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[Col. 1673]

Eli[1]

by Nechama Shutan

Translated by Dena Mann

In memory of my grandparents

 

Sve1673.jpg

Daughter of the partisan Moishe Shutan

 

My God, you could have saved them
My god, you could have rescued them
The six million
Who fell into the hands of the Nazis

You had their faith in your hands
To you alone did the pray
In each place their feet touched the ground
They had your name on their lips

And you didn't save them
And you didn't stretch your hand to help them
And the six million perished
My their memory be with us forever


Translator's footnote:

  1. My God Return


[Col. 1673]

This Is How We Fought…
Fragments of a larger work about the struggle of the Sventzian Partisans

Moishe Shutan

Translation by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Edited by Rhoda Miller

Ishike arrived in Sventzian from Vilna after a long night of travel by train. He was tired and went straight to bed, but he couldn't fall asleep. He overheard his father talking about the London radio reporter's alarming news,

[Col. 1674]

the Germans were amassing large military armies on the Russian Border. “Least of all we need another war!” Three days later, at Bagin, the Germans crossed the border. The German airplanes bombarded Russians cities and villages. The first news in Sventzian came from the radio:

[Col. 1675]

the Germans attacked city hall!

That evening, columns of retreating Red Army militia passed through Sventzian, we noticed many white heads amongst them, bandaged and wounded soldiers.

One set of news after another was racing non– stop.

The German military arrived in Kovno by train, then they occupied Vilna. The Lithuanians joined the Germans. Russian townsfolk were fleeing together with workers of the Russian Regime, and many Jews were fleeing with them.

Many fleeing Jews turned back (they felt remorse leaving their families behind) and on the way they were shot by Lithuanian bandits.

In terror and in awe we waited for the arrival of the Germans.

At Abraham Gertman's house, on New–Sventzian Street, five of our friends were sitting in the shade of the large old trees, they were preparing themselves for the new school year, instead they were greeted by war.

Ishike Gertman was only 19 years old when he finished the Yiddish Folk–Shul. He was above medium height with an energetic face, grey eyes and red hair. His father, Abraham Gertman, was a shoemaker, patching shoes, barely making a living and was also involved in community affairs and world politics.

The entire responsibility of the household lies on Isike.

Dudke Yocai, a pupil at the Gymnasia, tall with a long pale face and hot–tempered black eyes, inherited a sharp mind.

His father Chaim Yocai was a tailor, overworked and barely made a living.

Yoske Rudnitski, short with a small round face, always smiling was full of humour. His father Pesach Rudnitski was a wagoner, day and night he brought merchandise from Sventzian to Vilna and back.

Moishke Shutan, one year older than Yoske, of medium height with black hair, dark eyes, was ambitious and one of the best students in the Gymnasia. His father, Shmuel Hirsh, went from shtetl to shtetl, buying and selling merchandise in the markets.

The youngest amongst them, Itzke Rudnitski, barely 14 years old, was a ray of sunshine, fair with somewhat curly hair and dark grey eyes. He was a student in the first class of the Gymnasia. His father, Israel–Moishe was a Chazzan who remained stuck in the Warsaw Ghetto together with his mother Chaia.

The talk amongst them now was to run away to Russia.

Moiske believed that they should remain here to fight. Ishike was of the same opinion as Moishke.

Two days later, in the evening, the Germans and their tanks arrived in Sventzian. Their panzer units rolled through with their insignias, the black crests with the iron–cross on

[Col. 1676]

their dark grey tanks. They opened fire on the Soviet transport airplanes from the Poshmener hill, who were dropping parachutes with canisters of fuel for the hundreds of Russian tanks stranded on the road that were low in fuel (benzene).

This was useless. The German army arrived the next morning. Young German soldiers overflowed the tanks and panzer automobiles. They moved without stopping, their army was strong and we knew their forces were unstoppable.

Suddenly, fire broke out of nowhere. A soldier appeared out of nowhere. The automobiles stopped, soldiers with rifles and machine guns jumped from their automobiles and threw themselves on the ground, with their hands on the barrels of their automatic guns and rifles, which were pointed at the long row of people waiting in line for bread that had been promised to them.

The men ran away. The Germans suddenly realized that a Russian unit caught a German soldier on his motor cycle and forced him to ride in a suicide mission. Arriving in the middle of the town they saw the advancing German columns and they jumped off the moving motorcycle and sprayed the Germans with bullets.

The soldiers disappeared and the poisoned Germans returned from their chase empty handed. Next to the store, where earlier the rows of people stood for their bread, no one was there, only three beaten Russian soldiers, without weapons waiting to be taken into captivity.

The Germans opened fire on them and they dropped dead on the sidewalk.

Mid–day, German gendarmes were seen on the streets of Sventzian together with the other wild hooligans, wearing white armbands. These were the Lithuanians, hooligans, and other underworld figures (mafia).

 

The Hebrew Station from Jerusalem

A terrible nightmare fell upon the Jewish population in Sventzian. Several days later the Lithuanians rounded up twenty–five Jews who were falsely accused, together with some Russians, and were shot. Then another six Jews were sent to work and after work they were shot.

One cause for alarm followed another. The Lithuanians, like animals in heat, ran around the streets catching Jews

[Col. 1676]

to pull the wagons instead of using horses, they cut and ripped beards, robbed them and then shot them. Not one day passed without incident.

Isike's father, Abraham, went around drunk (or in a stupor). He witnessed the murder of the three Russian soldiers.

When Abraham was 5 years old during the time of the Russian revolution, he ran through the street yelling: “Daloi, Nicholai”, he no longer feared death; he came across a hidden radio (radios were illegal), brought it home and Moishke, his next door neighbour, helped him install the apparatus to hook it up to electricity and hide the electric wires. Everyday they listened to the news from Moscow.

One day they heard a Hebrew station from Jerusalem. It consumed them to hear the news and understand what the Jews of Eretz Israel knew. They invited a friend, Yodke Shapiro, who they knew from the Halutz Ha'Tzair and knew Hebrew, to translate the news. No good news was transmitted.

 

The Aktion of the Hundred

Ishike understood, hearing the screaming, that something terrible was happening outside. He went to the window with his father and saw, Dvorah Ozschinski in her night dress, barefoot, running through her garden, screaming with all her strength: “Save me!”

The Lithuanian bandits took her husband from his bed, told him to take a package with soap and other things, and said they were taking him to work. He managed to tear away and escape. They ran after him and captured him in the garden, hit him with their rifle–buts on his back and head.

Then Ishike saw Amilka, Zalman Gurwitz's servant, approaching the gate of their house, in her long black dresss with her long silver cross on her breast, blocking the policemen's way and said:

––“Jews don't live here.”

That day the Lithuanians gathered 100 Jews and sent them to Poligon. They took them away in wagons, the Jews were frightened out of their minds. The wailing was heard throughout the streets.

 

The Plan to Resist

Moishe Gordon arrived in a terrible state at the Tailor's Kloiz and recounted the frightening news:

––“The whole of Sventzian and its surrounding villages

[Col. 1678]

are being evacuated, all the Jews, young and old, will be sent away. Not one Jew will remain. To Poligon! Let us save ourselves, let's run away!”

The Jews listened, downtrodden and broken, either alone or in small groups they left in the middle of the night, as far away from this horrible nightmare as possible. And where to? Perhaps it is quieter in the other shtetls?

Abraham didn't want to run. In all the occupied zones where the Germans were located, the same fate awaited. Ishike stood in the darkness and hid packages in a pit in the garden, all the things his father told him to hide. This was Abraham's plan. His whole life he spent working to acquire these items. People wanted to buy these things from him, but he didn't want to sell them.

––“We have to resist”–called out Moisike, looking how Isike was straightening the earth with his feet, ––“I work in the Abramke (warehouse). There must be a lot of guns there that the Germans gathered in the fields after the Russians fled. We have to attack the work camp, steal the weapons, burn the city and run away into the forests.”

This is how the plan of an organized resistance was born––without a plan, without help or assurance, only with the will not to surrender.

 

Godel

After the Jews were taken to Poligon, the Germans left a small ghetto of 80 men in the shtetl. The entrance was Shul–Holf Street with a gate and a sign “Ghetto,” with barbed wire encircling the Shul–Hof with all her alleys and houses. On the door of Abraham Tzepelovitch's house hung a sign, Judenrat, the main room led to three smaller rooms, on the doors were written: “ghetto–police, work–detail, and Judenrat”.

Godel Gilinski, more than 50 years old, tall and good humored, painted signs which the Germans and Lithuanians needed in the ghetto. He looked at the other painters with regret, as he didn't feel as they did. His worst fear was for Ishike, who spent the entire day talking about the impending fight.

Godel was a quiet man who worked diligently and pretended not to hear Ishike's words which impacted him. Three ghetto policemen arrived and patiently waited for the volunteers “who willingly would come forward to go to the work detail that the Germans arranged? Godel was the first one to speak out:

[Col. 1679]

––“I am going!”

With scared glances, we looked at Godel, warning him by making signs with our fingers not to go, we will never see him again.

Godel returned. But that same evening he sat at the desk by the hot stove, he mulled over his work that day in the Avramke, it didn't bother him that the Germans yelled or the Lithuanians were picking on the old Jews. He surveyed the barrack that was surrounded by a wooden fence and barbed wire. Here were the guns and ammunition that he was focused on.

He sat anxiously waiting for Ishike.

Ishike arrived like a “storm” and went straight to talk to Godel:

––“I am returning from Litvin and gave him back the signs. He is not so full of himself (turned up nose). It seems, the loss at Moscow cooled him down.” He turned the radio on, from the Moscow station, all seemed quiet, only small local battles are being fought.

Ishike took out a loaf of bread from his opened coat, broke off a piece and gave it too Godel saying:––“He gave me a whole bread.”

Godel took the bread and immediately called out:

––“At the Avramke is an entire warehouse full of guns, we have to get our hands on them and find a way to smuggle them out.”

––“How”–Ishike looked at him with wonder in his eyes!

Godel spoke while thinking.

––“Make sure, that your friends are sent to work there!”

 

The Avramke

The Judenrat was wondering:

––“Why are the young people lining up to work in the Avramke?”

Shimke, the German overseer, was happy that all the old workers were being replaced by the younger ones. It is already two weeks they are working here, but the Germans don't leave their side.

One time in a watch–room of the Lithuanian police, the telephone rang. He called Yoske Rudnitski, who was at the dairy farm, they spoke Lithuanian and called the foreman of the dairy farm. But Yoske said to the German, that the German supervisor was wanted on the phone. So the German officer told him to go fetch him.

When Shimke's small frame with his crooked feet arrived at the watch–room of the police, Yoske screamed out:

[Col. 1680]

–––“Now!”–

No more words were needed. Itzke Rudnitzki and Gershke Nodel disappeared into the barracks. It barely took several seconds and they jumped through the windows on the other end of the barrack. They left with three Russian rifles and buried them quickly in the snow next to the barrack.

In a corner of the warehouse were broken crates that used to contain ammunition. Twice a week, before the end of the work shift, peasants arrived to collect them with a horse and sleigh to bring the broken boxes to the overseer in town. The peasants threw the empty boxes into the sleigh.

A short while after, Iszke and Gershke asked for a pass to leave, and when they left the overseer yelled out to them to help the peasants with the loading of the wooden crates.

Both of them froze in their tracks! Under their coats, in their pants, were hidden the rifles which reached their knees. They could barely take a step. How will they be able to mount the sled? Cold sweat poured from them. The German lost patience, started cursing, and at that moment, Moiske and Yoske jumped onto the loaded sled and the German got flustered:

––“Not you, them!”

––They don't feel well”–Moishe said quietly–“we will help load the wood.”

The officer noticed the pale faces, signalled with his hand and they jumped on the sled.

The other workers lined up in a row, and returned to the ghetto. Itzke and Gershke went with them. Hidden in their coats were the two Russian rifles.

 

The First Meeting

That day was a cause for celebration. The celebrants were the two brothers, Berke and Dudke Yocai. The first meeting took place in their house. In their honor, their father Chaim brought several bottles of samogan and a bottle of spirit.

Between the men, sat Chaike, a young girl with half blond hair, who helped hide the guns. Next to her sat Isike, spirited with a smiling face. A new friend, Itzik Teitz, a wonderful lad, was now speaking, a devoted and honest being, who Moiske invited to join the organization. Itzke is talking about

[Col. 1681]

keeping the conspiracy a secret, which was the first requirement of this illegal organization. Until now everything was handled between us, with discretion. There needed to be a control over all the activities, an exact discipline was needed.

Chaim got involved, telling about the First World War when he served in the artillery and a leader was necessary. But, in time, all showed their own initiatives.

Afterwards, Shaielke Michelson spoke. He told us that together with his father, they hid pistols in the cellar where the new Lithuanian police commander is now living. The guards were watching day and night.

Several of our friends volunteered to retrieve the guns from the cellar.

One after another they slid in the darkness through the streets where the police commander lived. There was a small window leading to the cellar. The opening looked rather small, how shall we enter?

We contemplated a short while, soon the three shadows found their way in.

They had to remain in the cellar until morning, with great angst. Cold entered their bodies, but they couldn't move from their spot. The smallest noise could give them away.

Very early in the morning, when the street began to fill with noise, the three volunteers, Yitzke Teitz, Shaielke and Dudke, began their work. They chiselled into the hard brick until noon, but they barely chiselled half a brick. The work was going slowly and with difficulty. Therefore, they didn't sleep the entire night, their thirst was painful. They wanted to stick out a hand and lick a little snow. But no one did it. When night fell, they managed to tap the hidden revolvers.

It was already late at night when they crawled out of the cellar, carrying the package of bullets and four new pistols. They avoided the Lithuanian guards and crawled through the barbed wire fence back into the ghetto. Once there, they breathed a sigh of relief.

The next morning, Dudke Yochai, Rubka Miadzolski, and Gerske Bak, crawled up onto the roof of a house that bordered the ghetto and sat there sewing cases for the revolvers.

Gershke positioned himself as the watchman. Gershke sat and cut the leather with a knife

[Col. 1682]

that he brought with him. Rudke played with the newest “Walter” (gun).

He held the revolver in his hand and was speaking in an angry tone:

––“How can one survive?”–he said to Gershke, holding up the revolver–“ to encounter some Germans and end their lives. To take revenge for my father and my mother”…

In that moment the gun went off and Gershon was wounded, a thin stream of blood poured from his mouth.

Rubke remained standing, frozen. He suddenly came to and immediately put Gershke on his shoulders and carried him off the roof. He brought him to his house, to his aunt Mina, where he lived. A tragedy occurred, Rubke was besides himself and Berke was attending the wounded friend. The doctor arrived and turned Gerske on his side, tapped his neck and felt the bullet. One cut was sufficient and the bullet could be removed.

The doctor, Niame, also served in the Judenrat, and he wanted an account of what happened to find himself in this situation. He said:

––“An operation will come with complications, we have to do this in the hospital. I am bound by an oath, and I must report this incident”…

The doctor left.

Gershke's mother and father arrived, the noise increased. News spread to the Jewish ghetto police.

Rubke stood frozen. He heard Berke saying to him, “run away” but he didn't move an inch. He was taken away by the Lithuanian police.

 

Rubke

From the bath house ran a small canal lengthwise, through which the collected rain water ran to the small stream. This was next to the ghetto. The canal was now empty and the participants of the organization were laying in the ditch discussing what to do now. After Rubke's arrest a new edict was issued. The Judenrat had to bring many gifts to the criminal, the Lithuanian–chief, to beg forgiveness for the blameless young men who went on the roof to find old things and instead they found a revolver. They didn't know how to handle a gun.

Rochke, from Zarasai, who worked for the chief Lithuanian, said that Rubke with the wounded Gershke are being cruelly tortured. They wanted to break them.

[Col. 1683]

Suddenly, Rachke Rudnitzki appeared, who came here with her young brother Itzke Rudnitzki from Warsaw, when the Polish–German war broke out. She lived with her uncle Pesach in the ghetto, she often saw him leave with his nephew Yoske, watched him whispering with friends and somehow knew he had guns. That evening, she followed him in the darkness.

Lying hidden, she heard their decision to leave the ghetto and she decided to interrupt them. The lads were angry at her spying and hearing their conversation, then without hesitation she said:

–“You are not doing us a favor by fleeing at this particular time. The trial has not yet ended, you can't leave the ghetto, the two friends of ours did not break, and until now they have not spoken. When you will need a resistance, you will not be alone. I, and many others, will be ready to help you.”

In the end, Itzke and I, together with Rochke (Rachke) returned home.

Nothing materialized of this decision to leave and everyone left for his own home. Only two men remained under guard.

 

In the Judenrat

Chaim–Hirsh, in normal times would have remained at his father's trade–a painter, he was now the head of police in the ghetto, under him were five policemen who carried out all his orders.

After the incident with the revolver shooting, he called Berke Yocai and Faivke Chayt (from New Sventzian) to him .

––“Do you know, with your play things you are endangering the ghetto?”

––“We guarantee you, such a thing will no longer happen.”

––“So nice, on your behalf, but the safest insurance will be to hand over the pistols which you can't openly have.”

The talk became more heated minute by minute. Berel warned him they were bastards and responsible for the death of Gershke and Rubke, who were shot by the Lithuanians. Chaim–Hirsh agreed, but this had to happen, in order that the other families remain alive.

Hearing the screaming, the other members of the Judenrat came running, Moishe Chaikel's. At that moment Chaim–Hirsh requested the police,

[Col. 1684]

arrest the two men. In a split second, Berel jumped from their arms to the wall, and in his hand was a shiny black revolver. Everyone stood in shock. The only calm one was Chaim Hirsh, who tore open his jacket, showing his hairy chest, and said, “Shoot! We are all going to the Almighty and you are a murderer amongst the few Jews that remain in the ghetto.”

Berel was overcome with rage. His voice was loud and clear: “From now on we declare that you will no longer collect gold and valuables for the Lithuanians and Germans. You will give us the money to buy guns. You have until tomorrow evening to accumulate 30 thousand rubles.”

 

Guests from Vilna take the Jews out of the Sventzian Ghetto

March 1943

When the Sventzian ghetto was liquidated, new policemen arrived from the Vilna Ghetto with other hooligans, and divided the people into two categories. 1–The representatives of the Judenrat, other important people and some with protectia. They were to go to the Vilna Ghetto.2 The others were going to the Kovno Ghetto.

In the Tailors synagogue, where those of the Sventzian ghetto came together to pray, they were wrapped in their coats waiting for the representative of the Vilna Ghetto to arrive, Gens, perhaps he will give us a clue where the others were resettled.

Yacov Gens came in the company of several police commanders. With a fast military gait, he went through the mass of Jews to the podium.

––“in my ghetto”–––with a quick tone of voice–“we don't go around with bowed heads (declaring defeat). Sadness is our enemy. We need to be hopeful, we need to keep working, In the Vilna Ghetto we have enough work places, meeting places, theatres and other cultural institutions. We have to remain in good spirits against all odds, with hopefulness and endurance; we must live and survive.”

No one dared open their mouths. After a quiet moment, Berel Charmatz began to sing with enthusiasm:

––“We believe you, that you are bringing us to Vilna. How certain are you, that the guards are not bringing us to Kovno, and we will we actually arrive here (in Vilna)? Are you sometimes misled by the Germans?

This outburst spun before Gens'

[Col. 1685]

face, he disappeared shortly, then he called out:

––“Jewish brothers! The Germans are emptying the ghettos of the provincial shtetls, which are close to the partisan–zones of the larger towns. I am ready to go to the Kovno Ghetto together with you all, but don't make any difficulties in the resettlement. Help us carry out the orders of the German military.”

 

The Group of Fighters Depart from the Ghetto

In Haim Yocai's house, all the friends from the group assembled to take their orders to leave the ghetto.

Only half a year earlier, in the fall 1942, the group agreed to leave the ghetto for the forest, motivated by an alliance with the partisans (the ones who were already established) at a convenient time. This was their final hour, everyone agreed the time was right.

The last one, at the departure, Chaim Yocai said:

––“I want to say my goodbyes with you,” his voice was trembling and upset, ––“dear children, let us make clear and settle our accounts, those that remain alive, will no longer find a Chaim in Sventzian. All the ways of return are cut off for us. I am sure, that you will not give up your lives on any account, I want to see you succeed. I am fortunate to see my two sons amongst you, and I believe, that you will look out one for another, will stay together, like with your own brother”…

The old soldier couldn't endure and started to cry, tears filled with emotion, dripping down his pale, punished soul.

One by one the shadows slid through the fence passing the ghetto–hospital, the bath, the city square of former times.

Waiting, were those that arrived earlier, quiet, crouching, listening carefully for the Lithuanian guard.

We approached the fence in small groups, someone noticed an unknown person, that was Pertzke Grazel, who didn't belong to our group. He didn't obey our orders and he didn't want to return to the ghetto.

Stretched out in a row, several paces between each one, we left in the night, through the side streets and alleys, through mud and swamps.

We were twenty– two in all, with several rifles, pistols and grenades. Shimke Levin and his brothers were leading the group. They knew the roads well and knew where to go. Ishike looked at the poor souls and with a heavy heart and

[Col. 1686]

thought: here is our tiny handful, the remains from our shtetl Sventzian, a community of 400 years! Will a miracle save them? Will they survive the bitter fight, what lies ahead?

We stopped at a shed overgrown with branches. Shimke and his brother Rubke left to go somewhere. It was endless waiting, and sadness filled our hearts. Eventually they returned to the group. We followed them quietly and after half an hour we reached a barn close to the forest. Two men remained as guards, the rest went into the barn and arranged themselves in the straw.

Tired, after the long journey, they fell into a deep sleep.

The next day they remained in the nearby hamlet. The peasant fed them and when night came, the same peasant came to them to bid them farewell, shook everyone's hand and wished them a safe journey.

Again we wandered in the dark night, fleeing like birds, away from death, to freedom. The Tzirklishker forest where they arrived, wasn't large, only four kilometers square, very dense with pine and leafy trees, amongst them the white Bereozes (a tree). The air was filled with humidity and fumes from rotten left over leaves. Snow still lay between the trees and we heard the running stream at a distance. We immediately began our work, sawed, chopped and soon between the trees and bushes we arranged three bunkers.

 

In the Forests

It rained the entire night. Soaked till their bones, four partisans dragged their feet with difficulty through the swampy earth. Besides the rifles, wrapped with rags, each one carried on their backs a sack with food, which was also soaked. The wetness and cold entered their bones. They were tired and without energy from the long road but sweat rolled from their faces.

Perz'ke went first with his “torn” head, his thoughts of the previous days gave him additional willpower. He was still thinking how they didn't want to bring him along when they left the ghetto. Now they will all see the usefulness that he brings to the group. They all wore boots, only Froike wore shoes, soaked with water. From the wetness, his skin rubbed off between the toes of his feet, each step was painful for him. He was the last one,

[Col. 1687]

not complaining. Pertzke felt how Froimke was suffering and thought, on the way we can get a pair of boots from a rich peasant for Froimke.

This night was darker and more difficult than the others. We didn't know if we could survive. Perzke stood still, thinking they were lost. We have to turn back, after an hour of walking, he stopped and thought. Berel lost his patience and took over the leadership. With his compass in hand he forged ahead and Perzke and the others followed.

After a short way they got into an argument. Berel didn't wait long and sprung over the ditch. A dog started to bark. They all froze, listening in all directions. A fire pierced the darkness, then a shot was heard.

They quickly jumped back over the ditch and started running. When the shooting stopped, they stopped and took off their wet sacks and sat down exhausted to catch their breath.

Berel was embittered and said with a bent over head, “to fall upon the Germans was the last thing they needed.” When daylight appeared, Perzke brought the group to the forest.

Rainy days came day and night, filled with bitterness. When night arrived they went into their bunkers and went to sleep on the beds of straw and branches, two men stood outside watching the fire, which wasn't far from their bunkers and stood guard.

Yoske and Itzke Rudnitzki, when it got light outside, went to start a fire. They gathered stone, rubbed them, blew on them with their last breath but the wet branches would not light up. Pertzke found some branches someplace, which were seeped in benzene, and lit them. All of us followed and gathered these branches and threw them on the fire. We dried our clothes, which released a lot of steam. Peretz took potatoes from his sack and place them under the burning branches.

The rain slowly let up. Then we remembered the two girls, who were amongst us, standing with their modest smiles and combing their wet hair. Our hearts were filled with a new longing. Ishike sang a known “nigun” (melody) with his own words:

–“You will cry, long after mother–father.

–“We are going, we are leaving for the front.

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–“The enemy is before us, so near”… The girlish voices and the deep voices of the men joined in and the tune was carried far into the forest.

 

Back to the Ghetto

A week in the forest went by this way. The weather grew worse. One day was worse than the next. We were on guard duty. We left to the nearby villages to obtain more food products. No contact with the partisans was made until now. How long would we have to wait? Ishike was the most impatient of the group. It was clear that this forest was too bare and we couldn't hide very well without been caught. We started to look at the map for a better forest and the consensus was the Baranover forest.

One time amongst the trees, we noticed a middle–aged gentile dressed in a peasant winter coat and winter hat, pulled over his face, ––“who are you?”–Berel said, with his pistol in his hand.

The gentile was angry, but smiled. This was Goyge, the forest–watchman. From the onset of the war he knew that the forests were filled with partisans. From his hut, which was several hundred meters from the forest, many nights he saw the shine of the fires and heard shots fired. But he didn't want anyone to see him, especially the prying eyes of his group of woodsmen. When the peasants started talking about the hidden groups in the forests, robbing at night, he wanted to warn the partisans what was going on in town. Soon the mud will dry out, and the peasants will come to bring their cut wood out of the forests.

On Berel's orders they all left, just Berel and Faivke stayed behind in Goyke's hut and discussed everything Goyke had told them, whether this was the actual truth. He reassured the group (of partisans), that in a week's time, that the partisans (the ones the group was looking for) will come to him.

The partisans were overjoyed and decided in one week's time to go to the Baranover forests. (Barashniker). Only Ishike was impatient and asked in a loud voice:

––“Perhaps, we should check what is going on in Sventzian?”

Everyone stayed silent. But Ishike and Moish'ke, armed with revolvers, left at night on their own.

[Col. 1689]

It was a black night. They used their hands to tap and find their way. The broken branches cracked under their feet, they tripped on fallen branches, picked themselves up and continued. They finally reached the hill and there was the shtetl. They soon arrived at the lake next to the ghetto, stood before the barbed wire, which they left behind not too long ago.

In the lonely calm, they crawled through the wire fence and approached the closest house, Pesach the Tanes (prayed at Yom Kippur for forgiveness). Emptiness appeared through the open doors and windows.

In a minute the entire scene became crystal clear: no more Jews were left in Sventzian.

After several minutes of frozen silence, they crawled back under the wires and went back to the forests. Ishike then decided to go in the direction of Vilna, perhaps there he would find some remnants of the Jews of Sventzian, which were promised to be resettled there. Moish'ke followed quietly.

 

The Fight with the Train–Police

Early in the morning they approached some homes near New–Sventzian. A door suddenly opened and there appeared an elderly gentile wearing a uniform of a train worker.

Ishike greeted him. His stared at his blue armband with the black iron cross (Nazi symbol), which he wore on his left arm.

––“Give me your armband”–Ishike called out.

The peasant looked at him with shocked eyes, but Isike continued.

––“For a free Poland”–

The peasant looked around with suspicion, took off the arm–band, showing solidarity with Moish'ke:

––“One for all.”

The train worker soon came out with a second armband.

With the armbands with the iron–cross they went through the streets of New–Sventzian, to the train station. We didn't enter through the main door, but through a side door used by the train workers. Passenger wagons with German soldiers were on their way to the front. An echelon of soldiers and train workers were running around with their green and red tickets.

[Col. 1690]

This was the main artery where the soldiers left for the Leningrad front.

Ishike and Moihke were standing near the police station, waiting for a train to Vilna. A German soldier with a rifle on his shoulder noticed their dirty shoes and creased clothing. The two partisans had their hands in their pockets gripping their revolvers.

At last the train arrived, on route to Vilna, and they sat down amongst the passengers. The Lithuanians, with their large egos, greeted the Germans and others in a friendly manner. The Polish people, who were sitting in the wagon, had unhappy faces. The Jewish partisans kept to themselves, not wanting to arouse suspicion. Who would imagine that these two train workers were Jews?

The train remained at the New–Vileika station, seven kilometers from Vilna. A train worker passed the window, where Ishike was sitting, stood there awhile, looked at Ishike's Polish military hat and said: “a control!” Ishike looks around and sees the Lithuanian police checking the train tickets.

––“Train workers?” said the first policeman passing Ishike, sitting next to Moishke, but the second one said,

––“Where do you come from?”

––“From Ignalina.”

––“Documents.”

As they didn't have any documents they took them off the train to the police station where they met a head police officer. He angrily shouted:

––“You know, you can't travel without documents”.

––“You are able to work only at the Ignalina station.”

––“Hands in the air!”–the Lithuanian police said.

We are caught–thought Ishike, as the policeman was tapping Moishke under his arms, on his chest, soon he will touch the pockets of his coat and will feel the revolver. What should we do?

Ishike sprung instantly on top of the policeman and placed his hands around his throat. Moishke helped with the attack on the Lithuanian, who suddenly came to. He couldn't free his neck from Ishike's hands, he managed to roll through the open door onto the station with Ishike entwined. The German soldiers, who noticed the fighting, came running and were enjoying a good fight, a train–police and a train worker fighting! Ishike,

[Col. 1691]

with all his strength, hit him on the head and he passed out. He let out a deafening scream. Ishike released him from his grasp, thought, straightened himself out and went through the crowd and pointed out:

––“A Lithuanian swine.”

The Germans, in great spirits, opened the way for Ishike to pass to the ramp of the train.

In a short time, the policeman woke up from his fainting spell and started to scream:

––“Where is he? Catch him. This is a bandit, a spy!” The German soldiers laughed at the beaten and bloody policeman.

Ishike went through the German passenger–cabin, went into the end train. He heard a commotion from behind. Revolver shots were heard overhead. Ishike took out his revolver, turned around, saw the Lithuanian police only a hundred meters from him. The German soldiers were running after him.

Ishike ran out between the sleeping cars to the other side and saw the river, the Vilenke, and saw a bridge made from two boards. He was eager to reach the bridge, but saw the Lithuanians running towards him. They will soon catch him. He went down on his knees, readied his revolver and fired a shot. With Ishike's first shot, the policeman held his stomach and fell down.

In the blink of an eye, Ishike ran over the bridge and disappeared in the bushes on the other side of the river.

He kept running until the shooting stopped, and after that, he resumed his footsteps and left for the direction of Vilna. One in the afternoon, he arrived at Kailis' second block, alone, without Moishke. He entered the gate, where a Jewish policeman stood guard and told him Moishke had arrived half an hour before him and told him, “Ishike died.”

“Moishke is alive! Who is with him to celebrate the joy of that moment?”

 

The Attack by the Germans and Lithuanians at the Base in the Zirklisher Forest

Several days earlier, Goyge united the Jewish partisan group with the Russian partisan group. They agreed to meet in the Baranishker forest (Baranover).

That day Goyge got up quite early. It seemed to be a beautiful day, there were no

[Col. 1692]

clouds in the sky. Goyge was pleased that he introduced his band of friends to the Russians. It would be more advantageous for both groups, the forest wasn't so large and the neighbourhood was unfriendly.

That which frightened him so much, finally came! Half a kilometer from his hut, on the Polyane, he saw the Germans creeping –it made him very nervous!

In one breath he sprung from his house, leaving his frightened wife and children. First he went slowly, but when no more Germans were in sight he started to run. Coming to the stream, he saw the peasants mulling around, they did not know what was to come. He made it across, and when he arrived at the first watch–gate, he screamed:

––“Police, run away!”

There was no time left to warn them! They formed a row and Shimke Levin led the group. After him was Berke Yocai, the last one was Pertzke Grazel.

In ten minutes a thunderous shooting began in the forest. The shooting occurred directly over the area where the bunkers lay, which they just left behind. The echo of the bullets and machine guns greeted the fleeing Jewish partisans.

 

The Unforgettable Meeting

When Ishike and Moishke didn't return to the base after several days, Berke Yocai and Pertzke Grazel left for Sventzian to find out what happened to them. The ghetto was empty. Berke decided to go to Kube the Tatar, who had worked with his father in the tailor shop. He also wanted to learn the fate of the deported Jews.

To his great surprise, he found his father at Kube's. He was hidden in the attic of the tailor shop.

Berl wanted to take his father into the forests with him, but life there was not easy, who knows if he would be able to survive there. He said:

––“Not now, later. When we will be established with the partisans, I will come for you and bring you with me.”

Late at night they returned to the Tzirklishker forest. They were counting the hours with great anxiety.

Shaoulke Michelson couldn't relax. He knew his mother and father were hidden by gentiles

[Col. 1693]

and wanted to see them to say his goodbyes. Dudke Yocai wanted to go with him, also he wanted to see his father. Pertzke Grazel liked to wander about so he went with them as far as Sventzian.

Shaoulke was in a hurry, from Sventzian to his parents hiding place was still a distance, and eventually he had to return to the Tzerklisker forest.

Dudke met his father, and together with Shaoulke they continued further.

Night was pitch black. Quietly Dudke and Shaoulke shuffled through the grass of Sahlinski's fields, Dudke stoped, grabbed Shaoulke, and someone called out:

––“Who goes there?”

The answer came from nearby with a familiar voice.

––“Dudke.”

––“Ishike, Moishke!”

They recognized each other in the darkness. They didn't bring any good news from Vilna.

They Jews that were taken to Kovno, were murdered at Ponar. The other Jews were sent to the Vilna Ghetto. “The youth are searching for guns, they want to go to the forests. We have to help them.”

Dudke told them they were relocating to the Kazianer forests the following day. Now he wants to see his parents. One sack is filled with food for his parents. In the other––a radio, which he exchanged with a gentile for a rifle. They were informed about the German and Lithuanian attack on their former base, and they barely escaped death. Dudke then added:

––“Hurry, we can still catch Pertzke in the tailor shop. He will also come to the new site in the Baranisker forest, where we will meet up with Markov's brigade.”

 

The Fight at the Baranishker Forest

Mate–Heshke Bushkanyetz was chosen to meet with the leader of the Russian partisans, Voske, Markov's lieutenant. He was wearing a black leather vest, his pants were tucked into his Russian boots and was outfitted from head to toe with an automatic, a “nagan”, a knife, grenades and bullet–sacks.

His good– natured face smiled, greeted us like an old friend, then lay down to sleep. He was tired from the long journey.

[Col. 1694]

After his sleep, Voske gave us details about the attacks which recently took place in the forests, how the Germans destroyed a complete battalion and with their artillery shot the partisans.

After lunch Voske told everyone to get ready.

We knew it was still early, but no one dared to contradict Voske.

Berke Yocai was checking his revolver, and after releasing his lock, he accidently shot Nacke Svirski, from Vidz (who left the Sventzian ghetto with his sister); he ran several feet and fell to the ground.

Everyone was unnerved.

The first one to run over was Voske, who saw the bullet had entered his right foot and immediately started to bandage him.

He then requested a stretcher made from branches, on which they placed Nacke and continued on their way.

Close to a cross–way, that cut through the road, Voske stopped, asked everyone to sit and rest and together with two men he left on a side road.

Less than an hour later they returned with horse and wagon, put Nacke in the wagon on fresh straw and continued on their journey.

The peasant didn't stop observing the young men and girls, who were marching not far from the wagon.

Three in the afternoon we arrived at the edge of the forest and Voske freed the peasant with the horse and wagon.

After another short rest, Voske took five volunteers to get another wagon.

They passed the stretch of field near the village huts with their straw roofs. Coming closer, he left two men behind to stand guard, and with the remaining went into the village, and knocked on the second door.

Not a living soul was in sight. Moishke and Israelke Wolfson were standing watch. From far next to the furthest hut of the village they noticed harnessed horses and large wagons. They crawled closer and noticed these were policemen who had already seen the partisans. Quickly they turned around, looked for Voske,

[Col. 1695]

who gave the order to return immediately to the forest, taking the same route that brought them to the village.

Running one kilometer, the partisans had to increase their pace. The police that were chasing them did not shoot any bullets. The partisans didn't want to lead them to the forest. It was clear–they wanted to capture them alive.

Voske took his automatic gun from his shoulder and screamed:

––“Lie down!”

Lying on the ground, Voske didn't take his eyes off the police, who were closing in on them.

He said:

––“We will not be taken alive! Do not waste any bullets. Each bullet should count.”

The five Jewish partisans were lying in a half circle next to Voske and were waiting the approaching policemen.

Amongst the partisans who remained in the forest was Berke, sitting uneasy, he couldn't forgive himself for the useless shooting that wounded Noahke. Yoske Rudnitzki didn't leave his side. Yoske looked at the fields, where Voske and the group had gone.

Suddenly he noticed from a distance six of his group running, and behind them, the policemen. He yelled out to Berke, who quickly understood the situation and gave an order to the others:

––“Spread out under the bushes!”

The police were soon close by, running to the forest, directly across from them. We heard the pounding of their feet.

––“Fire!”–yelled Berel.

The shooting of the rifles were soon muffled by the sounds of the fire.

Itzke Teitz had two grenades, and he threw one at the fleeing police.

We heard the groans of some wounded police. The others threw themselves to the ground.

The Lithuanians were angry from the sudden onslaught, and started shooting blindly with their guns. We could feel their surprise from this attack…..crawling through the ground they started their retreat.

Voske heard the shooting and saw the Lithuanians falling on the ground, not knowing exactly what happened, he managed to reach the forest.

When they reached the forest, it was dark outside. They were still far from their group of friends

[Col. 1696]

and it was useless to look for them in the dark. They now learned what happened here. Voske was hopeful and pointed out that the remaining partisans will surely make their own way to the Kazian forests, and together with the five, he left the forest.

 

In the Heat of the Partisan Fight

It happened as Voske had predicted. The rest of the group made their way to the Kazian forests. They carried Noachke on the stretcher, leaving the village where the police were located. Late at night they arrived at another village.

Berke and Itzke slid quietly to a hut and knocked on the window; the woken– up peasant was told to dress and was requested to show them the direction.

The peasant was very frightened, he said the whole village was full of police. His pleading didn't help, in a short while he was dressed and outside.

The police in the village smelled the partisans. Several shots were fired and the sky lit up like daytime. Without stop the air was filled with rocket fire.

The peasant was running and the group after him when they came to a river, the peasant said that there was a small bridge nearby, but probably being watched by the police. There could be another crossing point over the river, but it was farther away.

––“On our way”–Berel commanded!

They passed through muddy fields and swamps. It took days to arrive, the swamps were getting deeper, every step was laboured. Their feet barely made it when suddenly they saw the crossing, exactly as the peasant had predicted. Here the water was shallow. Holding on one to another they went into the ice–cold water which reached their necks. No one complained, there were no disappointments. The three girls, with their last strength, held on to each other, bit their lips and crawled into the water.

Frozen, congealed from cold and frost, they arrived to the other side. This was the entrance to the Kazianer forests.

After sending two volunteers, the group came to the single hut with a barn. They got undressed, twisted their wet clothes and put them back on. Later they went to the peasant and

[Col. 1697]

begged for food. They reorganized themselves to continue further––to the forest.

The peasant saw the exhausted and wet men and women and said:

––“What's your hurry? I will heat up the oven and you will dry your wet clothing. Don't be afraid, you are in the partisan–zone. The Germans and Lithuanians won't dare cross over to this side of the river.”

We calmed ourselves, ate, allowed ourselves to enjoy a little brandy with the peasant and then departed for the forest. When we arrived, first, we lit a fire, then dead–tired we fell asleep.

The sleep was a short one. Berel looked at the map and said:

––“According to Voske's words, we are still about 20 kilometers from the partisan–base. The entire route is through the forest.”

Finally we arrived at the first partisan watch post. We didn't know the language and we told them they were from Sventzian and were following Voske's orders, Markov's lieutenant.

They let us through.

This occurred several times before they finally reached the main base of the Tzapeviev Otriad (brigade).

Here we met up with Voske and our other five friends.

 

Sediakin, the Commander of the Tzapeviev Brigade

Washed and rested the group assembled in a row and were greeted by the Russian partisans.

In front of them stood the commander Sediakin of the Tzapeviev Brigade, broad–shouldered, in his thirties, a bright warm face, blonde and hairy. He recited the charter and we repeated word for word.

Later he held a speech:

––“It is said, that Jews are cowards. I don't believe this, when I arrived in the forest there were Jewish partisans here already. Leib Voliak is in my Otriad, the entire region is afraid of him. He is a fine example of your fight and struggle. Itzik Blat, Boris Feigelman, and other Jewish heroes are here in our brigade, take an example from them. But the minimum a partisan must own, is a rifle. You don't have any guns. I am giving you an order–– go out and find some guns.”

He left and we remained

[Col. 1698]

near our “zemliankes” (underground hiding places) and thought over the commanders orders.

Berke Yocai had connections with the Tatars. Through them he obtained pistols. We thought, with their help, we could obtain more rifles. We have to return there which is closer to Sventzian.

Ishike couldn't remain still, he wanted to fight with Markov” Brigade. Markov was not at this camp, he was in the Naratcher (Naroch) woods. Ishike left for those woods, Israelke Wolfson went with him.

Moishke devised another plan which he presented to the commander. He was in a difficult situation. The partisans are many kilometers from Myadel, where a partisan can't stick his nose in. How can a young man go the 200 kilometers through unfriendly territory to Vilna, swarming with Germans? He will certainly die on the way!

Moishke tells him of an underground–organization in Vilna, in the ghetto, they have guns, even explosives. (FPO) He will bring them out of the ghetto to the forest, and enlarge the partisan army!

Sediakin becomes very interested and after a long deliberation he gave his answer.

Moishke became bolder and asked for a letter, so that the Vilna group (FPO) would believe that he is coming on behalf of the partisans.

But the others (FPO) have a different mandate, they want to revolt in the Vilna Ghetto. In the forests we can be more effective than to undertake an uprising in the ghetto.

Sediakin took a piece of paper and wrote his letter. Moishe requested his stamp. They wouldn't believe him. Sediakin stood his ground:

––“This is enough! Nothing is missing. If the German find this letter with the official stamp...they will think we are sending spies.”

Moishke stood his ground. In the end, Sediaken said:

––“Bring me the letter, half a stamp, I will give it to you.”

 

Jewish Mazel

On the same day, in the evening, a group of eight men, together with Berel left for Sventzian.

Berel led the group. In the middle–the two girls. The last, at the back, was Moishke.

The group was armed with two rifles, two revolvers and an Atrezanke. Next to Berel was a scout, a young peasant from a nearby village.

Suddenly the scout stood still, kneeled and called out in fright:

––I hear driving!

Before Berel had a minute to think, the peasant ran away. Pertzke and Moishke ran after him.

[Col. 1699]

They ran a hundred meters but the peasant vanished. They stood at the edge of the forest and heard unfamiliar voices coming from the place they left Berel.

In the darkness they crawled back to that place and noticed two trucks. They were speaking Russian, asking which brigade they belonged to and why they were on this road? Berel didn't know what to answer them. Someone yelled:

––“Are you partisans? We, together with our commissar, are going to tell you who the real partisans of the Tzapaievz* (very anti–Semitic partisan leader) Otriad are, you are a bunch of thieves, you are running around like “old women”, hand over your weapons!”

The other partisans, who travelled with the commissar, pounced on our young ones (our group) and in a split second they beat them with their rifle buts.

Berke started to scream, but with all the commotion no one heard anything.

[Col. 1700]

Beaten, Pertzke and Moishke approached the group, who were standing in bewilderment and didn't know what to do.

Itzke was the only one that didn't have his revolver taken away. They didn't notice him. Berke gritted his teeth:

––“I will teach them a lesson, this commissar, I will report him.”

He wanted to cry.

They continued further, over the muddy roads, in semi darkness.

Moishe felt the commander's (Markov) letter, which he hid in the breast pocket, he wanted to feel safe, instead he felt his heart aching, as if a heavy stone was squeezing his heart.

Moishke and Itzke said their farewells when they reached Sventzian.

Arriving in New–Sventzian, he put on the armband with the black iron–cross and sat down in the train, back to Vilna.


[Col. 1699]

Partisans are Coming

Shmerke Katcherginski

Translation by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve1699.jpg

 

When we were in the (Vilna) ghetto, we found out that several Jewish partisans from the White–Russian forests came, together with the Jewish workers, into the ghetto; some of whom had been previously here.

It created much discussion amongst the Jews.

In their name (partisans), they said that many Jews were now in the forests, who are turning out to be exemplary fighters; the peasants in the region were frightened of them and even the Germans were uncomfortable with their existence!

Who are these Partisans?

I am also looking for them and discover that amongst them are my friends from Sventzian: Ishike Gertman, Yitzhak Rudnitski, Moishke Shutan and Heske Bushkanyetz.

[Col. 1700]

They came here with orders from the Brigade commander Feodor Grigoravitch Markov (a former teacher at a Sventzianer Polish school before the war).

They had to give Gens a very important letter. Markov wrote to him, that he, Gens, should come to the forest and bring lots of Jews with him, with all their belongings (mainly money and jewelry), with which he will buy ammunition and guns. If Gens did not answer Markov's letter, the group will bring as many people as possible out of the ghetto.

This started a search party for the partisans. The newcomers (partisans) continued their resolve and didn't give up. They didn't want to communicate with any unknown persons.

[Col. 1701]

Their own ties were with the F.P.O.* representatives or those known to them.

The F.P.O. had their own ideas how to lead the fight and all the members were of the same opinion.

Until Vittenberg's death, it was forbidden to let anyone of the F.P.O. members go to the forests: their idea was to remain together with all those Jews, old, sick and young, who could never make it to the forests or survive in them.

We already heard about the living conditions of the partisans in the forests. Ishike Gertman related to me his own experiences of the life in the forests.

His stories were like out of “a thousand and one nights”. Ishike told me and others, that Markov was a very intelligent man and would give special protection to writers. He convinced me to join the group that he was leading into the forests.

To tell you the truth, I didn't need much convincing: to go to the forests as a free man was very enticing. However, my will and Ishike's advise was not enough.

At that time I was very committed to this organization of which I was very active participant, and a very disciplined member, like all the others. Sutzkever and I tried to interest our new commander Uri (Abba Kovner), but without success, and besides us, there were many in the ghetto, and we had great influence amongst the people.

[Col. 1702]

Our departure could have negative effects on those remaining.

So we had to wait for a later group, each group had to await their turn to leave.

August 24, early in the morning, through the courtyard at 3 Kerenski Street, which was outside the ghetto, a group of 40 men made their way out, disguised as “workers” with yellow patches on them.

When we carefully inspected them, we recognized Ishike, Sheresevski, Glazman, Itche Matzkievitch, the Gordon brothers and Chaim Lazar, all the known personalities of the F.P.O.

There were others amongst them, mainly women, brothers and sisters of the partisans who were already in the forest and through the scouts wanted their own families to join them. The distance was long to reach the Narach forests, about 200 kilometers.

In a few days, news after news arrived: one worse than the other: they were all captured: they were all shot: Dessler revealed to us, peasants noticed the group and advised the police.

A little later we found out the entire story.

The group decided to rest for awhile in the forest and they didn't notice the night–watchman, and they quietly resumed their journey. At the long, wooden bridge over the Ashmien river, they were attacked by machine guns. Over 20 men were struck dead, amongst the saved ones were Ishike Gertman, Glazman and Lazar, who arrived at Markov's brigade after many days of wandering.

[Col. 1701]

In the Glow of the Burning Night

The name Boris was the partisan name of our Sventzianer friend Berel Yochai, he was the oldest son of his father, Chaim the Garber (tailor), who then was in his third year of service. It was only a year, when he left the shtetl and the brigade commander of the partisans was already proud of him, “how he had grown”, like he grew wings just like a true eagle!

Also, his father, Chaim, who was in the same detachment, didn't recognize his own son. He looked to the sky with his eyes,

[Col. 1702]

beaming over his son's radiance (fame), and his heart was overwhelmed with joy.

The father trembled at his son's fame (against the evil eye) Other than from Leib, from whom he didn't receive anymore money, he relied on his son Bere.

Boris (they took Russian names in the partisan detachments) can't remain still, he wanted to “fly” and “storm through the air”. He is amongst his terror group, where he is the commander. Ivan Smirnov, Kolie Petrov, Volnie Lavrinovitch, Yosef Flexser and Yitzhak Rudnitski, the last 2 are Sventzian youth who are now both in Israel.

“With such a group of fine fighters I will not be afraid to venture anywhere”–he is most certain.

[Col. 1703]

“With Boris we will even jump into a fire”, one speaks with the other.

It is now June, lying on the small green mountain, they cannot get enough pleasure from the sun. Like small cats rolling around joyfully in the earth, they are basking in the sun with exposed bodies!

Night!

Summer is gone, on a dark evening, the “Gestapo” took away the mother and the young sister. Now, Boris (Bere) begin his nightmares; when the sky turned black from the poison. Going out for his kill, he storms through the darkness, as if he wants to break through, rip apart and see–––“perhaps, perhaps, he can find his loved ones”.

In four days, it will be a year, in four days Boris and his group will assemble and plan to annihilate the 15th echelon. (division of Germans).

The detachment commander praises him, how wonderful, that in 2 weeks you must carry out this attack.

––Comrade commander, Boris, saying his goodbyes, you can add to my account the nights of June 27 and 28 as “ the destruction of the 15th echelon”!

Now, the commander bursts out laughing, today is the 24th. So, only a few days are left.

––But–Boris does not quit, but everyone understands what the “but” means–

The entire otriad remains in uncertainty…

Only 4 days: we have to destroy the entire battalion!

No one wanted the other to know their thoughts:

––What if Boris does not succeed? And the group will be left without him?

There were hardships everywhere: the Hitlerites, the Samorovtes, and Whites (Russians)

 

Sve1703.jpg

Berel Yocai–at the explosion of a railroad

[Col. 1704]

Boris was difficult, no one could keep up with him. He knew only one thing: to look at his compass and blow up railroad lines.

No road was inaccessible to him, no hiding place. If he had to pass through a bare forest, so what? This is how they have to cut through.

And if a stream doesn't let them pass, so what?

Just by determining the water table from afar, Boris tied the automatic guns and the dynamite on his head and they cut through the water and crossed over.

The compass tells them to go through mud, ––Boris obeys, and the night, the night is pitch black. Only the squeaking and the swamps lets you know that one is following the other. Ivan and Yosef are touching each others boots, to make sure that they are not stuck in the mud.

––“Only our hats remained dry”, joked Kolya and Itzik.

Volya is the most practical of the bunch. He bound his boots with studs around his feet.

And Boris is ahead of everyone–he turns and looks and looks, what is he looking for in the dark?–and suddenly he sees his mother and his sister. He hears their screaming. He hears them being tortured. He seems to think that they are calling out to him for help. But he can't help them.

Boris walks quicker, as if he is chasing the murderers, to tear his mother and his sister from the arms of these murderers.

The hatred lingers in every corner, in every village. But Boris is now is now on familiar ground, the place where he was born. He knows this region in and out, with closed eyes.

He doesn't care about the garrisons, the villagers, the police–watchmen, he plows through wasted fields, through swamps and over fallen trees–storming through everything. (like a madman)

Early in the morning. The sweat is pouring from the fighters, they stop to rest. They are only 4 kilometers from the railroad line. The day passes, he (Boris) is deep in thought.

Trains are passing in the distance, as if they are mocking them: look, we are here, so what are you going to do to us?

Boris is nervous. He is sobbing from “heartache” just like the “locomotive”. –we will see, who will have the last laugh!

The last 4 kilometers were the hardest. Afraid (the Germans) of the partisans, the shooting from the wagons came from both sides, in the event that anyone come close to them (the Germans). The partisans are creeping among the shadows of the trees and creep deeper into the area where the shootings are taking place, in the cover of night.

[Col. 1705]

Suddenly a bunker appears. The patrols are marching and believing that they are closely guarding the railroad lines, as well as searching for mines. It is now clear to the partisans: the dynamite has to be placed only when the train is closer by. When they are sleeping, otherwise the work would be for nothing! The watchman will find him.

Night.

When they brought his mother and his sister from the prison, Boris reminds himself, and when they led his mother and his sister to their deaths! He can't forgive himself, that he allowed this to happen!

He is now standing at the edge of the forest.

If only another 100 men, he would attack them like an animal on attacks their prey, taking delight from their kill, and would blow up the wagons, the garrison and all those responsible for killing mothers and small sisters.

Today, on the Yortzheit (anniversary of the death) of his beloved ones, it must take place! He can't bring them back to life, but to save other mothers, daughters, fathers and brothers from death, he still can do that! When he is thinking of this revenge, a “sweetness shines through him”, that he is about to” bestow” on these murderers.

Boris, however, knows that the most difficult part is yet to come.

The earth is covered with branches and cut down trees. We can't go now, as everything will snap under our feet. Every sound would be heard.

Meanwhile a garrison is approaching.

– A death to a death (these murderers)–says Boris under his breath, leading his young group amidst the noise and heading toward the railroad line.

– No one can hear anything, the branches breaking under their feet, the garrison flies by and they are left standing in the middle of their road covered in darkness.

The locomotive disappears from sight.

His heart is beating faster.

Everyone must remain in his tracks, not even take a deep breath! Boris is fuming! How is he in this predicament? It seems to him that no more trains will be passing tonight, and his mission would not proceed as planned…

All at once, a signal is heard, wheels were rolling and approaching. Boris gives a sign and the dry branches are breaking, without pity, under the boots of the partisans.

This is how they ran from the hill barely catching their breath.

All around them, like on the move, the watchmen are marching in all directions with their brightly lit cigarettes.

[Col. 1706]

Something in Boris' heart is stirring: “now we shall take out the entire battalion of Hitlerites, with tanks full of fuel! An end! An end to everything! We shall make a “mish– mash” out of everything”. (a kasha, i.e. soup of buckwheat)

The partisans were ready and eager, like animals drawn to their flesh (prey), with wide–open blaring nostrils, something to smell (savour)! It seems that they are too eager with anticipation, but they must be very cautious! Or else this will be their end!

The murderers will again sow death and destruction!

The darkness is pierced by a little rain.

Boris is delighted, the watchmen can no longer wander about. The rain becomes louder, the pieces of wood are flying about and hitting them in their faces, the oncoming train cannot be heard.

––Everything ready–he breaks out into a sweat. He doesn't feel the bitter cold, backwards, he is overtaken by a heat–wave! The rain is pouring without stop.

Suddenly…. a dark light appears, a miracle, like seeing pale dead pale fingers spread over the tracks!

–––We are placing them–Boris hurries us to crawl up the little hill with all our might, even if we have to use our teeth and nails.

The station of the railroad is in front of us, the eyes of the locomotive become” wider and closer” like they were waiting to destroy us!

The wheels are approaching, wild and restless!

––Take care! Take care!–I come to terms with death. I'm on the way! I placed the dynamite, Flexser pushes the 2 capsules and the demolition cords.

Boris controls.

––Good! Now give me the 2 others. Vania, come here. Like a strike of lighting all is in place. The chamber is in place, the demolitions–threads are stretched over the rail–lines waiting for the locomotive to pass over them.

––Comrade, commander–––screams Shmirnov–the train will blow you up.

And so. The train is “racing like he is about to capture the enemy”, moving forward with its massive speed.

Boris checks the capsules again with his hands, and shouts: “Leave, now comrades!”

They roll down the hill, run to the forests, as quickly as they could, faster and faster.

Suddenly a mass explosion and thunderous noise destroys the railroad and sounds like a lightening strike hit the earth.

Several seconds pass.

[Col. 1707]

––To the forests–––hollers Boris.

The night sky suddenly lit up with a colorful explosion and pierced the darkness of the forests.

The debris of the explosion continues falling and the sounds of the wagon cars were still rumbling in its magnificent fire of the explosion.

[Col. 1708]

Boris stops running. He takes pride in this explosive evening. He is overjoyed and pleased. He looks at the rails where death is everywhere.

He understands, that this same death, on the same night, is the same gruesome murder that robbed him of his mother and sister.


The Revenge on this Bright Day

Translated by Janie Respitz

…then, Freidrich Olin appeared in Sventzian. He was now a count. A dark, chequered suit, recently pressed, his patent leather shoes stepping lightly, quietly shining from far away.

The only one wearing a gaudy silk bowtie, that waves before him and states: Freidrich Olin has arrived!

The count just realized, the Commissar of Sventzian, Gustav Von Bek, his deputy Grill and the chief gendarme Kril were on their way to Lintup to shoot…

For Freidrich it was all the same, it did not matter who would carry out the assassinations. The order was laconic: 500 heads.

That dark night, ripped from their warm homes, were workers, teachers, doctors, students and pupils. In their place remained the cries of women and children…

The next day, Freidrich rode in his taxi, with a rested, powdered face. Lost in his thoughts, he elegantly tipped his hat to an acquaintance. What a lovely smile emanated from his lips.

The taxi continued on its way to the cemetery, and the sun shone on him.

The arrested were already lying on the grass near the graves, face down, surrounded by armed Gestapo and police. He walked around carefully (making sure his shoes and pants would not get soiled in the mud), quietly, thinking, waving his manicured long, shining fingers and suede gloves, while wiping his sweaty brow with a handkerchief. The scent, not from the cemetery, was of eau de cologne. He marveled at the tomb stones, the lovely granite. He was also familiar with that. He remembered that in his library in Magdeburg he had many interesting art books.

[Col. 1708]

The tombstones and the engravings clouded the gentle face of Olin. He remembered, finally…no, he caught himself, watching a bird above, not him. He was still young. He feels, thank God strong. He forgot this morning to ask for his boxing gloves to strengthen his body.

He did not want to disturb the quiet mood of the cemetery, but he was forced to.

–You sir, as he looked on the covered grass, are lying too much on your side.

– And you sir, a bit closer please.

– Please Miss, hold your hands higher on your back!

He was gentle and kind to the accused.

–Nu, he said. The Gestapo knew from his look that he was ready.

–Aha! He remembered something important.

He took broad steps near the graves, and was soon standing beside his taxi.

A loving, calm smile was on his face. He held a sparkling new camera.

Now we can really begin, he thought to himself. Everyone understood and held their fingers on the triggers.

Freidrich looked for a higher, more comfortable spot for himself. He climbed onto a dark piece of granite, and sat down. The light was perfect. He turned his head toward the armed men, raised his right hand in a Heil Hitler, and dropped it swiftly…

In the town and the villages the inhabitants were shocked by the sudden shooting. Women fainted, tore out their hair. Children cried in fear. Men clenched their fists while tears dropped.

For Freidrich, this was nothing new.

[Col. 1709]

He didn't even twitch a brow when the hurricane of fire poured out on all the innocent people. Even then, he did not lose his calmness…Oh pardon, not true, the almighty helped his body, turning in all directions. Freidrich Olin was now reading a sensational novel, which he did not have in his rich library in Magdeburg. He now sees a suspense film never seen on screen. He is enraptured. Suddenly, he stood by the cross – the lens noticed one who was shot running far away. His glasses are splattered with pieces of bloody marrow. Freidrich forgets about making a production.

The camera works on:

A woman was caught on a cross, climbed on to a cold stone and fell back onto the mound of graves.

A man clenched his fists. Red poison spilled from his open mouth. He ran toward Freidrich:

Olin shuddered, but calm down – the man is lying split open on a stone.

A young girl shivered in the air:

–A shame, – she could have been useful.

The shooting is quiet. The green underfoot is now boiling red. Freidrich does not rest. The camera continues to work. The lens is looking for new scenes, perhaps a quivering corpse.

The wheels quietly roll back to town. The sun reflects off his diamond rings. Thoughts. A man like Freidrich is always thinking. It's annoying. If there was a sound technician at the cemetery as well as a photographer there would have been something to hear as well as see.

As in an amusement park, the machines swing and rock over the graves.

From the windows of the houses, pale faces look out and in fear see:

The shiny blue taxi drips red, as if red tears…

Shimon, can't be compared to the culture commissar. He is of lower stature, not as much education, and the son of poor parents.

He was happy when he was able to study at the University. His parents were also pleased:

Shimon is studying. He will be an engineer – they said with respect about their son.

[Col. 1710]

For him as well as millions of others, fulfilling this dream was ripped away from him.

He wandered deep into Russia, and threw his passion into the holy war against the German occupiers who were annihilating his people.

Shimon goes to his home town where he had left his parents as well as many relatives and friends. The horrific remnants which the Hitlerites left on Lithuanian soil did not allow him to rest. – Revenge! – was now his desire.

He wandered around his quarters in Tashkent whispering to himself and his friends:

–I won't rest until I accomplish my goal!

*

In the golden forest green of the occupied Lithuanian soil, Shimon's beautiful head shone among the partisans.

A realized dream: Shimon is walking on home turf. He is returning to his base, sitting in mud huts with the partisan who are his old friends in silence. Their blood is boiling. With their own eyes they witnessed the murdered and the slaughtered…

It is no wonder that the occupiers are sitting on Lithuanian soil as if on a fiery volcano. Guarded trains go by – and fall into the valleys. They guard dignitaries, armed guards. Factories are burned, bridges are destroyed. Partisans take revenge!

Shimon is irritated, but you can't see it on his face. No one can see what's in his heart, except his commander who notices his nervousness and nail biting:

–So Shimon, – the commanders words tear into him – Are you ready?

Shimon was insulted that this question was posed to him, and from whom? Doesn't the Comrade Commander know that such a question is superfluous?

The commander realizes this and understands why his fighter is sad. He lovingly puts his arm around him:

–Have I really insulted you, Shimon?

The young man felt embarrassed. How could he think like this? The commander's affection and hug pleased him. If only he wasn't so shy, he would tell his commander…no,

[Col. 1711]

If he could, he would open his heart – and the commander would see what a stormy volcano was seething within:

Comrade Commander! For our tortured people, for those who were murdered – I shall kill and the enemy will be defeated. I promise you, Comrade commander, Olin will not escape my hands!…

Both are silent, their hearts are pounding.

The young man was embraced by his kind commander. They both stepped through the narrow paths among the huts. The pre–Spring sun shone on their dark heads, dipped into their hearts and left a shiver. A memory of a Spring which passed and a new one coming.

The road was silky white. Two sleighs pulled by eagle–like horses rushed by.

Four guys – partisans, ride as in a dream – though the reality is harsh and terrifying.

They do not feel the ride. They do not see the tops of the golden trees. They do not feel the loving sun rays of dawn.

The horses gallop and in the sleighs, dead silence, as if no one was there. Apparently, due to nerves, the fighters harnessed their horses firmly and taut.

–Partisans are travelling?

No one said anything.

They were wearing patched peasant furs and heavy peasant coats on top, hats over their eyes, with no expression on their faces. Shaggy. What would happen if their pockets were searched?

The fighters think about this. So, nothing would happen except strange hands going into their pockets. There was no need to do this.

The route was calculated. Every detail – in every point. And…they arrived in Sventzian.

They slow down. They crawl into the travelling line of other horses, until they come to a stop on Gedimin Street, in front of the Commissariat.

Each one has his note and his pack.

Everyone surmises what the notes are for. That means – forced labour in Germany. It means getting sent to the Front. For women – to be prostitutes on the front.

What is in the pack?

Olin's motto is – bacon!

The peasants must bring him gifts.

[Col. 1712]

It's good to bring a pig, butter, eggs, sour cream, cheese, a chicken. (His relatives in Germany are very grateful for the “splendid packages” he sends them).

–Lately, – complained a peasant– these gifts don't help much…he complains and screams…

–His wife must drive him crazy– joked Shimon.

–His wife, – smiling to his friend Vitek – should give him some advice…

–It's worse for the partisans – grumbled an old man.

–So far, in Sventzian, he does not have to fear them.

–Don't you know, children, fear has big eyes – advised the old man.

–Shshsh…the door is already open!

The people pushed in and sat on the benches in the dark corridor.

*

Lithuanian – called out the commissar – hearing the nationality of his client.

Freidrich was disappointed in the Lithuanians. “This is also a nation? Lithuanians? Did you ever hear such a language?”

Olin knows French (he was in Paris in 1940), Polish (he was in Warsaw in 1941), his Russian is not bad (he was in Moscow). He thought he would soon be in London…New York…but for now he was stuck in Sventzian. If he had to be stuck in the sticks, he would not let the partisans rest. He also had to watch out for the advancing Bolsheviks.

–Lithuanian – he repeated – with a teasing smile.

–Lithuanian! – said Shimon again – and feels like the volcano inside of him is about to erupt. He gets hold of himself and says “this is not the time. I will lure him into the corridor, and there, together with Vitek, Itzik and Ugol, in front of all the peasants, we will carry out his sentence. If Olin only knew what I had in my pockets…if Olin knew who I am. To the devil, – his deputy does not see either, he is also entering into our plan.”

Freidrich senses that his client is not a common peasant. His proud answer puzzled him. He looked directly into his face:

–It seems like the same garbage – thought Olin – like all the others, long messy hair, but why does he think he's so big? Just because he was born in Sventzian – he laughed to himself.

[Col. 1713]

–Do you have bacon? – He asked Shimon in his shining uniform.

–Yes sir, – Shimon bowed – I brought you a full bag. I couldn't carry it myself.

–A whole bag, you say? – Olin livened up.

–Heinrich!

– He grabbed the telephone receiver, come down, I need your help.

Shimon is also happier. His plan is unfolding. He will be like a cat to me.

Heinrich opens the door:

–What is it Freidrich? I'm ready and so is my Mauser.

Freidrich laughed:

–Put away your Mauser, I need your throat!

–My throat is already ready! – whined Heinrich.

–Good…very good. Come my love…you see this gentleman – Freidirch elegantly pointed at Shimon – this gentleman brought us a beautiful gift.

–Perhaps also some moonshine? – Heinrich gently placed his hand on Shimon.

–No sir, I was afraid the bottles would break on the road –Shimon quivered. He was afraid the German would feel his weapon.

–It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter.

The German go through the offices into the corridor. Shimon was right behind them.

The peasants stand up, remove their hats and bow.

–Please gentlemen, here is the sack – Shimon points to the corner.

Freidrich and Heinrich pick up the sack from both sides:

–Wow, this is heavy, what's inside? Bacon, you say?

–Bacon sir! A whole pig and something else. –

Freidrich wants to untie it. The fighters stand ready, their hands hidden deep in their pockets, waiting for the order from the commander, for Shimon to begin. This appeared to be the right time. While they were bent over the bag, shoot a few rounds.

Shimon wants to play a bit with them. They wanted the peasants to see what sort of gift he and his friends brought for the Germans.

–To the devil – complained Freidrich – Heinrich, go bring a scissors.

Before Heinrich could turn around,

[Col. 1714]

Freidrich managed to untie to knot. He opened the sack:

–Straw, well packed – praising Shimon.

The peasants were very curious to see what the gift was.

Freidrich removed the straw, put his hands in the sack and pulled something out:

–What kind of brick…

But before he turned around, Shimon was holding his gun in both hands. Shimon extended his right hand toward his red neck, and through clenched teeth said:

–Here is your gif! –Bang! There was a burst of fire together with the crack.

Freidrich fell on his back onto Shimon's armed left hand.

Heinrich came running from the office with the scissors. Shimon's right hand was free. He shot Heinrich. He fell onto a broken chair.

The peasants ran in fright to the door.

–Remain! Shouted Vitie, and blocked the door.

–No reason to run away friends – Itzik calmed the peasants.

–Comrade commander, he's still alive!– shouted Anton, pointing to Freidrich.

–He's still alive? – Shimon shot Olin in the face.

–You don't like Lithuanians, you swine? Eh? This you received from a Lithuanian, and a Jew…I'm also a Jew!…

Itzik came running:

–Permit me – comrade commander – one series.

–Shoot him my brother – said Shimon, granting permission.

–Take this, you rascal, for my parents, – as Itzik's gun went off.

–Give him one from all of us – the peasants were becoming bolder.

–Give him one for my daughter – called out the old man.

–Take this for his daughter– shouted Anton – and shot him again.

–Those taking revenge were not stingy. Shimon looked at the bandits again. “All is in order”.

–Exit comrades! – Our mission is complete.

*

The road was silky white.

Two sleighs pulled by eagle swift horses were rushing back, back to the forest. Going home…

[Col. 1715]

Gestapo and police run to the place where they thought they heard shooting. The horses are flying, carrying through the air, the disheveled fighters. They threw away their used peasant coats. Their disheveled hair waved in the wind. They kissed and hugged one another.

The sun faced Shimon like a lit torch.

[Col. 1716]

He took a deep breath of the frosty air and exhaled:

–Long live revenge!

The burning souls of his friends lit up the surrounding forests. The words echoed in the dazzling white snow:

–Long live revenge!

Zazier Forest Brigade “Zhalgiris” April 1944.


[Col. 1715]

How We Recruited New Fighters

Yitzhak Rudnitski

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve1715.jpg

 

When the German–Polish War broke out, I was in Warsaw with my parents. In December 1939, my sister Chaia and I left Warsaw and were searching where to go; we arrived in Svenztian which was still under control of the Czarist regime. In June 1941, like many young Jewish men, I had the opportunity to escape to Russia. Suddenly, without being prepared, the German Army arrived with its thunder! We barely noticed when the Red Army left the shtetl, which they left in disarray.

A group of us, being the young ones, met and decided to make a plan: to organize ourselves in the event that we should have to fight. We set up a radio apparatus and luckily, in this manner, were able to get news and updates from the front. From these communications we learned about the murderous actions of the Germans against the Jews and captured folk.

When we learned of the German plan to lead the Jews of Sventzian to Poligon, I and Moishke Rudnitski left for Glubokie. We stayed half a month, and when we learned the ghetto in Sventzian was still functioning, we returned to Sventzian. We resumed contact

[Col. 1716]

with our former friends of our group to do everything possible to go to the forests.

The question was: where can we obtain guns and ammunition?

When we found out that the “Akranka” were some Jews were working was full of guns and ammunition, we decided to several of our friends on this work detail to secure these guns for us. We worked there several weeks and were successful to smuggle some guns back to the ghetto: we had then rifles, ammunition and hand grenades.

We had to seek out making contact with the partisans already in the forests, but this was not successful. We therefore needed to find our own place in the forest, a group of 20 of us left Sventzian. The first night we walked about 30 kilometers, and when daylight came, we decided to set up our temporary base, in the Tzerklishker forest.

Life was very difficult, we were in an unknown place, without supplies and without preparation. Neighbours were unfriendlyb& we were in constant fear and danger!

In time, we got used to our situation, we became friendly with our neighbours, which were simple peasants, who were sympathetic to our cause against the Hitlerite bandits.

[Col. 1717]

and wanted to help us.

Slowly, we got used to our way of life, we even managed to carry out several actions on our own initiative against the White–Russian partisans and steal their guns.

They feared us in this region, so in this manner, we got our food provisions when we carried out these raids. When we discovered that the Sventzian Jews were going to be deported, we decide to infiltrate the ghetto to find out the plan for them.

Once there, we made contact with a Jewish policeman from the Vilna Ghetto, who was a representative of the F.P.O.. It was decided that Ishike Gertman and I join the transport of Jews going to the Vilna Ghetto and that Moishke Shutan and his sister should go there on foot.

In the Vilna Ghetto we had to arrange for a meeting with the representatives of the F.P.O. In the Vilna Ghetto, they proposed to us: their main goal was to organize their fight from within the Gupa ghetto (the ghetto was in 2 parts). At that time, there was the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, so they proposed to us to bring our group from the forests into the ghetto and unite with their Vilna group in the ghetto.

We told them, we were of a different opinion, according to our beliefs, all the young people should be sent into the woods and fight

[Col. 1717]

together with the partisans.

The next morning we found out the Jewish police were looking for us. Ishike and I left our revolvers with our group, and went into the street to see what to do.

They arrested us and brought us to the Police Commissar, Natick Ring, who warned us: we know everything about your partisan groups and we should hand over our guns.

Understandably, we lied and said we didn't have any guns.

He called several policemen, who beat us very badly with sticks and threw us into the ghetto prison. We remained 3 days, when some of our friends managed to get our release. Several days later, Ishike and I left the ghetto as “workers”. Once outside the ghetto, we separated from the group, tore off our yellow patches, and in the evening jumped on a wagon train full of coal,

[Col. 1718]

which was going to New– Sventzian. We got off at Sventzian and by foot we crossed the town and left for our base in the Tzerklishker forest.

Our base was upside down, our friends were no where to be seen. We didn't know what happened to them nor what to do.

Standing around and thinking, we suddenly heard footsteps. We took out our revolvers and were prepared to shoot. Can you imagine our joy, when we saw, amongst the branches, our friend Shimke Levine.

He told us that they received word, that the Germans were going to attack the base, so he left for the village to get more information. In the meantime, the base was attacked by the Germans, our friends fled, and when he returned he was alone. He hid at a peasant's house, and from him learned that we had returned to the base.

Together with Shimke, we left for Chaim the Garber, where we found Berke Yochai, and Shaoulke Michalson. They brought us to the new base of our Sventzianer friends.

At our new base, we were informed that they were met by a group of Markov's brigade, who was led by Vaske Tzharnai, (Vaske the Black). He took Israelka Wolfson with him and told us when he returned, he would take our entire group to the Tstopiever Otriad.

Sidiaken was the commander of that otriad. He clearly told us that those with guns could join his otriad, the others were on their own, they had to obtain guns before joining his group.

I remained in the Tsopiav Otriad for 2 months, and on May 18, 1943, they took me the Lithuanian partisan–otriad, “Zalgurim”.

My first order that I received was to go with the partisans(of) Stavienas and Stankevitchis to carry out political work in the nearby villages.

This was important work, as we had to recruit new fighters for our otriads, we had to spread our literature to the peasants and new recruits. We were targeting the young people.

July 2 they sent me to New–Sventzian in order to make connections with Koslovski, leader of the underground communist party.

In a short time, the Lithuanian partisan otriad, “Vilnius” was founded and I joined them.

[Col. 1719]

In this otriad they gave me a special name, Lolia Kunitzki, and this is how I was then known is the partisan organizations. I remained here until the liberation, for almost a year. In a period of this year, I carried out various raids, the most important

[Col. 1720]

was the destruction of 11 large and 3 smaller battalions of German soldiers.

After liberation, I returned to Sventzian and found a total destruction, a ragged city. The Jewish community was murdered. Everything was empty and wasted. I couldn't bear to see this destruction and decided to continue wandering about, as far away from the graves and mass– murder sites.


[Col. 1718]

The Heroes in the Forest

Alexander Bogen

Translation by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve1719.jpg

 

I want to add my comments about the heroic and fierce struggles of the Sventzianer Partisans, about their bravery and about the way they organized to rescue the youth from the Vilna Ghetto which they brought to fight alongside the partisan army in the forests.

In the F.P.O. of Vilna many agonizing days were spent: whether to fight the Nazis from within the ghetto or to fight the Nazis from the forest? The youth of Sventzian had to convince me that it would be better from the forests! They came to the Vilna ghetto to lead us to the Narach forests, which the F.P.O. was against.

When the first group would arrive successfully in the Narach forest, led by Ishike Gertman and Yosef Glazman, then it would be decided to send more groups. This group was attacked on the way and half was murdered. This made it more difficult for the F.P.O. to allow more fighters to leave the ghetto. They Sventzianer partisans did not accept defeat readily, and continued their talks with the F.P.O. to allow fighters to leave. Several groups left, but they still encountered difficulties on the road. These groups arrived at the Narach base. This activity continued until the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto. These who excelled in their work: Isike Gertman z'l, Moshe Shutan, Moishe–Yitzhak Rudnitski, Shlomo Ichiltchik, Motke Feigel and others.

[Col. 1719]

I asked one of the former and well known Sventzian partisans, Motke Heske Bushkanetz, to tell me about his activities (he had a count of 12 destroyed German divisions).

Leave me alone, he said, we destroyed them and that's the important thing. He thought that I would not pursue this talk any further.

After lengthy pleading, he finally gave in.

I started to write, “I Motke Hershke”… and he answered me angrily

[Col. 1720]

You are writing “I”…there were many like me…

He was very modest and this showed his character.

Young men came to the Vilna ghetto to persuade the partisan organization.

It is important for this story to continue, young men risked their lives to travel 200 kilometers through the forests, trying to avoid the German garrisons and to avoid being attacks, travelling day and night?

Who sent them?!

They took it upon themselves to risk their lives to save as many lives as possible.

[Col. 1721]

They, these young souls, who were the “scouts” or the “messengers”, were truly the unsung heroes of this terrible time in our history. Therefore I want to stop and discuss the history of Sventzian.

It's a small shtetl near Vilna, with its own rabbis and freethinkers, with Chasidim and progressive youth, with organizations and schools, with many different folk people, with a love for Hebrew and Yiddish. In one word–a real Jerusalem of Lita in miniature.

Sventzian was so immersed in its cultural traditions and in the atmosphere of Vilna, she was actually a part of her, as part of Jerusalem of Lita.

The importance lies with all the fighters of the partisans, especially those that lie in the fields of White–Russia, their final “resting place”; the story is about all the young fighters that fought so valiantly and risked their lives to rescue the young lives from the Vilna Ghetto. Those who survived stand before our eyes every day, as well as those that perished.

These young fighters were just children when the war broke out, and these children fought with their hearts and souls against a mighty enemy to save their Jewish brothers and sisters.

The Judenrat had to send able bodied men to work in the Sventzian ghetto. As there was no communication between the partisans and the Jewish community in the earlier stages of the war, the Judenrat had difficult choices to make. They often went to labour themselves. No one knew what the real intent of the Germans were. Godel Gilinski went as one of those workers. After one such work detail, he noticed a black market for illegal weapons. He met with Isike Gertman who said:” you want to fight the Germans?” There are guns here, this would be our opportunity to acquire them!”

So the plan was set in place. The workers went to work, these were: Yitzhak and Yoske Rudnitski, Gershon Godel, Kuske Ligumski, Moshe Shutan, Ruben and Froike Miadzolski, and Gershon Bak. They left work limping and with swollen stomachs. This is how they slowly accumulated guns.

[Col. 1722]

Yitzhak and Moshe Yudke Rudnitski, as well as Motke Feigel, engaged themselves with the Judenrat in order to find out the happenings in the ghetto. They met in the Yocais's home, where all the decision– making was done. The older Yocai was a tanner, a very important Jews, with hands of a true craftsman. Berka and Dudke were his sons. Rubke and Shimke Levine knew the streets and hide outs in the whole region.

The beginning was difficult–until we were able to establish contact with the partisans. We suffered for a while. Until late 1943, our lives continued in this manner. We trekked through the mud and we smuggled potatoes into the ghetto. How long can we eat only potatoes?

Eventually, we met up with the ordinary partisans.

The commander of the Stafaiev Otriad was Sidiaken, a Siberian with a long blond mustache, who laughed at us when we showed him our 5 rifles:– you need to get more guns–we were stunned and didn't know what to say.

Moshele Shutan answered: we have to go to Vilna and join forces with the F.P.O.in the Vilna Ghetto. Isike Gertman and Israelka Wolfson soon arrived to the ghetto. Isike was delivering an order–a letter from Commander Markov, to send all the young abled persons to the forests.

The message was not well received. The route was a long and terrible one, full of danger, full of police and Gestapo.

Three scouts were sent out of Sidianken's Otriad, they went to New Sventzian, where Moshele (Moshe Shutan) left the group and the other two, Israelka and Isike, dressed as peasant gentiles and boarded a train for Vilna.

The train, when it reached the station didn't stop. Israelka peeked outside and saw a Gestapo–man holding the head of a dead person.

[Col. 1723]

Several Lithuanian with rifles were standing there as well, for a review. Isike descended first, Israelka followed with fear. The head officer screamed “Halt”!

Isike put his hand in his pocket and increased his speed. A shot was heard. Isike yelled to Israelka to run faster. Isike ran and slid under the wagon and scrambled over the tracks, running for his life. A great commotion ensued, the Germans were shooting everywhere. But Israelka ran over one, two, three, four, five tracks, between the wagons like a wounded cat until he disappeared, like the earth swallowed him up. 15 minutes passed, he was laying in a corner near the hill on his stomach, the Germans close by, and Israelka had his grenade in his hand. The Germans got tired and this saved the 2 young lads from Sventzian. Isike did the same “cat–dance”. They left for the road shortly afterward.

The ghetto was the same as before. Rows of slaves left for work detail every day into the town. The Jews endured many hard and difficult labours. There were two sets of uniforms, yellow and green. The Jewish police from part of the ghetto would speak often with the Lithuanian police of the other side.

In the ammunition camp a young lad was shot. His name was Zalman Tiktin. He wanted to steal some ammunitions.

Tuvia Bieliak , from Vidz, was arrested for carrying a gun. The Gestapo tortured him without mercy, but he didn't reveal anything, he eventually died.

Gens, the head of the Jewish Ghetto police, was uninformed.

If you were found smuggling flour or grains, a beating took place.

Keitel took young women(girls) who had to undress and he spanked them for his pleasure.

Beginning of July, 1943, Vidas and Koslovski were arrested, 2 associates of the ghetto.

[Col. 1724]

Great unrest followed. Keitel, the head– commander of the ghetto, gave an ultimatum to Gens: to bring Vittenberg into custody (head of the F.P.O.). July 16, 1943, the workers did not go to work, the gates were locked. Men and women gathered in all the streets. The directors were frustrated and angry.

What happened?” From mouth to mouth, one word was uttered, “Vittenberg”! Rumors were flying. One said he escaped, the other that he fought till the end. No one knew the truth. The police made it clear: capture Vittenberg or the entire ghetto will be punished.

Truly, this was only a matter of time, life in the ghetto was very fragile.

Zagoiski with 2 other policemen representing the Judenrat met with the partisans of the F.P.O. The Judenrat wanted to hand over the young one(s), but the partisans said” no.” Some said not to make decisions when in a heated argument. Think clearly! These arguments went back and forth. Only the F.P.O. had the right to make the final decision: perhaps the fight should take place now! It was a big moral dilemma!

Vittenberg gave himself up and was eventually killed. July 22, 1943, a few days after Vittenberg's death, Iske Gertman led the first group of partisans out of the ghetto. That evening we received news that they were attacked at Lavarishok, from 50 partisans , only 14 survived. Dessler, the Jewish police, certainly had his hand in this! The Gestapo found passes from the Vilna ghetto amongst the dead partisans. Day and night the ghetto police were everywhere, the Sventzianer partisans were in great danger. We had to rescue them while we could.

The house on 11 Rudnitsker Street was blocked, nailed the door shut. Moshele(Moshe Shutan) snuck in a crevice between the walls and held his breath.

[Col. 1725]

Footsteps were heard. An electric lamp shone over the walls.

– Anyone here?“–a Jewish policeman shouted. They turned to retreat, but another police said–anyone found?–“No”.

– “Wait a minute, what is that in the corner?”

Shooting started, Moshe had no alternative but to give himself up.

– “I give up, I have no gun, please believe me, dear police”

They searched all over, then took him to the criminal– police: they were expecting him. Zeidel was waiting for him, in his previous years he was a criminal, and was promoted by the Germans to this high post in the criminal–police. Moshe was searched and they found 2 papers, 1 a pass, the other a letter from Commander Markov.

– “Who wrote this?” –Moshe, a prisoner in chains, remained silent. They beat him and his eyes swelled. Moshe, through the corner of his swollen eyes noticed Nusbaum peaking into the room.

Nusbaum threw a glance at Zeidel, and interrupted the beatings. Nusbaum was an elegant man, who didn't like violence.

It had been 2 hours they were chasing Isroelka Wolfson from roof to roof, and Nusbaum was angry at this. He was surrounded on one house, he had a gun, the problem was if he shot, what would they do to the rest of the people in the ghetto?

Nusbaum , deep in thought, said to Moshe–what shall we do?

[Col. 1726]

– “Do nothing–my commander!”

– “Yes, young lad, I will stop this aggression right away!”

Nusbaum looked at Zeidel and asked why he beat up the arrested one( Moshe).

He was quiet like the wall,–––Nusbaum said––what is the matter with you?–

Moshe, the 18 year old partisan said he will only answer to Gens alone, boldly.

Gens, at his desk at Rudnitski Street, spent a sleepless night, he wanted an answer from Dessler: what is happening?

A knock on the door, 4 police accompanied Moshe and he stood before Gens, looking him straight in the eye:

Gens said – “Tell me, tell me!”

Moshe stood in his place and the second time Gens asked him, he approached Gens and sat down.

– “Do you know what shall happen to you” – said Gens.

– “Herr Commander, I am a partisan, I am here because Markov, the partisan Brigade

Commander ordered me to come to the Vilna Ghetto and leave with other fighters.

If a hair on my body is touched, they will descend upon the ghetto from the forests!

They 2 ghetto leaders were upset.

– “Do you know what a disturbance you caused. You want to take out a few dozen young people, but what will happen to the thousands?” Gens said.

I will tell you, but first Dessler must leave the room. Dessler was rattled, his fat face grew pale like a ghost, how this young lad had the “Chutzpa” to speak of him like this:

– “What's going on?”

– “Who is in charge, you or Dessler?, Moshe said with boldness and clarity.

– “Dessler takes orders from me(Gens)”, he answered.

[Col. 1727]

Dessler saw that this was getting nowhere, swearing he left the room.

[Col. 1728]

Two hours passed, after many long discussions, the next morning, Moshe and his young partisans left the ghetto heading towards the Narach forests.


The Vilnius Otriad

Mote Heshel Bushkanetz

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Leaving the Sventzian Ghetto our group organized 2 bases in the Zerlisher forests. We had 2 main goals: to obtain food for our men, and to meet the leader of the Partisan army. This was not easy. We had to endure a lengthy procedure in order to make contact.

Finlly we came across a partisan group led by Voska Starnai,(the black one). He led us to the Kazian forests where we met the Otriad “Stopoviet”. The commander of this otriad, Sidioken, only enlisted those who brought guns with them. Those without guns, had to find a way to obtain guns.

Yoske Flexer, Berke Yocai, Peretz Grodel went in the direction of Sventzian to obtain guns for our group. The sisters Ester–Feige and Raske Chait came along with us, who were going to New–Sventzian, to the Lithuanian Koslovski where they hid before coming to us in the forests. The sisters remained with Koslovski and we returned with our weapons.

[Col. 1728]

In the Baranover woods, not far from Haytutishok, the Lithuanian otriad “Vilnius” was based, and they received us in a friendly manner. From an earlier group we found our friends: Berke Yocai, Pereta Grodel,, Yosef Flexser, Chaia Yocai, Faivka Chait, Rochel Feige–Kromnik, Yitzhak Rudnitski.

Here the Lithuanian Communist Ofevela was the commander of the Vilnius Otriad, the group comprised of about 100 persons. This also included Russians, White–Russians and Lithuanians: the Russians were previously in the Red Army and when it fled, they joined the partisans to fight the Germans. This otriad carried out many important missions against the Germans in which our group took an active roll and excelled in every mission.

One important offensive was against the electric grid of Sventzian. The group was led by Arbanovitch, in which our friends also participated. These were: Berke Yocai, Itzke Rudnitski, Yoske Flexser and I. (Heshl Bushkanetz)

We arrived 11 at night and hid in the Christian cemetery of Sventzian. Here we prepared our explosives and other ammunitions that we brought.

[Col. 1729]

We sent out 2 scouts to make sure the road was clear and there were no hidden enemies.

They returned, all was quiet, the roads were clear so we began to make our way slowly and quietly to the electric station. We had grenades in our hands, guns on our shoulders, we carried the explosives and when we arrived, we immediately blew up the telephone lines. Two men worked inside, we entered and placed the explosives, we dragged the 2 workers out with us and fled about 50 meters, when we heard the large explosion. The whole shtetl went black!

We freed the 2 workers and left for a nearby village. We spent the night with a peasant that we knew, and in the morning we sent him back to Sventzian to bring us updates. He returned and told us the explosion the previous night disabled the electric grid and blew out all the windows of the nearby houses. The word was that partisans did this! Panic in the shtetl resulted. It also created difficulties for the general population of the shtetl.

We carried out another attack on the town of Fodiasinki, not far from Lyntup, our group was only 6 men. We hid here and we were told by the peasants that 21 Germans arrived in Fodiasinki and confiscated all their food and produce. We decided to go to the edge of town and murder these Germans.

[Col. 1730]

We left and hid in the nearby woods, near the road. When we saw the wagons loaded with the goods approaching, we opened fire and killed 3 Germans. The others ran away. We took rifles and other goods, this was a big deal for us. But this wasn't our main focus. We were more interested in blowing up trains on the tracks.

I was fortunate to take part in 10 missions. They took place in different regions, the most important was the one that went from Podbrodz to New–Sventzian. Also another successful mission was on the station Fahulianka, which was not far from New– Sventzian. The commander of our otriad chose five men to blow up the train full of Germans coming from Vilna. I was also in this group.

It was a cold winter night, we were making our way through the snow in the forest, it was in complete silence. It took us longer making our way through the snow and we lost our way. When we got to the station we had to exit the forest and found ourselves in a difficult situation. However we managed to hide behind a hill next to the station. We lay there quietly awaiting the sound of the train. We knew now everything depended on our swift and immediate action.

Slowly we heard the train approaching. Like the speed of light we ran to the railroad and we laid our explosives. With all our strength we ran back to the forest.

[Col. 1731]

From a distance we saw the explosion which sounded like a great thunder.

The soldiers in the train started shooting, fortunately the shooting from the train didn't reach us as we were already deep into the forest.

I was involved in another mission in small village Girdon, which was near Haudutishok and Sventzian and I proved myself again to the partisans. They shot at a partisan group…

We took away a lot of food products from the peasants, clothing as well as guns. We burnt the entire town to the ground and went back to the forest.

[Col. 1732]

In our Vilnius Otriad we remained until liberation. When the Red Army freed our region we left the forest and started to make our way back to Sventzian.

In our group was: Chaim and Berke Yocai, Itzke Farus, Yitzhak Rudnitski, Yosef Flexser, Peretz Grodel, Shaul Michalson, Rebecca Levine, Faivka Chait, Froimke Miadzolski, Moishe Shutan and I (Heshsl Bushkanetz). With great heartache, missing were: Isike Gertman, Shimke Levine, Yoske Rutnidski, Dudke Yocai, and Israelka Wolfson. They all perished at the hands of the Nazi murderers. Other partisans also returned, they were: Shimon Bushkanetz, Yudel Ambros, Ber Swirski, Moishe Itke Rudnitski, Rochel Feige Kromnik and Raska Chait.

We all had the same opinion: We did all that we were able! We shall take revenge for all of our spilled blood!


My Survival as a Partisan

Ber Swirski, z'l

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

Sve1731.jpg

 

Together with the Sventzianer Jews I was brought to Poligon. Thanks to Chaim the tanner, who was a “useful Jew”, I was freed. He had the right to take his family with him so I became part of his family. In the same manner, my brother Meir was let go. We didn't want to remain in the ghetto, so the next morning my brother and I left for Lyntup, then Svir and onto Glubokie. There we were fortunate to get two revolvers and some hand grenades and decided not to remain in the Glubokie Ghetto.

As we heard, that in the village of Niever, near Myadel,

[Col. 1732]

The center of partisan activities were in that area, so we left in that direction.

At night we arrived in a village and pointed our guns at a peasant to harness his horse and bring us to Niever. He had no choice, so he brought us and we disembarked nearby and went by foot the short distance. On the way we encountered a partisan agent who told us to wait until evening. We were told by him that Jews from the forest arrived at night, at this villiage Niave, to replenish their supplies and to take these things back to the forest. They will surely lead us to the partisan group!

[Col. 1733]

And this is exactly what happened: we waited till dark, the Jews arrived to buy their food products and then we joined them to go back to the forests with them.

A few days later, a commander Of the Miadvadova Brigade arrived, to recruit young people for the partisan brigade. I decided to join them. The Miadvadova was part of the larger Sventzianer Russian Army.

He was sent specially, parachuted into the White–Russian forests, to find recruits for the partisan army.

His brigade had about 800 people. They were mostly white–Russians who escaped from their German units and joined, there were also a few hundred Jews in this unit. Many attacks against the Germans were carried out. The first one that I took part in was the attack on Dukshitz.

[Col. 1734]

We encircled Dukshitz on all sides, when we went in and with the help of some Christians, we were shown who the helpers of the Germans were. Our intention was to burn their homes and we did it successfully. Our brigade became famous because of so many successful attacks. One such attack was against regular German military. For two years we fought in this Dukshitzer region. Later we were sent to the Ashmiener region.

Here we fought many horrible battles against the German occupiers. Just before the Red Army arrived, we occupied the village of Ostrovietch. We stayed here until the Soviets arrived and then handed over this village.

Our brigade after liberation by the Soviets was held in high esteem and people wrote many accounts about us.

The Soviet Regime gave me an excellent review and gave me a medal, “Soviet Cross”, for my service and devotion.

 

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