Zavel Segel

 

REMEMBRANCES OF PRUZHANY'S GUETTO

 

 

From my early youth, until when I was approximately 17 years old, I enjoyed Pruzhany. I raised myself in my father's home Reb VELVEL SEGAL and my mother's ESTER ROCHEL KRUTZEL.

I then lived in Dantzig. I returned to Pruzhany in September of 1939 when out break the terrible fire of WWII. The city was then occupied by Russian Army. During two years we lived with the Russian, and we hoped better times will come.

 

27 June 1941 Pruzhany was occupied by Germans. We knew very well all that happened in Poland from 1939 up to 1941 . A cloud of concern covered the face of our Jews. Each one made a summary of the sad future that waited us, and the shock was very strong. The heart trembled and transmitted to the mind fear and discourages, when we saw the which arrogance and impertinence which moved groups of German army.

Jews who passed through occasionally, were hit with fury. The houses were plundered. The inscriptions in posters indicative of important routes as for example " Berlin-Moscow ", "Frankfurt-Vladivostok ", " Koeniksberg-Odessa ", were full with anti-Semitic slogans which were trembling (I could see after a time to "the elected race" walking in contrary address, bitten by lice and frozen by "General Winter").

 

While the army was in movement, it was tolerable. Some had already suffered and they were not convinced of the whole scenery. But later arrived the so called "Civil administration " that was composed by the GESTAPO, " S.S "., "S.A.". Degenerate of underworld, of those lower intellectual class, simply illiterate. Their officials were males of about 20 + years. These characters became the owners of our goods and especially of our lives.

Approximately 5 July 1941 posters appeared in the streets with the order that in 48 hours Jewish population should choose a Jewish Council or "Judenrat" of 5 members (the quantity of members depended on the quantity of souls, our population was of approximately 3.500 souls). The Judenrat was responsible for the whole community.

 

I lived then in the house of my in-laws, the outstanding and honest Dr. ZELENIETZKY. The same day visited us our friend Dr. Mrs. OLGA GOLDFAYN sent by our Rabbi DAVID FAYNGELBOIM. She told me: "you are designated as one of the five members of Judenrat. As son of Pruzhany, and because you lived a long time among Germans in Dantizg, we are sure you have the necessary qualities to represent us as it corresponds."

Knowing that Jewish representatives were shot one after other in Poland , and even in case I could syrvive, I knew all that I would have to support, and to suffer: tortures, humiliations and spills of blood. I pronounced some words but my father and Dr. ZELENIETZKY interrupted me saying: "The hour is very serious for discussions, collective interests are more important. This comes from the sky and you should be happy that destiny has chosen you."

 

I became this way the first member of Judenrat whose members were: President Attorney V. SHRAIBMAN, members Attorney LEVITZKY, SHTRAICHER, M. MOTIL and ZAVEL SEGEL.

We met immediately in a small room (in the house of DOVID BEREZOVSKY) located in Old Seltzer St. next to the Bet Medresh "Bet Yakov". Mr. ELIEZER SHAYN was elected Secretary: he came from Lodz, was given refuge during WWI and after wandering a lot, arrived to Pruzhany. We were gathered until late night hours to reach a conclusion with regard to our difficult task.

 

Following morning, arrived a messenger who informed that for order of Gestapo's Chief, one or two members of Judenrat should be presented to him. The destiny touched SHRAIBMAN and me. We left to GESTAPO posse . In yard we found many of them drunkards, as well as their assistants, calls " translators ", in their majority recruited of White Russian rotten immigration , degenerated as their owners.

 

When we entered, we introduced ourselves and we said who we were. One of the translators replies: "you won't live much time ". We were guided to Chief's office. He was a GESTAPO official and he pretended to have some more than 20 years . He ordered us to turn face toward the wall. He said that he, SHERMAN, was GESTAPO Chief in the territory from Brest until Baranovich. He shoot "fires and flashes" against Jews, saying they shot against army, attacked Germans, etc. In Brest he said, 2000 Jewish youths were already shot. In Kamentz 200 and same thing will happen in Pruzhany. I breathed deep, took energy, and said: "Jews of Pruzhany have a tradition from WWI of being loyal to power. We are mostly an element compound by artisans, and we work earth hard ; we hardly have enough to stay and we never are never busy of politics"

 

It seemed that my speech, lingering during approximately 15 minutes, had its corresponding influence. This SHERMAN was with us some 8 weeks. In the course of that time, we achieved some tranquility. It sounds maybe paradoxical, but it was a fact. He had to make his reports to central GESTAPO power, and I helped him. I had to intervene a dozen of times in favor of Jews of Pruzhany and of Jews of near towns. I had many times taken out innocent souls of death with fingernails . Another of my tasks was to request that males and young women, be treated with less sadism when they went to work. It was a tremendous blow for me, when they shot 18 souls. Were people killed by Christian population. Regrettably, didn't have any echo our extraordinary efforts to avoid them. SHERMAN just traveled, and there was not nothing to do with his representative.

 

The front extended toward East. Pruzhany become part of Oriental Prussia. Next to barracks was the limit with Bielorrusia and Ukraine. Pruzhany became residence place of the Prefect. Arrived first Major, whose name was SHUMACHER. With lot of patience, we arrived - in our relationship - at such level that we could speak as persons, and achieve they pay attention to part of our problems. He brought an enormous quantity of German employees, and we had to offer them complete housing. The five members were in front of problems impossible to solve. Our prestigious Dr. OLGA GOLDFAYN came us to help. She organized a group of women, and during night she ordered houses, clothes deposits and all domestic elements. OLGA demonstrated marvels.

 

Compulsive orders fell one after another. They ordered us to place yellow patches on chest and back, we could not walk on roadway but on the pavement, and afterwards National Council ordered to lock in the Ghetto. I arrived at the National Council Office which was located in Polish Tribunal building, to listen the order that Pruzhany became a great Ghetto from now on. Christian population will be evacuated from city's central region. Small surrounding villages will be liquidated and Jews will be sent to the Ghetto. We would also receive the over population of Byalistock Ghetto, and in total we would be some 20.000 Jewish souls. Our Judenrat now should have 24 members. The list should be presented tomorrow morning.

 

Our five members began to work hard immediately. Our offices moved to the house of ELYOHU POMERANIETZ. There we had a meeting during whole night and the 24 members were chosen. Each member directed a certain section or collaborated in it. This is the list::

 

  1. YTZEL YANOVITZ, President
  2. Lawyer VELVEL SHRAIBMAN Vice President
  3. Lawyer ELIEZER SHAYN, Security Secretary
  4. SHLOIME YUDEVITSH, supply
  5. SHTAICHER, Health
  6. MOISHE GOLDSHTEIN, Public aid
  7. ELIOHU BIRNBOIM, Finances
  8. MICHL YANOVITZ and
  9. YTZEL KLENITZKY, specialized work
  10. MEIR MOTIL and
  11. LIPE ZAKEHIM police and firemen
  12. Lawyer LEVITZKY, legal issues
  13. ALTER FAIVUSHINSKY and
  14. VEVE NITZBERG and
  15. AVRAHAM BRESKY "liquidation"
  16. LEiBELE GOLDBERG, work
  17. YESHAYAHU SAPHIR, housing
  18. SPECTOR, Central Accounting
  19. AVREHEMEL BERMAN and
  20. SHMUEL LEIB BORESIHO, shoemaking
  21. SHLOIME SERLIN, carpentry
  22. DOVID RAZCHOVSKY, control
  23. FAIVL GOLDFAYN, population register
  24. ZAVEL SEGEL, Judenrat representative outside the Ghetto.

 

Was also formed a Presidium with following members:

 

  1. YTZEL YANOVITZ
  2. VELVEL SHRAIBMAN
  3. SHLOIME YUDEVITZ
  4. ALTER FAIVUSHINSKY
  5. ZAVEL SEGAL

 

Judenrat began to work after some days, and it was a real fact: we were locked in a Ghetto. Began to arrive transports with Jews expelled of other towns. The first transport arrived from " Heinovka ". Until today I cannot delete from my eyes this nightmare. GESTAPO Chief called me and he said: "Take your sheet!". The transport was compound by 8 trucks loaded with Jews. When floodgates were opened could be seen a terrible picture: blood puddles and hit people. According to was what commented by some person, Germans forced Jews of " Heinovka " to walk about 8 kms. In the course of this "march" half perished, and the other half arrived to Pruzhany in mentioned condition.

 

Every day arrived more transports of near (small or big) villages. Of Shershev and of Kamenietz Litovsk, and also of Byalistok. The Judenrat of Byalostok sent those that were "not useful", in its majority men and old women, women and small children whose parents were detained in Byalistok in the sad "razzias" of Thursday's , Friday's and Saturday's.

We received them with open arms. At the beginning they were located in Batei Midrashim which served as housing for a short period, and then in certain houses.

 

This way our Ghetto population grew, and in some weeks had 18.000 souls. Together with population's grow, also grew responsibility of Judenrat in particular, and of the 3.500 inhabitants of Pruzhany in general. Most of inhabitants of Pruzhany never were rich. Their particular properties decreased starting from years 1939/41. and we have to say in favor of our Pruzhany's siblings of any class, that they collaborated in their way and helped Judenrat to solve difficult problems. Let's see those most difficult.

 

Supply: daily official supply for each person was 50 gr. of bread, 100 gr. of potato, and 25 gr. of bones and small meat pieces. We didn't receive any fat . "Jewish mothers: think only one moment what we could do with this menu!!". Workers received higher amounts of groceries. We should enter in the Ghetto illegally groceries and firewood, and most important thing was that "public/popular kitchens" were continually active. This cost big amounts of money, that came from rich people's donations, of our work, and of the sale outside the Ghetto of part of our production to Germans, as food, clothes, footwear, wool boots, etc. One part of clothes was distributed to homeless. Is my duty to remind Supply Leader SHOLOIME YUDEVITZ for its indefatigable work. If this activity was well carried out, was for his dedication. Also, SHOLOIME YUDEVITSH was husband of our dear LENE YUDEVITZ NAIDUS, now in New York

 

Health: the hospital and the urban pharmacy were outside the Ghetto. This meant that we were without medications. The Ghetto Hospital worked in very primitive conditions, in Polish High School building. We should declare officially that were not sick of typhus, because if not, it determined our extermination. We should hide each case of typhus, so they are not discovered. In spite of these limited possibilities, in this sense were demonstrated marvels, and this was thanks to the high goodwill of doctors and sanitary personnel. Medications were gotten illegally and at great cost.

 

Contributions: Of time in time we should pay to German power enormous contributions. The first time we should give 5 kg. of gold, 20 kg. of silver, 1.000.000 Russian rubles and other elements of value. The second contribution was 1.000 cloth meters and 300 kg. of leather. In the third opportunity we should give the whole stock of furs.

"Liquidation": it was a very special section. Their function consisted on gathering and storing daily use elements to satisfy German demands, and also to offer necessary things to poor homeless. The disinterested work of leaders: VEVE NITZBERG, ABRAHAM BRESKI and ALTER FAYVUSHINSKY, gave this activity an outstanding place.

 

The offices were transferred to Kobrin St. in the house of LEA MASTOVLANSKY, and last address of Judenrat was LEBELE PINSKY's house.

 

Work: Hundreds of people left daily the Ghetto to carry out tasks for Germans. Income for this work was minimum. Germans took a special Jewish contribution of salary paid, approximately 80%. LEIBL GOLDBERG, in charge of this section, always maintained a good level and fulfilled this task with integrity.

It is my duty to say some words about our President YTZL YANOVITZ. It was astonishing the certainty he had to designate each member in it's function. His serenity and good heart, still in most difficult moments, won admiration of everybody. His diplomat common sense was right, and avoided any clash among Judenrat members. He was for all us a model for his indefatigable work. Of month to month we saw him more bent by the uninterrupted load that owed to carry.

 

Vice-President V. SHRAIBMAN was most popular member of the Judenrat, a true plain and low profile man, with an extraordinary logical and common sense. He was an indefatigable worker, in charge of his responsibility. As judge, he gave to the Ghetto, internal Justice laws. Indescribable and moving was his rhetoric when he had to accuse - when judging them - to those (we ignore the quantity) that refused to assume collective yoke, and didn't allow a place in their homes to homeless, and/or denied contribution of goods and effects of value.

With regard to my work as representative of Judenrat outside of Ghetto, I don't understand until today of where I got necessary forces to fulfill my function. The countless daily interventions, and the heavy load of the concerns, didn't have an end. I looked the means to alleviate the life in the Ghetto. When we already were habituated to madness of an Major or GESTAPO Chief, then came another, and we should begin the work from the beginning.. German demanded continually, and resources in the Ghetto were every day less.

 

Judenrat meetings were carried out twice a week. The Presidium met every night and they lasted until very late, with good results. We should send countless memorandum to German power. One of them consisted on a proposal to allow peasants to enter the Ghetto in market days so we could receive work demands for our artisans workers. It was a success and it brought positive results. As consequence of this fact, entered a great quantity of groceries to the Ghetto. This could not happen during much time. An accusation of our Christian neighbors arrived to Byalistok, and this privilege was annulled.

Although we were so isolated, from time to time appeared in Pruzhany members of other Judenrat, as for example Byalistok, Slonim, Pinsk, Brest, etc. They came to see how we carried out our work, to copy the pattern of our Ghetto, that had a good name in near and distant villages.

 

Germans were so inhuman when torturing us that is convenient to register the following episode: near the Seminar was a group of German aviators, and its commandant was LEHMAN. This person belonged to S.S. and he was about 20 year-old. Wanting to demonstrate his power and sadism, evicted our Rabbi R' DOVID of his house, and ordered him to go with his ritual robe, his mantel (talit) and the phylacteries (tefilin) with a broom in the hand walking Seltzer St. They hit him ferociously and ordered him to dig his own grave. Me, when finding out the case, got alarmed. With a lot of effort, I could pull up the Rabbi of the murderous hands, and I drove him to his house through side streets. It was very moving to listen the cry and groan of women and men.

 

Of 24 Judenrat members only two stood alive: my friend and companion ABRAHAM BRESKY in Israel, and me. I worked with my friend ALTER FAIVUSHINSKY in Birkenau (Aushwitz) in the same "kommando". He could support during a time, but then got sick and had to be hospitalized. He consumed himself day by day, but he was full with optimism. Wanted the destiny that I saw him from certain distance, and I could be a witness when in an autumn night was transported nude in a car to the crematory ALTER was a person of innate intelligence, and had an exceptional intelligence. As disciplined member gave all his feelings and body to his sacred task.

 

The Judenrat made its own detailed report about the situation, and we knew what was waiting us. How much privileged were we in comparison with people of Brest, Slonim, Pinsk, Bereza, etc. whose congregations were exterminated so brutally as in Brona Gura near Bereza? . We had hopes that our youth could escape to the forests to join the partisans, if the incident of the shooting in the Judenrat had not happened; we had maybe remained in the Ghetto some months until the spring, and many of youths had had the opportunity to join the partisans.

 

Evacuation night, the Judenrat met for the last time to organize a rebellion. Chances were null, and the proposal of V. SHRAIMBAN was annulled by a majority of votes (23 against 1). Then arrived the evacuation order, toward Aushwitz. Our community that had almost 600 years of history, finished existing. What passed us in Aushwitz is known. Most perished in gas chambers. Only a small amount of men and women were retained to "work", that consisted on hunger, blows, sufferings, forced work, and slow extermination.

Our permanency in Aushwitz was a model of coexistence. If somebody had something additional of groceries, shared it with friends until last piece.[i]

 



[i] About Pruzhany's Jews life in Auschwitz, it was registered in other works, specially those of ZALMAN URIEVITSH.