Translated by Janie Respitz
…Of all the sadness, the worst sadness was a mother's, when being chased by a terrifying death, left her children with strangers, with a glimmer of hope they would survive. From all the tortures, the most horrific to witness with one's own eyes, was the cruelty in which the Nazi murderers tortured these young souls. When we read about the tragic, painful and miraculous experiences of those who managed to survive, it is astonishing: How in the world did the Taybeles, Estherls, Moishelehs find the courage and wisdom to escape the hands of the murderers that awaited them? The children of Sventzian region experienced exactly what the adults did, the violent ways of horrors of war, torture, sorrow and loneliness. The same curses chased after and them, and they found no rest. But how often were they stronger, smarter and more tenable than the adults?! This is how they remained child pure and innocent. For years these innocent babies were carried through the storm of fire, blood and hatred. While millions of children around the world enjoyed sun and light, the same sun brought Jewish children darkness and tragedy. The sun was used as a tool in the hands of the wicked, so they could discover the steps of the children that ran away and managed to escape. Hundreds of evil men would chase after one hungry child. From thousands of children from the cities and towns of Sventzian region, very few survived. Except for one or two, the enemies succeeded in poisoning their childlike hearts and fill their heads with hatred towards Jews, their own Jewish mothers and fathers, who returned from this difficult nightmare, from the giant mass graves. Huge praise must be bestowed upon the Kovarskys, the Garshins and others who performed the holy act of saving Jewish children who survived from Satan's hands. These young people returned from the battle fields, understood the great fortune, that there were surviving Jewish children. With great humanity and national responsibility, they sacrificed and fought for revenge, to defeat the stained enemy at its own race, to resurrect the longing for parents, help them to rediscover themselves, and to once again merge with the Jewish people, its tradition and history.
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
The fight was difficult and complicated. This fight was against the fanaticreligious Christians, with whom we fought for Tachum Ester's son. He was raised a Christian together with their own daughter. Many Christians remained under the influence of the local priest, who advised against returning Jewish children.
When Itzhak Yocnes returned to Sventzian, he told us what Chana Ester (Rabotnik) had told him, about her inlaws child that is in Christian hands. We immediately began our search and found this child, who was with the Christian we knew, Kutchinska: with whom we started to negotiate with in order to return the child to us.
She said no close relative survived the war and therefore there is no one to make demands.
We then, with much kindness towards her, provided papers and promised her a large cash reward. This didn't produce any resultsshe became angry and through the priest, she would not release the child into Jewish hands. The priest told her that she would commit a sin, even though the child was born a Jew. Kutchinska found out and became emboldened, that the Sventzian law ruled against Yocnes from getting his daughter returned to him (also held by a Christian family). Our begging did not produce any results.
In those days (after the war), a woman from an organization from Poland came to Sventzian, who undertook to help find missing Jewish children (who were rescued by Christians).
We sent her to Kutchinska, to meet with her as the child's mother's sister, and to return this boy! Kutchinska almost threw her out of her house and from this time onwards, she kept her house locked. She would not allow any further contact between the boy and a Jew!
Several months passed, the few survived Jews were preparing to depart Sventzian to Poland and from there to other countries. We still continued our struggle: one day I went to Kutchinska, bringing sweets, but the door was locked. I presented myself as Sender, son of Leizer Kovarski, her former neighbour on Vidzer Street, and she asked me to approach her window and I saidI come to you with good intentions, with sweets for the children, with some money and you won't welcome me into your home?
In the end I convinced her and she let me in. I made her understand that my aunt Funes' child was her nephew, and she wanted to turn the process over to the judge and the child would be taken from her. Should we get a judge to decide this matter or is it not better to settle this matter in good faith, between us? I propose a solution, which will be beneficial to both her and a dowry for her daughter.
Why do I need a dowry? The boy will get older and he will become my daughter's husband! Her words torn my heart out! With great heartache I spoke of the great injustice that had been perpetrated against the Jewish people. You robbed us of everything and now you want to rob us of our Jewish children?
She tried to respondshe found the child on the street and saved him from death! She understands my pain, but the priest won't allow it…I tried to go into the room where the boy was, but the door was locked. Through a crack I saw a small boy with dark, scared eyes looking towards the door. A blond girl was sitting next to him, and he began to cry, Mamusia, I don't want to go to those black (dirty) Jews! They want to kill me!
The anger within me grew and I said to her: you will be held responsible for this!
She broke into tears and weakened her stance…I left 10,000 ruble and asked her to sign a paper, that she is giving the child of Chana Ester to his aunt Feige Rubin.
Crying, she asked me to postpone the signed paper for later, but when she opened the door both children ran to her. The boy didn't stop crying. She calmed him down and instructed him to go with his uncle. She dressed the boy. It seemed he didn't even own a winter coat. It was a frost outside. I took off my winter coat and wrapped him in it. I carried him through the streets to the home of the Flexser family, where the woman from Warsaw was waiting, whom I presented as the aunt of this child.
Laden with gifts I returned to Kutchinska and with some other Christians as witnesses, she agreed to sign the paper that she agreed to return the child of her own free will.
That same evening, a Vilna ensemble performed a concert in Sventzian, after which I returned to the Flexser house to check up on the child. First, they tell me the child cried endlessly before going to sleep. Then, the Christian, Kutchisnska, came by and took him in her hands, promising to take the child for the evening and return him in the morning.
I became embittered, and the first thing the next morning, as she hadn't returned the child, I went to her. No one was home. The neighbours who were witnesses, went to the priest. After several long hours, they returned, the priest said to return the money and gifts and take back the child!
Like a lunatic, not knowing what was best, I ran to the church
to talk to the priest, to appeal to his emotions and to his wisdom! When I entered the courtyard, I saw the priest through the window, sitting with other people, drinking tea. I thought I would see Kutchinska and the child, but they were not there.
I scuffled through the maze of buildings, the cold entered my body. I wanted desperately to find a place to warm myself, but I couldn't abandon my mission. My heart told me that he child was somewhere in one of these buildings.
Suddenly, a building, where the watchman lived, a side room was lit. Quietly I approached the window, where I saw Kutchinska with both children. The little boy was crying and she was consoling him. I heard: she will never leave him again, and in a few days when the Jews are gone, she will return him to her home.
I vowed to follow her to her home and kidnap this child!
I didn't go to work the next morning, waiting in my hideout, kept watch on the house. I noticed Kutchinska and the priest entering the house. As I was standing around in such difficult circumstances, I decided to take another approach with the child, trick the child.
On the third day I went to Kutchinska to enquire about the well being of the child. She became disoriented when she saw me. The child was not with her, but she wanted to keep the gifts and money and wanted me to returned the signed paper and was willing to return the child.
I told her the aunt had already left for Poland and the money was to be used for Kutchinska to buy clothing and other necessities for the child. The aunt's only request, she begged that the child not be raised in the Church and with its antiSemitic tendencies! Kutchinska was overjoyed and left immediately to seek out the priest and relay our encounter.
At that time, a young man was living at the Flexser's house, who worked for the NK.V.D. I told him the story of my intent to kidnap the child once he returned to Kutchinska's. I left with some sweets, but when I arrived at Kutchinska's, the door was locked. At that moment, the N.K.V.D. man knocked at the door
and lied to her that he was sent from the court of Vilna and that he had the signed document that she received 10,000 ruble for the return of the child. He held her accountable that she stole the money and the child! He was going to take her to court.
Kutchinska became pale from fright and after many tears and pleading, opened the door and gave me the crying child.
Together with Moshe Shutan, the cousin of Chanele Goldberg (now my wife), and Yehuda Sorski, we took the child to the train, which was going to NewSventzian. There the Bitusunski family, the woman Rubin, were waiting the survived child of the funes' aunt (?).
Rivka Bitushunski washed the child, fed him and put him to bed. At the Bitusunski's house, there was also little Teibele, who was also returned from a Christian family. This child also survived a terrible war and understood the needs of this little boy. Their fate had ben similar. She sat next to him and said: don't be scared of your aunt, she is very nice and sweet, and she brings me wonderful toys!
The little boy stared at her with wounded eyes and she said to him again, I was in the same situation as you are. She was with strangers and was also very frightened to be returned to the Jews! Now she is happy and the Jews are very kind to her and bought her many beautiful things. He relaxed, then fell asleep.
Three in the morning, we left with the sleeping child on a train for Vilna. There we went to Liba GurevitchGershonovitch.
In the days to follow, Feiga Rubin was ready and available to help me retrieving more children. She took the children from the orphanage and accompanied them to Poland.
Returning to Sventzian, my brother told me that the authorities were searching for me. I was being accussed of kidnapping a child with many lies! I left immediately to the authority who showed me the charge filed against me by Kutchinska. He was bewildered when I showed him the paper signed by Kutchinska and the 2 witnesses, that she willingly handed over the child. I told him the priest was meddling in our affairs. He was bewildered, he wanted to cancel the trial, but was under pressure, so the trial had to proceed and I had to appear at the precinct every 3 days until the day of the trial.
If there was going to be a trial, I wanted to finish with it as soon as possible, in order not to delay my trip to Poland. After hounding them, the trial took place 3 weeks later.
It was a Tuesday morning, at the courthouse the priest and a large group of his Christian followers, assembled. I was all alone. None of my friends nor my brother were present. I didn't even have a lawyer to represent me! I didn't want to lose the trial by their very organized one. The judge opened the proceedings: I planned the kidnapping of a child that Mrs. Kutchinska had saved and had risked her life for this Jewish child! Her lawyer said, In the name of Hela Kutchinska, that I entered her house by force, threatened to murder her and the papers were signed under duress of death. The witnesses and authorities were all falsified and I took the child with force and falsehoods!
Now it was my turn to defend myself, I asked Kutchinska 2 questions: can you tell the judge who are the people who signed the papers ? and can she name the persons who helped her carry the 5 parcels she received from me? The lawyer asked the judge that these questions should not be answered. The head judge threw out his request, and Kutchinska had to provide the names of her neighbours: Kantorovitch and Vitkofski. I remain steadfast, that the witnesses signed these papers of their own free will and Kutchinska agreed willingly to hand over the boy. It was the priest who later objected!
In my final argument, I placed the blame on the fate of the Jewish people and the mass destruction that the Germans created. I praised my fellow Christians that I hold in my highest esteem, who in those dark days risked their lives to save a Jewish child! My upbringing was the same as the Christian values, as that of Hela Kutchinska's. The money and gifts were showing our deepest and sincerest appreciation for the humane deed she performed of saving a Jewish child from death!
She showed deep understanding for my wish that the child be returned to his mother. The misfortune arose when this religious woman went to the priest and confided in him: he saidreturn the child to the Jews? For this you saved him? He wanted to convert this child into a Christian child! This kind woman is being influenced by these fanatics! Hela was a pawn in the priest's hands, he is using her to bring up this child to become an enemy of the Jews! He is the cause of this antagonism and doesn't want the aunt to have access to this child, who wants only to see the child of her murdered sister and bring him gifts. This was a terrible blow to the aunt, who suffered from loosing her entire family and the only one left is this boy.
When I came to Mrs. Kuthinska's house she insulted me by calling me cursed Jew!, She terrified the boy saying that Jews were the Black Devil. This was like a knife in my heart!
After all that we suffered, does a saved Jewish child have to become an enemy of the Jewish people? To be raised by a priest to instill this hate in him and against the Jewish people? Are this the values of a Christian?
I believe in my heart that Ms. Kutshinska is not guilty in all of this, even though it breaks my heart. She is blessed with a kind and good heart. She is poisoned by the priest and the actions of these fanatics, that is why I didn't want the money returned. I am willing to give her additional support that will she will need in the future. We trusted her when she said she would return the child in the morning, and when she didn't show up that morning we knew that the priest was influencing her decision.
The lawyer tried to interrupt my speech. He said I was insulting people who had nothing to do with the trial. He underlined that the priest was the leader of the Christian community and his integrity is sanctioned by the Soviet regime in the region. After this interruption, I was told to proceed with my speech. I painted a picture of our despair, our desperation, our lives were uprooted in Sventzian, the murders in Poligon of 8,000 innocent lives that were thrown into a massgrave. Here also lies the mother of this child!
My ears are still ringing from the cries of this murdered mother! Save my son! Don't allow him to become an enemy of his people! I felt the tears running down my cheeks and I almost collapsed from the anguish I was portraying. The attendants ran to me with fright and the judge asked whether we should end the all my strength and begged for the trial to continue, I didn't want to lose this trial.
I called the witnesses who signed the paper, and they said they knew what they were signing.
So, I asked them, when did they learn that Kutchinska changed her mind… and they answered, from the priest. He said, Do not return the child to a Jew!
After painting the picture, the trial proceeded and eventually the aunt was granted custody of the boy. The judge told Mrs. Kutchinska that her grievances were agaisnt the aunt.
The demands were thrown out.
After I arrived in Poland, I became involved again with the fate of the Jewish children. I was in contact with the woman to whom I had given the child, she was a representative of The Organization of Finding Hidden Children in Poland and she was involved with a religious party. From here, I was informed, that the child was sent to Switzerland, then to Eretz Israel. I felt relaxed and calm, and when I reached Eretz Israel I wanted to know what happened to this child. I searched all the orphanages and other institutions, without any success. I never found out what happened to this child, at least he came to Eretz Israel.
Communicated by Sender Kovarski
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
Sonia and Yitzhak Yachnes had to give away their twins when the Sventzian Ghetto was liquidated. They were born at the beginning of the war. They left them with a poor Christian family for a large amount of money. They were led to Vilna with the rest of the folk, where Sonia died and Yitzhak survived the many work camps in Estonia and Germany. He was liberated in Dachau and with the survivors he left for Italy with the hope to make Aliyah to Israel.
In Italy, he was reunited with the survivors of Sventzian, whose help he needed to find out the fate of his twins that he left with the Christian family. After a while he received an answer, one daughter was at the same Christian he left them with, and agrees to return her, the other daughter was given to another childless Christian family.
The Jewish survivors did not wait long for Yitzhak Yachne's answer, they took the child from the Christian, which was left at the Jewish orphanage in Vilna.
Yitzhak left immediately to find the second child. Not long after arriving in Sventzian, he discovered the whereabouts of the Christian family.
When he arrived at the village, and inquired about the child, he was told she belonged to them. She gave birth to this child and she forbade Yitzhak from entering her house.
Yitzhak wasn't deterred and didn't leave the village. He got acquainted with a neighbour, he promised him money to keep watch, that the Christian woman should not try to escape with the child. This kind neighbour told Yachnes that the child was brought to this village in 1943, and this fortunate couple told all the villagers that the child was a sister's child.
Going back to Sventzian
Yitzhak Yachnes went to seek help from the mayor, but he didn't want to get involved and referred him to the court, which gave an order, that the Christian cannot leave the village with the child. She had to wait for the trial.
Yitzhak believed that as the father the court will bring justice. This child was given to the Christian family to be rescued from death by Hitler's murderers.
The court didn't care about the father's rights and gave the child to the adopted parents. They verdict was in order to protect the child from going to a new environment.
Yitzhak didn't accept defeat, he appealed to the court in Vilna. During the process, he rendered a heart wrenching speech, he recounted his life threatening experiences that he lived through, that his strength came from finding his children. His speech made a great impact. The court pronounced that the child should live with the Christian family until age 18, then she can make her own decision where to go.
Yitzhak appealed again, this time to the Russian high court of appeals, and this time he was awarded the return of the child. When Yitzhak left to take back his child, the Christian fled the village with the child. Thanks to the help of those Jews who were still in Sventzian and New Sventzian, and especially with the intelligent Nechama Tzinman, they eventually found the hiding place.
The Jewish youth led an organized effort, they rescued the child. Together with the other daughter, Yitzhak and his daughters left for Eretz Israel, all 3 of them, where they are till today.
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
My child, Esther, was born in Vilna in 1940. When the Germans arrived and set up the ghetto, we were living on Shavelski Street. Our house maid, Jadzhe Lukovska, who worked for us for many years, had to leave us. Gentiles were not allowed to work for Jews and if they found her in the ghetto, she would be punished as well. At the beginning, when they were taking young children from their parents, Jadzhe
came to us to take the child with her. She assured us, that if we remained alive, she would return the child.
With heavy hearts, we decided to give her the child, to rescue her from death.
My wife didn't want to let the child leave her hands,
but I warned her of the hardships and dangers. In the end, I convinced her and made the arrangements to bring the child myself to Jadze.
|Esther Soroka with her husband and child|
As I went to work outside the ghetto every day, I left with my child hidden under my coat and went through the gate. No one noticed.
Jadzhe Lukovska waited for me by the church on Rudnitzker Street. She was so happy when she saw me with the child and took her from me.
I left for work at the ? and when I returned at night, I passed through SmallStephen Street, where Jadzhe lived. Approaching her house, I heard the crying of the child, Mame, Mame. My heart was aching from fright and I quickly decided to return without seeing her.
When the Vilna Ghetto was liquidated in 1943, my wife and I were sent to work at the Fur Factory in Kailis, and Jadzhe found a way to bring our child so that we can see her from a distance.
When they liquidated Kallis, we were sent to Kovno, where I remained for 6 weeks, then I was sent to Stuthof. My wife remained in Kallis several more weeks, and then was sent to Ponar with the remaining Jews.
After the liberation, I returned to Vilna to look for the child. Everywhere I encountered anger, and it took a long time before I found out that the priest of the Rudnitsker Church, his parish and amongst them Jadzhe Lukovska, my former maid, all left for Poland.
I left for Lodz, and from there, together with a friend, we left for Woltsh, near Bydgotsz. This was 1946, when the Kielcer Pogrom occurred, and travelling by train was a death trap. Finally, and with great difficulty I arrived, only to learn that Jadzhe had died 2 months earlier. My question, where is my child?
I came across a woman and she showed me through a window, a child playing in the garden and she called out to her, Teresa, your father is here! She came running, and took a look at me and said,but this is a Jew! My father is on the front! She ran back to play and I stood paralyzed in my spot!
I stayed overnight with this Christian and the next day the priest summoned me to him. He was very friendly and told me the child was not converted:
|Dovid Siroka when he took back Esther|
…a lot of Jews were saved in my Church. I saw and suffered your pain and anguish what I saw around me, a folk that is washed in blood, we cannot force their children to be converted!
I remained in the village for several days in order to gain the trust of this child. In the end I was able to take my child with me to Lodz. At the train station, the Polish neighbours, their children and the priest who played with my Esther, all came to say goodbye. I wanted to give the Christian woman more money, but she answered mewe wanted to save your child from the hands of those bloody murderers, not for money
We arrived in Lodz and it took a while to distance her from her Christian beliefs. We finally made Aliyah to Eretz Israel after 3 hard months at sea on the Exodus, enduring more difficulties.
In the end, my Esther became a real Israeli child, grew up and married. Today she is a mother of 2 children.
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
When the war broke out between Germany and Russia, my husband Leib and his family wanted to escape to Russia. But, as I was pregnant, the family decided to remain at home, as it was risky for me to travel. The first 3 months we remained in our homes. All at once the tumult started: the Jews of Sventzian were to be deported. We were frightened. The first would be the men. So my husband Leib Gurwitz and my father Peretz Feigel ran away to White Russia, to hide in Konstantinova, near Svir, in the turpentine factory of Faiva Yonishki. I waited for a miracle, that perhaps we would not have to escape. But the day of the evacuation arrived quickly, a Saturday morning; they chased the Jews from their homes to be sent to Poligon. Not paying attention to the orders, as I was in the last stages of pregnancy, I decided to save myself together with my sister in law Chava Gurwitz. We ran by foot to Lyntup. The next morning a decree was issued to arrest all the newcomers that arrived from other shtetls and to send them back.
They gathered 38 people from Sventzian and sent them back. A miracle happened: a Polish policeman from Lyntup noticed that I was pregnant and came to me and said: Scream, that you are having labour pains! I listened to him and went to the S.S. man and he told me to go to the hospital. Instead, I and my sister in law went back to Lyntup. After 4 days in Lyntup, with the help of a Polish doctor and a midwife, I gave birth to my daughter Esther. This was October 4, 1941.
|Esther Gurwitzdaughter of Rivka Feigel|
After 3 months in Lyntup with my husband father and sister in law, we returned to the Sventzian district where the necessary Jews still remained. These were Jews working for the Germans and we hoped that we would be amongst those to remain useful. We remained like this until February 1943, amongst the useful ones, but the time came that we also going to be liquidated, sent either to Vilna or Kovno. My father, hearing the news, said to us: you are young and you must save yourselves. I advise you to give your child to a Christian family for safekeeping and it will be easier for you to find hiding places. In the beginning I didn't want to listen to my father's advise, but slowly, it became clearer, that we will all die together! If we want to save the child, and hopefully if we remained alive, we can take the child back.
We found a childless Christian family in a small village that took pity on us. With a broken heart and flooded with tears, I handed over the child to the Christian. But after 3 days she returned Esther to us. She was too scared to keep her and we had to find another home for her. In the end, we found a poor Christian with a young son the age of Esther, and with the help of some money, she took our child.
As long as we were in the Sventzian ghetto we left frequently to see her, even when they brought us to Vilna
we didn't cease contact with the Christian and kept in contact. We remained in the Vilna ghetto until September, then, through Moishe Shutan, we were sent with a group of 20, to the Narach woods.
Our contact with our child was cut off. We got news from time to time through the Lithuanian partisans. One time we heard that the Christian wanted to give our child to the Germans. Her neighbours told her that we were in the woods with the partisans, and it wouldn't end well for her. The partisans will take revenge on her!
It was Christians who brought food to our child from time to time. They knew all that was going on, and the Christian with whom we left Esther, was in a difficult economic situation. The Germans took her husband for forced labour to Germany, and if not for her father, who became a beggar, she wouldn't have survived.
On the advise of the priest, she converted our child and gave her the name, Krisia Tragadeiti, from the word tragedy.
My husband Leib Gurwitz died November 14, 1943 during a partisan raid. I remained with the partisans until the liberation. When it became clear that liberation was close, I had an idea, if my Esther is alive, and the Red Army is in Sventzian, I would retrieve my Esther (and found my sister in law Chava Gurwitz, who also came out of hiding, at the Christian,) to take her back with me. We had no difficulty getting back our child, she (the Christian) really did not have the means to keep her. She(Esther) didn't recognize me, but we got reacquainted very easily. There was no motherly love nor enough food to eat at the Christian's home. She was three and a half and didn't feel any closeness. She immediately gained my trust and wandered into my arms.
My good fortune was overwhelming, that my dream to bring my child to Eretz Israel with me came true, where I got the means to raise her, educate her in Yiddishkeit and give her a better future. Her grandmother lived to see these joys and together we brought her to the Chuppah (wedding ceremony).¬
Dr Shlomo Stein zl, New York
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
My Dear shtetlach of the Sventian region, remembering you, I become overwhelmed with a longing, bathed in pain; I find it difficult to remember and to put down on paper the memories that shine from our childhood years, that was so abruptly interrupted in New Sventzian, Sventzian, Svir, Haydutitchok and Michaelishok.
I remember my place of birth, Sventzian, its friendly and brotherly existence!
Sventzian, your brightness with all its intellectual people I remember, Rabbi Aharon Tzinman and his family; Svir, where my mother was born, where my grandfather Rabbi Schmuel Hirsh Soleveitchik and many of my relatives lived; Haydutitchok and Michaelishok, where I spent time as a 17 and 18 year old, as teacher in the nearby TarbutSchuls, I will never forget you and will forever keep your memory and language alive. Day and night I am filled with tears when I think of you. It pains me and I cannot be at peace, that our beautiful way of life, which was rich in tradition of our Jewish folk went up in smoke. That gruesome picture of the mass grave in the Baronover woods does not let me rest, the Rakarnia on the Ziemiene (river) which remains before our eyes as a gruesome symbol (a pain in our hearts) of the destruction and death of our community, words that cannot describe the suffering, pain and loss caused by this enormous tragedy!
My heart is crying and aching for the righteous, for my dear and beloved, for the sweet and innocent , for the Holy murdered souls; for our beautiful life and for a generation that is lost, for those wonderful people, who will always remain in our hearts from those beautiful and brotherly shtetls, that were, without mercy, destroyed and erased!
Let this book shine an everlasting light to remember those pure and holy souls and let it be a reminder, every day to our last dying breath, to remind others, what that Amalek did to them!
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