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At noon, I entered the main street of our town, David-Horodok. Nothing was left of our cloth store, which was in a two-floor brick building. The Germans dismantled the building and used the bricks for fortification of the front line, which, in 1944, was only at a short distance from our town. I advanced towards our house. The house stood in its place. I entered. It was empty of people and of furniture and objects. I went through the empty rooms and didn't know what to do with myself. There was an attic in the house, and the ladder to it still stood in its place, I started to climb the ladder but, at half way up, I gave up and stepped down. I couldn't proceed. There was also a cellar in the yard. A strange fear got hold of me. I could not stay there. I noticed that various places had been searched, probably they were looking for money or for valuables, I knew that there were in the house gold coins that were saved and hidden for a bad day. We had a large library with holy books, among them the Bible with Mendelssohn's translation to German. There was no trace of the books, except for little leafs of a prayer book that lay torn in the house and yard.
For the first time ever since I left home, I concretely felt the disaster. During the five years, I have gone through hardships and experienced situations that are even hard to imagine, but this was the first time that I faced the bitter reality, horrible to an extent that cannot be expressed in words. Although I did not have much hope to find anyone of them alive, I felt that my world had shattered. Practically, I did not go through the holocaust in the ghetto or with the partisans, I had experienced the holocaust when I arrived in my town and home.
I left the house and went to search for gentile acquaintances, which were once friends of the family. I remembered the town's pastor, who used to buy in our store and was in friendly terms with my father. I went to him. He remembered me and did not reject me, but I couldn't learn a thing from him. I went to another gentile, Timuch who knew me well, since he used to work in our cowshed and was like a member of the family. When he saw me, he began to make the sign of cross on his body and yelled: "Litmanke! I know nothing!". I found out later that, during the Soviet occupation, my parents hid at his house some material from the store. Maybe he feared that I came to claim my family's property. But, of course, this did not concern me. I wanted to know what happened. My gentile neighbors' conspiracy of silence provoked me.
I strolled in the streets of my youth. Every corner was familiar and aroused memories. I walked in the center of town which was always full with Jews, and here I walk to and fro and can't meet even one Jew. I thought that I am already used to this, is it not that also in Vileika, the Jews could be counted on the fingers of one hand, also Vilna was, practically, empty of Jews, but here it was different. In the town where I was born and grew up, where I knew almost everybody, I walked like in a vacuum. The gentiles that I encountered showed no will to chat with me, and I knew many of them, personally. The meetings were as if friendly, but they did not want to tell anything.
I didn't give up. Indeed, when I arrived in David-Horodok, I decided not to stay in town, but now I was determined not to leave the place, until I learn the details of what has happened here.
In our street, at about ten houses from our house, there lived a Christian photographer by the name Zoobey, who used to buy in our store and was considered a friend of the family. He functioned as the town's photographer, and most of his living he made from the Jews. He photographed the school children, class graduation photos, family photos and photos of youngsters who used to have their pictures taken at special occasions, and before leaving for Eretz Isroel.
I visited him. He welcomed me nicely, as if nothing had happened. From his few words, I understood that, indeed, there are no Jews left, but it is all the Germans' blame. He put a pile of photos on the table, and suggested that I pick any photo that I want. Indeed, I picked and took with me many photos of Jews of our town, and, later, when I arrived in Eretz Isroel, I distributed them between the survivors who arrived.
I continued walking in the streets, trying to make the neighbors talk, and trying to gather details. They probably thought that my main interest is the property that was left, and slowly begun to inform on each other. Not about the murder, but about the looting. Among other things, I was told about certain neighbors, the Pavook family, whose house was near ours, and who, before the war, was known for stealing timber from our yard. A day passed and I still did not have a clear picture of what had happened.
I did not want to stay overnight in our house. I went to the house of a Jewish policeman, a former partisan, who lived near the Catholic Church, and who by the power of his status had a Tommy-gun. He let me sleep at his side, on the floor. I couldn't close an eye during the whole night.
I continued my inquiry on the following day, and very slowly, the picture clarified: The war broke out on Sunday, June 22, 1941. The Germans advanced rapidly on main roads, avoiding entering into towns. On the fourth day, they arrived in Minsk. This way, the German army encircled huge territories and blocked all the possible withdrawal routes of the Red Army. By acting in this manner, the Germans eliminated all pockets of resistance. The Soviets withdrew from David-Horodok by the end of June. Practically, for two weeks, till the Germans entered on July 5, the town was without any rule.
The Polish-Russian border, till 1939, was at a distance of about 2.5 kilometer from the town. This border had been closed by the Soviets, for "western" Polish citizens, except Soviet government officials and Communist activists. Very few Jews managed to escape to Russia through this border.
The rule in town was taken over by the local gentiles. As opposed to the other villages in the area, the David-Horodok gentiles were of Tatar origin, and did not deal with agriculture, but with commerce. They were famous for trading with ice cream throughout Poland. They used to drive little carts with self-made ice cream. Others manufactured boots and sold them, or traded with seeds. The women used to grow vegetables and fruits in gardens around their houses.
For hundreds of years, there were fair commercial relations between the Jews and the local gentiles. Both populations lived their lives separately. These were two different cultures. The Polish regime in Pollese, between 1921 and 1939, did not succeed in leaving its mark on the population, certainly not on the Belarusian population, which was Orthodox by religion. The number of Polish was small; these were brought from Poland to serve in the Polish administration and army. There were also Polish settlers who were given land in the area. But, when the Soviets arrived, in 1939, most of them were exiled to Siberia.
Till World War I, the area belonged to Russia, but most of the local gentiles did not favor the Soviet regime. During the Soviet rule, some of the town Jews became prominent and integrated in the Soviet establishment, to the resentment of the local gentiles.
When the Soviets withdrew from town, the gentiles began scheming against the Jews. One of my neighbors told me that my father, of blessed memory, went to the police station, which was setup by the Germans, to complain about the gentiles' scheming against the Jews. Naturally, it was in vain. On the contrary, on his way back, a few locals attacked him and beat him severely.
I couldn't verify that story, but I know that my late father was a learned man, with high esteem of German culture, that believed in law and order of the German people. Before Hitler took over, he was thinking of sending me to Germany for studying Jewish studies in the school for government appointed Rabbis, in Berlin.
In the few weeks that followed the German invasion, there were in the area large concentrations of the encircled retreating Red Army. There were no newspapers or radio, or any other means of communication. And as normally under such circumstances, there were rumors that the Red Army is advancing back into our town. This, of course, had no ground. But it sufficed for a rumor to frighten the locals, and they decided to eliminate the Jews, who were their neighbors since hundreds of years.
A delegation of Christian dignitaries, headed by Mareyko, traveled to the district city Pinsk, and requested from the Germans permission to exterminate the town Jews. Indeed, the "final solution" has been decided upon in the Vanse conference at the beginning of 1942, but already in the summer of 1941, there were special German regiments, entitled "Einsatz Gruppen"*), that accompanied the Wehrmacht soldiers, and whose task was the elimintion of Communist activists and Soviet administration people. The German Gendarmerie in Pinsk willingly gave its consent to
On Sunday, August 10, 1941, the 17th of Av 5701, the local police gathered all Jewish men of David-Horodok, and with the encouragement of the German Police, took them to a place called Chinoisk, at a distance of about 4 kilometers from town, and there they were all shot by the local gentiles, under the supervision of the Nazi policemen.
I pressed Timuch, the gentile that once worked in our cowshed, to tell me what he knew about that action. After pressing him again and again, Timuch told me that Sasha, my brother, who was seven years younger than me, resisted thosethat came to take my father, and tried to protect him with his body, Sasha was shot by them at the house door.
On that day, all men of our town were murdered, except for three or four men, who managed to hide. But a few days later, they were found and killed by the locals. The women and children, among them my beloved mother and my sister Zisl were expelled to the adjacent towns Stolin and Lachva.
In Itzhak Arad's book, "History of the Holocaust, Soviet Union and annexed territories", the author tells that the Germans ordered to expel all women and children to the swamps, hoping that they will drown there or die of hunger. But, according to German reports, this did not succeed, and after a while, they let the women and children return to David-Horodok, where they were put in a ghetto. A year later, on Sabbath, August 29, 1942, the 16th of Ellul 5702, the Germans liquidated the ghetto and murdered all the women and children, at the same place where the men were murdered in 1941.
In Israel, the townsmen have set the 17th of Av, as the Memorial Day for the David-Horodok community. I adopted both dates as the memorial days of my father and mother.
In the sixties, there was a trial against German SS men, who exterminated the ghettos of David-Horodok, Pinsk, and Lachva. Years later, I found at the Yad Vashem library, in Jerusalem, a copy of three legal files, of that time, in which the names and ranks of the murderers are listed. Heading the exterminators regiment was a German from the Czechoslovakia Sudets. There was also documentation of testimonies by the few survivors, among them a testimony by a Jew who lived in David-Horodok, by the name, Gitleman, who hid himself in a village, adjacent to the town, and eventually married the woman that rescued him.
There was no documentation regarding the murder of the men in 1941. On the other hand, there was fragmented documentation about the events in 1942 and the extermination of the ghetto in town, where only women and children lived. Most of the Germans that were accused of the murder of Jews in David-Horodok, in 1942, where acquitted of murder, because it has been proven that the murder had been executed by shooting squads of the local population, with the Germans only supervising the action. A part of them was convicted and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment.
When the Germans entered David-Horodok, in 1941, there lived in town my father Yehudah, my mother Chaya Leah, my sister Zisl and my younger brother Shachna. My elder brother Zeev (Velvel) was not allowed to live in town, during the Soviet period. I met with him one week before the war broke out, in one of the towns around Baranoviche, where he was allowed to live and work as chief accountant. I never heard of him since, and probably he too had been exterminated in the holocaust. His wife, my sister-in-law Devorah with their little son Eliezer, where exterminated in town. My brother Yossel had been mobilized to the Red Army, right at the beginning of the war, in June 1941. When I stayed in David-Horodok, I met a gentile named Mazaniez who was mobilized to the Red Army together with my brother Yossel, and he told me that they were captured in the Borisov area, about 300 kilometers east of our town. He had been released and returned home, and my brother stayed in the German's hands.
The end of Jewish captives was the same as the end of all the Jews; I had very little hopes that he survived. Although, during the years I tried to find out about his fate, it was in vain. His wife, Golde, of the Baruchin family, with their little daughter, Rebecca, who lived with my parents in their house, were exterminated as were the rest of our relatives, who lived in town: uncles, aunts, cousins, more than 50 people.
Together with my grandmother, in her home, lived two families, Gottlieb and Mankin, my father's sisters and their families. Close to us lived my mother's brother, Jacob Durchin and his family. All of them were exterminated, they were shot, and only a common grave was left. I decided to go to the death site, where the murder of the men was executed, but no one was willing to take me there, and everybody warned me not to go through mined tracks. Finally, neither my physical strength and, certainly not, my mental strength, did suffice for me to go there.
Years later, the Soviets placed a memorial stone on which an inscription is engraved: "here the fascists murdered 672 Soviet citizens". The Jewish origin of these Soviet citizens was not mentioned, not even by one word. In 1996, the David-Horodok organization, in Israel, placed a new memorial stone and I participated in the ceremony of its unveiling. This time we prepared the plaque in advance, in Israel, and it is clearly stated on it that the Germans murdered thousands of Jews. In 2003, I visited the town again, together with my two daughters.
At that time, I learned for the first time about the uprising of the Jewish youth in Lachva, and I wondered why in David-Horodok, where there was also an active youth, there was no uprising against the killings. I investigated this in Israel. One of the Lachva people, a tailor, at the same age as my brother Yossel, had told me that after the German Einsatz Gruppen, exterminated all the men of our town and expelled all the women and children to the swamps, the Gendermerie returned to Pinsk, through Lachva, with the intention of executing a killing there too. The head of the community, Lopatin, bribed the head of the German administration, and the Gendermerie did not carry out its scheme.
In 1942, a few days before Rosh Hashanah, the Germans exterminated the Jews of Pinsk and Lachva and the women and children that remained in the David-Horodok ghetto. In Pinsk, family relatives were murdered and in Lachva my two uncles Tuvia Molochny and Shalom Durchin with their families, were murdered.
When the Germans arrived in Lachva, to clean up the area of Jews, the head of the Jewish community approached, again, the same commander who, in 1941, took the bribe and spared the Jews of Lachva. But this time they were told that there is an order from a high level, and that on the next day the ghetto will be exterminated. On that evening, the Jewish youth had gathered and decided to burn down the town and escape to the swamps at the edges of the river Pripet.
I walked about in my town and felt that I am walking about between murderers. I saw in every inhabitant a potential murderer of my family. I knew that some of the declared collaborators with the Nazis, escaped when the Soviets arrived in town, but I also knew that many of the murderers stayed in town.
I went to the post office, which was across my grandmother's house. One of the workers there, an acquaintance of my family, took out of one of the cupboards a pile of letters that were sent to Jews in town and there was nobody to pick them up.
I found in this pile letters and postcards that were addressed to us. A letter from my uncle Israel Nachum Durchin, my mother's brother, who was exiled by the Soviets from Pisnk to Siberia, on the week before the German invasion. I also found a letter from my brother-in-law Jacob Gelman, my sister Zissl's husband, who, one week before the war broke out, traveled with his little son Yehoshua to visit his brother, who lived in Leningrad and wandered during the war to Georgia.
It is hard for me to describe what I felt when I read these letters. For years, I felt lonely, without a family, also when I returned home I found nobody. And here I found my family relatives in letters. I found in it some comfort. It was for me more than finding a treasure, but this was no substitute for my close family, that I have lost forever.
I walked about the town like an alien from another planet. I reached the yard of the school where I studied. The building was demolished. When I stood in the yard of the demolished school, I realized that my drive to escape, in 1939, as been my attraction to the Land of Israel, the beginning of which was between the walls of this school. I felt that I owe my life to the school, and there on the spot I vowed not to rest but to start immediately moving, if necessary also in impassible roads, towards the Land of Israel.
I had, more or less, a general picture of what happened in my town, but it was important to me to find out more details about my family. I went again to our neighbors, thinking that maybe they will tell me something more. I arrived at Pavook's house, which was in a street parallel to the river Horin, near our house. I passed by the house, peeped in the window and there I saw the furniture from our living room. I remembered the furniture very well. These were not ordinary furniture. When I was a child, my parents told me that the table and chairs were manufactured in Vienna. I don't know how did they arrive from Vienna to a remote town in Poland.
I clicked on the window, but nobody responded - only later I learned that the housewife escaped to the backyard and hid from me. I forcefully opened the window and entered the house through it.
I think that seeing the furniture, the last remainder that reminded me of my family, I lost control of myself. Suddenly I noticed a crying baby in the house, who was left when the woman ran to the backyard. I remembered the crying baby that I met in the peasants' house when we left Vilna to join the partisans, and how I threatened the peasant with my pistol.
I stared at the furniture, which was familiar to me ever since I was a child. Near the wall, I saw a commode that I knew from our house. Instinctively I opened it and there I saw clothing from our house, including my brother Yossel's black hair net.
I cannot explain what happened to me. I left the place and started wandering aimlessly in the streets. I don't remember crying. I assume that if I could cry it would make it easier for me. Suddenly I met people who told me that the police are looking for me and that I must report in their offices. Indeed, I went and reported to the chief of police.
He accused me, following a complaint by the housewife, that I broke a window and broke into the house without permission. It is possible that I massed up the house a little, but I don't think that I broke anything. It is true that I entered the house without permission. But, as a partisan, I was already used to entering houses without a formal invitation. And here, in my town, I enter a house that is full with furniture that was looted from my family, and I am being accused of looking at them without permission. I couldn't understand what this is all about; I couldn't imagine that after all I had gone through I will become a criminal. The chief of police, whose name was Levine, and I think that he was Jewish, but like many others, under those circumstances, denied it. He started preaching me for breaking the law, but, still, made me understand that he is doing this since a complaint was filed. Formally, I am to expect punishment, but, as a gesture of good will, he suggests that I leave town "go away from here and this will end the case, otherwise your life is in danger here". I said to him: "your life is in danger. You are living here among murderers. Why don't you do anything against them?" I asked, but got no answer.
Indeed, in no case did I intend to stay in town, but I couldn't accept the idea that I am being expelled from the town in which I was born and in which I grew up. And that the country, for the freedom of which is I fought against the German conquerors, is expelling me. I decided to leave town, thinking that maybe I will return to it once again, and maybe one of my elder brothers Velvel or Yossel, who weren't in town when the men were murdered, will return too.
It is probable that I slept over in town one more night. I don't remember. My way back to Lachva I walked and there I boarded a train to Vilna. I don't remember the details of this trip; I only remember that on the way back I stopped in Baranoviche, at about a half way from Vilna. I probably had to change a train, and again it was a cargo train.
When I arrived in Baranoviche, I started looking for Jews. And, miraculously, I met there a few people from my town, who, as the war broke out, succeeded in escaping to Russia and have now returned from there with the aim to advance westwards.
I returned to Vilna and met my friends from the youth movement. It was the end of 1944, the war wasn't over yet, but I saw that they are all "sitting on their luggage". Poland was liberated and so was Romania, the "Escape" illegal movement for immigration in Eretz Isroel, began to organize. The movement was illegal in the eyes of the Soviet authorities that persecuted the Zionist movement whom they considered as an imperialist agent. It was also illegal in the eyes of the British authorities, which limited the immigration in Eretz Isroel to only 1,500 certificates per month.
*) Special units that consisted of specially trained SS soldiers, together with Lithuanian and Ukrainian collaborators the locals' request.
I returned to my work place in Vileika, I freed myself from work and traveled to Vilna. In Vilna, I succeeded in finding a job as Chemistry Engineer at an aircraft factory. Where I worked, at "Electrit", they manufactured, during the Polish regime period, radio sets, and in 1939, when the Soviets entered, they transferred the whole factory with its equipment and workers to Minsk.
As part of my job, I established a chemistry laboratory, to the full satisfaction of the factory management, and I belonged to the senior staff of the technical department. The plant manpower manager, Tevke Galperin of blessed memory, was in the past a Jewish partisan, (eventually he, too, immigrated in Eretz Isroel), so that most of the workers were former Jewish partisans, who fought in the Rudniki forest, and participated in the liberation of Vilna, alongside with the Red Army.
In Vilna, I lived with the Alperovitz family, in Trozka street, near the location where, before the war, was the "Ezra" religious school. I have already met there friends from the "Zionist Youth" who were "sitting on the luggage" preparing to move westwards. I met Nissan Reznik, Yechiel Burshtein, Pesach Mizeretz, Sima Kaganovitz, Chaya and Zvi Levine of the Yaned Shtool family, Arieh Kopferberg and his wife, and more.
In one of the rooms in the apartment, a former prisoner settled down. He was imprisoned in Ponar, together with about 80 prisoners from the ghetto, whose job was to remove the bodies of the Jews, that were shot at Ponar and buried in pits, burn them and spread the ashes, so as to not leave behind any evidence that mass killings took place in Ponar. The prisoners, whose legs were tied with chains, dug a tunnel through which 13 of them managed to escape to the forest, and survive.
Among these 13 was my neighbor at the apartment. It was hard to believe what they have gone through while burning the bodies. Eventually I met in Israel more prisoners who worked at Ponar, one of them is alive while I write these lines. His name is Hillel Zeidel. After the escape, he joined the partisans at the Rudniki forest.
I corresponded with my uncle in Siberia, to where he with his wife, son and two daughters Rebecca and Batya, were exiled one week before the Germans invaded the USSR. At the beginning of 1945, in the framework of repatriation*) of former Polish citizens, my uncle managed to arrive with his family from Siberia in Levov. I traveled from Vilna to meet them. The voyage was tough, since the traffic of passenger trains from north to south was not yet regular. I was very happy to meet them and we decided to travel together to Poland.
I worked in the factory and earned my living. At that time I started to correspond with my brother-in-law Jacob Gelman, my sister Zissl's husband, who on the week before the war broke out, traveled with his son to Leningrad and from there he arrived in Georgia. In my letters, I insinuated that I intend to leave the USSR and get to my sisters. Letters used to be censored on those days, and I could not write this openly. His respond was that he had tied his fate with the USSR, because of his son. When I left the USSR and arrived in Eretz Isroel, the connection between us was cut off, and during the Cold War period we didn't know of each other. Eventually, at the beginning of the eighties, he decided to leave the USSR together with his son Yehoshua. On those days, Yehoshua was married to a woman of the Kipnis family and worked as engineer in one of the secret factories in the USSR (here is, everything is secret there!), he was one of those that their immigration was refused. With great efforts, also on my part, he managed to come with his family to Israel. His father, my brother-in-law, did not have this privilege, a drunken driver ran him over, while he was walking on the sidewalk in his town Tibbilisi.
By no means could I establish a connection with my sisters, Esther and Bella in Eretz Isroel. I had restraints that I find hard to explain. During all the war years, not even one day had passed without me thinking of my family. After I returned from my hometown and after seeing the great destruction that none of the family had been saved, my conscience tortured me as to why am I alive while all the rest of my family members are gone. Again and again, the thought of what would have happened if I stayed home crossed my mind. In cold analysis, I could reach the evident conclusion that I wouldn't help with my presence, and would I stay in town I would, undoubtedly, be among the victims, but logic is one thing and feeling is quite another thing.
A few months passed since the liberation, before I gave a sign of life to my sisters. At that time, there was no direct mail connection between Vilna and Eretz Isroel. One of the workers in our factory traveled to Moscow, and I drafted a telegram in English, telling that I am alive and so is my friend Alperovitz. Later I learned that the telegram was not clear and my sisters didn't understand who survived, my friend, or me, because my friend signed the telegram. Probably, the English wasn't clear enough. I didn't know English at all, and the telegram has been phrased by my friend Alperovitz, whose English was poor.
I definitely considered my work at the factory as temporary. It never occurred to me, not even for one minute, to stay in Vilna or to tie my future with the USSR.
I was determined with my decision to reach Eretz Isroel. Indeed, during my study at the university I wanted to immigrate in the United States, and my uncle there had sent me a "request" for coming, but because of the quota I couldn't go there and got stuck in Vilna, during the German occupation. Now I had before me only one goal, to advance westwards in the direction of the shores of Eretz Isroel. I felt a need to unite with my only close family that was there for me, my two sisters who were in Eretz Isroel. My friends, of the Zionist Youth movement, the partisans that returned to Vilna, were also "sitting on their luggage". Naturally, we began to get organized socially. We held meetings and searched for a way of leaving for Poland. The repatriation agreement wasn't applied yet, at that time, and so, at the next half of 1944, the "Escape" was born.
We started organizing the youth, including Lithuanian citizens, and first transfer them to Vilna. I remember the Gail family from Kovna. I waited for them at the Vilna train station. It is hard to understand today, but at that time, a special permit was needed for traveling from one city to the other, or else the trip was illegal.
Very slowly, the members of the Zionist movement began leaving Vilna in the direction of Poland and Romania. Ruzka of "Hashomer HaTzair" (Young Guardian) managed to get to Eretz Isroel, by the end of 1944. Abba Kovner, Nissan Reznik, Chaim Lazar of "HaShomer HaZair", "Zionist Youth" (HaNoar HaTzioni) and "Beitar", moved to Poland, and there they began organizing the "Escape" ("Bricha").
My sisters located me and sent me a letter, which they managed to transfer via Egypt. Till today, it is not clear to me why there were no postal connections between Soviet Lithuania and Palestine-Eretz Isroel. I received a few parcels with clothing, a sweater, that they sent me and, for many years, I kept as souvenir a piece of soap that was produced at the "Shemen" factory in Haifa, the inscription on the soap packaging label was in Hebrew, and this aroused special excitement in me. The contact with my sisters in Eretz Isroel, blew a spirit of life in me, it meant the light at the end of the tunnel for me. Many years later, I handed the piece of soap to the Yad Vashem Museum.
Partisans were granted special privileges in the USSR. Everybody was in euphoria. Many had the right to join the Communist party. Many of my friends, among them Senya Rindzunksy, tied their future with the Soviet Union, as well as many other young people who believed in a leftist ideology and decided to stay.
I had no illusions, not for one moment. Indeed, I was raised in a non-religious home, but I was given a Jewish education. And during my studying in the university, as well as during my time with the partisans, I personally experienced the growing anti-Semitism. Officially, the Communist party was against anti-Semitism, but, spitefully, among the partisans I realized that anti-Semitism is expressed in various forms, and although it may not be seen on the surface, it dwells deeply in the hearts of the gentiles.
I told my friend Senya that I intend to start moving towards my sisters. I told him: "Senya, this is no place for you. You are a Communist by conviction, while here, all the Communists around you are more careerists than Communists". Years later, after the Doctors' Trial in Russia and after Stalin's death, Senya managed to arrive in Israel with his wife, and in his book "The Destruction of Vilna", he mentioned this conversation between us. He understood my motivation to find my family, but he envisioned the solution for the Jewish problem, within the USSR.
During later years, almost all survivors left the USSR, and most of them immigrated in Israel.
On spring of 1945, I traveled to Levov to meet my uncle (my mother's brother) Israel Nachum Durchin and his family. For the first time, after many years, I felt a family relationship. I decided to move to Levov and from there apply my repatriation to Poland. At that time in Levov, it was already allowed for former Polish citizens, to leave for Poland. In Vilna, this has been allowed a few months later.
Being a natural law-abiding person, I decided to leave the USSR legally. For that purpose, I had first to be released from my work in the factory. I requested a meeting with the factory manager, an educated intelligent person who, of course, was a Russian Communist. Before my meeting with the manager, I met a Jewish fellow by the name Shalit, who asked to be released from work and the manager sent him off with disgrace.
I entered the manager's room, sat down in front of him, and told him that I want to be released from work, since I intend to travel away from here. He knew me from my work in the technical department. He practically jumped off of his chair, raised his voice, and asked me, in great anger: "why do you (plural) want to go away from here?" In Russian, like in English, the word "you" stands for both - plural and single, so that I could understand the question as aimed to me personally and/or to us, Jews in general.
I answered him with a question: "do you mean why we, the Jews, want to leave?" He responded: "yes, indeed".
The conversation lasted more than a half an hour. I explained to the surprised manager, the motivations of the Jews. I described to him the anti-Semitism that exists wherever a German soldier has stepped. I said: "whoever saw me, walking with the Yellow Patch in the middle of the road, does not want to see me holding a responsible position in the factory". He began pleading me and describing the career that awaits me in Russia, he was willing to send me to Moscow for advanced studies, and promised me a bright future.
Tevke Galperin, the Jewish personnel manager, didn't know what to do with himself. He later told me that this could have brought me easily to Siberia.
But, I stood firm. I described in simplicity the forlorn hope that the Jewish survivors faced. I told him: "I was left alone, the only one of my entire family, I have two sisters who live abroad (I didn't say Eretz Isroel, as this was not to be mentioned then) and I return from work every day and must accept that I will never see them again". All his persuasion regarding my future professional career, were in vain. Then he said: "where are you going, to Poland? And will there be better for you?" and I answered: "if I did not stay with the Germans, I will not stay with the Polish". He caught the drift and the destination to which I strive.
The factory manager, a Communist from Moscow, got off his chair, to Tevke Galperin's astonishment, stretched out his hand, departed from me, and wished me "a successful trip and happiness in life". Later on, he let many Jews be released from work and go.
A few weeks later, I was released from work and started planning my going to Poland, via Levov, together with my uncle and his family.
Before that, I felt a need to return to my hometown. I wanted to believe that, after all, somebody from my family managed to return. Maybe I will find some sign of life, maybe a letter arrived. Again, in the same way as on my first trip, seven months ago, I arrived in David-Horodok. I found there a Jewish family that returned from Russia, and two boys, who before the war, were sent to a technical school in Russia, and this way they were saved.
I stayed in town a few days. I went to the post office and, to my deep sorrow, did not find any sign from my family. In our house, there lived a policeman, who invited me to stay with him. I cannot explain it, but this time I felt and behaved much different than at my first visit. Seemingly, on the first time I was in shock and behaved completely irrationally. All that accumulated in me during the war years, burst out without my being able to control myself. This time, I walked around like in a cemetery. I was completely indifferent. Nothing I could do. I only knew - I will never return here. I was completely without feeling, this time too I did have tears, I don't remember crying, perhaps in my subconscious I wanted to wipe off everything that I saw, and maybe it was because of my enormous disappointment that I didn't discover anything more than what I discovered at my first visit.
I did not want to leave the house without a landlord. At that time, there existed a committee mutual to the Polish government and the Soviet Union authorities. Those who repatriated to Poland could sell to the USSR the property that they owned and get in return property in Poland, and indeed, I had the certificate. When I came to Poland, in 1945, I did not materialize my right. I remember that before leaving town, I wished the locals that they should live their lives under the Soviet regime, and to the Soviet regime I wished that its citizens be the murderers that murdered our dearest ones. It was impossible to revenge my family murderers, also I am not an avenger, still I prayed within my heart that the murderers will be punished, that their punishment will come to them, without knowing when and how. My hatred toward the locals was not less than my hatred towards the German and Lithuanian murderers who executed the killing in Vilna.
My hatred to the Germans was common, not aimed at a specific German. But my hatred of the locals, who murdered my family, was personal. Each and every one of the locals seemed to me as a potential murderer.
I have been asked several times, what was my attitude towards god and religion, during the holocaust time. I always believed in a super power and hoped that "Providence will watch over me". I do not belong to those who think that what has happened to the Jews of Europe was a punishment from heaven. On the other hand, I never forgave the murderers who, in cold blood, murdered innocent people, women, and children who did nothing wrong.
In 1989, within a gathering of former partisans delegations, I visited, together with my wife Chayah and my daughter Edith, in the Soviet Union and in Kiev, the capitol of Ukraine, adjacent to Chernobyl. The atomic reactor disaster was well noticed in the area. A part of the district population died, and others are still suffering from terrible diseases, resulting from the radioactive fallout. Our home was at the bank of the river Horin that pours into the river Pripet. Both rivers used to be very reach with fish; nowadays there are no fish at all in both rivers.
When we ate our meals, there were those who feared that maybe the food isn't fully safe. Only then did a thought cross my mind: who knows, whether this is not a punishment from heaven, and if (I repeat the word "if") it is decreed from heaven that such a huge scale disaster should occur, it would be preferable in my eyes that it would hit my hometown murderers rather than the Eskimo. This was my feeling, and as much as it is not proper, it still reflects my truth.
Maybe here is the place to explain my attitude towards the Germans. My father was a phyllo-German, he even planned that my higher education I shall obtain in Berlin. Till Hitler took over, I even sympathized Germany. In my secondary school, I learned the German language and obtained common knowledge of German literature and culture. During my chemistry studies, I used textbooks, most of them in German. When the Nazis assumed control over Germany, and began legislating unconcealed anti-Semitic laws, the German anti-Semitism inspired also Poland. Polish citizens were anti-Semites before, but the German influence strengthened anti-Semitism in Poland, not only among the population, but also among the Polish regime, that became more and more hostile. That reflected in an economic boycott on Jews and in initiated riots against Jewish citizens, to an extent that deteriorated Jews' personal security. All this, of course, is miniaturized in comparison with the German mass murders, with the occupation of Vilna, in 1941.
I have already described what I have gone through in the ghetto. They indiscriminately murdered Jews; what can be worse than that, for this there is no and will never be forgiveness. But they also succeeded in oppressing and humiliating the few survivors, to an extent that their self-esteem fell to zero. Only after my escape from the ghetto, when, for the first time, I held a pistol in my hand, did I feel again as a human. It doesn't matter that we fought them with pistols and riffles while they fought us with aircraft and tanks. My time with the partisans brought my self-confidence back to me, with the image that I am human like everybody else.
Years later, when I had the right to claim compensation from Germany, I did not hurry to do so. It took me 10 years before I submitted my claim for compensation for my time in the ghetto. It didn't occur to me to claim compensation for the time that I have been with the partisans. I admit that at that time I could distinguish between those who were rescued in concentration camps and those who fought in front together with the partisans. When I filled the questionnaire for my compensation claim, I concluded it with the phrase: "From the ghetto I escaped to the partisans".
As time passed by, my attitude towards survivors had been changed. I sympathize with the suffering of all those who succeeded in hiding, under difficult circumstances, from the murderers, and miraculously stayed alive. I consider those who came from concentration camps as real heroes, who succeeded to survive under circumstances that are difficult to describe. One who is a hero to me, is my brother Sasha, who was shot at our house door, when he stood up against the murderers who took our father to the field of slaughter. Those who managed to organize family camps, within the forests and saved Jews, I appreciate and respect not less than those who survived within the partisans' lines. Of course, I am proud of the ghetto rebels, the partisans, many of who have fallen in the battle against the German enemy. The names and sites of burial of many of them are unknown.
Every now and then, a question is being asked, and I ask it myself too, how long will the hatred for Germans last. Every one of us has both - a general and personal account. Nothing will bring our dearest back. Personally, I cannot forgive the Germans for what they did to my family, relatives and my people.
And, there is another important thing for which I cannot forgive the Germans, that is for blunting our emotions. I am naturally an emotional person, when I see blood I get dizzy, and when I see a horrible scene on television about victims in Somalia, Rwanda, and at the time, in Biafra, I instinctively compare the scenes with the reality that I have gone through, with the pictures of Auschwitz and other concentration camps.
I have heard from many holocaust survivors that the Scud missile attack on Israel, during the Desert Storm war, in 1990, they accepted with some indifference - like "what can already happen?".
My hatred towards my hometown people, who murdered my family under German inspiration and encouragement, is different. I see them as murderers. The time that passed maybe weakened the hatred, but it is not gone. Maybe I will demonstrate it by the following story.
At the beginning of the eighties, Ukrainians who live in Canada raised a monument, in memory of the Ukrainian victims that died in World War II and in Stalin's era, when the Ukrainian population starved and many were exiled to Siberia. The location for this monument was in the private premises of one of the Yeshivas in the old city of Jerusalem, not far from the Western Wall. We got information that the Yeshiva received $ 60,000 in return for its consent to erect the monument at its premises. I, who had been a certain time with the partisans, within a regiment of Ukrainians, knew that many of them were collaborators with the Nazis, and I knew, first hand, their hatred for Jews. I could not accept this. The partisan organization approached Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem, requesting that the monument be removed, but since it was erected on private property, he had no authority for complying with us. We approached the Yeshiva management but they didn't relate at all to our demand. On one day, the day after Yom Kippur, a group of partisans with me among them, traveled to Jerusalem and caused damage to the plaque at the monument. We very much wanted to be sued, to be given a chance to tell and reveal the whole truth.
In retrospect, I quite regret what we did, but this was mine and other's feelings at that time.
I want to say a few words about the economic situation in these areas, after the war ended. At that time there was a great difference in the prices of gold, between Levov and Vilna, it was therefore quite customary to make a living on smuggling gold. In Russia, there were huge amounts hidden by citizens in various hiding places in their homes. So, Jews started transferring gold from Russia to Levov. The amounts of gold in Levov increased and the price of gold suffered a dreadful comedown. But it was impossible to buy gold with foreign currency, since possessing foreign currency was totally forbidden and the transgressors were liable to a death penalty. As a result, Soviet Union citizens feared to deal with gold, and mainly Polish repatriates dealt with it - bought gold cheaply in Russia and brought it to Levov for selling it expensively. During all the years of the holocaust, I did not deal with commerce, and I never even thought of becoming a merchant. But I needed money, the salary I earned from my work in the factory hardly sufficed for just living. I still wore my partisan cloths and I needed cloths and other means. It is also possible that I felt an urge to "gain" in return for all the wasted years.
When I came to visit my uncle, I thought that this is my chance for making an easy profit. Buy gold in Levov and sell it in Vilna. But I had no Russian money, Rubles. I returned to Vilna, borrowed money from acquaintances of my forests period, the sisters Henya and Chayah Fischer (who later became my wife and the mother of my daughters). My friend Alperovitz gave me money to buy gold for him too, and I traveled back to Levov, to start "business". All the money, the value of 120 gold Rubles, I gave to one of my uncle's neighbors, who promised to buy the gold for me. It was on a Sunday, he left for the road in the morning. We awaited his return all day long, and at midnight he returned completely drunk and claimed that the "gold dealers" made him drink and robbed him. No Rubles, no gold, and I was in debt.
I had to quickly find a solution for paying my debts. At that time, the soviets transferred a lot of equipment, from Germany to the Soviet Union, both in an organized manner by the military authorities, and privately by the Soviet soldiers who returned from the German front. The Soviet soldiers looted whatever they could lay their hands on, in total licentiousness. I met a middleman, who bought from one of the soldiers, a large quantity of DMC thread for sewing. I borrowed money from my uncle and bought the thread from the middleman. I filled a suitcase, not too big but very heavy, with thread, and on a cargo train, that carried coal, I traveled back to Vilna. In Vilna, I sold the thread to owners of stands in the market place, and I paid all my debts, except for the debt to my uncle, which I paid back from the salary I got of my first job in Eretz Isroel.
At that time, I deepened my acquaintance with Chayah Fischer, who helped me in selling the thread and getting out of debt. She immigrated one year after me, and in 1950, we got married.
I left Vilna and moved to Levov, with the purpose of proceeding to Poland with my uncle and his family. My uncle, who till his expulsion to Siberia in 1941, lived in Pinsk, wanted to return and visit his home, where he hid gold. I joined him on this trip. Again, we traveled in an impassable way; from Looninyetz to Pinsk we traveled in a locomotive whose driver we paid for the ride. With my partisan certificate, I was considered "strict Kosher" by the authorities. We arrived in Pinsk. The city was almost empty of Jews. The Nazis exterminated the city's Jews in 1942. We met very few Jews who were Pinsk residents, survived the war, and have now returned to their city. My uncle's house was totally demolished, except for the floor that remained. But now the entire area belonged to the army. We left the city and returned in peace to Levov.
I want to mention another event of that period. One day, I met a friend from the Kovna University, a devoted Communist, who in 1941, escaped to the Soviet Union and joined the Lithuanian brigade. He wore a Russian army uniform and boots. Boots symbolized the military, all militaries. Normally, I avoided telling strangers about my intention to leave Poland, but somehow I told him that I have two sisters in Eretz Isroel, and insinuated something of my intention to leave. "Go, go", he said smiling, "we'll get to you too". "I hope that not in boots" I responded, and we departed in peace.
I must admit that during the "cold war" and the Soviet involvement in our war with Egypt, I many times remembered this meeting and the conversation we held.
As I will tell later on, among other things, I was also busy in the absorption of new immigrants in Israel. And here, one day I got a call from an old acquaintance that told me that a new immigrant has arrived from Lithuania. He asked me whether I could interview this immigrant. And so, while sitting in my room, this Lithuanian new immigrant entered, I immediately recognized him, and instinctively looked down at his feet and noticed that he is wearing sandals. I couldn't restrain and said: "Well, you said that you will get to us, and here you are not in boots but in sandals". Till today, I cannot forgive myself for approaching him this way. But the memory of my conversation with him did not leave me all these years, and the words just slipped my mouth.
I offered him refreshments, and we sat together a long hour, he told me that he took part in the hunger strike that the Lithuanian Jewish community activists held in Moscow, and that, eventually, he succeeded in leaving the Soviet Union. I promised him that I would do my best to find him a job as chemist. He gave me his phone number in the absorption camp in Nahariya, and we departed. A few days later, I called him and he told me that he found a job as tennis instructor. When I later tried to find him, I failed. I called that acquaintance, that sent him to me in the first place, and he told me that he lost contact with the chemist, and that it is possible that the chemist intends to immigrate in South Africa.
Till this day, I cannot forgive myself, for acting as I acted. Who knows, maybe he was still a Communist in the service of the Soviet Union, in Israel too, and such things have already happened.
One day, my director, Gazit, turned over to me a new immigrant from Kovna, a food engineer by profession. On those years, only very few managed to get out of there. The candidate I interviewed, Rozen, didn't seem suitable for the job. But there was pressure from the management to take him in. This Rozen, eventually participated in the tender and got the job.
As part of his job, he used to visit meat factories all around Israel. After the visits, he used to submit verbal and written reports to me. Years later, when he had retired from work, as customary at the civil service, I used to invite him, on eve of holidays, for a toast. About two year after his retirement, he asked to meet with me. Of course, I complied and he came to my office. "I will tell you something" he said "something that I never told you before". Then he began to tell: "when I arrived in Israel and was accepted to work in the technological unit, I was a spy on behalf of the Soviet Union. You surely knew that". Since I did not know anything about it, I reacted with a frozen face, and asked him to tell me the details. And here is the story that Rozen revealed to me. One day, he was called to one of the managers at his work place in Kovna. He was known as a member of the sports movement of Free Lithuania and it was suggested to him to apply for an immigrant visa to Israel. Being convinced that this is a provocation, he refused to place such an application. After this conversation, Mr. Rozen was told that the authorities know that he has an uncle in the United States, and that he was a Zionist in the past. He was asked to go to Israel and continue to be in contact with the Soviet authorities. He had been sent to Moscow for a several months course and was granted an exit permit to Israel. He was given an assignment to locate new immigrants from the Soviet Union, who were supposed to maintain contact with the Soviet embassy in Tel Aviv, but broke the contact. He was told that instructions he would get from the Soviet embassy in Israel. When he arrived in Israel, he told all this to the Mossad people. On one night, a man knocked on his door and told him that tomorrow morning he should meet, in Hayarkon Street, in Tel Aviv, with a contact person who will have the "Haboker" newspaper in his jacket pocket.
Rozen met with the contact person and began following his instructions and cooperating with him. He began to trace new immigrants who broke their contacts with the Soviet Union. Later the contact person was declared "persona non grata", and that ended the story. In response to my question why does he think that I knew about his activity, he answered that whenever he used to go out of Tel Aviv, on duty, I used to "inquire" him of his actions.
These are the facts. I am not going into any interpretations.
At that time, Jews who were former Lithuania citizens were not allowed to exit the Soviet Union. A woman, with whom I was well acquainted from the ghetto, married a learned Jew who was a former Lithuanian citizen, and worked for the ministry of foreign affairs of the Lithuanian government in exile, which during the war was in Moscow. The couple wanted to move to Poland, but was refused. At that time, rumors spread that there is a possibility of flying from Vilna to Poland, in a military aircraft, for money that has to be transferred to the pilot. This, of course, was evidently illegal, but a group of Jews decided to give it a try. That woman, my acquaintance, suggested that I join this flight, and when I told her that I don't have the money, she suggested that I join the flight free. Since I had already been scalded by some fishy "business", I refused to accept her offer. To my good luck and the couple's and the group's bad luck, after he took the money, the pilot took off, circled around the city, landed back and handed over all his passengers to the Soviet authorities. The couple was imprisoned 10 years in Siberia, after which they arrived in Israel and settled in Hadera.
*) The return of displaced Polish to the homeland, in accordance with the agreement between the USSR and Poland.
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