by Shammai Tokel
Translated by Meir Razy
In Memory of Fela Berliner (Warsaw), donated by her daughter Mirka Berliner Pear
At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, the control over Stolin, along with all of eastern Poland, was transferred to the Soviet Union. Through this change we were temporarily saved from Hitler and his murderers. The town remained without a government for three weeks since the Red Army had moved from the Minsk region to Baranavichy and to the KievKovel line in the south, while the Stolin area was in the middle. Nevertheless, there was an absolute calm in the town.
The Red Army was greeted with great joy by the peasants and the working class, many of whom were later disappointed. Soon the new regime began to impose its ways and establish itself in the region. The town was back to being Russian.
After a while, some twenty Jewish families whom the authorities regarded as an undesirable element, (i.e. capitalists and Bundists) were exiled to Siberia. These deportees were given only a few hours, under the supervision of the Politburo emissaries, to pack their belongings. Unable to help them, the townspeople felt sorry for their bitter fate. It is interesting to note that already at that time there were Jews who instinctively saw that those who were sent away would remain alive. And so it was, most of them were saved and then immigrated to Israel and they are living in Israel.
The Jews of Stolin soon became accustomed to the new way of life. They were satisfied and dissatisfied, but they all worked. The salary was low but for the government anyone who did not work was considered an opponent.
One day about 2000 prisoners were brought to the town from remote places in Russia and were employed in the construction of an airport in the fields of MankavicyDulin. The war between Russia and Germany broke out in late June 1941, near the end of the construction work.
The Russians fled in panic but managed to take most of the prisoners with them. Only a small number escaped. While the town remained without any administration they began organizing together with other hoodlums from Stolin and Horin. They turned into gangs who rioted and attacked Jews. The first action of the gang was in Horin on the night of July 12, 1941. They smashed windows of Jewish homes, beat and looted them. The small handful of Jews in the village fled for their lives and by morning arrived at Stolin. One Jew was killed and several were injured.
There was a rumor that the rioters were going to carry out their scheme in Stolin too. The Jewish youth of Stolin quickly organized themselves and made a firm decision to defend the lives and property of the Jews. At the next midnight the town heard shouts and howls. Immediately the youth came out against the rioters and managed to repel them without getting into a serious clash.
On July 14, the Jews were told in secret by a local peasant, Ivan Borovetsky, that the main rioters were the Russian prisoners and that they were now in the home of the wellknown Stalinist pogromist Fiydor Sudas and they were planning an organized attack on the Jews of the town. The Jews immediately gathered and established a committee that included Rabbi Moshe Perlov, Aharon Dorchin, Shlomo Poliak, Avraham Blizovsky and Shlomo Blowasky. At the suggestion of Shlomo Poliak, it was decided to meet with the rioters, to hear what they had to say and to suggest that they, along with the Jewish youth, will maintain order in the town in order to prevent attacks by local peasant gangs. Shlomo Poliak went out alone to talk to the rioters. They liked him and his offer was accepted. After the meeting with the Jewish Committee, the rioters promised to keep order in the streets with the young Jews. And for this promise they were paid as much as they demanded.
Three days later the local priest called a meeting in which he gave a speech in the name of God and in the name of justice and honesty to denounce the participants in the riots and murders against the Jews that he said were against German law. He presented an official letter from the German military government that he was appointed Mayor. Everyone must obey his rule and anyone who violates his orders will be severely punished under a new law. He announced the establishment of a militia and appointed one man, Urbanovitz, as the commander.
Urbanovitz immediately took charge with a strong hand. He invited the Jewish Committee, explained that the situation of the Jews was precarious, and that the committee was responsible for keeping the militia at its own expense, as is customary in other cities occupied by the Germans. He considered the committee as the guarantor for the Jewish community in the entire town, and decreed many demands, one after the other. The first decree was to immediately provide one hundred pairs of boots, one hundred beds, pillows, blankets and other related objects, plus appliances and various housewares. For himself personally he demanded a fine gold watch. Everything was done on time by the committee.
The commander's assistant, Mitro, known in Stolin as Mitior the thief, started a life of debauchery, raping the daughters of Israel and threatening his victims that revealing the crime would cause trouble for all the Jews. The complaints reached the ears of the Jewish Committee but they were helpless and could do nothing against Urbanovitz and Mitro.
A few Ukrainians arrived at Stolin on a bright morning and introduced themselves as emissaries of the German authority in Rovno who had sent them to take control of the town. Urbanovitz, of course, opposed them and two camps for the local government were created. The Jewish Committee, dissatisfied with the rule of Urbanovitz, leaned toward the Ukrainians and consulted with them on how to get rid of Urbanovitz and his assistant.
When Urbanovitz became aware of the plans against him, he and one of his men, Bliman, who spoke fluent German, hurried to Pinsk and informed the German authorities that in Stolin the Jews were in control and doing as they pleased. As a result, a few days later, on August 22, 1941, a German regional Commissar and his assistants arrived at Stolin and immediately ordered that all the town's Jews from the age of 14 to 60 must appear on August 23 at 12 o'clock in the Starosta building (on Halifax Avenue). The Jews sensed imminent danger and immediately called for a meeting of the committee. Several other prominent Jews, among them a Jewish refugee from Lodz, Nathan Bergner, who had a good command of the German language, were also added. (At that time about 1000 refugees who had escaped from the Germans had settled in Stolin). The committee discussed the situation and determined that all of them must appear at the set time, and the next day each member parted from their family and went to the designated place.
Urbanovitz and his cronies then openly abused the Jews. They beat left and right and shaved the beard of several Jews. Among other things, they did so to the fatherinlaw of the rabbi, Rabbi Michal Mayevsky.
At exactly 12 o'clock the regional Commissar and his men appeared and called in the members of the Jewish Committee for a meeting. Then a miracle happened: Bergner met the Commissar, a friend with whom he had once sat in the same classroom in Berlin. The Commissar did not renounce Bergner, but invited him to his office and sat with him for about two hours. In the eyes of those gathered, these two hours lasted about two years because the fear was great. After the meeting with Bergner, the Commissar came out and informed all those assembled: You, the Jews of Stolin, were condemned to die, and it was only thanks to Mr. Bergner[Berger=a Jew from Warsaw*] that you survive. From this day on, you must obey him. He is nominated as the head of the committee that will be called the Judenrat. They then ordered the assembled Jews to disperse and return to their homes. A glimmer of hope appeared in their hearts. With tears of joy the Jews hurried back to their own homes and families.
A few hours later Bergner announced that the Commissar was demanding:
Turmoil broke out in the town. The atmosphere was like Tisha Be'Av. The Ukrainians were ousted from power and Urbanovitz, the murderer, returned to power.
The Judenrat moved quickly and energetically to collect the sum that had been imposed as a ransom. The committee was joined by several other homeowners. I was elected treasurer. The sum was ready on the third day and Bergner delivered it to the Commissar. As a reward, the Commissar cancelled one decree once again the Jews were allowed to walk on the sidewalks.
The relations between the Judenrat and the Commissar were friendly at that time, and a glimmer of hope of liberation came again, though the Germans were advancing east on all fronts.
A unit of S.S men passed through the neighboring town of DavydHaradoc around that time. The Christian inhabitants of the town (the Horichucks) informed them that all Jews were communists and enemies of the newly established Government. This news was readily accepted and the S.S decreed that all men aged 14 and up must gather in a designated place. When the entire crowd was gathered, they were ordered to board the trucks and they were taken out of the town, ostensibly to work. They were taken off the trucks outside of the town and ordered to dig holes and then all were murdered in cold blood. The women and children were expelled from the town of DavydHaradoc. They turned toward Stolin and were robbed by the villagers along the way. They were not allowed to enter Stolin because Urbanovitz placed sentries on all the roads leading to the city. Thus the Jewish women and children from DavidHaradok wandered for a while in our vicinity. The Judenrat, after many attempts, managed to bribe Urbanovitz to allow them, about 1,500 people, into the town. Three kitchens were opened in the town, where they were given the little food they could get in those frenzied days. Many of the refugees were taken into the homes of the local citizens and those who did not do so voluntarily were forced by the Jewish militia which was established by the Judenrat under the order of the Commissar.
There was already a severe shortage of food. There were some possibilities for bartering with the peasants such as trading household goods and other items, although all this was forbidden by law. After serious illnesses broke out in the town a Jewish clinic was organized with the help of Jewish doctors. Various precautions were taken against the spread of epidemics. Everything was done by the Jews themselves.
Urbanovitz, the murderer, did not remain silent and informed the Commissar that there were Jewish Communists in the town. He submitted a list of their names and the Commissar ordered them to be arrested. They numbered about 5060, among them: Shmuel Gonski, Shmuel Gloiberman the carpenter and his brother, the teacher Shapira, and others whose names I cannot remember. It was also reported that two young Jewish men had been brought from the village of Pryrebrod: Moshe, the son of Leibl Meirel's and Asher Shapira, whose father worked at the Tarbut School. All the inhabitants of the city were apprehensive. Everyone knew what was waiting for the prisoners. The relationship between Bergner and the Commissar deteriorated. New decrees were announced daily. Among other things, we were ordered to hand over to the Germans all kinds of furs, such as collars, etc. ranging from a size of 10 square centimeters. People had to cut parts of their clothes and it is easy to imagine what they looked like then. In addition, the cold began to intensify. It was early in the winter of 1942.
The Jews were also ordered to hand over all the objects made of copper, such as candlesticks, scales, and even door handles. In addition, everyone had to hand over horses and cows they owned to the authorities.
Bergner, the head of the Judenrat, who sacrificed himself for the good of the public, did not rest. Every day he seemed to run to Commissar and, with his many efforts, managed to have most of the prisoners freed for the ransom of half a million rubles. However, he was unable to save the two young Jewish men from the village of Pryrebrod and they were executed in the Zatishya forest at the beginning of winter 1942. These were the first victims of Stolin.
Mitior, Urbanovitz's aide, continued his rampage of raping Jewish girls, most of whom were afraid to reveal their plight. One day a 16yearold Jewish girl appeared before Bergner and told him that Mitior had committed an indecent act against her (for obvious reasons I will not reveal her name here). Bergner was very moved and decided that he had to do something, no matter what. He wrote down the details of the crime on a paper, attached a document from Doctor Sokolnicki and came before the Commissar.
The Commissar arrested Mitior and charged him. Bergner promised to submit evidence and the rest of the indictment within three days. The day of the trial of Mitior came. All his victims testified against him, and he was sentenced to death. About an hour after the judgment was handed down, I saw with my own eyes Urbanovitz leading Mitior on a chain, like a dog, to die. The execution was witnessed by Bergner and two Germans.
Urbanovitz's wrath grew even stronger and he took revenge against the Jews. A day of living then was harder than a year at other times. People walked like zombies and asked one another: What is going on? What will happen? Everyone wanted to hear a word of comfort, but in vain. People sensed what was awaiting them. They looked anxiously at Bergner, hoping to find some consolation.
Urbanovitz later went to Pinsk on a mission for the Commissar. On his way back, about fifteen kilometers before Stolin, the partisans had placed a mine on the bridge near the village of Chemin. Urbanovitch and three German officials were killed. A German unit was immediately sent to Chemin and the Jewish families there, between fifteen and twenty people, were shot that day. Among them was a good friend of our family, Rabbi Hirsch Leib Chertok and his family.
The next day we were horrified by the tragic news of the fate of the Jews of Chemin. Bergner had not been seen all day in town. At two o'clock in the afternoon it became known that Bergner was arrested and was being kept at Commissar's headquarters. At four o'clock Bergner returned and said that the recent events could have a serious impact on the situation of all the Jews. The Commissar told him that the Jews had blown up the bridge to get rid of Urbanovitz. Bergner claimed that he could prove that all the Jews of the town were in Stolin. The Commissar then ordered all the town's Jews, aged 16 to 60, to report to the market on that same day at 5 o'clock, and he would count them and compare the numbers with the numbers held by the Judenrat. If it turned out that someone was missing, they would all be punished severely. For this purpose, the Commissar actually kept Bergner in his quarters so that he could not inform the Jews of the city and call the missing, whom he thought were partisans, back.
The Jewish militia verified that no one was absent and Bergner promised that it was only a roll call and if everyone showed up, nothing bad would happen to them.
At exactly five o'clock the Commissar, with his entourage, appeared at the marketplace, where all the Jews were lined up. As the rollcall began, German cars arrived and Germans and Ukrainians soldiers armed with automatic weapons got out of them. Despite Bergner's promises, the attendees were shaking and tottering. The feeling of an approaching doom was increasing. The Commissar, to their horror and fear, ordered that the cinema doors be opened. People envisioned the many horror stories of killings they had heard of in similar situations in many of the other Polish cities.
The census came to an end; not one of the Jews was absent. An order was issued that everyone had to be back in their homes within two minutes. There was a rush of panic and everyone came home safely. A curfew in the town was declared after 6 PM. The Jews rushed home and listened with fear to every noise, sound and movement. There was a fear of death in the streets of the Stolin.
The next day the Commissar began talking about creating a ghetto and not long after, the Jews left their homes and moved into the marked quarter. The ghetto lay in the streets: Rivershore Street, America Street, about half of Kosciuszko Street on both sides down to the home of Rabbi Ephraim Tessler, as well as the Burkan (the open market) and Dombrowski Street on both sides. The ghetto was fenced with barbed wire, about twelve wires high. There was almost no possibility of passing between the wires. Another order was for all Jews from the surrounding villages to move into the ghetto as well. The overcrowding in the ghetto was great. In addition, disease spread, and hunger went on and on. Before the ghetto was established, there were some contacts with the peasants and it was possible to receive food by bartering clothing or other objects. In the ghetto the situation worsened and people died like flies. About five people died every day, mostly from starvation.
Another decree was announced: A Head Tax. Each family had to pay 10 rubles a month per person. Most families with children were unable to pay the sum.
The extent of mutual responsibility and the help the Jews gave each other was revealed in all its glory then. The Judenrat determined the payment for all the Jews and how much each could pay. Many poor people were relieved of that payment while the rich paid more than twice their share. The community paid 7,2007,500 rubles each month.
Most of the city's residents, men and women over the age of 16, were engaged in various jobs. It was winter and it was necessary to clear the snow, cut ice blocks, and other hard labor. Among other things, they also covered the pits that had been dug by the Soviets during the building the airport. There were often cases of beatings and abuse of Jewish workers. One such incident was etched into my memory. A Jewish group worked covering the holes. A mounted German did not like one of the workers, Nahum Drozdinski the baker. He ordered him to be thrown into the pit and buried. The Jewish workers were forced to carry out the order. After a few minutes, when the German rode away, they took the victim out of the pit and, with great effort, restored his breath.
About 5,000 workers were registered and worked in workshops of various professions. It was rumored that ghettos in other cities were being liquidated and only those who had worked for the German army survived.
The poverty and distress among the Jewish population grew worse from day to day, despite the sincere efforts of the Judenrat to improve the situation. And then, like thunder, came the news that all the surrounding towns had been liquidated: Luninets, Dombrowitz, Sarny, and the rest. The distress was great. Everyone felt the threat of the approaching bitter end. I remember the bitter weeping that broke out from my late mother when she learned of the destruction of the Jews of Sarny, where my sister lived. Mother, I told her then, do not cry. Their fate is better than ours. They have people who mourn them, but who will cry for us? It was about two weeks before Rosh Hashanah of 1942. I then met with the Rabbi of Stolin, Rabbi Moshele ZL, who comforted me by saying: Do not worry, God willing, we will soon gather to pray in a Minyan.
*Berger, reference the Holocaust in Belorussia, 19411944
Written by Shlomo Blahousky and given to his son Moshe in 1945.
Translated by Aaron Housman
Liba'leh, Masha'leh, Moshe'leh and Hershe'leh my dears,
Yesterday I wrote to two letters to you and I left them by reliable people. I hope that if, with Hashem's help, you will remain alive, the letters will get to you.
And now, my dears, I find it necessary to bid you all farewell forever, and I wish you everything good in life. That your luck should shine better than it did for me and the rest of Stolin's Jews. The human pen cannot adequately describe the suffering and experiences of each of us, and what we feel every moment as we wait for the inevitable death. For that is what was decreed for us; it cannot be changed.
My dearest beloved, see to it that you live together in harmony. To you, Liba'leh, I turn and I ask of you that you try and assist the young ones until they mature and can go off on their own. Moshe'leh, you have the responsibility to fill my role in the family. You are live peacefully with Masha'leh, Hershe'leh and Mother. And if there is any chance, try to reach Betzalel and Pinye in Eretz Yisroel.
Everything that I have hidden, the artifacts and the clothes, is listed by Avershe, and if you find it, use it for your benefit. There is enough of a fortune left that should not fall to the enemy, but that is not important right now.
I cannot elaborate now, for my heart bleeds. I leave my photo for you, and if I can, I will leave you all my photographs.
You should all be well and live a happy life, our fate is sealed and we cannot be helped. Masha'leh, be a loyal daughter. I am hope and believe that you will live well with Mother and that you will always accept her advice. You should know that there aren't many mothers like yours. You are a responsible person, be good and not stubborn, for this that will ensure your happiness.
In closing, I turn to you; Hershe'leh my son, you were always loyal and caring to everyone with all your heart and soul. Please be that way in the future.
I kiss you all from afar on this last day of my life, be happy and live well.
Thursday, 3 O'clock, Sept. 10th, 1942.
by Moshe Blahousky
Translated by Aaron Housman
The year: 1944. With a Red Army uniform I traversed wide swaths of territory in Eastern Europe which had just been liberated from the talons of the Nazi beast. I travelled through villages and town in which once lived tens of thousands of Jews, communities blossomed, tradition prevailed, and now was reduced to piles of rubble. Gomel, Bobruisk, Minsk, Baranovitz and more the entire land is like an empty gallows. Here they were slaughtered, here they were burned, and there they were buried alive, and each community a tragedy of its own, and bitter, bitter end.
With the advancement of the Red Army the pitiful few survivors, some who hid in forests, some in caves and some by nonJewish friends, started returning to their hometowns to search, perhaps someone else has survived, or at least to find out the details of their loved one's last moments. I knew the terrible fate that befell my family, my father, my relatives, friends, the entire community of Stolin. And at the first opportunity I had, I plodded on to Stolin; in September 1945. I knew that other than heartbreak and despair, but nevertheless I went.
Slow as a turtle, the train traveled toward the destroyed Horyn station. The bridge over the Prypet had been destroyed and in it's stead they built a temporary wooden bridge, the station itself was in an underground structure (zamliyanka), and there I found a lone female worker. Night had fallen and the girl suggested that I do not walk to Stolin alone, for the roads were fraught with danger and there was no transportation. With no other choice, I stayed there until morning and before dawn I went on my way to Stolin. As I entered the town I met a group of men talking amongst themselves. Some of them looked in my direction as if to say who is this soldier who looks Jewish? Are there even any Jews left?!
One of them asked me my name, and then went on to tell me the fate of the Jews of Stolin. After that I went on my way, I saw the old Jewish cemetery. The gate had disappeared but most of the headstones and the huts remained, surrounded by wild thorns, with nobody left to visit their parent's graves… Further on, nothing remains; remnants of destruction. Only a few original houses still stand on Dombrovitzer street and behind them Meir Velvel Turkenich's house, Kolodny's pharmacy, also Bentzion Goldberg and Osher Kantorovitz's houses. In the market square still stand the houses of Rosenberg and Krupnik and some floors of the TanczmanTuchman home. Near Pinsker street the big house of the Rebbe and the great Synagogue still stand. The building of the Beis Medrash is destroyed. On Kosciusko street the houses are destroyed and burned until Zarchovitz's house, including Sklar's courtyard. Such a pile of devastation that it is difficult to discern the location of the roads.
From there along Kosciusko street the houses of the new section of town (Di Pletzer) were almost not touched, and are all inhabited now by nonJews; those who murdered and plundered…. I was told that most of the houses were destroyed during the fighting with the partisans in the last six months.
I passed the Tarbut school, the very school that educated a generation of Hebrew culture and Zionism, and my heart aches. On the door there still hangs a Star of David, but inside the children of the impure sit, children of the murderers, and are no doubt learning about peace on earth… Tears of shame and pain choke my throat and I continue on to that direction, to where I was told parents and children were carted off to to the mass grave…
I reach Dolin, Radzivil's estate, and I turn right. Hundreds of meters away from the large pit I already see human bones strewn across the field (surely the animals have eaten them), and I am led to the huge pit, in which over 8000 people from Stolin and surrounding areas met their tragic end. The pit is not well covered with sand, here and there bones are exposed.
I went down from the south side to the pit. Children's clothing with bloodstains on them, I pick up a page of a Siddur, from which some of the martyrs must have prayed their last prayers as they were being led to their slaughter! In front of me the skull of a woman with black hair…. Woe unto the eyes that behold such a sight! I could not continue. I burst into tears…. Turned to exit the pit overwhelmed, destroyed and burning with a fire for revenge. I knew I had been to the mass grave, Kever Achim; the Grave of my Brothers ….
Before I left the Pit of Murder, I turned to the caretaker who had been posted there by the Soviets, and I begged him to construct a fence around the mass grave. At first he was surprised at my request, but later he promised to fulfill it. Did he? Who knows… What connection does a gentile have with a Jewish mass grave?…
by S. Shalom
Translated by Aaron Housman
[A poem about Rabbi Aaron Perlov; one of the 10 children of Rabbi Yisroel Perlov of Stolin. Rabbi Aaron lived in Warsaw, distancing himself from all honor and fame, and instead devoted himself, along with his righteous wife, to help other Jews. The story of how he was brutally murdered in the Warsaw Ghetto is well known. May their blood be avenged.]
Good evening, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
Scion of Stolin, of Karlin,
I enter here, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
To the Warsaw Ghetto, to feast my eyes,
And my Aunt? my uncle Reb Ahrele,
No need to speak, I understand,
I only thought, maybe she was forgotten,
Like all her days, she sat alone… (The Perlovs were childless)
Lead me, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
What is all this silence, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
I'm afraid, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
Count, count, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
And the children! my uncle Reb Ahrele,
Is this the street, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
Is this where he sat, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
And where is the tree, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
And the tracks, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
And tell me more, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
I will believe you, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
And what is from today on, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
From then, woe, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
Stand, stand, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
Come closer, my uncle Reb Ahrele,
Rabbi Aaron Perlov's death, as told by Yehuda Feingold in the Yizkor Book of Stolin.
During an Aktion, while hiding in an attice, the occupants, among them Reb Areleh and his wife, saw a horrific scene. A pregnant Jewish woman, while running through the street, trying to hide, fell down. Due to her fall, she miscarried on the spot and lost her child. A Nazi beast chanced upon her and started to draw his pistol.
Reb Areleh, seeing this, sprang to his feet and started to run out to the street. Despite the pleas of the other occupants, he ran out to help the poor woman.
He ran over to her, bent over and then stood up to his full height, in front of the Nazi. MURDERER!!! BEAST!!! Was your father a stone?? Has not a human mother given birth to you??
The Nazi froze, shocked as he was by the audacity of the Jew and by the impact of his words. He looked from the woman to the Rabbi, she in her pangs of post labor, he with his face full of fire. The Nazi turned to leave… But suddenly turned, lifted his gun and fired… He fired at the woman, fired at the Rebbe, kept firing as he ran… running from his victims who were wallowing in their own blood.
The street was empty and those in the attic ran out to the Rebbe. Reb Areleh lay there dying… bring me my violin he asked…
And so the story goes, that while playing a famous, haunting, Stoliner tune [or while it was being played], Reb Areleh returned his Soul to it's Maker, having died trying to save a fellow Jew.
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