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Section V
World War II and the Russian Occupation 1939-1941

Germany and the Soviet Union once again divided Poland. Russia took Western Belarus and Western Ukraine and Germany took the rest. For the Jews of David-Horodok, occupation by Russia was considered a Godsend, because whatever else the Communists were, they were not at the time thirsty for Jewish blood.

Years of Turbulence and Death

Yosef Lipshitz

The Eve of War

  What will be? Will the efforts of the world's statesmen avert war? Will the great world powers such as England, the Soviet Union, America, and France succeed in curbing Hitler's appetite, or will the world really be flung into a dreadful slaughter? These questions traveled from mouth to mouth in the early summer months of 1939. The tension grew from day to day. The situation became more strained from minute to minute. The air smelled of gunpowder.

  Sometimes a ray of hope shone, and everybody strode around with optimistic smiles on their faces. Then just as suddenly the sky clouded over and people shuffled here and there, worried and gloomy all over again.

  “What will be?” the David-Horodokers asked one another. They listened to the radio day and night, grasping at information from the entire world. They sought a ray of hope, but the next day invariably demonstrated the increasing hopelessness of the situation.

  Presently there was a breakdown in the talks between the Soviet Union and the western powers; then came the astounding news of the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty. A non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union!! Things looked hopeless for Poland; a mobilization was declared. The question that occupied people's minds was not whether there would be war, of that they were certain. They asked only, “When will it break out?” With fear and dread they waited for that unfortunate day. Who knew what the day would bring with it.

The Polish-German War

  Friday, September 1, 1939. The announcement came over the radio like thunder. At dawn the Nazi military forces had crossed the German-Polish border and attacked Poland without a prior declaration of war.

  David-Horodoker Jews could not sit still in their homes. Wherever one turned there were groups of people with questioning looks and worried faced, talking about the great misfortune. Intuition predicted that the outcome would not be good. But who knew; who knew how it would end?

  The town was put on war status. At night all windows were shaded so that no light could be seen from the outside. The electric street lamps were no longer lit. Darkness ruled the street in the evening just like the darkness in Jewish hearts both day and night. Economic life in the town died down immediately. David-Horodok soon began to experience shortages of products, the first two being salt and matches.

  One day passed and then another. News from the front was not good. The Polish army was retreating. Entire armies were being surrounded by German military forces. Rumors spread of betrayal by Polish military leaders. Reports appeared of extraordinary espionage involving highly placed Polish personalities. Despite the boasting of Polish radio, one felt that a decayed, demoralized card house was collapsing. One sought for hope, and waited impatiently for England and France to honor their pledges and come to the aid of the Polish army.

  September 3, 1939. Everybody's faces brightened. A ray of light and hope appeared. England and France had declared war on Germany. Everyone imagined that now the situation would change. Fighting on two fronts would from now on cause the German military to suffer defeats. Unfortunately these hopes vanished. As the murderous Nazi hordes advanced, the Polish military was crushed. Soon Warsaw was surrounded; then the Germans were in Bialystok, Grodno and Brest-Litovsk. Hundreds of Jewish refugees began to arrive in town. They described the horrors of the war. They feared the day when the Germans would enter David-Horodok. The heart portended evil. What will be? From where will salvation come? How can we save ourselves?

  September 17, 1939. Rumors began to circulate that the Red Army had crossed the Soviet-Polish border in order to free the western region of White Russia and the Ukraine. Was this really true or was it, perish the thought, only a rumor? All Jews wanted with their entire being for the news to be true. They were not afraid to talk of it too loudly while the Polish authority was still in town. They waited impatiently for the day the Red army would march into David-Horodok. No small matter. The Jews would at the same time be rid of the hated anti-Semitic fascist Polish government as well as avert the great danger of certain death under the rule of the Nazi murderers.

   Soon the Poles began leaving David-Horodok, retreating towards the west, certain that the Red Army was advancing from the east. From the night of September 18th to that of the 19th, the Polish military detachments that were stationed at the Polish-Soviet border began to withdraw. The Jews of David-Horodok did not sleep the entire night. They were afraid of acts of vengeance by the Polish detachments on the Jewish population. Fortunately the Poles retreated without causing any harm to the Jews.

  September 19th dawned. After all their detachments had crossed the Horin River, which divided the town in two, the Poles tore down the bridge and set up barricades on the other side of the river. Right behind them came the assault forces of the Red Army. At the river there was a brief exchange of fire between the two sides. One Red Army man was shot to death and another wounded. The Poles quickly retreated. A Soviet sapper detachment quickly set up a pontoon bridge over the river and the Red Army troops continued on their way.

Under Soviet Rule (September 1939-June, 1941)

  Without question September 19, 1939 was the happiest day in the lives of David-Horodoker Jews in the course of the previous dozen years. After the shooting between the Poles and the Red Army detachments had ended, the entire Jewish population (and not only the Jews) came out in the streets with happy smiling faces, and received the Red Army detachments who had unceasingly attacked from east to west. Young and old, small and large, man and wife—all stood on the sidewalk of the main street through which the army troops passed. With smiling faces and waving hands, they greeted the Red Army men. The Red Army men in turn greeted the inhabitants in a friendly manner.

  One is reminded of how a high officer who was at the head of a detachment noticed the elderly Velvel Raishke's[1] who stood with the others on the sidewalk. He called to the old gentleman, “Nada zhit staritchak, nada zhit!” (“We must live old man, we must live!”) What an enthusiastic response these few words brought. That day everyone was simply intoxicated with joy and happiness.

  In the afternoon a meeting was held under the free sky, and representatives of the Red Army made speeches in which they pledged a free and blissful life for the inhabitants of the freed regions of West White Russia and Western Ukraine. “Oppression, people-hatred and poverty will no longer be the destiny of the freed brotherly people of Western Ukraine and West White Russia. From henceforth you will enjoy a favored status, freedom, brotherhood, love, and you will work under the rays of the sun of the great folk-leader Comrade Stalin.” That was the sum and substance of the speeches which were held at the meeting.

  Understandably the chief celebrants, who acted as if they were the hosts, were the few Jewish communists in town. They were joined by several miatchonas [town citizens] of David-Horodok. All day until late in the night, everyone stayed in the streets conversing with the Red Army men about how the Poles had suppressed the national minorities and especially the Jews. They were astonished at the approachability and simplicity of the Red Army men. They were impressed by their thoughtfulness and sympathetic expressions, and were thus even more encouraged by Soviet promises and reassurances that from then on, the Jews would no longer know of such trouble. On the night of September 19, 1939 the Jews of David-Horodok slept peacefully and blissfully, and were full of hope for a bright future.

  The first weeks of life under the Soviet authority began in David-Horodok. By edict all businesses were re-opened and people began besieging them, trying to stock up on clothing, footwear, produce, etc. Especially conspicuous was the attitude of the vastatchnikas, which was the name given to the arriving Soviet citizens. They went from shop to shop buying everything they laid their eyes on, paying whatever price was asked. They would come away from the shops with large bundles.

  At first it was thought that they didn't bargain because they were accustomed to the fixed prices of the government stores. However no one could understand why they bought so much. Gradually it became apparent that they could not obtain these things at home. This brought on an even greater buying spree. The Polish zloty became of equal value to the Soviet ruble so that the zloty was not invalidated and remained as a currency.

  The town authority was in the hands of local Communist activists. The Soviets allowed them to run things for the first few months. About 6-7 Jewish and 3-4 Christian Communist activists dominated the town during the course of those first months. These few Communist activists inscribed a sad chapter in the history of the town, on the one hand because they denounced to the NKVD (Soviet security organization) the majority of Zionist workers in town, leading to the subsequent arrest of these people. And on the other hand they incited the majority of the Horodtchukas against the entire Jewish population. In the meantime, however, there were many meetings, entertainment evenings and theater performances and the youth did not have a bad time.

  A large stream of refugees from Greater Poland[2] began. It is estimated that 300,000 Jews fled into Western Belarus.[3] As a result, the Jewish population of David-Horodok also swelled, reaching about 7000-8000.

  Slowly the holiday mood dissipated and people began to think about a livelihood, especially since the reserve supplies were depleted prematurely. There were no fixed Soviet undertakings or bureaus as yet, and there were no jobs either. So people began bartering. Both Jews and Christians traded. Everything was an item of trade: salt, cigarettes, matches, produce, clothing, shoes, etc. There was a unique trade in Polish zloty. Inasmuch as the zloty was also currency in the part of Poland occupied by the Germans and was then worth more than the ruble, in David-Horodok people would exchange two or three rubles for each zloty on the black market, and then would smuggle the zloty to the German side and sell it for four or five rubles. The refugees from Greater Poland were particularly adept at this business. They themselves smuggled things back and forth across the Soviet-German border. This situation of almost free trade existed until the end of 1939.

  In the meantime the Soviets arrested and exiled several Polish families who had not escaped in time with the Polish army. A Jewish family from a border village was also exiled, and a till-then Christian Communist activist was arrested. For the Poles, exile and liquidation had a lot in common. The offending Polish officials and colonists were removed along with their families, close friends and relatives. “They were all treated as qualified enemies, very much as the Gestapo was to treat the Jews: in the severe winter, we saw Polish women, locked in freight cars without heat or food, throw the frozen bodies of their children through the windows at the feet of the Soviet guards.”[4]

  Over ten Jewish youngsters secretly left David-Horodok and reached Vilna, which the Soviets had ceded to Lithuania. Their goal was to go from there to Eretz Israel.

  It was announced that in November 1939 there would be two conferences, one in Bialystok to be attended by elected deputies of West Byelorussia and one in Lemberg [or Lvov] to be attended by elected deputies of Western Ukraine. Preparations for the election of delegates in David-Horodok took over a month, and were accompanied by meetings, assemblies, and entertainment evenings. Special propagandists taught the people the Soviet constitution. Thus the elections arrived with great pomp and a holiday atmosphere.

  David-Horodok elected two deputies to the Byelorussian conference at Bialystok—a Jew and a Christian. Understandably they were Communist activists whose names had been put on the ballot by the Soviet authority. The deputies at the conferences requested the Vairkavni-Soviet (the highest chamber of deputies in Russia) to officially annex the regions of Western Byelorussia and Western Ukraine to the Soviet Union. What a surprise!

  These were the first elections in David-Horodok during the Soviet reign. Already at these elections, one saw the enmity of the Horodtchukas for the Communist authorities and the wild blind hatred for the Jewish populace of David-Horodok. Counting the ballots later, the authorities found notes with the following inscriptions: “Down with Soviet rule,” “Death to the Bolsheviks and Jews,” “Long live Hitler,” etc.

  Gradually the Soviets began to arrange and organize a normal life in the Soviet manner. All the local Communist activists who had run the town until then were replaced by imported Soviet citizens. The town president, the police chief, the leaders of the various economic, cultural and societal institutions were all replaced by vastatchnikas. Also, the other more-or-less responsible posts were occupied by Soviet citizens. The local Communist heretofore-town leaders were then employed in second-rank posts, and were used by the NKVD to give information about each and every inhabitant. These local Communist activists willingly took on this “honorable” mission, transforming themselves into simple informers, devising false accusations against their victims.

  The first result of their slander was the dismissal of certain people from their posts because of “bad” social origin. Naturally the wealthier Jews were the first in line to be affected, along with the few rich Horodtchukas who were also not overlooked. This action began what was called “nationalization.” The larger businesses and enterprises such as tanneries, the sawmill, flour mills, etc., suddenly belonged to the government. The finat diel [Financial Department] took these over and the Jewish Communist activists managed the work with great zeal. Understandably the nationalized Horodtchukas figured that the Jews were most to blame for this, and hate for the Jews grew from day to day. They would say that a day would come when they would “pay back” the Jews in full.

  However, life in the town began to normalize. All three tanneries in town were combined and a single large tannery was created, employing over one hundred workers. Next to the tannery, a shoe factory was founded, employing over one hundred and fifty workers. The sawmill with its building enterprises, which previously had belonged to Moche Rimar, was enlarged and employed over 400 workers. Various cooperatives were organized. All the various Soviet organizations and institutions began to function. A full-blooded and intensive life began to pulse in the economic domain.

  This typical expedient of increasing the number of workers in factories quickly reduced unemployment to zero, however business was poorly organized and the waste of effort, time and money was amazing. “A match factory in Pinsk,” a witness recalled, “increased the number of workers from 300 to 800, the former director was deported and 14 engineers were hired instead. Under the Poles, the director had been paid 4000 zlotys a month; the fourteen engineers cost the Soviets certainly more, and, to the general surprise, the factory soon stopped production for want of adequate supplies: no timber in all the woods of Polesye!” People had not been used to working overtime at night and on holidays, attending “educational” meetings and conferences after work, faking enthusiasm for official speeches—and not getting paid on time. The Soviet press emphatically reminded the worker of the time when he had been “horribly exploited by the Poles who made him work for 60 zlotys a month.” But the Soviets paid him 180 rubles which was hardly more than 30 prewar zlotys.[5]

  There was also an intensification of work in the field of culture. All the existing libraries in David-Horodok were united, following which all unacceptable books were confiscated and replaced exclusively by Soviet publications in Russian, Byelorussian and a few in the Yiddish language. The schools resumed their classes, but instead of the two previous Polish public schools, two intermediate schools were organized, one in the Byelorussian language and the other in Russian. The Hebrew Tarbus school was transformed into a Yiddish-speaking school.

A description of the sad conversion of the school from Hebrew to Yiddish is told in Section IV, under "Cultural Institutions - Schools."

  For the first time in the history of David-Horodok a hospital was established with a special maternity ward. Women no longer had to give birth at home, but instead had a well-organized hospital with careful medical supervision. For the first time in the history of David-Horodok a permanent movie theater was established, in which the newest films were shown every evening. Needless to say the theater was packed every night. The Communists proceeded to build a large, modernly designed culture-house with halls for lectures, performances, recreation, etc.

  The majority of David-Horodoker inhabitants settled down to work. A bare minimum took to speculation on the black market. In order to frighten speculators, the Soviets arranged a show-trial for the David-Horodoker Herzl Zipin who was caught speculating with wurst, and he was sentenced to four years in prison. This sentence made a strong impression on the town's inhabitants.

  Life flowed on as the Jews began to adapt to the new regime, excepting of course the shortages in produce, clothing and footwear. In Belarus, public markets developed in which “one could sell and buy old watches, dresses, decks of cards, frying pans, pillows, all kinds of junk which had suddenly assumed a new value.” And bread lines developed.[6] The situation, however, was calm and more or less normal until the summer of 1940 when there was a political arrest of Yosef Yudovitch. He was the son of Baytzl Yudovitch who was shot along with two Christian citizens at the time of the Bolshevik revolution during the punishment expedition. This first political arrest shook up the Jewish population of David-Horodok and it forecast eventual further arrests.

  Many people were then called by the NKVD for “a talk.” These people would never say later what the conversation had been about. Shortly after the detention of Yosef Yudovitch, Lazar Rankin, the owner of a tannery that was nationalized by the Soviet government, was also arrested. Immediately after him Yanye (Yosef) Baruchin, “a revisionist worker,” was arrested.

Click for fullsize image

Mill of the Baruchin family of David-Horodok

  The mood of the Jews was very depressed. They understood that the NKVD used not only the local Communist activists but also other disguised local agents and informants who gave them information concerning every single town inhabitant. In reality there were those in town, including also upstanding and elderly Jews, who worked along with the NKVD, giving them information and carrying out their assignments.

  In order to solicit these informants, the NKVD would use the following device: they would call in someone who was above suspicion but who could become an informer. They then reckoned up his former sins and proposed that he rehabilitate himself by working with them for a period of time. In case of refusal he was told that he must suffer for his sins and be arrested. Without giving consideration to the consequences of his conversation, the summoned individual would understandably have to sign an oath that no one, not even his closest, could know what the NKVD had discussed with him.

  Unfortunately there were those who surrendered to the threats and accepted the proposed “work.” Thus there were among the informers people of various ages, political hues and social strata. No one knew for sure who was working with the NKVD and therefore everyone was suspected of being a possible agent. This mutual suspicion resulted in the fear of speaking a word in front of others.

  The culmination of these political arrests came on the night of February 10, 1941 when ten workers were arrested. They were Haim Baranchuk, Yasha Yudovitch, Beryl Rimar and Shia Cantor, who were leaders of the General Zionists; Schmuel Tchatchik, Arke Lipshitz, Kapl Moravtchik and Mandl Kravtchik, who were Po'alei Zion workers; and Beryl Kaftan, one of the most capable of the till-then Communist activists who was charged with working for the Polish security organization. These were part of the purges that spread through Belarus at the time. Practically everyone who had been politically active in the past was “removed.”

  These arrests had a shocking effect on David-Horodoker Jews. No one was sure of his/her safety. The still-free Zionist workers anticipated further arrests and waited fearfully for their turn. There was a mood of panic in town. People would avoid passing the building that contained the NKVD bureaus. This building created terror in the inhabitants. Who knew how many more victims it would swallow up?

  Gloom and doom fell on everyone. Several Zionist workers left town and moved to other places where no one knew them. People stopped attending organizational meetings. Everyone spent the after-work time in the narrow circle of his/her family. During this time several Horodtchukas were also arrested.

  The outcome of the political arrests of the thirteen David-Horodoker Jews is as follows: Five men, Shmuel Tchatchik, Yosef Yudovitch, Artchik Moravtchik, Mandl Kravtchik and Kapl Moravtchik (now Yakov Moor) are now in Israel. Shia Cantor is in Poland; Kaftan is in America. Lazar Rankin escaped from the prisoner transport deep in Russia. He returned to David-Horodok where he was killed with all the David-Horodoker Jews. Five men, Haim Barantchuk, Yanye Baruchin, Yashe Yudovitch, Arke Pipshitz and Beryl Rimar starved to death in various Soviet prison camps. Honor their memory![7]

On the Eve of the Russo-German War

  Despite the fear and dread there were no further political arrests or exiles until just before the German-Soviet war. As things began to quiet down a new mood of alarm emerged, far more horrible than detention by the NKVD. Rumors began to spread about the eventual possibility of war between Germany and the Soviet Union. The fear of this eventuality was unusually intense. The town's Christian populace, the Horodtchukas, became self-confident and waited impatiently for the day when the Germans would march into town. It became apparent that they were preparing for vengeance.

  Then large Red Army detachments began moving from east to west, giving the impression that war was approaching with giant steps. Just before the outbreak of war, several Jewish families were arrested and exiled.

From Bessie Davidson's Memory, here is the story of one such family:

   My mother Razel Eisenberg and her sister Nechama Traister fought terrible. I tried to stay out of it. My aunt was a good cook. She would say to me, "Never mind, Bossele. You come in. I know what a bad cook your mother is." Then she'd give me something to eat. But my mother didn't know about it because they wouldn't talk to each other.

  Tanta Nechama's daughter Rushke started seeing a gentile doctor. That was the first doctor we ever had. He rented a room from my uncle when he first came to David-Horodok because my aunt and uncle had such a nice house. That was how they met. My uncle noticed that they are getting together, so he made the doctor move. The doctor rented a big house on the other side of the river, and Rushke went to visit him there when my uncle didn't know and didn't say it was okay. And the doctor fell in love with her. She was a beauty. He saw me for dysentery and he didn't want to take any money for it, because he loved the family because of Rushke.

  She went out with the doctor, and her father Yankel found out about it. He beat her up terrible. I don't know how she was alive even. The doctor wanted to have him arrested, but Rushke wouldn't hear of it. “Over my dead body,” she said. Rushke went through a lot. And the doctor was such a nice, handsome man. He would do anything in the world for her. He begged her, "Let's go to the United States and I'll take your faith." But she didn't want it, because she was afraid of her father, terrible. He was a religious man. Years ago you had to obey your mother and father, whatever it is. The doctor left town because he couldn't stand to see how she was suffering; he was very disappointed. He married another woman. My cousin was foolish. She married a man chosen for her, a shiddach [arranged marriage]. And she was never happy. But she had eight kids with her husband.

  When the Soviets came in 1939, the whole family was sent to Siberia. Rushke's husband Shlaima was in some kind of a business and they made a nice living. The Russians took away everything they had; to the Communists they were too rich. They really struggled in Siberia, and they're lucky they came out alive because there it was terrible. First of all the cold, and second thing the jails. And then the hard work; they worked like slaves. It's hard to figure out how they survived. But at least Hitler didn't get them.

  After the war, everybody was released and the family brought them to the United States, to Chicago. Rushke and Shlaima were never well again. They visited us several times.


  On June 22, 1941, Hitler's hordes treacherously attacked the Soviet Union without a declaration of war—and thereby began the sad, horrible end of the Jews of David-Horodok.

My Visit to David-Horodok on the Eve of the Outbreak of the Second World War

M. Rappaport

  I had a great longing to see my town again, to visit my parents, relatives and friends, to stroll again through the streets and byways in the town of my birth and meet face-to-face all those with whom I was raised, educated, and worked many long years.

  I had the opportunity just before the outbreak of World War II when I was visiting Poland. It was the end of August 1939. All of Europe was permeated with terror and fear of the approaching war. Polish Jewry was especially filled with anxiety and dread. No one knew what the next day would bring. The military censors were very strict, and the Jewish press was barely able to inform the people what might happen, and then only with hints between the lines. No one's heart could have predicted how near the Holocaust was and how complete the approaching calamity would be.

  We obtained more details at the English consulate in Warsaw, including a stern warning that we must leave Poland within 24 hours. These instructions came as an unexpected blow. I asked myself what to do—to return without seeing my home, my parents, my friends and acquaintances or to take the dangerous path and realize my dream of seeing all those I loved and treasured.

  I decided on the perilous course, and I ventured to spend a few hours at home. It was dark when I arrived in David-Horodok; I left before dawn. I will never forget those few hours when my parents' house suddenly became the focal point for all the David-Horodoker Jews. Some came to greet a relative or friend; others came to hear news of Eretz Israel. We all felt as if the floor was burning under our feet, and a bitter lament was heard from all assembled: what next? How does one escape and to where?

  I recall how every face beamed at hearing a living greeting from Israel. They were interested in everything that was being created in our land—our efforts and struggles, our ambitious construction work, the light and shadows that go along together. In my conversation there was a touch of reproach to all those whose place should have been with us in our land but who unfortunately had made shortsighted miscalculations which decided their fate.

  It was a night of watching. Everyone talked and everyone asked, beginning with Rabbi Shapira of blessed memory, a devoted and faithful Zionist worker who lived to see Israel, and ended with many others. Every little detail interested them: the economic situation, current events, etc.

  It was very difficult for me to answer all the questions. The excitement finally subsided when I promised to take part in a meeting the following day when I would discuss all the questions in greater breadth and depth. Unfortunately this meeting did not take place, just as the best dreams and aspirations of my dear countrymen were never realized. The meeting did not occur because I received a telegram at that moment from my wife and from my home authority, which said briefly and simply: “because of the situation return immediately.”

  There is no solace or compensation for the great calamity, for the killing of all those industrious people, toilers, individuals of religion and culture, of initiative and boundless devotion to Judaism and Zionism. They were cut off like young twigs by foreign murderous hands.

  The only consolation is the living monument which was established in our land—in Israel—the hundreds of families of David-Horodoker Jews who were saved with their wives and children and who well up in full-blooded life in all the corners of our land. They work, create, and serve together with all Israeli citizens, like a living sturdy wall for the renewed state.

My Last Days in David-Horodok

M. Shuri Ami

  The Soviet occupation force had divided the inhabitants into three classes:

1. The trustworthy class—ex-communists in whom there were found no deviations, and those others who openly declared their sympathy for the Bolshevik authority with no one denouncing them.

2. The enemies of the regime—the wealthy and the Zionist activists.

3. Ordinary inhabitants—who would require prolonged re-education with the hope that they would become future citizens of the Soviet Union.

  The majority of the David-Horodoker population belonged to the second and third categories. People in the second category who had not been denounced and had not been the subject of an official or unofficial complaint, were automatically transferred to the third category.

  In the months of March and April 1941, hundreds of young people were mobilized into “work battalions,” and most were sent to construct evacuation centers near the borders of Belarus, as for example in Kabrin and Bialystok. I belonged to the Kabrin group.

  On June 20, a Jewish lad had been ordered to stand watch at one o'clock that night. He was five minutes late. Quickly the commander of the detachment, a Soviet citizen named Gur, alerted the entire detachment and rebuked the lad publicly: “Traitor! If the war broke out tomorrow would you still be sleeping? In three days you will stand trial.”

  In 48 hours, however, the German-Russian war flared up. Air raids and artillery shelling accompanied us on our way back home. I tried always to be with other David-Horodokers. The confusion was great. We were given contradictory orders. Wherever we turned there were Germans. We could not retreat during daylight, and were forced to lay in the forests and swamps and run at night. We had only one goal: home.

  On June 26, 1941, Friday evening, I arrived in David-Horodok with my unforgettable friend, David Schecter's son Moshe who was also Wolf the newspaper salesman's grandson. I did not recognize the town. What David-Horodoker does not recall the hours before Sabbath?—the shopkeepers rushing to close their shops and the laborers to end their work. The Sabbath candles lit on all sides and everyone going to the prayer-house with the children—But this night was like the eve of Tisha B'Av. It was pitch black in the streets, and on the face of every Jew was the dread of the approaching Germans.

  We were soon surrounded by familiar faces, and before we could change our filthy clothes, we had to answer all of their questions. They had thought the entire mobilized group had fallen. The following day, on the Sabbath, others began arriving.

  My family was no longer at home. They had fled to the Russian border along with a few dozen other families. The following day, on Saturday night, they returned because they were forbidden to cross the border. The town filled with refugees from surrounding towns. The fear was intense. The gentiles taunted us: “Jews, your time has passed! The Soviets are leaving here.”

  Confusion reigned everywhere. One day the masses were mobilized, and the next day they were all set free because of a lack of communication. The last mobilized group was sent on June 28 to Minsk. We friends met to decide on where to go next, and opinions were divided. Moshe Schecter was among those who decided to stay. Itzhak Galman and I decided to go. We informed our families and our former companions of the Zionist youth whose attitudes had not been swayed. The majority refused to go.

  On July 6, the last Soviet officials left town. With no pre-arrangement, we 20 boys and girls found ourselves on Olshon Street. Along the way we met several other youth who did not want to join us saying that “the Germans are no worse than the Russians. We will also adjust to the new regime.”

  When we reached the border, the guards refused to let us pass. No argument would help. Several of our group became demoralized. Itzhak Galman, Miriam Frenkl, Ziel Bagun and Shoshana Eisenberg returned home. One of our group who was born in a border village, agreed to lead us by back roads and cross the border at night. Barely men, we went to the south of Malishav. At night we encountered an armed patrol which happened to contain former officials from our town. The patrol commander was Raklin who had been the Communist Party secretary in David-Horodok. He agree to give us a place near his camp, and promised that he would give us a solution in the morning if he could get weapons for us.

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Map of area from David-Horodok to Turov

  It was a night of horror. We could see fires in our town in the distance. The Germans had already been there and had begun plundering. In the morning, the droshky returned from Turov with the partisans. We were soon called to the commander. “I could not get any weapons,” he said, “but you may pass.” The matter had been arranged with the commander of the border guards. We rushed forward, but did not encounter a single living soldier. Hearing of the German advance, they all had run away.

  When we came within sight of Turov, we saw in the distance a truck coming towards us loaded with soldiers and machine guns. We did not know if they were Russians or Germans. There was a cemetery to the left, so we hid among the gravestones. After the truck had passed, we started forward again. By nightfall, we had arrived in Turov, on genuine Soviet soil.


[1] Also referred to in Section I. “With white pressed shawls on their heads, the grandmothers go out on the porch to wait for Raishke's son Velvel [Velvel Raiske's], who walks along the streets with a stick in his hand, knocking on the shutters, announcing it is time to bless the candles.”

[2] Ethnic Poland; Belarus was once called Little Poland.

[3] Siekierski, Maciej, “The Jews in Soviet-Occupied Eastern Poland at the end of 1939: Numbers and Distribution,” in Jews in Eastern Poland and the USSR, 1939-46, p. 113

[4] Observations of a witness, quoted in Vakar, Nicholas P., Belorussia, p. 160

[5] Vakar, Nicholas P., Belorussia, p. 168

[6] Vakar, Nicholas P., Belorussia,  p. 164

[7] At least one author attributes the fact that so few Jews in Western Belarus fled eastward to escape the Nazis to the fact that their natural leaders were destroyed by the Soviets. “By the time Soviet rule came to an end, the Jews had been deprived of leadership, communal organization and age-old methods of dealing with situations of crisis.” See Pinchuk, Ben-Cion, “Sovietisation and the Jewish Response to Nazi Policies of Mass Murder” in Jews in Eastern Poland and the USSR, 1939-46, pp. 124-137

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