In memory of my dear sister Raichel and my dear, unforgettable parents.
Remember – on the 5thof December 1941 announcements appeared: all
Jewish able bodied tradesmen with their families must be ready to relocate to a
Ghetto and they would be permitted to take with them only luggage they were able
to carry. The immediate question which had come to mind was: and what would
happen to those who were not tradesmen? The word Ghetto had created a fear.
People tried to rationalise. Some optimists said that in the Ghetto it may be
possible to survive. It was known that a Ghetto was established in Warsaw at the
beginning of 1940. What we could find out about it from the distance was not all
bad. We knew that some refugees who came to Novogrudok in 1939 from the German
occupied part of Poland had returned there of their own will. Some wrote that
they were surviving in the Ghetto. Their main complaint was shortage of
accommodation. Whilst we were worried about the Ghetto, none of us gave any
thought to the future after the Ghetto. It was gruesome enough to think of being
locked up in a limited space. But we had no alternative.
On Friday they made an announcement. We were ordered not to remain outside of
our homes after 6 o'clock of that evening. If found in the street after 6
o'clock one would be shot. Those were the so called police hours. As to the
reason for the restriction there were various rumours. One was that a large
detachment of Gestapo was going to march past. Some assumed that Hitler may
visit briefly Novogrudok. We were all naďve. There was also a rumour that in
Horodyszcz there was a slaughter, where everyone without exception was killed.
Same argued that the reason was that the people of Horodyszcz did not obey the
orders of the Germans, but we in Novogrudok we were obeying the law and the
German orders and we had nothing to fear. We were resigned to the idea of being
confined in a Ghetto. We did not sleep that night. We were glad when daylight
came. Since the early morning, Jews were seen trying to leave the town. Not many
succeeded. Those caught were put in the Ghetto, where all others were hoarded.
Two Ghettos were created. One was in the building of the district court the
other in the First of May street in the building of the Catholic school.
Everyone tried to be selected to go to the district court. The police and one
member of the Judenrat were rounding up the people. None of us foresaw the great
calamity that awaited us. Being herded into the Ghetto was tragic enough. We
left our houses and surrounds that were built by generations of our forebears.
Suddenly we did not have a home and could not imagine the conditions that we
would be exposed to. Where would we sleep? We took what we could carry on our
backs. We got to the district court. Entering into the yard was a frightening
experience. Around the building stood SS men with sticks. They restricted our
movement. Whoever came in could not come out. There were some Jews who had
certificates from their places of work. Everyone who had such a certificate felt
more secure, because he thought that he or she was considered to be a necessary
worker. My sister Raichl had a special certificate. She was working for the head
of staff. My father-in-law Avrom Rudnicki had also a special certificate - he
was supplying soda water to the Germans. There were only a few who were so
lucky. People were of course envious of those who had certificates. On entering
the Ghetto the holders of the certificates and their families were put in a
separate place. It was assumed that they were the most secure should anything
untoward happen. Many did not want to think too hard. We had no option and we
saw no reason why anything extraordinary should happen. We were good and
obedient detainees. Everyone tried to choke the fear deep in their heart. The
frost outside was severe, but they did not let us go inside. We were shrivelled
up from the cold and were huddling close to each other. There was no free space.
There were more than 5000 people in the yard. We were standing and waiting. What
were we waiting for? When it got dark the doors to the district court were
opened and we were pushed in like cattle into dirty, narrow rooms. There was no
room to sit. We tried to make space for the old, sick women. The district court
consisted of a few buildings. We were running from one building to another
trying to find more space. Between the buildings in the centre was a space. We
were tired and hungry. If someone brought food he could not extract it. There
was no room to put down luggage. The night has nearly over. We were hoping for a
better day. On Sunday morning we were told to go to work. The Judenrat was
sending people to their usual places of work.
Those remaining were waiting for the return from work of the members of their
families. The German soldiers who were guarding the doorways expressed their
regrets for the lack of space. They promised that space would be created. When
those who were at work started to return they told us that the Christians in
town told them that huge pits were dug for us next to the army barracks in
Skridlewo. Others argued that the pits were for the old people who were kept in
the Catholic school. Those who correctly assessed the implications did not
return to the Ghetto. They sought shelter with Christian acquaintances. Others
were hiding in the destroyed houses. Those who were in the court buildings had
no choice. The buildings were well guarded and were surrounded by tall walls and
barb wire fences. We turned to the Judenrat as our representatives, who were in
touch with the authorities. Judenrat carried out all orders of the regime
without fail. They told us that we were not in any danger. The head of the
Judenrat was the lawyer Ciechanowski. Members of the Judenrat and their families
were located in a separate building to which we had no access. Despite the
assurances all were disoriented, panic stricken and frightened. At such times,
when there is no visible path for salvation one can only try to switch off. One
becomes atrophied, apathetic and just lets go. There were no alternatives. Even
if one could escape - what about the family. Under those frightful conditions
the night passed. This was a night that one wished would go on forever. We were
huddled together. I see before me my dearest sister and parents. We were hugging
each other without saying a word. What was there to say? Each one was trying to
invent a trade that one could claim to have mastered. It was rumoured that
tradesmen would be spared. I can still hear the voice of my cousin Noimele, who
was four years old. Despite her youth she understood the essence of the events.
She said to her mother: 'Mummy, don't worry about me, I can knit'. Nobody could
sleep. Everybody was listening for the slightest noise. In the morning the
Judenrat was trying to provide a meal. A kitchen had been set up in a separate
building. Each one was given a plate of hot soup. It was cold outside. A fierce
wind was blowing. Suddenly an order was given: 'Get inside the buildings'.
Families were separated and were not allowed to reunite. A fear of death was
hanging over all of us. At that stage a door opened. As people walked in there
was a selection: one was sent to the right the other to the left. At that moment
I was separated from my parents and my sister. I was pushed forward. I could not
move left or right. Suddenly we were alone – I and my husband. A few other
people were pushed into the room. They were followed by an SS man. He searched
everyone. He took away from one person a watch, from another a chain and left
shutting behind him the door. We could see through the cracks in the wall people
being moved one way and the other. Where were they going? We could hear the
sound of motor vehicles, crying of children.
Those who were sent to the left were taken by trucks to Skridlewo, where the
pits were prepared. They were surrounded by Germans with machine guns. Between
the two pits was a narrow path. They were made to get off the trucks and walk
along the narrow path. They were shot at that point. The bodies fell into the
pits. Some were killed others were injured and some were untouched. They fell on
top of each other. This is how five thousand innocent lives were rubbed out.
Fathers, mothers, small children. Innocent lives were terminated. I find it
difficult to describe this scene. We heard of my in-laws Avrom and Rivka
Rudnicki. As they were driven to the pits they saw a group of Jews who were
working in the barracks, among them their son Mejer. They shouted: 'Tell our
children to take vengeance'.
Was there anything we could do to avenge a bestial crime of that magnitude,
after our nearest and dearest had been murdered so brutally? Can there be solace
in vengeance? A few people managed to save their lives by jumping from the
trucks. Among them were Sorke Nachimovski and Chaim Maslowaty from Zamkowa
Street. His daughter was shot whilst she jumped from the truck. That day Sorke
and Maslowaty were hiding in bushes. At night they managed to return to the
court buildings, where they were smuggled in. All members of the Judenrat and
their families had survived the slaughter. When I saw Sorke I cried
hysterically. She was a smart woman. She told me that as soon as she was put
into the truck she with her husband and their 12 year old son decided to jump.
In the truck were German soldiers with machine guns. She waited for a suitable
moment and jumped. Maslowaty and his daughter followed. The Germans opened a
vicious fire which killed his daughter. Her husband and son were prevented from
jumping. The woman had a tremendous will to live, despite her debilitating
illness. Her main solace in life was her gifted 12 year old son. Even after she
lost everyone and everything she had the drive to live. She reproached me for
being apathetic. She used to tell me: 'We must survive to bear witness to what
has been done to us. We must shout loud enough for the world to hear. We should
demand that justice must be done. We must reveal what the cursed Nazis did to
the civilized world and specifically to the Jews.' At that time we were naďve
enough to think that people would listen.
No matter how difficult it is for me to write these lines, I will be true to my
destiny, and describe the murder of our dearest. When the last group of workers
returned to the Ghetto it became clear that none of our relatives and close
friends survived. Everyone in the Ghetto was in deep mourning. Can one describe
the feeling of having lost the closest for ever? We waited the whole night.
Perhaps somebody would return. But in vain. A strong wind was blowing emitting
tones that were in harmony with our feelings. As I write this story I can not
comprehend how we could survive our losses. No one lost their mind, there were
no heart attacks. And to this day I can not understand it. There must be a drive
to survive that gave strength to overcome our indescribable losses.
As we were sitting in mourning, the head of staff came with some bread for my
unforgettable sister Raichl. He came to help her. She was a great person. Alas,
she perished with our parents. She did not want to be separated from them. I
believe that she clung to them when she died. I still can hear her last words:
'I will not remain behind without my parents'.
In this, the first slaughter, 5000 Jews were killed. About 1000 Jews remained.
They were transferred to the Ghetto in Peresike. But only some of them were
destined to survive to a new life of suffering and pain.