N. Altshuld (Altman)
PRUZHANY'S GHETTO BEFORE AND AFTER ANNIHILATION[i]
July 18 1941. We and a hundred of souls, inhabitants of Byalistok Ghetto, women, men and children, arrived to Pruzhany's Ghetto. Most of we were poor, we didn't have the amount of money needed to buy freedom of Byalistok's Judenrat hands. Were also with us a great quantity of Jews of near towns, as Trestine, Goniondz, Knishin and Zabludove.
These are the first victims that fell for Byalistok Judenrat. They ordered us to ascend to load trucks, with the collaboration of Byalistok Jewish Police and German beasts. We arrived to Pruzhany at evening, and there were waiting us Gestapo murderers. These revised each one of us and took out all they found. These inquiries were accompanied by sadistic blows, during seven hours. Then they gave us to Pruzhany's Jewish police. These demonstrated so much consideration and human feeling, that never in my life will I forget it.
Pruzhany's Jews were not only good friends, but were also brothers and sisters during whole time of our permanency. Later, we shared with Pruzhany's Jews the way of sufferings and tortures, persecutions and inquisitions, first in the Ghetto, and later the insults and murder in Birkenau (extermination camp of millions of Jews), Auschwitz, Grosrosen, Dachau and other extermination camps. The kindness, compassion and pity of Pruzhany's Jews, was for us very important, Jews of small towns, escaped and saved from death. We found a transitory home there, a home sharing sufferings and tortures, an united and solidary home.
In the moments when sanguinary German enemy not only watched Pruzhany's Jews, but also each Jew, then Judenrat's representatives with the collaboration of other Jews, made all possible - many times taking risk to their lives - to save Jews of a sure death. Who doesn't remember the arrival of Heinowke Jews that walked crawling on their four extremities, literally on the four, a distance of dozens kilometers, receiving blows and German murderers' shootings, and arrived almost dead to Pruzhany.
Local Jews received them as a mother receives her wounded children. The transports of Byalistok with hundreds of Jews that arrived weekly to Pruzhany, all without difference, poor or rich, workers or who were under better economic conditions, received a roof on their heads. The hungry silenced his hunger, the nude received his clothes, for each one of us a warm heart beated.
The Judenrat and all it's members, of whom I believe that survived only ZAVEL SEGAL, was in many cases the "redeemer from death" for dozens and hundreds of Jews. It's president YTZL YANOVITSH, more than once was in front of a sure death, to save a Jew of murderous Germans. These and all Judenrat members, were in charge of concerns of a congregation of almost 10.000 souls; daily watched on them the murderous hand of German beast, because they felt Jewish concern and humanitarian responsibility.
In most difficult moments, when the Ghetto was in front of compulsive norms from the sanguinary Germans, these could not transform Judenrat members in informers, neither in deliverers of Jews to murderous hands. Always with national honor, with responsibility and Jewish solidarity, the Judenrat rejected murderous enemy's attacks. Among Jews of Pruzhany's Ghetto there was not neither a case of "delivery to death", neither they had here "good and kind (with the Germans) youth", and other crimes as in other Ghettos. Here dominated a conscious discipline in old and young men.
In Jewish Judenrat tribunal, the appreciated leader and lawyer VELVEL SHRAIBMAN (he was Judenrat's Vice-president), when considering diverse trials among Jews, demonstrated great precision and understanding of moral and Jewish ethics. These trials were also full with common sense: a Jew refused to give milk for a refugee's creature; a rich Jew didn't help a poor refugee; an inhabitant of Pruzhany didn't try his refugee brother as was used among Jews, etc. These trials were public, and they had a didactic objective for Jewish masses.
In section Provisions (Administration) was Mr. SOLOMON YUDEVITSH. Here received meal hundreds of indigent, maybe thousands. The relationship of the person in charge of this section with each Jew was humanitarian. The long lines to receive a piece of bread were always in order, and if somebody wanted to use strong hand, Jewish police reacted without using physical force. Provide combustibles for the poor, prepare a quantity of potatoes and afterwards distribute them, everything was carried out in perfect order. Each one completed his fraternal duty, in relation to the needed Jewish brother .
And the frequent, almost weekly contributions of Ghetto inhabitants!. The members of Judenrat were almost always the first ones, an example for all, offering their gold, silver, diverse value objects , furniture and other things. They believed that with this attitude and behavior, whole Jewish congregation would avoid disappearance and annihilation. Regrettably, German beast made it's work, well planned and refined, to usurp all belongings of the Ghetto, and then to liquidate it.
The Judenrat in collaboration with population, worked until last sigh and were solidary in everything. Who doesn't remember the epidemic of suicide of Pruzhany's intellectuality in the house of SHRAIBMAN family? This suicidal act produced a tremendous impression on Ghetto Jews. It was a warning: if they, the intellectuals, reacted this way, it meant that all we are designated to a sure death. Then people began to prepare and wait the storm that could outbreak in any moment. Were built bunkers, youth began to organize, call to secret meetings and to smuggle weapons. A great doubt arose about the power of the Judenrat, and about the false promises of the refined German beast.
Some time later was fortified Ghetto's watch system, mainly in the exit, even for work brigades. All this caused that Jews also began to be watchful. Germans again made any possible thing to deviate Jewish population's attention, and to produce that the youth is not prepared to resist.
Step by step life began to be "normalized" (if this could be called life). The Judenrat felt that the atmosphere was loaded with humiliation. The face of the President YTZL YANOVITSH expressed sadness. It trembled for tomorrow's future, and it could be read in his intelligent look. The same thing happened to the wonderful organizer, the Secretary H. SCHEIN and also of all collaborators. At same time, heroic children of Pruzhany's parents, as well as youth of Byalistok, left toward outside the Ghetto and created the first partisans group.
BER SEGAL (son of SHLOIME SEGAL) was the Chief and soul of the group, but he was annihilated by Russian partisans March 28 1943 in Klepatshi Chornie Liazi forest. BER SEGAL was shot together with his young brother LIOLEK at 20 km of Pruzhany. The third brother ITZHOK (YZAK) fell in front of the wire fences when he tried to cross them, in front of Nazi surveillance. In the forest were annihilated ELIE VINER son of a Pruzhany's shoemaker, HERSCHEL JANOVSKY of Graievo (his last years was in Byalistok); MEITSHEK of Byalistok (I regret not to remember his last name). Also fell one of the first partisans organizers, YOSEL UNTERSHUL (lately he was chauffeur in the Ghetto).
Pruzhany's partisans were able to take out from the Ghetto dozens of young and mature people, saved of a sure death, and they offered them the possibility to retaliate of spilled Jewish blood. Also in this sense, Pruzhany's Jews demonstrated responsibility and solidarity, rebelling and fighting against the enemy, retaliating and not leaving to be driven as flock, falling in fight with honor and dignity. All these episodes up mentioned, were transmitted to me by the partisan survivor, cousin of BERL SEGAL, MORDECHAI BER SEGAL who is now in the camp "Nay Freiman" near Munich, together with his two siblings, also partisans[ii].
I also allow myself to remember some characteristic personalities. Dr. FAYNGOLD offered help to all Jews in all moments, many times taking risk to his own life. The intellectual FAIVL GOLUBOVITSH had his house open to everybody, whole nights during which were discussed political issues. The wonderful and kind Jewish mother YENTE URIEVITSH (her paternal house was URINKSY), my friend's wife, the survivor ZALMAN URIEVITSH, shared with everybody her last mouthful and gave to the poor her scarce food. Lately her house door was closed. I asked her: Why is closed the door, and the answer was: "regrettably I don't have what to give, neither I have left potatoes, the needful won't believe me, for them it is a pain, for me, it is a shame". YENTE URIEVITSH was annihilated in the crematory of Auschwitz together with her two wonderful daughters.
Mrs. Dr. OLYE GOLDFAYN, a Jewish aristocrat, willful and intelligent woman, in last stage of evacuation, being in front of Pruzhany's Ghetto wire fences, in literal words, insulted and threatened German watchers, saying them that very soon they will disappear and Jewish people will retaliate. This heroic woman, Dr. OLYE GOLDFAYN, some days later, without considering age, achieved to leave the Ghetto. She got dressed as nun, and considering that she was loved by Christian population, achieved to stay during whole time of German occupation, as "Holy Sister", in diverse cities of Poland. Today, this heroic woman is in Israel State.
I also want to remember the missing persons, dear and humble collaborators, the firemen LIPE ZAKHEIM, MEIR PRUZHANSKY, siblings ISROEL and MOISHE ROIPKOP, MORDECHAI KRUGMAN, YAKOV RUZANSKY, and others whose last name I doesn't remember. They demonstrated much affection while I shared days and nights with them in our joint task.
One afternoon, visited President's YTZL YANOVITSH office partisans BERL SEGAL, MEITSHIK of Byalistok, and YANKL LERNER also of Byalistok. They were negotiating with the President the provision of money and weapons for other groups that came out to the forest. While they were talking, suddenly entered GESTAPO's Chief. Partisans MIETSHIK and YANKL LERNER were able to escape through the window, but BERL SEGAL rushed on Gestapo's Chief with his shotgun, this one grabbed his hand, BERL achieved to release of the murderer, but the nazi shot.
The murderous bullet impacted the Jewish guardian old man (of Byalistok, whose name I doesn't remember) who fell dead . While BERL SEGAL was escaping, he achieved to enter his house and took his two siblings, LIOLEK and YZAK. But when they tried to cross the fortified cord of German sentries, a bullet impacted the older brother IZAK who fell dead. BERL arrived to the forest with his younger brother LIOLEK, to be next to his partisans friends, but as I already told, sometime later was murdered by Russian partisans.
After this facts, a terrible fear possessed Ghetto Jews. It was a people's mass who was saddened, trembling, closed in themselves. It began to appear diverse delirious rumors. The Judenrat representatives also began to feel that the floor burned under their feet. Ghetto's watch was reinforced even more. The youth began to be organized even more... .A group of Jews got ready to descend to the bunkers, others to hurtle on Ghetto guards. The atmosphere was depressive. Jewish firemen met to clarify what to do, they were young, brave and with experience. Diverse projects arose.
Who writes these lines proposed that the Ghetto should caught fire of all sides , this would create panic among Germans, and while this happened, groups organized of 15/20 men would fight against the guards, and this way they would make possible the exit of women, children and old men. A heated discussion arose. Most were against it, and the reason was not to expose women and children to a sure death. Then I proposed them to transmit my action plan to the President YTZL YANOVITSH.
Was nominated a delegation integrated by MOISHL FRYDBERG, YAKOV RUZHANSKY, me, and a fourth whose name I doesn't remember. At 2 a.m. we appeared in YANOVITSH's house and transmitted my suggestion. The atmosphere was tense, a mortal silence gained the situation. After some minutes of silence, came YTZL YANOVITSH's answer which was: "I don't want to see with my eyes how will fall thousands of Jews, better I do not live this, and you are not entitled of carrying it out.. Let us have faith in G-d. He will take care of us." When concluding his words, with courage depressed, we left the room.
Some hours later arrived the order that the Ghetto will be liquidated and 10.000 Jewish souls will be transferred to work camps.
It began on Thursday January 28 1943 and lasted four days until January 31. Daily, German drove Jews to death on peasants' of neighboring villages sleds, that before had good relationships with Pruzhany's Jews during generations. Daily left toward Lineve station 2500 souls. Waited for them load boxcars, entered pressed in each boxcar 70/80 souls and were driven to Auschwitz extermination camps.
In those days and nights of deep anguish, some groups of young as well as elder people, tried crossing the fortified German, Poles and Byelorussian iron guard bet in Ghetto's entrance. Many died next to wire fences, other small groups were able to survive and to arrive to the forest. A small quantity entered in the bunkers and later were also able to survive, and arrive to the forest.
In the trip in the sleds toward Lineve train station, some tried to escape, but the criminal bullets put an end to their lives. Some were able to escape.
After four days, Pruzhany's Ghetto was without its 10.000 souls. 6000 of them were humiliated, and robbed of all its belongings. They were of cities and small towns: Byalistok, Shereshev, Narevka, Malech, Heinovka, Kamenietz, Drohishin, Kobrin, Kosovo, Slonim. Brest and others....
Munich. October 1948
[i] In Pruzhany's Ghetto were insulted and humiliated Jews of towns surrounding Byalistock, and also of Byalistok. Next, is mentioned a fragment of a former resident of Byalistok, later in Pruzhany's Ghetto. We bring a series of details and names which enlarge the memories and previous testimonies.
[ii] "Now" means Munich 1948