Chapter 24


By Shmariahu Elman



The deliberations before the annihilation of the Pruzhany Ghetto,


 November 1, 1942, 6AM.


The Ghetto is closed. Our time has come. As soon as we turn around, we meet the cold and murderer faces of the German guards around the  Ghetto. The atmosphere is strained, people was running up and down like  poisoned rats, not knowing what to do, for everyone could see his own end  getting closer, the Ghetto's end, but everyone wanted to live!


The youth groups were meeting at several points, near the Ghetto's fences. Everyone wanted to save himself, but they're out of strength and spirit. The Gestapo was going around in cabs by the Ghettos streets, getting ready for the sad end. Thousands of dead who are still alive, but who know every minute they could be killed, crawl by the streets and hope for a miracle. Only a miracle could save the thousands of people that were later annihilated through horrible suffering, just because their Jewish names.


The Gestapo Chief came to the Judenrat and said before the Committee every Jew must be ready for the evacuation. This can take place in one day or two weeks. One things is sure: the evacuation will happen, and everyone must be ready. This statement makes the blood freeze on the veins. Some youth groups have organized for resistance, but the Judenrat committee begged to be calmed and wait so they may cancel the sanction. The youth wait for the night. In this atmosphere, a day goes by. In the night, they reinforce the guard. Around the Ghetto electric light has been installed. Every minute spotlights surround the Ghetto's wall.


The groups meet near the fences, until the rifles bullets break up the meeting people, leaving some dead and injured. Others, resigned themselves not to be saved, withdraw. The frequent bullet explosions are the witnesses to those who longed for escape.


November 2, 1942.


The same atmosphere. Seeing it's impossible to escape from the Ghetto, they began to dig underground holes.  It was like an epidemic. Young and old men, everyone started to dig  defense holes, they collected food in the way everyone was able to, but we knew what our destiny could be: to be discovered by the Germans, specialists in death. Everyone thinks: maybe his destiny isn't to be discovered. Some try again the chance to be able to escape, but they fall shot near the Ghetto's wall.


November 3, 1942


The delay in the evacuation make the people be calmed,  although they are aware it's impossible to save oneself. Frequently Germans arrive in their trucks, creating a nerves war. Many lose their mind. Social institutions get calmed, it all goes to show the end is appointed...



November 4, 1942.


 In the Ghetto. From early in the morning, a crowd of Christians have gathered in front of the Ghetto's wall, they wait the blood spread to begin, so they would get the spoils. The Jew is thought as impure, but his goods  are acceptable. The human feeling in the Christian gathered there is something from the past. That's why their eyes are sparkling like beasts in their run after the  spoils. Hearts exploit while seeing these beasts moving freely and a people of such a beautiful traditions is wildly annihilated. That's the way days pass, the half deads are exhausted, nerves are out of control, many commit suicide.


November 13, 1942.


Ghetto. Early in the morning it's rumored that the Jews of Blesk have been already moved. When I get home I get to know my father hasn't been there for breakfast and our family is looking for him everywhere. My mother was very worried and didn't find a comfortable place at home. My brother and I don't have time for that "little things". We make up our minds to give up our precious lives, but, as long as it was possible, we wanted to survive so we could take revenge on those who spread our blood.


Although it's impossible now to leave the Ghetto, it was possible indeed to wait for the evacuation in the underground shelters, and then... go to the forest. This was a stupid thing for my parents, but we were working very deeply in order to achieve it.


At night, my sister turned up, crying and running, and she asked: Are you here? We're looking for dad and we can't find him.


My heart misses a beat and I think: he hung himself! I rush outside like a gust; my father has been searched all around excpet the granary. The granary was closed and only my father had the key. Nobody thought about looking there. Only I did. I got in through the small crack. It's dark inside. A ray of sun comes in through the crack, and it lights a rope hanging from the roof: my father was hanging, his feet still moving. I opened the door and cried: give me a knife! Everybody looked at me surprised. I took the knife and returned to the granary, and then cut the rope.


I come home, carrying on my shoulder the dead body of my warm and beloved father who ended his life for him not to see the way his wife and children would be annihilated. My mother fainted. My sisters and younger brother fell silent, they couldn't say a single word. The responsibility of taking care of the fainted was on me. What an easyness my father (blessed his memory) carried out his own execution with! All premeditated in order to avoid being saved from the gallows pole, and he achieved it! He was better than us now. His life was finished, while we were still feeling the slaughter.


The burial took place the next day. Almost the whole town accompanied him, and thought he was the happiest of them all.


November 15, 1942.


Evening. 14 days have passed, in darkness and tension. 14 days of being exposed to die every minute. Then the relief came. The Pruzhany Ghetto would stay in place until the springtime of the next year. That's the way the killer nazis decided to do. This new cheered up the living-dead. My father wasn't lucky to live for that new. I took the responsibility of being the supplier and adviser of my ill-fated family, since I was the oldest boy. It was clear to me everything was temporary, and our final day would come anyway, because, were we different of other thousands of towns and villages that were annihilated?


Many young men began to think about making weapons and escape to the woods in order to join the partisans in their fight against the bandits. >From November 15 to 22 we carried out the 7-days traditional religious mourning.


(TN: January 28, 29, 30  and 31, 1943, the Ghetto of Pruzhany was evacuated, see Zalman Urievich`s chapter. There aren't notes in this chapter about that period, which can be consulted on  Urievitch's article).


Around June 1943:


The second group made two lines. It's already midday. The  commandant of the second group, named MARIAK, told everyone of us to be ready for the night departure. Those who feel sick, must say so. Lines break up and everyone takes care of a task, for instance the guns cleaning and other needs. No one knows what it's all about. We just know the confrontation with the enemy is arranged. As soon as the sun goes down, we start our way. We were about 80 men. We carried bags and hatchets.


We were heading to Pruzhany-Ruzshinoi route. We walked fast but calmed because we had to cross over the border of White Russia and Eastern Prussia. At night we reached the route.


We were split in groups and ordered to cut the  poles telephone, to pull the cables and then meet at fixed place. We didn't linger, and all the  poles telephone through 4 km. were turned upside down on the route. The communication between both cities was interrupted. The commandant told us we would stay there until the dawn, in order to "welcome" the Germans that would surely come to fix the telephones and telegraphs. The task was clear. We took position aside the route along 1/2 km. We had to wait 3 hours until dawn, and we all lay down to sleep, excepting the guards.


The commandant asked to remain calmed, and said we'd wait for the enemy once we woke up in the dawn. The night was over, and as soon as the sun began to light, we were all alert waiting for the enemy. About 9 AM two trucks appear in the distance, driven by Germans. We make the last preparations, and we take our fight positions. The first truck moved forward, and when it was 30 meters away, the commandant ordered: Fire!! Disposed in two lines we open fire on the Germans, and the result is splendid: the truck has been ste on fire, and only one man survived, disappearing on the thistles with no hat nor guns.


The second truck stopped and they took defense places on the other side of the route, starting a dense fire. The fight reached its maximum point. The commandant ordered the right wing to attack, and we threw ourselves at the enemy. The fight was hand-to-hand, they defended strongly but we destroyed them very quickly. I hurled myself at a fat German, which I hurt, I got on him, he had a gun on his hand and he was trying to hurt me but he couldn't do it, because my "Finke" thrust on his greasy neck.


There were some deceased and injured on our side. The number is unknown for us. We had the following picture before us: six German lying on the route, some alive which we exterminated later. Both trucks burning. Some people take the German boots off, others take another stuff, others collect the guns. I'm glad to have the fat German's gun I walk calmed between the wounded Germans. One of them says to me in polish he's got a wife and three children, but that don't soften my heart. A bullet on his head makes him be silent. I am amazed about myself. I was unable to destroy a human creature, and now I became a savage and I have no mercy for a human being. I know the reason: these are not human, they are Germans worse than beasts, they hurt my family members. I don't feel compassion for them. I feel satisfaction when I see their blood spreading.


The fight is over. We divide into two groups, one picks our deceased and injured up, and then we go back to the camp. The other group which I belong to, had to undermine on the route and set the wooden bridge on fire. Shortly afterwards, from Pruzhany reinforcements were sent, in order to help the 35 german deceased. The first truck stumbled at a mine and jumped over. The others blockaded our way and we couldn't pass to the other side of the route, because it was watched by motorcycles. Three of our men tried to cross over, they failed and died. We stayed 39, on the other side of the route. Our situation was complicated. We spread all over a spacious front, and we kept a constant and strong fire with all kind of guns.


We got to cross the route, and we lost two more men there. When reaching the camp, we heard that, besides the five deceased, we had lost other 7 and there were 4 wounded. Fortunately I found my brother in the camp, who was unhurt on the fight. On his side a German pistol was hanging. His commandant had fallen during the battle. The atmosphere at the camp was depressing given the human loss of that day. Preparations were made for the deceased burial. This task was carried out by the 3rd brigade, because our boys were exhausted.


January 5th, 1944.


We left the village "Moskaly" and we met at a farm. The situation was tense. The enemy had concentrated many military forces on our districts. They were getting ready for war actions, isolated, surprising and fast. We were alert. Each Chief of Partisan Commando joined his men returning from some action. There wouldn't be sent any more group for operatives. The guard positions were reinforced. The life went on under normal bases. We made some food. The superior commando decided that, in case of an attack from the enemy, we would throw ourselves to an open fight, since we weren't out of war stuff. Ten men, including myself, were on the defense points. Our duty was to patrol along the village Moskaly to the lake. There was joy at our area. At night people would dance and play. I made up my mind to dance too. This new attitude made my friends think about a situation that would change their destiny soon.


April 22, 1944


A big number of Germans has arrived in "Korilivich" and "Malkovich". The same happened in "Krupitzky". We were hoping one of these days the blockade would begin. In the camp, all the food stuff from the stores was put underground. There was serenity in general. The newcomer partisans were afraid to die, and we promised they would get used in time. Our life was going on normally. The patrol would search the area, and many times spies infiltrated, unfortunately we weren't able to hurt them, we could only report them to the superior commando.


I often take a bath on the pond, because the "pritzn" began to show again (that's the way we call the louse) They are worse than Germans. We were amazed ourselves to see the way they appeared again. The situation we were living was to blame. In the evening a German plane used to fly over our area.


April 23, 1944.


The Nieman river were also blockade. Many Cossacks turned up in the villages. Our positions at the eastern area were reinforced. We dug trenches in the "Krupnitzky" area since the enemy could attack from that side. The peasants were nervous and aggressive. They were moving all their belongings to the forest too. Each man takes his position for defense. Borders are demarcated. The enemy lies in wait for us all around.


April 24, 1944.


While we were sleeping, the guard came to wake us up, because artillery and mines din were coming from Sokoly, on the Niema. This was a tactic of the enemy before the attack. We deduced they could attack from the Nieman side. There was calm among us. The gunshots continued, and it was getting stronger. The air was wrapped in shadows because of the explosions. Little by little we began to hear the partisan gunshots. That meant they went to face the enemy. Many of the boats they were sailing sank with its men, others went back leaving dead and drowned men. At midday the calm returned.


April 29, 1944.


May 1st is getting closer. We made the last preparations for the celebration. It was a lunch with alcoholic drinks for every partisan. After breakfast I was sent with 6 men to collect firewood for the kitchen, for 2 days, while the celebration would last. When we returned at lunch time, we were ordered to keep guard near the lake, because the enemy may unexpectedly attack on May 1st. That new annoyed us pretty much for we wouldn't be able to be at the May1st celebrations. But, patience, we had to do our duty, each one of us picked his belongings and got ready to walk. At night, we reached the village Moskaly beside the lake and we took the guard. There we knew there was loads of meat and we decided to change meat for alcoholic drinks, for the celebration.


May 1st, 1944.


From early, drunks began to turn up in Moskaly. Our brigade's commandant scolded us and warned the enemy could attack any moment, so we should be ready, and only at night we would get our alcohol portion.


Two artillery pieces were placed in the bunkers, and we received instructions on how to fire against the enemy. One of the previous nights, we were supplied war stuff from planes, so we had enough. The movements over the lake were controlled, so spies wouldn't be able to infiltrate in our area. The boats had no quarter because many groups were returning from a mission, and they hurried to reach the camp and be part of the May 1st celebrations.


The day passed peacefully excepting some drunk partisans who killed a peasant. At night we celebrated with a dinner, a musician was brought and youth danced.


May 2, 1944.


The day was peaceful. Each one of us had to take a guard of four hours night and four day. On the free time, I read a book I had found by chance. I tried to avoid talking to the village peasants, because they were anti-Semitic. They were witnesses of the atrocities committed by the nazis against Jews. I used to rage and shame when people talked about Jews, for they say the youth let be taken to death like lambs. This tortures me.


May 3, 1944


 In general, there was peace. We live quite well in Moskaly. In the countryside we don't feel as free as here, because there's much more space there, but we have to be always in guard. The movement on the lake doesn't stop. Several groups are sent in order to carry out duties and they return having achieved it. The duty was to bring some food. In one word, Moskaly is a station with a partisan port, by the lake's bank. To make a toast, we're not out of drink, but the important thing is the exchange. Each peasant had his little wine factory, and that was his support. We had to pay a lot for one bottle, but we partisans don't care. Today we live, tomorrow who knows. That's why we don't trade; we just wanted the alcohol bottle. More than once the Germans got in and they wanted to take revenge on people. They thought people was helping the partisans, but they couldn't do so because they were repelled and many drowned in the lake, patrolled and controlled day and night.


Each chief had his port and village, which they considered his capitol city. In case of enemy attack, they left the bunkers, received the enemy with fire, and they pushed them back leaving many victims. In order to infiltrate into the partisan area, the enemy had to join many forces and this wasn't always helpful. The Moskaly and other villages inhabitants used to see the Germans once a year when these made raid against the partisans. They turned up with ten men and when the war stuff began to be scarce, they left the area and went to other places. The partisans didn't have problems about the war stuff and we could face an open fight with the enemy, and vanquish. The war stuff and weapons with new systems were thrown from planes in parachutes.


Every night, the youth of Moscaly meet at a big house to dance and play. The we would forget about the hard moments we were passing through, and we left ourselves to be taken away. I don't take part of those parties, even if I have free time, because my heart is grieving for my beloved people, for they hadn't the same destiny than those who are dancing. To my mind comes my brother, whom I said goodbye during the fight against the Germans. Is he still alive? Or maybe he fell on the battle? I don't know, and he doesn't know about me. We're joined through a feeling of revenge. My home city comes up too, the desertion of my dear mother and sister in such a terrible moment for them, when they were on the nazi killer's hand, that annihilated them in the most chilling way. The view of my father hanging, who ended his life for him not to see the damage done to his beloved people. All this makes me forget the shortage I had to pass during the fight against the enemy, and I demand myself revenge! Revenge! For the innocent blood spread, for all I can take revenge for, before so much harm and horror.


May 4, 1944.


Calm days. I'm not used to a life like this. The day is too long for me. On the spare time I amuse myself thinking on my partisan life, which is a calmed life after all. We had good food and we do nothing, only 8 hours of guard and the remaining time passes very slowly. The Christian friends feel good, and they try to have a good time. They want to pull me with them, but who can dance when the body doesn't want to! The peasant woman, she's very kind since I'm staying at her house. She goes all around me and doesn't know what to do for me. I know why is that. She saw what they did to other who, like me, have a Jewish name, and she feels compassion. She frequently tells me she had some Jewish friends, which she got along with, many youth like me that couldn't be saved. I never have an answer for her; I finally leave the house. There were few Christians like this and I'm happy to have been with them. Her family was made of a man, a son and a daughter around 18 or 20 years old.


May 5, 1944.


The sentry wakes us up. We can hear the sound of gunshots and mine explosions on the other side of the lake. We send one of our men to the camp to transmit the news. People are getting ready to have breakfast, because the house's owner and her family have escaped to the woods for fear. We got into the trenchs and we wait to receive the enemy. They don't turn up. In the distance we can see flames and smoke. This is a sign of the enemy setting the village on fire. All the peasants have got away to the near wood. The enemy has come. They're not many, 300 men is not big deal for us. Our commandant has moved a few kilometers on the right side of the village "PEHSTZANKA", just behind the enemy. We receive an order to fire to make the enemy withdraw. The Germans did their work. They set the village on fire and later left a rearguard. The others withdrew. After one hour truce, they are suddenly attacked by the partisans with a fire hurricane of all sort of guns. Seeing they cannot defend themselves, they get away in panic, leaving their shells and the spoils, and a bunch of deceased and injured behind. We take the shell, and we take all the German clothes off, taking their clothing and guns. We return having not lost one single man.


The peasants recovered their goods, but they had no housing, now they're the forest citizens. Little by little the peasants of Moskaly come back much more calmed to their houses in the wood.  At night the youth have fun again.


May 6, 1944.


Calmed days again. Lately we're inactive; returning to the camp makes us nervous. The landlady tells us she's out of potatoes and she had nothing else to cook. The girl gets ready to do a "bombiaske" (assault to a peasant in order to get stuff). I stay the night on guard, and the others leave.


May 7, 1944.


It's hard to stay all night long on guard duty. The fellows came back and they brought alcoholic drinks, but "this won't keep me warm". I sleep all day long, and I have to be on guard again by dawn.


May 8, 1944.


The group "Politrok", that was on guard behind Slonim, comes back. They have accomplished their duty. They exploded six wagons with war stuff. They bring alcohol and give us five liters. They had told us the enemy is concentrated behind Slonim, probably to fight against the partisans. We don't care about it, because we get some drink while we wait for the enemy.


May 9, 1944.


As soon as we finish breakfast, the group "Politrok" say they will take the guard and we return to the camp. We're happy about it, because we still have to face a hard task. We wait til midday, and at night we go back to the camp. We get ready and receive the following order: KASHIN will be the next commandant of the group. The group direction was unknown, we prepare two mines 15 kg each.


May 10, 1944.


Just after breakfast, five of our men are called to receive instructions about how to operate. We're sick of hearing always the same: pay attention, drive carefully. We're annoyed and we don't pay attention at all. We say goodbye to the other members and get ready to leave. We're heading to the lake.


When we walk the first kilometers, our shoulders feel the heavy load of the war stuff. On the last weeks we lost the habit of taking so much load. We walk til the dusk through the area controlled by partisans, and we're heading to Slonim. At night, we lie down in DUBOWKA and we have breakfast at 7 AM.


May 11, 1944.


Just after breakfast we start walking. We have a march of 24 hours ahead. The march is very exhausting for us because we have rested so much at Moskaly. In the evening we leave the partisans area and we go unnoticed through the German area. We try to ignore them. We receive the order not to fight against them in order to avoid human loss. We would accomplished our duty and we'd be back on May 20.


We rest every 3 km. because we take so much load. Rain begins to fall. Rain falls all night long, and we're soaked. The night is dark. We can't see each other and we often have to touch the way with our hands. It's raining harder and harder and we don't have where to camp. If Hitler had to suffer a hundredth part of we do, that would be enough for him. We envy the dogs that have their burrow where they can rest. There's no burrow for us to be in peace. Exhausted to death, soaked and tired we arrive in the wood behind Slonim at dawn. The rain doesn't stop. We light a fire to dry our clothes a little, we lie down very tight in order to warm each other up. It's raining cats and dogs but we don't care and we fall asleep at once. We wake up at noon. The rain stopped and now we can think about drying ourselves. Each one makes use of his dry food, since we begin to feel hungry. The next night we decided to rest, because we were extremely tired and we slept to death.


The author was born in 1919 in Pruzhany. His parents were BINIOMIN and TZIREL KAPLAN. He studied five years at the Tarbut school. Place of residence: Lodz, Magistrata St., 12-