Translated by Janie Respitz
The sea of suffering and death began the 22nd of June, 1941. The Nazis entered Ignalina the second week after the outbreak of the German Soviet war.
We heard about this a few days before, so all the Jews ran to the surrounding villages. The Jews understood that they should not be present at the moment of their arrival.
Together with my wife Liza [Daughter of Zalman Gilinsky & Chava/Chasia] and our small son Asherl (Asher), I escaped to a Christian acquaintance, Matsulis in Zabartzi village, 5 kilometres from our town. He received us very nicely. After a few days with him we learned the Nazis had arrived in Ignalina.
The First Days Under the German Regime
The German army marched through Ignalina toward Polotzk and Minsk. Marching away to the front, they left behind approximately 100 S.S and gendarmes, to keep order behind the front lines.
They immediately began to organize the Lithuanian youth and issue the first orders against the Jewish population.
The first decree was a warning to all Christians. If they were caught hiding Jews, they will be shot together with the Jews.
My Christian was very friendly and did not ask us to leave our hiding place.
However, we knew all the Jews were returning from the villages and we decided to return to town. Upon our return we were told a Lithuanian commander was in charge in Ignalina with the help of tens of Germans and Lithuanian police.
Their first task was to capture former communists. In July they rounded up 30 men, 28 Jews and 2 Christians. They were brought to the outskirts of town, to a bridge at Lake Ilgish, and shot.
A few days later they killed Baranchuk, the father of the well know Vilna lawyer whose family lived in Ignalina
During the first few weeks we went to work every day on the train tracks. We took the reserve tracks, and every 10 kilometres made a side track so the Germans could travel quicker without any obstacles.
Many Jews from our town worked the land. Some served various managers, Lithuanian and German.
The first time we felt German sadism, was when Dovid Ritva seriously wounded his hand and foot while lifting a steel spike. He asked the German supervisor permission to see a doctor. My brother Yisroel had also injured a finger. The German told them to tear a piece of material from their undershirts and bandage their wounds. After work they went to the town mayor, Tivnelis and requested a requisition to see a doctor. He too said Jews were not permitted to see a doctor. This was now the attitude of a rich farmer who had for years, lived very well with the Jews.
In the end, they found a Polish doctor who bandaged their wounds. He pleaded with them not to tell anyone.
The second edict against was Jews was that every Jew had to wear a yellow patch in front and a star of David on his back.
My wife Liza fainted while sewing on the patch. I tried to cheer her up and comfort her, but tears ran from her eyes as well.
We saw, in the yellow patch, a bitter warning for our future fate.
Two months later, our Christian neighbours told us a Ghetto will be made in Ignalina , just like in all the other towns throughout Lithuania.
Some Christians actually told the truth, that would keep the Jews in the Ghetto for a short time only and eventually shoot everyone.
I happened to meet the Mayor of Svencionys, Har [This could be a name] Blazis, with whom I was very well acquainted. He whispered to me that the Ghetto will be on Gavinken Street, bordered between some small houses.
For us, this was not such a bad idea. On that street stood my father Avrom's house as well as my uncle's, Yerachmiel Korb. [Yerachmiel was the brother of the author's (Shmuel Gilinsky's) mother, Chana (Korb) Gilinsky]
Meanwhile, the farmers from the villages came and asked us for our belongings. They told us we would not be permitted to take them with us to the Ghetto. A few of them told us they would bring us vital supplies once we were in the Ghetto.
Merely a day after I met Blazis, the order was carried out and all the Jews were commanded to move into the Ghetto.
The order came at 10:00 at night, when Jews were not permitted to leave their homes. It was even forbidden to look out the window.
We put our little boy to bed, but we did not sleep all night. At 3:00 a.m I looked out the window through a crack. At the end of our street I saw a very familiar policeman.
I quietly called to him. He told me at 6:00 all the Jews will be brought to the Ghetto on Gavinken Street. He then told me to hide all our jewelry and gold. He told me if they find it, they will shoot us on the spot.
I took off my gold watch, gave it to him and asked if at the check, he himself could come to me.
This is what happened. Around 12:00 they led us to the Ghetto. We took a sack of belongings and a bit of food, and moved into my father's house.
It was very crowded in the Ghetto. 1200 people were confined to a small street. People slept in stalls, attics and cellars. There was a great shortage of food.
The first thing was to establish a Judenrat [Jewish Council] which was responsible for sending Jews to work.
We had to go wash and clean the train station. Some people worked on the farms and in the yards. We were happy they were letting us live and not taking us from the Ghetto as they were doing in other Lithuanian towns.
The Lithuanian police would come into the Ghetto daily and exploit from us as much as possible
One day, a Lithuanian from Shabalishok came to our Rabbi and demanded jewelry and gold. By this time, Rabbi (Chait) had nothing left. He took off his and his wife's wedding rings and gave them to him.
The Lithuanian did not believe he did not have more to give him, and beat him and left him unconscious.
This was a wealthy Lithuanian farmer who was always considered to be a friend to the Jews.
After three weeks in the Ghetto, there was no news. By the fourth week, a Polish friend, Reksht arrived and told us a meeting took place in Svencionys with all the mayors of the region, as well as the German regional commissar, Bek. A decision was made to liquidate all the Ghettos and send the Jews to the barracks in Poligon, near New-Svencionys (Švenčionėliai).
Bek instructed the mayors to leave behind only the useful Jews, Jewish professionals and specialists who could come in handy.
All the mayors refused to carry out this privilege. Only the mayor of Svencionys accepted. Bazis even insisted that the useful Jews remain with their families. This is how around 60 Jewish families from Svencionys were saved.
It was the week of Erev Yom Kippur. We noticed that many wagons from Ignalina were being sent to Svencionys. After my conversation with Reksht I met my friend the policeman. He told me to escape to his brother-in-law in Vishnuni and hide there for a few days until the situation becomes clearer.
I went home and told everyone the situation is grave, and we have to escape to the villages.
They did not believe my panic. I asked my uncle, brothers and sisters to run away with me. They refused.
I took my wife Liza and our little boy Asherl (Asher), said goodbye to everyone, and as soon as it became dark, around 7:00 in the evening, we ran away to Vishnuni, to the policeman's brother-in-law.
I Escaped From the Ghetto
Before I left my father's house, I once again warned everyone that Poligon meant death and they should run away, anywhere they could. They all said they would wait and see what will happen.
At 10:00 that night we arrived at our Christian acquaintance. They immediately gave is a place in the barn on a pile of hay. Around 2:00 in the morning, my brother Yisroel arrived with his whole family and my brother Berl. They recounted that at 11:00 that night, the Lithuanian policeman came and told them to escape. He simply asked that they don't make noise in the Ghetto.
Thanks to him, over 100 Jews were saved from the Ghetto. My brother ran around and told as many people as he possibly could.
I was later confirmed, my fear was justified! 12:00 that night the entire Ignalina Ghetto was surrounded with no way of escaping. The next morning they took everyone to Poligon, where they interred thousands of Jews from the Svencionys region.
Leyzer Levitan escaped from Poligon and told us they had wagons for the sick, elderly women and children. Everyone else had to walk.
That night, Asher Gilinsky's wife gave birth to twins. She also went in a wagon. A Christian neighbour saw her and brought her a pillow to put under her head. The magistrate from the town of Tianelis saw this, forbid it and took the pillow away from under her head.
A second incident happened to Yitzkhak Dubinsky's two year old child. Burmistch Tivnelis threw him into the wagon and cracked his head open. The Christians who witnessed it scolded him for being such a bandit.
You also have children they told him. How are you not ashamed to do this to such a small child?
This scolding did not help at all. The bandits did whatever they wanted. A horrible thing happened to our neighbour Milchkik the Schochet, the ritual slaughter's daughter. A 45 year old Lithuanian raped her on the road in front of parent's eyes.
They kept them in Poligon for 12 days, and on the twelfth day, took them to a mass grave and shot them. Many were buried alive.
Before going to the grave, the Rabbi from New-Svencionys gave a sermon. He appealed to all to die with pride as a martyr.
A few hid and ran away that night.
It is hard to describe how we in Vishnun survived hearing this news. Everyone now knew the policeman told us the truth.
Vidz [Now: Vidzy, Belarus]
We could not remain in Vishnun for long. The Christian was afraid of his nephews who were collaborating with the Nazis. He asked us to look for another hiding place.
Our friend the policeman from Ignalina came himself and took us to the forest 12 kilometres from that village. Between that forest and other forests were a few kilometres of open fields. We hadn't gone half way when we noticed we were being chased by one man on a horse and a second in a rover.
They were Lithuanians we knew. They stood us beside a tree and wanted to shoot us. I asked them for pity. It did not help. Luckily, two Christians friends suddenly appeared and said: Let them go. Don't you see these are the Gilinskys. They are good people. You don't have to shoot them!
The hearts of the bandits softened and they let us go.
Only a great writer could describe what we experienced in those two hours. Our lives were counted in minutes.
It was a very hot day. We had nothing to eat. The children were extremely thirsty. It was pitiful to watch them suffer.
We remained in the same place until evening. When it was totally dark my brother asked me to check if the road to White Russia (Belarus) was open. If yes, we will take the children and go there.
I left. On the road I met a Christian friend who was surprised to see that I was free. He asked if the partisans who met us earlier freed us.
I made up a story that I was on my way to a village to look for bread and lost my family. I told him I didn't know what happened to them.
I waited for him to leave and returned to my family in the forest.
When my brother heard the story he said the partisans [not all Partisans were good] must still be looking for us. They think we have money and were still planning to capture us. He suggested we do not move from this place. They will assume we left and will go looking for us.
We did not budge until 11:00 that night. Then we began walking toward Vidz. It was a very dark night. We walked into mud. Since we were all so thirsty, we filled our caps and drank the muddy water.
We rested for a while and then continued our walk all night. When it got light, we approached Vidz which belonged to White Russian territory.
We decided not to enter the town until we were sure what was going on. We had to learn if there were any Jews left in Vidz.
We entered a small forest nearby and sat under a tree to rest. My brother Yisroel said a Jewish friend of his, Katcherginsky, lives in one of the first houses in Vidz. He will go there and see what's happening in his house.
My brother left, found the house, knocked on the door. An unfamiliar Christian farmer opened the door. My brother returned and sadly told us that no Jews were left in Vidz.
We were very sad. We had suffered for so long, and now we had to head back.
We lay there not knowing what to do. Where should we go? To Whom? Why should we continue to suffer?
My brother began to rethink what transpired and began doubting his orientation. Perhaps he knocked on a stranger's door? Maybe he misunderstood the farmer? Is it possible he did not recognize the correct house?
After he rested he decided to return to the town and ask at a second house.
He knocked on the door of the second house. First no one answered. He knocked again and someone came to the window. It was Dovid Ritva from Ignalina. He opened the door. He recognized him immediately through a crack in the window and happily told him the Jews in Vidz are all still living in their own homes.
Yisroel quickly ran back to us in the forest. Weak, hungry, thirsty and barely alive we entered Katcherginsky's house. The children drank some water. It was sheer pleasure.
We lay down but could not fall asleep. At 11:00 at night we heard someone gently knocking at the door. The gentle knock made us think it could be Jews. We opened the door and there stood my father Avrom, my brother Meir, my sister-in-law and their three children.
It appeared their journey had been a lot easier than ours. They were also captured on the road, but only a bit of money was taken from them. Their lives had not been endangered.
We were all happy that so far, we were saved from the bandits. The only ones missing from our family were our sister Alte, her husband Yosef Gavenda and their two children.
The next morning we received new good guests from Ignalina. It was my uncle Yerachmiel Korb, his wife Mirl (Nee Szrolowicz/Srulowitz) and their son Leybl.
Yerachmiel entered the house in silence. He lost his speech from fear, as if it had been taken away.
He had been very active in Jewish causes in town and had a lot of Christian friends. They stripped him on the road down to his underwear searching for money. He overcame many obstacles on the way, but thank God, we all arrived in peace in Vidz.
Within a few days, our Ignalina family in Vidz grew. Berl Gilinsky arrived with his family: Elke Gilinsky and her family; Esther Kril and her family; Dovid Soloveichik and his family; Shayke Dubinsky, Shloimeh Kuritsky, Gitl Gilinsky, Avrom Srolovitch (brother of Mirl, married to Yerachmiel Korb) and his wife; Mirl Brodsky, Leipzig the blacksmith's two sons, Shloimen Ring's wife and two daughters, Leybe Khaim Elpern with his family.
The last to arrive was Gavenda (Yosef Gavenda) the brother-in-law with his family. Quite a large number of Ignalina Jews arrived in Vidz.
The first few days we were all very happy that we had survived. Yet we soon realized that also Vidz was not a safe haven.
We had only been there a few days when we received an order that all the Jews must move to a Ghetto. Since we were all not registered in Vidz, they could not take us into the Ghetto. The Jewish authority explained that in order to register, we would have to bribe the commander with a lot of money. We all had only the shirts on our backs. None of us had a lot of money. What were we all to do?
Our brother-in-law had twenty thousand rubles which he gave them. They said it was too little. They demanded gold and other valuables.
We held a meeting and decided to leave Vidz. We chose a Sunday when the farmers went home, and we left town.
The question remained, where to? We decided to divide into groups and each group would go to a different town. One group went to Apse, another went to Postav the others went to Yadi and Miori.
Our family was divided in two groups: My older brother went in the direction of Miori and I went, with my other two brothers and our families to Yadi.
After walking all night we arrived in Yadi. It was a small town with about 150 people. By the time we got there the Jewish population had increased by 20. Later, Jewish refugees arrived from Lithuania and Estonia bringing the Jewish population close to 300.
Almost all the Jewish residents were farmers. When we arrived they were all still at their regular jobs and living in their own homes. The Jews of Yadi were the exact opposite from the Jews of Vidz. They received us warmly, gave us food and organized places for us to sleep.
We knew the town administratively belonged to the same regional commissary of Gluboke. The chairman of the Jewish council was Lederman, who ran all the towns in White Russia (Belarus).
At this time, the situation of the Jews in Yadi was not bad. We lived there for a few weeks.
Meanwhile, we heard from our family in Miori [Miyory, Belarus] that all was quiet and there was no Ghetto as of yet. We decided to go and join them.
It turned out to be the right thing to do. Not long after we left there was an horrific massacre in Yadi. The reason given, a Jew was caught slaughtering a cow.
Very few were rescued from this massacre. Finsav's daughter ran away with her sister's two children to a farmer friend in a nearby village. He did not think for long, tied them all up and brought them to the mass grave. Christians who witnessed her shooting said in a split second, her black curly hair turned snowy white.
The massacre in the town of Yadi was the first Action in all of White Russia. We felt very fortunate that we left there in time. My family and I headed toward Vidz, the rest went to Miori.
Everyone in Miori was living in his own home. It was not a big town, but it had a match factory, a saw mill and a large place for wood. We quickly found work. There was no food. They received 30 grams of bread a day, and were happy to be alive.
After two months of living quietly the order came to build a Ghetto for the Jews. They brought Jews from Estonia surrounding towns amounting to about 2 thousand Jews in the Ghetto.
The head of the Braslav community, Mindl, succeeded in convincing the German gendarme to enlarge the Ghetto. Because there were many workshops in the Ghetto and the German were interested in their regular work, they agreed to ease the living conditions.
Often, farmers would come to Miori and bring potatoes, vegetables and other goods.
Whoever did not work in the workshops, worked chopping wood. Since my brothers and brother-in-law were specialists in lumber, they worked in the forest.
We became friendly with the Christians in the area. They would often bring us potatoes, bread, and sometimes a piece of butter for the children. It is true we lived in constant fear, but we lived.
One day they brought forty Gypsies to Miori. The German gendarmes confined them to a prison. The Jews of the Ghetto were ordered to dig graves. Early in the morning they brought the Gypsies to the grave and wanted to shoot them. The Gypsies asked if they could recite a special prayer before being killed.
This was permitted. They used the opportunity to discuss and decide to shout a Hurrah! And run away to the forest. Such a thing did not occur to the Germans and they did not guard carefully.
Almost all the Gypsy men managed to escape. The Gendarmes managed to capture a few children and women and shot them on the spot.
The Jews spent the next two days in great fear, fearful the Germans would take out their anger on them.
Another incident occurred when the Germans found a torn cable from a telephone post. They began to bother the Jews, thinking they were responsible. Mindl, the head of the Jewish council went to the commander and told him it was a false accusation. Jews would never do this. They had to bribe the Gendarmes. They asked for gold, valuables, leather coats and steel boots. Every Jew gave what he had. The deadline was too short and the Jewish council did not succeed in collecting all the demanded goods.
The Christians in the villages told us they were asked to dig graves in the fields. Great despair befell the Jews. Everyone was sure the angel of death had arrived. There was a call for a communal fast in the Ghetto. Everyone wept and cried.
In the last minute, a miracle occurred. The commandant accepted the gifts from the Jewish council and called back the soldiers. They were saved from a sure death.
The situation in Miori Ghetto continued to worsen .Many refugees arrived. It became over crowded. There was talk about liquidating the Ghetto.
One morning at 5:30 as we were getting ready to go to work, we were ordered to immediately gather in the town square.
They separated the men and women. They also separated the children and then confined us in groups in the warehouses.
We decided we would not, under any conditions go to the town square. My heart told me it would be catastrophic. We hid behind the houses and watched what was happening in town. As there was nowhere to hide, my brother went into a toilet. He told his wife, child and her brother to join him, but they were caught by the police and brought to the warehouse along with everyone else.
He was alone in the toilet and regretted not going together with the rest.
When darkness fell, he climbed out of the hole. I barely made it to a stall and lay down behind the wall.
In the darkness I noticed two shadows along the wall. It appeared to be two Jews from the Ghetto.
From behind the wall, he saw three trucks filled with S.S. They were taking all the jews from the warehouses and leading them to the graves outside of town.
Running away was difficult. Miori was surrounded by a lake and a deep river on one side; on the other side were the S.S. and the graves.
A while later we heard screams and shooting. We saw people running from the graves and being shot. Very few managed to escape. The majority were killed on the horrible evening. My family as well. This was June 2, 1942.
Yisroel and two others lay behind the stall until 11:00. They could come out earlier as the police were going from house to house searching for anyone hiding. Of course they stole whatever they could. At one point the police stood a couple of metres from the stall, but he didn't notice them.
When all was quiet and they no longer heard footsteps of the patrol, they emerged from behind the wall and began to walk toward the large grave. There was no other way to go.
We ran to the big forest 3 kilometres from town. There we found a few who managed to escape. Not many were saved from the slaughter.
There in the forest He drew His conclusions. Precisely here, in White Russia, I had to lose my whole family. They were saved from Poligon, they escaped numerous bandits and suddenly such a huge fire in one day. I jotted down in my memory; on June 2 1942 I lost my whole family in the fields of Miori:
My wife Liza and our dear son Asherl (Asher), may they rest in peace;
My brother Meir and his family, may they rest in peace;
My brother Berl, may he rest in peace; My brother Yisroel and his family, may they rest in peace;
My brother-in-law Yosef Gavenda and his family, may they rest in peace;
My brother-in-law Shloime Galperin and his family, may they rest in peace;
and many, many friends and acquaintances.
The night between the 2nd and 3rd I was left totally alone.
Deep in my heart I had only one desire, one thought: Revenge! Revenge! Where is God of vengeance who will take revenge for so much innocent spilled blood?
Return to Vidz
Three of us remained in the forest. We lay an entire day without food or drink. In the evening we decided there was no point remaining in the forest. As soon as it became dark we began to walk from forest to forest. Perhaps someone would pity us.
On our way, we came across a lonely house. I went over by myself and knocked on the door.
A Christian looked through the window and asked what I wanted. I answered with one word: - Bread!
The Christian went away and returned with a small piece of bread. I did not take it. I explained there were 40 partisans who were all very hungry. I need a lot more.
The Christian called out and I saw 2 young boys come to the window. I did not lose it, and I whistled. They believed there were tens of partisans in the forest.
The Christian was frightened and gave me a large loaf of bread with a piece of cheese. I thanked him politely and returned to my friends in the forest. For the first time in 2 days we put something in our mouths. We were so confused and upset we didn't realize how hungry we were.
We ate well, and even had some food left over for later. After a short break we continued walking. We went from forest to forest. By day we lay down, at night we walked.
One day, we met a Christian who told us there were Jews living in Gluboke and Vidz. I decided to go to Vidz. Perhaps I would find some friends.
We walked for three days through forests and fields. We hid during the day and walked all night. Three days later, in the middle of the night we arrived in Vidz. I quietly passed through the wires of the Ghetto and entered. The Ghetto was as silent as a cemetery. I thought there were already no longer any Jews there.
We went into the bathhouse to rest for a while. At 5:00 am when it was already a bit light I saw someone from a distance. I could not tell if it was a Jew or a Christian. I decided not to go out. I waited. A while later, I saw a woman and I knew she was Jewish.
I approached her and asked if it is still quiet in Vidz. She replied that they lived in fear and no one knows what tomorrow will bring.
I left her and began to look for friends. Coincidently I met the Starabin family who I knew from before the war. They took us to their home and we stayed there temporarily.
Meanwhile, there were about 300 escapees like me in Vidz. Once again the Jewish council did not want to register us. They gave us no food and asked us to leave town. Our complaints that we had nowhere to go did not help. They did not soften.
Understandably, none of us left. We slept in the attics and went from house to house begging for a piece of bread.
We decided to organize and fight together. I was elected leader of all the refugees, and Khanan Epshteyn from Svir was my deputy.
When the Jewish council demanded we go to work, I responded in the name of all the refugees, we will work on the condition they register us.
In the end they gave in and we gave them 50 workers. They were sent off to a camp and we never heard from them again. We did not know what to think.
Finally, we received news they were all alive and life there was better than in the Ghetto. Now the rest of the refugees were volunteering to go to work.
The Jewish council was happy to get rid of us. They gave us a few sacks of bread and a few blankets and we left the Ghetto.
In Podbrodz Labour Camp
The Gendarmes from Vidz took us to Duksht, where we spent the night in a jail. From there they took us by train through Ignalina, Svneciony Svencionys until Podbrodz (Pabradė)
They took us to a work camp with over 200 men. We all had to work in a saw mill that belonged to the known nobleman Tishkevitch.
The camp was surrounded with barbed wire and we were guarded by Lithuanian police. The chief of the camp was a German captain named Saltz.
On the second day I began to work carrying wooden boards. We were a group of five men. A Lithuanian officer sat in a booth and guarded us.
We had to carry the boards from one place to another. At first we were carrying three boards at a time. When we realized there weren't that many, we took less.
The Lithuanian policeman noticed and began to beat us over the head with a board. The first victims were Leyzer Levitan and Shayke Dubinsky. Then he came to Salamiak and me. He hit me so hard I became totally blue. I was sure he was going to kill me. In that last moment I began to talk to him in Lithuanian and asked him for some pity.
When he heard how well I spoke Lithuanian, he softened and asked where I was from. I told him who I was and he stopped beating me and promised to give me better work.
Then I met a Christian acquaintance who knew I was a specialist in the lumber trade. He immediately made me a woodsman.
The boards were being sent by train to carpenter shops and had to be properly sorted. Since there were no professionals, many wagons left filled with defective goods, rubbish. They were looking for a specialist like me.
From that day on my situation greatly improved. The manager was very good to me. He even gave me 2 packs of cigarettes. Even the Lithuanian police treated me well.
I worked in that camp for three months. Then they sent me to another camp near Duksht. [Dukštas, Lithuania]
In the Duksht Camp
In Duksht they brought us to a big house with many windows and long rooms. There were no ovens. The windows were without panes. We had to sleep on wooden boards and I realized it would be much worse here than in Podbrodz
The camp commander was a good person. We had problems with our Jewish supervisor. He believed if he would flatter, he would be better off.
Soon we learned that a Jewish girl from Dinaburg became very friendly with the Chief. We told her what was going on, and thanks to her the Jewish supervisor was sent back to Svencionys Ghetto.
In Duksht I worked with Moishe Korb [likely the son of his uncle Yerahmiel Korb] Levitan and Salamiak. We had to work in 2 divisions: one by day and the second at night. They gave us very little to eat. It was cold and we were barefoot. We worked under the open sky at it was cold.
Besides that, we suffered from lice. For months we could not bathe or change our underwear. Everyone had large abscesses and lesions. There was no medication. In short: we lived in worse conditions than the dogs.
One day, ten Jewish workers escaped from a camp wanting to form a Partisan unit. They were captured. Driving through Duksht they recognized one of our friends from our group and greeted him.
That's all we needed. They made us identify the guy they greeted. The chose three men, me, Salamiak and Dubinsky and told us if we don't bring forth the friend, we will be shot. They made us stand with our backs to the wall and the Major said it is worth our while to give him up. Then Shayke announced: I will give him up but he is at work at the saw mill.
The Major told us to return to the camp and went with Dubinsky to the saw mill. The commander Captain Saltz was there.
The friend was Mulke from Braslav. The Major wanted to take him right away but Captain Saltz refused. He told the Major he was a great worker and he needed him.
This is how he was saved from death. We were also freed.
After that incident we worked another few months in Duksht. Then the order came to liquidate the camp. I learned about it in the morning when I wanted to go to work at the saw mill. On my way I met a friendly Gendarme who whispered in my ear: Don't go there. They will take you today to Svencionys Ghetto where things will not be good for you.
I returned to the house and told all my friends. My suggestion was we escape to the forest. They did not want to listen. I decided to escape alone.
I Escape From Duksht Camp
I left the camp and walked through the fields. My plan was to walk towards Ignalina, find a Christian acquaintance and hide. I had to pass a large lake and I felt walking on the shore was too dangerous. I could run into a patrol. Crossing the lake would also be difficult as the ice was already beginning to melt.
Since I was a good swimmer, I decided to take the risk and cross the frozen lake. I took a pole and tapped the ice. It broke. I began to crawl on my knees. 30 metres from shore I was in the water and swam across.
I went into a farmer's house, where I asked permission to dry my things. Luckily, I found a nice family. They allowed me to take off my wet clothes and even brought me something to eat. I then went to the forest about 5 kilometres from the lake. I remained there until it dark, then continued on my way.
I walked all night. In the morning I found a lonely house. It was light. I climbed into the attic and went to sleep. I slept all day and at night resumed my walking. I had nothing to eat or drink.
The next morning I came across the house of a farmer I knew. I wanted to eat and decided to go to him. He fed me and received me very warmly. I stayed there all day, and when night fell, I continued further.
My plan was to find a Christian friend and hide there until the end of the war.
After much suffering I arrived at his place. As I entered the yard, the dog started to bark. The farmer came out and recognized me right away. He was very happy to see me alive. He took me straight to the barn and showed me a place in the attic where I could hide.
In the morning, his elderly mother brought me food and comforted me, knowing I had lost my entire family. I was there 3 days and they treated me very well. I was happy that I found a place to hide with familiar people.
On the fourth day, the Christian came and told me the Germans were coming to inspect his animals and wheat. He was worried they would find me.
This was really bad. Now I had to leave and find another place. I had no choice. At night, I crept out of the attic and headed off toward a village called Dudi, to another Christian friend who was a manager of a dairy.
I arrived at his place in the evening, and through the window I saw he had guests. I quietly entered the barn and lay down on some straw without his knowledge.
I stayed there all night and no one in the house knew I was there. In the morning when the farmer went to his yard to get water, I called to him. He brought me into his house and gave me food. He then went to the barn, dug a hole in the straw and prepared a place for me to hide.
This was the first time in a year that I washed. He worried about me and told me what was going on the front.
One day, in the afternoon, as I was lying and buried in straw, the children came to play in the barn. A nine year old boy climbed onto the pile of straw and suddenly began to shout: Oy, what kind of horrible person is lying in the straw.
The farmer was at home, came running, and chased them from the barn. You don't know that Lunis the lunatic lies here?. The children knew there was a lunatic in the neighbouring village, and believed him. That's how I escaped from that problem.
The farmer warned the children that they should never go into the barn alone. The lunatic can kill them. They never came into the barn again.
I spent the next three months with this Christian friend. I would lay there all day, and at night I would get up and move around.
One day, the farmer suggested I go out at night to the meadow and feed the horses. One night German patrols passed, but they did not ask me anything.
Many weeks passed until one day he came and told me there was an order that all the youth from all the villages were being sent to Germany to work. Those who do not go will be severely punished.
Since many of these young guys will go into hiding, he feared, on the search for the patrols will find me. He suggested I go into the forest and when things quieten down, I should return.
I had no choice. I took my shoes in hand and began my wandering through forests and fields. Finally I arrived in a village called Remshentsi, where my former servant- girl lived. I knew her parents were good Christians and I assumed I would be able to stay with them.
I found the house, knocked on the door and they opened right away. The servant-girl and her parents were very happy I had been saved from death. They gave me food and took me to a barn where I could hide. There I washed, shaved and ate well. They took care of me as if I was their own brother.
After being there for ten days, 100 Germans came to the village looking for young boys to send to work. The entire village ran to the fields. I ran as well and hid in the corn.
When the gendarmes left, everyone returned home. I could not as it was still light outside and I did not want the other farmers to see me. I remained in the corn until evening.
I returned to my spot and stayed a few more days. Then they decided to take me to a large forest. The famer harnessed his horses, filled a wagon with hay, and he and his daughter took me.
On the road, beside the train, there were patrols. The girl got sown from the wagon, spoke to them and we were permitted to travel on.
When we arrived in the forest, I climbed out from under the hay. I said goodbye to them. I remained in the forest and they returned home.
I lay in the forest until evening. Then I remembered a Christian who lived near this forest who had always been a friend. He owed us money. I decided to go to him.
I barely walked 20 metres when I saw a wolf. I lit a match but he did not get scared and remained standing there. I lit one match after another but nothing helped.
For 25 minutes neither of us budged. The wold looked at me, and I looked at him. Finally, he was the first to move on. I took a deep breath and walked deeper into the forest. At dawn I arrived at my friend's house.
I entered the house and asked for something to drink. A young Christian girl brought me water. As I was drinking I suddenly heard a voice from behind the stove: Shmulke, is that you? Where are you coming from? This was his elderly mother who recognized me.
She told the children they should take good care of me. They gave me food and brought me to a barn where I could get some rest. I knew my friend, her husband, had died. She herself was very sick and could not get out of bed.
I remained with them for over 4 weeks. One day one of their neighbours told a story how a Dr. Levin from Vilna jumped from a train and was hiding in a village called Budri, near Ignaline. Someone turned him in. The police took him and the Christian who was hiding him.
I later learned that Dr. Levin had been shot. The end of the story is, my Christians were afraid and I had to leave.
Once again I was alone deep in the forest, not knowing to where or to whom. Being very hungry, I knocked on a door and asked for a piece of bread.
The area was very familiar. I immediately oriented myself and realized where I was. Not far lived the father of the policeman that helped me escape from Ignalina.
I decided not to go to the partisans, but to go to the father of the policeman.
When the Christian saw me he crossed himself and shouted: Jesus Mary, you are alive!
He immediately brought me into his house and did not know what to do for me. His daughter brought me clean underwear, and for the first time in a few years, I changed my underwear. I bathed and became a new man.
This was on a Friday. Sunday, his son who was the police commander in New-Svencionys arrived. When his father brought him to the barn to see me, he began to tremble. I was worried that over the past three years, he had changed.
My fear was unfounded. He was my friend as before. He kissed me and told me how the German army is experiencing great defeats on all fronts. The Germans were retreating and apparently the war will soon be over. He deeply regretted that he had to work for the Germans, but he did not harm the Jews. On the contrary, whenever he could, he helped save Jews.
One day, after the liquidation of the Svencionys Ghetto, he met Elke Gilinsky. He gave him a revolver, which helped him reach the partisans in the forest.
I later learned, all that he told me was true. In those days, it was hard to grasp that were such policemen in the world. This Christian simply had a golden character. This was indeed rare, and I looked at him as an angel from heaven.
My Return to Ignalina Region
Before he left, the police commander asked me not to stay at his father's house. Because of his being a policeman, many Germans come by, and he was afraid they would find me there.
When he left, it was decided they would bring me to another Christian. The same night, they took me in a boat on the river, to a small village about 8 kilometres from them. I knew this Christian as well. A few years earlier, he hid my brother-in-law Yosef Gavenda and his family.
This Christian's name was Marion Bazis. He received me well but refused to hide me. His reason was, he had a mean labourer, who would not protect me. He advised me to take the boat to a small island in the river. There I would find small wooden huts, and nobody goes there. He would bring me food every day.
That's what happened. I went to the island. Bazis came every day and brought me food. I would lie still all day, and I night I would walk around. I spent three weeks there, undisturbed.
After three weeks, Bazis came to bring me food. He told me there are police searches in the area for partisans, and he was worried they may come to the island.
Once again I had to resume my wandering. At night I sailed back to the village and from there, back to the forest.
I wandered until I arrived in the town where I was born, Paliush (Palūšė) There were no Jews there. I went to a neighbour who had served the priest in the local church.
He took me to the priest's barn. It was too cold there to sleep. All the gates were open and the wind blew into every corner. My teeth were chattering.
One night, I was so cold I thought I would freeze to death. Realizing I had nothing to lose I knocked on a door not knowing who lived there.
I did well. It was the house of the organist from the church, a good friend of mine. I had gone to school with his wife and we were good friends.
When they saw how cold I was they gave me tea with raspberry juice. I was delighted.
My joy was short lived. They told me they had no place to hide me. Everyone passed their house to go to church and I will be seen.
When it was light I left their home. I went to the priest's garden and sat under an apple tree to try and decide what to do.
A strong wind blew in my face and snow began to fall. I decide to be a God's mercy. I arrived at a Christian cemetery. I sat down beside a grave, took out the food they gave me and began to eat. I then decided to go to the bell ringer. He worked for us in the forest and was a good person. What did I have to lose? He would certainly not turn me in.
I went to him. When I knocked in the window, he himself asked what I wanted.
When I told him who I was I immediately told his wife that I was standing outside.
Obviously, they were very surprised. I noticed through the window they both crossed themselves. When they opened the door I saw how happy they were that I was alive. I quickly recounted my experiences and asked for a place to sleep. They prepared a place for me on top the oven and I slept until 4:00 that afternoon.
When I awoke, I put on my torn coat and wanted to say goodbye. His wife came to me and really begged for mercy:
Where do you want to go? The weather is terrible. We will not let you go. Don't be afraid. No one will notice that you are here.
So I took off my coat and climbed back up to my spot above the oven. I spent over 3 months with them.
During this time I had to withstand difficult days. For weeks I lay in a ditch of manure in their barn. They placed a pig on top of me. They did this because the Germans were searching everywhere for partisans.
It the searches subsided I moved to the attic of the barn and the bell ringer's wife brought me food.
It is important to remember that the priest at the church in Paliush was a great friend to the Jews. The bell ringer's wife was a devout Christian and in confession told the priest they were hiding a Jew. He told her they should hide me as long as they can. He said it was a great deed and God would help them.
She returned very happy and told me the whole story.
From that day on, the priest would send me newspapers. I thought that Christians like them belonged to the righteous people of the world.
Even after those searches I experienced a few difficult days. One fine morning, 500 Ukrainians and Germans came to town. When heard about it, I wanted to run away. I took food, said goodbye to the good people and was prepared to leave.
When I opened the door I noticed a rider was heading straight toward us, into the house. I immediately climbed back on top of the oven. Four more joined him in our house.
I lay on that spot as if in a fever. I told myself, this was going to be my end. If they searched the house, they would surely find me. That is exactly what occurred. But as if a miracle happened, they thought I was a Pole who was hiding from deportation. Together with other Christians, they sent me to Germany and then to Stutthoff [Stutthof Concentration Camp]
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
I will remember my rescuer, the Christian, Heronium Tarazevitch and his family. His wife Bronia, their daughter Irka, their son Miatek, and Heronium's sister Mania from Polvark Macklova on the way to Dukst. Heronium took upon himself to help me and my cousin Tuvia.
This Christian family brought us food and also helped others who worked in the Dukst labour camp by bringing them provisions. His daughter Irka, one day, routinely bringing us food, encountered German soldiers on their way to Polvark. She thought they saw her with the food and Gd forbid they should discover the hidden Jews and would begin their search in her home, she went into shock. She had a nervous breakdown! This illness stayed with her even after the war. When the Germans began to send the Christian folk to Germany for work, Tarazevitch didn't hide his sister. If he hid her, he was afraid the Germans would come to search his home and would find us. She worked in Germany for two and a half years, and came home physically unwell.
One time when Tatazevitch came to find us, we told him: we will feel very guilty, if Gd forbid, someone will discover our hiding place and you will loose your life as a consequence.
So he answered us: Do not worry, Brother, what will become of you will become of us. Life and Death is the same for everyone.
After Liberation, the Soviet forces sent Tarazevitch to Siberia for 10 years, on the charges that he harboured spies. This was his payback for his kindness and humanity.
When he was freed, the family left for Poland. His daughter Irka remained an invalid because of her nervous breakdown. His sister Mania, as a result of those terrible conditions in Germany, destroyed her physically and shortly after the war she died.
I don't forget my rescuers and do everything to thank them for their humane deeds and personal risks they took for us. I pay back this debt, I owe my life to this family Tarazevitch.
Here is an excerpt from a letter from this selfless and honest Christian: He writes to the Ignaliner landsleit (bretheren) in Israel:
Dear Ignaliner Jews in Israel.
I send you my heartfelt and best wishes for the New Year and want to share the sadness that still exists in our town and the neighbouring towns.
The unforgivable spilling of Jewish blood still lives in the veins of our folk, who are living in the Jewish homes and who robbed the good and honorable Jews. These are signs of a great sin! We expelled Gd from our hearts and our homes and the Almighty went along with this…and even your daily bread…whoever knew what was happening, whoever was a devout Christian, would not allow themselves to become the Devil, to align themselves with Hitler and his willing executioners, wouldn't rob and would never benefit from the downtrodden and afflicted humanity(Jews). Those, who for a piece of clothing or a bottle of whiskey were ready to take a human life
Heronium and Bronislava Tarazevitch
brought about upon themselves only misery. In their homes hang Gd's punishment. They brought upon themselves sickness and misfortune, poverty and hunger. They got what they deserved for their sins and for their inhumane deeds. The children of those Godless people are following in their parents footsteps: hooliganism, laziness and violence, and they are bringing this all over the towns of the region. I feel sad in my heart when I look at them, do we expect more from them than from their parents?
My dear friend, very few good people are here in this world. We will always remember you and we plead with you
not to put yourselves in an unfortunate position in order to send us these packages and money. It is not necessary. We are healthy and working and earn enough for food and clothing.
We enjoy receiving your good wishes and we wish that you will build a new and better existence for yourselves. You should all know the happiness it gives me to know that people of different backgrounds can live together.
With my heartfelt best wishes and a great thank you for your gifts.
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
The fifth of April
A frightful day
How great was my misfortune
How deep is my sorrow
How deep is my grief
How envious I am of all those mothers who were slaughtered
Together with their children
And I, have to suffer in this world
My poem may not be praise worthy
But it is full of pain and sorrow
There is nothing left of my children, nothing to hold
Not even a grave.
Be still, my child, my prince
Your cry will not help
Be strong, my child
Let another night pass
Do not cry.
The night will soon end
The morning might be better
I hold so dearly to my heart
His face is so pale
His eyes like candles, dimming
The night passed
The morning came
The mother is distraught
The child is in her warm embrace
And it no longer needs any bread.
I had a son, talented, intelligent and fine
I hoped, he would be my heir
In his upbringing, a proud and fine Jew
To live to see his Bar Mitzvah
Who is going to share in this grief and sorrow.
Upon entering the Forests of Poligon
Between pathways, fields and trees
Where birds built their nest
There lies a long and broad grave
Covered with earth
Where a larger mound arose
The hill is not made of earth and stone
But of human remains and corpses
Silent! Heads lowered
With heavy hearts, with every limb numb
We stand in front of our Holy Brothers Grave
This is a grave for thousands of our dearest
Of our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and children
Our tears are like floods
Hearts are ripped apart by pain and suffering
We stand in front of this Holy Grave
We promise never to forget you
As long as we are alive, we will continue our tears, our longing,
As long as our hearts go on beating
Our pain will never go away
Their memory will glow
Like the stars in the sky
We will never forget you
And your memory shall never be erased!
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