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[Page 57]

Thanks to Our Child

by Moshe Kaplan (with the assistance of Khayeh Kaplan)

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

Ed. Note: This article appears in both Hebrew and Yiddish in this book. The following is a translation of the Yiddish text. Photos appearing within the Hebrew version are included here.




My First Miracle

When the Germans occupied Voronova and its surroundings, I was on my way to the Red Army, but the roads were already blocked. News about German progress was coming from all directions. [Our] commander realized that it would be impossible to get through as a group so he said:

“Let's split up and infiltrate. Those who are from this area can do whatever they decide.”

People scattered around the area. I decided to go back to my wife. She was pregnant with her first child, I wanted to be home when the baby was born. I wanted to make my wife's hard days easier.

I came to Voronova in the evening, through the meadow. I found the town in a state of depression. The Germans had already been in town for 2 days. My parents were very confused by my return. Their thinking was that their life would be more comfortable with me around, but maybe it would have been better for me to stay with the Russians.

With my arrival, I found myself in the familiar social order: the Yudenrat supplied Jews for forced labor, gold and silver quotas were being forced upon poor Jews, the hard labor of building roads, of chopping wood, of collecting weapons left behind by the Russians in the Berlovits forest, of serving in German households, etc.

The headquarters were in Yehoshua Grodzenchik's house. It was a big house. In there the Germans gathered the painters, among them Pesakh Kuznets, Yehudah Pikovski, Berkovski, and others. We worked for them as painters, painting road signs, boxes, etc. They asked us how much the Russians had paid us, and they paid us the same.

One Saturday, the Germans asked for 10 Jews to load a train with boxes full of goods stolen from Jews. We waited an hour and a half for the train. The Germans arranged as in rows and forced us to do various physical exercises such as run–fall–run, and always ordered us to fall in mud puddles. If someone didn't want to stretch fully, they would push him down and trample him with their feet, and force him into the mud.

When the train arrived, we loaded the ‘merchandise’. They held us inside the wagons and wouldn't let us out, under the pretense of looking for communists among us. We sat on the floor and a German announced names, each one whose name was called had to stand up and move to a designated location. When he came to my name, there were 3 people by the name Moshe Kaplan among us. Besides me stood Lutzki Arshulki's, a Pole who worked as a junior policeman. He didn't let me respond. My name was called 3 times. I wanted to stand up as ordered, but he stepped on my foot and nailed me to the floor and said in spoken Yiddish:

“Don't be stupid”

It's possible that thanks to this incident I survived.

From the whole group, the Germans arrested: my brother–in–law Yitzakh Volpianski, Sheyke Moshe's, Zerakh Shelofski, his brother David and his sister Esther. Since then their trails have been lost forever.

A curious thing is that [the person] who informed on us was Arshule, the mother of Lutzki, the one who saved me.

For some reason we were not enclosed in the ghetto. Movement was still allowed, except that Jews were not allowed to walk on the sidewalks, and they had to take off their hats and bow each time they passed by a German, and various other humiliations.


The Vilners Arrive, the Vilners are Exterminated

At the same time, some refugees from Vilne and its suburbs arrived and told about the atrocities of mass murders and exterminations of Jews, about the bloody massacre in Vilne, and about horrific incidents involving women and children. They believed that in a small town [like ours] that wouldn't happen.

The Germans found out about them. They began searching every house and arresting them. Everyone who was sick at that moment was shot on the spot. Everyone who was healthy was taken to the cinema house, which was built by the Russians on Railway Street. They were held there for several days. They awaited an order from Vilna; one day suddenly they took everyone to a forest near the railway station and shot them one–by–one in small groups. At that time I was staying at my sister Mineh's house on the outskirts. I watched through the window. I saw those groups of Jews and heard the shots that killed them group–by–group.

They were buried in a mass grave near the forest. It was in March 1942.

At the time of the search for Vilners, I was working in Bastuni, 8km from town. The Gentiles told us about the search. Since they also thought that all the Jews were being gathered, they advised us not to go back home. That same night, Zalmen Dukshtulski came to Bastuni, escaping from Voronova frightened. He told us all the details: his first wife who was from Vilne had been killed. On the memorial for the Vilners in Lida the name Zalmen Dukshtulsky is also carved.

After few days we returned to Voronova, and Zalmen, haunted by horrors of those days, went his own way, far from the town.

The German atrocities continued for approximately 2 months. On the 9th of May, a Friday, we woke up and saw Polish and White Russian guards all around town. Our close neighbors stood with axes, pitchforks, and rods, and besieged the town. The night was sleepless, nobody closed an eye that night. On the next day, Saturday morning, the Germans called the Yudenrat and ordered them to go house–to–house and calm everybody down, saying that nothing bad would happen to them, and that their only purpose was to look for communists.


Beginning of Extermination

The Jews calmed down and felt relieved. On the same day a Gentile came to Mordechai Pikovski and told him to warn all the Jews to escape, because a huge pit was already dug out in the Bialorovski Forest at the end of Lida Street, and they also had chlorine and whitewash for body disinfection. But, Mordechai got angry with his longtime friend and drove him out of the house, poor guy. Mordechai wanted to believe that this Gentile was only looking to upset him or extort money for saving his life.

On Sunday, May 10, 1942, the Yudenrat was called and told that on the next day, Monday, all the Jews would have to gather in Market Square in the center of town, across from the church, for a document–check in order to detect communists.

On May 11, 1942, the Germans, with their Lithuanian and Polish collaborators, went into all the houses and drove out Jews from small to old, and drove them with beatings to Market Square. Whoever tried to escape was beaten to death with axes and iron rods. They chased him and caught him.

When everyone were assembled, Vindish, the Chief of Headquarters, appeared and made a speech in which he explained that in 1938 there was a summit in at the Reichstag in Berlin, and it was proven that the Jews were responsible for all the troubles of the German people and of all humanity. The verdict was the death penalty for all Jews, and now he was here to carry it out in our area. So his request was that order be kept: that every head–of–family called should take his family members, and all related to them, and start walking towards Lida. Whoever tried to resist or escape would be treated with well–deserved brutality.

He was a short man with blond hair, in a neat brown SS uniform, and he spoke with a satanic smile on his face. Later he himself stood at the crossroads of Lida Railway Street and Hermenishki Street and performed the selection – who was to live and who would die. Those who were directed towards Lida went to death. They were instantly attacked, the wild animals, our neighbors, beat them to death even before they came close to the grave.

Apparently the Gentile has spoken the truth. A huge pit was ready, and beside it were piles of chlorine and whitewash. Jews approached group–by–group, undressed nearby, and entered the pit naked, where they were shot. While they breathed their last air they were piled into layers, and between layers they spilled chlorine and whitewash for disinfection. Among those brutally buried there were persons only wounded, who were covered by the bodies of others and choked underneath them.

In this manner all the Jews of Voronova and its surrounding were murdered–– approximately 2,300 people.

We craftsmen, and the ‘still needed’, stood and watched everything and even saw the piles of clothes taken back to town, and other horrible sights that are hard to forget. The brutality of our Gentile neighbors is indescribable. How blood–thirsty they were, and eager to perform any violent act requested of them. Only cannibals are capable of such bloody celebration. They attacked their prey, they beat to death anyone who was weak or resisted, they broke into houses to rob and loot, but most of all they were thirsty for blood.

I specifically remember the violent incident with Shapkona Eliahu and Khayeh (Berkovski). When we were ordered to the Market Place, they left their baby in the cradle, hoping that at least he would survive. Eventually Vindish left them with the ‘needed’, and when they came back home they found their baby's body chopped into pieces in the cradle. This was done by none other than our good neighbors, who had taken the opportunity to loot houses. Who can imagine such human degradation? Who is capable of taking revenge by chopping the body of a baby?

Of all our Jews, only 700 were left. They didn't allow us back to our homes–– they were already confiscated by the Germans. We stayed on Lida Street, which they called the ghetto. After several days we were taken to Lida, to a real ghetto. Before we left, Vindish made another speech and told us that we are still alive because the military needed us, but our fate would soon be the same.


Lida Ghetto and How I was Saved

On Saturday, the first day of Succoth, we were driven out of the houses, and we knew that we were being exiled from them forever. Each one took with him a sack of food and as many clothes as we could carry, and thus we left the town.

Outside town, the Germans and their aides dragged our sacks away from us and threw them to the side of the road while beating us hard. If someone became tired and stayed behind, he was beaten to death.

We walked like this for 9 km to Bastuni. There, we were loaded into cargo wagons and taken to Lida Ghetto.

The Yudenrat put us into packed and crowded houses, and then began all the working details, etc. I and Pikovski, who used to work for Vindish as painters, were now assigned to his workshops. By his order, everyone who worked for him now, or had been in his workshops before, was automatically assigned to his workshops here, and that was some luck which others envied.

I worked as a painter in German houses. I also worked in the house of Warner, who was known for his extreme brutality. All the Jews that worked for him had to stand in a ‘payment line’. He would walk along the line with his huge dog and from time to time, order the dog to ‘pay’, and the dog ripped pieces of skin and flesh. I knew about that so I used to run away in the evening [after work], and that saved me.

My brother–in–law Volpianski was hiding at a Gentile's house, his friend and buddy. One evening two Germans came to the house and wanted to take Moshe with them. They were angry with the Gentile for hiding a Jew at his home and threatened him. The Gentile attacked them, they both grabbed the guns from the Germans, and my brother–in–law was saved, but he had to leave the house and hide in the woods. In the afternoon, while he was taking a nap in the warmth of the sun, a beautiful Polish young woman came up to him and said that she had been watching him sleep for an hour now and that she had fallen in love with him, and her love is growing from moment to moment, and she couldn't help herself. She took him to her home. Her family accepted him as a son and she – as a husband.

And thus he disappeared from us and we didn't know, neither us nor his friend, what ever happened to him. We were cut off from him in the ghetto, not knowing his fate.

One day in the end of March 1943 a Gentile woman's mother came to us, told us that he was alive, and offered to take us out from the ghetto. We didn't want to leave without our baby Avraham'le, so after that she used to come from time to time, bringing us food packages but never mentioning the matter of our escape. After a while she again tried to talk about saving us, but again we mentioned our baby. This time she agreed and we all left the ghetto.

According to our agreement we had to prepare some things before leaving.

I told our secret to Mula Khayot (today a movie theater manager in Herzliya). At night the two of us left the ghetto and went to my brother–in–law's house. According to the plan we were each supposed to fetch our families in the morning. Mula started mingling with the Gentiles while my in–law and I confiscated a horse with a winter wagon from one of the Gentiles. I went back to Lida alone.

I arrived at the Lida ghetto early in the morning. Near the gate stood Leibke Azovski, a nice Lida guy, who served as a policeman in the Yudenrat. I called him in Yiddish by his name and he opened the gate. I went inside with my wagon.

I rested for several hours after the long trip and so did my horse. In the afternoon I went out through the same gate with the help of the same Leibke. I left the ghetto legally and as soon as I was out of town I stopped and waited.

My wife took Avraham'le and snuck out through a hole in the fence behind the ghetto.

We decided that she would take with her 80 rifle bullets, which I had in my possession, in order to be permitted to join the partisans later. It took a while to make way to my wagon, and on the way her bra opened, letting all the bullets scatter on the ground at the same moment she was encountering some Germans and Ukrainians. Her situation was dire, but thanks to her resourcefulness she placed the baby on the snow over the bullets and pretended to change his diapers. They passed her without paying attention.

Several long hours passed before she reached me. I saw a few German policemen pass by and approach me. From time to time my heart almost exploded, but I pretended to be repairing the harness and the sleigh, or I took the horse to drink water–also, I was dressed in Polish military garb. All this calmed their suspicions and I was saved.

Towards evening I saw her approaching from a distance and towards her were approaching some German policemen. My heart almost leaped out of my chest, but somehow they didn't notice her and we rode away. On the way a Polish policeman stopped us and climbed on to the wagon. We had aroused his suspicion. He began questioning us about where we were from and where we were going. My wife told him:

“The baby is sick with typhus and we are taking him to a doctor.”

This made him step away from the wagon. At that time the fear of epidemics was such that he simply ran away. We got rid of him and reached the house of my in–law.

My brother–in–law prepared a bunker for us in the dairy barn of his caretakers, the Tsikovskies, and we hid there for 8 months.

During this time another 15 Jews arrived and were hidden by the brothers of this Gentile, Joseph Tsikovski.

Among them were Dovid Eliahu and Yosef Gershonovitsh, Sarah Rivke Arkov, Yosl Shprintse's, Yoshka Korvo, Mula Khayot, his wife and daughter. These righteous people endangered their property and their lives by hiding all of us.


We Are Separated From Our Baby

One day, Germans attacked the farmhouses in the area, burnt down houses, and executed people as revenge for the 2 Germans killed the day before.

We fled to the forest. We didn't want to go back to that village any more–– not only because of the danger to us, but also because we didn't want to bring disaster to our saviors. In the forest we realized that in the fear of escape we had forgotten the baby in the bunker. I went back. The old woman was standing on the porch crying, holding the baby in her arms. I took my baby and left.

In the forest the roads were covered with mud and snow. It was very hard to walk and went on forever. We walked, frightened and silent, and the baby was crying and wailing. Other Jews were afraid that he'd expose all of us, and it was proposed by several of them that we get rid of the baby. One of them, a man from Soletchnik, pointed his gun to the baby's head and asked – kill or not.

I didn't allow him, although the dilemma had gone through my head too. Could I endanger the souls of so many Jews because of one little, innocent baby? I took the baby in my arms. I stroked him. I wanted to comfort him, to silence him, and also to calm down the others. But he was suffering from cold and hunger, his stomach ached, and his whole body was convulsing, legs and fists. He looked at me and continued crying. Then David Gershonovitsh came up and said that he knew a Gentile farmer in the nearby village we could leave the baby with, in exchange for a piece of clothing and bread, until we could come back for him. In spite of all the heartache of separation, we knew that we had to do it.

The Gentile agreed. He had a small house. Eight people slept in one room with one bed, among them an old grandma. They placed Avraham'le as the ninth in the common bed, and he stayed there.

When the situation became calmer, we went to visit him from time to time, to hold him for a while, and to bring a bribe to the Gentile. He was dirty, his head full of lice, but he was lying with other children and enjoying it.

From time to time we took him with us, but it was too dangerous. The baby wanted to talk, to learn to walk, to play around, and we constantly silenced him and denied all his aspirations. Later we built a bunker at the Ulanovski's and came to spend time with the baby for several days at a time, then go back to Tsikovski, who didn't want to take the baby back in. He was too afraid after managing to get rid of him once already.

There were times when we were cut off from him for a while. Once, after one such long separation, I came to visit him in the middle of the day. I heard his ringing voice from afar. I proceeded towards the voice. I found him in the doghouse. The dog wasn't there so he had taken the opportunity to enjoy some space. He lay on his stomach, looking at his own hands, murmuring “wound”, “aches”, “mommy”, “daddy”. I hid so he wouldn't notice me. My heart was torn but I couldn't let him see me.

Once I snuck up and saw him crawling into the big family pot in which the housewife prepared the casserole, but it was empty. He whispered “hungry”. Then he crawled under the cow and tried to suck her nipples, and said to himself in disappointment “no milk”. My heart exploded. He went back to the doghouse, stretched out like a street dog desperate for food, care and warmth, and I went back home with a broken heart.

One night some “white” Poles came to Ulanovski and threatened him so he would say the names of the Jews that he had hidden. Somebody had snitched on him. But that person didn't know the age of this ‘dangerous’ Jew hiding from them, nor the number of Jews. They picked on him and threatened him, but he didn't talk.

The next day he demanded that we come and take the baby. We couldn't do it. During the day we wandered in the woods, and during nights we looked for shelter and robbed local farmers at gunpoint. This was our life: stealing another day by stealing food. All the miserable parents were organized into small groups. We couldn't take him. There was nowhere to take him. Once we took him with us to the forest. He was already 13 months old, but couldn't walk yet. We knew that he couldn't walk and we were glad of this. Suddenly in the middle of the woods he stood up and started marching on his small feet. He was so enthusiastic that he became hysterical and began laughing, shouting and crying at the same time. We saw some Germans approaching on the road and we got scared. We grabbed him and forcefully shut his mouth so he wouldn't expose us. We had to return him to Ulanovski.

After then it became harder for them to watch him because his playing area had expanded.

On one of our visits, the old woman told us in tears that the day before she had noticed that the baby was gone. She got scared and ran out to look for him in the fields, and found him between the beds of potato plants, which grew as high as his small white head sticking up between the lines.

She called him:

“Where to, Antush?”

He said:

“I'm going to daddy.”

Since then he started wandering in the room from corner to corner as if looking for something, always holding an old blanket in his hands, a small pot, and a piece of bread. This was a habit he developed.


We Lived Like Forest Robbers or Forest Animals

We felt that we had to go join the Partisans. Mula was already with them and we were looking for a way to join him. One day Ruvke Arkin, and the engineer from Lodz who was with us, went to the forest. They met some Polish Partisans who promised to take them to the Jewish Partisans. They came back to us to fetch their wives and both left again, with Mula's wife and baby, the engineer's wife and his female cousin. We waited for the sign to follow them. After a few hours Ruvke came back, in shock and fear, and told us that the Polish Partisans had let them come close but then as soon as they approached, attacked them brutally.

They had beaten the engineer to death. Ruvke had managed to escape, but the women stayed behind and who knew what would happen to them. We already had weapons so we ran to attack the Poles and save the wives of Mula and the engineer. The engineer's female relative was already dead.

The Poles couldn't forgive us for such chutzpa. They were wandering the forest, just like us, looking for an opportunity for revenge. We had no choice but to move from Pepeshni Forest to Petrokani Forest.

On one occasion we were took a nap in the forest. I woke up and stood up to straighten my clothes, and to shake off the lice from my body. It was very quiet. I couldn't hear anything. Suddenly I raised my head and saw some Germans approaching in front of me. I jumped and ran and shouted “Germans are coming”. Hinde'chka, daughter of Shtumak, ran out with me. We saw Germans in front of us surrounding the houses and we had no choice and no options. I said goodbye to her and broke into the human chain that the Germans had created. They were startled for a moment so I ran straight through them. One of them quickly recovered and ran after me, throwing a grenade in my direction. I fell on the ground, then stood up and fired at him. He ran back and all the Germans took supine positions on the ground. Hinde'chka took this opportunity to run through to one of the backyards, to hide. But a White Pole noticed her and killed her right there in the backyard. From my hiding place I could hear her begging for her life, but he didn't listen and shot her. My wife and a Jew from Ivia whose nickname was polzhid [half–Jew], his wife and daughter, got supine in the barley field, putting their life in the hands of destiny, and they survived. My brother–in–law didn't wake up to my warnings and they killed him. Together with him were also killed Yosko and Yosef Pupko.

I lay alone in a high area and waited for darkness. I licked the stones in order to wet my mouth, which was dry from fear and tension, and to recover my breath. When I saw the moon high up in the sky, I presumed it was midnight, and I went out to the nearest village to look for shelter, for brother Jews in sorrow, and for my wife. A hard feeling of loneliness fell upon me. I felt that I had made my last effort to survive and I had failed. It was time to accept death as the conclusion.

I came to Joseph Tsikovski and found my wife there. We burst into tears. We were simply surprised that the other one was alive. The truth is that both of us believed that the other one had been killed. We stood and sobbed like babies, but the Gentiles were not impressed by this shocking scene. They demanded that we leave and release them from the burden we imposed. They were in fear for their lives.

We knew that this time we would not be able to convince them, or bribe them with any goods. We waited until evening and left for the woods, the whole group, the last survivors.


We Are Considering Giving Ourselves Up to the Germans

The woods were filled with groups of the White Polish underground, the Polish Partisans, and other groups of Gentiles. We were afraid of all of them. We wandered from forest to forest like hunted animals, and the autumn was near. The cold and the dampness consumed our remaining energy and exhausted all of our willpower. Every day brought with it atrocities and disaster.

We made an effort to stay alive for the sake of our baby. We tried to stay close to his safekeepers. One day we came to Ulanovski, the poor farmer, and he demanded that we take the baby with us. He told us that the White Poles had been coming to him nights, demanding that he hands over “the Jews”. He told us that the last time they had thrown him in a deep pit, an unfinished well, and had fired above his head in order to frighten him, but that he had sworn he wasn't hiding any Jews and they had left him alone for a while. Now he was demanding that we take the baby away.

Meanwhile our entire group dismantled. Each one took his own close family and tried to look for shelter with neighboring Gentiles. We also found out that Dovid Gershonovitch, his son Yosef, and Sarah Rivke Arkov had been caught by the Poles and murdered.

Ulanovski continued to cry and complain, and demanded that we take the baby, but the frost had begun to attack the world, and above all the homeless. When we slept in the forest we woke up covered with frost in the mornings. We had no food. We were helpless and in despair. To take the baby to the forest meant to take him to a slow death and to major suffering. We began to form thoughts of giving ourselves up to the Germans, for a quick and certain death.

We answered Ulanovski:

“Do with the baby whatever you want, we can't take him to the forest to frost and hunger. In addition we intend to give in to the Germans.”

We were sure that this would convince him, because he was a good Gentile. We also thought that the fact that he'd be raising the kid for himself, without the need to return him one day, would change his decision.

The next day we went to the Germans. We wanted to shorten our suffering. We couldn't go on like this anymore.

We went to the forest. We walked upright, without hiding, ready to get caught. We were already close to a German [field] headquarters. My wife saw the German policemen and started crying. She said:

“Why must we give in, let's take another direction and try our luck. Maybe we'll be lucky to find partisans who'll accept us.”

It was very difficult. We had to cross the railroad that led to German–occupied areas.

We went back to the forest. We walked at night and hid during the day. The walk was hard. I didn't know the way so I crawled on my knees, groping and scouting, while my wife held on to my coat and followed me. I forgot to mention that Nekhama Katz and her daughter Mashenka were together with us on this terrible march, and they also followed us in this groping chain. We slept with our clothes on, and with time we were covered by lice which prospered and fattened themselves sucking on our exhausted bodies. The clothes got wet and then dried on our bodies. We used to take off our shoes, tie them together by the laces, and put them around our necks in order not to lose them. We knew that we'd need them for many escapes in the future. One can't run without shoes.

[Pages 70-73]

Final Days of Our Town
(Brief Memories)

by Keileh Grodzenchik (Shamir)

Translated by Meir Bulman

Ed. Note: This article appears in both Hebrew and Yiddish in this book. The following is a translation of the Yiddish text. Photos appearing within the Hebrew version are included here.




Saturday, 8/May/1942

We awaken from our sleep and slowly open the blinds. The air this time around looks too dense, irritating and suffocating. Someone remarks: “Today something will happen.”

We look out to the street through the window cracks and unwittingly utter : “We are in prison.”

Our Polish neighbors stand around, armed with various and varied weapons: hoes, pitchforks, shovels, rakes. It is depressing and sometimes it seems that if those were guns or other firearms things would be more respectable. This is much more depressing, when they come with sticks and pitchforks and choose a strange death that is inappropriate for the 20th century–– like dogs, a jungle.

We look at who comes to kill us. They are not strangers: they are the Poles–– your close neighbors–– your acquaintances. There is Eyseltchok, there is Bibik, Burshu and others that you went to school with and with whom you built a friendship, and here they are. Seeking to do you harm. It is painful, suffocating, and you have trouble breathing, a deep unease lingers in your heart: “So, what? Is this the end?”

Jews sigh. There are moans of helplessness. We know the end is near and there is no escape. We are shut in, enclosed, surrounded by Polish predatory beasts and by German soldiers.

About thirty tenants are cramped into my parents' house, all alone yet unified. Each expresses his anxiety in a different manner. One is steeped in a thundering silence. The second is twitting his fingers or biting his fingernails. The third is squeezing his coat. And the eyes: all the eyes are deep wells of horror. The pressures in the heart and the senses are too heavy, and each person silently prays that the end will come, the troubles be over–– for who can stand this horror?

The hours stretch and all are waiting, even those outside, and no one knows why the matter is being delayed.

In the end, after long nightmarish hours, the siege is lifted. The murderers disperse.

Not yet. Not today

This day probably might return with equal horror, but it has been delayed temporarily and nobody knows why and what for.

The following day, the good neighbors, now without pitchforks in hand, explain that it was just a coincidence; they just wanted to search for something–– just an experiment.


Sunday, 9/May/42

We are fed up. We want to get away. The thought of an “experiment” like that being repeated is terrifying. The young folks look for a way to escape, each one expresses an opinion of what to expect and the escape route. My husband Meir also proposes we escape, and I know he is right. But when we enter home and see our 4–month–old toddler daughter resting and trusting us to care for her and not abandon her, our conscience does not allow us to escape, and with her it is impossible.

We stay and wait like everyone else.

Tema Dlugin comes from the other side of town, calms the parents, and confirms that from a source credible to her it was just an experimental search that was not conducted, and they believe her, naively.


Monday, 10/May/42

A large force surrounds us. This time we observe them from a distance, entering homes and bringing Jews to the marketplace. Our turn will surely come as well.

We were among the last ones. We are told to go to the marketplace square. We feel like the end is here and we will not return to our homes. We want to leave, but Yosef the Barber comes and says, “You will not leave until you cover me in my bunker and put a bucket of water on the entrance.” What the water was for we did not know. But we fulfilled his request/command. He enters the bunker with his wife and four children and indeed he remains alive. He perished later, but this time his luck and the trick work for him.

At the market intersection we remain–– the last ones observing the events.

A table stands in the center with the two commanders. Jews approached and were directed to turn either to the right, to die, or else to the left, to expect death. Artshik Weiner and his brother–in–law Dlugin approach. The ubermeister, when he sees such a large family, asks Artshik who belongs to his family. The Nazi's eyes twinkle and he commands, “Run straight ahead,” but Artshik begs to at least spare his wife and him, to no avail.

Khaikeh Mansfeld was married since the 1920s to a German who converted. As the Russians arrived he disappeared, his whereabouts unknown. Khaikeh thought naively that her German documents would stand her a chance. She approached the table with the stack of papers of insured hope, she was joined by her sister and the sister's husband and children–– to extend her German rights to them. She was also joined by Keizeh Gurvitsh, Reiskke Kunichivski and her daughter. The German tells her to stand aside while he examines her documents. She stood, confident in her redemption and the redemption of those who joined in her fate. He then asked her, “Who are these people with you?”

She hands him her documents and adds an explanation: “My husband was a Germans and the Russians – ”

He got angry–– “And you dared live with a German!”–– as if accusing her of a heinous crime. He immediately sent her to stand among those sentenced to die.”


The fateful intersection


We remained alone. In the last half hour we sat alone without our close friends – the Voronova residents. Berl Levine of the Judenrat[1] sat next to me. He ripped off the Judenrat armband and told me to bury it. That very moment the Gbitzcomisser[2] approached and wanted to execute him immediately, but his friend the Voronova ubermeister[3] fought and argued with him, “I'm staying with the dumb Jews. I will have nobody to talk to. Leave him and the rest of the Judenrat men to me.” Thus they remained alive for a while.

We stayed in Voronova for two more weeks, thirteen miserable families with broken spirits and broken minds, flickering sparks. Nonetheless we wanted to live.

After everyone was sent to Lida, Meir went to part with his parents at the edge of town. I then witnessed a scene that is tough to describe: the Poles, even the young ones, stormed the deserted homes and plundered everything. And what was even left there? Nevertheless, they found it all exhilarating, and most exhilarating of all–– the absence of people.

I sat in a home on Yinakonski alone with my daughter in my arms and thought: “Dear God, there it is, the positive neighborly relationships, the Polish culture, their aristocracy. It all dissipates and vanishes when you can obtain an object, a broken and abandoned vessel.” And then, a group of robbery–crazed youths entered the home, and one of them, a former classmate of mine asked, surprised, “Mrs. Grodzenchik, what are you doing here?” I did not reply. I stormed out and sat with my daughter, my hope, in the middle of the street, for I knew death awaited me in the house.

The Germans felt these friends and neighbors of mine would lynch me, and so they led me to Iytl Olkenitski's house, where they were residing, and kept me there until Meir returned.

They still needed Meir, and so I too was rescued from the ‘noble’ Poles.


Editor's notes
  1. These were Jews forced by the Nazis to supervise and govern the Jewish populations under Nazi control Return
  2. District commander Return
  3. A local mayor Return


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