by Kay Lisorski
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.
When the GermanRussian war broke out, my husband was [serving] in the Russian military and I was staying with my tiny baby in Lida.
The baby was then 1 year and 22 days old.
On that day they set fire all around the ghetto. On my chest, tied with the hem of my dress, I carried my little bird. I was escaping to my hometown Voronova.
On the way I became tired so I stopped to spend the night in Bastuni, about 10km from Voronova. Together with me stayed Mrs. Levine, Yoshke Levine's mother. In the morning a pair arrived from Voronova to take us home. My father, my devoted [father] had thought about his daughter. I invited her [Mrs. Levine] to come with us, but she didn't want to; the driver had told us that Germans had occupied Voronova and that he was not very eager to go near their [the Levine] residence. The same night Bastuni was bombarded and Mrs. Levine was killed.
On May 5, 1942, shabbat, they surrounded the ghetto. After 3 days of organizing their camps they started shooting straight into the ghetto.
Before that the Germans had brought to our ghetto all the Jews from Soletchnik, Divenishok, and Bastuni. It became very crowded, impossible to live. The shootings were unbearable, the whistling sound of the bullets spread fear. The bullets were flying from all directions. Jews hid; they wanted to live just a bit more. They knew that all this firing and siege meant death and destruction, but they wanted to live a little more.
We had a bunker under the floor in our house. All the Jews hid there, but we stayed out of the bunker. We were afraid that the baby would cry and reveal the hiding place. Nevertheless, my little one didn't cry, as if he understood the situation and kept quiet for us.
On Sunday the Yudenrat people ran around and shouted:
Jews come out of the bunkers, nothing [bad] will be done to you.
But the Jews didn't come out and stayed in the bunkers.
On Monday, the Germans and their henchmen increased the siege around the ghetto. They went from house to house, dragging out all Jews.
1,800 Jews were taken to the market place. They were ordered to lie on the ground. Photographers with cameras ran around and took pictures of them lying down.
The son of the Soletchnik Rabbi, a cripple without feet, also lay down. When the Head Commissar noticed him from a distance, he came over to him and asked him where he had lost his feet. The fellow told him. The German expressed his condolences. You could see on his face an expression of genuine regret and compassion, but all this didn't stop him from murdering him shortly after. Only moments before the slaughter, the megamurderer had felt pity for his victim without feet.
Round and round stood our good neighbors with sticks and hacks, with shovels and pitchforks, guarding us so we couldn't escape from death.
The order was given:
Stand up! March!
Before us walked my parents and my sister. My husband was terrified about our son's destiny. I looked at my baby and he looked back with his little eyes at me, at my husband, at me, at my husband, suddenly he exclaimed:
They will not kill us, they'll let us go home.
He knew that we needed compassion and he decided to comfort us.
The Head Commissar stood on the crossroad and divided the Jews to life or to death. He instantly sent my parents [to death], and we clinged on to them, wanting to be with them in any situation. But the nice murderer pushed us to the right, tore us away from father and mother and sent us …to live. We could still be useful to him. We both had a profession, and he still needed professional people.
We remained seated; we heard the shootings that finished away all our dearest ones. When all the shooting ended a Polish policeman approached us and said:
Don't worry, you will live.
As if it was our only concern at that moment.
In the evening they gathered the surviving Jews at the market place again. A photographer took pictures of us again. As it turned out, the purpose was to show how many Jews were exterminated on that day for statistical purposes.
They took off all our jewelry, piled up all the valuable things in huge shawls spread out on the ground, and we were told to go back to our homes.
When I stood up, I immediately ran to the mass graves. They were already covered with soil, but the soil was moving, went up and down at the edges, like a huge chest breathing and catching air.
Ten days later we were sent to Lida ghetto.
We were allowed to take with us only what we could carry. We were driven by foot to Bastuni. There they pushed us into cargo wagons and took us to Lida.
We arrived in Lida ghetto on May 23, 1942.
The Goyim came every day to warn us that in a few days we'd all be shot and dead.
My husband worked in a workshop outside town. When we felt that the last day of extermination was coming close, we went to him. He hid me and my baby in a closet.
Inside the closet I told the baby:
Now you will be safe, don't talk.
He put his little finger to his lips and replied:
Shh, no talking.
And he didn't talk. He cried silently, crying that you couldn't hear.
After a couple of days we were discovered and sent back into the ghetto.
On the last day of Pesach my husband went into the forest. I stayed in the Ghetto with my baby. He was ill with diphtheria and I wanted to cure him from this fatal illness though the chances were low. All diphtheria patients didn't survive in the Ghetto because of the lack of medical supplies and food, and the minimal services. Luckily for me there was a young Jewish doctor in the Ghetto (oh my, I forgot his name), and he took upon himself to cure my little bird. By his orders I ran around the ghetto from place to place, despite the mortal danger, and I managed to obtain injections against diphtheria. The pharmacists just couldn't cope with my sorrow and gave me all the bottles they had. My baby recovered. The doctor didn't leave his bed until he saw him healthy.
When my husband came back for a second time to take us to the forest, we wanted to take the young doctor with us. He refused. He didn't want to desert the ghetto people and leave them without his devoted care. Now you tell me, who is the person who looks for Jewish heroism in the Nazi ghettos and doesn't find any?
While walking in the forest we encountered great hardships. It was a very hot Iyar day, a month after Pesach. It was hard walking in the heat. In addition, we lost our way and wandered around. After a hard day we entered a house of a Gentile woman. Her son was a policeman with the Germans in the Lida Ghetto, a murderous youngster. She served a table full of food for us, and delighted our souls.
The baby didn't eat. He took all the pieces of bread with his small hands and built a pile out of them. The woman told us to ask him why he wouldn't eat, he replied:
Mommy, later I'll be hungry again.
In the forest Keileh Grodzenchik (Shamir) gave us a piece of bread. I broke it in two and kept the second piece for later. But he [the baby] wanted both halves. When I wouldn't let him and I told him:
Later you'll be hungry again.
Mommy, why do you worry? When you have no bread, do I nag? Am I hungry on purpose?
The raids in the forest became more and more frequent. In the forest he was carefree. Sometimes I was afraid for him not being careful enough, forgetting what he had learned in the ghetto, the terrible lessons of horrible days. But as soon as an order was given to leave, [or] to hide, [or] to move to another place in the forest, he would immediately jump on the shoulders of my husband, ready to confront all the dangers of the dark roads in the thick woods. When running escaping from a raid he would again close himself in, never crying, or talking or requesting food.
On the dark wandering roads during the days of Nazi horror we suffered a lot of hunger, dampness, and cold that broke our souls and spirit. But he, the tiny little man, suffered all those things with the patience and spirit of a grownup man, and even better.
In the days of severe hunger, day after day, it was hard for me to see my baby eager for food. But he had a special instinct for such hours: to comfort and lighten us up. His comforting words and good talking gave us motivation to live and hope.
And so because of him and thanks to him we survived.
by Mineh Konopke (Mutshnik)
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
On the day the Germans occupied our region a bomb fell on the castle. When we talked about it with great fear, someone from the district party headquarters told us:
Don't be afraid. Just like grass cannot grow on a palm, the Germans cannot stay here.
On the next day the Russians began enlisting men and also some women. At that time in Pirigantse, 10 km from Voronova, an airport was built, so Dina Kurlansky and I were sent there to work in [unknown word]. On the road there were already a lot of dead and wounded from the German air attacks and when we arrived at the spot there was turmoil. There was no telephone communication with anyone; the Germans were very close. The Russian officials immediately caught whatever motor vehicle was available and drove away, and [took] Dina with them (by the way she came back later; she wasn't allowed to cross the border to Russia). I stayed. I didn't want to part from my family. The locals of course immediately looted everything there. It was impossible to go straight home so I went, together with several Gentile girls who I had arrived with, to spend a night at a peasant's house. There, all the neighbors gathered and talked about how now they'd have some revenge on the Jews.
The shooting was awful. The sky was red because of fires. They said that Voronova was all up in flames and all the Jews there had been killed. They just ate and drank and for me the night was endless. On the next morning, as soon as the Germans appeared in the village, we started on our way home. They [the Gentile girls] didn't want to be seen with me so I followed behind them. When I came back to town it was not burning.
I found everyone there had fear in their eyes. It was frightening to show oneself in the street, and talk was of how the Germans had appeared suddenly. One thought of the bitter future, but didn't imagine the slaughter. When Batia Finkelshtein arrived with her family from a small town near the Lithuanian border and told us that they were shooting Jews there, nobody believed her. My sister Batia also lived in the same area with her family, in a town called Rudiskes, so we paid a Christian to bring them over to us. They were really happy to hear from us, but their parents who remembered the Germans from WW1 didn't believe the stories and didn't want to leave their house behind… When we sent the Christian for a second time to bring them, he found them being led to the meeting place with suitcases and their little boy with them. She only nodded to him with her head.
All the Jews from there were drowned in the Trakai Lake. And this is a clear fact.
In that way our troubles slowly started. Everybody was desperate. Some were hopeful. Some said that the spirit board had turned to the good side and looked for various other signs, until the action began of going from house to house shooting everyone sick.
After some time they arrested six people: Zerack, Esther and David Shelovski; Yitzakh Volpianski, Yesheyahu Olkenitski, Gershon Eishishki, and they never came back. There were rumors that in the surrounding towns, and in Lida, there had already occurred a day of slaughter, and that now our day of slaughter would come. When five [more] people were shot: Binyamin Kaplan with his wife, Nionie Grodzenchik, Leyzer Katzenellenbogen, and Gershonovitsh, I came in tears to Rokhl Katzenellenbogen. She said:
Don't cry. Soon we shall all meet and nobody will cry for us.
She was killed with Yehudith and family.
Three days before the slaughter we were not allowed to leave our homes, but we would sneak around to visit each other. I visited the Dlugins. They thought that because Aharon cleaned German houses maybe they'd let them live. So said Ettke Lubetski when she came to me, because her aunt Esther Lichtman knew the chief of headquarters, maybe she'd save them all. But nothing helped them.
[One day] came Itke Oleknitski with Chaya, daughter of the Myadler Rabbi, desperately asking what we planned to do to hide. We said we would hide mostly because of the parents. At that time we lived in Kalmanovitsh's warehouse, where we had been given an apartment by the Russians, because they decided that our previous big house was too big and too good for a Zionist family. They moved us twice, until we were sure we'd be deported to Siberia. Together with us lived a Divenishok family, Blyakher, so we all built a hiding place.
As soon as they begin to drive everyone out to the market place, our neighbors, and the Kletzker Rabbi with his family all began to go out. He used to repair German watches and thought that as a useful Jew he and his family would be saved. His brother Hershl prepared two bottles of gasoline to throw on them and burn everything, but he didn't do it because that would have killed many Jews who were in hiding.
Each Rabbi had his own followers. They didn't get along with each other and lived in disagreement, but in the market place that all changed. Together with them went the Rabbi of Soletchnik and his son, a cripple in a wheelchair. He showed them documents proving that he was injured in WWI fighting for Germany. They take him aside and shoot him. Our other neighbors, Yitzakh Dvilianski, Beyshl and their families, and also the Divenishok families Blyakher, Yankelovitsh and Schneider, barged into our warehouse to prepare a good hidden door. We were 20+ people hiding in this hiding place. From inside we heard people going in and out of the house, clapping on the walls, searching. We sat still. We hugged and kissed little children to keep them calm. Above us, from the attic, they dragged Sheynke Blekherovitsh's brother. They found him hiding in the hay and shot him on the spot. We are trembling from fear for several hours before Dr. Gordon, from Navaradok, who knew about us, tapped on the door to tell us we could go out, and thus we had been saved for now.
In the Lida ghetto we often met Voronovers that had survived; with some of them we worked together. The situation becomes worse and worse. The rumors from surrounding towns and villages were of mere slaughter. They said that in the Vilne ghetto the situation was a little better. Rokhl Shevakh, with family, tried to reach Vilne. On the way they were arrested. She ran away and wandered into the forest with the child, and when she returned to the ghetto she was afraid to show herself because they were looking for her. Meanwhile we heard about Bielski's brigade in the forest a way to save ourselves.
Rokhl Kopelevitch's brother was waiting to pick her up in the forest, but when it became time for her to go, the baby cried in the cradle and she came back.
My sisters came to the forest with great difficulties. After some time a big raid [on the forest camp] occurred and they had to go back to the ghetto. Feitshe Grodzenchik said that it would be impossible to move around with a baby, so they decided to share their destiny with all the [other] Jews.
We began talking to our neighbors about having to build a hiding place. We dug throughout the nights. With hard work we made a tunnel from the backyard to the outskirts of town. The entrance [was] from the corridor behind a small disguised door.
One morning in September my mother looked outside the window to see what was new in the ghetto. She noticed silhouettes outside the wire fence and exclaimed: We are already surrounded! Everybody in the house jumped to their feet; in the ghetto people were already running around like crazy, not knowing what to do, to hide or to be deported for labor as it was called. The 15 of us went down into hiding. From above the entrance was disguised by Leybe, a Jew from Baranovich who had already lost his whole family and didn't want to live or join us. In the hiding place [there] was barely [space] to sit, with legs over us. There was no food or drink, only a piece of bread, but we were too terrified to feel hungry. Lips were burning from dehydration. Luckily we found a shovel and dug a small hole in the ground to find some moisture for the lips. My father fainted several times, so we silently revived him. Upstairs in the house there was constantly someone searching. They used to tie a wooden beam to a horse and run him in the yard. When the beam made an empty sound they knew there was a hiding below and they stopped to catch the Jews. We could hear the voices, the crying, and shots into caught Jews. Thus we suffered for 6 days and nights.
When we couldn't stand this anymore we had to go out. We waited until it was raining and then broke the door. We cut the wires and ran into God's hands. The night was dark and we were almost blind couldn't see anything. My mother and sisters Rivke and Yaffe ran with Basyeh Poditvianski, her husband and son, who were together with us in the hiding, being sure that my father and sister Khenyeh are running after them. My father's coat got caught in the wires so became cut off from everybody and didn't know where to go. We were terrified and didn't know where we were. My sister said she was going to look around and see where we were. She went, and every minute felt like a year. We were regretting that we had let her go, and when she [finally] returned we were happy. Then my father recognized a hut where he used to pray in the ghetto, far from the cemetery. From there it would be close to Stashevitsh, a Gentile who lived near the Head Commissar, where we used to work, and he was known as an honest Christian. On the way to him we came across a swamp from where we barely managed to pull each other out, without shoes. Then we noticed a policeman who was standing and smoking exactly where we had to pass.
We lay down and raised our heads from time to time to see if he was gone. It was almost morning and he wasn't moving, smoking one cigarette after another. After endless waiting we heard someone calling him. When he went away we dragged ourselves to the cemetery. Then policemen from a nearby house started shooting at us. Apparently they heard movement in the cemetery, but because of the rain they didn't bother to go out and shot from afar. We stretched between the graves. The bullets were flying over us. When it became quiet and at first light, we approached Stashevitsh's stable at the same time she came to milk the cows. She noticed us and exclaimed Oh Jesus Maria, how did you get here? We went into the stable. She told us to climb up to the attic and to pull the ladder so that no one could climb up. Later she brought us some hot tea. We put our hands [on the cups] to warm up a bit; we weren't able to hold the cups because our hands were frozen.
They also brought some of their warm, dry clothes and took away our clothes to dry. We lay there trembling from cold and fear, thinking about the destiny of our closest [relatives]. We concluded that we would stay here for several days until we had decided on our future moves. But when it became dark they came up to us with bread and milk, saying that we had to leave immediately because they were afraid. Our pleas to let us stay for the night didn't help. They carried [our] father over a footbridge, showed us the Rashliki Forest. From there we could get to Syagle where partisans could often be found. By the way, we already knew from the sisters who had come back after the raid not to ask shepherds for directions, because they'd betray us. I had a couple hundred of zlotes in my coat so I gave them half. The forest was wet. We clung to each other and sat under a tree, afraid not of animals but of people. We sat for a whole night and then for a whole day wandered back and forth, afraid to ask anyone for directions. When we were already too tired to walk we saw from afar an elderly peasant riding [a horse]. I went out to him and asked for directions. He said that we were 3 km from Lida. We realized that our wandering around was pointless and decided to go straight along the road whatever will be, will be.
We were walking with me in the front and they following. Everybody is watching us. My father is noticeably Jewish. Then we see from afar a papers checkpoint. We immediately turned to a field and stayed seated. Suddenly a man approaches us and tells us not to be afraid. He knows we are Jews. [He tells us] that in the last days a lot of Jews went through here but the Germans caught them. The patrols already killed a lot. We immediately gave him our last money and asked him to lead us by a side road with he in the front at a distance and we would follow. He walked and we run after him at a distance, until we lost him, and began to wander around by ourselves wishing a bullet would take us all, until we got to Syagle. We saw a house with a burning oven, food cooking, and a young guy walking around. We went into the house and began to warm up and dry our clothes. The Christian [woman] came in and asked us to go away far from the house because sometimes the Germans would come around, and sometimes the partisans. Again we were sitting in the bushes in a field. In the evening we see partisans riding on horses. We ran to them with joy. They were Russians. When they learned from us that we are Jews from the Lida ghetto, they said to us until now you've spent your time with Germans and now you come to us? You deserve to be shot for this! They forced us to stand against a wall and not to make a move. One of their group felt sorry for us and tried to convince them to set us free. After we stood for quite a long time they told us to go away and not to show ourselves anymore.
On our way we again met several Russian partisans, who pushed Father aside, and told him to go and find the Bielski squad on his own while they would take us into their squad to be their wives. It didn't help to talk to their conscience. Suddenly they heard sounds of shooting from the village. Hearing the approaching shooting, and not knowing who is shooting, they quickly disappeared and left us behind. Apparently the shooters were drunk partisans who thought the Germans are near. We continued further, hoping to meet Jews.
We experienced a lot of fear of Russian partisans. From time to time they threatened to shoot us, but when we told them that we were on our way to Bielski they left us alone. Finally we met a group of Jews from Lida, with them Keileh Rudnik with husband and child. The youngster opened up a gap and disappeared. My father was not able to keep up with Keileh and her family. We went back together. In the evening we went through a village. A peasant was sitting with his family at a black wooden table with boiled potatoes and sour milk [sour cream] on it. They are eating calmly. We thought if only we could at least stay in his warehouse. Later we met a Jew from Lida, Starovolski, who is leading a group of Jews to Bielski, and we were already going together. One time, when I was on a side road, I was surprised by several partisans. When they saw how terrified I was they immediately told me they were Jews. It was Tuvye Bielski with several of his men. I took them to our group he was happy to see the leader of our group whom he knew from before and he ordered that everyone be taken to his squad on different roads. Later, now being all together, we went into a village where we found Zusye Bielski, sleeping in a warm bed at a peasant's house. He was happy to see saved Jews and immediately offered his warm bed to my father.
We didn't know anything of my mother and sister until Rosh Hashana eve. We are all sitting together near a fire and warming up. Suddenly someone calls our names and says that our mother and sister are here. They had taken a very difficult route together with Batia and her family. This whole time we had been close to each other and didn't know it.
Now we are all together. It is Yom Kippur night and we come to the Patashnia Forest a gathering of Jews from different towns and shtetls. My father is praying Kol Nidre and other prayers from memory while others help him with the bitter tune.
During the day we would rest; at night we used to walk several kilometers. The rags on our feet would freeze during rest periods and it was hard to move around in the snow. Thus we dragged ourselves to Bielski in the Naliboki Forest. There were 2 camps there. They wanted to divide us between the two camps, but Asael Bielski ordered them not to divide families against their will.
In the forest we were among Jews. One could forget how different life had become as long one isn't seeing any Germans. One day several families made a small fire to boil their clothes [for disinfection]. Exactly at that time a German airplane appeared in the sky and bombed the area. The bucket and everything in it was perforated, but we managed to escape the place.
[Once] Sokolov came for a visit from headquarters. Since he knew me, when he went in with Belsky into the zemianka, he asked him to look after us and give us whatever we needed. We never needed anything. We were happy to be among Jews and share our destiny with them.
On the day the Red Army liberated us, the Germans were retreating in the forest. [On their way they] attacked our camp and shot 9 people. We had to leave the forest, because lots of them were running through the forest. Bielski led 1,230 saved Jews out of the forest; they had joined him on different roads, knowing that there was a Jewish squad with a Jewish commander who would take in any Jew. We came together with everyone to Navaradok and from there to Voronova. We came back with bitter hearts and deep sorrow, in rags, dirty, wires instead of shoelaces to keep them [on the feet]. In the ruined and exhausted Voronova, in the market place, we looked at the Jewish houses hoping to see someone looking back. Everybody was looking at us as if we had returned from the other world. Suddenly a Jewish major was glad to see us and said that he had been traveling around the neighborhood for a while and we were the first Jews he had met. He was most happy to meet my father with whom he later sat down to remember a Gemarah page. He took us to his room, put a loaf of bread on the table, which we didn't see for a long time, gave us food and drink, and found a room for us at Dlugin's. All the Jewish houses were occupied by Russians or exservants for whom it was a dreamcometrue.
The Jewish soldiers in the Russian military spread the word that there was a Jewish family living near the road, so they would make small packages with food and bring them over to us. Slowly, the few surviving Jews came back to town and scattered around to different parts. They would visit each other, but it was scary to go outside of the town because of the White Poles, who had already managed to kill 2 Jews, Kaplan and Pupko.
Voronova was not for us anymore. It was impossible to walk the streets and see the occupied Jewish homes. As soon as it was possible to leave, we left. We were afraid of being deported to Siberia.
One way or another we finally left. In the past, when an Ole was going away, everyone would escort him to the train station. When the train stopped everybody would sing Hatikva; all the passengers would look outside the windows. Now, we gathered together to visit the few graves left, then my father made an Azkara at the huge mass grave, saying goodbye to the graves. He looked back while passing Benakani, said goodbye to the old Jewish cemetery, to the last Jewish houses, the last Jewish home belonging to Sibirnik, and left forever.
by Yekutiel (Kushke) Boyarski
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.
On a beautiful day in May of 1942 we saw that the shtetl had been surrounded by a wall of armed hooligans. Jews immediately realized that their slaughter was near. Parents didn't know how to protect their children. The helplessness was awful. My mother said to my father:
Let Kushke go, at least he will live.They asked David Menyeh Riva's, who was preparing to leave Voronova, to take me with him. He agreed. He knew that I, a strong and healthy youngster of 16, would not become a burden to him.
We left at night and arrived to Tashmantse, about 8 km from Voronova. We went into a Gentile stable; he was a good Gentile. He kept us for 2 days. On the third day he asked us to leave, because it came to his knowledge that a severe punishment awaited anyone hiding Jews. He was simply afraid for his life. David went to another Gentile to ask for help. We remained [in the first stable] to wait for him. When the good Gentile went into his stable and found us, he just went crazy. He was sure that we had left with David. He broke out in panic and asked us to leave immediately.
We had no choice, and on the same night we left to look for David: his wife, his two children, Shayke and Khonke, and I, a boy-- all of us helpless. We had to go and we didn't know where David was. Finally we came to the same Gentile that David had gone to see, but he [David] wasn't there anymore, and he [the Gentile] told us that he had returned to us.
The Gentile told us that there has been an action in Voronova, that most of the Jews had been murdered by the Germans and their collaborators. Now the murders had stopped for a while so we could return to Voronova. I proposed to go via Lida. With heavy hearts we went back to the first Gentile, because we didn't know what would happen if we weren't able to reunite with David.
On our way we met a group of Jews who came from the opposite direction. We scared them, and they ran away. I realized that they thought we were Gentiles, so I started shouting to them:
Jews, don't run, don't be afraid!They came back. They were Rochl Dukshtulski, her two brothers, and a little sister.
From there we continued together to look for David and to go back to Voronova.
We came back home early in the morning. The shtetl was already half empty. One part of the Jewish population had been murdered, another part had been deported to Lida. My parents were not there anymore. Of my whole family, only my oldest brother survived. He worked in Bastuni, where he had heard the bitter news. He decided to stay there for the night and thus might survive for who knows how long. With him also was Dudeh Avak's, and together they came back home.
After a short time we were deported to Lida. They locked us up in the ghetto and took us to forced labor. Our work was to dismantle wooden beams and wooden rails, and prepare them for other uses. Dudeh was a carpenter, and his neighbor in the ghetto was a locksmith who worked in the German gun workshops. So this locksmith would bring a part of a rifle every day, until a whole rifle could be assembled. The butt and other wooden parts were built by Dudeh in the carpentry shop, because it was impossible to smuggle those parts into the ghetto.
So we had a whole [functioning] rifle in our possession and continued to undergo risks for more guns.
We made plans for an escape. We felt the ghetto would soon be liquidated, and it would be safer to leave this place as soon as possible.
We planned to go to Natsher Forest. The challenge was to smuggle the rifles. We had 20 rifles, our only hope. We put them in a keg which Zuckerman used to take "drek" out of the ghetto. He was a good Jew. He had a good job. He went out into the town every day and managed his life. It was a good job for us too. He took our rifles to the forest, a real life-saving trip.
We walked into the forest separately, at a distance from one another, in order not to be noticed. [Our alibi was] we would be going to work and had decided to spend the night in the forest. Then we took our rifles from the hiding place and went away.
We walked at night. During the day we would hide in the forest, and walk again at night. It was a very hard road. The going exhausted us in a hurry. With us there were a couple of sisters of the Stol family from Benakani. They were extremely exhausted and couldn't continue with us. That night we went to a Gentile, took his horses from the stable, and traveled with horses and wagons all the way to Natsher forest.
Here in the forest there were Jewish families organized as a squadron of Jewish fighters. They took over our rifles with gratitude. I was taken into a fighting squad, despite my young age. I was physically well developed; they liked me. I performed military assignments along with everyone and waited for an opportunity to fight.
On the first night we were assigned a watch in the forest. They took me deep into the forest and left me on watch. It was night. I was alone. My shift was from 10pm to 2am. The time passed extremely slowly. I thought they had forgotten to replace me so I went aside, sat down, and fell asleep. When they came to replace me I couldn't be found because my sleep was too heavy, but I had an intuition that they are looking for me and I jumped up. One of the two who had come to replace me wanted to report on me to headquarters, but the other said:
Think about it. He is still a child. He has time to learn discipline. Let him be.The next day the same incident happened. Two brothers were on their shift and one of them fell asleep at the post. When his replacement came and found him asleep, he reported him to the commanders. In the morning they court-martialed him and shot him before his brother's eyes. I was shocked by this incident. I thought: they kill Jews here too? I then decided that I would never fall asleep, never.
Since then I was considered one of the guys [an equal]. I was assigned tasks requiring responsibility. I rose in ranks. I spent my life in the forest fighting against Germans. I participated in sabotages, interfered with their military plans, blew up their trains, and destroyed their communication systems. I experienced extraordinary feelings, good feelings of fighting and revenge.
One day a German airplane appeared [in the sky] and took photographs of our camp. The next day there appeared thousands of German soldiers. We noticed them from a distance. They proceeded like a herd of sheep, clinging to each other tightly as they walked. They looked to me like an armored wall. They threw themselves on us by the hundreds. We fired on them first. A combat developed. We had losses, but they paid with hundreds and hundreds of dead and wounded.
Still, we had to retreat because we ran out of ammunition, and they outnumbered us by the hundreds. We went down deep into the forest and divided into groups. In these depths we spread out towards distant points of the endless forest.
Here I met Yankl Konikhovski from our town.
The Germans pursued us. We wandered from place to place, driven by their frequent raids, and tired from the frequent fatal confrontations with them. We usually won. In the depths of the forest we were the strong ones, but then another problem arose. Other White-Polish groups appeared. They were locals. They knew the forest better than anyone. Now we were not the only rulers in the forest, and we had to fight on two fronts.
There was an incident once when a group of six of our men was sent to get food for the squad. We [accidentally] ran into a camp of 200 Poles. From one of the houses a Pole noticed us and cried out:
Stay still! Who are you?Immediately a rain of bullets fell onto us from a watchtower. We managed to kill the guard, but then tens of Polish bandits appeared from every corner. The night was very dark. We managed to kill dozens of them, but we left without food.
That night we had to move to another place in the forest. We went to the Lipiczanska Forest near the Neman [River]. We had a long and hard road ahead, but we made it although hungry and tired for several nights in a row.
One day we woke up to find ourselves totally covered with snow. Winter had fallen upon us without warning in the middle of our sleep, and we were totally unprepared for it. Our situation became critical. Winter depressed us. We had to worry more about food, about warm clothes, and about other vital conditions. Hardest was the issue of shoes, made even harder by the wandering in snow and mud. Our vengeful fighting was now burdened by an even harder fight for existence. There are people among our ex-Partisans who remember mostly our heroic acts and combats. I mostly remember the awfully hard living conditions that we had to suffer. Nobody writes about such simple things, but I see in them the greatest heroism of Jewish Partisan life. That difficult winter reflected our hard lives. For a boy who had instantly become a lonely orphan, the solitude became greater during the winter. The hunger was greater and more frequent. The cold exhausted and broke my spirit. To survive a winter in the forest is an extraordinary act of heroism, which only the most dedicated and determined could handle.
One night we were sent to watch the Lipiczanski road. The deep, endless forest was crossed by railway lines. Suddenly we came over 4 Germans who started firing at us with their automatic weapons. We finished them off and silenced them, but we had to change our direction. The way back took us 8 days and 8 nights of maneuvering, shortages, and fighting. We had losses on our side, dear [friends], but the German losses were much more numerous, and after all that was our main purpose and we were proud of it.
We arrived at Lapitshne with not more than 8 people. We stopped at a Russian regiment. They welcomed us as fighters. Here in this regiment a day didn't pass without confronting the Germans, and we fought with them day after day. The Russians regarded us as brave fighters who fought with a feeling of revenge and were highly skilled. They appointed us frequently for difficult military assignments and for acts of sabotage every day.
We ambushed and killed countless numbers of Germans every day. Their corpses were scattered around by the dozens on the roads and in the fields so they would rot and scare their cowardly brothers.
We were also sent to Zhetl to blow up trains [passing] in the area. Here we killed them by the hundreds. They fell down frightened like sheep and in a mass panic. The great heroism which they had showed in the ghettos against starving and unprotected Jews was gone as soon as they confronted a handful of partisans.
By the end of 1944 Grodno was already liberated, and so was part of its surroundings. Our commander, who had communication with Moscow, divided us into groups according to its instructions, and we went out in the groups to finish off the remaining Germans and to clean up their last nests [in the area]. We went in the direction of Skidel. We were all supposed to meet there. In my group was the chief commander of our regiment and he appointed me, an 18-year old youngster, to be his representative. There was no one happier than me, obviously I had earned some skills as a fighter.
[Ed. Note: The following section appears only in the Hebrew version of the article in this book.]
When we crossed the Neman and approached the railway lines, [we discovered] mines attached to the rails. We started to dismantle them. Some of them exploded and some of our men were killed. In the morning we arrived in the camp.
Either because of the explosions, or because some farmer noticed us and told the Germans, they appeared in the morning. Our guard noticed them. They proceeded in tight rows with an unstoppable fear. Before they had time to act we began firing and killed dozens of them. We escaped, but we lost three of our friends.
After two days we were reunited with the squadron. Those were days of revenge and action. The Germans were on the retreat. Every day brought new waves of them and we had no choice but to do the killing. Every day we ambushed them, and every day we killed tens and hundreds. To me those days were full of satisfaction from killing my family's murderers.
At the end of the same 1944 we were released.
We came back to Voronova as [agents of] N.K.V.D. We were sent to a village about 20km from town. We were ordered to arrest two Poles who had collaborated with the Germans. With us traveled two Russians: we were 8 people. We took two peasants and their carriages with us, and we told them where to go. As we approached the forest cabin we saw one running towards the house from behind. Our alertness had waned for a moment and we hadn't noticed that one of the carriage drivers had warned his brother. I called him to stop. He didn't obey so I shot him. Meanwhile six or seven Poles came out against us, armed with automatic weapons, and they covered us with heavy fire. There was no choice so we jumped into a pit. A skirmish developed in which we were protected by the pit and they were better armed. We killed few of them, but we had to retreat.
While retreating, one of our comrades was captured. He was the last victim that I saw in [this] war.
by Yitzach BenAmi
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.
A Jewish Regime
The Poles fled town in a panic as soon as first news arrived of their daily defeats in the battles against the Germans. The town was left without authorities. Everybody was seized with a panic for a while. The Jews felt the smell of chaos, confusion, and danger.
The Gentiles, raised for generations by the Chmielnitsky tradition always dreaming of anarchy and robbery immediately decided to come into town, to do pogroms and rob everything that comes by.
The next morning they began to fill the town, arriving in groups: robbers with [big] eyes. They came from various villages. They wandered around town as if without a purpose, but their eyes gave away their darkest thoughts.
The Jews, who usually know how to take advice and make decisions, on this occasion became helpless and passive. They were sure that their lives were unprotected and had no assurances they would be able to get out from this trouble safely. Their pessimism overwhelmed them and they lost their wisdom and initiative.
Suddenly, on one bright day, at midday, Yitzach Olkenitski gathered together several Jewish youngsters and shared his plan with them: how to protect ourselves from murderers. And we accepted his plan.
In minutes the guys stood up ready to strive for the goal: to take the fate of the town into their own hands. They put on firemen uniforms, put thick military belts around themselves, put various casks on their heads, pushed toy revolvers and other guns under their belts, and went out into the streets to give a warm welcome to the pogromists. The pogromists had already divided, and by agreed signs had spread out to different predetermined locations.
Our guys came over in groups and began pushing themselves towards the pogromists, shoulder to shoulder, asking them what they were doing here, and advising them to go back to their villages if they loved their lives. The Gentiles realized they had come to the wrong place, that here they'd have to deal with people who wouldn't stand by and were ready for anything.
At night we felt that the Gentile heroes were in a bad mood and depressed. They had no wish to die just in the sake of a robbery and had lost all their courage. We pushed them back with encouraging shouts and drove them out from the town disgraced and humiliated.
We saved the town for several days. We established a Jewish regime of selfdefense and lifepreservation. Meanwhile the Russians came.
The Germans Are Coming
With the arrival of Russians, great changes took place in the life of the Jews. I began to study in a 10year school, a kind of preparatory school towards an academic career. The lives of the youth flew in a promising directions for them. The new regime put its hopes in us, the future generation, and saw us as future representatives of the regime in occupied territories. The regime put effort into holding meetings and took specific actions to organize the social life. They organized balls for us, distributed benefits, and organized various activities that contributed much to the social life.
On June 22, 1941 we were at a dance ball. We danced until dawn and planned to continue dancing. Suddenly we heard the sounds of an explosion, thunder and ringing. No one understood where they were coming from. We were all startled and the dance was abruptly ended. We went back to our homes. The streets were already full of people. The town was in a state of turmoil and depression. Undergoing the most turmoil were the Russians. They, who should have been the first to know of any changes in the political situation, were instead the most surprised.
The town was in total state of chaos and it was growing minute by minute. The older folks ran around terrified and helpless, their uncertainty was great. Only we, the young folks, didn't take it seriously. We ran to the site of the explosion, on the railway line, far out from town, as one might run towards a joyful event.
On the way we saw that the Russians were packing their belongings and getting ready to leave Voronova. The Russians fled in fear and haste. We were [again] lost and confused. Some of us thought we should follow the Russians because the new rulers may see us as representatives of the old hateful regime and cause us trouble. Everybody knew that one doesn't play games with Nazis. But there were others who said:
‘Anything but the Russians. They will instantly enroll you in the army and send you to the most horrible frontlines in the greatest danger, and your life will not be safe. While with the Germans it will be hard, you shall be enslaved, but at least our lives will be safe.’
I escaped. I went out on my way with two other guys and we walked in the direction of Russia. When we arrived [nearby] to Devinishok, we hid behind a big house in some village. We spent the night under the blue sky.
In the morning we wanted to continue, but it was not possible anymore. We were told that all the surrounding area is full of Germans. I returned to Voronova unwillingly.
On the way, Germans caught me and took me to their camp, in quite a civil manner. In the camp there were a lots of light tanks, packed with nice young soldiers. At that time, apparently, they were still apprentice murderers, not yet fully experienced. They treated me very nicely. I talked with them in Polish. I explained that I was just walking home. They kept me arrested for a whole day. They didn't interrogate or charge me with anything. They just ordered me to fill all the tanks with gas. After that they fed me well and at night told me: you are finished and free to go.
With Germans in Voronova
When I arrived home Voronova was already full of Germans. In those two days they had already managed to spread fear into everyone. In the morning they dragged the Jews to forced labor. They drove them on foot for kilometers with threats and beatings, and then forced them to extend highways.
One night the Poles made a raid on the ‘young Jews who collaborated with bloody communists’. They arrested yesterday's friends in order to find favor with the victor. They arrested me too, me, their former best friend. They kept us in a house built by the Russians. They put about 40 men in a tiny room for a long period; no one knew when this would end. We stayed there for about a month, sleeping upright (standing). Then they brought someone called Zalmen Dukshtulski. He was from Vilne and was staying in Voronova illegally so they caught and arrested him. An interesting fact is that they didn't interrogate us, they didn't touch us, they just kept us isolated with our doubts and fears. They didn't beat us, but they let us know that in 34 days we would all be murdered. They didn't give us food. We survived thanks to food brought to us by our parents. Those were the first days of human humiliation.
One time, Kashminsky, a folksdoitche [a German citizen] whom we knew, grabbed a package from one of the unfortunate mothers. He specifically picked one from a rich family, knowing that her package would contain good expensive stuff. He brought it to the Germans and told them:
You see, here is for you what they eat. Even at the times of lack and arrest, they eat better than us.
It was on the day of Yom Kippur. On that same day a group of drunken Poles and Germans approached our room. They wheezed, roared, and shouted threats and accusations about our being a nation known for sucking Christian blood etc., and shortly afterwards they shot at us through the windows. We instinctively bent down and threw ourselves on to the floor, lying on one another, and somehow we all survived.
About a quarter of an hour after the shooting they dragged us out one by one, stripped us of our clothes, and beat us up with a rubber hose on naked backs, as if we were cattle or housepets. The blows were painful, but more painful was their conduct and the humiliation.
We decided then to escape, to survive, whatever it takes. We pledged it to each other and we meant it with all our intentions. We planned to act on our plans immediately after the arrest ended, but… only two of us survived, Zalmen Dukshtulski and I.
In Lida Ghetto
On May 8, 42, when the Jews of Voronova went through the selection: to life or to death, I stood with everyone and awaited my destiny. I was wondering how to save myself when suddenly a German, for whom I used to work in the old days, before those black days, came up to me and cried out:
This is my locksmith with his family, I need him!
He pushed me to the right side and I survived.
After few days they took us to Lida Ghetto. There they sent me to work in the workshops which were under the supervision of Head Commandant Ubershturmfurer Hemweg. He was a real Nazi who believed that the Jews were a nation of an inferior race, but he was against their extermination. He built the workshops in order to show that the Jews could become productive and useful. He was a real theoretician of justified slavery in 20th century. Nevertheless, we had good memories of him. He kept the Ghetto in better condition than others. We also thought of him well later. When they arrested him after the war, as part of the denazification, they called us as witnesses to testify against him. We didn't coordinate between ourselves, but none of us said anything bad about him, and he was released. We wanted to live so much that we were grateful to anyone who delayed our death at least for a bit, no matter what his reasons.
In the workshops Jews from different shtetls worked. We didn't know each other [from before], but when we got acquainted some more, we instantly began making plans to escape from there to the forests. First of all we started to collect guns and to repair them, in order to have something to bring with us to the forests.
We found our best opportunity when the same Hemweg sent us to fetch a Russian tank which had been abandoned nearby, in the area where the Germans were afraid to enter. They didn't want to escort us. They were so terrified that they sent us to proceed alone. They, the Jewmurderers, didn't have heavy ammunition. To take care of us light weapons were enough. They despised us, but only as the danger of the partisans grew so did their need for heavy weapons.
We were five men who went, and all of us had hopes of keeping some arms for ourselves. We wanted the weapons to serve us when we were back in ghetto, or when the moment arrived to get out of there into the forest. In this manner we would buy our freedom [and join] the partisans. It was easier to go into the forest with light weapons.
We walked towards the tank without a German escort. They were simply afraid to go with us. One thing I don't understand is how Hemweg trusted us to come back.
The place was an abandoned Russian camp, full of neglected broken weapons and old scrap iron. We took an armored vehicle, filled it with some grenades, some rifles which we thought we could repair, and some unlocked automatic weapons. We covered it all with pieces of metal and started on our way back.
On our way back we intentionally made noise while walking in the forest. We wanted to draw the attention of the partisans who were active in the area. At one place, I think it was Boksht, we came upon some Germans, disheveled, in their underwear, terrified to death, as if a huge catastrophe was approaching. They were unsteady and frightened.
As soon as they realized it was us, their people, they scolded us: ‘why were we walking around unguarded in a place filled with partisan dens?’
We proceeded through Ivia. We knew that in this town there was a ghetto. We stopped there to make contact with the youth in the ghetto. But when we went into the ghetto, we found it empty. Where had all the Jews vanished? What had happened here to the whole town?
How did this happen? We were confused. We began talking Yiddish and [suddenly] people got out from their holes. The poor folks got had gotten scared when they saw an armored vehicle with German decoration so they figured that we had came to liquidate them and they hid in their bunkers.
We calmed them down and cheered them up. We told them about the groups of Jews who had formed partisan units. We advised them to get ready because the days of salvation were near. This hope raised their spirits. They wept like little children. They believed and they didn't believe.
In the garage in Lida we immediately started to repair the vehicle, and at the same time prepared the arms for ourselves. We did it simultaneously. At the same time that we prepared the machine for killing partisans we also prepared light guns for these same partisans to use. Ribono shel Olam: how mysterious are the ways of selfpreservation.
We intentionally worked slowly on the repair of the armored machine. It was our cover. Thanks to this we managed to prepare five rifles, one machine gun, and about ten hand grenades. The bullet heads were deformed so we built a special machine to straighten them for use with the rifles. We accomplished all this under the noses of the Germans who came to visit day and night. We even worked on the rifles before their very eyes. When we saw them approaching we made such a noise that it would echo everywhere.
The weapons were repaired by specialists: Velvl Krupski from Lida (later he was killed by Russian brotherpartisans because they wanted his revolver), Borukh Levine who is here in Israel (as a partisan, he was the biggest specialist in blowing up German wagons), and the author of these lines.
The armored vehicle was repaired by the engineer and his two Jewish assistants. Unfortunately they were killed during the infamous liquidation act.
The engineer was a dear Jew. He did the work of three so we could do our private work. All three of them worked hard doing the job of six.
We Are Looking For a Way to the Partisans
In the winter of 1942 we made contact with partisans. We exchanged messages, made plans of escape together, and prepared everything for escape. Our first encounter was with a Russian officer. He was a POW. He also worked in a train workshop and also wanted to escape to the forest. We found a common language and were looking for a way together. Once we brought him into the ghetto to speak to our friends. It was very dangerous for him but he came to us and he spoke to those assembled in a little house at the outskirts of the ghetto. He told the assembly about the existence of Iskra, the Lida partisan base. According to his experience, he persuaded us that the matter was quite easy and not very dangerous. We would just have to find the right trails, far from the German routes. He actually revealed to us the road to Iskra.
That same winter, groups of Jews started leaving the Lida ghetto in the Vilne direction, and thus opening the way for others who wanted to join the partisans. The first group, consisting of Polish exsoldiers, came upon a German patrol, and most of them were killed in the confrontation. This bitter news caused difficult feelings in our hearts. Doubt crawled into our souls and filled each one of us with fear.
Later more groups assembled together and prepared to go out. They collected everything related to guns: a bullet, a rusty revolver, a sight of a rifle and other small items.
Our group had already possessed a nice collection of guns. We had 10 rifles, a machine gun, 2 revolvers and a considerable number of grenades, which seemed to us alive. Most of the weapons were in a state of readiness after being repaired, waiting only to be tried out. This joint endeavor brought us closer together. We felt as one, one body that is preparing for the trial of a lifetime. Every day we had only one goal: to get prepared to go out into the forest under the noses of the Germans.
Day after day we worked together for one purpose only. There were days when we didn't exchange a single word between us. Secrecy and cooperation were our main concerns in life. And so our doubts faded, our sufferings almost belonged to the past, we already lived in the next day.
As soon as we heard about Tuvye Bielski's squad, we forgot about Iskra.
Meanwhile my friends moved to the forests without telling us, and Borukh Levine from Zheludok not only went away, he took our weapons from us. We gathered a group of devoted friends and again began to prepare ourselves for the forests, recovering from the treason. But here we came upon various obstacles that we hadn't thought of. We were especially concerned about the situation that would result from our escape: we hadn't thought about this and couldn't think about this. It was difficult to leave behind our parents in the ghetto. Not only because of the separation and longing. We knew what would happen after we departed: the Germans would kill them, and also our brothers and sisters, our friends and relatives, and all because of us. Suddenly our escape looked like egotism, selfish thinking, selfpreservation at the cost of the lives of others. Among us there were women, one of them later became my wife. We thought they'd weaken us, but they were more realistic and determined than we were. They gave us strength. My wife gave the last shove towards a quick decision. She said that she and her girlfriends were not betraying anyone, but on the contrary our relatives would be happy with the thought that we had been saved.
In the evening I took out my rifle which was hidden, so did my other friends.
At around 11, about 30 people assembled in a preset place, each one carrying more or less nothing. We cut the fence and we left.
Bielski's courier was punctual to the minute. When we crossed the fence he was already there awaiting us. He led us thru deserted paths and after 2 days of danger and fear, of cautiousness and dependency, we all, to the last man, arrived to Bielski's camp, near Stara Huta. The road wasn't burnt into our memories because all our thoughts were focused on our destination, yet I remember the road well.
On the first evening we crossed a small river with awfully cold water. We walked during the night and rested during the day. We lived for whole days without saying a word. On the second night the road was awfully long. We went by a glass factory which was guarded by Germans and Poles. If not for the darkness of the night, we would have endangered ourselves and the partisans. Our guide urged us on. We made most of the way literally running, in order to reach Bielski's camp by early morning.
And so, running, without breath, we came to the camp early in the morning of May 1, 1943.
In Bielski's camp
First of all Tuvye examined the weapons that we had brought with us. He was very unhappy with the weapons. He expressed himself according to his mood, with full heart and with language without too much culture. He was disappointed. He knew about our workshop. He needed guns for all his people. We had fooled him, etc., etc.
Then he took us into his own regiment. Everyone had to worry about his own living place within the borders of the camp, and had to build a house for himself. The men were immediately taken to guard duty. This was the highest expression of trust towards us, and a sign of the deepest respect to our value as men.
Thus we merged into partisan life from the first moment. The transition from slavery and helplessness to being fighters against a heavily armed enemy, protectors of those weaker than us, was very quick, without too much thought or hesitation. Thus elevated, although weak and exhausted, we took upon ourselves the night shifts, and stood by this decision.
Bielski's squad was very mobile. It was surrounded by residential nodes, by chutors, and by forests. From time to time, for our own safety, we had to wander from place to place and cover our trail as soon as we found out or felt that we had been noticed. This had a bad psychological effect: from time to time we felt like hunted animals.
The night of Shavuot I was taking a shift at a guarding point, about 5 km from the camp. My shift ended in the middle of the night of Shavuot and I was replaced by my friend Efroim from Vashilishok. We had worked together in the workshop, were together in the ghetto; our friendship had overcome all these hardships and was very deep. The orders were not to expose oneself, but if one heard the sound of motors, then one would have to stand up, and even shoot into the air. That was the sign for general alarm. I had just laid down to sleep when I heard an alarm shot, and after that firing from a mortar. In several minutes the camp was on guard and ready. The armed ones stood around as a tight fence, the unarmed men and women in the middle. We were ready to protect ourselves and to retreat. Soon several bombs and shrapnel fell inside the camp. We didn't know what the size of the attacking force was so we started a retreat in the direction of Neman. On the opposite bank were other partisan groups.
Our people divided in two. Our group was the smallest in number, and without a commander. We also didn't have enough weapons and were not familiar with the surroundings. We were not sure where we were going, maybe straight into the hands of the enemy. We were our own commanders, stayed calm and coolheaded. We saw that we were going in the right direction. Suddenly, as we came open an open field, we found ourselves in front of the enemy's canons exposed and unprotected. With us was a woman with a baby. She became tired so she gave him to her brother, and the minute we went out into the field he accidentally dropped the baby. As they bent to pick up the baby, the whole convoy slowed down. The Germans noticed us and took the opportunity to fire on us heavily. Half of our people were killed. We pulled ourselves back into the forests under a rain of bullets and shrapnel. The Germans were afraid of the forest and so the rest of us were saved.
At our hiding place we saw that besides the dead we had some wounded, among them Dukshtulski's wife. This weakened and worried us. The moans of the wounded broke our spirit. Suddenly it happened that we broke out into laughter. The rain was becoming stronger and we stayed in place; we couldn't continue. In the meantime Bielski's brotherinlaw found us. We saw that his face was painted like a clown's. The colors of his hat had dripped down his face and created a clown's make up. We couldn't resist. The view of this human face with painted broken lines activated all our laughing reflexes. We forgot the whole situation, the sorrows, and burst out into loud laughter. Temporarily this helped.
That night we didn't walk. We didn't know where to go to find our squad. We lay down and considered what to do. Suddenly we heard a human noise. We were sure that the Germans are coming and grabbed our guns. But those were Tuvye's men.
Tuvye's care for people's lives, for saving Jews, was extraordinary, and in all that chaos he remembered to look for us.
We dragged ourselves for a whole night, together with our wounded, until we came to a place in deep forest, in a less populated area, for me a new and unfamiliar situation.
On the next day I was sent to look for my friend Efroim. He hadn't come back to the base. We found him dead at his post. He was shot like can full of holes, all his clothes covered with blood. They shot him from short range. He had saved us. Thanks to his heroism hundreds of Jews survived in this raid.
We felt that this had been a treachery; someone had discovered us and told the Germans. In 2 weeks we found out who had been the informer. We went to this Gentile. We investigated him so harshly that he admitted that his wife had also been an informer. We locked them in their house and set it on fire. We even burnt down the kennel with their horrific dog, in order to teach the Gentiles that Jewish blood would not be hefker anymore, and in order to save other Jewish lives. The feeling that we were no longer sheep for slaughter was the best and deepest feeling.
In Naliboker Forests
Tuvye felt that we were noticeable here, and following his extraordinary intuition, he took us to the wide Naliboker Forests.
Again we dug zemlianki, again took care of provisioning and buildings for workshops to make clothes and shoes for everyone. Everything started from scratch.
Our group's assignment was to deliver food and provisions for the people. This was an extremely dangerous task. In addition to the German danger, we now encountered Polish groups, traitors and criminals moving around the forest seeking to kill the last remaining Jews.
From time to time we went out to place mines under German military wagons and to fire on them. We blew up railways and telephone stations. Here our military activity expanded. Life was full of action. There was a lot of doing and fighting. In time we were also told to guard the partisans' fieldbase. It was a well disguised place near Ivenets. From there we made contact with Moscow, and from there we sent our wounded to Russian hospitals, and also received guns and ammunition.
In spite of all the disguising, the Germans found out about the place and began to bother and shoot. Our lives flew by in daytoday routines, but our mission and the place were so important to Jewish life, that we were able to overcome everything. Here we had to be the initiators. We made their lives miserable. Each time we cut them off from their bases, we cut them off from all means of communication: funny how the surrounding Gentiles enjoyed this. The telegraph pole that we blew up at night, the Gentiles would erect back into place, and the Germans would pay good money for the job.
Summer 1943 the huge raid
The Germans had concentrated about 100,000 soldiers around the dangerous forest in order to exterminate the last of the partisans once and for all.
Before that they had searched all the surrounding villages and locked [the houses], so that not even one partisan could stay or go in there. Then they went into the forest step by step. Our situation turned tighter from minute to minute. We built a bridge in a mountainous area to make way for us to escape the clamshells closing in on us. But at the last moment one Russian partisan betrayed us, and they found out about our bridge. When Tuvye heard this he took out his revolver and ordered us to turn back from the bridge and look for hiding places in the woods. This was the worst situation of our partisan lives. Suddenly we realized, that all the hardship and suffering we had gone through, was for naught, and all hope was lost.
There was an elderly Gentile who floated wooden beams on the river. He knew all the secret paths in the forest, all the deserted stations that only animals know about. He led us out to safety: a good Gentile, a tzadik. Thanks to him the partisans were saved.
Most of the way we made in drainage channels. This took us a week. During the day we lay in the water, and at night we stood up and walked. Our bags were empty of food except for bits of corn seed. The hunger and the humidity wore us out and weakened us. One day someone started a small fire to warm up his soul and we were noticed. Luckily for us, Germans were always afraid of the forest and they didn't want to come too close to us. They only bombarded us from a distance. Thanks to Tuvye's healthy instincts we were saved again. By his order we all had to stay still. The Germans were sure that we had moved and ran to look for us in another place.
The German defeat was total. The great raid they had planned ended up with nothing, and they left. We stayed in the area, but we divided in groups and continued to live and fight.
Our visit to Lida ghetto
Our group headed by Meir Shmerkovitsh (Shamir) was the smallest. We decided to go into the Lida ghetto to save Jews. The road was hard and dangerous. In the ghetto horrible things awaited us. We met expartisans there who had gotten tired of the raids and had returned to the ghetto. They welcomed us with antagonism and humiliation. They started the old argument again of See what you look like, We somehow got by, more or less, and what awaits you? etc. They did everything to interfere with our talks to the Jews. They simply filled them with fear. Only a small number of Jews left with us, among them two or three Yeshiva boys and Olkenitski.
The German retreat march was chaotic. They abandoned all the frontlines and strategic points. Suddenly the roles switched. Now the Germans were looking for secret paths and hiding in the woods. They were hiding during the day and walking at night, and we were pursuing them. Here we met them at their breaking point. We chased, beat, killed and murdered tens and hundreds of them everywhere. We had then 10 days of revenge and 10 days of faith: if one lives one lives all the way to victory.
We chased them and humiliated them, we trampled their dignity. In their own manner and with their own collaborators we drove them to death.
In the last few days of the war, one learned so much, more than in years and generations. We'll not forget this lesson, we want everyone to remember:
In the worst of circumstances one has to try to overcome the hardships and live and most important outlive the enemy. Arrogance and selfesteem are not a lifetime guarantee for heroism.
In those several days we lost more friends than in 19 months of partisan life, but the urge to fight in any conditions even at the most desperate moments, proved itself.
It had been worth the effort.
by Rivkeh KonopkeMayortshik
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
It was Monday, 5pm. I looked outside the window and saw a lot of people running. pale and terrified, from Lida Street. I ran out quickly into the street. I asked what had happened. They answered that the Germans were on Lida Street, near Iyta Olkenitski, rest in peace. Of course, we became "dark in the eyes", as we knew what happened to Jews everywhere as soon as these murderers entered, and that the same would happen to us.
After 6 weeks, at about 2pm, a lot of vehicles arrived and parked near the church. From the vehicles stepped out a lot of Gestapos and began going from house to house, driving out all the men into the market place. Obviously they had a lot of help from Christian folks. The men were kept in fear at the market place for several hours; before they were released home they were heavily beaten. The bandits took six people with them: Yitzakh Antshul, Gershon Eishishki, Yesheyahu Olkenitski and Zerakh, David, and Esther Shelovski, and according to the rumor they were immediately eliminated. We had heard a lot of rumors from other towns about murder, robbery and slaughter, and now that day had come to our shtetl. To Voronova came many people from surrounding towns, Benakani, Soletchnik, Divenishok and others.
On Friday, May 8, at 5pm, I looked outside. Gestapos are walking around in the street with guns. They didn't allow anyone to go to work. Everybody knew that nothing good was awaiting us. Later that day we heard that in Lida there had been a huge slaughter with barely a few Jews surviving.
Our town was surrounded by [local] police and Germans. Some thought to bribe the policemen and get away from the town. We built a secret room and hid there. Twentyeight people: me, my sister and parents, rest in peace, Moshe Blyakher with daughters Leah and her family, Sara Hindeh and her family, Yitzach Dvilianski and family, Bissel and family, Ankelovitsh's wife and sisterinlaw and the Schneider family.
|Yehuda Konopke, rest in peace…and… of Voronova
On May 11, a Monday morning, three local bandits from New Plan arrived very drunk, and immediately began driving out and pushing everyone towards the market place. From the market place they took smaller groups, leaving some to live a little longer. The rest were driven to New Plan, near a forest, where there were already pits prepared, and they shot everyone. They brought the few surviving Jews back to the market. At Yitzach Dvilianski's there was a physician from Navaradok (Dr. Gordon). He knew where we were all hiding. He endangered himself and went to the market place. He had medications with him. He was lucky to be left alive. He registered us as survivors and came to tell us that we could go out. With broken hearts we went out to the market place to join the surviving Jews. The head commissioner, Vindish, made a speech and said that we were being kept alive temporarily, and that everything would go as it had in Lida. They forced us all to New Plan. We were at Zalmen Levine's house. On the first day of Shavues, it was a Saturday, everybody was told to take packages and we were driven on foot to Bastuni. Those who walked slowly were beaten up on the spot. From the police [station] in Bastuni we were put in wagons and taken to Lida. While traveling in the wagons we thought that it would be wonderful to go on traveling like this forever.
by Shmuel Kopelovitsh (of blessed memory)
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.
I won't write about my days with Bielsky's Partisans. Those were days of sweet, active revenge. While I would like to write more [about those days], a lot has already been written of our doings by others better than me.
Everyone already knows about the vengeance of the Partisans. I am going to tell about a special case of vengeance after the Partisans.
On July 10, 1944 Bielsky came up with the idea to go out of the woods and to take the whole group to Navaradok.
At 9:00am we all stood arranged into lines. Tuvia Bielsky together with the intelligence [scouts], told us that we are leaving the woods. We left with a feeling of joy and sorrow, because here in the forest we had felt the sweet taste of revenge.
It was a hot sunny day and the road was sandy and hard. In the fields and woods there were dozens and dozens of Germans scattered dead and opgeshindene. Many woods were burning and from the burnt bodies came an awful repulsive smell that hard to breathe.
Thousands of Red Army soldiers were driving on the roads, with them a lot of captured Germans. The Nazi cowards were afraid of the Partisans' revenge, so they willingly turned themselves in to the Russian military.
In Navaradok there were already other Partisan groups. We all were gathered in a closed park. A Russian mayorgeneral approached and spoke to us, saying among other things, the following:
The war is not over yet, and you have to help us to chase the crazy, wounded Nazi wolf back to his den.
After that all the Partisans received their certificates. Some were released and allowed to return home.
For me the question was: where is my home?
Could I return to Voronova, the place of my birthplace where we had all lived our lives, knowing that Voronova had become a mass grave for our most dearly loved people?
We were drawn home as a beaver is drawn to his nest after its destruction. We were going home by foot; there was no transportation yet.
On July 18, 1944 a group of 25 people came back to Voronova. As far as I can remember we came through Hermanishok Street at about 3:00pm.
We came into town exhausted, hungry, and in a bad mood.
The town looked dead. The houses stood the same as before, but not a single person could be seen. The several people that we met accidentally opened their eyes wide at us not believing that we were still alive. They were 100% sure that we'd been gotten rid of. Nobody went to his own house; we all stayed together.
In the town there were several Russian bosses, a representative of the Russian military headquarters, and a couple of assistants.
They were staying in the house of Binyamin Levine. We announced ourselves to them and told them that we were from this town and had been released from the Partisans. Everyone held on to their weapons; we didn't part from them.
The man ordered us to take the house of Goldeh Yehiel's and that we should all stay there together. She had to move out and we took the house. We slept on the floor because we had been used to that for many months. We also didn't have anything to sleep on, but we didn't want to ask the Goyim for bedclothes. However, we did have to ask for food from the nicer Gentiles whom we knew from the town. I found myself eating with a family in Bathhouse Street. The food got stuck in my throat and I lost my appetite when I noticed stolen Jewish furniture in the house and various specific Jewish items. We didn't talk about these things: neither I to them nor they to me.
Later we were given potatoes, bread, and onions, and we started to cook for ourselves at our home. We all ate together.
Our situation was very difficult from a politicalsecurity point even dangerous. Every minute we were at risk of death.
The war was not over yet. The Germans were deserting from the frontlines and with them the Polish Partisans. Both hated the Russians and the Jews, and both were wandering the woods surrounding Voronova. After some time, a reinforcement of Russian soldiers arrived, headed by an NKVD officer, to fight the remnants of the once great forces. They established their headquarters in Hermanisher Street where Vilianski's mill used to be. There they also established a prison.
They caught Germans, brought them to the prison, and we Partisans had to guard them. After 25 murderers were captured we would lead them to Lida where there was a POW camp.
One day I and Yoel Kheifets were on watch shift. My boots were torn. Suddenly I see a German with new boots. I called him to approach and asked him to take off his boots. He thought I was going to shoot him, because that's what they used to do, so he threw himself at my feet and began wailing hysterically. He cried and begged me to let him live. When I took his boots from him and gave him my torn ones, and let him go, he was the happiest man.
After a few weeks Leybke Kaplan, who was a policeman in Vilne, came back to Voronova. He was still wearing his uniform and told us he was going to visit a Gentile in a [nearby] village to retrieve his clothes, which his family had left for him before marching to death. We tried to convince him not to go because the area was full of Polish murderers and it was scary. He wouldn't listen to this call and didn't take our advice. We didn't see him anymore.
The same was the case with Issar Pupko. He went for his furniture and paid with his life, after having survived the Nazis.
The Military Headquarters started to enlist Poles to send them to the frontlines, which were still active. But they resisted and there was a special military unit which had to capture them and bring to Voronova. The Russians assigned that task to the Jewish fighters.
But there remained only few of us. The Jewish Partisans had gradually moved to Lida and there remained only me, Moshe Berkovitsh his son Leyzer, and Yudl (Khazn's) Konopke.
We wanted to stay here to take more revenge on our good neighbors, the murderers and their collaborators. We made a list of all the Poles who had helped murder our dear ones and passed it to the NKVD leader, our best friend. I would spend long hours at his office and he wrote everything in the protocol. We purposely emphasized in the protocols that they had murdered Russians [as well]. For Jews alone, nobody would do anything. I signed off on all the details and waited for their reaction.
Thus, pursuant to my signature, in one week they arrested Tekle Bareishes the shoemaker and all those who had surrounded the town, who had gathered Jews in the market place, and who had walked around us with the Germans picking out the communists and who then shot them in the woods outside the town. They had picked out the children of Shmuel Shelovski, Gershon Eishishki, Yitzach Volpianski and Sheykeh Olkenitski, and with their own hands brought them to death.
We then turned in the Polish teacher Damansky who during German [occupation] became the Mayor of the town and Commandant of the Police. He and many others were arrested immediately.
A month later I was called to Baranovich to give testimony; I don't even know for whom.
It was very difficult to get to Baranovich. The transportation and the roads were in bad condition.
In Baranovich I was told to go to the prison. They took me in a big cold room where the investigator from the political crimes department was seated. He tore off a piece of newspaper and started to roll a cigarette from makhorka, watched me for a good 1015 minutes, and didn't say a word. Only after that did he start to ask me questions. First, how come I survived while all the Jews were murdered? What did I do for the Germans during German occupation? As if I were the one under suspicion. I proved to him with documents that I had escaped the Ghetto to the woods and joined the Partisans. Finally he asked if I knew Damansky and if I had good relations with him. He wrote down all my answers. He wrote that Damansky, when in the position of Police Commandant, had gathered 265 Jews from Vilne, who had escaped slaughter [and come] to us. He and the Germans took them from the cinema, where they were performing, to a small forest on the way to the railway station and shot them there.
I also added that by his initiative they had searched and caught Russian soldiers who were hiding with us, and shot them.
This had an awful impact on him. He approached me and said he would now call for him [Damansky] and I would have to answer all the questions looking straight into his eyes.
I went out of the room and then they called me back in. Damansky was already there, standing with his face to the wall. I was ordered to sit. After 10 minutes Damansky was told to turn around to us.
When he saw me he recognized me immediately. He opened wide eyes on me and put a finger to his mouth showing that he was hungry. He probably thought that as an acquaintance I'd bring him food. He looked awful, covered with hair, with torn clothes, and house shoes on his feet.
The investigator asked if he knew me and had we ever fought.
He answered that he knew me and my whole family.
Then the investigator asked me if I knew him and what did I have to say.
I looked into Damansky's eyes and told everything about the Vilne Jews and about his collaboration with the Germans.
He lowered his head. He knew what was to be his fate.
Before my leaving he asked me to visit his wife, to tell her where he was, and to ask her to send him packages.
A week later I was again called to the Police station. They ordered me to go to Minsk to give testimony in the prison. Again, I didn't know against whom.
Minsk was totally destroyed and it was very hard to navigate. I asked a woman in the street for directions. She instantly recognized me being a Jew. She was a Jewish child and she lived not far away. I had a spare couple of hours so I went to her house. Hew accommodations were awfully poor and small. She was a dentist. She asked me if I knew that today was Pesach. I was surprised. I didn't know so I told the truth that I didn't know. So she took a bit of black flour, mixed it with water, and made matzoh on a gas burner a Jewish soul. I was filled with pride for our people who were born, grew up, and were educated in Yidishkeit and even in Russia remembered Pesach and to eat matzoh. Who can appreciate a Jewish…[sic]
In the prison they took me to a room where the military trial was being held, presided over by a colonel. Here I was told that it was for Tekle Bareishes.
The same game of going out and back in took place. When she was standing with her face to the wall, I approved all the documents that I signed in Voronova.
They asked her if she knew Shmuel Kopelovitsh from Voronova. They asked her again if she felt guilty about collaborating with the Nazis.
She gave negative answers to all the questions. When they told her to turn around and asked if she recognized me, she said yes!
She became deadpale when she saw me, and lowered her head.
I also answered that I knew her from my early childhood. I told her to her face all her doings, that she had collaborated with Nazis of her own will, that she knew perfect Yiddish, and understood German.
During my testimony she interrupted several times, but I proved to her simply that she had worked as an anticommunist. For better effect I gave as a fact that she had turned in 2 Russian soldiers that had been hiding in my attic, and then Germans had shot them in her garden, in her presence.
That was enough.
I traveled back to Voronova with a feeling of lightness.
I had revenged our murderers against those killers who had helped exterminate our dear and beloved ones.
by Bat Sheba Podisiuk-Kalmanovitsh
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
On April 13, 1940 the Russians deported my mother to Siberia and I went with her by my own will. I wanted to be there with her in those strange surroundings.
We were six little children when our father died and she had brought us up as both a mother and a father. Out of the six, only three were with her now [at the time of deportation]. When the Russians had come my brother Aharon crossed the border and went to Vilne. He wanted to save himself from their vengeance because he had been a founder and commander of Beitar, the "national fascist organization".
They deported Mother though she was innocent and without any jurisdictional charges. Their purpose was to get to Aharon and to please the local communists.
She was sixty years old when she was forced to part from everything that was dear to her in the town and to leave for a strange land.
The Russians let us take with us everything we wanted. And so we traveled to Nikolayevka, a town near Petropavlovsk in Northern Siberia. We were there for two years. We were given a room in a kolkhoz, but they didn't give us any work. We couldn't take any jobs: my mom because of her age and me because I had to take care of her. We got by from selling our belongings. Luckily there was such a shortage in clothes that we sold our dresses for as much as we wanted to charge, and the price of one piece was enough to feed us for weeks.
In 1942, Sikorsky started organizing the [deported] Polish citizens in order to gather them and bring them back "home" so we two were sent away to work in the railway-building and communication brigades. We lived in the town of Ossul near Karaganda. We were [a group of] seven women. We worked along with the men laying railways. In this way we became Russian citizens.
During our life in the kolkhozes we went thru a lot of difficulties. They wouldn't let us work when we wanted and needed work. They said we could earn by selling our goods and could be unemployed for 10 years. Everyone wanted us to live [and pay rent] with them. Actually every apartment consisted of one room, no matter how big the family. We lived in one room with family of ten - bed by bed. We paid our rent with goods. Every morning we would go out [in the street] like peddlers and sell our goods.
We lived in Ossul for 4 years, there mother needed me and my care, so her doctor released me from work. The residents of the village were of quite a good nature, but they couldn't accept that a young woman wasn't working. I felt I wouldn't be able to continue like this for a long time. It was simply becoming too dangerous. So I looked as hard as I could for a position in the collective work, but I was looking for a light work
Among the few Jewish families there was one Svititsky from Slonim, a tailor with his wife who was also an excellent seamstress. She knew about my situation and my need so she offered me to join a sewing brigade. At that time a new brigade was founded, but I had no idea how to sew so she taught me the basics and I started [to work in] the brigade. And so [life] became easier for me.
After a year the [financial] situation of the locals improved. The kolkhoz received supplies of clothes [from the government]; my hosts didn't need our dresses anymore so they plainly told us to leave. We didn't have where to go. It was impossible to get an apartment. I was very worried. By chance we got acquainted with a Barash family from Sarna, a family with many children. We decided to buy a "lepianka" together, a kind of tiny hut. We paid with two pillows and bedding [cloths] and bought the hut from someone who sold us his old one and built a new one for himself.
We lived together until 1944.
One day when I came home in midday for lunch, a soldier from the local police entered the lepianka with a bottle in his hands and asked if maybe we have vodka or if maybe we know where to buy some. I felt that there might be a threat for us here, so I answered:
Here live only women and women don't drink.He looked around for a while and went away.
Two weeks later, on Shabbat night, two women from Lomzhe, who used to live near us in Ossul, came to us and asked to stay overnight. They used to buy flour in a sovkhoz and sell it [in town]. We had let them sleep over several times before. One night we were sitting around talking about what would be after the war ended. We knew that Poland wasn't an option for us anymore, though we didn't know the full [extent of] the disaster. We had thought that the stories about the Nazi despotism were political propaganda. So we sat late into the night and fell asleep very late. As soon as we fallen asleep we heard someone at the door. We asked:
Who is it?Answer:
Wait a minute, I have to dress upMeanwhile I woke the other women and we all put on our clothes. I told them to shut the window and block the door. When we were well protected [barricaded], we all started to scream. They fired a few shots and went away. At about 2 a.m. the shooting stopped and it became quiet. We were afraid to stay in the house. We went out carefully through the window and to the police. The duty policeman wasn't impressed by our fright and told us:
Go to sleep women, nothing happened.His answer sounded suspicious to me. I was restless. I had a feeling that something was going to happen-- something's up. The next morning I told the story to our Jewish friends at work, but no one had any advice for me. I decided not to sleep in our lepianka. I went to [the house of] a Jewish blacksmith, a worker from the area whom we knew, a strong man who had good relations with everyone and knew everyone. I had hoped he would intercede for us but it was too late. He just gave us a room to sleep and we spent the night calmly.
Several days later we heard stories at work about anonymous men who had attacked one of the lepiankas at night and killed three people. According to the story, the murderers had made a mistake. They had meant to kill us and killed someone else. Only then did the Russian police wake up and start to investigate. The local population helped them and finally the murderers were arrested.
They were three soldiers. They confessed that they had found out about our "wealth" and so at first they tried to rob us by trick. When that didn't work they simply decided to kill us and thus lay hands on our property. They said they couldn't resist the temptation.
My life in Russia was temporary, but in a short period of time I suffered difficulties and want. The Russian regime is an experiment and no one knows how and where it will end. Meanwhile a person is worthless there. I lived my life there in a sea of misery and suffering. The local population born after the revolution had various benefits such as free academic education and right to work, but they lost their worth in depressing poverty and human misery. I denounced my eligibility for citizenship and immigrated with my old mother to Israel.
She had the privilege to live here and died at the age of 88.
by H. Solodukha
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
Before the War, Voronove was one of the worthiest shtetls in Vilna area. The Jewish population here was exterminated in the most tragic way, exactly as the Jews of other cities and towns during Hitler's bloody occupation.
|Voronove's survivors from the woods at the mass grave
On September 23, 1941, after the ethnic cleansing of the Jews of Rudomino, I, a 19year old youngster, together with my 17year old cousin, escaped from there. After long wandering in the woods, hungry and frozen, we arrived at Divenishok (20 km from Voronove) where goodhearted Jews adopted us. Here we warmed up a bit and regained our strength, but it didn't last for long.
On January 15, 1942 the Head Commissar of the Lida district announced: All Jews living in the surrounding towns: Divenishok, Soletchnik, Benakani, and the smaller towns have to move in 5 days time to the Voronove Ghetto.
On January 18, 1942 we, together with the Jews of Divenishok, moved to Voronove. At that time there were about 5,000 Jews. I was given a place to sleep in a small house where 32 people were already living. 125 grams of bread a day, 12 hours a day of hard work cleaning streets that was our life. But already on the first Sunday since our arrival began the slow liquidation of the Ghetto,
The murderers gathered 25 homeless, elderly Jews and shot them. Every day brought new victims. One Jew forgot that he is not allowed to walk on the sidewalk, another wore clothes lacking a yellow patch, a third was caught with meat on his plate, somebody else decided to cross the street after curfew hours they were all shot at the spot.
On the 7th of May, quite early in the morning, the oldest Jew in our house, Reb Pinya, a man about 80 years old, told me the town is full of SS and Gestapo men.
On the next day there were already dozens of victims who had failed to escape to the Aryan side. On May 10, a representative of the Head Commissar arrived and he requested the summoning of the Yudenrat collaborators and announced to them that: In Lida, six Jews had robbed and then murdered a local priest. Five of them had been caught. The sixth's name is Moshe Levin, 40 years old, profession: housepainter. It's a possibility that he is currently in Voronove, that's why in the upcoming days all Jewish documents will be checked. The Yudenrat must of course assist, but there is no need, God Forbid, to be afraid. The only one who should be afraid is Moshe the Painter and the murderer.
What it all meant we understood only on May 11: early in the morning, hundreds of Hitler's hangmen arrived in Voronove and started to go from house to house ‘looking for Moshe the murderer’. All Jews were sent out to the marketplace and those that tried to hide were shot on the spot.
At the marketplace people were kept until 2pm under strict watch of course. Then there came an order to be organized into small groups, by family, and at first to march to a place not far from the marketplaced. There, near the crossroad, the groups were stopped. And then, a most horrible process began the selection. Men to one side, women to the other, and children in the opposite direction. Most of the Jews were concentrated in one place between them were Zalberg, the Dolmetcher with wife, the Yudenrat collaborators, the Commandant of the Jewish Police in the ghetto, and his assistants.
Everybody knew that towards the right meant to prison, towards the left, to the Almighty. The executions were performed at some distance from the railway. Many of those who were sent to the right or to the left would start running immediately. ‘Immediately’ became the final path for most of the Voronove Jews. About 100 meters behind the shtetl, deep pits had been dug already, where halfnaked and shot Jews were thrown. The screams coming from women, children, and men are indescribable. Whoever saw and heard this will never forget.
That's how, on May 11, 1942 all the Voronove Jews died. May these few words be a monument for the slaughtered Jewish settlement.
Editor's remark: This article by Solodukha is an abstract from Folksshtime. We publish it though not all of the details are accurate to emphasize that the sole surviving record of these events are in the Yizkor books.
by Moshe Kaplan
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
Two Rabbis, the Kletzker and the Myadler are marching to death
They are holding hands with wives and children
They are looking for an answer to a difficult question
In Torah, Gemarah, Mishniyot and Kabbalah
Is it possible that there is no answer?
Could they forget the answer?
But there is, there must be
That's how two Rabbis marched to death.
ShaulReuven and Minkeh are marching to death
Feivel BaruchAharon's, Elya the tailor
Yosl and Shtisl are marching to death, Yosef and Shtisl
Yankele Avreml's, Dinale Keile's
TsirehLeah, Keileh, Feigeh, MinehRiveh
That's how my shtetele marched to death
|Voronove during a ‘Life’ march
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