all the mess they will not find him. We traveled together to Horodok and planned to go further. However, they told us the Russian border at Minsk was blocked. They were only allowing party members with special papers through. We had relatives in Horodok and decided to stay with them for a few weeks until it became clear to us where we could hide. Until the fear passes and the war ends. After a few weeks we left for Zaskevitch, my husband's home town. There we stayed with his aunt.
On July 22, 1941 a Lithuanian porter came to town with Rebak Brosh, a gentile from Smorgon. They entered our house, found my husband's cousin Hirsh Dovid Levinson, and took him away. Rebak was angry. At that moment my husband and I were not in the house. We came home to the tragedy. When the porter and gentile saw my husband, they told him to go with his cousin. The next morning, the murderers took them to Zalesie and shot them. I thought then that my father was right. There is no escape. It's better to remain at home.
I picked up my child in my arms and began to walk home, to return to Smorgon. It is about 17 kilometres. I don't know where I found the strength. After arriving back home I faced another tragedy. When I asked where my younger sister Feygele was, they told me a non-Jewish neighbour on our street shot her. My husband Zelig, Zelig's cousin Hirsch, and my sister Feygele were the first victims taken from our family.
In October 1941 they set up a ghetto. They sent us to Karke, the outskirts. They put one, two, or sometimes three families in one small room. They sent us to work. We worked on building the Zaliyes train tracks. We worked hard from very early until very late. Day in, day out, we toiled in hard labor, tormented and fearful. The winter changes to spring.
In the summer of 1942 they transport us back to Smorgon, specifically to the Smorgon ghetto in the Shul courtyard, enclosed with barbed wire. We find a small room at the Kube's. Life is terrible and frightening. My father is working a bit as a tailor. They sent me to different difficult jobs. I feel happy when they send me to work in the baths, as I can wash myself. I will always remember the screams of the tortured Jews. In the middle of the marketplace, next to the fire department, stood the Sadeviche wall. Underneath in a dark cellar some Jews were imprisoned. Among them were: Yisrael Rapaport, Avrom Katz, the bookkeeper Chaim Yavitch and many others whose names I do not recall. There they tortured and beaten. We heard their screams throughout the marketplace.
They lined up the girls and women with brooms in our hands. They made us sing songs and run through the marketplace. The screams from the men in the cellar were deafening and tore at our hearts. But what could we do except pray for the salvation of those tortured.
In 1942 my sister Leah with other young people were sent to work in Zhezhmir. Later, the Smorgon ghetto was liquidated and we were transported to the Ashmen ghetto. There also were a few families living in one room. My father worked as a tailor at a workbench. I worked as well. Before work we would receive a piece of bread and a few other products which barely kept us alive and the strength to work.
After a few months in the Ashmen ghetto, there was military action. Early in the morning we were forced to leave our homes and line up in rows of five. We are told to march, and we head to the Shul. On both sides there were German police and Lithuanians. There are also Jewish police who say they are also mean murderers. We are told that the Jewish police participate in beating and murdering Jews, and if they find out a Jew is hiding, they turn him in.
We are standing and wavering between life and death. Whoever gets a wave of a finger must immediately leave the line and go off to the side. That means you lose. At the last moment, my father took my child in his hands and begins marching. Then me, my uncle Itche Blum and his wife go as well. We marched not dead, not alive. Then they took my uncle from the line as we continued to march. I turned my head to see what happened. Firstly, I see my uncle pitifully standing with his head bent down, forlorn. He was always so proud and self-assured. He looks with extinguished eyes at his wife for the last time, at me and at his brother, (my father).
They led us into the Shul. I cannot even describe what took place. One person tore out his hair, the other banged his head on the wall. One was missing a mother; another was missing a father, or a husband, or a wife.
The weeping and wailing was strong, as if it were a new found voice, capable of taking down the walls of the shul. The sound could move the heart of an animal, yet not the hearts of the Nazis, Lithuanians or Jewish Kapos. They kept us in the Shul until late in the evening. Those singled out were taken to Zeliyanke and shot. When the murderers returned from their murderous work, they let us out and told us to return to our homes. The Asmen ghetto was to be liquidated. Some will be sent to Zhezhmir labour camp, some will go to Panievezh. They were sent in closed train cars. Many Jews from Smorgon were shot in Panievezh.
When I arrived in Zhezhmir I found my sister Leah. We were happy our parents are with us in the camp. My father is taken to work in the tailor shop. My sister and I are sent to work on the railroad. My mother takes care of my little son. We eat from a communal pot. They keep us half hungry.
In 1943, the Zhezhmir labour camp was liquidated. Some of the labourers are sent to Pleskov; others are transported to the Kovno ghetto located in Slabodke. After arriving in Slabodke, we live up in the Shul. Our beds were made of planks of wood. There was no shortage of bedbugs.
In the Slabodke camp, my father worked as a tailor again, and my sister Leah had a job at the laundry. I worked in the clothing department. It was on the outskirts of Kovno in a place called Shans. We came to work, scared to death, but we did it. The will was strong. Especially when there are children involved. I still had my little Dovidl.
What would a mother not do for her child? We will do whatever possible. We went to work without shoes, wearing a small dress. At the department, we get dressed. The shoes were military. We made clothes from pieces of fabric. We received shoes and clothing and our job was to sort it out. The German guarding us was an invalid. We paid him off and he pretended not to see. We took as much as we can and put it on. The most dangerous part was to smuggle it into the ghetto when we returned from work. The items we smuggled in, we sold in the ghetto. We then took the money and bought food from the farmers. We then fed ourselves and our children. As I said, mothers risked their lives to ensure their children would not starve to death.
Suddenly there was a command to bring forth 5,000 workers. The Germans provided trains and told us to take all our possessions and put them on the trains. We believe the Germans when they tell us they are taking us to another labour camp. We packed our things and got on the trains. First they took us to the workshops in the ghetto. There we saw trucks. They told us to get into the trucks. Our belongings were on the train. We are scared to death: we have no idea where they are taking us, maybe to our death.
We continued traveling. We were stopped by Ukrainian bandits. They made us give them what we had on: gold, jewelry, watches. My father took out his pocket watch and gave it to them. I had a wedding gift from my mother-in-law--a gold watch that I hid in my child's bag. I took it out and gave it to them.
We traveled on further. We arrived at the ninth fort. I looked out. Lithuanians and Germans were standing. They stopped the trucks. They made the passengers climb out and they were sorted. I shouted: We are lost! I asked my mother to watch my child. Our truck stopped and we heard the command: Climb out!
My sister Leah went out first. I handed her my child. They grabbed him from her arms and flung him to the side. They pushed me and my sister to the other side. They pushed my mother and our youngest sister Kaylinke to the same side as my son. My father was sent separately. Within five minutes our family was torn apart to pieces. One cannot see the other. I began to shout and cry: My child! My child! I got hit in the head with a rubber stick. I could not see anything. They told us to march. They shove us into freight cars, boarded up and locked. I did not know what was happening to me. I lay on the floor. The train did not start to move until evening. The crowdedness was indescribable, like herring in a barrel. We traveled in this packed environment for a few days and nights. The older people and children were in the front train cars. (We later learned they were transported to Auschwitz). My mother was killed in Auschwitz. Together with her, my sister Kayla and my child Dovidl, born in 1940 killed in 1943.
At a certain station, they stopped the train and told everyone to get off. At that time, I got a glimpse of my father. They began to sort us deciding who will go to which camp. After being sorted, they told us to get back on the train. They were taking us further. We arrived in Estonia. We stopped at Ereda station. And were told to climb out. We were supervised by the head of the camp, Shneider. He lined us up and told us to march. We walked for four kilometres and arrived at the camp. At the camp there were only men. Jews from Vilna. Among them were two women dressed like men.
We are sent to barracks with rows of wooden planks. In the morning they sent us off to work. I told them I was a tailor. They sent me to the workshop at the train station. I was happy not to be working outdoors but under a roof, in a building with walls. However walking back and forth from the stationwas quite a distance and tired me out. I was using my last bit of strength. This waswhere I stayed for almost a year. One of the worst people was Meir Chayt, a Jew from Vilna. He bullied the female inmates and would beat and kill the men.
It was 1944. The Ereda camp was liquidated. A group of men escaped to the forest and joined the partisans. The camp commander, Shnabel, tried hard but did not capture them. They packed us into freight cars and took us to a place called Lagediye. We remained in Lagedive for three weeks, living in tents. From there they transported us in freight cars to Danzig. Here, we found Jews from all the Estonian camps and I meet up with my dear father.
In Danzig they put us on a ship. When we came closer to shore they put us on smaller boats and brought us to shore. From there we walked to Shtuthof.
In Shtuthof camp, I was sent to Block 19. The Kapo of our Block was called Shurka, a Ukrainian woman. No pen can write about the suffering and pain we experienced. The camp was surrounded by electric wires. On the other side of the wire was the district where they kept the sick. We saw how they threw people from the trains and sent them to the gas-ovens, day in and day out. They were sent to burn and suffocate. Then I saw a group of women marching in rows of four. They went through the gate. Among them I recognized women from Smorgon. There was the Rabbi's wife from the Karke, Zukerman, Leah Mishkin and others from Smorgon.
I spent three weeks slaving in Shtuthof. During this time I was selected twice to be burned. Each time I managed to escape to my sister Leah in Block 19. This was the workers' Block.
They took us to the bathhouse. After washing they give us prisoners' clothes. They sent us to work at a place not far from Bramburg. My father remained in Shtuthof. We became separated. This time permanently. He died in Shtuthof.
They later put us in barracks with wooden bunks. They fed us a bit of soup once a day. We were building a railroad.
On January 24, 1945, they took all the women and sent us toward Berlin. The frost burned us in pain. We were lightly dressed in rags. Walking in wooden shoes that stuck to the snow, we continually fell. This trudge continues all day and night. In the morning we realized we are now alone; the S.S and our commanders ran away. We saw a group of Russian prisoners marching. They told us to be strong and persevere because the Russian army will soon come to free us. Their words comforted us. Some women were brave and entered a farmers' house and asked for food. The lady farmer gave us bread and hot water. She then prepared straw on the floor as beds. We fell asleep instantly. While sleeping, we heard knocking. It was 1:00 in the morning, and we were afraid. We began to hear shouting in Russian. Opening the door and to our great surprise, we saw Russian political instructors enter the house. They told us, We came to free you. We are also Jews.
It all seemed like a dream.
After liberation on January 26, 1945, we traveled to Lublin, then from Lublin to Lodz. I got re-married in Lodz and went to Germany. We spent two years in a Kibbutz. In 1947, we left for Israel. It is five years now that we are living on a Moshav. We are happy. Most important, our children are happy.
In closing, I would like to remember my husband Zelig Levinson who was shot in Zalesie, as I recalled earlier. Zelig's entire family was killedthey were confined in a barn and burned alive.
Our best neighbours were killed: Velvl Shvartz and his family, and Elye Shvartz and his family. I would like their names to be inscribed in our memory.
May God avenge their blood.
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