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[Col. 1405]

In the Valley of Death

Hadassa Rosen–Shapira

Translated by Meir Razy

 

Sve1405.jpg

 

I came to Podbrodz in 1939 with my parents Nehama and Mordechai Rosen and my sister when I was just a little girl. I do not remember much about the people of Podbrodzie and their life, but my soul is linked to the name of this small town because I went through the saddest chapter of my childhood in this town. I would like to tell my story about this short period.

When I think of the town of Podbrodz I can see the big bridge, below the river flowed, and then the little bridge, next to the synagogue [which stood on a hill, towering over the area of Jewish streets and alleys]. I walked this route every day, crossing the little bridge and then the big bridge on my way to the TARBUT School in our town, where my father was a teacher.

We would always go with a group of kids with schoolbags, happy and cheerful. When we reached the big bridge we would pause for a few moments at the railing and look at the slowly flowing river, whose water was so clear and whose green banks served as a beautiful and impressive frame. In winter the snow covered the frozen river and then it appeared to us in all its beauty. Laughing and cheerful we watched nature's magic and our happiness was limitless.

[Col. 1406]

I remember Rabbi Fishel the tailor, from whom we rented a room in his apartment on Boyarleska Street. He was a tall, handsome, white bearded Jew who always smiled and hummed a song. He was very energetic and loved life. I even remember the day he married his second wife. To this day I can see his smiling eyes and kind, expressive face.

Behind our house was the narrow alley called Malinova Street, where the Silver family, whom I loved visiting, lived. That family managed to escape the Germans' claws but their hearts were mourning for their son Moshe'ke. It was a beautiful little house with unique double windows. Every winter Hannah Silver used to sew mushrooms on cloths of different colors and placed them between the two windows. Each mushroom had a white leg and a red body embroidered with white dots and they were planted into the snow–white cotton. Two windows, two mushrooms in each one. Each winter I would run to Hannah Silver and ask her when would she “plant” the mushrooms and Hannah would smile and say only when the first snow falls.

We were waiting for the first snow that brought cheerful snowball games and competitions of creating the most beautiful snowman, the many trips down the mountain to the middle of the river, skiing and running that would fill our hearts with joy. We were happy indeed.

[Col. 1407]

But the time of happiness soon ended with the arrival of 1941, the start of the most horrific and shocking chapter in human history, especially for the Jews. The Germans crossed the Russian border on June 22, 1941. German airplanes appeared over the roofs of our town and bombed it. The Germans entered the town of Podbrodz the following day. Horror captured the Jewish inhabitants of our town and they wandered about frightened and depressed. The Germans did not leave much time to think and make plans. After several days they instructed all the Jews of Podbrodz to move into a crowded ghetto that spanned just Boyarleska and Orninska Streets. Our family moved into a small room near the synagogue. The migration of Jewish families from the central streets into these two small streets created unbearable conditions – a large number of people had to share one small room. Slowly, people started adapting to the harsh conditions, knowing that new edicts will probably come soon. Then came the law that all Jews from the age of 10 must wear a white ribbon with a yellow Star of David on their sleeves. However, a few days later the Germans thought that a white ribbon on the sleeve was indeed too beautiful and was not degrading enough to human dignity, so the new order was to carry two yellow badges large enough to be noticed from a distance with the letter “J” in the middle to signify “Jude”, one on the back and the other on the chest. At the same time they put up posters all around town stating that dogs and Jews are strictly prohibited from the sidewalks. Violation of this “law” would be punished by being shot on the spot without a trial.

Jews were taken to forced labor every day. The work was supervised by Germans holding clubs in their hands and each one of them tried to excel in beatings and other cruelties.

The children's' world was turned completely upside down. Schooling was forbidden and we grew older within a few days. We paid close attention to adult conversations, laughter disappeared, happy games stopped and one concern was in our hearts: Why do the Germans want to destroy us?

One night the Germans took 40 people out of their homes and ordered them to dig pits in the forest. The Lithuanians told them that these were part of a defensive line. When the Jews finished their work they were released, but after midnight the Germans took the forty, their wives and children from their homes, led them to the pits and shot them. Among them were some people I still remember: Nahum Glaz with his family, Abramowitz – the mother and her two sons, Velvele, and others.

In the morning we learned about the previous night. Rivka Lazarovich, a neighbor's daughter, entered our home and said that Velvele Abramowitz had escaped death and is hiding in their home. He said that many Germans and Lithuanians surrounded them, ordered them to stand with their back to the pit and shot them, but he managed to escape in the darkness. The impact of this event was shocking in the Podbrodzie ghetto but everyone was helpless.

[Col. 1408]

Rumors about events in the nearby towns began to arrive. They were heartbreaking and people refused to believe the horrors the Germans had done to us. Humanity had not known such horrors in all its existence.

We had not settled into the ghetto for a long time. It was a Saturday night, three days before Yom Kippur, when suddenly there was a commotion in the ghetto. All Jews were ordered to gather in the synagogue. We felt that something terrible was about to happen. The Germans cheated and lied to the Jews while leading them to death, a different lie in each ghetto. We were told that we were being taken to the labor camp in Polygon, not far from Podbrodz.

Most of the Jews realized that the situation was hopeless but they all stood helpless, waiting. Some who had acquaintances among the Christians in the area, decided to flee to them.

I remember my father sitting thoughtfully for about fifteen minutes, talking to Mom, looking at me and at my younger sister. Suddenly Dad got up and said “We have to hide until the rage passes.” Suddenly the door of our apartment was opened with extraordinary ferocity and three armed Germans stood in the doorway, shouting “You must be in the synagogue in five minutes, dirty Jews”. Mother said she will take a loaf of bread with us. “You don't need food. Hurry!” They left. We glanced out the window for a moment and saw a group of armed German murderers pushing Jews toward the synagogue. We left the house, Mom held my sister's hand while Dad and I walked first. Dad leaned over to me and told me that we would try to climb up to the attic of the synagogue, not inside. We climbed the ladder into the attic and hid there. Daddy camouflaged the opening and it was hard to notice it. All night we trembled with fear of being found. We heard the cry of the Jews gathered inside the synagogue but, unfortunately, we could not help them.

In the morning we heard someone crawling toward the door. We were startled at first but then we noticed other Jews who were looking for shelter and we let them in. And so we shared the hiding place with the Lazar Ring family, a father, two girls and a boy, Eliahu'chik Patashnik, Zalman Lapp, one blonde woman, I cannot remember her name, with a baby, about a year old. And there were a few other Jews I did not recognize.

Through the cracks of the planks we saw how the Jews were loaded onto wagons and those who did not hurry were beaten to death with rifle stocks. This picture, which I saw through the cracks of the planks, will remain etched in my memory forever.

We saw the convoy, accompanied by Germans, started moving. I pressed my face to the floor and cried quietly. Here they are going away and disappearing from my sight. It was early morning and shortly after we heard a barrage of gunfire. Trembling, a cold chill gripped us. This was how the Jews of Podbrodz were massacred.

At that time I felt a sense of guilt that I was safe in hiding and over there my friends, whom I lived with, were being killed. The kids whom I studied, played, and roamed with. All of them existed but will not be anymore. The echoes of their footsteps were already silenced in the distance and will not return. My thoughts were accompanied by thunderous gunshots.

[Col. 1409]

We were in the synagogue's attic. Saturday passed and then Sunday. It was the dawn of Monday. We had no food or water except for a single loaf of bread my parents brought with them from home. My father distributed daily tiny portions from this loaf of bread to twenty people. “MAZAL u–BRACHA (Luck and blessing) went into this loaf of bread” I heard my father say. Everyone sat silent or shocked during the first day. The conditions were very difficult, especially for the little baby, who cried and cried incessantly and there was nothing to help calm him. I felt so bad for him. Such a small baby and he had to endure so much. His crying was really heartbreaking. His mother held him in her arms and pressed his tiny head to her face, stroked him while bitter tears streamed from her eyes. This somewhat pacified him for a few moments as the mother's tears flowed into his small mouth and he drank, but when the mother's eyes went dry and her fountain of tears emptied, the baby continued to cry. The adults began to think that the baby should be silenced. The mother too realized that he may be endangering the lives of twenty people and said: “Please, if I am doomed to sacrifice my son for the sake of saving twenty souls, take him and do as you please, but not by my hands! No! No! No!”

However, no one stepped forward and the crying of the little baby grew day by day, and his voice was heard by the preying animals who had not yet consumed enough Jewish blood. Suddenly we heard a noise come from the street. I heard snippets of conversations, loud punching. Then three of the planks fell and dropped on the attic floor and four armed, cruel Germans stood in front of us.

Our breath froze in its midst and even the baby stopped crying, as if he understood the meaning of those moments. “Do you have any weapons?” they shouted. We had no weapons. “Remove the ladder” one German ordered.

We went downstairs, some jumped, some crawled, and some were thrown by the Germans. Everyone stood and waited, surrounded by Germans and Lithuanians.

Suddenly the mother approached one of the Germans and begged him: “You must also be a father to children, release him – the child, and hand him over to someone who will raise him. Please, what is the fault of a baby?” But the murderer's hardened heart did not move. He replied: “Now he is a little baby and tomorrow he will grow into an older JUDE and therefore he must die” and he burst into a satanic laugh.

Grieving and full of despair we climbed on the wagons that some Polish peasants brought there by the German's command.

The Germans and the Lithuanians rejoiced – they trapped another group of Jews while we were mourning and trembling next to each other, looking at the street that continued its everyday, usual life.

Is this our end? I could not believe it. Dad, Mom and my only little sister, how can we say goodbye?

[Col. 1410]

And where were they taking us? My mother was crying bitterly, kissing my head, face, and hands, my father hugged my sister and his lips constantly muttering: “My children, my dearest children.”

Suddenly my mother erupted with a heartbreaking cry, we were all shocked: “Anton, take my children! Take them Anton!” and Anton, an acquaintance, a peasant, a tall, broad–shouldered man who happened to be in the street, covered his face with his hands and cried softly. But the whole street and the strolling people were indifferent to my mother's bitter cry.

The wagons rolled down the street and I looked at every passer–by and pondered: what made us different from all other people? Everyone was alive, free to go as they wished, why are we doomed to die? Why?

We passed the Boyarleska Street, and here is the intersection with the Malinova Alley. My feet had passed there many, many times, running and playing games with friends, with my parents. Was all that just a dream and the reality is different? Is the “real” reality us being led to die in a nearby grove?

Here is our house. Where is Rabbi Fishel the tailor? He would forever chant his cheerful melodies. Here is the home of Rabbi Persky, whom my father visited occasionally. He will never visit there again. Here, in the house on the other side of the street, lived Mosheke Zilber's grandmother. Everything is empty, the doors of the Jewish homes are broken, and there is no living soul in them. The life of a Jew is a wasteland, anyone can end it! Here, at the end of Malinova Street is the home of the Silver family. The windows are open and no one will ever look through them. And I closed my eyes and in my imagination I saw red, not artificial, but real mushrooms growing in the grove, in the forest.

Here is the grove. “This will be our grave”, the thought pierced my heart.

“Get off the wagons!” a shout was heard. Hence everything flashed before us. Suddenly I saw guns pointed at us, pistols drawn and a barrage of thunder shocked our ears. I sat on the ground, buried my head in my mother's lap. I heard screams, moans, gunshots. I still felt alive and rolled into the pit. I laid there clinging to the bottom, clawing at the ground.

The shots stopped. I briefly lifted my head and saw a German walking and shooting the wounded. Once again I clung more firmly to the moist soil, hoping to look dead. I had never seen a dead person before but this must certainly look like it, close to the ground and not breathing. I stopped breathing. The killers, meanwhile, left and I was left not shot – but not alive either. The very fact that I kept thinking proved to me that I was actually alive.

Here, not far from me, are my father, mother and sister lying dead. And I thought my mother would never die! Mother is Eternity. And here is the end of things that I had never expected or anticipated. I lost everything dear to me. Where will I turn now? I had no close relative, no savior.

[Col. 1411]

I raised my head again. It was dark. Probably a whole day passed by while I was lying down. What do I do now? I have nothing left but to go and turn myself over to the Germans. I saw no other way out and within me stirred different feelings of life and death. It is worthwhile to live. The day will come that life will be good and freedom will be proclaimed. And another voice pointed to the dead bodies. Dead bodies around me and everywhere I go I will be stepping over dead bodies. My parents, too, were swallowed by death.

I fell asleep. I had a dream. And in my dream I could see my mother, sitting in her own chair, with a deep sadness on her face, all wrapped in black and blood–red tears were streaming from her eyes. As soon as she noticed me she smiled and said, “My child, go away from here, far, far away. Do not be afraid, be brave. There are a lot of bad people in the world, but I believe you will find good ones who will help you, people with a good heart. Be brave my child and go!”

I woke up, trembling with fear and cold. With strange feelings I got up and went with some confidence in my heart.

I came up to the mill near the forest. One village boy recognized me as a Jew and told me to leave. He handed me a slice of bread. I took a bite of it and left.

In the distance I saw peasants digging potatoes. I joined and started digging with them. The peasant woman was happy to have free help, but she was also afraid. Every person who comes into contact with a Jew has signed his death sentence. I pleaded with her to take me to her house and from there would continue on my journey alone. The woman asked for a fee, and I had no money. I remembered that coming out of the house my mother had dressed me with two dresses on top of each other. I took one and handed it to her.

We had to go through town to get to her home. A lot of Germans were walking around the street and she warned me that I would follow her, but from a distance, fearing that if the Germans would recognize me they will shoot her too.

With trembling feet and aching heart I began to walk as I looked ahead. I glanced at our house one last time, glanced toward the synagogue, passed through the Great Bridge, and then left Podbrodz, silent and with a mourning heart.

This is how I started my own struggle for existence, for life, the struggle of a single Jewish girl facing a cruel and hostile world, totally controlled by the Germans for the time being.

I had many difficult experiences throughout my wanderings, sleeping outdoors during many rainy and cold days, hungry and distressed for days and with a constant fear of all other human beings.

I remember that on one of those bleak nights, sitting down near the woods, I prayed to God that not a single human would appear in the dark of night. I was not afraid of wolves and other predators, hoping that if I will plead with the wolf not to rend me it will understand and if it would not be very hungry it will surely let me live.

[Col. 1412]

But I expected no such mercy from a human.

I wandered and dreamed of a day when Jews would not be persecuted and Jewish children would have a warm home and bread to eat.

With the cross on the chest

One morning I arrived in a small village. I went into a barn and hid without permission from the landlord. And so lying on the straw I felt my enormous loneliness again. I wished I knew what my fate would be. I wished I would not be discovered here for at least two days as my legs hurt from walking. Hungry and tired, I felt my strength leaving me.

A loud knock on the door woke me up. The owner came in and was amazed to find me in the barn. He came close to me, sighing, as a sorrowful participant, and ordered me to leave.

I had to wander again. It was dusk as I walked through the woods and the shadows of the trees appeared to me to be like living animals. I felt cold, pressed myself against a tree and closed my eyes.

At dawn I began walking again, not knowing where I was heading. Where does the road lead? To whom? I did not know.

I noticed the roofs of a village in the distance. I approached, entered a house and greeted the inhabitants. I stayed there for a longer period, I learned their customs, I attended church. I crossed myself at the appropriate times, I knelt when everyone did and I said “Amen” after the priest's prayer. I almost froze when my landlady told me I should go for confession! They spoke about the confession with a lot of respect and admiration. I did not know what to tell the priest in a confession so I delayed it from day to day.

I was sure I would probably fail even though the customs did not seem too complicated to me. And then came my fall.

Every time when the family sat around the table for dinner then crossed themselves. I also did it, reluctantly and uncertain, with my finger clenched to a fist. My hosts looked at each other and I felt as if my world was being destroyed. The landlord turned to me and said: “You know, Marisha (this was my name at that time), that a decent Christian intersects with his open hand extended to his head, then to the left shoulder, then to the right and then the hands are close to each other. Who are you anyway? You are not Christian! Go away from our house!” I left, but I learned a lesson in Christianity.

I carried a cross on my chest and hoped it would rescue me while secretly I prayed to G–d not to punish me for carrying a cross.

On many nights when I could not fall asleep, I would turn from side to side and fight with myself, a hidden struggle between Christianity and Judaism. It was a deep pain that they had inflicted on us.

[Col. 1413]

In the morning I felt like flying, daydreaming, and trying to estimate how much longer I would be able to hold on.

Again I continued on my way. I was a shepherd. I was collecting wheat and tying bundles following the harvesters in the field even though my legs were injured and sore. I worked hard beyond my own strength.

Several years passed. Rumors started that the end of the war was coming soon and then one day, while we were working in the field, we suddenly saw a Soviet tank. I froze in my place. I understood the meaning of that moment. This is the day of freedom, as many expected, and I was sad remembering my parents who did not survive to see it.

The war was over and again I was lonely and deserted. The sadness did not leave me. I do not belong to anyone and our fate as children, orphans of war, was bitter when millions of people celebrated the triumph and returned to their homes and families, while I stood mourning, without knowing what to do and where to turn. The end of the war did not end our hardship and troubles.

At that time, we were orphans of humanity [the human race], not just orphans without parents, we were persecuted for living[Jewish] and it seemed to us that the whole world was foreign to us.

I arrived in Podbrodz on one of the postwar mornings. Here is Boyarleska Street. Here the deserted synagogue stood with its windows shattered and its doors open to the wind. There are no more Jews to come and pray here. Most Jewish houses stood empty and robbed. Christian families lived in some of them.

[Col. 1414]

I entered our house. I came across a Christian woman rummaging through the closet, which was already mostly empty. I peeked through all the corners and wielded all my strength and courage not to cry. Here stood my sister's bed. Here is where my father used to sit and read a book. The woman turned her head to me, probably thinking that I was a Christian girl.

“You can come in and search. There is enough for both of us. People say that many Jews remain. They may return one day and demand their properties. But who is stupid enough to give it back? They had many large possessions, those Jews.”

I had no ability to tell her what was in my heart. I left her as she continued to mumble to herself with tears streaming down my eyes.

I went to the grove. The trees have grown a bit since then. Here's the place, yes, this is the place. Many mushrooms grew here and grass covered the area. I bowed my head and kissed the ground. I left Podbrodz the next day, accompanied by a deep pain.

And then two Jews came to our village one day looking for Jewish children. Men whose names I still cannot remember, but they were the first ones to give me a spark of hope, a spark of desire for a new life. They were the first to plant hope of a better future in my heart. They took me to a children's home in Vilnius (Vilna). I will never forget the experience of seeing a Jewish home again, a house where Jewish children were loved and welcomed.

I felt there was someone who cared about us. That I once again belong to someone, that I belonged to the Jewish people.


[Col. 1415]

In the Hand of the Murderers

by Zev Bartana (Kibbutz Amir)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

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My brother Yaakov awakened me in the early morning and told me that Hitler had ordered his army to attack the Soviet Union. They were announcing this now on the radio. I woke up quickly and went to the restaurant where I worked. In the meantime, nothing unusual was felt. At 8:00, Molotov announced on the radio that the Germans had crossed the border of the Soviet Union. Airplanes appeared the next morning and dropped bombs. Their intention was to damage the railway station and railway tracks. Everyone moved eastward throughout the day, some by vehicle and some by foot, for the trains were no longer working at this point. At the beginning, I thought that I should also retreat along with the Red Army, but since it was very difficult to take leave of my home, I remained with my family.

We decided to go to a village, to the home of a farmer acquaintance. We reached the village toward evening. I sat next to the house of the farmer, and behold, several vehicles appeared. They apparently did not notice that we were Jews, for they asked me in Russian: “Perhaps you have seen Germans here?” From their accent, I realized that they were Lithuanians. After I responded negatively to their question, they continued on their way. The Germans only reached us in the evening two days later.

The first victim was Chaim Zak, who traveled from the village to the town and was murdered by the Lithuanians. There were two more victims the next day – the brothers David and Eliezer Mirsky. The Lithuanians found them hiding in the field and murdered them.

In the meantime, the relationship changed with the family of the farmer with whom we were hiding. They began to curse us, stating that all the Jews were Communists, and the like. We had no choice but to leave. We decided to return to Podbrodz {Pabradė).

Father and I walked by foot and succeeded in reaching Podbrodz. This was on Friday evening. The German and Lithuanian murderers were in control of the town. On Saturday they arrested seven Jews: Idel Kulbak, Yosef and Avraham Liberman, Rabbi Mianiszok, Kopel Szklerowicz, and two others. They immediately took them out to be killed. The entire day was passed

[Col. 1416]

in fear. On Sunday morning, two Lithuanians came to us. They began to search. They took everything that came to their hands, and finally took us as well: that is me, Father, our neighbor Zelig Szapira, Yudel Szklerowicz, Yona Lewin, and the son of the rabbi of Švenčionys. The Lithuanian Siaulists[1] took us downward behind the city, where they informed their superior that they had captured a Jewish gang that was conducting an anti-Fascist gathering. They placed us in a room where there was already a number of Jews, including Leib Nachum Glaz, and one Pole, Wasilowicz, who had been the principal of the public school in Podbrodz during the Soviet era. Leib Nachum Glaz, who was our relative, greeted us with weeping and told us that we were going to be taken out to be killed. They took people out every morning and shot them. We began to get used to the idea that the next day we would no longer be among the living. At 4:00 a.m. the door opened and a young captain with two soldiers called from a note the names Belski, Wasilowicz, and Glaz to come out with them for their final journey. Aharon Belski tried to commit suicide. When he did not succeed, he took off his shoes and said that they be given to his wife and two children, if someone remains alive. “I can also walk barefoot to death,” he said. Wasilowicz asked that they bring a priest for confession. The captain thought a bit and agreed to his request. After a bit of time, the priest came, and they entered the next room. The confession took some time.

Then an unexpected miracle took place:

A German captain with the rank of Polkovnik (colonel) arrived and issued a command not take anyone to be killed without a permit from the Germans. (It was said that the Polkovnik lived in the home of the Wasilowicz family. Perhaps the pretty daughter influenced him to become involved with this situation). The verdict was suspended, and we remained afraid of what was to come. That night, the Lithuanian murderers came to our house and pillaged everything that came to their hands. My brother-in-law Moshe Tanchum and my brother Yaakov escaped. After the murderers emptied the house of all the valuables they found, they said to my sister Frida that if she wishes to free us, she must join us in prison. My sister went with them, and they brought her to the edge of the city, where they removed her gold watch and marriage ring.

[Col. 1417]

My sister began to escape, and the Lithuanians shot at her, but did not hit her due to the darkness. She went to a Polish woman acquaintance and requested that she give her a place to sleep, as she was afraid to return home. They next day, my sister turned to a Pole name Brozowski who had a connection with the Lithuanian police. With the help of a bribe, the head of the Lithuanian police gave my sister a letter to the Siaulist camp, asking to transfer us to the civil police for interrogation.

A policeman with a bicycle and my sister on foot went to the military prison where we were. They ran so as not to be too late…

The letter had its effect, and even the German command decided to transfer us to the civilian police. Despite all this, they held us until the next morning, and only then did they take us out and transfer us under heavy guard, surrounded by policemen with guns aimed at us, to the civilian prison which was two kilometers away. Many German soldiers marched along the route and shouted: “Jews! Communists! Shoot them.” This is how we arrived at the police station. The small room of the prison was filled to the brim with Jewish, Russian, and Polish prisoners. Dr. Rajwaski was among them (he was accused of offering medical assistance to the Russians). There was not a drop of air to breath, but food was permitted to be brought to us, and we were also allowed to talk to family members and to breathe a bit of fresh air in the police station yard.

I had the idea to escape, and I had the ability to carry it out, but I did not do so because of Father and the other Jews. In the evening, Dr. Rajwaski asked Father to recite the deathbed confession with him, for he had heard that a German had issued a command to take him out to be killed. It was difficult to describe those frightful moments. Dr. Moshe Rajwaski and the other Jewish prisoners repeated the words of the confession after Father. In the meantime, another day passed, and we were freed on Friday evening with the help of Lithuanian acquaintances and a large bribe. After Father and I returned home, a Lithuanian policeman arrived and said that they had freed us in error, and demanded that we return with him to the prison. He only left us when we gave him some objects from our house.

One night, the Lithuanians took 67 Jews – children, women, young and elderly – outside the city next to the flourmill and murdered them.

Among those murdered were: Rebbetzin Ethel Abramowicz and her sons Avraham and Leibka, Yitzchak Zylber and his wife and daughter, Yisrael Baruch Boworski and his family, and others. Only one person, Zev Abramowicz, the Rebbetzin's third son, succeeded in escaping from this group. We learned that before the murder, Yitzchak Zylber and others stood up for their lives with stones and sticks, but the Lithuanians succeeded in overcoming them and killed them.

A few days later, all the Jews were gathered by the police. They issued a command that from that day on, all Jews from ages 14 to 60 were required to go out to work. We were till standing in the police station trembling, when they brought Dr. Rajwaski's son who had been a Soviet police captain. They captured him in the forest. In the meantime, frightful news reached us from the nearby cities such as Yanishok [Joniškis], Inturke,

[Col. 1418]

and Molėtai, where they had liquidated all the Jews. A Lithuanian farmer told us that in Molėtai, approximately 1,500 Jews were gathered in the cemetery, where they were shot. They even let the rabbi address the gathering before their deaths.

 

In the Podbrodz Ghetto

From time to time, word spread that they were going to liquidate the Jews that night. One day, a command was received that all the Jews must gather in the ghetto that had ben set up between Orangi and Bauarlaski Streets, and that the Poles who lived on those streets would be transferred to the houses which the Jews had abandoned. It was forbidden for the Jews to remove furniture from their homes. They could only take a few belongings. Therefore, the Jews began to distribute their property to the Poles that they knew. The crowding in the ghetto was terrible. Once a week, permission was granted for them to go out to the market for a few hours to purchase food. The Germans also set up a Judenrat, whose main job was to provide bribes to the Germans and Lithuanians. One day, about ten city notables were arrested. A large sum of money and valuables was demanded as ransom. We made an effort and gave over everything that we had to free the prisoners.

At that time, the Lithuanians burned the splendid library. The smoke of the burning books and the ash covered the town. The Poles watched this lowly act with open joy.

 

The Liquidation of the Nemenčinė Ghetto

One Sabbath, about three weeks before Rosh Hashanah of 1941, a Pole appeared in the ghetto and said that he had been driving on the road leading from Vilna to Podbrodz, and saw that they were taking the Jews of Nemenčinė to be killed. After a few hours, the refugees of Nemenčinė reached us and said that all the Jews of that town had been awakened before morning. They were gathered near the market and told that they were being taken to the Vilna Ghetto. Along the way, they brought them to the forest where large pits were already prepared for them. The Germans and Lithuanians shot at them, and only a few succeeded in escaping. Among those murdered were all of Father's large family, including: Uncle Yaakov Bratniski, his wife Ethel, their daughter Chaya-Henya with her husband, their daughter Rasha, their son Shlomo Tzvi, and the rest of their children. His 12-year-old daughter Mariasha succeeded in escaping from the pit, with her hand injured, and she reached the Michalishok Ghetto. Also killed were my uncle Mordechai Bratniski, his wife Esther, their daughters Chaya-Ita and Mariasha, their son Shlomo Tzvi, and many tens of other relatives.

 

The Liquidation of the Podbrodz Ghetto

I returned from my work in the hospital and sensed an unusual movement of Lithuanians, forest guardians, police, and many Poles. A German guard stood on the bridge over the Zemiana River. This was on a Friday, a few days before Rosh Hashanah of 1941, about two weeks after the liquidation of the Nemenčinė Ghetto. I ran to the Judenrat to inform them of this unusual movement. Along the way, I met the wife and children of the head of the Judenrat, as they were leaving the city. I asked them what they knew, and they said that it was best for the women and children to go out to the forest.

[Col. 1419]

I arrived home and found an acquaintance of my father there who came to warn us to escape. In the meantime, pandemonium of mass escape broke out in the ghetto.

 

Sve1419.jpg
Yaakov Bartana

 

Father, my sister Freda and her husband Moshe Tanchum, and my sister Mariasha decided to go to the farmer acquaintance who warned us. My brother Shlomo Tzvi and I decide to go to White Russia. We sneaked out of the ghetto and reached the bridge over the river. The German who guarded the bridge arrested us. I took out my work permit and told him that the doctor had asked us to come for night work in the hospital. After a few minutes, Pinchas Krol with his sister Lyuba and her daughter arrived. Even though the permit was for an individual, the German permitted us to cross the bridge. We already did not walk on the road but rather on the path at the river bank until we reached the hospital. We asked the doctor to go to the ghetto and see what was going on. The doctor went and returned about an hour later, and informed us that everything was normal in the city. However, his Polish wife told us that we should wait. After the doctor left, she told us that they were hauling the Jews to the synagogue. She advised us to go down to the cellar of the hospital and even to hide in her house. We went out with the doctor's wife in the direction of her house, but a Pole met us along the way and shouted: “Despicable Jews, you are going to hide with the doctor…” We left the doctor's house and went to a different Polish acquaintance, where we remained until evening. From there, we went to the forest. After walking for several hours on the dark forest paths, we reached the border between Lithuania and White Russia. Polish guards stopped us there. To our joy, some of them knew us, and permitted us to continue. Toward morning, we knocked on the door of a Russian named Kulka, who took us in willingly.

On Saturday morning, they took them to Poligon. There, they gathered all the Jews of the Švenčionys area, and murdered them within a few days. After a week, Kulka transferred us to another Russian, but he was afraid to keep us, because in the house of the Pole Jozefowicz, Jews from Podbrodz – Shmuel and Tzvia Schmidt and their families – had been caught. The Lithuanians murdered them and also killed the Pole who hid them. We separated from Pinchas Krol, who went to search for his family. We wandered from place to place for several days. We slept in pits in the forest until I arrived at a farmer acquaintance who received me nicely, and told me that my family was not far away from there, in the village of Baran. We went through the fields under the cover of night, and arrived in the village in the morning.

[Col. 1420]

I met my family in a house at the edge of the village. The joy that we were all together was great. We found a place with a farmer in the village of Baran who agreed to build a double wall in a storehouse in exchange for a sum of money. The entrance to the hiding place was through the roof. We also succeeded in bringing in to this place my cousin Mariasha, the daughter of my uncle who had been saved from the Nemenčinė Ghetto. After several days, Grandmother Rachel Licht also came to us. The family grew, and we were now nine people in the hiding place.

 

The Killing in the Village of Baran

A Jew named Avraham had lived in the village of Baran for decades in a small, two-room house with his family of six. He barely had any land, and he earned his livelihood from commerce and also from helping farmers with agricultural work. Avraham was loved by the farmers of the village and the area, and accepted as an honest, goodhearted man. With the liquidation of the ghettos in the towns of the area, Jews came to his house, and he received them and shared the little bit of bread and potatoes that he had. A sick, tired Jew rested at his house for several days. Some Jews remained in Avraham's house, including Dr. Moshe Rajwaski and his family, including his wife Sonia, his daughter Beila, and his daughter-in-law Mina, who had escaped from the Podbrodz Ghetto. One day, Father's brother-in-law Yona Lewin came to us. We were standing and talking when suddenly a farmer women entered and said: “There are Germans in the village!” Without thinking, we ran to our hiding place. Yona Lewin jumped from the house to the forest, where the Germans caught him. We sat in the hole, and did not know what was taking place outside. After about half an hour, we heard shots. Toward evening, the mistress of the house opened the entrance to the hiding place, and told us that the Germans had killed all the Jews in Avraham's house, except for Avraham himself, who was not in the house at the that time. Thirteen Jews were murdered together: Dr. Moshe Rajwaski, his wife Sonia, his daughter Beila, his daughter-in-law Mina, Avraham's wife, his son and two daughters, Father's brother-in-law Yona Lewin, the brothers Berl and Ben-Zion Ajngelcyn, Yisrael and Yosef Zak. The Germans ordered the village chief to bury them. The farmers removed all valuables from them and buried them in a communal grave next to Avraham's house.

Our farmer was afraid to keep us in our hiding place, and we also could not continue to live behind the wall in the crowded situation. We decided to go to the Kimlishok [Kamelishki] Ghetto, where several hundred Jews still lived. This was on Saturday, December 31, 1941. We set out in the evening on tortuous paths. We wandered through the forests, and since we did not know the way to Kimlishok, we went in the estimated direction. Suddenly, we heard a voice calling out. We did not see anything in the darkness. We thought that Germans or Lithuanians were certainly attacking us. A commotion began, and we started to escape in every direction. It was dark, and there was a strong wind and a storm in the forest. Fear afflicted the hearts. We ran as long as we still had strength, and lost track of each other. I remained only with my cousin Mariasha. We reached some village after traveling for an hour. We entered the home of one farmer. During the conversation, I discovered that the wagon driver of Kimlishok was staying there. He was about to return. I spoke to

[Col. 1421]

the wagon driver and gave him a wristwatch. He agreed to take us to the Kimlishok Ghetto. We saw images of people from afar about five kilometers from the town. The wagon driver beat his horses and began to escape. I thought that they might be my family members. I asked the wagon driver to stop the wagon, and asked from afar in Yiddish: “Who are you?” It became clear that the images were my brothers Yaakov and Shlomo Tzvi, and my sister Mariasha. We took them onto the wagon, and reached the Kimlishok Ghetto. Father, my sister, and brother-in-law arrived in the ghetto toward morning, trembling from cold and fear of the murderers who were wandering along the roads. It was only through a miracle, after looking death in the face, that they succeeded in escaping from their hands alive.

 

In the Kimlishok Ghetto

The small town of Kimlishok is situated approximate 80 kilometers from Vilna. Public transport did not connect it to the district city. It had several tens of Jews. Along with the refugees, the numbers reached approximately 200. At first, the ghetto was not fenced off, and it was possible to enter and exit. The ghetto was only later fenced off. On Wednesdays, the market day, it was permitted to go out for two hours to purchase food.

We went to work every day, especially in cutting down trees for the Germans. The winter was especially cold, and from time to time, we succeeded in sneaking in wood for heating in the ghetto. My brother Yaakov always claimed: It is forbidden for us to work for the murderers! He avoided the forced labor to the extent possible, with the recognition that it was forbidden to assist the German murderers by working for them. He regarded helping the murderers of our nation in any way as a sin. Once, the guards caught him failing to fulfil his work, and beat him with deadly blows. However, even after that he did not change his ways. This was a clear case of passive opposition to the murderers by individuals in the death camps and ghettos.

In May 1942, news spread that the Jews of the Kimlishok ghetto were to be transferred to Lithuania. Escaping began. I went to the village of Baran, to the farmer Wiski, and I remained there for about a month. When I found out that the Lithuanians were not behaving badly, I returned to Kimlishok and again went out to work. One day, an order arrived that the ghetto must give over 30 young people for work with the Germans. I was among them. The Lithuanian police took us by foot in the direction of Michalishok. We arrived in the town toward evening. The next day, the “Todt” people arrived. Other Jews from the Michalishok ghetto arrived, and brought us to a far-off village. There were already groups of Jews from the town of Svir that had been brought there earlier. We worked at building the railway line. Poles who were imprisoned like us worked with us. After some time, a group of about 80 Jews from Baranovichi arrived to us in Michalishok. They were isolated, hungry, tattered, and worn out, lacking everything. We did everything to help them, but some of them died of hunger. One day, shots were heard. It became clear that they had taken eight gypsies and shot them in the grove next to us. After some time, they brought about 100 more Jews from the Ashmyany Ghetto. They were young men and women, whom we met at work. From them, we found out about the liquidation of the Ashmyany Ghetto.

[Col. 1422]

The Jews were transferred to be killed at Kovno and Ponary. At that time, I received a note from my father in the Kimlishok Ghetto, in which he asked me if I can find him potato peels, for the hunger was great in the ghetto.

 

The Liquidation of the Kimlishok Ghetto

On Saturday, October 24, 1942, 13 Marcheshvan 5703[2], S.S. brigades came, surrounded the ghetto, took all the Jews to the forest, and shot them. This took place so suddenly that only few had time to escape.

In this manner, I lost my beloved, dear, family members, may G-d avenge their blood. They included: my righteous pure father Reb Yisrael, age 58; my brother Yaakov, age 28, my sister Frida, age 26, my brother Shlomo Tzvi, age 17, my brother-in-law Moshe Tanchum, age 28, my cousin Mariasha, age 13 and other family members: Rachel Licht, Reizel Licht, Meir and Leah Ajngelcyn and their children Shmuel-Zev, Mariasha-Fruma, and others. Freda Lewin and their children Roza, Chaim, and tens of other of our relatives, may G-d avenge their blood. A few days later, I learned that my little sister Mariasha was saved, and was in the Michalishok Ghetto. She came to me from there. I hid her in the camp for about a week without the Germans knowing. However, from fear that they would find her, I took her out of the camp, and she went to a farmer. Our camp was fenced off at the end of December. I noticed here and there that the end was approaching, especially in that the guarding became stricter, and the work became more and more difficult. They did not spare us from death blows. I decided to escape. With a promise to the captain of the camp to bring him a present of valuable objects that I had hidden with a farmer in a far-off village, as well as liquor, I received an exit permit for three people, for Reuven Licht and Chanoch Mirsky of Podbrodz who were with me. Mirsky refused to go with us, so Licht and I left the camp. This was in January 1943. We were chased from place to place, and wandered from farmer to farmer. We slept in abandoned bathhouses. In the meantime, my sister Mariasha joined us. At times, we were very close to death. We were starving, and we swallowed everything that came to our hands. We were dressed in rags. Spring arrived. This was after

 

Sve1422.jpg
13 Cheshvan 1942, 170 martyrs of Kimlishok, Boistritz, Podbrodz
Moshe Epstein, Freda Bozorski, Malka Solsiacki

 

Stalingrad. Discomfort was felt in the area because of the partisans. The farmers did not want to allow us to cross their threshold due to fear of the Germans. It was only possible to travel during nights. We hid in the forest during the day. Finally, after wandering between villages, a farmer permitted my sister to remain with him for a few days. I went to find a hiding place. I found a hiding place in a pit in the barn of a farmer. After several days, I found out that my sister was forced to leave the hiding place of the farmer due to slander. Along the way, a farmer came across her in a sled, and asked her where she was going. My sister told him that she was an orphaned Polish girl from Vilna, and was going to seek work. The farmer agreed to take her with him, and she worked at every hard job with him in the farm, and slept in the pen. The farmer's wife recognized that she was not a Pole but rather a Jew, and sent her out of their house. Thus my sister Mariasha wandered again in the forests until she reached me in the pit one night without the farmer knowing about her. Thus, we were together for some time and we starved together. At the end of December 1943, the situation became very tense. The white Polish partisans[3] who belonged to the Armia Krajowa wandered about the area, coming several times to my farmer. They murdered every Jew whom they came across. Out of fear of the Polish murderers, we decided to go to another place.

I wish to tell here about two incidents in which we met the murderers almost face to face.

 

In the Barn Attic

After much wandering, a farmer named Wyszko, an acquaintance of ours from before the war, agreed to hide us in his attic, under the condition that his family members not know about this. We slept on the hay in the attic, open to rain and snow, for about three months. At night, the farmer would sometimes bring us crumbs of dry bread or a few potatoes.

One Saturday, we heard voices in Russian demanding horses from the mistress of the house, and immediately threating to shoot her on the spot if she does not bring them a horse. We were sure that these were partisans, and since we had wanted to contact the partisans for some time, we thought that we should go down and join them… However, suddenly we heard the sound of motorcycles, and busses full of Germans spread through the village. The “partisans,” who were collaborators with the Germans, placed machine guns in the center of the city. The farmer and his household locked the door of their house immediately and fled from the village, fearing that they might find us and kill them as well. The Germans made a thorough search through all the houses, barns, and warehouses of the city. When they reached the house of the farmer, they broke the lock of the house, searched the house, and took everything they found. Then they entered the barn, and searched in every corner. Had they raised their eyes upward, they would have certainly found us. Only a bit of straw separated between us, between life and death… The Germans remained in the village for three days. During that time, they murdered the Janiszki family whom they found hiding there. We lay hovering between life and death for three days…

[Col. 1424]

After the Germans left the village, the farmer forced us to leave his farm. We were sent out in the evening hungry and weakened from fear. We could not stand on our feet. My sister literally crawled. We reached a grove and slept there. Germans passed on the road, but did not notice us due to the darkness. Only during the next night did we succeed in reaching the village of Magon [Magûnai] weakened to death and with injured feet. A farmer acquaintance had mercy on us, and let us hide with him for a few days.

 

Meeting with Partisans

In the meantime, my sister broke out in skin injuries. We decided that she would go to the farmer acquaintance and ask him to go to the pharmacy in Podbrodz to get some medicine. On the way, my sister went to a farmer acquaintance to rest a bit and ask for some food. The farmer received her nicely and told her that Russian partisans are with him in the threshing floor. My sister saw a chance to connect with the partisans, and was happy with the meetings. The partisans recommended that my sister go with them. She agreed on the condition that they accept her brother – that is me – to go with them. She told them that I am in a far-off forest, and we would be able to meet here, with the farmer two days. The partisans agreed, and my sister hurried to tell me of the meeting. I had a suspicion in my heart that these were disguised Germans or Polish murderers connected with the Germans. Therefore I decided not to go to the meeting at the designated time, but rather the following evening. We arrived at the grove near the designated village toward morning. We approached the farmer's house at dawn. We did not recognize the farmer, for he was wounded all over. It became clear that the previous day, that was the day designated for the meeting, the “partisans” came, and wanted to shoot the farmer and his family when they did not find us. In the meantime, they beat him with deathblows. The villagers managed to save the farmer and his household through pleas and gifts, with the pretext that they would find us and give us over to them within a few days. These “partisans” were Polish murderers connected with the Germans.

Despite the great suffering that we had caused to the farmer, he gave us a bit of food. We quickly disappeared from the place. Before we went, I requested a favor from the farmer's wife, and she promised to fulfil my request. I had photographs of my family members. I wrote a farewell letter to my brother Mordechai who was living in the Land of Israel. I added the photographs, and requested that the Polish farmer send them to my brother's address after the war.

 

Assistance from a Former Member of the Polish Government

We again wandered through the forests together with Reuven Licht. One night, we left my sister Mariasha in an abandoned bathhouse, for her feet were badly wounded, and she could not continue walking under any circumstance. In the middle of the night, my sister woke up from her sleep very perplexed at the image of a woman lighting a match. She quickly recognized this woman as Pesia Schmid-Kulbak, who was also hiding in abandoned bathhouse. The next day, my sister joined me, and, together with Reuven Licht, we found

[Col. 1425]

a shelter in the threshing floor of a farmer for a month in exchange for a leather coat that we gave him. From there, we moved to another farmer who housed us in a pit that he had dug in the pigsty. He covered the pit with boards, and spread straw upon them. It was constantly dark in the pit. At night, the farmer would bring us a meager amount of bread and also a bit of water. After a few months, we were forced to leave this place as well, for the Germans had surrounded the village, and murdered all the Jews that they found. We hid in an attic of a shed in another village for some time, without the owners knowing. At night, we would steal potatoes from the pig trough, which the farmer provided in ample amounts. We were jealous of the pigs…

We were tired of our lives. The will to fight for this terrible life was lost. Our life was under threat at any moment. At that time, we found a pit in the forest, and hid there for about a month. At night, my sister would go out to the farmers in the area and sometimes bring a bit of food. In the meantime, Polish partisans from the Armia Krajowa arrived in the forest, and we were forced to leave the place. We decided to turn to a Pole who had been a delegate to the Polish parliament before the war, and lived in a nearby village. He received us very nicely. We requested that he help us obtain various items that we had hidden before the war with farmers in the area so that we could sell them and subsist from them. The Pole agreed. On Sunday, when they went to church, my sister drove with his wife and returned with a few of our valuables toward evening. The Germans who met them thought that my sister was a Polish girl.

Now we had valuable objects that we could sell so as to be able to continue somehow to live. In exchange for blankets that my sister had brought, the former parliamentary representative agreed to hide us in his house for a month. He placed us in the attic of the barn, and provided us with food. This was the only month during the war when we were more or less satiated. We were forced again to set out on our way after a month. Even though the liberation was not far off, and the farmers saw that the Germans were losing the war, the dangers to our life did not abate. We chose to return to a farmer with whom we had once hidden. We reached him at night. He received us nicely. After we gave him our remaining belongings, he agreed to hold us in the same pit in the barn for three months.

We were satisfied, for it seemed that the place was more secure, and we also sensed that the war would end shortly. Reuven Licht came to us after some time. The farmer agreed to keep him with us in the pit in exchange for the additional belongings that we promised to give him.

From time to time, the Polish bandits caught Jews and murdered

[Col. 1426]

them. They caught Sara Krol with her children, Reuven and Chana Glaz, Shinka Belski and her children, Itza, Rivka and Chaya Szapira, and Abba Gordon, and murdered them.

 

The Liberation

We were afraid to leave the pit for even a moment. One night, the Germans arrived with their wives and children and slept in the city. This was the last wave of them. We felt that the day of liberation was approaching. The next day it was quiet, and we began to hear echoes of artillery. We went out a bit, and sat all night. The next day, the farmer came and told us that the Russians had entered the village. Despite that, we slept for another day in the pit, in order to be certain that we would not fall into some sort of trap… Then we left the pit. We were torn and tattered, weak and tired, forlorn and alone. We began to walk to Podbrodz. We met those who pillaged and murdered. They were going about free, walking calmly and with security. They were also the rulers of the city. We entered our house through the window, as it was locked with a lock.

Toward the evening, a Pole entered and asked: “Why did you enter the house, for I have purchased it along with its furniture from Lithuanians?” They did not imagine that anyone would survive. They had done everything to finish the task completely.

We took an oath to take revenge. We reported several hooligans, pillagers, and murderers to the Russian N.K.V.D. There were trials, but it was very difficult to judge them solely for murder of Jews. It was necessary to testify that they also murdered Russians or gave over partisans to Germans. Only those who did the murderers will receive their punishment. In one case, I was at the trial of a Polish hooligan. The trial took place in Vilna before a field court, and the judges were only army captains. I testified that this hooligan turned Jewish Communists over to the Gestapo and murdered them. The army captain was not embarrassed to ask me: “Did he only catch Jews?” I responded, “No! He also caught Communists!”

Life on the accursed ground became abhorrent to us, and almost all the survivors of Podbrodz left at the earliest opportunity. Most made aliya to the Land. Jews also left for America and Canada. My sister and I went through a long journey to the Land, via Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, France, Haifa, and Cyprus. We remained in a camp of the rulers of the Land, our British “friends.” We then spent a month in Atlit[4], and we were finally free in the Land of Israel.

I was able to participate in the War of Independence.


Translator's Footnotes
  1. Lithuanian collaborators. Return
  2. There is a typo in the text here. It says 5713 rather than 5703 (5713 would correspond to 1952-1953). Return
  3. See “White Poles” in this article: https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmXoypizjW3WknFiJnKLwHCnL72vedxjQkDDP1mXWo6uco/wiki/Soviet_partisans_in_Poland.html. Return
  4. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlit_detainee_camp. Return


[Col. 1427]

Poems

Meir Blitz (Toronto)

Translated by Janie Respitz

Dedicated to my family: Yitzkhak, Etl, Sonia, Nadia. Our children: Yunke, Herman, Yoske, Ella, Moishe.
Our grandchildren: Shloimeleh, Nekhama– Yehidisleh – my heart and “bitter song” is a gift.

 

My Town in Blood

Near the mountains of Podbrodz, from the Polish slaughter
Death was celebrated in the beaks of black bloody ravens.
The first victims of Hitler fell like sheep.
The sun warmed, smiled and shone –
And we – the victims – doomed.

The Germans, Lithuanians, surround the town.
Death is a “Gift” the remnants inflict.

We spit in the face of death.
Our bones prolonged our fate.
A little in Svir, a little in “Lipes” (Kimelishok ghetto)
We breathed, trembled and continued to chase our troubles.

My heart breaks for Khayke, for Leybke.
For the slaughtered district of “Sventzian”.
A mother “Nekhameleh”, your heart is a bleeding wound.
Over and over.
In Khayke's and Leybke's last call
Your heart has burned in your body.

Also my brother and I breathed the tar
In the forests of Vilna.
We chewed troubles for long months and years!
We barely breathed, and suffered with our children.
We prevented them from starving and freezing!

When Hitler's kingdom of a thousand years! –
Together with him his Aryan friends became a pile of shit.
Remember our mothers! Collective memory!
Not erased! Not lost!
On Canada's soil! In a town near Moishe and Etl.

She lives! – She breathes! –
For many more years!

 

Near a Lake

Near a lake, near a Lithuanian
Stand two huts,
There lies my past, dark,
They remind me of my life.

Far from the village stands a forest,
We are cold, I freeze.
In the marsh stands a hut
Without a window, not even a door.

People live in this hut,
Among them a baby, a small child.
What do they live off? What do they hope for?
They now live in the claws of the Nazis?

Days, months and years rush by
They all become citizens of the forest.
They rock the little girl and sing her a song
About a world that is cursed for Jews.

[Col. 1428]

Instead of a Tombstone

In memory of my mother, my father, Reb Yisroel Bratanisky,
Boreh Blushinsky, and all that died in Kimelishok, September 1943.

 

Oh, shadows far away, near the Vilna aster city gate,
This is where I was born, not far from the gate,
Hardened generations, stationed at the wall,
A memory, far away and grey.

My father, the strong man – Reb Motl! Rabbi Mote! –
Until today the blanket drenched in water,
The slaps on my back, my rear end, my soles,
When I innocently tore my coat playing ball.
Oh mother, Nekhamele! Your glance from up high,
Oh mother Nekhamele! Your sighs supressed.
Your Meirke wailing from under the blanket
In the corner a plucked chicken is moaning.

Afterwards your moralizing, mother Nekhamele! –
The delightful richness of colour and fantasy,
Your pearls of speech, your teaching me, mother,
Together in a corner where a wounded eagle fell.

Your years were cut short, oh mother!
In Lipe's garden near the fence busy resting,
The beginning of the end of Hitler's victims,
The ropes around the necks were tightening.

When the Lithuaninan and German axes
Cut the Jewish community forever
I met you Mitzke in “Vengravitz” forest,
My own – “Etke” two non– extinguished bullets
Shone through rags, lonely in terror.

The memory of spinning pulls at me,
My cradle, my youth, not far from the Vilna city gates,
The shout from the ghetto Podbrodz – Kilmelishok,
Hardened in Lipe's kingdom near the gate,
Instead of a tombstone, your smile, oh mother, Nekhameh!

 

Bunkers

We are proud of you, heroes from the ghetto!
We feel how rigid the guns are in your hands.
You kill the murderers! You fire you veto!
You lived to take revenge! You lived the moment!

We are with you in the dark bunkers,
We feel the heat and smoke,
The heroes mow down the cadets,
The bandits who howl loudly like wolves.

Days and nights are consumed by fire,
A few proud Jews against the Nazi army,
All are fighting for and dreaming about a free youth
That would know of no moans or pain.

We are sitting far from you, in forests and swamps,
We are searching to make contact with the ghetto and the forest,
We are striving for freedom, to no longer be scoundrels,
The enemy dead, his destruction is coming soon.

[Col. 1429]

In Zemlianke

In the narrow Zemlianke – smoke,
The weeds are soaked in tears,
We sit around and heavily sigh,
About life, nothing to explain.

We are about to leave on our way
To search for a small piece of bread,
It is raining buckets
The bread is tied to death.

 

Kaddish
(Prayer for the Dead)

There, far in the forest
Stands a willow, quietly divided into branches,
Here lies my father's grave
Not far from the shores of the lake.

He fell at night
Silent shadows encircled him
The waves of the lake
Quietly whispered a silent Kaddish.

The willow often cries
Slapping and rocking in the wind,
Sometimes the sun kisses him splendidly
When she sets in flaming red.

My father lies there in his grave,
My father lies there in his eternal rest,
A dear father, a loving Dad,
You fell like as a hero!

 

Graves

The bells ring in the evening
Echoing far away
It hurts me, it pains me,
I spent my childhood there.

My youth,
Was spent there
My life,
Buried at the door.

On the east side,
In the red of morning,
I buried you,
My mother, my dearest, near a fence.

In the west in the distance – quietly on a hill,
A tree grows, with green needles,
Father's smile…a cool wind,
Tearing at my heart to that place…to that place…
The bells ring in the evening!
Carries your trembling away!
My mother near the fence,
My father, there in the forest, near the shores of the lake.

[Col. 1430]

Our Home – Ash Trenches

All the doors were closed and locked,
I run to look for my wife and child,
I leave all – I look where is better,
The steps, striding in the wind.
Our home spits fire,
Our home – trench of ash
We run like mice from the burning barn
Broken, disheveled, frightened and dead tired.
The Zhemaniye[Zemlianke] does not want to know us any longer,
Drowned in Jewish blood,
The enemies are delighted! The eyes are beaming!
All's good for them!

 

Clouds

Raised in the forests and swamps,
Without a tomorrow, without a home,
Summer – the tent, winter – mud hut,
Snakes and wolves were our friends.
The dark nights lasted long,
Our suffering and pain lasted long,
Grandfather, father and mother, thought,
How can we bare the hunger?

Finally the hour of light arrived,
From the swamps and forest, back to town.
The hill, the house, a grey dream,
We want to kneel and bow.

Our town is empty, our dream dismal,
Surrounded by evening shadows, veiled,
The grass on the graves barely trembles,
We are all withered, but alive.

 

A Refugee – Song

Frolic, frolic, angry winds,
Today is your time,
Darkness, our lives
We again not free.

After concentration camps and crematorium,
After so many rivers of blood,
Again parliaments, directives,
Everything hidden in fat skin.
Our struggle in the forest was trampled on,
Seas of blood taken away with the wind,
Just the enemy is affectionately caressed
Gentle and nice now.

Go look for justice among diplomats,
Woe to the fate of refugees,
They only know about weapons and cannons,
But not of righteousness and morality.


[Col. 1431]

Not a Sign Nor a Hint

by B. Mordechai

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Not a sign, or a hint, or an innuendo from anywhere
The thin star is extinguished somewhere, and the heart clenches,
Only flocks of darkness graze in the skies
And angry jackals on agonized nights,
Only the damaged moon casts a lost glance
Before it sets, and with it, the solution.

From morning to evening, the day is so long.
The journey on paths that I had never been on before.
As if everything was from some dream.
And as if I never had a brother or a sister,
As if thousands of years have already past.
Time has caressed their hand, I am refreshed from their voices.

The silence is deep. There is no sign in it, no image.
Evening casts its shadows like camels
Meeting the heavens. Afterward a gloomy night
Will knock on the doors of the horizon, and who will open for it?
Woe to me! I have already forgotten how my father smiled
But his tears – I will see. I will never forget.

I cannot forget, and cannot believe
That his smile will not suddenly appear to me in the door.
For the hand of the murderer was raised, and G-d
Did not come in a storm, and did not plug the breach.
For my little brother screamed out for naught, the child
And his screams piece the heavens and the earth.

I will awaken at night; a voice screams out from my blood.
I will tear open the eyes, perhaps
The awaited miracle has arrived, when I see it I will believe,
Their hands are so close to me, and their voice is so close to here.
From morning till night I wait for the dream
In which they live with me, and will live forever.

 

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