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[Page 527]

The Soviet regime Period

[Page 528]


The Soviet Period

Translated by Jerrold Landau based on an earlier translation by M. Porat z”l

Preface to this section added in by Mr. M. Porat z”l

The following articles were written by Volozhiners who escaped from the town in June 1941 (Rogovin, Goldschmid, Shvarzberg); by Perlman, who was exiled with his family to Siberia in April 1940 (Note from Jerrold Landau: Perlman is M. Porat, and his section was not in the original Yizkor book); and by Pnina Potashnik, who remained in Volozhin and survived the Holocaust with the Partisans.

The Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement, a secret deal that finally fixed the partition of Poland, was signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939.

The German armies invaded Poland seven days later, on September 1, 1939.

The Red Army crossed the Polish borders on September 17th and occupied (“freed”) without any resistance the East Poland Territory (called East Kresy by the Poles and Western Ukraine and Belarus by the Soviets). Volozhin was part of Western Belarus.

Hitler attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. The big offensive called Barbarossa had begun. The German Wehrmacht occupied Volozhin four days later, on June 26, 1941.

The Soviet rule in Volozhin lasted for 21 months. We call it the “Soviet (pre-war) Period.”

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Under the Soviet Regime

by Rachel and Reuven Rogovin

The war between German and Poland began on Friday, 17 Elul, 5699 (September 1, 1939), and continued until Sunday 4 Tishrei, 5700 (September 17, 1939). After the defeat of Poland, and in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, the Soviets occupied all of western White Russia and Ukraine. Volozhin was included in the Soviet occupation areas.

With the arrival of the new rulers, the situation in our town underwent a fundamental change. Means of communication ceased, for private enterprise was forbidden by the government. Cooperatives were formed for food, and government shops were opened. Tradespeople lost their independent status and were forced to join Artels (a staff of workers with equal rights) based on their field. Artels were formed for shoemakers, tailors, etc. All of the Jewish institutions – the Jewish community structure, the merchants' union, the union of retailer merchants, the tradespeople's union – were automatically liquidated.


Vilna road
(The first building on the right is Mr. Gluchovski's pharmacy)


The two large mills belonging to Polak, and Rappaport and Perlman in Volozhin, the one belonging to Mr. Schiff in Yuzefpol, as well as Gluchovski's pharmacy, were nationalized. Two story buildings, such as the buildings of Elka Bunimovitch-Rozenstein and Reuven Rosenberg, were similarly nationalised.[1]

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A restaurant was opened in the Etz Chaim Yeshiva. Prayer services continued in the synagogues, but the prayers lost their Jewish essence and flavor, where one pours one's heart out before one's Creator.

In spite of the nationalizations and confiscations, there was no hunger in Volozhin. Everybody worked and earned enough to live on, even though the salaries were meager. However, everyone had an “addition.” For example, if someone had Polish zlotys, he would give them to David Itche Munie's, who would travel to Białystok and exchange them for rubles. Others gathered foodstuffs while there was still time in case of an emergency. Aside from this, farmers brought a bounty of food to the marketplace for a cheap price. These three components assisted the Jewish families in Volozhin to somehow meet their budgets.

A tragic-comic change took place with regard to dress and shoes. Fashion demanded that one wear boots instead of shoes, so people wore boots. It was a distressing yet amusing scene to see important householders, such as Reb Yitzchak Sharira, Reb Tzvi Malchin, Reb Yaakov Weisbord, Reb Avraham Shaker, Reb Mordechai Shishko, the shochet Tzvi Namiot (“the Sheliver, as he came from the town of Sheliv), Shalom Leib Rubinstein, and others walking about in boots. There were sycophants who exchanged their starched shirts and ties[2] for the Soviet gymnastyorka (khaki shirt).

The borders opened and many people from Volozhin frequently visited Minsk, and family members from Russia visited their relatives in Volozhin. The brother of Shalom Leib Rubinstein's wife was among them. The youth had the opportunity to complete their education in Soviet scientific schools, and a few went to study in several Soviet cities.

From the outside, life appeared steady and more or less normal. Nobody thought about a new war, and especially about one between Germany and Russia. Had someone raised such a possibility, they would have been mocked as a clown or someone who has gone crazy. Two days before the German Messerschmitts bombed Minsk, Kyiv, Lida, and Molodetchno, people still believed that there would be no war in Volozhin.

The Friday evening, 25 Sivan 5701 (June 20, 1941) was different from Saturday night, 26 Sivan 5701 (June 21, 1941) in that the holy Sabbath was felt on the Sabbath eve, and the Lechu Neranena prayer was recited in the synagogue as it was every Sabbath.; whereas the beginning of the weekday Maaariv service was recited at the conclusion of the Sabbath, and they recited the Hamavdil blessing in the homes that begins: “Behold, G-d of my salvations, I trust in you, and I shall not fear.” This was the only difference between those two nights. No tidings of Job had reached us, not even an echo of such, aside from the very sad news that the next day, Sunday, 27 Sivan 5701 (June 22, 1941) we had to conduct the funeral for the veteran communal activist of Volozhin, Feive Yosef Simernicki.

During the late hours of Saturday night, we heard a concert from Moscow, which was arranged in honor of the visit of the French Communist Louis Aragon to Russia. After we heard the final news report read by the well-known news reported Yuri Levitan, we went to sleep.

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Reuven did not open the radio in in the morning, for he was certain that “there was nothing to hear.” He hurried to Simernicki's funeral. On the way, his friend Shpatziner, Beila Paritzki's husband, who had worked for man years with Michael Wand-Polak, stopped him. Shptziner had been a volunteer captain in the Polish army, who fought with weapons in his hand against the Bolsheviks during the years 5679-5680 (1919-1920). He was a sworn despiser of the Soviet regime.

“Comrade Rogovin,” he said to me with a malicious smile, “The downfall of the Soviets is approaching.”

“What do you mean,” I asked him in wonder. When he realized that I was not up to date in my knowledge of the latest events, he responded, “Did you not hear Molotov's speech? The Germans have attacked Russia, and their airplanes have already bombarded the cities of Minsk, Kyiv, Kharkov, and others.” He told me everything that he had heard and know.

When I returned from the cemetery after Simernicki's funeral, I saw Jews gathered together, debating in loud voices. They were divided into two camps: the pro-Soviets and the pro-Germans. The common folk, that is the workers and tradespeople, were certain that the Soviets would defeat the Germans. The large-scale merchants and retailers were convinced of the opposite – that the Germans would defeat the Soviets. They refused to hear what the refugees who had escaped to Volozhin from the areas under German occupation were saying, with their blood curdling stories about what the Germans were doing to the Jews. They treated these stories as Soviet propaganda, as fabricated, sensational stories. They compared the situation to the First World War, claiming that the Germans had already ruled over Volozhin in 1918 and did not harm the Jews. In only one generation, they changed their nature and are rising against us to destroy us? One must not fear them. Those who have fallen in love with the Soviets must fear… Such were the discussions on those final days of the community of Volozhin.

When the war broke out, the government announced that all men up to the age of fifty must present themselves at the mobilization office (Vinkomat) that had opened outside the city. More than one thousand people presented themselves, and there were not enough human resources to draft them. Only fifty men were drafted and sent to barracks in which the Polish army had camped in its time. The rest, I (Reuven) among them, were sent to spend the night in the gymnasium building.

The next day, we presented ourselves again at the mobilization office. However, German airplanes appeared in the sky. They told us to disperse and return when the all-clear signal would be given. However, we did not return any more, for there was a great panic in the city. The authorities lacked any power, for they were cut off from the center in Minsk, which had been attacked several times from the air. They began to evacuate the wives of government officials to a safer place deep in the country.

The Soviets did not tell us what to do. Everyone was allowed to decide for themselves whether they wanted to remain in Volozhin with the Germans or escape into Russia. When the news arrived on Thursday, 1 Tammuz 5701 (June 26, 1941) that the German brigade had reached Bogdanovo

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(25 kilometers from Volozhin), we arose in the middle of the night, took our two children, Reuven's mother, his sisters, and his brother Yaakov, and left Volozhin on foot. Reuven's father Yitzchak and his sisters Sara and Chana remained in Volozhin, where they perished. His brother Yaakov was killed in battle near Stalingrad in the year 5702 (1942).

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Mr. Mr. Porat adds the following detail: The owners of the nationalized mills were put in prison and later deported to the Soviet Gulag. Their families (wives and children) were expelled and “resettled” in Siberia. Return
  2. Mr. M. Porat notes that this was the symbol of the Polish bourgeoisie. Return

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Volozhin under the Soviet Regime

by Mendel Goldschmid (of Ramat Yitzchak)

The Polish authorities announced a general mobilization as soon as the war broke out. From among the Jewish youth, Zelig and Shlomo Meltzer, Yisrael and Zalman Perski, Yitzchak Kaplan, Avraham and Yitzchak Danishevski, Yochanan German, the writer of these memoirs, and others were drafted. We went to the front, but we returned to Volozhin after a brief time, for the Polish army had been defeated and retreated in disarray.

When the State of Poland was partitioned between the Soviets and the Germans in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, the Soviets entered Volozhin from the side of Rakov. Their entry surprised the population. Shouts and calls were heard in the city, “Behold, the Soviets are coming!” They were indeed coming with tanks and infantry.

The Soviets surrounded the Starosta building and arrested the workers along with the police officers and their assistants. They began to confiscate the property of the wealthy people. This confiscation brought economic disaster upon the Jews of Volozhin. The shopkeepers hid their merchandise so that they would not be ruined.

Nothing pained the Jews of Volozhin as did the confiscation of the Yeshiva building, which was turned into a restaurant. Bitter crying and weeping was heard over the destruction of that miniature sanctuary. The Yeshiva lads sat outside on the ground with Gemaras in their hands and eyes filled with tears. How sorrowful was the melody of their Gemara! Most of them left Volozhin. Miraculously, the Yeshiva building was not destroyed. Many firebombs fell in the vicinity of the Yeshiva, but it was not hit.

The Jews tried with all their might to ensure that the light of Israel would not be extinguished. The Yeshiva was closed, the Talmud Torah was closed, and the Tarbut School was also closed. The melamdim were permitted to conduct their holy work in private houses, but this was a poor substitute for the spiritual life.

The Soviets confiscated the mikveh. Reb Mordechai Shishko, the dear, good Jew, did not rest until another mikveh had been dug at the entrance to the synagogue, concealed from the eyes of the enemy.

It should be noted that the Jews received the Soviets with appreciation. Horrifying news about the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans against the Jews in the areas under German occupation infiltrated to us. We were certain that we would survive in the areas under Soviet occupation. The physician Avraham Tzart spoke enthusiastically at meetings

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about the Soviets, as if they were redeemers and saviours. His words left a great impression. At one of those meetings, the Soviets requested from those present that the tell the audience about how they lived under Polish rule. A poor Jew burdened with many children ascended the podium. He turned his head to the wall, lowered his cloak, showed the hole in his tattered pants, and declared: “This is how I lived under the Polish regime!” The wretched, oppressed people such as that Jew believed with a full heart that their sun had now risen.

Ketzlich (a Jew) the head of the Soviet administration in Volozhin, invited me to his office and gave me the job of clearing out the stones from the market square, planting trees, and turning the area into an ornamental garden. After I did what I was commanded, Ketzlich revealed to me the secret that they were about to erect a statue of Stalin in that place. The statue indeed arrived, packed in crates. We set up the pieces and erected the large statue. Stalin stood wearing a hat and an army uniform, with his hand outstretched westward. However, this caused a severe problem. There was a cross made out of cast iron on that spot. It would be a “sacrilege” to erect a statue of the “Sun of the Nations” next to a cross. Therefore, it was decided to demolish the cross. One Friday night, Soviet police and soldiers surrounded the area and laid the dynamite, and the cross flew into the air. I was ordered to remove the fragments.

The gentiles blamed me for the blowing up of the cross and waited for the hour of revenge. However, I immediately escaped from Volozhin when the Germans entered.

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During the Soviet Rule in our City

by Pnina Chayat (Potashnik) of Holon

The Soviets entered our city without encountering any resistance. The workers and tradespeople received them with open appreciation. Members of the municipal government and several wealthy Jews fled to Lithuania, which was still independent.

The Soviet command was located in military bunkers. Their relationship with the population was even-handed. They set up civic institutions with the assistance of local Jewish and Christian Communists.

Everyone had to go to work, both man and women. Anyone avoiding work was accused of speculation and deliberate sabotage. Work was the only source of income. Shops were closed. A Larok food market was opened in their place. There were exceedingly long lines to obtain provisions, causing great suffering for the population. Clothing could be obtained in exchange for coupons, however only very few people had such.

The Tarbut School was closed. Russian schools were opened, with the aim of winning over the Jewish children to their ideology and cutting them off from the history of the Jewish people. The Jewish children entered an atmosphere of complete assimilation.

The city was inundated with a stream of refugees who escaped from the German occupation area. They first came to our city to do business with the Soviets, but when they saw that commerce was considered a crime, they expressed their desire to return to German occupied Poland.

The Soviets made a list of all those who wished to return. One night, the Soviet army surrounded their homes and commanded them to pack their belongings and prepare for the journey. They were brought to the railway station and deported to Siberia.

It should be noted that these Jews survived thanks to that deportation.

[Page 534 – Porat addition]

The Russians are Coming

by M. Perlman (M. Porat z”l)

Note from the second translator, Jerrold Landau: Mr. M. Porat (Perlman) the original translator of numerous sections of this book, added in his own section of testimony at this point. This section is not part of the original book. Mr. Porat prefaced his testimony with: Written by a witness after the Yizkor book was published. I (Jerrold Landau) only lightly edited it, leaving the original wording intact for the most part. Therefore, some parts of it may seem a bit rough.


The war breaks out

In June 1939 I finished the first class of Volozhin's brand new Polish gymnasia-high school. I was 15 years old. I describe this half-year period of our family's history in Volozhin under the Soviet regime, as seen through a young boy's eyes.

Our family spent the summer of 1939 in Kaldiki, a pleasant pine-forest hamlet on the Berezina shore, 10 km. from town. It was the last summer prior to the Second World War. Germany encircled Poland from East Prussia, Czechoslovakia, and the German mainland. Hitler held Poland in mortal forceps and his shadow was cast over Europe, particularly over the continent's Jewry.

That summer in all Polish cities, a song was popular whose sentimental tango melody was adopted 50 years later by N. Mikhalkov, the Russian filmmaker, as background air to his famous movie about Stalin, “The Treacherous Sun.” The sorrowful words, which all Poland was singing during the summer of 1939, were: “Today is our last Sunday, today we shall separate forever…”

The 1939 school year did not begin as usual on the first day of September. On Friday September 1st we found the school doors locked. The Warsaw Radio station, destroyed by German air raids, was silent. The brutal Nazi invasion was announced through Radio Lvov before it was silenced in its turn a day later. On the walls were stuck placards calling men aged 20 to 45 to report to mobilizing posts. Father took a bag with undergarments, socks, soap, and talcum powder. His post was in Lida. We accompanied him to the bus. Mother was in tears. The next day we were all relieved: father returned home. The chaos was enormous, and the checkpoint overcrowded. Those called to report were sent home. The Polish army, proud of its cavalry bravura, collapsed under the Wehrmacht blows.

During these splendid, colorful autumn days, Volozhin awaited its fate in a strange calmness. Father was conscious as to what we should expect from Hitler. He planned to bring us to the Soviet border. The Soviets, he said, would not refuse shelter for children.

A rumor spread on Sunday morning, September 17th: “The Germans are approaching.” The Polish functionaries destroyed documents, packed their luggage, and some of them left the town at night. I went to Smorgon Street to get from Mr. Faygenbaum, our flourmills' manager on duty, the redemption money of the previous days. It was needed to reach the Soviet border.

On my way back, an airplane, flying in contour, passed over the town. The Greyser Barg [large downhill slope], which I chose to go down, was parallel to a hillside. I clung to the ground, searching for a safe place. I was suddenly aware that hundreds of objects were flying from above, in my direction.

Fortunately, there were neither bombs nor bullets. It was simply a rain of pieces of paper. I amassed some of them and running home I read the message from the sky. It was written in Polish and Russian. “The peoples of the Soviet Union, at the demand of their brothers in the West Ukraine and Byelorussia, are stretching hands to free them from the capitalist burden.” We understood that our life would not be easy, but we would be saved from a death sentence.


The Soviets enter Volozhin

We went into the mill. Father distributed sacks of flour to the neighbors. We also took some of it into our house. As we entered our home, we heard an intense noise. Through the windows we saw an armored vehicle running in the deserted street. The tank stopped near our house. Soldiers came down to check the bridge. It was the Red Army reconnaissance patrol.

In the afternoon, the flow of invasion (liberation) troops began. First, the armored forces, tanks, carriers, trucks, motorized artillery, etc. passed. The flow continued during the whole night and on the next day. We were overwhelmed by the quantity and quality. But increasingly among the motorized transporters we could see horse-drawn carts. And the horses… We were used to seeing the proud, beautiful Polish Army horses. The horses that we saw now varied in size and color, but they were alike in their meagerness. These horses had probably been raised on Soviet agricultural collectives. We became doubtful as to the wealth and power of our new overlords.

The soldiers' behavior was outstanding, polite, and very friendly. No thievery, pillaging, robbery, beatings, or arrests occurred. The soldiers differed slightly from their commanders. The signs of rank were not pompously carried on the shoulders, as by the Polish officers, but modestly tied to the collar. When stopping to rest, they used to dance, sing, and tell stories about the wonderful achievements of the Soviet people and about the mastermind, about the prodigy and goodness of the great father and leader, Josef Stalin. Our liberators were not called soldiers (soldaty), but fighters (boytsy). At the sight of them, mother said that we should not worry about the Fanies (Yiddish nickname for Russians) coming in carts and trucks, but rather that we should be cautious about those coming in personal motorcars.

And indeed, the commissars, the true rulers, arrived. They established the new order. Crowded meetings were held in the cinema and in the fire brigade halls. The Soviet state, its regime, wealth, and achievements were praised. Jokes were transmitted from mouth to mouth about the Communists' bragging. “We have in our wealthy state all the best, even matches.” There used to be, probably sometimes, a lack of matches. But these times did not pass. During this year, a lack of many products emerged in the shops, among them sugar, white flour, and even matches. But abundant and big were the queue lines, a brand-new phenomenon in our shtetl. It was swiftly imported from Mother Russia and adopted in our country. In each place where goods were sold and to which a group of customers was attracted, a line was formed. It grew bigger hour by hour and would reach unseen dimensions.

The school doors reopened. Our Hebrew Tarbut school began teaching in Yiddish. The Polish gymnasium was converted into a Russian high school. It became filled with Jewish youth, thirsty for the education that they had been deprived of during the Polish anti-Semitic regime.

The gymnasium manager, Dr. Konopnitski, did not flee. He stayed on his job and continued his style of teaching. Once, he compared Hitler's regime to a pyramid, standing on its top and leaning on the soldier's bayonets. Our director's opinion was that during war, when the bayonets would turn to where there was a real need for them, the pyramid must collapse. The NKVD understood whom he had in mind. On the next day he was arrested and sent to the gulag land, from which he never returned.

Pani (Mrs.) Kopylova, our director's spouse, taught us natural sciences. She was exiled to Siberia after her husband's arrest.

New comrades joined our narrow circle of Jewish students. We used to meet on the long winter evenings, satisfied with what had happened around. We had a real sense of the historical events we witnessed. We organized mini meetings in which satirical sayings about the new order and lifestyle were expressed for fun: “Sugar like sugar, but emotions are many: assemblies, weddings, and parties inside, and lines without end extend on the streets…”

The new rulers attracted Communist sympathizers to work in their institutions. Among the fortunate persons accepted were some Volozhin Jews. One could see people rising and becoming instantly rich and powerful.

Some of our friends changed their attitude towards the new underdogs. Once, returning from a Soviet mass meeting, my best friend Hayke di Kadelihe's sister told me, “Your capitalist's good time is over; from now on, everything that is yours belongs to us; we will enjoy life and you should perish.” I am not sad. I recall the poor girl's harsh words without any anger.

The new authorities did confiscate both of Volozhin's ground-sawmills (Polak's and Rapoport-Perlman's). The mills were “returned to the people” and unified into a single wood plant. Father was dismissed and sent to work in the woods in the vicinity. Grandfather Hirsh Malkin was also employed at similar work.

Once, Father returned from the forest completely outraged. At night police officers intruded into the peasant's home in which father used to sleep during his work in the woods. The “people's emissaries” ordered the peasant to assemble his family and to pack the most necessary belongings. The entire family, men and women, children, and old people, were put into carts and transported to the nearest railroad station. It was Stalin's first mass transfer action. Thousands of citizens of Polish nationality had been settled by the Polish government during the twenty years of its rule in the eastern territories on the Russian frontiers. Stalin's NKVD (The People's Interior Ministry Police) repaired the demographic problem. During one night, most of the Polish settlers (osadniki) were loaded on special trains and resettled far in Siberia.

The Graf's estate, after serving as the Polish military unit headquarters, became the headquarters of the Soviet NKVD (predecessor to the KGB). In the cellars of the elegant Belvedere-style Graf's palace were detained the arrested “people's enemies.” Among them was my father in 1940. The building now houses the Volozhin Belarus police unit.


The arrest and exile

Six months after the Russians took Volozhin, they penetrated our home. What mother had feared finally occurred.

On a springtime evening in March 1940, our parents were listening to the radio, I was reading, and Sonitshka was asleep in her bed. We heard knocking at the door. It was opened. An NKVD agent with two local citizens entered. The three searched all closets, wardrobes, and chests. The police officer ordered my father to dress. Father took the prepared bundle of underwear. He separated from us. Prior to his leaving, Father said that he surely would be home by Passover, because he never did any evil to anyone. He kissed the sleeping 10-year-old Sonitshka, his beloved daughter, and went out into the dark, escorted by the three of them. It was the last time we saw and heard our father. He was forty-two years old.

Mother went from door to door. She begged for help from the new elite to free our father. One of the suddenly powerful promised, a second claimed that he could not help, and the third answered mockingly.

Passover 5700 (1940) became a holiday of fear and hope. We hoped that father would soon be home; we were afraid and anxious for his future. Mother carried bundles with food and underwear to the prison door. Did he receive them? Did they pass the bundles to him? How long did he live after the arrest? When, where and how did he meet his death?

There were rumors that our father, Yosef Perlman, was driven to a gulag camp in the Siberian forests prior to the German invasion, and that he was killed in an accident involving a falling tree.

On Friday morning April 13, 1940, our grandfather's voice woke us up: “They took out the Polak and Rapoport families; it looks like they will come also for you.” On the ropes in the attic (boydem) many pieces of laundry were hanging to dry. We took them down still damp. At home were two large woven-wood suitcases. We prepared them for packing. In the meantime, they appeared: the NKVD agent with his two local aides. In front of us, the agent read the official document: As individuals not reliable to the Soviet government, we are to be expelled from the border country and transferred to resettle in the central regions of the Soviet Union. We were ordered to pack what we could manage in the suitcases in two hours time and to put them into the peasant horse-drawn cart that was waiting. We were driven in this cart to the Horod'k railway station.

We passed the Volozhynka wooden bridge, continued through the Greyser Barg, turned to the small downward slope where we passed by the Belokortser's house and our Malkin grandparents' domicile. The horse slowly continued its way over the marketplace in front of Grandma Malka's rabbinical residence, and then through the Vilna Street past our birth house to the end of town. There were many farewells on our way. Grandparents, relatives, family friends, neighbors, and schoolmates got out on our road to say goodbye. “The entire shtetl was in tears” were our mother's words when she would tell about our exodus from our birthplace.

We did not know that this departure saved us from complete destruction, which was the final fate of all the inhabitants who remained in Volozhin. We were on our way to Siberia, to our new destiny.

Goodbye to our birthplace, to our Litvak-shtetl style of life, to our Litvak-Yiddish mameloshn (mother language), to our grandparents, to all our relatives and friends, to all my sister's schoolmates and mine, to all whose destiny would be to vanish, to be erased from the living world, forever.

[End of Mr. Perlman Porat's addition]

[Page 534]

The Destruction of Volozhin

Translated by Jerrold Landau. First paragraph only translated
by Mr. M. Porat z”l and edited by Jerrold Landau

The Yeshiva's existence was terminated in September 1939 with the coming of the Soviets. The Yeshiva head, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, had passed away prior to the outbreak of the war. His son-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Wolkin (son of the Pinsker Rabbi), who served as his replacement, was secretly transferred by me with his family and the family of Rabbi Yaakov Shapira to Vilna, which then belonged to Lithuania. The Yeshiva building was then turned into a restaurant, frequented by various drunkards. The inhabitants of the city, who considered the Yeshiva to be their crown, were very sick about this. Unfortunately, it was impossible to overturn the decree. It should be noted that the guard of the restaurant in the Yeshiva, Gedalya Mordechai Widrovitsh, requested Wiener, the owner of the restaurant to release him from his duties, because he lived every night in great terror. In the middle of the night, he heard the sounds of learning and singing, as if in the winds! Wiener laughed at this. One night, he even guarded the restaurant himself. When, late at night, he heard the learning and singing, he fled from the building in a faint. From that time, he was afraid of entering there even during the day.[1]

The Germans entered Volozhin on July 25, 1941. They bombarded the city with artillery and caused fires by dropping incendiary bombs from airplanes prior to marching in. When the German tanks entered the city, they shot the following residents: Chaim Eliyahu Perski, Alter Shimshelevitch, Pesach Mazeh, and later Berman. As soon as the Germans settled in the city, the local Christians

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immediately began to pillage the Soviet and Jewish goods from the remaining shops. Two weeks later, a Judenrat was formed by order of the Gestapo. It consisted of twelve members, and was headed by Yaakov Barber. The Judenrat's job was to carry out the ordinances of the Gestapo and the local authorities, such as providing workers, and carrying out various demands to collect money, jewelry, leather, and manufactured goods for the Gestapo and local authorities. Things went on in this way for two months until the ghetto was created.

In August 1941, the ghetto was created in the lower part of the city, called Aroptzu. Approximately 3,500 people lived in only 50-60 houses. These consisted of Jews from Volozhin itself as well as those who came from surrounding towns, such as Vishneve, Halshan [Olshan], and Oshmiany. There were also Jews who had escaped from Vilna. All the Jews had to wear yellow patches. There was no limit to the persecution of the Jews. Jews had to go to various difficult jobs in the fields and forests, paving the streets, etc. Handworkers and other specialists worked in their trades, but they only received two grams of bread per person, not more. Jews obtained goods from the surrounding peasants with great difficulty, for they had to give away their most expensive possessions. An Ordnungspolizei was formed, consisting of thirty men, under the leadership of the civic teacher Gliker.

Before that time, a certain lawyer, Stanislaw Turski returned to the city. He had previously been sent to Kartuz-Bereza as an extreme Endeke (N.D. Narodowa Demokratia), as well as for misdemeanors in his work. Turski now connected himself with the anti-Semites of the city, with the barber Baranski and others. He initiated a disgusting anti-Jewish agitation among the peasants. That anti-Semite very quickly became the mayor [Burgermeister], and he immediately began to carry out his bloody plans. Already on his second day on the job, he began to arrest many Jews, including the beloved Jewish city feldsher [medic] Avraham Tzart, his daughter Nechama, Chaim Tzirulnik, Aharon Galperin, Shimon Lavit, and Lipa Tzimerman. On account of his intervention, they were all taken out the day after their arrest and shot behind the city.

The civic police consisted of former bandits from the surrounding villages,under the leadership of the S.S. They were urged on by the local anti-Semites. They would attack the Jews and beat them with death blows. In this way, the police officer Minkewicz (son of a Polish policeman), who was in Anders' army,

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broke both hands of the Jewish woman Freidl Rozen, and then shot her. The girl Roze Berman was shot and then tossed in in a latrine. Shachna Paretzki was murderously beaten and then shot.

On October 28, 1941 (7 Cheshvan 5702) Maka, the S.S. man of the Volozhin Gestapo arrived in the ghetto and demanded that the Judenrat provide a large quantity of leather, which was to be collected within two hours.

On 14 Cheshvan 5702 (November 4, 1941), that selfsame Maka again arrived, accompanied by five S.S. men, and demanded that the Judenrat call together the Jews of the ghetto for a meeting. In the meantime, he beat the Jewish policeman so that they would gather the crowd more quicky. When a large number had gathered, Maka selected approximately two hundred elderly people and children, and sent them away. He ordered that the remaining crowd be prodded into the city movie theater, apparently for a meeting. They locked the people in, and took out ten people to the adjacent sports place and shot them there. When this became known in the ghetto, the Judenrat immediately collected a large sum of money and goods, and gave them over to the bandit Maka, who stopped the aktion against the remaining approximately 150 people., whom he allowed to return to the ghetto. Over two hundred Jews were murdered in that aktion, including the chairman of the Judenrat Yaakov Garber. At first, Garber, together with the Judenrat and ghetto police, helped gather the people into the movie theater. However, when he realized that the situation was very serious, he, Garber, stopped doing his duty, and went into the hall, thereby sharing the fate of the other Jews of the ghetto.

After carrying out the aktion, the White Russian-Polish police, together with the surrounding peasants, took the best items, including the jewelry, from the victims, removed their gold teeth, and then called forty Jews to bury the dead. During the aktion, the young Yaakov Finger succeeded in escaping from the sports place, along with the youths Tzafin and Zecharia Beiklin, who were wounded. They came to the ghetto and described what they had seen and experienced. This all instilled terror into the Jews of the ghetto, and broke them further.

After the slaughter, a few families were taken to work in the nearby town of Krasna, where they were later also killed. The people who remained in the ghetto lived in terrifying conditions, and in fear of death. One day, S.S. men entered a house in which Jews used to worship. They

[Page 537]

took a Torah scroll, tore off the Eitz Chaims [the wooden poles of the scroll], unrolled it alongside the house, and trampled it with their dirty boots. A few days later, they came once again and took about 35 Jews, laid them atop the Torah scroll, and shop them.

The winter of 1942 was a very difficult one in the ghetto, even though there were no aktions until the spring. The local anti-Semites, such as the lawyer Krestianw, Turski, and others, did not stop leading their campaign against the Jews, and demanded that they all be liquidated.

On May 10, 1942 (23 Iyar, 5702), at 5:00 a.m., the ghetto was surrounded by the S.S. and police. They quicky broke into the ghetto, shot the two Jewish police officers, Yochanan Klein and Yitzchak Narusevitch, at the gate, and began to shoot in the ghetto. Many people fell. They, they began to prod the Jews into the smithy that the Russians had built on Mashtshika Street, not far from the Aroptzu Kloiz. All those they captured, about eight hundred people, were locked inside. The crowding was terrible, and the screaming of the children was indescribable. The S.S. shot into the crowd so that they would be quiet.

The Halshaner [Olshaner] Rabbi, Rabbi Reuven Chadash, who was also present, told the crowd that they should break the ovens, everyone should take a brick, a stone, or some metal they should break down the doors, throw the objects at the S.S. and run away. Yisrael Lunin, a member of the Judenrat said that temporary life is also good, and he did not permit this to take place.

The S.S. chief called the Judenrat member Aharon Kamenecki and ordered him to clean his boots. As soon as Kamenecki bent down, the chief shot him in the head with a bullet. When the crowd saw this, they began to crawl through the roof. The Germans noticed this and opened fire. Several people, including Mordechai Molot and others, succeeded in escaping. The entire crowd was held on a hot day under terribly stifling conditions from 5:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Then they began to partially lead out women, children, and the elderly. They brought them to the yard of Bulowa the peasant, next to the Jewish cemetery. There, the chief of the S.S. himself shot them all with an automatic rifle. After shooting the people, they burnt them together with the peasant's house. It is proper to note that the groups of Jews being led out to be shot were accompanied by music from the local peasants. Many elderly

[Page 538]

people went to their deaths wearing their tallises and kittels. On that day, another approximately eight hundred Jews were murdered through the hunt of Jews throughout the city. They were shot in the cellars and other hiding places. The Jews lay unburied for three days. When they were taken to be buried, the peasants threw dead dogs and cats and garbage upon the corpses.

(From The Final Destructions, chronicles of the history of Jewish life during the Nazi regime, editor Y. Kaplan, Munich, June 1948, Number 8, pages 75-79)


The Netzi'v and the Etz Chaim Yeshiva on the Brink of Destruction

I know a story that was told during the days of the Second World War regarding the Etz Chaim Yeshiva, which was headed at one time by the Netzi'v. That story from the Second World War comes from the same eternal wings that ascend from the dream that my father dreamt during the time of the First World War. In the dream, the Netzi'v was delivering a class to the Jews from behind the pargod[2]. He cited a verse from the Torah portion of Bechukotai in a version different than ours, in a version that is not from this world. In the story, a Yeshiva concealed from the eye, the Volozhin Yeshiva from behind the pargod, continued to occupy itself with learning even after its destruction in the palpable world – and even if it was not seen by the eye, it was heard by the ear. In the dream, he who had been the head of the Yeshiva of Volozhin poured out his wrath upon Czarist Russia, and spoke many things, cut off and panicked. The content of all of them – curse after curse, each worse than the previous. He called out the “reproof”[3] in full, and turned it upon the heads of the murderers and pillagers, the enemies of Israel. Thereby, the Yeshiva of Volozhin, which had disappeared from the eye, poured out fear upon the “Red” Russians.

The teller tells as follows: During the Second World War, after the Red Army had conquered the eastern border of Poland, the building of the Yeshiva of Volozhin turned in to some sort of a tavern for soldiers. The guard in charge of the building heard at night the voices of the disappeared Torah studiers. The invisible Yeshiva students sang in their Torah voices in the silence of the night, and the fear of G-d fell upon those who heard their voices. His superior did not believe his words, so he himself stood on guard one night. He heard the voices and he too fled in terror. The Yeshiva of Volozhin existed as it was – behind the pargod. The voices of Torah had returned to their source. Just as Torah had not stopped from the mouth of the Netzi'v in my father's dream, and the Jews from behind the pargod were sitting with him in his place and listening, so too the learning did not cease from the mouths of the Yeshiva students who were sitting invisibly and occupying themselves in what they do. Through their voices, the voice of Jacob, they instilled fear and terror upon those who destroyed and desecrated the place of Torah.

(Hadoar, issue 39, 10 Marcheshvan 5725 [1964], pages 752-755)

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Mr. Porat's original translation stopped at this point. Return
  2. The pargod refers to the mystical Heavenly partition between G-d and the angels, or G-d and those in the Other World, and the physical world. Return
  3. The reproof [tochacha] is the litany of maledictions in Leviticus 26:14-43, included in the Torah portion of Bechukotai. The second tochacha is found in the Torah portion of Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 28:15-69. Return


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