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[Pages 137-142]

A Fifteen Year Old Boy in Fate's Hands

by Yakov Olkenitski

Translated by Miriam Olkenitzky z”l

Edited by Yocheved Klausner



During the Russian regime I worked in a bakery. I was young, only about 15 years old. I had not yet established any kind of relationship toward one regime or the other, but one thing was clear to me: there was no threat to life in this regime. You may end up your life in prison or in Siberia but no one was going to come and kill you because of your national origins, unlike under the Nazis where being a Jew was a crime and you were sentenced to death and torture before death.

This I have understood and when the war broke out between Germany and Russia, I arranged to get a truck with Hershel Sokolick and drove toward Soviet territory. As we passed Dzwanishik I wanted to say good bye to my sister there. In the market I ran into my brother-in-law and he said to me: “Boy, where are you running to? The family and we are here. Your place is with us. Stay here and don't rush into anything!” I stayed with them that day and then I went back to Voronova to my parents' house and to my only brother. My other brother had been sent to Siberia and was still there. The Germans were already controlling Voronova, but life had not yet ceased. I went on working in the bakery like nothing had happened but in my soul I had a feeling of disaster and I wanted to escape by all means.

When the Germans assembled the entire Jewish population of the town in the market square, it was the first and last time that I obeyed them. I went there, I saw the torture, I saw how they selected seven Jews and killed them without a trial and I said to myself that I have to escape no matter what happens. When we were called out to go to the market square for the second time, I did not go. I escaped with my brother Meyer to the nearby forest and we returned to town when the horrible show of execution was over. We delayed our escape for a more suitable time. At the third time, when the Nazis gathered the Jews in the market square and murdered hundreds of them so that half of the Jews of our town had been killed, we escaped to the forest together with a few more youngsters and students. We stayed there for five days. We were looking for a way to escape the Holocaust that had been prepared for us but when we heard that the Nazis had established a Ghetto and had collected everybody into the Ghetto, we also returned. From there we were transported to the Lida Ghetto with my sister and my brother-in-law from Dzwanishik. My mother and my other sisters were not alive anymore, may God avenge their blood.

One day they demanded us to give them 250 Jews for work out of town. Everybody knew that this was a death sentence for the Jews. They would never return. I was working at that time for the Gabitz Commissar and I did not have to go, but when I heard that my brother-in-law, Eliahu Blecher was among the people chosen for death, I tried to think of what would happen to my sisters and the children. I volunteered to go instead of him. We appeared at the meeting place, the name roll was read and everybody answered. When the name Blecher was called, I answered instead and we marched toward the train. There we were supposed to get on the cars and be shipped away. As soon as we got outside the Jewish settlement, I jumped from the row and escaped. Until this day I don't remember how it was, if they ever noticed and how they responded. I was really fast then and did not stop running toward the forest. I ran for six hours straight and did not turn left or right. At the end of the sixth hour, tired and worn out to the edge of unconsciousness, I found myself again at the gates of the Ghetto. I was shocked and could not understand how I got there, but I could not think of another escape. I was too tired and too depressed and I sneaked in and mingled with other people. I remained in the Ghetto, but now I was there illegally. When I rested a bit and gathered my strength and realized that my life was again in great danger, I decided to escape again and fight for my life. I never abandoned the idea of escape.

In the meantime, rumors about partisans operating in the forests near Lida got to the Ghetto. We wanted to join them but the rumors said that without arms no one would be accepted and we did not have any weapons. By chance, we found a treasure in the house we were staying in, a treasure of gold coins, chains and watches. The owners of this treasure were no longer alive. We took the treasure to one of the Poles. We bought a rifle from him and ammunition and we went – me and my brother-in-law – to the forest near Lida with the idea of coming back and saving the rest of our family.

After two weeks, Meir Shamir went out to bring some people from the Lida ghetto. My brother-in-law joined him and among the Jews they saved was my sister from Dzwanishik and Meir Shamir's wife. We stayed in the forest for four months and managed to provide supplies for ourselves and our Brigade. We were thinking about ways of saving Jews and planning how to get the Jews out of the Lida ghetto. The place we were staying was dangerous because we were too close to Lida, which was full of Germans and their Polish collaborators. But the idea of being able to save the Jews made us forget the danger and stay in the same place. In the meantime, we were discovered by the Germans and in the big hunt they organized in the forest we were forced to break up into smaller groups and hide or sneak out towards the Naliboki fields. Our group consisted of about fifteen people. We lived off food we stole during the night and we hid during the day – like animals separated from our command post without any knowledge of what was going on around us and what was happening in our Brigade. But we could never let go of the idea of escape and liberation.

We decided that we would save from the Ghetto everyone we could. I wanted to go to the Ghetto to save my sister. Our people agreed and I went. That night I went to the Ghetto but found my sister ill with typhoid, unable to walk or to be moved. I took with me seven Jews, among them Isaac and Jacob Dovilinsky and returned to the forest with them. I promised my sister that in 10 days I would be back to take her and I told her to do her best to get well. In the evening when I tried to get out I was discovered by a Ghetto policeman. He walked toward me and tried to stop me from getting out. He said that it would cause a catastrophe for the Jews in the Ghetto. When he could not convince me he slapped me in the face. We delayed our escape for a few hours and under the cover of night we left and got to the forest in the morning.


Ten days after this mission, the Brigade organized again. We were going to return to Naliboki. I decided on my own to return to Lida before we left the area and to save my sister. When I got close to the ghetto I heard shots. I knew that this meant the end of the Jews in there but I sneaked in anyway. I entered the first section of the Ghetto; I couldn't reach the second section, where my sister was, since it was separated from the first section by barbed wire. I went to the house of some friends and fell asleep. At 5 in the morning, my friend woke me and said: “You got here exactly in time for the wedding. What did you do? Why did you come back?” With those words he pulled me toward the window. I looked out and saw that the Ghetto was surrounded by armed men and there was no way of escaping death. From my place of safety, I had entered the Ghetto exactly on the day of its liquidation.

At 7 o'clock the Germans started leading groups of 50 to the killing ground. During the chaos, I managed to sneak to the other part of the Ghetto where my sister was staying. She was waiting for her turn. When she saw me she screamed: “What did you do Yankele? “Run if you value your life! Run, I'm begging you!” I started inquiring who among the people had any kind of a weapon. Three people joined me. One of them remembered a bunker that he had seen some time ago and he led us there. We hid there until 9 o'clock in he morning. Suddenly a woman walked in and started screaming “What are you doing here? Because of you they will “murder all of us! Get out!” So we got out. We joined the last group of Jews that were awaiting their certain death. While we were waiting, six of us got out of the group. We walked to the Ghetto's fence. It was a wooden fence, ten feet high and we knew that behind that fence was Lida's lumber yard. We wanted to cross the fence and hide in the yard but the fence was made of solid boards without a crack or a hole. Only between two walls we found a small crack. We wanted to push ourselves through it but suddenly we noticed an armed German looking at us. We got scared but he told us: “Escape, I don't see you.” We crossed the fence and hid between blocks of lumber. In fact, we were exposed to the laborers who were working in the yard. They saw us clearly but we couldn't help it. We were waiting for four o'clock when they were to go home and we could have a real hiding place.

At four o'clock, the bell sounded and the workers started leaving. Only two of them stayed behind, and when the rest of the workers had left, they walked over to us and said: “We saw you. We know that you are Jews escaping from death. We will not report you if you will tell us where you left your gold and treasures. If you keep your promise, we'll come at night with buggies and will take you to the forest.”

There was one among us who had a gold watch which he had inherited from his father. He gave it to the workers. We also promised them everything and begged them to come in the evening. We waited for the darkness and worried about the promises of the goyim. We got out when darkness fell. Behind the lumberyard there was a foundry and we saw the guard. He saw us, too. We got up our courage and approached him and said to him: Tell us at once if there is an escape route where there are no Germans.” He showed us a way to get out and we left. We hid behind residential houses so that we couldn't be seen when suddenly someone shouted, in Yiddish: “Jews, where are you going?” It was a Jewish young man who was hiding behind some bushes. He warned us not to go on because every 50 meters there were two armed Germans and there was no way to escape from them. We joined them and waited 24 hours. It was a dangerous hiding place, but we had no other choice. At dawn we began to worry since we were entirely exposed and we knew that at full daylight we would be discovered and lost. At six in the morning we saw a group of Christian workers going to work so we joined them silently, trying to mingle with them by groups of two, at safe distances. The first few pairs passed safely, the last pair was discovered and the Christians began pursuing them. One of them, a young man from Lida was shot and killed.

Somehow we managed to go out of there. Twelve kilometers from Lida there was a thick forest. We made it to the forest to hide and waited for the Partisans that we were certain were there. We simply did not know where to go without taking a chance.

We stayed there for a week. At night we went to steal food and during the day we slept in our hiding place. On the seventh day we met the Partisans. They told us that the Ghetto was completely liquidated and there was no one alive in that area. They also told us that Bilsky and his unit were in that area and that one Jewish family was hiding at a goy's place in the nearest village. At night we went out to free the Jewish family and were surprised to learn that there were only women and two old people, and who knows what would have happened to them if we hadn't come. We learned from them that there was another Jewish family hiding there and Tuvia Bilsky had promised to come and get them out.

We waited for Bilsky. The goy was one of us, helping the Partisans. We told him where we were hiding and asked him to let Bilsky know where we were. The next day, Bilsky arrived and within two weeks we got to our camp. These two weeks were nerve racking for all of us. No one really believed that we were alive. How was it possible to be out in the forest for two weeks and stay alive in an area full of murderous Nazis? The only people who believed were my brother and sister. She knew that I was a survivor.

From that time on we stayed in the forest and lived a Partisan's life. When I recall this kind of life, I don't know whether or not the things we did were heroic; the whole existence of the Camp Bilsky was heroic as well as dangerous – all in order to save the remnants of the Holocaust.

We were 1,200 people in the camp and we were all helping each other to survive and each of us did the right thing at that time and in those conditions. But there were indeed also acts of real heroism, acts that involved danger and revenge. I myself took part in many ambushes against the Germans, I mined their convoys, I looked for them everywhere and I also guarded our forest against German troops. The most dangerous act that I remember was confiscating food for the members of our unit. I also remember our commander Meir Shamir; it was reassuring to be under his serious and responsible command.

Before we left the forest, our lives changed to a happier phase. German deserters were trying to escape and it was a pleasure for us to ambush them. For us it was sweet vengeance. Once we caught ten Germans. The Russian Commander declared himself Judge and a Jew from Meliboki was the translator in the trial. According to his translation, all the Germans admitted that they murdered and demolished and robbed and the Russian Commander sentenced them to death. I was appointed to carry out the death sentence. I carried it out with a sacred feeling and I knew it would teach the generations to come a good lesson. They fell, one by one, and I had the pleasure of seeing them helpless and frightened and miserable and knowing that they wouldn't dare to talk anymore about their heroic and unbeatable nation.

Of course, this was not the reason of collecting and writing my memories as a Partisan. My main reason was to note the big part of those who established the Brigade and those who gave it a heroic agenda of keeping the Jewish survivors alive, month after month despite fear and hunger. Their heroism should be told over and over again and it should not be forgotten.

Long is the Road to Zion

by Yitzach Olkenitski

Translated by Miriam Olkenitzky z”l

Edited by Yocheved Klausner



Back to Voronova

The train slowed down. From the platform I'm standing on, I can see the wooden buildings of the Voronova train station. I know that this train will not stop at the town of my birth but when I got on the train at the station of Binyaconi, the train engineer surrendered to my pleadings and promised to slow down the train while passing near Voronova so I can jump home…

I jumped from the train into the grave of brothers. Large groups of Jews from Vilna left in 1942 and got to Voronova to find shelter from German bestiality there. They believed that the Germans would not find them in small towns but they did. They were arrested and ordered to dig a grave for themselves. They were thrown in alive and shot. Even before that I have heard about this common grave. I gave my last respects to the victims of the “Lithuanian Jerusalem” who were the first victims of the Holocaust, even before the official “aktzia” in Voronova.

At the train station nothing has changed. The same manager Petchikowski, the Pole that stayed on his job during all the regimes, the Polish, the Soviet, the German, and back to the Soviet. There is peace and quiet here and my heart is pounding. How could it be that nothing has changed? How could this old terminal still stand here after all that happened to our town, after the destruction of our Jewry? For a moment I stood like stricken but I shook myself away from these thoughts and walked toward the town. My head felt heavy. I'm walking and feeling like a Holocaust survivor who is coming back to a home that does not exist anymore. When I got close to town, I suddenly observed a young woman walking toward the train station. It was my sister Beila, still living in Voronova and waiting for me. I sent her some telegrams about my coming home and now she was here to greet me.

It was the spring season and the fields on both sides of the road were covered with wild flowers, the cherry trees were blooming and I breathed their delicate smell. I breathed the Polish Spring or maybe the Lithuanian – those places that are described by the great poet Mickewitz in “Pan Tadeusz”. It was the spring of 1946 after the great slaughter

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of the Jewish Nation. And there were four other springs, springs like those described by the poet [Bialik] “And God called for spring and slaughter together; the sun was shining, the tree was blooming and the butcher was slaughtering.”

I go back six years, not Spring but the winter of 1940, not day but night. Bitter cold was sneaking through my warm clothes and leather boots. Then too I was walking the same road but not from the station but toward it. My mother walked with me all shaking and crying. She was walking with her second son, the same way she walked with my oldest brother when he was drafted into the Polish Army to fight the German hoards that had invaded Poland in September 1939 – and he was taken prisoner. She held my hand strongly and I begged her: “Please go back, Mother, go back home, it's so cold outside. Those few hundred yards you walk with me won't help. We'll still see each other. I'm walking the road I walked in my youth. And this is the road to Zion – that is how you brought me up in our warm, Jewish home. You, my dear mother, the daughter of R'Leizer, the head of the Yeshivah of Szczuchin near Novogrodki and my dear father who worked hard as a tailor to keep us together. He even found time to work for the Community. Go back, Mother we'll still see each other.”

So mother went back; she is still standing in front of me waving her hand, and as she gets further away it looked as if she were blessing me. “Dear Son, go in Peace from Voronova and come in Peace to Zion.”

Six years have passed since then and I'm still on my way to Zion. Difficult was the road, full of tortures and full of suffering. It was the road of a Prisoner of Zion, whose only crime was that he belonged to the Youth Organization, BEITAR, sentenced to spend long years in the jails of the Soviet Union – concentration camps that for some reason are called in their language “Camps of Labor and Education.”

I came back to you, Voronova, to the grave of my ancestors, to the grave of my father who died in 1936. Now my sister Beila brings me to the common grave of my Jewish brothers of Voronova, the grave my mother is buried in. This grave is located in an area on the outskirts of town. It was hard to go through this terrible test. Twice in the same day to stand in front of common graves: one near the train station and the other on the other side of town in a place that in the past served as a range for the Polish riflemen. The Germans knew how to use it for their purpose: “the final solution of the Jewish problem.” I stood there; I gave my respects to the Saints of Voronova who were led like sheep to be slaughtered – choking with tears. My dear Mother, I didn't succeed in seeing you alive and I wanted to see you so much, to hug you and to tell you all the things I went through, to take you with me, to leave this horrible place and to go together to our country.

My sister Beila stood beside me. She was trying to cheer me up. Soon we will be on our way – she said – to Meir and Jacob, your brothers. They were already in “independent” Poland. From there, the road is open to Zion. It won't be long and your dream will come true. Beila tells me about the heroic acts of my two brothers, my two partisan brothers who were together with her husband, Eliahu, and many of our townspeople in Bilski's partisan brigade. This Brigade that is remembered for its heroic acts in the Jewish Resistance in the Holocaust,

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the Brigade that fought and took revenge on the Germans and their collaborators. Our brother Jacob was among the bravest of the partisans. He had a big share in the attacks performed by the Brigade, and he saved the lives of many people from Voronova that he led out of the Leda Ghetto. After he escaped to the forest he came back to the Leda Ghetto many times and each time he led out people and brought them to Bilski's Brigade. Sadly, he could not get our sister Esther out. He found her sick and a few days later the Ghetto was liquidated.

Beila and went back to town. Beila kept telling me about the horrors that happened to the people of our town and about the fate of some of them. No miracles happened for the Jews, but something amazing did happen, the most significant is what happened to my aunt.

Aunt Musia was the wife of Isaac Olkenitzki, may God avenge his blood, Starosta of Voronova during the Czar's regime and I am the carrier of his name. He was murdered on Passover of 1919 when the Poles captured Voronova. They murdered him because one of his sons was a Commandant of the Red Police. The son succeeded in escaping with the Red Army into the Soviet Union. My Aunt suffered a stroke on that day and she was bound to her bed for the rest of her life. Her children, Esther, Rachel, Moshe and Yeshayahu took care of her during all of those years and showed her unusual dedication and respect. They summoned the best doctors for her and nothing seemed to work. It was impossible to get her out of her sick bed. On the day of the “aktzia”, all of the Jews were ordered to get out into the Market Place. Those that couldn't get out were shot in their houses. When the Germans arrived at her house and found her in bed they pointed their weapons at her; she got up and said: “I am going to die together with everybody else. After 20 year of paralysis she got up and walked half a mile toward the common grave.


At the End of the Road

We went on the road to Poland and from there to refugee camps. In Germany we taught the “children of Israel,” the survivors of the Holocaust, the use of weapons. We purchased weapons and ammunition to bring them to Israel to help the settlements struggling for their survival. These weapons were part of the weapons that were hidden on the Etzel [Irgun Tzeva'i Le'umi] ship Altalena. On the same ship my brother Jacob and I arrived at the shores of Israel.

Sometimes I am overtaken with the feelings of nostalgia for the place I was born in and grew up, for the place I spent my childhood and my youth. I do not miss the cursed land soaked in the blood of the saints of Israel, but I miss you, my father, mother, brothers and sisters and Jews of Voronova who are lost to us forever. My heart aches for you that you have never succeeded in arriving at the end of the road to Zion.

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My Revenge Against the Liquidator of Jews in Our Region

by Moshe Kaplan

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

In December 1947 I was called by the German government and the Department of Criminal Prosecution for our region to go to Germany in order to testify against Shtabsleiter Vindish.

Everyone whose fate had made them suffer the atrocities of the Lida ghetto and experience the death torments in the open ghetto of our town knew who Vindish was. Vindish was in charge de facto of the liquidation of Voronova Jews and Jews from all the environs, but Vindish didn't miss any opportunity to kill a Jew by his own hands.

I knew him well. I worked for him and also as a painter in Lida for a whole month before the liquidation of our dear Jewish community. When the horrible day came and our community was liquidated, and two mass graves were dug, it was Vindish himself who decided who would live and who would die. I was left alive by him as a person useful to him and that's why he also let my family live.

Those days spent close to him made me a natural witness in this trial.

The trial was held in Mainz, in Hebrew Magentza. It is a town known for its pogroms in the Middle Ages. When I entered the courtroom Vindish stood up, saluted, and cried out:

“Herr Kaplan, ich liebe Isroel (Mr. Kaplan I love and admire Israel)

I replied:

“Israel doesn't need praises from a dog like you.”

He sat down. This affected the whole atmosphere of the trial, clarifying that his tricks wouldn't work and that he would have to change his attitude for this trial.

The judge began the procedures and I was asked in what language I would prefer to testify. Near me was sitting an Israeli Police officer who had prepared the case and he also served as a translator. I didn't wait for his translation and replied in German:

“I now have a state of my own, a homeland with its own language in which I want to testify.”

I told everything I knew against him and against Verner, the famous murderer whose atrocities in Voronova could freeze your blood simply by listening to them.

The trial was cancelled in the middle of the procedures because it was discovered that Vindish's lawyers had placed listening devices, and they asked for a delay.

It was a pre–calculated trick to gain time and wait for a more favorable judge.


During my stay in Germany I lived with a German anti–Nazi family. They did everything they could to make me feel comfortable and pleasant in their country. It was the teacher Vickry, a well–known educator in the Mainz professional school – he, his wife and his wife's parents.

In the evening they brought me to a priest's house. When we came in we found about ten people were invited to the meeting. They asked me to tell them something from my bitter experience. I told them things as they were. They wept while listening to me and [kept crying] for a long hour after I finished.

When I finished, a heavy silence fell. The priest was the first to recover and said:

“You see, those acts are in total contradiction to Christianity, how could they do it.”

I couldn't resist a reply:

“Honorable gentlemen, but this conduct in Christianity has gone on for centuries, Spanish Inquisition, Blood libel, etc.”

They kept silent, the priest said:

“I invite you to come to my Church tomorrow and see something which will be an answer for you in this matter.”




On the next day I went to Church with him. He showed me paintings depicting the celebrations of the Christians at the sites of pogroms performed by local Christians during the time of Baruch of Mainz.[1] They were covered with sheets.

He explained:

“I am ashamed of it, that's why I covered the paintings with sheets. Now I am going to pass a decision to uncover them.”


In May 1969 the trial against Vindish was reopened. This time Verner was not charged with him. He had severe diabetes, he was confined to bed.

At the start of the trial the judges asked for my permission to record my testimony. I complied.

I testified in Hebrew.

The judge asked me to describe everything I went through. I was allowed to cross the boundaries of pure facts and to add my personal feelings. He also offered me tranquilizers, ready to take the risk on my emotional state.

I took his advice and elaborated in my descriptions, incidents, and feelings, and I stayed calm the whole time. According to local laws of Mainz, judges may ask the witness questions during his testimony. I calmly replied to all their questions, even those that seemed provocative or tendentious. I didn't lose my temper until Vindish interfered.

The judge requested that I tell what was before Vindish and his last actions. I told all, including the fact that he had spared my life during the liquidation, and how he had ordered who was to live and who was to die. I didn't see him murder with his own hands–– I myself didn't see it, but I heard it from many reliable people who saw it with their own eyes. Here Vindish burst out:

“Herr Kaplan, if it wasn't for me saving you, you wouldn't be standing here with your fancy tie.”

I replied:

“You didn't save me, you just kept 700 slaves for your own needs, and I happened to be one of them.”

I felt myself losing control, my emotions went high. He asked me where was I after the war, on my way to Israel:

“Have you been to Austria by any chance?”

I responded – “Why do you ask?”

He replied:

“Because in Austria there were gangs of dog hunters.”

To my question what gangs and what dogs, he replied:

“Gangs of Jews looking for Nazi officers and handing them over to the police.”

I said:

“If so, I feel sorry deep in my heart that I and my children didn't have the privilege to participate in this sacred dog hunt.”

The prosecutor winked at me with sparkling eyes, he agreed with me fully.

From then on he became more and more impudent, asking frequent and arrogant questions. I couldn't take it anymore. My eyes were filled with tears, my throat was choked. I couldn't stop the tears from dripping and washing my face, I had to drink water frequently, but I couldn't calm down my emotions.

He asked:

“And what are you doing to poor Arabs in Israel?”

I replied:

“If you would treat us the way we treat Arabs, 6 million Jews could still be alive and living peaceful and prosperous lives.”

In the end he took a practical direction:

“How many Jews were murdered in Voronova?”

I replied:

“I couldn't know exactly, I think approximately three thousand Jews.” He burst out:

“You are a liar! In your previous testimony you spoke about two thousand five hundred and now you add 500 more!”

I had to respond and I burst out:

“Murderer, don't you know that murder of one person or one baby is a serious crime, and you bargain with me about 500? You are and have always been a murderer with sick mentality.”

After saying it, I took the glass full with water and threw it straight in his face.

Then something very common to all murderers happened, to most of them. As soon as he was injured by the glass and his nose started to bleed, he became hysterical and screamed like a pig.

The chairman of the court stopped the discussion and all the judges left the room. I was taken out of court by a policeman but I wasn't arrested.

The trial reopened after 10 minutes. I burst out again and shouted:

“You want to save your own dog skin but you'll never understand the price of a human life. You were and always will be a murderer.”

The judge ordered me to leave and declared to the audience that my testimony was complete. When I went out, the prosecutor said to me:

“It's good that you agreed to be recorded. The tape keeps the intonation of your sincere outbursts and this will add to the arguments against him.”

My host told me later that pupils from his school had attended the trial for both sessions, one time with him and the second time with the principal himself, Monk, who allowed all of them to skip school twice for two hours. He also told me that the two of them had performed public trials against Nazis in order to educate future citizens and to show them the depth of the crimes forced on their people by one psychopath. They invited me to come to a senior class and tell my story. And again, I simply told my story in simple words and they all cried and shed endless tears.

I knew the importance of sharing and spreading the lesson of those days to all humanity, and our mission is this: to remember, to remind and not to allow forgetting.


Editor's note
  1. One of the most prominent rabbis of Germany. Died in Mainz in 1221. (Public Domain: Louis Ginzberg (1901–1906). “Baruch ben Samuel”. In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.) Return

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After the Underground

by Y. Dvilianski

Translated by Meir Bulman

After WWII ended, the few Jews who stayed in Europe began departing from their dispersed locations with the purpose of reaching Eretz Israel. They encountered many difficulties: shuttered borders in Eastern Europe, gangs of robbers that still operated in those countries, and lack of organizational guidance for the refugees. Despite that, all means and all ways were justified in reaching the goal and overcoming obstacles. It overtook the war–remnants like an electric current. The idea of Aliyah overtook everyone. Rumors spread quickly that the time had indeed come and that there was an avenue by which to reach the destination where they, their children, and generations to come would not have to endure the perils of exile and the horrors of the holocaust they had endured.

Ironically, passage to the final and safe harbor was through Germany, the very same country from which the destructive toxins had been released and which had started the war. In West Germany, war–remnants gathered in camps for displaced persons from all over Eastern Europe: from the ghettos, the death camps, the labor camps, soldiers released from various militaries, partisans who took their liberation into their own hands, and Jews who had simply survived.

One day just before evening, a truck stopped on Ornenburg Street in Berlin, and out of it jumped two young men who had made their way to a house which served as a sleeping spot and halfway–house to the Shlekhtensa boarder camp in West Berlin. The next day they had a meeting with their wives, who had waited for them impatiently because such a trip entailed the risk of life, or life imprisonment in a best case scenario. They had a meeting no less exciting with the brigade man who operated in the aforementioned camp and prepared young folks and Jews for the future and its events, which would lead to the establishment of Israel. The brigade man was very dynamic and affable. We bonded with him at first sight and began thinking of two matters: organizing the youth and preparing them for Aliyah, and searching for and rescuing children and young folks who had remained deserted and orphaned in most Eastern–European countries so as to unite them, transfer them to Germany, and from there to Israel. Organizations dedicated to escape and Aliyah were on the ground guiding the process.

After some fact–finding it was decided to avoid dividing the youth, and to unite them under the banner of a unified pioneering banner. That is how Nokham came to be, an organization which included all youth groups, from Agudat Israel to HaShomer HaTzair. Nokham officials were sent from Berlin to the American–controlled parts of Germany where they placed youth on ranches as well as in child and youth camps which we established.

I had the good fortune to be among those who were active and cared for the youth brought from Romania, Hungary, and some from Poland. It is difficult to describe the conditions facing children in those countries at the time, and also what conditions they faced while being transferred to Germany. The children were afraid, insecure, suspicious, and lacked faith in humanity; they with disheveled in appearance, almost naked, and mentally unkempt. In a hotel in the German Alps, near Bad Reichenhall, one of the most beautiful spots in Germany, such a group of children was settled for care and preparation towards a new life.

At first, they had to be fed to satiation to extract from them the fear of hunger, and obtain their trust.

On the first festive night, the tables were set, the children sat by them, the dining hall large and pretty, and a nice filling meal is served, anticipating a signal to start eating. Suddenly, we look and see that all the food is gone, but did not see the children eating. It turns out that fear conditioned them to hoard food for a dark day, and indeed the food was found in the children's pockets. Explanations that they would be getting food the next day, and also in days to come, did not help. That evening the meal was hampered. Only after several days passed and our assurances were confirmed to them did we begin gaining their trust. After the food incident came the education as to hygiene and clothing habits, such as a having a clean bed with a white sheet. More than once we had to remove children form bed so that they would wash their hands and feet before bed. After they got accustomed to a normal social life which depended on keeping hygiene and order, we overcame the obstacles of physicality, and began their mental care. Groups were organized to teach the Hebrew language, some general knowledge of Israel, and national history, as well as some occupational instruction. Mental care for the children was among the most difficult, as most of them were from the town of Yas,[1] from the Green Bridge, a famous bridge known as an underworld, rife with trafficking, prostitution, and theft, which the children absorbed into their blood. They knew that “the intent of man's heart is evil,” etc. and must not be trusted. When we told them of Israel, of the abundance, of a place where everyone is Jewish, they did not want to believe it, they simply persisted in their defensiveness against any influence.

Preparations for the Hanukkah ball saved the day. For two months, they learned Hebrew songs and dances, and an indescribable enthusiasm overtook the children. With unusual interest, they began listening to our stories about the land and the people who inhabited it, and with even more enthusiasm they studied self–defense and fighting which the Shurah guide taught them.

Each evening, groups would venture out into the Alps and conduct preliminary training in fighting, field navigation, etc. We were all surprised by the change that took place in the children we cared for. They leaped from fear and insecurity to confidence, sticking to goals, and willingness for self–sacrifice. No obstacle or hesitation existed to them, and every task they were put to was completed with remarkable thoroughness.

It seems to me that the play they put on for Hanukkah under the guidance of instructor Litman was what transferred them to another world and instilled in them the confidence and the ambition to change their lives within the framework of changes occurring in the life of the nation.

On the day the UN agreed on the establishment of a state they erupted with cries of freedom, happiness and crying were entangled in an inseparable combination. They danced the hora accompanied by hysterical shrieking, kissing, and hugging. Their celebration and wild behavior continued all night until the morning; we knew then that all the efforts in caring for them had been worthwhile: the seed that was planted grew nicely. We the counselors, including emissaries from Israel, were also influenced and the children's happiness infected us too.

On one of those days while traveling by bus in Israel, M. Z. suddenly arose, a handsome young man wearing glasses, called me by my first name and offering me his seat. I did not recognize him at first, but then it became clear that he was one of the young men from that hotel in Germany. I heard a bit from him about the rest of the young folks that were with us in that German hotel. Some of the youngsters had fallen in the Kastel offensive, some had fought and fallen in the Old City of Jerusalem. Only a few remain alive and reside in various places in Israel.


  1. Ed. Note: Believed to be Iasi in present day Romania. Return

[Page 163]

My Father is Summoning Me

by Shlomo Aviel (Shmerkovitsh)

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

At night I see my father in my dreams
At the big table in Beth Hamidrash in my town
Across a large bookcase full with books
Sitting alone absorbed in a Gemarah page
By the dim light of a single candle
He is murmuring a sad melody, how awful
A melody of pain, of the injustice of the universe
And a tear on his cheek
Rolls down in silence and grief.

Quiet and depressed, I am all in a shiver
Terrified and shocked,
I am trying to look at him
To move and walk in his direction,
But somehow my feet can't move
But somehow they don't obey me,
Father! My father! My God!
Have mercy! It's me!
Why are you hiding your face from me?
Why are you turning your head to the wall?
But he didn't reply, he slipped away and was gone
Took his feet and went away.
Look he is quickening his pace
Jumping and hopping with surprising energy,
Between bushes and thorns, graves and gravestones
And at the cemetery near the grave
Are scattered wounded and dead
Burnt corpses in all directions,
And Yom Kippur candles are burning all around

Suddenly the corpses arouse like angels
Up in the sky, up high,
And fly, and fly, and fly…


Suddenly the picture changes:
I am again in the prayer house,
Reb Yudel, the chazan is covered with his talith
He is weeping in a high gentle sound
Spilling his heart to the Almighty
Asking and begging for mercy:
God Almighty! Whoever you forgive will be saved
Whoever you pity will be pardoned
Eyes are turned up to the sky
Hearts are pleading to you
God, have mercy on your people!
You are the savior in each generation!
And the whole crowd, covered in talith
Answers him in prayer and weeping,
Reb Yosef goes up to the stage with his shofar
Holding his shofar and siddur Begging, murmuring with sadness and grief:
“From the depths I am calling, Adonai, answer me, Adonai,”[1]
“You heard my voice, don't shut your ears.”
And the sound of shofar bursts out
Tears up the sky, calls for mercy
Tekya, Truah, Shvarim,[2]
And a scream emerges from Ezrat Nashim,[3]
My mother Z”L[4] is also there
Sheds a tear over the siddur
Suddenly there is no praying crowd
No chazzan and no prayer.


Across the large bookcase filled with books,
Near the big table in Beth Hamidrash
Jews study, argue and fight.
My father Reb Yosef against Chaim Fleig,[5]
None of them is ready to concede
They are discussing Pirkei Avot, arguing
My father joined in [in Aramaic: reference to a page of Talmud],[6]
His opponent [in Hebrew: reference to a page of Talmud],[7]
He doesn't agree, that's why they are arguing.


Jews finished their prayer
Folded their talith and Tefilin and left
And they were still arguing
Proving by examples and quotes
That they are right?
Only God can explain this dream.


My dream ends and I wake up.
This dream keeps coming back
Coming back again and again
And I know that my father sends me a sign and orders
To avenge him, not to rest
Until I build a gravestone, to my father, to fathers
And mothers of Voronova, to brothers and sisters.
May this gravestone be a substitute for revenge
Like a bundle of life, a bundle of souls.


  1. Trans. Note: This is a verse from a biblical Psalm. Return
  2. Trans. Note: These are the prayer words accompanying successive soundings of the Shofar. Return
  3. Trans. Note: The womens' area of the synagogue Return
  4. Ed. Note: Of blessed memory Return
  5. Ed. Note: In the original text the surname is spelled: fey–lamed–yud–gimel Return
  6. Ed. Note: The reference consists of three Aramaic words spelled: mem–alef–yud // dalet–kuf–alef–mem–resh–yud // resh–bet–nun–langer nun Return
  7. Ed. Note: The reference consists of four Aramaic words spelled: mem–ayen–dalet–nun ayen–dalet–nun resh–bet het–yud–yud–mem Return


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