Chapter 111





(Personal experiences))


By Chaim Berkman



The sky was diaphanous. It covered Pruzhany on a clear summer night. Scent came from  near fields, and stars were shining above the sleeping town. The nights at Polesia are beautiful and quiet. The clear nights of June bring summer scents and a soft leafy whisper.


But that night, another whisper different than the usual sounded among the leaves. Firstly soft and far-off, then stronger, with its metallic noise it absorbed the other sounds. A hard engine sound was spreading on the sleeping town, and after a while, an explosion was heard at some place of town.


Slowly Pruzhany began to wake up. People started to ask what happened. No one knew. Ill people at hospital went out to the streets on their white coats. They were scared. Bombs are falling near the hospital, but who throw them and why, nobody knows.


Suddenly a word spread: War!! A red rising sun lighted steel birds in the sky, with swastikas in their wings. They were bringing destruction and fright to thousands of people that didn't have any idea of what was happening.


The first moments of struggle, how did it really happen? Just yesterday everything was calm, and today..? And what about tomorrow? A lead colored feeling falls on everyone's spirit. What will the future bring?


Trucks with Red Army soldiers in retreat, civilian cars, cars with children, they all pass by the street heading to the East. The Russians leave Pruzhany without any order, the city was defenseless and dead-like, waiting for Europe's conqueror that will enter the city in a  minute.


They aren't here yet, but their killer "pride", the black swastikas, is something we can already feel. The last cars and trucks pass through the city. Three young men from Pruzhany that not long ago were sitting in the same school bench, have got in a Russian army truck with soldiers and civilian. They're going East, to the far and strange Russia, to an uncertain future.


Every minute we move away from town, we start to feel homesick and we think: who knows we'll ever see our home again, where we left our beloved ones? Who knows what the future's going to bring? But it's too late to come back, to be these murderer's victims not knowing why; it doesn't make any sense...


The truck's engine roars, and Pruzhany gets far away. Only a red line can be seen at the horizon. Thy point out the place in the city where the reserve stuff is burning, at the airfield. The turmoil, the confusion, the fear to war, threw thousands of people to the ways of White Russia, some on uniform and some half-naked, they all have escaped from the enemy for fear, to the East, heading to the immeasurable Russia...


...And long years go by...


A Russian snowy steppe, the left bank of Volga, quiet and fenced by barbed wire's cobweb. The right bank lies only a few meters far away. There are the Germans, and behind that bank lies a humiliated land. Only destruction, the terrible wounds of war, and the burning villages like blood spots in the snowy distance. Here the ground is cold, strange, and far West where the frozen steppes end, lies our humiliated old home. In a distant place, in the mud of Polesia, lies Pruzhany. This is like a dream, could Pruzhany avoid the destruction of war? But around us in the snowy steppe, only burning villages lie, and winter sun lights barbed-wired borders.


A few months passed, the frontline heads to the East. There's destruction around, burning towns and villages, and caravans of German war prisoners go East. They look dejected, yesterday's conquerors walk in lines, stiff with cold and dirty. Where is the pride of Europe's winners? Where is the authority of women and children killers? They walk crestfallen, their frozen feet hardly crawling on the deep snow. The war is over for them. But in the West they still have a hope and they defend themselves with criminal cruelty, for they know the punishment they deserve...


…And years went by....


The train stops at Linowo. Only a few seconds, and it leaves again. A truck brings military men to Pruzhany. The newcomers see the town for the first time, it's all indifferent for them. They don't notice the narrow train line is destroyed, and they don't see any Jew at Linowo. Among them there's a Jew from Pruzhany[i], going back home after hard and long years of war. How terrible to return home, and not to recognize the home town! To feel like a stranger, and not to find a single Jew in the burnt streets of Pruzhany. The city is destroyed, and the Jews have been exterminated! A terrible pain oppresses the heart and I would like to cry, to run by the streets and ask God, if He exists, what the criminals have done to Pruzhany and its Jews. Where are the elder and children? Only a deathly silence rules the destroyed city streets, and the sky is cloudy and quiet....






[i] TN The author himself