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The History of Svintsyan (cont.)


        The main authority over the social, philanthropic, economic, and cultural organizations in the Jewish life of Svinstyan was the democratically elected Community Management Committee. Its revenue came from a special community tax, a kosher meat tax, fees for wedding and birth certificates, income from the Jewish community estates and enterprises: the municipal baths, the Khassidic baths (which also served the general public).
        In addition, money also came in from YEKAPO (American Philanthropic Aid), Svintsyan Relief in New York and various [other] contributions for Svintsyan Jews in the country and abroad.
        All of these funds went to support religious personnel, such as: the rabbi, the religious slaughterers, the cantor, and staff of the Jewish community and its events. They were also used to pay off deficits incurred by institutions and schools. [32]
        The Jewish community in Svintsyan, by law, also included New-Svintsyan and Lintup, and together with their locally elected representatives, helped to organize Jewish community life in both of these nearby towns.
        The leaders of the Jewish community were: Aron Tsinman, Perets, Feygl, and during the last years, Hirsh Gilinski. Secretary– Mordechai Gaviser.

Members of the City Council
Seated: Kurilo, David Kuritski, Romaslavski, Gulevitch, Boris Brumberg, Yisroel Levin, ?.
Standing: Yan Drozd, Engineer Nakhum Gordon, Boruch Rozental, Dr. Binyomin Kovarsky, ?


        The Jews of Svintsyan made up 50% of the population. They were represented in the same proportions in the town's economic leadership– the “magistracy” or city council.
        The representative of the Polish mayor was the Jew, Boris Brumberg, the 2nd secretary: Eliahu Goldshteyn, a Jewish alderman and [public] officer.
        In order to reduce the effectiveness of the Jews in the town, the government and the self-governing body creatively enlarged the town boundary to include the nearby villages and their villages' Christian population (Zadvanik, Ligumi, Margumishek, Minelishek and others).
        The proportion and effectiveness of the Jews was already at that time smaller but, nevertheless, significant.


General introduction – Vilna and surrounding area is given to Lithuania – Svintsyan belongs to the Soviet Union – the acclimatization – the Jewish exiles of the city – the new economic structure.

        Great changes, decisions for our area and especially for the Jews, occurred in this era, which started with the outbreak of the war at the beginning of September 1939.
        In a very quick battle, Germany takes the greater part of Poland. Soviet Russia also, at this time, oversteps its boundaries; and on the 17th of September 1939, the Soviet Army crosses the Polish border and occupies the eastern territory of the country in which the area of Vilna is also included. The slogan for this conquest was: The Soviet Army will free the workers of White Russia and the Ukraine in the western portion and unite them with their fraternal peoples of the east, who are free republicans under the Soviets.
        In this way, Poland was divided and disappeared from the map as an independent country.
        Lemberg and surrounding areas, as well as Polesye, were considered part of the Ukraine. Volin, and Bialystok and the surrounding area was subsumed into White-Russia. Rumors abounded concerning the neighborhood of Vilna, one of them being that the Soviets intended to return it to Lithuania.
         These rumors started refugees wandering, especially those who were in the occupied territories and had been gathered together from all of Poland in Vilna and the surrounding area. They wanted to remain in free Lithuania and retain the ability to emigrate from there to various directions across the sea and especially to the land of Israel.
        The stream [of refugees] was great. To Vilna came the majority of the Zionistic Central Committees: Mizrakhi, Tsionim-Klalim , Poaley-Tzion , Ts. S., Revisionists, Leftist Poaley-Tzion , also the main proponents of the Bund, the Folk Party, all of the preparatory kibbutzim, yeshivas, and literati – all of these constituents, which stood at the head of the movements and social life in Poland, had overnight become illegal under the new Soviet regime.
        All of [the people from these organizations] came and settled temporarily in the towns and villages which belonged to greater Vilna. This included Svintsyan, which became full of refugees.
        The “Joint” developed a great relief program for the refugees in the form of dormitories, kitchens, clothing outlets, and monetary funds: the yeshivas and kibbutzim were supported by the “Joint.”


        Our city, Svintsyan, was divided for strategic reasons and became a part of White Russia, a part of the border administrative territory of Old Vileyke, whose capital was Minsk.
        The refugees in the city moved to the Lithuanian part of the area, whose dividing border was set at 3 kilometers west of the city bisecting the road on the way to New- Svinstyan and cutting through the fields of Margumishek and Ragovshtsizna. The village of Daikshi was in White Russia; Shimini, in Lithuania. (The population on both sides of the border was Lithuanian.)
        In the last moment before closing the border to normal traffic, the Soviet rabbi, Rabbi Moyshe Leyb Luski and his family, just managed to get to Lithuania, and from there they traveled to New York.
        At the same time other wanderers came to Svintsyan from Lithuania, Vilna, and other nearby territories. These were Jews who had figured just the opposite--that under Svintsyan rule, better and greater possibilities existed for them to settle and also to live freely.
        The nearby artificial border on which the fields of local peasants lay provided great opportunities for all of the refugees who had not managed to move to Lithuania at the right time. It also provided them with an opportunity to try their luck at crossing the border.
        At that time, there still came, through Svintsyan, pioneers from preparatory points, who were sent to the conspiratorial group in the city by the Pioneer Center, which was still operating illegally in Lemberg. [The group in Svintsyan] made it possible for them to steal across the border. This group was led by: Yokhanan Mikhlson and Yehuda Shapiro, who later died. A part of this group is now in Israel.
        Svintsyan was at that time full of refugees of the following sort– Jews from the German territories who had surreptitiously stolen across the border into Russia and, via Svintsyan, into Lithuania.
        Lithuania's independence didn't last long. In departing Vilna earlier, the Soviets had left a permanently based military garrison in order to protect the Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, from a possible invasion by Hitler's Germany.
        The Soviets sought and found excuses to annex not only Vilna and the surrounding areas but all of Lithuania–at first as an “independent” state, but it was annexed very quickly and became the 14th Soviet Republic.
        After it came Latvia and Estonia. This occurred with the assistance of the army, which had occupied the Baltic states in order to protect the Soviet bases in those areas.
        The Soviet Republic of White Russia immediately returned the city of Svintsyan, generously and with great pomp, to their fraternal Republic of Lithuania. The previous border was abolished. [The new border] was set on the other side of the city and cut through the road from Svintsyan to Lintup at the 6 kilometer point near Vigodke. The villages of Kaptorun and Rinkyan belonged to Lithuania.
        The new border was no longer guarded, but one nevertheless needed special permission to travel to the other republics of Soviet Russia,
        This border didn't change under the German occupation and played a large role in September, 1941, when the Jews of Svintsyan and surrounding areas were killed in a bloody slaughter in Poligon. The Jews who escaped this blood bath by crossing the border found themselves outside the [town] limits – that is, outside the “abyss of annihilation” – and were temporarily saved. They settled in the nearby towns of White Russia: Lintup, Svir, Mikhalishok, Postav, and so on, where the killing was not yet the reality it was by the Lithuanians.
        There were no special changes instituted by the administrative or political organs in the crossing from Svintsyan of White Russia into the Lithuanian and Vilna territories. The look of the city stayed the same [as it was at this time]. The previous normal appearance of the city, as it had been before the war, had disappeared never to return. The Soviet system of doing things was already in place and affected daily life.
        Jews–all of the businessmen and merchants – became personae non gratae . They liquidated their merchandise, selling to the surrounding populace and to the newly arrived Soviet citizens, military personnel who were just passing through, and Soviet officials, who were great consumers of these goods. [These customers] bought everything, even though they had no idea what some of the things they bought were used for. Once the stores were emptied, since no new stock was coming in the stores closed. In their places, there opened up municipal warehouses with many acronyms: “Rey-Mag,” “Univer-Mag,” “Sel-Po,” “Rey-Po,” with numbered divisions but all of them with very few products. In order to get something to buy, one had to stand in endless lines, [but even then] prospects were few.
        The regular marketplace had disappeared. The peasants no longer sold anything for cash. They were more interested in barter, goods exchanged for other goods, and they demanded the most expensive goods for their products. The huge marketplace, no longer being used, was turned into a park.
        Jewish social life disappeared. All of the community leaders of the right or the left vacated their positions. The previous societies – Zionist, Socialist, and cultural organizations, institutions, reciprocal assistance organizations – were automatically dissolved.
        There was a great decline in the realm of religion. The new study house and the tailor's synagogue were requisitioned and made into a warehouse for wheat, which the villagers had to deliver to the state (“local suppliers”). The rest of the study houses and congregations were also rarely visited, because religion was forbidden as being counter-revolutionary. Only the aged visited the synagogues to pray. They couldn't do any harm, because they didn't work in any case due to the Sabbath.
        The stern Soviet regime was instituted with the assistance of new local cadres, party members, activists, whose baggage was their political past.
        With the help of these local activists, the city took on its appropriate appearance. The businesses and the estates of a great number of Jews were nationalized, and these people immediately had to leave the city and look for new places for themselves and their families to live.
        On the basis of this, the following left the city: Levin, Yisrael – Ashmene; Tschashnik, Ben-Tsion – Vileyke; Kohn-Potashnik – Olshan; Kovarsky, Leyb – Meligan; Matzkin, Zalman – Meglian; Kovarsky, Ahron – Meglian; Zar, Mordkhe – Strunoyitz; Shukhman, Meyer – Strunoyitz; Lulinski, Efraim – Lintup; Margolis, Shmuel – Lintup; Levin-Shtein, Lize – Lintup; Matzkin, Etl and Gordon-Levinski, Etl – Konstantinove.

        There were special deportations to Siberia for uncertain elements: Polish military men, forest guards, noblemen, estate owners and simply those who lived on estates [were] also uncertain elements.
        Among those deported were: Abramovitch and wife, Valodye Taraseyski and family, Hirsh Kovarsky, Rozenes and family, Pres and family.
        For supposed speculation, the following were sentenced to several years in jail and deported: Yitzhak Kovner and Bak Zusman. Yakov Mikhelson was freed for health reasons after serving several months in jail.
        In general there was a custom throughout the country – that it was healthier for one not to remain in the same place for too long. One should change one's place of residence and live in a place where you were less known. For this reason certain Svintsyaners left, namely Mordechai Gaviser and his wife Malka (Weinstein), [specifically] because of their Zionistic past and their active work for the Culture School. The school was, of course, closed and all the teachers scattered. The kindergarten teacher, Haya Bushkanyetz, was let go from her job and was not permitted to hold another.
        The Jewish school continued under municipal auspices with great changes in the teaching staff and pedagogic techniques. The teaching materials were also very different.
        The Education Department of the region combined the libraries of the Art Society and of the Educational Society into a general municipal library for all languages.
        The money and the property of the Folks Bank and the Interest Free Loan Society were transferred to the state bank (“Gas Bank”).
        Everything belonging to the Jewish institutions such as the Jewish Community and the Fund for the Sick and so on, the events of the city and the Khassidic baths and all of the buildings that the community owned were taken over by the communal administration (“ Kom-Khoz ”).
        The craftsmen and the tradesmen, who lost their private clients due to a dearth of manufactured [goods] and restrictions on free enterprise, were organized into general worker's workshops in which they filled requests for larger orders for the municipal business trusts and also for local use: “Rey-Po” and “Sel-Po.”
        In the city there were organized: a tailor's guild, a shoemaker's guild, one for wig makers, tanners, felt-boot makers, soda water producers, etc. All of these workers' organizations operated according to the same rigid system.
        The general summation: Svintsyan became a town like all others in the Soviet Union. The Jews slowly got used to the [newly] created conditions, the erstwhile small businessmen and merchants gradually entered the Soviet work force system, which was organized according to city and region. Some went to new places and tried their luck there. Some were successful.
        This situation continued until June, 1941. On the 22nd of June, Germany attacked the Soviet Union; and after a few days we were occupied by Hitler's Army.


The first 100 men – the “action” in Poligon – the Svintsyaner Ghetto – the liquidation of the Svinstyaner Ghetto – the cruel slaughter.

        With the departure of the Soviet Army and even before the regular Nazi soldiers appeared on the horizon, the Jewish population was already being threatened by the local Lithuanians.
        Provocations, sadistic anti-Semitic actions, robbery, murder [33] were only the beginning of the unforeseen end – complete annihilation.
        The total action of destroying the Jews didn't dally and came directly to our region.
        The following is how this tragic chapter started in Svintsyan and how it fits into the greater chronology:
        A) On July 15, 1941, according to a list and also randomly, 100 men were gathered. They are transported in heavily guarded trucks to the Baranover Woods near New-Svintsyan and shot.
        This action was directed against the youth groups in the city and those who were Soviet activists.
        B) On September 27, 1941 ( Shabbos Tshuva [34] 5702) – the whole Jewish population of the greater Svintsyan area was taken away from these points: Svintsyan, New-Svintsyan, Ignaline, Podbrodz, Haydutsishok, Dugelishok, Tseykin and everyone was kept for 10 days in the barracks of the military camp Poligon near New-Svintsyan.
        During this time, the Jews were tormented in inhuman ways, and on the intermediate days of Sukkoth, the 7th and the 8th of October, the whole group was shot and thrown into a previously prepared pit.
        This communal grave held 8,000 Jews from the Svintsyan area.


        A group of craftsmen from the city of Svintsyan were able to comprise a list of artisans: tailors, shoemakers, painters, tinsmiths, glazers, quilters, etc. – trades that were missing among the Christian population of the city. The list was titled “Necessary Jews,” and they were permitted to remain in the city to serve the everyday needs of the occupying government and the local Lithuanian administration.
        The list of necessary Jews was made at the last moment before all the Jews were taken to Poligon.
        In the course of the ten days before the mass murder in Poligon, the artisans of the city were successful in getting out more necessary tradesmen and at the same time they were also able to get out other families – for gifts, money, and [on the basis of] acquaintance. All of these created the Svintsyan Ghetto.
        The ghetto was a locked one, surrounded by barbed wire and a checkpoint gate. Inside, the ghetto was controlled by the ghetto police. Outside, constant Lithuanian guards.
        In addition to doing their jobs, the Jews also had to provide workers for municipal jobs of the German government: [35] at the sawmill, at the Tserklishki Estate, digging peat, at fur and wool production for the front. Thanks to the dearth of workers, those city Jews who had previously been successful in escaping the Poligon roundup were now also declared legal workers. They had been wandering around in the towns of White Russia: Svir, Michalishok, Kimelishok, Gluboke, Postav; but given the opportunity to settle back in their own town, they returned to Svintsyan.
        There were still Jews in practically every town and village in White Russia, since the White Russian population did not take as great a part in destroying and killing the neighboring Jews as did Lithuania. The gathering together and shipping [of Jews] to their deaths became more of a reality with the appearance of partisans in the forests around the towns, something which it was thought the Jews took part in and supported.
        In the year 1942, the German Economic Commander Beck was assassinated near Lintup. This was the work of the partisans headed by the former Svintsyan teacher, Markov.
This situation was used as an excuse to kill 50 Svintsyan Polacks and three Jews who worked with the Commander. They were all suspected of having a connection with the group of partisans.
        Also due to this situation, the Jews of Lintup were led into the Svintsyan Ghetto. Under the pretext that partisans had been seen in the woods around Vidz, the Jews of Vidz were also led into the Svintsyan Ghetto and placed in the same confined space. [36]
        The Ghetto grew in number [of inhabitants] and at the beginning of 1943 contained 2,000 Jews. Poverty became widespread; the living conditions, deplorable.
        The Ghetto was governed by the Jewish Council controlled by these Svintsyaners: M. Gordon, N. Taraseyski. A. Katsenboygn, Kh. H. Levin and A. Gilinski.
        At their disposal they had 8-10 policemen. All together they comprised the administration of the Ghetto.
        A typical letter about the activities of the administration can be found in the daily newspaper of the refugees, Our Way , published in Munich, Germany (January 1946). The genuine text follows:

The Liquidation of the Svintsyan Ghetto -- 4.4.1943

        In the summer of 1942, about 2,500 Jews from all the villages were herded into the city of Svintsyan; and the Jews of Svintsyan were 500, making a total of 3,000. A large Ghetto was made, having police and a Jewish Council. The Jewish elder was Moshe Gordon. He took four other men to help him: a doctor, Taraseyski, second--Berl Kapelushnik, Police Chief Khaim Levin and the children's teacher from the Medem Sanatorium, Motl Gilinski. They controlled all the work in our Ghetto. The poor were sent to the camps, and the rich who paid were left in their homes.
        I received permission from the Jewish Council to bake in the Ghetto bakery. My wife and I worked hard together under terrible conditions. We had two small children, and my heart hurt having to see the pain and suffering of these innocent little souls, who had already started to feel the effects of the dark cloud over our heads.
        The winter was very severe; and the hunger in the Ghetto, even more so. Jews weren't allowed to leave the Ghetto to sell anything. The police and Gordon Brosh saw to that. Conditions worsened in the Ghetto, and it was decided that only 200 grams of bread would be meted out daily.
        The living conditions in the Ghetto were fatal – 10 people in a room, and others lay in the study house. A typhus epidemic broke out, and people were dying like flies.
        Suddenly an order came from Vilna that by Sunday, April 4, 1943, Svintsyan had to be free of Jews. Doctor Taraseyski was sent to Vilna to have the decree rescinded. He returned with the police of the Vilna Ghetto.
        The Chief of the Vilna Ghetto, Herr Gens [37] spoke to the Svintsyan Jews at the study house and said: “Everyone must go to the Kovno Ghetto and they can take everything with them.”
        Those with a specialty – tailors, shoemakers, bakers, tinsmiths – he [said he] is taking back to the Vilna Ghetto.
        He left his representative, Frid, and six Vilna policemen, to carry out the evacuation.
        The first decree of the Police Commissioner was that the members of the Jewish Council and their families, the police and their families, and those with a profession should prepare themselves for the trip to Vilna and the rest must all go to Kovno.
        The truth was that instead of those with a profession, those with money went. They each paid 50 golden rubles.
        The second decree of Police Chief Frid was that everyone must be all packed and ready to travel at 12 o'clock on Sunday, the 4th of April, 1943.
        The leaders came to the Ghetto. The Jewish policemen urged everyone to load the wagons as quickly as possible. At the train station there were closed train cars, their windows wired shut. Fifty people were packed into each car.
        At the time of departure it appeared that 50 young people with weapons in their hands had gone to join the partisans in the forest.
        We went to the Vilna train station and had to wait. The representative of the Head of the Vilna Ghetto, Desler, already had the decree to take us to the right place. Five hundred fortunate Jews were separated from us; and under the guard of Jewish policemen, they were sent to the Vilna Ghetto. On Monday, the fifth of April 1943 at 10:30, we were on the road to Kovno. When we were 8 kilometers from Vilna, we stopped and we saw the awful truth. Instead of Kovno, we had been taken on the road to death – Ponar.
        There we found the clothes of the corpses from the towns of:
Oshmene, Michalishok, Sol, and Smargon. Kovno was to have the same fate. Now it was our turn – Svintsyan.
        Fifty men were led to the ditch. The German police with machine guns were shooting. Small children were thrown into the pit while still alive.
        Twenty-eight managed to save themselves from this slaughter under the women and children. When I arrived at the Vilna Ghetto, the Jewish police immediately led me to the Lukisker Jail. There I met other fortunate ones who had escaped the slaughter. In the morning it was heard on the street that all of those who had remained alive after the slaughter must report to the Gestapo.
        The Chief of the Criminal Police, Zageyski, came to us and told us to get ready. I pleaded with him on behalf of us all: “Let us live! Only 28 of us managed to save ourselves out of 4,500 Jews, and you want to deliver us into the hands of the Gestapo!”
        It seemed that he had a human heart [after all], and he told us that he would take care of the matter. Instead of us, 28 sick and old people from the Vilna Ghetto were sent to the S. S. We received their passports. Instead of Yisroel Kokhalski, I was now Avrom Rosenberg, 42 years old. With this, the affair called Kovno ended.
        The cruel Holocaust, however, had not yet ended. It continued. Of the murdered thousands who found their communal graves at Ponar there remained only bloody memories, a deep wound which never heals.

Yisroel Kokhalski

        The original copy of this letter was at that time [January 1946] given over to the Historical Commission of Munich, which was researching the history of the Jews in the ghettos, the situations and conditions under which they died.
        This letter among others was taken to Jerusalem and is now in the archives of Yad Vashem [38] in a special file, “The Ghetto in Svintsyan.”
        The writer of this letter, Yisroel Kokhalski, lives in Israel.
        In the same file at Yad Vashem, there are also other letters by surviving Svintsyaners which have not yet been made public. Those letters do not say anything new. They just confirm with other details the established contents of Yisroel Kokhalski's letter.


Svintsyaners in the woods and Partisaner camps--Svintsyaner partisans try to save the Jews of the Vilna Ghetto--The negative position of the Vilna F.P.O [United Partisans Organization] to this action-- the “Svintsyaners” lead the “Vilners” in the woods--F.P.O. joins in and saves the situation--the military action of the Svintsyaners--the monument.
        In spite of their assurances to the delegated representatives from Vilna, the members of the Jewish Council and the representatives of their police – Gens, Desler, Dreyzin, Frid and others who had come to Svintsyan to see to the final liquidation of the Ghetto – that no harm would be done to anyone, neither to those who go to Vilna nor to those who go to Kovno, those listed below did not go along with everyone else – to where they were sent. Instead they left the Ghetto along with the last transports (4/4/1943) and headed for the woods and the villages in the area.

(In alphabetical order): [39]

1. Bushkanyetz, Shimon 27. Las, Munye
2. Bushkanyetz, Mordechai 28. Michelson, Yankev
3. Bushkanyetz, Shmuel 29. Michelson, Yehudis
4. Bushkanyetz, Leah-Sara 30. Michelson, Moshe
5. Bushkanyetz, Haya 31. Michelson, Shaul
6. Bushkanyetz, Golda 32. Michelson, Yoynasn
7. Gertman, Yehoshua 33. Matzkin, Zalman
8. Grazul, Perets 34. Markus, Yitzhak
9. Gilinski, Moshe 35. Markus, Zelde
10. Gordon, Khaim-Leyb 36. Markus, Leyb
11. Volfson, Yisroel 37. Markus, Shmuel
12. Volfson, Dovid 38. Markus, Mereh
13. Tayts, Yitzhak 39. Svirsky, Ber
14. Jochai, Berl 40. Solomyak, Sholom
15. Jochai, Leyb 41. Flekser, Yoysef
16. Jochai, Khaim 42. Kramnik, Sara-Feyge
17. Chayet, Fayvish 43. Rudnitsky, Yitzhak
18. Chayet, Rashke 44. Rudnitsky, Moshe
19. Chencinski, Maks 45. Rudnitsky, Yoysef
20. Charmatz, Hirsh 46. Reyz, Avrom
21. Lurie, Taybe 47. Shutan, Moshe
22. Levin, Shimon 48. Shutan, Ester
23. Levin, Rubin 49. Shuchman, Meyer
24. Levin, Rukhl 50. Miadziolski, Efraim
25. Las, Nisn 51. Porus, Yitzhak
26. Las, Haya 52. Opeskin, Khanon

The liquidation of the Svintsyan Ghetto was done carefully and in a very “liberal” manner because, instead of Germans and Lithuanians doing it, it was done by the Jewish police of Vilna. This, nevertheless, did not reduce the basic distrust toward the executioners and their henchmen, even if the latter were Jews. This did not yet result in an uprising, bad blood, or armed clashes with the leaders of the Ghetto, who were prepared for an eventual assault by the armed liquidation troops, the S.S., the S. D., the Lithuanians, or other Germans.
        The armed group which had left for the woods had left the city 10 days before. They, along with later arrivals, for the most part (some sooner, some later) joined the army of Soviet partisans, whose base was very near our area, in the woods around Lake Narocz and in the woods near Kazian and Miadzol.
        Once the Svintsyan group had settled into the forest near Tserklishok (12 kilometers from the city), they immediately made contact with Markov's detachment. Since Markov was himself from Svintsyan, he warmly welcomed the Jews from his hometown and immediately organized a group of them for a mission in the Vilna Ghetto, in order to organize a mass exodus of the ghetto Jews into the forests.
        The following partisans participated in this mission: Gertman, Shutan, Volfson, Rudnitsky, Feygl and others.
        Unfortunately, they were prevented by the Jewish Council and the police, who felt secure in their positions and carried out the orders of Hitler's henchmen most brutally, often descending to those depths in the belief that they would be around at the end of the bloodbath and perhaps even remain alive.
         In the end, none of [the Council members and police] was able to avoid the bitter fate of the Jews; and they were sent down the same road to the work camps and then to the death camps like all the others.
        The first encounters of our Svintsyan partisans with the underground organization F. P. O., which had already been organized at that time, were unsuccessful. The position of the F. P. O., like all the other underground guerrilla organizations of the most populated ghettos, was open escape during the expected final liquidation of the Ghetto. This was their status, theoretical argument, and ultimate goal.
        The meeting with the representatives of the F. P. O. took place after the liquidation of the Bialystok Ghetto, in which armed Jews put up worthy and heroic resistance to German tanks and other armed forces. The Warsaw Ghetto was already burning at that time and [the Jews were] fighting, and it was difficult to convince [people] that the open struggle in the guarded ghetto in the center of the city was like martyring oneself for God's Name, something that would endow prestige but not life – this was a show of strength without the least chance of conquering. Therefore, this point also detracts from the status of the F. P. O. Going into the forest was only an individual means of saving oneself, [and it meant] leaving the Jewish masses in the Ghetto without necessary protection or hope of revenge.
        The argument of the young male partisans, dictated and founded on the bitter fate of the whole Jewish environment which no longer exists, was that the forest and its organized partisan-military strength held greater possibilities for revenge, while at the same time helping to destroy the Nazi Army and helping the front in its certain victory. It also offered greater possibilities for surviving the war than did the fenced-in ghetto in Vilna, whose fate could not be any different from that of others.
        With these arguments, the young heroic partisans succeeded in winning over most of the underground organizations and thereby splitting the F. P. O. Under the leadership of the Svintsyan partisans, certain groups of the F. P. O. and Svintsyaners in the Vilna Ghetto headed for the woods and there joined the Army of the Forest.
        The Jewish Council feared the boldness of the Svintsyan partisans. In the Ghetto they were spoken of with respect, and the possibility of joining them was considered a privilege.
        According to the Book of Jewish Partisans , Volume 1, page 39, the first group which left Vilna consisted of 28 men. This was Glazman's group--the first veterans to enter the aforementioned woods via Svintsyaners. Yeshike Gertman accompanied them.
        The following groups left after a dramatic struggle with the Vilna Ghetto leader, Gens, and his ghetto police, which arrested certain partisans. They were freed after confidential deliberations with the F.P.O. In those days, heated discussions were raging about the idea of going into the woods. These opinions, both pro and con, were offered at secret gatherings of those with arms in the Vilna Ghetto.
        According to the exact information in The Book of Jewish Partisans , [40] the second group from the Vilna Ghetto left the city on the 24th of July 1943, and after that a chain [of helpers] was organized by these same people and accompanied [those who left] on their way to the forests of Narocz and Kazyan. The following are known to us: Shutan, Rudnitsky, Volfson, Bushkanyetz, and Feygel.
        The writer, Shmerke Katcherginski, was also a partisan. He devotes the greater part of his book Partisans March to the Svintsyan group, who along with others from Vilna, also led him out in that special group--writers and journalists, physicians and others who succeeded in escaping. In addition to military duties, they also had to take care of the necessary basic needs of the homeless and forgotten people [who found themselves in] the forest to the best of their professional abilities under the prevailing conditions.
        This group of journalists and writers were active on the staff: They manned the radio-telegraph connection from the forest to the main headquarters in Moscow. They gathered the necessary information from the front and the hinterlands and published it and disseminated it among the army of partisans so they would not feel isolated from what was happening at the front, because every day there was good news and this was able to keep up the morale of those who remained alive and were fighting in Nazi territory.

A medal and a certificate awarded to Shimon Bushkanyetz by the Soviet
government to commemorate his participation in the war as a partisan.


A certificate issued by the Belorussian Partisans Organization, confirming that
Shimon Bushkanyetz had fought as a partisan during World War II.

One of the group, the poet, Avrom Sutzkever of Vilna, flew by plane to Moscow from the forest near Narocz. The Russian airplanes would often land, bringing arms and ammunition to our organized partisan army.
        The doctors worked in the forest hospital which had been set up in forest trenches and man-made underground caves. The critically wounded were taken by plane to Russian territory.
        A large production detachment was active on the staff in the woods and served all of the thousands of partisans' needs for clothing, shoes, and food. For the most part, these were Jews who had escaped from the local towns after extensive slaughters and Vilna Jews with suitable trades, whom the Svintsyan Jews had brought from the Ghetto and in doing so saved them from certain death.
        All of these partisans, Jews from the Vilna Ghetto, paved the way for the heroes and heroic struggles of the Vilna partisans against the enemy in the local Rudnitsker Forest, where those from Vilna were later taken for the Lithuanian Brigade in accordance with instructions from Moscow.
        The partisans saw their dreams [come true] in their sacred daily work – in the woods and in the fields, in the city and in the village – in every way that they hindered the German Army in any of its doings in order to speed up its collapse and, in so doing, help the Red Army along the whole length of the front.
        Revenge and death to the enemy – that was the continual satisfaction that the partisan [sought and] which accompanied him day and night in his partisan and military actions and for which he sacrificed his life.
        The Jewish Svintsyan partisans were especially active in their own region. All of the provision points which had been prepared for the military and front were systematically disturbed and destroyed. All telephone communications were severed and further communication made impossible. The electric plant in Svintsyan was blown up with dynamite, police points liquidated. The train lines between Vilna and Dvinsk and between Vilna and Polotsk, which were practically the only connections to the front north of Russia and which were under continual German guard, were severed.
        The train lines were guarded every step of the way, but this did not deter the Svintsyaners in the diversionary groups from demolishing the transports on their way to the front and back.
        The number of derailed and destroyed transports were often checked and immortalized in the partisan staff archives, and those who took part in these activities were duly recognized.
        Berl Jochai records 17 transports; Yitzhak Rudnitsky records 12 transports; Mordechai Bushkanyet – 10 transports; Shimon Bushkanyetz – 10 transports. We also have the records of: Flekser, Feygel, Moshe Rudnitsky, Svirsky and others.

* * *

        I want to end the epic of Svintsyan – its origin, its famous, historic development, the heroic and symbolic epilogue of its beautiful settlements and their “last Mohicans”--with Y. Sh.'s [an acronym] opening to Shmerke Katcherginski's book Partisans March: [41]
Partizaner Geyen ( Partisans March )

I myself witnessed and experienced the great epic of the Jewish
People in the horrific years of death and destruction;
I myself felt the joy of Jewish revenge, which those who had escaped to The forests felt
Jewish partisans--and I wrote it exactly!
Written--under the first direct impression of
A war task accomplished,
[After] the tragic death of a friend,
Of an act of revenge on murderers and tormentors.
Written--having been inferred from a deep feeling of responsibility
Of unrest and feeling of fear--this wonderful discovery
Of a desperate Jewish resistance
May it not be forgotten, may it not remain unknown
Forgotten and unknown were the heroic outbreaks
Jewish resistance in various ghettos,
Because no one remained,
Because no one wrote,
For history,
For us --
To comfort and encourage,
A book about Jewish strength, about sacred Jewish weapons and about
Readiness to sacrifice one's life in the struggle for life . . .


32. The word used, shuln, could also mean synagogues. Trans. Back
33. This word can also be translated as “cruelty.” Trans. Back
34. This means “the Sabbath of Return.” It is the Sabbath right before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement Trans. Back
35. In Yiddish, this is gut tserklishki, which could mean the Tserklishki Estate. Trans . Back
36. The Hebrew term “ Tkhum hamoshav ” is used to describe the Pale of Settlement in Czarist Russia or to mean a “reservation” like an Indian reservation, a confined place of residence. Trans. Back
37. Jacob Gens, formerly Chief of the Jewish Police in the Vilna Ghetto. When the Germans dissolved the Judenrat in July of 1942, they appointed Gens the Head of the Ghetto. Gens employed many ruses to try to save Jewish lives, though ultimately this was a doomed effort. In September, 1943, he was shot by the Gestapo. Ed. Back
38. The Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Trans. Back
39. Number 50, 51, and 52 are not in the original Yiddish alphabetical order. Trans. Back
40. The title is in Hebrew: Sefer HaPartizanim HaYihudim . Trans. Back
41. In Yiddish: Partizaner Geyen . Trans. Back

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