Chapter VIII - H




By Ytzchak Subinsky


The town's name was Bereza Kartuska, or Kartuz Bereza as it was called by Russia from 1939 until being conquered by Nazis in 1941. I remember it as a Jewish town and through it ran the main road that extended from Western Europe to Moscow via Warsaw. The town was developed on each side of the main road. Houses were made of wood with straw roofs, the narrow streets were unpaved and there were no sidewalks. In the central part of the town some houses were built with bricks with tile roofs. The main road was paved with stones except a small segment between the two bridges over the river that was paved with flat stones. There were wooden sidewalks on the sides of the road with gullies between the sidewalk and the road filled with rainwater.


It was a typical Jewish town, with synagogues, Jewish institutions, a small hospital, Yiddish schools, Talmud Torahs (for boys), Bet Yaakovs (for girls), and a Hebrew school, the Tarbut, where I studied until the Russian came. There was a big field where we played  soccer. The spoken language was Yiddish; Gentiles also spoke it largely. We boys from the Tarbut School, spoke Hebrew so Gentile boys did not understand us. On Shabbas (Saturday), the difference between the sacred things and everyday things was very evident in the whole town. Businesses closed and, in most of the homes, candles were lit. The synagogues were filled with people praying; certainly it was the place were people met. In Bereza you felt it was more a "Shabbat" than in some cities in Israel.


It was like this until the Russian army came. With their entrance to this area of Poland in 1939 everything changed. The change was unilateral. It was expressed through propaganda against our religion and against Zionism. It was manifested by the confiscation of Jewish businesses, in the nationalization of business, and in the occupation of our houses by the Russian officials' families.  


In School we studied Yiddish instead of Hebrew and Russian instead of Polish. Zionist youth movements were replaced by the Komsomol movement.


Before the Second World War, a concentration camp was built in our town. I believe that it was the first in Europe. It was in the northern part, near the road that comes from Brest. On one side was the prisoner’s camp and the housing for policemen (and their families) was on the other side. Schools, children’s playgrounds, and a great tavern were built for use by Army personnel and their families. I remember how the camp impressed me when I was a boy. The care given to the infants’ garden and the flowers, the paved paths, the sport machines, and other things that we were not used to in our town.


I have pointed out some of the details of my young memories until summer of 1941. Then the German army invaded the Soviet Union and our wandering began. With my mother Z"L (blessed her memory) and my sister I traveled to other parts of Europe and Asia until I, at last, immigrated to Israel in 1949.


For many years I had hoped to visit Bereza again some day. I wanted to visit the graves of my ancestors. In June 1991, I achieved my dream and during a visit to Warsaw, the Soviet Embassy issued a visa to me for a 6-day visit to Brest and it's surroundings. As soon as I got there I rented a car to go to the Polish frontier in Tarsopol. I was lucky. From there a Pole who was traveling to Brest took me downtown. The truth is, that when we went over the bridge on the river Bug, my eyes began to shed tears of emotion and the whole vision of my childhood passed before my eyes like a fantasy movie. It created a lot the fear in me, a fear about what was waiting for me.


I was born in the Jewish hospital of Brest. During my childhood I visited my three aunts, my father's sisters, Z"L (blessed his memory) in this city many times. Brest was very familiar to me, but, in fact, I did not find anything of what I remembered. The city had changed so much that I could not recognize it. Roads were wide and paved, houses were tall with several floors and the neighborhoods were very populated.


This city, that was such a great Jewish center at one time, did not have any Jewish institutions, not a synagogue or a meeting place. Only about a thousand Jews lived there and only three of them had been born in Brest. The rest came here from different places of the Soviet Union. There were many mixed marriages among these Jews and that I found unusual. That is to say, the father or the mother are not Jews. I found Shlomo VAINSHTEIN in Brest , born in Bereza who lives now in Brest.


I rented a car from a person born there and we traveled to Bereza and Brona Gura. The route to Moscow passes near Bereza and it passes many towns along the way. I observed the signs with the well-known names of past times. The road was the same but signs were different.. Suddenly there was the sign, Bereza. I trembled with emotion and asked those who traveled with me to agree to stop in the town for a while. We hardly got off the road when suddenly four story houses appeared. On the sides of the road around the town there were small houses belonging to villagers. At the North Access, we stopped at a traffic light. Traffic lights in Bereza! Who could imagine this? To the right was the old Warsaw-Moscow road. A little north of where the concentration camp was; the old wooden houses that were there had been completely burnt during the war, four story houses appeared and instead of the stony road, there is an asphalt road with sidewalks on both sides.


I was moved thinking what it was like, in spite of understanding that it could not be the same as before. Deep in my heart I hoped to see Jews in the streets, but bitter reality killed the dream and the hope. I could remember the streets of before, places of the days of my childhood like the synagogue and firehouse, but now only high gray buildings stood. We arrived at the crossing of Moskovskaya Street and the market and there was a traffic light there too.


Where the house of my parents stood there is a fallow land, and to a side there is a kiosk for the sale of ice cream and drinks. On the street where the market was, there is now a great park. On our street, only the houses of REZNIK, POMERANTZ and LISITZKY remained because they were built with bricks, so they did not burn. Here, the town seemed like a story in Sholem Aleichem.


The Tarbut school building was still there, but today it is a kindergarten. I asked residents of the area if they knew what this building was used for now and who lived in those houses. These people were not born in Bereza, but rather they came from nearby villages and they did not know how to answer. Only an old man remembered that the Germans tossed Jews out of here. When I told him that I was born in Bereza, he asked my name and he remembered the place were we sold sweets, and then he left me and went home. I wandered the streets, and in each place I felt the sensation that I was stepping on the bones and the blood of my family and the blood of those others who were born there.


We returned to the road near the building of KLINITZKY in which there is a small market of vegetables and flowers. I bought a bouquet of flowers from an old villager and we went to Brona Gura. I remembered that when we went there in the past, we passed two bridges. Now before the bridges there is a rail station and the central bus station. I remembered that the train station used to be in Bluden, a small town near Bereza. We parked the car near the house that was owned by my parents. Also in this area tall houses were built in new neighborhoods, with a fine layout and construction materials. Nowadays Kartuz Bereza has approximately 35,000 inhabitants, and instead of a small Jewish shtetl, it is a now a city in Belarus.


We passed the railroad and we entered the forest. Germans had built a path that led to the valley of the death. The earth is sandy and, for this reason, the Nazis chose it because it was easy to dig quickly. There is a pastoral silence in the forest. Who can imagine that in this place life had ended for tens of thousands of Jews from Brest, Pinsk, Kobrin, Antopol, Kartuz Bereza and other towns.


When I walked among trees to the humble monument that the Soviets put up, I again felt that I stepped on the cadavers of my dear fellow human beings and my feet refused to move. There is not any sign on this monument that in this place nearly 100.000 Jews were murdered and buried. There is only an inscription in Russian that says, "Here lies citizens of the Soviet Union - victims of the Nazis". I recited the Kaddish next to the monument, left the flowers and lit candles. I cried and spilled my tears. My heart bled and a cold perspiration covered me.


I visited Bereza other times and, in my later visits to Brona Gura, I found different activists especially from the Zonal Secretary of the Communist Party. One called "The King" was a young man of pleasant aspect who showed respect for the victims. He promised to put up a different, appropriate monument; and I gave an architect the project for the monument. He also committed for the institutions and the Catholics of the area that money would be raised for this project. He also asked me to contribute money for the same purpose. They would use stone and brass to sculpt in letters in Yiddish and in Russian. One month after my return to Israel, regrettably, this man died. Moshe BERNSHTEIN went there to meet him to talk about this issue, but the man was no longer alive.


Today only three Jews live in Bereza, an engineer, a medical doctor and a lawyer who came after the war. All the other inhabitants are from other places in Belarus. 


I hope the day will come when a monument will be erected for the victims murdered so cruelly in the valley of death in Brona Gura. It would be fitting and proper that its words would be sculpted in the language for which and why they were annihilated!!!