Chapter 112 




By Yosef Bobman



The first news about the terrible tragedy committed on Pruzhany Jews, came to me in 1944, when I was confined to a hospital in Russia because of the injuries I suffered on the frontline. Since the day I went away from my home city Pruzhany, I hadn't a single day moment of peace. A constant shivering got on me when I thought on my dear home's destiny, the holy souls of the Pruzhany Jews. Are they still alive? Did they have any strength to fight for their existence? How could they stand the terrible nazi enemy? These were my constant questions. Appeared in my thoughts, scenes of death and life...


When the war was over, and Pruzhany and surrounding areas were liberated from German paws, I began to get closer to White Russia with my last strength, in order to see with my very eyes what had happened to my brothers and sisters in Pruzhany.


On June 8th 1945 I took the train from Moscow to Pruzhany. We passed through destroyed cities: Smolensk, Borisov and Minsk. Before the war those places were inhabited by Jews. Now there were just ruins. Mountains of rubble, stones, and twisted iron...


Minsk! Before the war it used to be the "Mother City" for White Russian Jews. And there was where they developed production and industry. Now it's a desert, no movements nor city sounds, a silence of death is floating on the destroyed city.


At the train station I met some Jews dressed on military clothes, and some civilian. I went with some of them through the city, and the tragedy of Minsk Jews emerged in front of me. On an area of hundreds of meters, there are the common graves, here thousands of Jews were buried. Here in these graves not only Jews of Minsk were buried, but from Baranovici and "transports" from Germany. Minsk Jews were the first to be killed, as soon as the city was conquered by the Germans. It's hard to describe the terrible view of those Jews being buried alive. The ground was shaken by this blood spread. The weeping of women and children shot by automatic guns.


I left Minks to move to the last station of the ex-soviet White Russia, Slutz. On June 17th 1945, I crossed the border of our "polish" White Russia. At 7 AM I arrived in Baranovici. A crowd carrying packs. I try to find just one Jew, it's in vane, not a single Jew. I have nobody to ask for the destiny of Baranovici Jews. The passers-by are peasants, villagers, military men, all gentile faces, not a single Jew face at the station. I go back to the train. The pain oppresses my heart, for the fate of cities and villages destroyed with their Jewish inhabitants. I try to talk to the chief of the carriage, a White Russian that works on the Minsk-Brisk circuit. I want him to tell me details about the tragedy reflected on the bloody reality. I ask him for the whereabouts of the Baranovici Jews. The gentile began to tell me the suffering and destruction of the community, and he added: The next station is called BRONA GURA, it's the station to Kartuz Bereza, there hundreds and thousands of Jews were buried!


The train stopped at BRONA GURA; I got off accompanied by the chief of my carriage. He leaded me to a place about 100 meters far from the station. A mound in the middle of the forest. To this mound, carriages were brought, full of Jews, women, olden and children from Baranovici, Bereza, Slonim and Zelve. Here they were shot and thrown to the graves. Here they were cruelly murdered by the Germans and their local helpers. I could hardly stand on my feet. I felt I was sinking on the ground, soaked in Jewish blood. I couldn't come away from this place, I'd like to scream, cry, before this common grave. The anguish pulls out my skin, I'm standing like a stone block in the cemetery of White Russia Jews. There's no blood here, no corps, just a mound of soil, not fenced, no sign of anything having happened here, everything in order, a relative order.


When somebody comes here for the first time, he doesn't know the reason why this ground beats, something indescribable floating in the air, like the moment after a fire. A secret thought oppresses the soul , only the trees in the forest whisper to each other, and reveal the secret hidden in the core of this land: BRONA GURA! A grave with hundreds of Jewish children and elder, exterminated by cruel nazi hands in 1942.


With big anguish I leave this place and the train takes me to the station Bereza Kartuzka. It's hard to contain the pain when seeing the town of Bereza. At the station I saw Russian women with baskets of fruits and food that they offer to the passengers. In their faces, no sign can be seen of them having been witnesses of the destruction and slaughter of Bereza Jews.


In the distance I made out the church tower rising over the destroyed town. The whole town has become into mountains of clay, stone and bricks. I couldn't find a single Jew in Bereza. The town closed its history with the genocide of its Jews at BRONA GURA...


We left Bereza Kartuzka. My impatience grows, it's a holy shivering. My heart misses a beat when I hear the carriage chief saying the name of the station Orantshitze! This is the station Linowo, through which I used to pass in order to get my home city Pruzhany.


.. Only 11 km. separate me from Pruzhany. I open my eyes to see the little village Orantzshitze. I want to know what happened. I look for CHANANIA the cart driver... Where's LEIBL MAYOR (URBACH)? Where are the buses and their driver SHOLEM KIRZSHNER? Where is a Jew??? The station is crowded. I look for anybody I could know. I want to find some Jew from Pruzhany, Pole or Russian, but somebody from Pruzhany.


I came to the Administration. Instead the former officials, now there are Russian villagers. One of them recognized me from Pruzhany, and asked me if I am "Ruby's son. This man treated me with respect, stopped his work for a while, and asked me: How could I be alive? How could a Jew be saved from such a destruction? With his eyes full of tears, he began to tell me the big misfortune happened after they took all the Jews away. What did the Germans want from the fair daughters of SHTERNE AND MOVSHOVITZ? He told me that some youths could have been saved and not being taken like a flock to the slaughterhouse.


He took me to a store near the train lines. In this place Pruzhany and surrounding Jews were gathered. From here they were taken to the station barrack, and locked there until the carriages came to take them to Auschwitz…..And here, he said pointing out a pit near the gas station, all Linowo and Orantshitze Jews were buried. The Jews dug the graves with their own hands, and then they were shot by nazis and Ukrainians. Here lie STERN, TARNLAIT and MOVSHOVITZ families. Whole families were taken to the severe Ukrainian graves, they were shot, and here they lie, on a common grave, the Linowo Jews.


I come back to the little village. It's in its place as if the war never happened. It was just a war against Jews. The shadow of the Linowo Jewish victims are over the roofs placed on two lines on both sides of the way. The Jews aren't there, the houses are inhabited by Russian military men. The banners with former owner's names are hanging on the walls and I read it one by one. Some houses hadn't the windows frames, and the holes were closed up by planks. This goes to show that the number of houses in Linowo aren't the same than the number of families inhabiting them...


A silence of death all around, there's no life, no moves, everything's quiet and silent! I ask a Russian: did the Jews have furniture, home devices, did they ever take all their belongings to the grave?  A few days before the census of Linowo Jews, he says, the Jews gave their belongings to the peasants, because every Jew had his gentiles in town or the near villages, with whom they had traded for years. All the goods of Linowo Jews remained in those hands.


In my ears sound the prophet words: "I'll give all the riches, the effort and the city's treasures to enemy hands, who'll steal it and take it away."


This words accompanied me until the route that leads to Pruzhany. It's difficult now to reach Pruzhany because the "Koleike" train, that used to connect Linowo and Pruzhany, no longer exists. One have to stay in the route and wait for a car that eventually goes to Pruzhany. I've no patience to wait. As soon as possible I want to see my home city, its streets, whatever still remains after the awful destruction.


I started to walk to the warehouses, 6km far from Pruzhany. All the buildings, MENASHE ROGOTNER's included, stood intact. Finally, an army truck takes me to Pruzhany. I get off beside the seminar building on DERETSHINER street. I begin to walk with reverential respect to the center of the city. The houses on the lanes at DOMBROWSKA street, where the Russian peasants used to live, are intact. The leafy trees have protected MARKEVITSH's house. It protrudes over the clay and brick mounds. Pieces of wood and asphalt are spread on both sides of DERETSHINER street, until the bridge.


How to tell the look of Pruzhany? How to show the cruel and tragic true? Everything was erased, destroyed and exterminated... The present Pruzhany is something we can't understand by our logical thoughts, something we can't imagine!


I walked down by the other side of the bridge, through DOMBROWSKA street (Seltzer St.). On both sides there were mounds of rubbish and wild grass, all deserted, destroyed, no people! No longer DOMBROWSKA street, with the "synagogue courtyard", REZNITKA now called IATKE St., SEMENTARNE and other narrow streets. It's all a group of twist iron, stones, ruins covering the area, no traces of houses or streets. The former Hotel Mostovyanska's white columns have remained erect, like witnesses of the destruction. The route, ashamed, covered its face with the Jewish houses ruins. No streets, but narrow paths to make the way shorter to the next inhabitants of Pruzhany.


Every stone cries its grief, there's a mortal silence, a cemetery sadness, this is a huge cemetery extending through the large streets of our town. The day of Pruzhany became into a long night...


I walked from the Seminar to Shereshev street and I couldn't find any living being. In the middle of town both churches remained, the high towers and the bell tower. It also remained the Tarbut school building, on PACEVITZA street (Potshover St.), the small house of ABRAMOVICH's printing house and "Povshechne" school. The other houses on this street until the bridge over Muchavietz river are destroyed. On the other side of the bridge, on both sides of May 3rd street, until the narrow train station, it's all intact. The houses and route are in order. Both sidewalks are undamaged, like if there wasn't any war here. Even both jails, the "white" and "red", shine with a special charm. Shereshev street is covered by grass, orchards and potatoes. KOBRINER street starts in Y. L PERETZ school, POMERANIETZ factory, ESTHER GUITEL street, and other lanes, all intact. From all the religious study houses, only one building remains: Bet Yacov's. It used to be a two-floor building, the most beautiful of town, where the best liturgical singers used to pray, like MOISHE KUSEVITZKY and GERSHON SIROTA. Now there are heavy machines that try to stun and mislead the surrounding destruction.


Russians have transformed Bet Yacov into an electric generator. From the walls still sound the morning prayers: "Ma tovu aholecha Yakov" (How nice your tends are, oh Israel -Jacob!) the paintings and ornaments by the "dumb painter" of Brest, shining on the walls like an action against the machines...  In the Torah Scrolls place they placed a heavy machine, and we asked: Couldn't the Russians install the generator in one of the three churches that stayed intact in town? Couldn't they let the only place of prayers, Bet Yacov, like a symbol of tragedy for the future generations?


I decided to visit the only witnesses of the Upper Tribunal and those who lie on the old and new cemetery lands. They, dead, were the only witnesses to "be present" at the day of our destruction, Pruzhany and surroundings destruction.


The old cemetery is in the center of town, 50 meters from the Russian mayoralty. The tombstones, given their antiquity and sorrow, are deeply sunk, and it's difficult to read the names of the "merry" that had the privilege of coming to their dwelling in peace, as usual. The new cemetery is placed at the end of town. The distinguished graves of VITNSHTEIN, FRISHMAN and others, the names engraved on the most distinguished men stones, they don't talk nor tell. .. They raise behind the heavy fog the sublime memory of Pruzhany before the destruction. The fence around the cemetery isn't there anymore. A big number of graves are destroyed, a part was removed and used for street paving. The greater part of the vaults and Torah students were destroyed.


I came to the cemetery with a group of survivors from Auschwitz and we all prayed "Kaddish" (prayer for the deceased) In this ceremony we also took a photograph like an eternal testimony for the next generations and the survivors who constantly weep their community's destruction.


In the middle of the graveyard thirteen fresh graves appear before me, not covered by grass yet. These stand out from the others and belong to 13 Jews from Shereshev. On the winter of 1942, the Jews from Shereshev were forced to move to Pruzhany. Elder, children and women would ran in the cold and snow under the Ukrainian blow rain. Everybody know the snow is white. That day, it turned into red. Thirteen Jews were killed on the way by automatic guns. Along two cities a bloody path was marked. The Jews of Pruzhany Ghetto buried the dead.


We pass by a lonely grave. This is YTZHAK SEGAL's grave, son of SHLOIME and grandson of CHANANIA SEGAL. This young man showed courage as a partisan, and was shot in the Ghetto.


The young partisans of Pruzhany raised our honor, denigrated by our sisters and brother's genocides. Our partisans, no guns or only light ones, with sticks shaped as rifles, attacked the nazi killers and their Ukrainian helpers. During cold and chilly days, hungry and poorly wrapped up, they showed heroism, and left us a glorious page in the history of Pruzhany Jews.




God will avenge their blood.