By Yaakov Kagan
Translated by M. Porat zl
Edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel
I went to Vilna immediately after the outbreak of the German-Polish war with the purpose of making Aliya from there. I lived in Vilna for two years but did not succeed in accomplishing my heart's desire. I returned home after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. I wanted to be together with my family in hours of trouble. From afar I saw Volozhin in flames. I found many Volozhiners near the Bialik mount evading the flames. I entered the town. On its streets many Germans walked about. They did not stop me from entering our home.
The Germans sent us to different sorts of hard labor. I worked as the steam engine stoker at Perlman-Rapoport grist mill. I became friends there with Kadirko the chief machinist. Polish policemen with Gestapo men entered the mill one day and gathered all the Jewish workers and conducted them to a reunion. Kadirko did not allow me to go, telling them that without my help he would be obliged to stop the mill. But I was not quiet - I had bad feelings. Returning to the Ghetto I saw many Jews waiting for the lecturer. I understood that there would not be a lecture and that it was not an innocent reunion. I evaded the line and returned to my work.
On the way I went to Kapushtcina where usefulmen were working on building a road. I warned them not to go back home. We went with my brother Nohim into the Solonoy hamlet. We entered a shanty where linen was dried. The gentiles chased us away. For lack of choice we returned to Volozhin. We heard there that a murderous Aktion took place during our absence, but that now life continued normally. The Jews continued to work and I returned to myengine at the grist mill. After some time some of Jews, among them my brother Kopl and me, were brought to work in the forest near Bielokorets. We lived in a shack in the woods. Yoda who previously was the police commander in Ytskove was now the forest works surveyor.
In the woods we met Russian prisoners of war. They conveyed wood logs to the saw mills in Volozhin. Once they told us that in the near future flowers would grow in the forest. Thus were the partisan units called. They disappeared and after some time they appeared anew, this time they were armed. They suggested that we join them. We refused their proposition; we could not leave our families alone. The partisans did not insist. We continued our labor in the woods till the second mass slaughter on May 10th 1942.
On my way to Volozhin one day before the Aktion, I stopped in Kapustin hamlet to take a bottle with milk there. I encountered there a Goy from Volozhin. He told me that partisans killed three Germans on their way to Horod'ki rail station. He advised me not to enter Volozhin because the Jews were suspected of being responsible for this attack. I did not obey and continued my way.
Volozhin was astonishingly calm. On the streets some Gestapo men walked about. Walking Jews were not disturbed inside the Ghetto and outside it. Nobody paid them any attention. The Judenrat was ordered to prepare three garlands. Gestapo men calmed the Jewish representatives telling them not to bother because no Jews were suspected in killing the three Germans. The Jews sensed there was no truth in their calming words, they awaited serious events. Shneur Kivilevitsh with the Jewish policemen conferred at the Judenrat office until late in the night. He returned home at two o clock after they did not find any sign for a worry alarm.
Miryam Weysbord knocked on our window at four before sunrise. She said: Rise up something very bad is happening in the Ghetto. We dressed in hurry. We heard shooting. Soldiers broke into the doors of our neighbors. With Kopl we entered our garden from which through a secret outlet we arrived at the bridge in Minsker, (now Shtsherbina) Street. An armed soldier stood on the bridge. Taking advantage of the soldier's momentary lack of concentration I crossed the bed stream and ran away in the direction of Ponizhe, Novogrudski (now Pushkin) Street. After some minutes Kopl joined me. He was wounded. The soldier shot and the bullet hit his shoulder. We continued our flight together. We arrived to the Islotsh River and crossed it in a canoe we found on the shore. We wandered in the woods from shtetl to shtetl. We passed Krasne, Volozhin and finally we arrived to the Oshmene Ghetto. Rumors passed that the Oshmene Jews would be transferred to a working camp in Vilna surroundings. The Judenrat asked Ganz the head of Vilna Jewish police to clarify the truth of the rumors regarding the extermination of the Oshmene Ghetto. Ganz hurried and arrived immediately. He gathered the Jews and calmed them telling that the rumors were without any basis. Any attempt to escape into the woods to join partisan groups would endanger the Ghetto Jews.
Many among us had already heard such assurances and did not believe Ganz's promises. Some Ghetto medical doctors began to prepare a group to escape into the forest with medical materials to join the Partisans. We joined the group. We contacted the nearby Partisans. They approved our plan under the condition that a mobile clinic would be brought with us. We sent emissaries to Vilna who succeeded in getting the necessary materials.
Prior to the Ghetto extermination a German officer appeared in the carpentry shop where I worked. He told me that to his knowledge a Jewish group was planning to escape into the forest and he desired to save a brother with his sister from a Jewish family. The officer would supply them with two rifles and grenades. He fulfilled his promise. The brother and sister joined our group. The medical material was sent and arrived successfully. We planned to take the arms with us and to leave them on the way. A German guard disturbed our plan. We returned to Oshmene. At night we repeated our escape attempt. We arrived to Bukatovo near Vishnievo. We encountered a partisan patrol there. They received us in a friendly way. During my service I met some Volozhiners among them Hessl Perski and Eliezer Rogovin.
Our first assignment was weapons attainment. We went to Baksht where we bought rifles with ammunition. We also contacted there the Staritskipartisan unit, where Eliezer Rogovin served as commander of a miner's group. I found there also Motl Mlot, Yosef Girkus and other Volozhiners.
We got many arms and passed hard trainings. I joined the reconnaissance group. Our action area included Volozhin and its surroundings. I contacted an acquaintance who was a Goy who assisted me to enter the town to look if there were survivors. I found the Veissbord family, Ele Der Shlosser the Locksmith, Hatskl his son and his daughter Rashl, the sisters Rivke Ipte and Rokhl Perski and Pinkhas the Black Smith from Aroptsu. I asked them to go with me in the woods. I told them that there was not any hope of surviving inside the town. They refused. I came again and again. I did not stop trying to persuade them. Finally I succeeded. But when I came to conduct them as we had agreed there was nobody to go with me. I was told that they were transferred to Vileyka. Such was the end of the Volozhin Ghetto.
Patrolling near Shapoval I helped our partisan unit to destroy a group of Germans. During this fight I was wounded. I was brought to our camping place in the woods whence they transferred me airborne to a hospital in Homel. After recovering I was sent to the partisan headquarters in Shevroki (near Homel). Here I met Eliezer Rogovin who was seriously wounded in one of the battles.
With the liberation of Volozhin I returned there from Shevroki. I found a handful of survivors from our town: Pnina (Peshke) Potashnik, Yehuda Yosef Potashnik, Shayke Lavit with his brother in law, Leybe Lavit, the Skloot brothers, Leybke Liberman, Mariyashe Kagan (Zukerkopf) with her husband, Motl Mlot, Zelig Meltser, Tsofen with his wife, Mendl Goldshmit with his wife, Shmuel Perski and Mintser with his wife.
After working a couple of months at the grist mill in Pershay (12 Km. south from Volozhin) I was sent to Ivianitz. Kopl worked there at the recruiting center. We moved to Poland together. Finally I made Aliya to the land of Israel in 1947.
Yankele Kagan was member in the Irgun Tsvayi Leumi the rightist underground organization commanded by Menahem Begin. He was seriously wounded preparing ammunition in the Irgun's undercover laboratory. Yankele the partisan lost an eye and burnt his face. The scar was with him all his life. In Israel he was happily welcomed by the Tel Aviv Volozhiners especially by Bela Saliternik (Kramnik). She arranged his marriage to Rivka, a girl who survived the Shoah in Poland. The wedding ceremony was lead by Rabbi Langbord the last Volozhin town Rabbi. Bela told me that for Yankele Kagan's marriage she baked 10 (ten) cakes. He was very active at the Volozhin descendants organization's committee. Yakov Kagan passed away after Rivka was deceased, leaving a daughter with grand children in Ness Ziyona in 1998.
by Simcha Rogovin of Kiryat-Haim
Translated by Jerrold Landau
I will tell about the death of Nissan Perski in these few lines. Seemingly, what is the reason to tell about the death of an individual when the entire community of Volozhin was destroyed. However, this death was one of a kind.
I escaped with my family to Horodok one day before the entry of the Germans. We could not continue our escape because the Germans ruled over the entire area. I was imprisoned in the Horodok Ghetto. After time, they took about fifty lads from there, I among them, and transferred us to Molodeczno. The work was very difficult and backbreaking. When the situation became unbearable, and I realized I could not continue to hold out any longer in that torture camp, I escaped from there with three other Jews. To our good fortune, we did not meet a Polish or German police officer along the way. We entered an isolated house in a grove. The gentile who lived there treated us mercifully and showed us the way to the partisans.
We walked on foot to the village of Rudki on the Islach River. There, we met two Jews from the Krasno Ghetto. The villagers related to us in a humane fashion and employed us with different jobs. At first, the partisans refused to accept us because rumors were spreading that the Jew were involved in spying for the Germans. However, after much urging, they agreed to accept us to their unit.
Even after we were accepted, the partisans warned us that if any trace of duplicity would be found among us, our blood would be upon us. After a week, we were commanded to obtain arms and to be prepared for action.
On one of the actions of bombing a train, we found out that Nissan Perski was hiding in an isolated house next to the city of Rakow. After the successful execution of the action, I took bread, salt and butter with me. I went out with my unit late at night to save Nissan. I reached the hiding place and knocked on the window. Since I spoke Yiddish, the door opened, and I entered. When I entered, a man was groaning under the oven. This was Nissan. He was downtrodden, and his entire body was trembling. I told him that I had come to save him. He should come with me to the forest, join the partisans, and remain alive. However, he asked me to leave him, since he had become accustomed to the place and decided to remain there until the salvation would come. He regarded this house as a protection from tribulations. I did not succeed in convincing Nissan to join me, so I left full of worry and fear for his life. About a half a year later, I found out that the Germans set the house on fire and Nissan Perski went up in flames.
by Mendel Volkovich, Netanya
Translated by Jerrold Landau
I was one of the survivors of the third slaughter. I was taken to work the Krasno camp. They made me work at the building of bunks and in porterage at the railway station. After some time, they transferred me to work in the sawmill. Tovia Slyowski, Yehuda Yosef Pucznik, Yaakov Kagan, Eli Yaakov Rogovin, Leizer Nul from Horodok, and a barber from Vishnyeva worked there.
On the Sabbath of Elul 9, 5702 (August 22, 1942), we found out that the Germans were planning to liquidate the Krasno Ghetto and the labor camp, and to take out all the Jews to be killed. We decided to escape from the camp beforehand. The escape was fraught with great difficulties. We crawled among the heaps of lumber that were in the sawmill. We climbed from heap to heap until we approached the road. We crossed it quickly and entered the grove.
We removed our Magen David [patches] and set out for the forests of Horodok. We sat down to rest in the forest. Suddenly, we heard Yiddish being spoken. We saw before us a group of Jews who had fled from the Krasno Ghetto and Camp, the majority from Horodok and the minority of Volozhin. Among the Volozhiners were the brothers Hershel and Moshel Skliot and the brothers Areh and Zelig Rogovin.
Our food supplies ran out. It was difficult to obtain food because the gentiles of the area were anti-Semitic. So as not to die from hunger, we carved forms of guns from branches. We threatened the gentiles with these weapons that if they do not give us food, their blood will be upon them. The gentiles were frightened of the sticks that resembled guns and gave us an abundance of food.
Through the energy of this eating, we reached Pershai, (a large farm between Volozhin and Ivaniec, from where the routes between the Nlibok steppes and the forests of Volozhin cross). We could not go on the highway, for it was guarded by the Gestapo men. Therefore, we went on tortuous routes. We reached a pond that was about forty meters long. We measured the depths of the water with a stick. The beach was shallow. However, as we advanced, the water got deeper until it reached our necks. We were concerned about going further out of fear of drowning. However, Hershel Skliot urged us on, telling us that we were casting away our lives, for death was pursuing us from behind. We crossed the pond in peace.
Dawn had already broken when we arrived in Pershai. We were wary of resting there because flights were splitting the air. We went to the Volozhin forests. We saw traces of tanks, humans, horses, and dogs in the forest. Many corpses were wallowing between the trees. Yaakov Kagan and I felt the hand of one victim, and it was still warm, proving that the person had only recently been killed.
I had a friend in this area, a gentile named Yoda. I went to him and asked him to explain the killings. He told me that three days earlier, the Germans had surrounded the forests and started shooting. They conducted a search for partisans and Jews. He advised me to escape from the area. I returned to the forests and told my friends about the bitter fate about which Yoda had told me.
Hershel and Moshe Skliot, and Zelig Rogovin decided to return to the Krasno camp. This decision was like suicide. Therefore, we accompanied them with sadness and agony. Tovia Slyowski told me that he intended to go to Krewo[Kreva]. He had formerly served there as a teacher, and was much loved by the householders, especially by the rabbi of the city. He advised me to join him. I agreed. Yaakov Kagan and Yehuda Yosef Pucznik also accompanied us. We arrived in peace to the Krewo Ghetto. This was on the first night of Rosh Hashanah 5703 (September 12, 1942). Tovia and I entered the house of the rabbi. Yaakov Kagan and Yosef Pucznik went to a different house.
The rabbi lifted his eyes and was very astonished, for he could not identify me at all. He was astonished at Tovia's appearance, which had changed due to the troubles and tribulations. The rabbi invited us to eat the festive meal which was nothing more than the bread of affliction., for the Jews were starving due to a lack of food. However, the warm reception of the rabbi satiated us. We recited the blessing on the food and lay down to sleep on the ground. The next day, we went to worship in the synagogue. We prayed with broken, trembling hearts. The Unetaneh Tokef prayer expressed the situation. We knew that we were all awaiting, Who by fire, and who by water, who by sword, and who by beast.
After lunch, we consulted with the rabbi about what to do. The rabbi said that Tovia could remain in his house because everyone knew him as a resident of Krewo. But I must leave, for the police was conducting searches in the houses for Jewish refugees who escaped from other camps.
The Judenrat also demanded that I leave the ghetto, for my presence endangered the lives of the Jews.
I parted from my good friend Tovia with great agony. (He was later taken out to be killed by the partisans, with no iniquity on his side.) I went to Smargon, where they registered me in the name of someone who had been killed. After a few days, a truck arrived from the Zizmiria [iemariai] camp in Lithuania to get workers. The Smargon Judenrat announced that anyone who wishes to travel to Zizmiria was permitted to do so. I decided to travel there, for my heart told me that life in a labor camp was more secure. I arrived in the evening. The camp was surrounded by a tall, barbed wire fence. The imprisoned Jews looked at me with surprise.
After a brief conversation with several of them, we walked together to the Kol Nidre service. We worshiped silently out of fear of the Gestapo. The next day, Yom Kippur, each of us was given one hundred grams of bread and coffee. They removed us from the bunks, lined us up in lines, conducted a roll call, and we were sent to work. During the work, we succeeded in making contact with the outside world. Thanks to those contacts, I remained alive.
By Rachel & Reuven Rogovin
Translated by M. Porat zl
Edited by Judy Montel
The Rogovins (the authors) were born in Volozhin, Rachel in 1906, Reuven in 1904. They married there, worked and lived there and fled the town with their two children to escape the Nazis, going to Tadzhikistan. At the end of the war the family came to Riga, and went to Israel in the early fifties. Reuven Rogovin was devoted to Volozhin. He expressed his love in many stories about the shtetl's colorful folksy types. Some of them he described and offered his articles to the Volozhin Yizkor Book. See: Reb Itshe der Balegole (coachman), Reb Hayim der Shnayder (the tailor), Reb Eyzer Der Raznoshtshik (postman) etc.
We fled Volozhin at night, four days after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. The day before we arranged our valuables in our neighbor's, Sholom Leyb Rubinstein's cave. We left the town empty handed. Our son Grisha took his bicycle. Reuven left wearing slippers. Good friends persuaded him that in soft slippers the walking would be easier. After some kilometers of stony road his slippers were torn exposing the bare flesh of his feet.
We felt better when we arrived at Mizheyk. Here we met many horse-drawn carts. Some of them transported Volozhin families: the Semernitski brothers, Berl Spector, Avrom Mlot, Khatskl der Olshaner, Hershl Sheyniuk with his wife and others. They had left the town before us and wanted to hear news from Volozhin. We told them that although it seemed quiet now, it was not a sign for the future. We wanted to cross the Russian frontier with them. But they decided to return home. They had run away, Avrom Mlot told us, because they had been afraid of the bombings. Now that Volozhin was peaceful they would go back. The entire group went back directly into the lion's muzzle, into the Nazi hands. All of them were murdered.
We continued to walk and arrived into Rakov. There we met acquaintances, who received us cordially. Khayke Rubentshik (Guetsl Perski's sister) invited us to leave the children with her family. She promised to guard them. The Germans, she said, are after Communists and their assistants only; they will not do any harm to Jews and to Jewish children. We did not depend on the good woman's German expertise; we left Rakov taking our children with us.
At night we arrived at the 1939 frontier. We found there a crowd of refugees. But the military guards closed the passageway and forbade passing it.
Having no other choice we returned to Rakov. On the way we met Leybke Hayim der Slovensker's son. Wearing a military coat, he told us that he brought wives and children of Soviet Officers on his cart to the frontier. He advised us to try the frontier passing in Volma, 15 Km from Rakov. We went in this direction. To our sorrow we found also this passage blocked. At noon we heard firing and saw people advancing on carts eastward. Leybke harnessed his horse and we succeeded in passing the frontier.
We arrived in the town of Derzhinsk. Here Leybke announced that he was returning home. Our arguments did not help. He left us the horse and cart and returned into the lion's muzzle, where he perished with all of our shtetl's inhabitants.
After some days of travel Leybke's horse lost his vigor and was not able to advance any more. We rested perplexed not knowing from where help might come. It appeared in the form of a gentile boy riding on a horse. He was ready to exchange his horse for Grisha's bicycle. Grisha agreed.
We harnessed the new horse and travelled swiftly to Mstsislav (near Mohilev), where a mobilization office was in operation. It was announced that all men under the age of 50 should report to military service. I (Reuven) reported myself and was quickly nominated as Politrook (Political Supervisor) of the third battalion in the Soviet Red Army.
I obtained two hours leave to bid my family farewell. We did not know where our fate would move us. We agreed that if we survived we should search for one other at my aunt's home in Stalinabad, now Dushambe in Tadzhikistan. Rachel with the children Etele and Grisha finally did arrive to Stalinabad. They were provided with an apartment. Rachel obtained a job and the children went to school.
I participated in many Crimea battles: in Perekop, Simferopol, Feodesia and Sebastopol. In the last town I was wounded and sent to a hospital in Uzbekistan. Major Dumin, a wounded officer, who was hospitalized with me, helped me to find my aunt and through her my family. My wife and children visited me. Two months later I was strong enough to leave the hospital and join the family.
My son Grisha volunteered into the Red Army at the age of fifteen. At the end of 1942 he was heavily wounded in the Stalingrad battle.
By Hessl Perski
Translated by M. Porat zl
Edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel
The first to run to the forest and to join partisan units were Etele and Yosef Rogovin (Their father was called Hershl Der Bunier). They called Jews that were imprisoned in the Ghetto to follow their example. I responded to their call and joined the OTRIAD- partisan unit in which Etele was the kommandir's wife. I was skilled in Volozhin vicinity's ways. The kommandir put five partisans under my command and we went to bring down trains from the rails on the Volozhin-Bogdanovo line.
We succeeded in bringing down seven wagons with material for the front. Thus began my life as a partisan. Also on my second and third missions German trains were brought down from the rails. We went with my otriad to the vicinity of Molodetshno. We put a mine beneath the rails some four Km. from town. Two wagons transporting soldiers blew up. There were many Germans killed and wounded.
From left: Mendl Volkovitsh, Luba Volkovitsh, Yakov Kagan, Hessl Perski, Pnina Potashnik
Once we went to Yourashtshok near Lida. There we blew up a bridge on the Nyman River. Many Germans found their death drowning in the river. In meantime some trains backed up awaiting the bridge repairs. We took careof them too.
Due to those successes I was bestowed with a citation by the commander of the Kuznietsov-Tshkalov Partisan Unit.
Later we were sent to fight the Germans face to face. We initiated the occupation of Horodok. It was bloody battle. We held the Shtetl in our hands for half a day. We lost twenty five partisans during this fight.
On the way back we were ordered to destroy some buildings in a big farm near Horodok . We penetrated the farm and blew it up in fire. We did not bear any losses in this action.
After Volozhin was liberated I joined an artillery Battalion in the Red Army. Its code was Death to the Germans. I reached East Prussia, where I was wounded for the first time. A month later I recovered and returned to my unit. I was wounded again on May 2nd 1945 one week before the Victory. As a result of this wounding I remained disabled for the rest of my life.
I was hospitalized for three months, gravely ill in Baku. After recovering somewhat I came to Minsk where I received my awards of excellence.
by Hessl Perski
Translated by M. Porat zl
Edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel
Bernstein was born in Volozhin on 1920, son to Avraham and Rivka. He was a hand worker like his parents. The Nazis enclosed him in the Ghetto. He escaped when the the Jews were conducted to the second Aktion. He was caught and brought to the Krasne Ghetto. The Germans stored arms in this Ghetto. Bernstein organized a group together with Tsvi Lunin, Eliezer Rogovin and Mordkhay Kaganovitsh. They began to accumulate arms and to hide them. They succeeded in running away with the arms. The partisan unit which they wanted to join refused to receive them and tried to take their arms. The group did not agree and fought the greedy unit. Finally they organized an independent Jewish partisan unit which was named Staritski Otriad.
Yishayahu was dominated by one sole purpose - to avenge the enemies for the innocent blood. I did not meet him right away. He spent entire days in ambush; he planted mines on the German soldiers' ways. He fell when blowing up a bridge. Not far from the bridge a German post was situated about which Yishayahu did not know. The Germans began shooting at him. He defended himself shooting back at them. He drowned in the river when his ammunition came to an end.
Miryam was born in 1923 in Volozhin to Leyzer and Beyla. She ran with her parents to Bielokorets hamlet when the Germans occupied Volozhin. There Miryam joined a partisan unit by the name of Stalin.
She was ordered to mobilize additional members to the unit from the Volozhin Ghetto. There the Germans forced her to work in their kitchen. At work Miryam overheard a woman telling a German soldier that she had been sent by the partisans. Knowing they expected her, Mirele Goloventshitz caught a cleaver and crushed his skull.
The day afterwards, Mireleh Goloventshits' body was found near the Kostiol (Polish church) in the market place.
Translator's note: The Goloventshits house with their haberdashery store was located on the other side of the Minsker Street, the street where we lived. The Goloventshits girls learned in the same school in which I learned, Frumke a class lower, Mirele a class higher. Miryam Goloventshits was a real beauty and a very talented girl. She certainly was one of the most beautiful young ladies of Volozhin.
Tsvi Hirshl Lunin
Hessl Perski, a renowned partisan describes Volozhin born Partisans who fell with their weapons, among them Tsvi (Hirshke) Lunin, R' Isroel Lunin's son.
Tsvi was born in Volozhin in 1921, son of Isroel and Sheyna Lunin. He ran away from the Volozhin Ghetto. He was caught by the Germans and brought to the Krasne Ghetto. There he worked for a while and was able to buy a rifle. He ran away once more, this time to the partisans. Hirshl joined the unit named Staritski. He was entrusted with the dangerous duty of following German movements and mining their vehicles.
Hirshl, at the head of a Partisan unit, penetrated into Ivianits (20 Km. south of Volozhin). They fought a bloody battle against the garrison and drove the Germans away from the shtetl. Once he was sent with a partisan group to accomplish sabotage acts in the Nalibok forest near Volozhin. The detachment stumbled across a German ambush. During the fight all the partisans were killed. Hirsh remained the sole survivor. He defended himself until the last bullet. In his last fight he was severely wounded. Tsvi-Hirsh Lunin passed away on March 8, 1943.
Yosef was born on 1915 in the Mijeyki hamlet. He was imprisoned in the Volozhin Ghetto from which he was transferred to the Krasne labor camp. He gathered arms and ran away into the woods. Yosef became a partisan in the Tshkalov Brigade. He was not able to excel in battle, because shortly after joining his unit he was killed by the Unit. And such was the true story. Yosef went to Mijeyki to take his clothes which he had left at his gentile neighbor's house. The gentile peasant complained before the Commissar that Yosef robbed him of his vestments and that now he had nothing to wear. Yossef's self justifications were of no help. The Commissar did believe the peasant. Yosef was shot by the commander in front of the unit.
Mordekhay was born in Volozhin on 1910, son to Zalman and Lea. He was among the first Volozhin partisans. Mordekhay mobilized many Jews to partisan units. He belonged to the Stalin unit, which fought in the Nalibok forests. He fell in battle near the shtetl Baksht in the Bielybiereg hamlet on February 20th 1943 on his way to carry out a mission.
By Rachel & Reuven Rogovin
Translated by M. Porat zl
Edited by Judy Montel
We left Tadzhikistan and came to live in Riga in 1946, and from there we went to visit Volozhin. From the beginning we found out that we had nothing, but completely nothing, to see. Volozhin, the Jewish shtetl did not exist more. I recalled Bialik's Look around, my friend. Upon your heart are ruins, only ruins.
On the first day we met our friend Roman Horbatshevski. He told us; with tears in his eyes that being concealed behind a fence he had seen the shtetl Jews going to their deaths. They walked silently, as if they were ignorant of where they were going. Tell me, Mr. Rogovin, why did they accept the verdict, why did they not resist? I left the question without an answer.
After some days we met an old friend Mr. Katovitz the orthodox priest from Losk. He was really glad to see us and could not hide the joy that he was privileged to see us alive. He invited us to our common friend the priest Salizh, who asked for the second time the previous question: Why did they not resist?
This time I could not restrain myself and answered his question asking other questions:
You don't understand why the Jews did not resist? And the fact that of four million Red Army captives only 3% survived? And why did the Soviet Communists and Commissars that were captured by the Nazis not show any sign of resistance? They knew for sure that they would be exterminated, why did they not fight for life? And the thousands of Polish Officers that were murdered by the Soviet NKVD in the Katyn forest, - why did they not resist? Do you understand it? The answer, your holiness you might receive only from the holy martyrs that were terrorized, humiliated, famished by the Nazis and not only abandoned but usually hunted by their gentile neighbors.
This conversation spoiled even more our gloomy state of mind and we went to the Jewish Grave Yard, in which our dearest were buried. We saw the big common graves. They looked like small grass covered hills. A committee investigating the Nazi crimes was active in Volozhin at the time of our visit there. A grave was opened. Woe to the eyes that saw it. We looked at the murdered. Despite that the flesh was shed from the bodies, we could still recognize some of our friends. We have no words to describe it. For this reason it would be better not to rub the wounds and not add to our already unsupportable pain. We mention a trifle of the hell we have seen and we leave the reader to imagine it. But no matter how horrible one imagines it to be, it would not resemble the dreadful reality our eyes have seen looking at the remains of the Jews of Volozhin Jews.
We visited Volozhin again prior to our Aliya to Israel in 1958. And we went again to look at the common grave. Time had diminished the tomb. The hill sank as though it had been swallowed by the abyss. Our brothers' blood had leaked into the very depths of the earth. But to our sorrow it did not leave any sign and did not overthrow the world's foundations. Life went on as if nothing had occurred. Pigs were burrowing inside the graves of the last Volozhin congregation members, the congregation that lived there for five hundred years. Our mourning of them should never end.
by Moshe Eliyashkevitsh
Translated by Jerrold Landau
based on an earlier translation by M. Poral zl
that was edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel
|Moshe Yoodl Eliyashkevitsh - 1965|
I returned to Volozhin on Tammuz 14, 5705 (June 25, 1945). The first night I spent under the open sky. I did not know who had survived and in which house I could find a Jew. The town was ruined. The destruction was frightful. The fear rose at night. It seemed to me that each stone screamed to the heart of the heavens. In the morning I went to the cemetery. I will never forget my visit in this holy place, where Yeshiva heads and prodigious leaders were buried to rest in peace. The burial canopies of the greats of Volozhin were in the center of the cemetery. All was turned into ruined mounds. The mounds of stones appeared as if after a heavy bombardment. The tombs of the victims of the First World War, which occupied a prominent place in the cemetery, were also destroyed and broken to pieces. It was a rainy day. Drops of water fell upon me and drenched me to my bones. I did not sense this, for it was as if I was outside of time and place. My spirit transported me far away to the splendid past. I wept over the glory that had disappeared and over the Jews of Volozhin that were no more. On the second day I went again to the graveyard. I saw goats and cows grazing upon the grave of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin and other graves. I encountered some survivors of the magnificent community of Volozhin: Shayke Lavit, Motl Molot, Mendel Volkovitch, Mendl Bakshter, Kopl Kagan, Zelig Dunie's and the Skliot brothers.
I went to see what remained of the ruined town. The Yeshiva building stood in its place, however its roof was slightly damaged. No trace remained of the Beis Midrash. I did not find a synagogue in which I could pour out my soul. There was not a sign of a Hebrew letter. I went to Vilna to obtain a Siddur and Tefillin. (I guard the Book with me till now).
Standing from right to left: a) Miriam Leviatan b) Moshe Eliaskevitch c) Dina Lechi (Feigenbaum) d) Meir Shiff e) Ethel Shiff f) g) Binyamin Klenbord h) Yosef Gelman i) Zimel Chadash j) Yona Rogovin k) The wife of Chatzkel Glik
I encountered gentiles my schoolmate friends. They did not show any signs of penitence. On the contrary, they asked me: What? You survived? How can that be? I seemed to be superfluous in their eyes, as a creature without a place in this world.
All the days that I walked in the Volozhin streets I was in fear. I was not afraid of the Gentiles, of the local robbers and murderers, for I had been forged as a soldier during my battles with the Nazis. It was a secret fear for the holy souls of our martyrs. I wanted to see the common grave, but as I was about 100 meters away, I fainted. When I came to, I saw a gentile standing over me. He asked what I was doing there and chased me away.
I was not bear any more of the heart-breaking places of atrocity. Everywhere I stepped I heard voices of crying and lamenting piercing the space. I waited and am still waiting to this day for another voice and it will surely come. I am waiting for the voice of G-d who will avenge His enemies. I left my destroyed nest and went to my cousin in Olshin.
by Sara Sholomovitz (Rappaport), Givatayim
Translated by Jerrold Landau
|I remember you, my city
An important city in Israel.
I remember you
In you, vibrant Jewish life existed
A life of the simple folk
And of Gaonim who were mighty in spirit.
I remember the vibrant Jewish youth
Where are you, my city?
Yizkor to my city
Our Father in Heaven!
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