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[Page 685 - English] [Page 542 - Hebrew]

The Destruction of Volozhyn

by Mendel Volkovitsh, Nataniya

Translated by the Editorial team from Hebrew

The Germans entered Volozhyn on month Tammuz 1st, year 5701 (July 25th 1941), three days after crossing the Soviet borders. Before their entry the city has been bombed by artillery and by air force. Arriving in town they committed a “small-scale” massacre of Jews. The nazi invaders murdered Alter Berman, Pessah Mazeh, Eliyahu Perski and Alter Shimshelevitsh.

Two weeks later the Gestapo ordered to elect a Jewish council, called Youdenrat. It was composed of twelve members and headed by Jacob Garber. The Youdenrats' purpose was to carry out the Gestapo orders, i.e. to conscript people to work and to supply money, jewelry, furs and cloth to the authorities.

Te Gentiles welcomed the Germans and at once agreed to collaborate with them. The attorney, Stanislav Tourski, the well-known Endek (member of the Polish most anti-Semitic National Democrats' party) returned to Volozhyn from the Kartuz-Bereza prison. His time had at last arrived. He assembled the local Jew-haters, the barber Baranski and others. They began to conduct an evil anti-Jewish propaganda. He was appointed as the town Mayor. On his second day on office Tourski ordered to send in prison a group of Jews. Among them were: the popular physician Avrom Tsart with his daughter Nehama, Hayim Tzirulnik, Shymon Lavit, Lippa Tzimerman and Hassia Leah Perski. At the next day the whole group was executed. The local police was composed from worthless scoundrels of the neighboring villages. They acted under the SS men orders. The policemen used to attack town Jews and to beat them mercilessely. The policeman Minkovitsh caught Freidel Rosen, broke her hands and afterwards shot her to death. Rosa Berman and Shahna Paretski were beaten savagely and killed.

In the Av month (August 1941) the Ghetto was established. It was situated between the Curved Street (Krumme Gass), Dubinski Street, Minsk Street and the Volozhynka River. Around 3500 people were crowded in a few dozens of houses. There were dwelling Volozhyn town and Volozhyn vicinity Jews, refugees from Vishnevo, Olshan and Oshmiana.

We were conducted in groups to perform forced labor, Streets cleaning, pits digging and snow sweeping in winter. I worked in a group of eighty Jews in Yatskovo forest, near Belokorets. We lodged in a miserable cabin in which we all crowded together. We were miserably contracted and shrunken, broken and depressed. Everything saddened us and lowered our spirit. We did not receive any food. In exchange for the few belongings we possessed the peasants gave us some bread.

While working on the Road to Minsk we witnessed dreadful events. We have seen German soldiers horribly maltreating Soviet war-prisoners. The torturers made them sing the “Katiusha” song while they were beaten to blood. The prisoners were naked and starving. The Germans were sitting on carts full of grass and spring onions. From time to time they flung some grass to the hungry prisoners as though they were animals. The unfortunate famished men fell upon it and fought each other to reach a piece of grass and to swallow it.

On Sabbat we were permitted to go home. Before entering the ghetto we were carefully searched and miserable was the man who was found with a piece of bread or a bottle of milk. He would be beaten murderously and the food would be confiscated. Sometimes gentiles who sensed pity for the imprisoned Jews would approach the fence with a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk. Such a merciful act had been severely punished by the police. The good person was savagely beaten. Some of these hearted people paid their human deeds with their life. Koppel Rogovin exchanged a can of kerosene for a piece of food. The peasant denounced him. Rogovin was told of it. He ran away from the ghetto to Yatskevo forest, where we have been at forced work. The guardians lined up all of us. Koppel was taken out from the line. The murderers beat him cruelly; Koppel begged them to kill him. But having pleasure to pain a Jew, the brutes refused his wish. They put him on a cart and almost dead he was brought to the “priest's hill” where they killed him.

On 7th Heshvan 5702, October 28th 1941, Moka, the Gestapo man, entered the Ghetto and demanded to supply immediately a large amount of boot-soles. They gave him the soles and assumed that their duty was accomplished. But he returned accompanied by several SS men. He summoned the Jews to a meeting, to listen an interesting lecture. The Youdenrat members hurried up to pass the rulers' order. Not everybody responded. My little daughter Shulamit begged: Daddy, don't go to the meeting”. The child's' heart forewarned her. I obeyed her and did not go.

Moka imprisoned a large number of Jews in the cinema hall. From there he took them out in groups of ten to the neighboring sport stadium an executed them. In this action were killed more than 200 people, including Jacob Garber the Volozhin Youdenrat head.

Jacob Finger, Tzapin and Zahariya Beyklin succeeded to escape the action. They returned to the Ghetto and told about the slaughter they witnessed. Immediately after the shooting arrived Belarus policemen and neighboring peasants, they stripped the clothes from the dead bodies, took away any rings and jewels and pulled out from the murdered mouths their golden teeth. Then a group of Jews was brought to burry the bodies.

The Ghetto life became harder from day to day. Once SS men intruded on the house that served for praying. They took a Torah Scroll, spread it out on the floor, made several dozens of Jews lie down on the sheets and killed them.

The 23rd Iyar 5702 (10th May 1942) marked the day of the Volozhyn Community destruction. A few days' earlier three bodies of Germans were found between Volozhin and Zabrezhe. Gestapo men arrived from Vileyka and examined several places in town. They selected a suitable site for the big slaughter.

I heard from a reliable source about the plans. My daughter was ill with high temperature. I hastened to summon Dr Faminski a Jews friend. While ling the child he told me that the Volozhin Jews extermination is approaching. The Doctor used to come among the Gestapo heads and knew their plans. His information was reliable.

After hearing the Doctor I fell asleep, but a nightmare woke me up. In my dream I saw the murderers surrounding the Ghetto. They entered our house and killed everybody. Worried by the dream I told its content to Rachel Leveiner, my brothers' sister in law. She listened but did not believe. She went out to the courtyard to bring something. She returned hastily, her face red as fire. Trembling she screamed out: “There's something terrible all around – They are banging, yelling and shooting”. I looked outside through the window and I saw the murderers driving the Jews out of their dwellings. When they approached our house I yelled to Malka (my first wife): “Let's take the child and run away”. She did not obey and remained on her place. She did not believe she'd find a place to escape. When I saw the SS mounting our stairs, I called my father in law Sana (Nathaniel) Lavit with my brother in law Leyba. Together we slipped out through the back door into the barn and climbed up into the attic.

At 5 a.m. in the morning of May 10th1942 SS men, assisted by Polish and by Belarus policemen have surrounded the Ghetto. The first were killed Yohanan Klein and Isaak Naroshvitsh, the two Jewish policemen that guarded the Ghetto entrance. They continued to shot at any Jew on their way. Many fell dead. They drew the people into the Soviet smith shop, which was built by the Soviets on Mostsitski Street, near the aroptsu-synagogue. The victims had been enclosed in that building. Outside the murderers placed chairs. They set out a table with food, vodka and liquor. Around sat policemen and SS men, bright and cheerful, with guns and machineguns in hand. Between the drinks they shot in the building to silence the children weeping and the adults screams.

Among the enclosed Jews was Rabbi Reuven Hadash, the Rabbi from Olshan. He called the victims not to go like sheep's to slaughter. He told them to destroy the ovens, to take in hand a brick a stone or an iron bar, to break down the door and to attack the murderers. But Rabbi Israel Lunin opposed him saying that: “Even when a sharp sword is pressed against one's throat don't let him to interrupt his hope for mercy”.

The Gendarmerie chief called Aron Kamienietski, a Youdenrat member, to polish his boots. As Kamienietski bent down the chief shot him. The imprisoned saw the cold-blooded murder and a commotion began. The victims started to run breaking out through the roof. The murderers shot on them from all guns, but still a few succeeded to escape. Among them were Motl Mlot and Leyzer Meltser.

On that dreadfully hot day they kept the people crowded together from five in the morning until five in the afternoon. Then the murderers lead them out in groups, separately children and separately men with women. Some elderly Jews did their last way enwrapped in prayer shawls and adorned by holy phylacteries. The Jews were conducted purposely through the gentiles' streets in order to allow the locals enjoy the Jewish terminal fall. Young men and women get out into the streets playing on organs, dancing and singing joyful songs. The blood thirsty anti Semites gathered around, they teased and mocked the going to death.

The sentenced to death were put into Bulava's house next to the eastern fence of the ancient Jewish graveyard. Here the assassins killed them with automatic weapons. After the slaughter they set the house on fire. The Volozhin Jews went up to heaven in flames. On that day many other Jews were killed, being shot on attics, cellars and other hiding places. When these corpses were taken to burial into common graves, the local gentiles flung on the dead human bodies dead cats, dead dogs and all kinds of rubbish.

After the slaughter the gentiles entered the Ghetto with horses and carts. They looted whatever they could. A Goyish local woman raised high her hands and shouted joyously “Father in heaven, I thank you for having purified us from the Jewish filth!” It should be said that her husband was an upright, decent man. He treated us kindly. Our bitter fate grieved him enormously and broke his heart.

With the sun setting we left our refuge inside the barn and crept towards our house. The doors were wide open. “Is there anybody here?” we asked in a whisper and we heard a whisper answering: “I am here”. It was my brother in law Hershl Perski, afterwards we heard the calls of Hershl and Tziviya Lunin. Under the darkness cover we set out to the forest. With Sana Lavit, Hersh Rogovin and and my brther in law, Leybe Lavit we reached the Volozhin forest. In a marshy place we found a group of Jews. Weary and hungry we asked one another from where our help could come.

We suffered from hunger and thirst. We decided to look for food and water. We were firmly resolved to defend ourselves if we would be attacked. We set out wearing peasant clothes. We crossed the Berezina River; we met a known peasant and entered his house. He gave us bread, salt and cheese. His wife warned us of policemen searching Jews in the woods. They killed a day before several Jews.

We stayed fourteen days at the village. When we finished the food, Sane Lavit told us that we had no choice and must go back to Volozhin. It was dangerous. Police and SS men guarded the paths and roads. In spite of it we succeeded to reach the town, where we found Motl Haiklin's dwelling. To my question about my family survivors, he told me that peasants had seen my brother Minia (Samuel) in Zabrezhe. I went there and found him in a peasant's house. His leg was swollen. In spite of it he accompanied me and we reached Volozhyn together.


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