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A small town in the midst and mist of history - старонка 15

Bilewiczs, had already been deported by the Soviets. As a result, a Polish national underground was never organized in Dolhinov during the German occupation.

As for the Byelorussians, some 20,000 volunteered for security police duty or the German army, where they formed the 29th and 30th Waffen Grenadier Divisions. Bylorussian nationalists participated in a puppet government headquarted in Minsk. Other Bylorussians were drafted into poorly armed local militia groups. A lot of their duties involved fighting the partisans, though the 30th Grenadier Division was moved to the Western Front where it was put into the line against U.S. forces in late 1944.

In the Dolhinov area, however, where Byelorussian was virtually synonymous with an educated and passive peasantry, there was no such political movement. Instead, the thuggish and opportunist who required no rationale took the lead. As a result, collaboration in this area, in contrast to the Ukraine or Lithuania, had no programmatic content. The motivating force was hatred of others—Jews, Russians, and, among Byelorussians, Poles as well—along with a love of money and material goods. But these are all attitudes more likely to be found in average human beings than the self-sacrificing courage of patriotic Poles which had met the Soviet conquest.

Many of those who joined the police were bullies and semi-criminal elements, attracted by the steady pay and the chance to loot Jewish property and beat up Jews. In Myadel, most of the local collaborators were Poles who declared, "All the Jews were Communists." They began torturing Jews before any Germans gave orders to do so. “In some ways,” Segalchik who was there at the time, “the local assistants were many times crueler than their German bosses.” When the bodies of two prisoners from Myadel killed by the KGB during their retreat were found, a big funeral was organized by the new police chief, with German soldiers as honored guests, along with fiery speeches blaming the Jews and demanding revenge.

Not long after all the Jews of Dolhinov had been killed or fled, Haya Katzovitz ran into a woman named Liza, who had been her family’s housekeeper before the war. Haya asked her what it was like in Dolhinov now. She said, “All the Christian inhabitants of Dolhinov became wealthy. They confiscated the possessions that were left by the Jews.” 

Yet even when non-Jews had to go along with the Germans, each individual among them still had a choice between sullen necessity and enthusiastic cooperation. The German emphasis was on assuring that the police chief was an enthusiastic and usually sadistic collaborator, as were the majority of poice. In the ranks, though, there were some policemen who behaved decently out of humanitarian feelings, personal friendships, and Polish patriotism. There was no clear criterion for knowing how an individual would behave since people once on good terms with Jews might be among the cruelest of all.

In Dolhinov, at least three of the policemen hated the Germans, were friendly toward the Jews, hated the Germans, and were ready to help the Soviet partisans. A true hero was Vlodia Maslovsky, the nephew of Dolhinov’s appointed mayor. The uncle asked Vlodia to join the police, but Vlodia who had many Jewish friends—he spoke German, Yiddish, and even some Hebrew in addition to Polish; had no desire to work with the Nazis. So he came to his friend Avraham Friedman for advice, proposing that if he did join he could provide information and warnings to the Jews, and Avraham agreed that this was a terrific plan.

Avraham was the only Jew in town who had a radio and heard General Sikorsky, leader of the Polish government in exile, announce his agreement with the Allies to raise a Polish army to fight for his country’s freedom. Friedman and his friends immediately wrote three leaflets describing the news, hoping even antisemitic policemen would be stirred by patriotic feelings. One was left for Maslovsky and the others for two other friendly policemen, Takovitch, the secretary of the force, and Maletzko. Friedman’s sister had the job of cleaning the police station so she snuck in the leaflets.

As soon as he saw it, Maslovsky realized it had been written by Friedman. He asked his friend, “How do you know this?”

Not wishing to reveal his source, Friedman said that some Polish teachers in nearby villagers had told him. But later, Friedman told him the truth and was able to supply another radio for the three patriotic policemen, it being kept in Takovitch’s house. The Jewish and Polish groups began discussing how to resist the Germans. The police even offered to supply money so weapons could be bought and a joint partisan group established, though this plan was never realized.

All three of the policemen, along with Takovitch’s brother who lived in a nearby village and hid Jews on several occasions, were able to save lives. For example, when the Germans invaded, Yosef Shinuk, a police official in Dolhinov under the Soviets, refused to leave without his family. He grew a beard, wore a black beret and glasses, and obtained a fake identity paper. For some weeks he hid at home but knew he finally fled to Kurinitz. A few months later, a collaborator there recognized him and informed a Dolhinov policeman. Fortunately, the policeman who took the report was Maslovsky who, instead of arresting Shinuk, told a Jewish friend to warn him. To rescue her husband, Rosa, Yosef’s wife, dressed up like a peasant and walked 22 miles to Kurinitz to pass the message to her husband. He escaped to another town, where he died only when the ghetto there was wiped out.

Mayors were often forced to take this job and did not necessarily have pro-Nazi attitudes either. The village mayor of Zamshutzi, a village just outside Dolhinov, Julius Korianovich, helped feed and protect Jews from the town who hid there. In nearby Dokshitz, the mayor, Sitchonk, was actually hiding a Jewish family named Kramer—who survived--at the moment he was carrying out German commands. Tragically, the partisans didn’t know this and killed him in a grenade attack late in the war.

Dolhinov itself was at first lucky in this respect. The Catholic priest was a very ethical man who had never engaged in antisemitism. The first German-appointed mayor, Zygmund Volk and police chief, Anton Krosovsky, were also decent local people, with the added advantage that Krosovsky was happy to trade favors for vodka. As a result, neither of them lasted very long in their posts. The Germans fired the mayor and appointed Maslovsky’s uncle, who was also no willing collaborator and whom they executed on a charge of sabotage within a year. As police chief, Krosovsky was replaced by a thug from Krivichi who had neither moral scruples nor local ties.

The truth is also that many Polish townspeople—especially with the town’s most responsible and conscientious citizens deported by the Soviets--were eager to turn on and turn in their Jewish neighbors. Both they and Byelorussian peasants from surrounding villages were eager for loot. One day, a peasant came to the Telis house, a family she knew from having been a customer at their store, to point out their dim and very limited future. “You have a lot of clothes and you’re not going to need them any more. Give them to me.”

Aside from personal sadism, there were three main motives that impelled collaborators: hatred of the Soviet Communists, thirst for loot, and hatred of the Jews. The Germans tried to link these things but while very successful in recruiting individuals, they never could get a mass movement going. The most obvious reason is that their need to exploit the local people plus a doctrine viewing them as racially inferior ensured that the Germans squeezed them badly.

Publicly, lip service was given to helping the locals against the Germans’ enemies but this rarely figured in reality. For example, General Lemelsen, commander of the 48th Panzer Corps, ordered his men to stop murdering (non-Jewish) civilians on June 25, 1941, explaining, “We want to free the civilian population from the yoke of Bolshevism and we need their labor force.”lxxvi

But even Lemelsen admitted his order was not carried out. “This is murder! The German Wehrmacht is waging this war against Bolshevism, not against the united Russian peoples. We want to bring back peace, calm and order to this land which has suffered terribly for many years from the oppression of a Jewish and criminal group.” Moreover, he warned, such behavior would lead to the execution of captured German soldiers and inspire the Russians to fight to the death and never surrender. This is precisely what happened.

For example, when two big sleds carrying German army supplies hit mines near the village of Ladomiry the Germans slaughtered the entire male population and burned down all the houses. Consequently, partisan activity in the area increased, not so much because the population hated the Germans more but because they knew that death was the only alternative to resistance.

What the Germans, including Lemelson, did do far more successfully was to link tirelessly the Jews and Bolsheviks as a twin menace—an idea central in Nazi ideology—and offer rewards to collaborators. In a 1941 report, the Polish nationalist agent Jan Karski, who courageously spied on the Germans and brought out the first news about their mass murder of Jews, told a revealing anecdote passed on to him by a Polish official.

This man had fired an employee of the German-sponsored regime who had robbed a Jewish jewelry store in Warsaw. The robber complained to the Gestapo who called in the official.

“Why,” he asked the official, “did you fire him?”

Startled, the Pole replied that the dismissed man had committed a criminal act.

The German policeman responded: “It is permissible to take from a Jew verything….We are even anxious to see the Polish population made aware than any Pole may go up to any Jewish store” and take it for himself, “Whoever wishes may kill a Jew, and our law will not punish him for it.”lxxvii

Given the realities of human nature, many responded to this call to enrich themselves. In a little town like Dolhinov, greed and covetousness seethed beneath the surface. Yet in such places there was also human decency and cross-communal friendships. In the occupation’s early days, SS reports showed that many Byelorussians were not eager to attack the Jews. The most remarkable such event is contained in a report by a Soviet agent operating behind enemy lines.

On July 23, 1941, in the village of Rubezhevichi, a German army officer gathered together the 26 local Jews, made them dig a trench, then ordered the Christian villagers to bury them alive. The Byelorussians refused. He then demanded the Byelorussians change places with the Jews and ordered the Jews to bury the Beyelorussians. They refused. Flustered, he simply had his men shoot down the Jews where they stood.lxxviii

Did this really happen? One would like to believe it did. But either way the Jews were doomed.

Many peasants, both Poles and Byelorussians, would later help the partisans with supplies and information or even joined the units themselves—though this did not mean they wouldn’t persecute or kill Jews if given the opportunity. Others hid Jewish acquaintances or even complete strangers.

Yet far more townspeople pointed out Jewish hiding places to the Nazis—leading directly to the deaths of the Jews concealed there; peasants turned in Jews they saw or even informed on other farmers, leading to the murders of both the Jews and their hosts, as well as served as German spies on partisan activities. Neighbors rushed to loot Jewish property at the first opportunityDov Katzovitch of Dokshitz, near Dolhinov, recalled an incident that says it all. Outside town on a work detail, when he heard the machinegun sounds of a massacre there, he headed back when quiet returned to see if his family had survived. He recalled:

“On the way I met two women holding big bundles, speaking Polish with each other and telling each other about what had happened. I recognized one of them for I had gone to school with her son. This son was…in the local police. It seems that the son knew beforehand what was to occur and advised the women to profit from [taking] the Jews' things. When she saw me she was shocked for a minute and then started to scream: `Why didn't you report with the rest of the Jews?’ I did not answer and walked away.”

For a Jew to be alive was an unacceptable effrontery.

Only compared with the Jews were Soviet prisoners of war better off. Hundreds of thousands were captured in the war’s early days. As the German army marched east through Dolhinov, columns of captured Russians staggered west. A Polish resident named Klementowicz described the prisoners as “a horrible sight,” the enlisted men staggered along like ghosts, barefoot and so hungry they ate grass growing alongside the road. When one of them could go no further, the German soldiers shot him and left his body on the road. In contrast, though, the officers were transported by carts as a reward for surrendering.

Dolhinov’s Jews watched and took pity. There was a prisoner camp, riddled with dysentery, on the town’s eastern outskirts, next to the swamp and below the hill where the Jewish cemetery stood. One of the tasks done by Jewish forced laborers was to take them food and to bury the many dead.

Political commissars were shot immediately and some German army divisions also separated out and killed Jewish soldiers, too. Senior commanders authorized the killing of prisoners but only if done under orders. In the West, British and French prisoners were treated properly but in the East other rules entirely prevailed. Lacking good winter gear, German soldiers stripped the Russians of their warmer clothing and boots, leaving them shod only in crude wooden clogs, and ensuring they died of exposure. Fifty-seven percent of Soviet prisoners, about 3 million people, died in German captivity during the war.lxxix The prisoners suffered especially during the area’s deadly winters. Jewish burial crews were kept busy until the day they were themselves buried.

Now I have to write what I’ve been putting off as long as possible. Strangely, I feel that as long as I don’t write about the deaths of specific people they are still somehow alive. If the tortures have not been set down on paper the victims are still untortured though all the deeds have been done long ago, the story is finished in the world of senses, and all has turned to dust. To write of this is to make their memory live but also in a sense to kill them once again.

The killings, which had been going on in German-occupied Poland for eighteen months now started in what had been Soviet-occupied Poland. Already, on June 30, just a week after the invasion, a German Justice Ministry memo explained, in paragraph 4: “It may safely be assumed that in the future there will be no more Jews in the annexed Eastern territories.”lxxx

The first phase of implementing this plan began in Brest on June 28-29, with the SS killing 5000 Jews; in Pinsk, August 5-7, 4500. In Slonim all 15,000 Jews were killed during those same two days; in Bobrusk, 25,000; Mogilev, to Dolhinov’s southeast, 20,000; Vitebsk east of Dolhinov, 20,000; and in Slutsk, 18,000. In Rakov, they were burned alive in the synagogue. Himmler and Adolf Eichmann inspected the Minsk ghetto and ordered gassing vans. After this initial frenzy there was a pause, a stay of execution for the rest.

Yet even this was not all. For with their killing apparatus less developed further west and the concentration camps not yet fully ready, the Germans imported Jews to murder by gunfire.

Far away in the village of Turie, Czechoslovakia lived my cousin from my mother’s side, Marie Dub, 64 years old, who ran a little shop there. She lived in house number 213 with her son Jozef Dub, 41, proprieter of the Eichenbaum Timber Company, and his wife, Ilsa Meisel Dub, 35, and their daughter Ilsa, 9. They had never been a few miles from home. Suddenly, they found themselves on a train to Lublin, Poland, deported by Nazi Germany’s Slovakian client state—which actually paid the Germans to dispose of them—and shot down there. My even more distant cousin 64-year-old Olga Janniz Lowenbein, born 75 years to the day before me in Trumau, Bohemia, was taken from her apartment at Castlegasse 16, Vienna, and sent to die in the massacre of the Minsk ghetto on November 28, 1941.

Such individual stories mean something more immediate to us. Yet one must imagine football stadiums packed to capacity for town after town, in each seat one of them, everyone a human being a—as Jewish tradition puts it—universe in their own right.

Is there anything left to say about the Shoah after so much has been written? Yes, quite a lot. The prevailing image of the Shoah is from the west of Europe. The images are of urban Jews virtually indistinguishable from neighbors, assembled, put into cattle cars, transported by rail to concentration camps, selected out for life or death, and either gassed and burned immediately or forced to live in Hell for months or years until they die of starvation.

The east of Europe was quite different. The Dolhinov Jews were not trying to be French, German, Italian, Russian, or Polish. This was not some universalist parable of man’s inhumanity to man: it was a massacre of people because they were Jews, based on all the ideas and claims that had always furnished—and still do—the rationale for such hatred, slander, and violence, and for that reason alone.

Not a single one of them went to a concentration camp. They were,either marched a few blocks through their own home town, past buildings they’d lived or worked among all their lives, then burned or shot to death. Or they were shot down in their own living rooms and yards, a medieval-style massacre far more like a serial killer’s rampage than redolent of modern assembly-line methods. In a sense, the latter tragedy was far more bizarre than that of the camps.

In Dolhinov, they had continued to live in or near their own homes. Within the confines of those walls they lived as they had always done. One day the Germans murdered the next day—as if they were off-duty and had punched a time clock—they left everyone alone. One minute Dolhinov Jews were living their daily lives, wearing their own clothes, sitting at their dinner table, the next they were being machinegunned as many of their neighbors cheered.

And finally, unlike in the west, some would have a chance to fight back, but only when it was too late for almost all of them.

From the time of the Germans’ arrival, in the words of Haya Katzovitz, “The entire Jewish population with no exception became outlawed.”lxxxi Ida Friedman’s father dryly remarked, “Don’t think that they’ll leave us alone.” On the first day, when Esfira Dimenstein wanted to go visit her grandmother, a German soldier and local policeman stopped her and ordered her back inside until orders were issued on what the Jews must do.

Immediately, Jews were ordered to wear white arm bands. Then, on the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’av—the day when all the worst disasters of their history were said to have happened, starting with destruction of the First and Second Temples—the decree was promulgated in Dolhinov that all must wear yellow Stars of David front and back to brand them.

Jewish children were barred from attending school; Jewish adults from doing business or praying in synagogue. New decrees found creative ways to confiscate any financial assets held by Jews. The first to be killed were five men, four of them Jewish, who had worked for the Soviet administration. The Jewish community, including all of the children, was forced to stand in the market square and watch the executions.

Restrictions were endless. Jews could walk only in streets, or on sidewalks. Jews could not have their own businesses or work for non-Jews but only for the Germans. They could not be out after a certain hour, could not go to villages except with German permission, and could not buy food in the market. The food given them was half the smallest amount given to non-Jews on their rations’ cards. Their cows, bicycles, and radios were confiscated as was warm clothing.

And in addition there were acts not part of Berlin’s explicit plan: ceaseless extortion both by German officials and the police for gold and silver, diamonds and furs, gold and anything else of value. They demanded loot from the Judenrat which knew who had such things and could get them. In exchange, they promised the Jews would not be killed. Such promises were worthless, but if such orders were not followed many would have been executed immediately.

Part of the Germans’ goal was to demoralize the Jews;the rest was to isolate them and to convince Poles and Byelorussians to despise them. To help Jews in any way—even to give a potato to one—was punishable by death, not only the death of the individual but that of his entire family. Such a sentence, however, was generally limited to those who hid Jews or, later, helped partisans. In contrast, those who turned in Jews might be given a horse or cow; extra food, vodka, or tobacco, and perhaps a rare but prized bar of soap.

What most Dolhinov Jews experienced during the first eight months of the German occupation was grinding work, constant threats to their individual lives, and growing hunger. While a small number of those with special skills—the pharmacist, doctors, dentist, flax dealers, and a couple of the best tailors and shoemakers received passes and some privileges, the main two jobs were road repair and labor in the fields of peasants. Esfira Dimenshtein’s uncle and father were set to shoeing horses, a vital part of the German military transport system as well as for peasants’ needs. Her mother worked in the fields and the best day during this time was when a peasant gave her nine potatoes to take back to her family. Otherwise, whatever could bring in any money or traded was sold to buy food.

Esfira and other girls had the job of cleaning houses and doing laundry for the Germans. The soldiers threw them food scraps like dogs, some of which they ate and the rest brought the rest back to their families. Once, a German soldier hit her, dissatisfied by her missing places while cleaning under his bed. But the real problem was rape. At least one among their number was raped and murdered.

For Dolhinov’s Jews, death was a daily companion but did not seem an inevitable host. Rather than walk in the road, it was better to travel through the backyards’ of houses. Windows in each room were inspected for usefulness as potential escape routes. By staying in your home, avoiding contact with e Germans, and obeying their ordinances, one might hope to survive. Otherwise, as Gendel Kaplan of Dolhinov recalled, “There was only one punishment for breaking any rule—execution.”

One day, an SS man passing through town lost his leather whip. The officer demanded it be found. Frantically, the Judenrat offered a big reward and bade people immediately bring to the mayor’s office every conceivable whip, strap, or lash. But when the one he wanted could not be found, five—or eight, depending on the witness—were chosen more or less at random, were forced to dig a pit. The Jews were forcibly gathered to watch their execution.

Yet if individual Germans wanted to behave decently they were able to do so, at least when others weren’t looking. Esther Dokszycky recalls a tall dark German who behaved very cruelly and a red-haired one who told her, “I promised my mother I won’t kill anyone,” and gave her a piece of bread telling her to hide it “or they’ll kill me.” He shook his head sadly, “But I don’t know what they’ll do to you.”

At the same time, though, the Germans also knew how to keep the Jews off-balance in order to maintain control and wear down their victims. For instance, my cousin, Victor Rubin, then fourteen years old, had the job of going to the forest to cut firewood. One day in the winter of 1941, he hitched up the family horse to their cart and with his younger brother, Arieh, and another boy.

Intercepted on the way back, the police stole their horse, took their wood, beat them up, and threw them in jail overnight. The Judenrat heard about it and got them released, probably saving their lives. Victor’s face was covered with blood and he still carries a scar from that day. A council member took them to Dr. Kotler who fixed up the injured boys. The next day, when a German officer saw Victor’s condition, he acted shocked. “Who did this to you?” he asked, as if offering to be his protector. Victor merely mumbled something about an accident.

Meanwhile, with blood still on Victor’s face, the final decisions of the Final Solution were being made. At the January 20, 1942, Wannsee Conference of high-ranking German officials, a death sentence was passed on the remaining Jews in eastern Poland, whose number was there estimated to be 846,000 people. A map sent January 31 to the SS commander, marked with coffins with the number of Jews already murdered in each place. In Belarus, it said, only 230,000 had so far been killed. Much work remained to be done. None of this was known in Dolhinov, but people were starting to get the idea.

Everyone was looking for a way out but usually not finding one. Bushke Katzovitz’s mother, Hana, for example, begged a Christian friend and offered to pay if she took in her daughter, who had already proven on her train ride home that she could pass as a Pole. The woman said “No.” It was too risky.

Do I blame her? Not really. The houses are tiny, every individual is registered, and it would be hard to conceal someone very long in the outbuildings behind the homes. But the countryside, in isolated farms and villages, was the real place where refuge had to be found. Several dozen peasants in the surrounding villages did save people’s lives, always at considerable risk to themselves.

Yet there was one notable exception in Dolhinov itself which revealed how courageous such an act could be and what terrible consequences it entailed. The wealthy Navoichik family hid Dr. Rabinovich, a refugee from Glebokie, his wife and two children. A neighbor informed on them. In the summer of 1942, German soldiers raided the house. They killed the Rabinovich family along with Mrs. Navoichik and two of her children who were home at the time. The soldiers then burned the house to the ground. Only Mr. Navoichik and one of his daughters who just happened to be outside of town at that moment survived. They fled to the partisans and along with many of the Jewish refugees, were evacuated to the USSR later that year.

The real problem—and opportunity—would have been to hide Jews for a few hours during the two big German killing sprees, which lasted, respectively, one and three days. Very few people to my knowledge did that simple service, though some at least didn’t turn in Jews they found hiding in their outbuildings.

My complaint is not that so much that no townspeople hid Jews but rather that, when the time came, so many townspeople went out of their way to turn them in so they were murdered on the spot, and then stole all their property.

The first eight months of German occupation were horrible enough but it was just a beginning. Dolhinov Jews started to hear in late 1941 about massacres in one town after another. Just before dawn, one night in October, there was a knock on the Segalchick family’s door. It was Aunt Rachel and her daughter Lyuba. They said that yesterday, on Yom Kippur, all the Jews of Plashensitz were taken into the forest and murdered. In the third week of October 1941, during Simhat Torah, in Dolhinov arrived news that 54 Jews were killed in Kurenitz, just 20 miles away.

 Among the survivors arriving after the Plashensitz massacre was a Jew from Minsk named Leib Mindel who moved in with the Segalchik family. By that time Mindel, an energetic man with strong leadership qualities, had survived three German massacres. He became Segalchik’s close friend. Mindel and Segalchik talked about the certainty that death would soon come to Dolhinov. To prepare, they dug two hideouts: one a hole in the barn of neighbor Yosef Kremer, four by four yards, reinforced with sturdy wood posts, and heavily camouflaged. The second was inside the family cowshed, concealed by a false wall.

The only reason why the Dolhinov Jews were still alive was because the German military and the civilian ministeries responsible for the army’s supply still needed Jewish labor. The Nazi leadership, however, demanded their ideology be fulfilled. A March 26, 1942, meeting of eleven German ministries sealed the book. Himmler declared: “The Eastern Territories will be freed of all Jews. I alone am responsible to the Fuhrer and do not want any discussion.”lxxxii And that was that.

On March 3, the Germans murdered the Chabad rabbi and 22 other men. It is not clear precisely why, whether an act of random sadism or a deliberate attempt to destroy the community’s leadership before the main massacre. But even if people thought their only hope of survival was to escape to the forest, they could not last more than a couple of days during winter

“Every day brought another terrible tale of destruction in the towns around us,” Segalchik recalled. On Wednesday, March 12, survivors told of the wiping out of all the Jews left in Ilya, shot outside the town. There was no doubt that the time was drawing close when it would be their turn. About twenty young men were determined to try and they sent Mindel and Segalchik to talk with a friendly Christian village who they thought would help.

The two men made a mistake, however, and in this situation first mistakes were usually the last as well. On March 15, they walked out of town carrying axes, saws, and a letter from the mayor saying they were going to cut wood. But a half-mile out of town, a motley posse caught up with them: the police chief and a German officer on a sled, other police on horses and bicycles.

The pursuers yelled in Polish, "Stop and put your hands up!" There was no hope of outrunning them so Sigalchik and Mindel complied. Immediately, the police began beating them. One hit Mindel on the head with a rifle, knocking him to the ground unconscious amidst a pool of blood. Segalchik was badly beaten but only on the back and shoulders, as if they did not want him to relapse into the comfort of unconsciousness. One policeman hit him so hard that his rifle broke.

Dragging the two men, the police tied them to the back of the sled and turned the horses back to the town. The prisoners had to run behind. Then they lashed the horses so the two men fell and were dragged along. Back in town, they took them to a well and the police poured buckets of water drenching them and making them shake feverishly in the cold. The next stop was the police station where two German communications’ officers, who maintained the telephone lines, were waiting. They delighted in beating up Jews for minor infractions like walking on the sidewalk or not taking off their hats in their presence. German regular army officers often delighted in persecuting Jews for fun rather than due to orders.

The German officers and the police chief beat Sigalchik and Mindel continuously asking about their contacts with partisans. The more they claimed to know nothing, the more they were beaten. Mindel, covered with blood, lost consciousness again while Sigalchik prayed for a swift death. As he lay on the floor, apparently dead to the world, Sigalchik heard the phone conversation between an officer, reporting the capture of two Jewish partisans, and the SS post in Dokshitz. Sigalchik could have no doubt what the other end was saying: Tomorrow we’ll arrive to interrogate, then execute them.

The sun had set, the last they expected to see, when they were thrown into a cell, three yards’ square with two big windows blocked only by bars, not glass. The night was cold and in the storm and their drenched clothes the two prisoners shivered. Thinking there was no chance of escape. The police didn’t even bother to stand guard but merely locked the cell door.

No rest came to the two men. Silent midnight came. Suddenly, they heard steps outside. Sigalchik looked out the window and saw the seeming mirage of his oldest sister, Peshia Riva Katz. She crept up to the window asking, through her sobs, if they were still alive and if there was anything she could do to help. Sigalchik replied, "You have no time to cry now, you must do everything possible to get us out of here. Run home and bring an axe. It would be better if your husband Yerochmiel came to help us."

She ran to the house and after half an hour, Katz arrived with an axe hidden in his jacket. He tried unsuccessfully to break the bars, then pushed the axe inside to let them try. Suddenly, they realized that the bars were attached to the wall only by heavy nails. Pre-war Dolhinov had no need to imprison any criminals more dangerous than those who’d consumed too much vodka. In fifteen minutes, they twisted the nails free and removed enough bars to squeeze out. Then they ran to their hideout in the Kremer barn. There, Sigalchik tied a wet towel around Mindel’s head and, exhausted, they fell asleep on a haystack.

What happened was this: SS men had arrived to continue the interrogation the next day and find their two prisoners had escaped can easily be imagined. They screamed for the Judenrat’s leader and warned that if the men weren’t returned fast the whole community would be wiped out. The Jewish police looked frantically but only Sigalchik’s family knew where they were. Nobody talked.

Saturday passed with the town’s Jews in a panic. The Gestapo men left that evening, emptyhanded. But not for long.

It is before dawn of Monday, March 28, 1942. In Vileika the regional headquarters of the SS is busy. Who is in the trucks and vehicles heading out for a day of murder in Dolhinov isn’t precisely clear. It is probably an SS unit perhaps accompanied by part of the German Einsatzgruppe B and certainly by a Lithuanian or Latvian police company.

The four Einsatzgruppe exist solely to murder Jews. In charge of Belarus is the700-man B branch. Its commander is named Erich Naumann, a minor bureaucrat before the war. Far from being a collection of thugs and criminals, the unit had been assembled as a group of dedicated Nazi cadre. Many had been failures in civilian life but were distinct successes as cold-blooded killers. They included a bank clerk, opera singer, lawyer, Lutheran minister, and a dentist. Those who wanted to be relieved of this duty were easily able to obtain transfers.lxxxiii

Backing up this German contingent were Lithuanian and Latvian volunteers of the security police units. Was it the 2nd, 3rd, or 12th Lithuanian Police Auxiliary Battalion; 15th Police Regiment or 255th Security Police detachment? Probably the best guess is the Latvian 18th Police Battalion. All had massacred Jews and Red Army prisoners and were stationed in the area. Jewish survivors would later always speak of Latvians or at least of soldiers who didn’t speak German. But the Jews in Dolhinov were too busy at the time to examine their credentials more thoroughly.

By dawn, their trucks were roaring through Kurzenitz. Jews there heard them and knew that death was on its way. One can forgive their sigh of relief on realizing the trucks were rolling toward victims in other towns.

Perhaps the escape of the Sigalchik and Mindel made the SS deviate from its timetable. But the SS’s follow-up report after the massacre admitted it wasn’t satisfied with the outcome. They had come to kill all the Jews but caught “only part” because they unexpectedly found that their prey “had created real bunkers for hiding in during pogroms.” One of these was three stories deep. But since the Germans found it in the end, we have no details from those who made and hid in it. It seems, if one could take pride in this, that of all the Jewish towns in Belarus, Dolhinov presented the toughest challenge for them. In the end, they only wiped out about half the community.

While they had no idea what day would be the fateful one, by this point the Dolhinov Jews knew what was coming. Too many rumors, too many refugees had reached them for illusions to survive. They knew the Germans would come before dawn, surround the town, and spring their trap in the morning. “Where could we find a shelter?” everyone asked. Shimon Gitlitz remembered that his house had a small basement closed up for years. He secretly dug it out and that gave his sister’s family the same idea.

Someone in the family awoke to the sound of stamping boots, barked commands, the wails of children, and sobs of women. The rest were hurriedly roused and the parents rushed their five children into their basement, joined by the Shaingarts, their neighbors from across the street. Shimon moved a heavy water container over the entry door to hide it from view. But that meant he was also unable to enter himself. He ran to hide himself outdoors the whole day, and the cold weather badly froze his feet.

But the family had still another problem. David, the baby, was crying despondently and his mother feared the noise would give the family away. So she ran to a Christian neighbor, handed over her fur coat and promised if the woman would conceal her she’d bring a gold watch afterward. The woman refused, her attempts to find shelter failed, and the Germans killed her and the baby. Later, the Christian woman showed up at the Kazovitz’s house claiming she had helped and demanding the watch. A single misjudgment about a person’s character cost your life.

Meanwhile, the rest of the family hid undisturbed. When night fell and the Germans left, Yankel Furman, stepfather of the Kazovitz family, returned, knocked on the door and let them out. They crawled from the basement to realize with a shock how few of their friends remained alive.

Through the luck of the draw, Chana Brunstein might have had the easiest time that day. She was inside cooking when a German soldier entered. He should have forced her out to line up with the other Jews but instead—Humane? Hungry? Lazy?—he merely asked her for some eggs and left. Esfira Dimenshtein and her family were saved because a friendly Polish policeman—Maslovsky or Maletzko--had warned them that the Germans were coming the next day. They made a big hole in their grandmother’s barn and stayed there until the morning of the second day.

Avraham Friedman took a dozen relatives and neighbors to the house of his friends, the policemen Maslovsky and Takovich, who said they’d hide him but it was too dangerous to conceal such a large group. So they ran to one of the barns behind a Christian’s house, went inside, and locked the door. Friedman stayed in the policemen’s house. When he finally emerged after two days, he found bodies strewn in the streets but his brother and sister, his aunt and her children had survived. The barn’s owner discovered them but didn’t turn them in.

Gendel Kaplan’s relatives found the police less friendly. While most of the family had dug a hiding place, his 82-year-old grandmother, Rhoda, could take no more. Along with her son, who perhaps thought his status as a craftsman might protect her, she stayed seated in the parlor. When the police entered, the uncle handed them his document and said as a relative his mother was also protected. They returned the document, nodded seriously, then shot her dead right in front of him.

But most Dolhinov Jews who survived did so only by hiding. Typical was the Friedman family, whose shelter was dug in the two-yard-wide space between their big stove and the wall. The resulting space was only 1 yard by 2 yards, and the family members had to sit crushed together for a full day, hot, uncomfortable but still alive.

My cousins, the Rubin family, were one of the few which had a hiding place prepared long before the First Action. Rasia Rubin’s brother, Benjamin, had worked for the Soviets during their time in Dolhinov. Once the Germans arrived, the family hid him in a hole they dug. Knowing Dolhinov was too hot for him, Benjamin fled to Kurenitz, where he was finally captured and killed. But when the First Action came, the hole served the family well.

The least likely survivor in Dolhinov that day was Shmuel Kugel of Pleshchenitsy. Kugel had only escaped the massacre in his own town because he was outside with a work party. All day he had sat alone in the cold rain. That night, he went home to find his wife gone and the locks changed. One of his neighbors had wasted no time in grabbing the house. With only the clothes on his back he’d taken a sack for a hat, a branch for a walking stick and spent four days pacing through forests or fields, sleeping in haystacks, and being fed by peasants, “as they wept over my fate and their own.”

Arriving in Dolhinov, he was taken in by relatives who were mourning one of their own, executed because of the SS man’s lost whip. Now Kugel was in the middle of another massacre. Some of those living in the same building as him were so exhausted they didn’t even try to hide. “You can’t save yourself anyway,” they said, “you’re just torturing yourself.” Nevertheless, Kugel and nine others hid in the attic. The Germans came in and looked around several times but never found them.

One woman, driven mad by fear, ran from her shelter and was caught by the Germans. They promised that if she showed them her family’s hideout they would let the Jews there go free. Out of her mind, she did so. The Germans promptly murdered her entire family, then killed her, too.

Christian townspeople, of course, had no need to hide. Some turned their neighbors’ distress into material gain, looting their possessions, even clothes. Others locked themselves in, trembling at their own fate. When asked many years later what went through his mind when they saw Jewish neighbors being dragged away, a Polish resident of another town replied, “We were thinking that we might be next.”

That’s what the Beyelorussian hospital maintenance man Leonid Andreyovitch thought on that day as he fearfully peered out the window. What he saw was remarkable: a parade of Jews, being marched down his street under the guns of German soldiers, Lithuanian or Latvian security police, and Polish or Byelorussian local police

Boris Kozinitz, who had relatives in Dolginov and escaped there a week later, told what it was like to be in that situation, as he had been when the same units wiped out the Jews in his town just 48 hours before.lxxxiv

Germans and their collaborators grabbed Jews off the street, broke into houses and pulled people out until they assembled large groups which were then marched down the road, surrounded by several ranks of policemen. As they walked toward the market square, the prisoners could see non-Jewish townspeople watching indifferently.

When they arrived by the square, where many of them had worked all their lives in the small adjoining shops, they were ordered to sit and wait. Some fell prostrate onto the ground and wept. Many prayed. Most hoped it was just some re-registration, minor humiliation, or even the execution of a small number who would be selected out of the group.

A few ran for it, and were shot down, one of them falling within reach of Kozinitz. Two men made a break for it and got pretty far. A submachine gun opened up on them, they fell down. But, when the shooting stopped, one got up and took off again. Police fire brought him down, too. None of those who ran for it escaped in either town.

What can one say in such circumstances? Kozinitz’s friend, Gdalia Levin, had chronic tuberculosis and so was used to facing death. He whispered in Kozinitz’s ear, "Take a good look at the trees and the houses, you shall not see them again. These will stay after we are gone, nothing changed, but we will not. The world will keep on existing but many Jews will not be in it."

One man, however, had some small role in determining his fate. A German officer pulled out a man named Lipkind, a member of the Judenrat. The officer said, "You, as a community elder must see all your community being killed and we will kill 2014-07-19 18:44
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