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[Col. 1655]

Our Heroism

Heshl Gurvitch

Translated by Janie Respitz

…The Jewish heroes from the region of Sventzian tell about their daily battle they fought in the ranks of the various partisan units within the regular Lithuanian division. In simple language, in plain words, the heroes, these heroes recount their experiences. They give the facts of their great heroism, both physical and spiritual. If physical heroism ended with defeat, the end of spiritual heroism is always victory. These heroic fighters continued in the heroic traditions of our people. Physical resistance has always been in our lives, which has always been surrounded by a sea of hatred, wickedness and murder! When they forced the Jewish tenant farmer to dance, he did not pay attention to the humiliation and did not lose his self– respect. Deep in his heart he disdained the wild, powerful but intellectually inferior nobleman. The peddlers showed amazing heroism as the Christian shepherds threw stones at them. They would not even stop their prayers. These Jews who lived in a Christian setting, and the innkeepers who kept the Sabbath would continue to perform good deeds under the mocking laughter of their neighbours. However, even in this wild situation, the neighbours knew the Jews would not turn the other cheek. More than once, they felt the punches of the Jewish boys when the hooligans wildly fell upon unprotected Jews. These were the Jewish boys in Sventzian throughout the years. The non– religious boy would stand up to the military power as they confiscated the last prayer house in New – Sventzian, just as he would dare to call for a boycott of the German school which made Jewish children learn on the Sabbath. The Jewish boys were raised in this spirit. In the most horrific times, they breathed the air of magnificent spiritual heroism. With a glance of the hill of Jewish corpses, they looked to a higher mountain – the one where the sun shines on a proud equal Jewish people. I hold great honour respect for the Jewish heroes of this time of slaughter. Your heroic struggle possesses the large, superhuman splendor of the Maccabees and all the martyrs of the times. It is the splendor that was shown in all periods among the revolutionaries of the Sventzian region, Zionists, Socialists, dreamers and fighters for a better world. Your heroism, partisans and fighters on the front, is the eternal light in the history of life and death in the cities and towns on the Sventzian region. You, heroic warriors from burnt homes, proud vanquishers of death, will be remembered for centuries. We will remind ourselves and repeat the holiest oath, the words of our partisan poet: “And where a spurt of our blood fell on the earth, there our courage and our spirit have rebirth”.


[Col. 1659]

With Weapons in Our Hands

Moishe Shutan

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve1659.jpg

 

The outbreak of the Soviet – German War. It was still summer, the youth were carefree and were enjoying their time, when suddenly this came to an abrupt end: to leave our homes and flee with the Soviet military or stay under German rule? Our young intuition told us that we should flee, as far away from the Germans as possible.

On the other hand, we wanted to take our families along, father – mother, sister – brother. This however was impossible – a difficult weight! No one had the will or the strength to leave their families to die. Basically, we remained. Only some managed to flee with the Red Army. Most remained in their shtetl.

Our hearts were greatly saddened. We wandered the empty and bare streets with heavy hearts.

[Col. 1660]

I returned home and sat on the large stone in front of our home and Yoske Rudinski, Dudke Yokhai, Itzka Rudinski, Ishike Gertman came by. It became clear to all of us we all had the same concerns, the same worries about the future.

What shall we now do? How are we going to survive? Ishike said:

Friend, do not lower your heads! (accept defeat) Don't loose your willpower! We will have to fight for our lives. Today we all have to prepare ourselves to fight. We know we have to fight and therefore we have to organize ourselves.

 

The First Days in the Ghetto

We the young people of Sventzian and the surrounding region did not have good feelings about the Germans. We already heard from others about the German concentration camps and their activities, the ghettos that tens of thousands of Jews were thrown into. The truth, one never imagined that such atrocities toward mankind would actually occur. We then decided it would be impossible for Jews to live with the German occupation, and our only way was to fight with all our might.

In the evening, a young group of friends assembled to discuss our plans and ideas for organizing our fight. Together with Ishike Gertman, Itzke and Yosef Rudnitski and Dudke Yokhai, we were the organizers of this group. We were isolated from the world and we had to know what was happening around us:

[Col. 1661]

We suffered under the Germans occupation as well as the Red Army.

We decided to organize a radio – contact, so that news would reach us from all sides.

The radio apparatus was assembled by Avraham Gertman, and Itzike Tatin brought us this apparatus and in no time, we were able to hear the news from all the other countries.

The news from the radio and the call for action, gave us incentive and strength to endure this situation. We spread the news amongst our group, at first hoping that the war would soon be over.

Our radio gave us the update of the difficult battle between the Russians and the Germans, and about the horrendous events taking place amongst the Jewish population. From other sources we discovered that the ghettos were liquidated and many Jewish communities were destroyed and murdered. Thousands of Jews were being liquidated.

All those, that believed that the Sventzianer Jews would not meet the same fate, soon knew they were living with false hope. So this is exactly what happened, the fate was the same for all the shtetls and shtetlach. An order came to send all the Jews of Sventzian to the camps in Poligon. They only left the “useful Jews”, about 500 people.

We were thankful to one another not to be caught by the Germans.

When they ghetto was established, we came out of hiding and snuck into the ghetto with everyone. We quickly learned that all the Jews who were in Poligon were slaughtered and physically tortured.

The thought of the Poligon Massacre shook the Sventzian Jews in the ghetto and a heavy gloom hung over our heads. Amongst us young people, the idea to avenge the dead was declared and now we were going to take our revenge! Our hatred grew deeper and stronger now. Our will to fight to the last drop of blood festered.

One person who was in the work – place, at the “Depot”, was Godel Gilinski, who worked there,

[Col. 1662]

and told Itike that there were a lot of guns there. We sent several friends, in order to bring back as many guns to the ghetto as possible. Several of them joined the work detail at the warehouse and brought guns back; rifles, hand grenades and chains, which we hid in every corner.

Our group began to slowly expand, the following: Gershka Bak, Rivka Miadzolski, Berka Yocai, Shulka Michalson, Mote – Heske Bushkanitz, Kuske Ligumski, Motke Feigel, and Feivke Chait from New Sventian, who escaped from Poligon at the last minute. The survivors of our group: Berke Yokhai, Feivke Chait and I. (Moishe Shutan). Our thoughts were to enlarge our arsenal and to hide our conspiracy.

At first everything went along quietly, until a great tragedy struck our group. Shaulka Michelson, in his former house, told us that several revolvers were hidden. Two friends of ours snuck out of the ghetto, late at night, and brought the revolvers back to us. The next morning, Dudke Yokhai, Gershka Bak and Rivka Miadzolski went outside to clean and inspect the revolvers. Accidently the gun went off and wounded Gerhon Bak severely. The bullet went through his mouth and neck. The shot fired was heard in the ghetto, and everyone soon found out. The Judenrat who were in charge were displeased. Gershon was hospitalized and Rivka, at first hid, but they found her.

A policeman was watching over Gershon and Rivka was arrested. We were very anxious that our group and activities would not be revealed.

A meeting of our group was immediately set up and we didn't know whether we should remain in the ghetto or escape to the forests. Everyone of us was concerned, but the two arrested, under torture and pain, did not reveal anyone of us.

[Col. 1663]

After 3 days of torture, they were both shot. May 16, 1942, a wagon of Lithuanian police arrived, took Gershon from the hospital and Rivka from the prison in chains (also Surke Levin, who was put to death because she insulted a Lithuanian policeman). They were all led in the direction of the cemetery. The grave was already prepared, they stood at the edge, all 3 were shot and thrown in.

After this incident, our secret was out. We went to the Judenrat to help us, to assist us with able bodies (young people) ready to fight.

Two friends, Faivka Chait and Berka Yokhai, were given the task of working with the Judenrat. Moishe Gordon and those two, were delegated to get money from the Judenrat in order to buy guns. They warned Moishe Gordon, that if the police found out what the Judenrat was ordered to do, they would pay with their lives. The head of the Judenrat gave us the money and we bought the guns. The main person in charge was Chaim the tanner, who had friendly relations with the Tatars, and brought our organization many guns and ammunition. Again our Partisan group was armed and was joined by new volunteers: Itzke Teitz, Moishe – Heskel Milutin, the brothers Shimke and Ruvke Levin, Yoske Flexser, and several others from the nearby shtetls, who were now in Sventzian. The organization had to make decisions: some believed we should remain in the ghetto. Those that wanted to remain, didn't want to leave and encounter the German enemy. This was not an option for us, to remain in the ghetto and fight. But the majority wanted to leave the ghetto and go to the forests where we could actively engage in fighting the Nazis. After long negotiations, it was decided to send 2 friends to make contact with Partisan organization in the forests.

[Col. 1664]

They left for a small village, which according to our information, these partisans came from time to time. We came back empty handed, no contact was made.

We made several attempts, contacted different Otriads, but unsuccessfully.

Suddenly, our entire region was threatened with an order. 3 Germans officers, sitting in a car, were attacked, successfully by a Partisan group. A note was left on the spot, that this attack was carried out by Markov, who was known to belong to the Otriad in the Narach region.

As punishment, the Germans arrested 100 men, Poles, White Russians and amongst them, Moishe – Yitzhak Zeidel and Yankele Gurwitch. They were all shot.

After this, our organization understood what was to come shortly thereafter. All that we previously heard about the Partisans, now became a reality. The name Markov, which we all knew, was now before us. Even before the war he was a well – known personality in Sventzian.

He was a White – Russian, and he worked as a teacher in the Jewish school. Known for his Communist ideals, he was sent to prison for 4 years during the Polish Regime. His activities gave us the desire to make contact with him.

Life in the ghetto became more difficult. We had to increase the number of workers, there was no room to breathe and the hunger increased, and many diseases spread. Our lives were at their worst.

The Jewish Judenrat of Sventzian couldn't meet the demands and bribes, couldn't help with the epidemic, and were forced to seek the help of Gens, the leader of the Jewish police of the Vilna Ghetto.

A shorter while later, Gens arrived at the Sventzian Ghetto and called a meeting: the Jews were all going to be deported, either to Vilna or Kovno. The reason, the Germans said that the Sventzian ghetto was too close to the Partisan groups!

[Col. 1665]

Our group didn't trust Gens, we knew well that he misled many. Our organization discussed what to do: we should not remain in the ghetto and await deportation! We all decided to go to the forests. We divided ourselves into groups, 5 per group. Between March 5 – 6, we were going to sneak out one at a time and meet in a designated spot in the Ligumer forest.

All our groups made it to the forest. The brothers Shimon and Rubin Levin, who knew this area well, were our guides. They knew a Christian peasant in the area, and it was decided to go to him. He received us in a friendly manner, but got alarmed when we asked to remain in his barn. We had to come up with a new plan. We decided to go to the Zcherklishker forest and make our base there. As soon as it got dark, we left the barn and went in the direction of Zcherklishok. When we arrived, travelling by night, we began to look for a suitable spot.

It was cold that night. We made a fire and sat around, wondering our fate and how to find food. We sent out a few friends to the nearby village, to see what products they could bring back.

Another group, to which I belonged, decided to return to the ghetto to find out what was going on. Besides this, we wanted to rescue some more Jews. The Jews were already on their way. The order for overseeing this mass evacuation of Gens', was led by Solak Dessler, who came with other Jewish police from Vilna to oversee mass evacuation.

[Col. 1666]

Amongst the Jewish police, was our friend, Averbuch. We learned he was part of the Partisan Organization, called the F.P.O. and from him we learned that this organization existed in Vilna.

Aberbuch told us to gather our group and guns and come and join the F.P.O. in Vilna. We sent out 2 friends with the transport to Vilna, to make contact with the F.P.O and to get a sense of acceptance: these were Itzke Rudnitski and Ishike Gertman. My sister and I decided to go to Vilna by foot.

In the Vilna Ghetto I found many from the Sventzian district, all with similar ideas, to leave the ghetto for the forest where we can fight the bloody enemy!

We immediately started to organize our departure, but we also had to make contact with those that remained in our former spot.

I and Isike Gertman were chose and we left for New Sventzian and Sventzian. On the way we encountered Shaulke Michelson and Berke Yokhai. From them we found out about the group in the woods, which were attacked by the Lithuanian police. On account of our scout, the Christian Goige, our group fled to another location. We also were told to contact Peretz Grozel in Sventzian and he will tell us the new location of our base.

We met Peretz late at night and he took us to our new base. We found them in good spirits, as they made contact with a Soviet Otriad, the head was Vaskai Charnai (Vaskai the black one). The group was to meet Vaskai in the Baronover woods, where they will be introduced to the Markov Brigade.

At the given time, Vaskai led our group to Sidiaken, the commander of the Stofaiev Otriad. Sidiaken was known by the name

[Col. 1667]

“Yosnamayare”. He received us warmly, asked that we rest for several days and then he would begin to send us on missions. A few days later he told us that we couldn't use our guns against the Germans, that we had to provide ourselves with rifles. (he ridiculed us) We decided a group of us should return to Sventzian to buy guns with our money and the others went to Markov, these were Itzke Gertman and Israelke Volfson. That is how our group was divided. We wanted Markov to know about the group was in a difficult situation. Besides, I and Itzke Farus returned to Vilna to deliver a letter to the F.F.O. from Sidanken.

Vittenberg questioned us about life in the woods and if we should bring more Jews out of the Vilna Ghetto. In order to make sure this was not a trick, the F.P.O. decided to send their own to Sidianken to find out his intentions. Aberbuch told us several days later, that the F.P.O. decided not to send more people to the forests, but to remain in the ghetto in order to defend those that had to be left behind. Meanwhile, Itzike Gertman and Isroelka Volfson also arrived in the Vilna Ghetto. They told us that Markov wants more Jews to be sent out of the Vilna ghetto to the forests. We saw that we could not get our way with the F.P.O and decided to take matters in our own hands.

Chaim – Hirske Levin, who was formerly the head of the Sventzian ghetto police, made a plan with some friends to escape to the forest and meet at a designated place, but when the time arrived, he found himself alone at the train. He therefore returned to the ghetto, at the gate he was met by the police, arrested and thrown into prison. He drew his gun, begging to be released, but without success, thereby shooting and wounding the policeman.

[Col. 1668]

A great tumult resulted. Even Gens arrived with many police, and Chaim – Hirsh was shot on the spot.

The Jews in the ghetto were informed that the Sventzianer partisans with guns were willing and able to take the young folk into the woods from the ghetto. Suddenly, there was an urgency to find these Sventzianer partisans. Gens arranged to call for a meeting after this tragic episode, to plead with the Jews to remain, not to make things worse. A raid took place, but they were still looking for us.

In the end, they brought me to Gens, Soliak Dessler (his superior) by his side, into his office where he asked me:

– – You want to rescue Jews by taking them to the forest? Tell me? Can Jews survive in that environment? 100, 200, and even 500? Here they have work, and thanks to this, the ghetto can exist. You want to lead the old, sick and children to God knows where, whom the Germans will murder immediately? I will not allow this. Do you know what is happening around us? What is happening on all fronts? We don't know what tomorrow will bring. It can be, that the Germans might run away and we will all survive in the ghetto. It is being said, that the Red Army started a massive campaign. Our fate is to endure a little longer. There are still 20,000 Jews in the ghetto. We should not shorten the existence of the ghetto even by 1 day. I will fight for each day. Later I will be responsible for the story of the ghetto.

– – Herr commandant, I said to Gens – why did you bring us here, convincing us through Averbuch, that we should come here with our guns and now you want to detain us?

– – I called you here – Gens answered – because I need loyal people here, especially with guns, in case, at the right moment, there is an uprising!

[Col. 1669]

I know about the existence of the F.P.O. I know there will be a time where I will need them. I know their hideouts, I am turning a blind eye. When they plan to attack the ghetto, we will all need to count on one another. Then we will all fight together”.

We were face to face during our conversation. Later Dessler reappeared.

– – Herr Commandant – I said again, – – we will not change our minds. We do not have confidence in the Vilna Ghetto. Just like the Germans destroyed all the ghettos, they will do the same here. Our main goal is to lead out as many Jews as possible. To the forests and set up a base for them. As many as possible, and together with other groups, we can join the fight against the enemy to take “Revenge”.

After several minutes, I continued my talk with Gens. We came here as partisans on Markov's orders to bring as many Jews as possible to the forest, and if you don't allow it, you are to blame.

Then Dessler mixed into the conversation:

– – What do you think, we are against the Jews going to the forest? We are against the fight of the partisans? Peace and quiet. Gens was once a partisan. We would like go to the forests as well, but we cannot leave the ghetto unprotected.”

Gens again counter attacked me.

– – Do you personally know these people that you want to lead into the forests? Are you certain they all want to leave? Are you absolutely certain, that the police Boyarski and Rudnitski, who are close to you, will leave with you? Now we will address them?

Gens called in the watchman and sent him to bring the two mentioned policemen.

They soon arrived, white as the walls!

Gens asked if they knew me. The two said no, pretending not to know me as they were not aware what was happening.

I interrupted and said –

[Col. 1670]

Don't worry. Nothing will happen to you. Everything will work out.

Gens answered:

– – Herr, My friend, take these people wherever you desire. You have to know, all the guns and documents shall remain in the ghetto. Otherwise a large scale exodus can occur.

– – No, not like this – I answered – – – without guns we will not leave. I am telling you the truth, I have nothing against you, but what are we to do without guns?

– – Good, Gens said, do as you please –

– – Another thing, I said, our friends are in your prison, I must bring them with us.

Gens replied in anger –

– – Take all of them, but I beg you, I don't ever want to see you here again –

I replied – Herr Gens, you are also a military person, what would you do if you received an order from your superior? You would certainly obey! That is exactly what I am doing, being a soldier in the Partisan Army! My commander is Markov. If he orders me to return here, I will certainly obey this order!

Gens replied – if you return, you must advise me first –

Another thing, I beg you, we need medicine and cigarettes for the partisans in the forest –

Gens smiled and looked over to Dessler.

– – Good, you can obtain these things as well –

Early the next morning, our entire group met at the gate of the ghetto, the gate guard, Levas, took our passes and let us leave. At the end, 25 men left.

We left as “workers” and went to the train station. We went into a wagon, that was taking workers to New – Vileika. At the first chance we left the wagon and disappeared into the thick forest. We went in the direction of the Lake Narach. We travelled by night, hid in the daytime and after 6 days we arrived at the Markov Brigade in the Narach forest. Isheke and I became close to Markov. He questioned us about the situation in Vilna and the underground activities in the ghetto.

[Col. 1671]

He was especially interested in the work of the F.P.O.

Markov's plan was to unite all the Polish, Lithuanian and Jewish partisans. He requested the two of us return to Vilna, to ask Vittenberg (as per Markov's request) to send the F.P.O. fighters to the forest. He requested we seek out the Polish and Lithuanian units and they should unite with Markov and keep in regular contact. In order to carry out this mission, he gave us a Russian partisan to lead the way. We left and on the way we met a Lithuanian partisan otriad who told us there was unrest in Vilna. They arrested the leader of the Polish and Lithuanian underground organizations and near Vilna there were horrible things happening.

25 kilometers from Vilna, we came across a peasant who let us stay overnight and fed us. In the morning, he packed a wagon with wood, I dressed like a Christian peasant, and the two of us left for Vilna. Isike stayed behind, awaiting my return. As soon as I arrived I contacted Averbuch to make contact with the F.P.O and tell them what Markov requested. This was the day of Yitzhak Vittenberg's trial, which started, when the Lithuanian underground leader Koslovski was arrested by the Germans. They tortured him endlessly, and eventually he gave up the leaders of the F.P.O., led by Yitzhak Vittenberg. When Vittenberg was arrested, led bound in chains, his followers managed to free him and Vittenberg hid in the ghetto. Gens arrived at their headquarters and relayed the message from the Germans: hand over Vittenberg or the entire ghetto will be murdered. Many discussions ensued. Everyone knew that Vittenberg's life

[Col. 1672]

was at stake. It was a difficult decision to make, but it was the only thing to do: Vittenberg had to turn himself in to the German police.

When things settled down, I approached the headquarters of the F.P.O with Markov's plan, to bring the fighters to the forest. In principle, it was decided. If they were to leave, only as an entire group. If only one group left, Gens would stop the other groups.

Gens received me like an old friend. I again submitted Markov's plan (also, I gave him Markov's greetings) and he said – men I don't have to spare, but if the F.P.O. want to send their men, I will allow it.

I met with Sonia Madaisker, and the next evening 3 representatives went to Gens. These were Abba Kovner, Shmuel Kaplan, Henia Barovski and I. Long discussions took place, and finally Gens agreed to let all the groups leave. His only demand was to leave all personal documents.

July 22, 1943, the first group, under Yosef Glazman's leadership, left the ghetto. Their guide was Ishike Gertman. By the Lavarishker bridge, they encountered a German military unit. Shooting started. Some were killed and part were captured by the Germans. Of them, Glazman and Gertsman escaped and after many days arrived in the Narach forests.

[Col. 1673]

As a result, the F.P.O. were not interested.

I, on my own, organized another group to leave with me. In the end Alexander Bogen, Sholomke from Lodz, Yudke Rudnitski,

[Col. 1674]

Motke Feigel went back into the ghetto and brought other groups to the forests. Rudnitski successfully brought out the Vilna writers: Abraham Sutzkever and Shmerke Katcherginsky and other young and ambitious fighters.

 

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