The Destruction of the Jewish Community by the Nazis

My cousin, Shlomo Elishkevich, was a partisan. He fought in the forests and survived the Holocaust. He arrived in Eretz Israel in 1946. The following is his own story.

Shlomo's Capture and Escape

At dawn on Sunday, June 22nd, 1941 the war broke out between the Germans and the Russians. At 11:00 AM I was already in my Red Army uniform. I was a reservist in the Russian military at that time. In 1940 following the Russian take over of our area, I was drafted for two- month military duty in the Russian army reserves.

I served in the communications branch in Gomel near the big city of Minsk. I was scouting the enemy's air force activities. One day German planes bombarded our region. Our regiment withdrew towards Volozhin where we camped for a few hours. When the German army advanced toward us we fled to Rakov. Then we had to flee Rakov. While trying to cross the bridge on the Berezina River under heavy shelling, one half of our unit managed to cross over before the bridge collapsed. The other half of the unit, myself included, was captured by the Germans. Near Minsk, we were chased into a field that was fenced with barbed wire. Thousands of POW's were herded into this field like cattle.

While in captivity, I noticed that every now and then another group of POW's was loaded on a truck and driven away. None of them returned. I concluded the conclusions and escaped after three days.

The Escape

I escaped with two Jewish POW's. We took advantage of a dark, foggy and rainy night. The German guards entered their "Budkes" (guarding booths). We crossed the fences and ran into a field of very tall rye where we could hide. Then we split. I started toward Vishnive. It took me a whole week to walk there. I walked at night and hid in the forest in the daytime. Sometimes I could find food and sometimes I could not. Initially I was dressed in my Russian Army uniform. When I passed near Rakov, I stopped at the home of one of my Gentile acquaintances. I told him, "Save me, give me Alte Zachen (used clothing) and take away my uniform and shoes." He did what I asked. He gave me clothing and a loaf of bread. After a week I arrived in Vishnive.

What Happened in Vishnive

When I arrived at the shtetl, I hid as I could not afford to be seen. Vishnive was in German hands. Everybody, both Jews and Gentiles, knew that I was a Russian soldier. If I showed up in the market place, the Gentiles would inform the Germans that I was a Communist and I would be executed immediately. On the other hand, the Russian military publicized an order that anybody who served in their army should rejoin it. At this point I was a deserter. It was clear to me that if I rejoined the Russians they would kill me. That is why I hid for a whole month in our home. We had a big house plus cowsheds and barns. I hid in a big pile of hay.

During that month the Germans killed people almost every day. One day they gathered thirty-eight Jews and brought them to the Jewish Cemetery. Among them there were Yaacov-Hirsh Elishkevich and his son Avraham Binyamin, Hirshe Rogovin, Ayzik Rogovin and others. The Germans forced them to dig a big trench. When they finished digging, they were shoved into the trench and were gunned down by the Germans with a machine gun. The machine gun stood near the cemetery on a hill which was located on top of a German bunker left over from WWI. Then the victims were covered over with the ground. Gentile witnesses told that for up to three days following the slaughter the ground covering the mass grave moved, as some of the victims were still alive. The night after the murder of the thirty-eight Vishnivean martyrs I hid as usual inside the pile of hay. I could not sleep because of fear. After midnight I ran to Breshkevitch where a good friend of my family lived.

In the days following this murder, the Germans confiscated all the Jewish homes and concentrated the Jewish population in a Ghetto. At that point I came out of hiding and joined the Jewish population in the Ghetto. The Ghetto included all of Krave Street and the synagogue court. The Ghetto was surrounded by a fence made of wooden boards attached with barbed wire. We were forced to stay inside the Ghetto. Whoever was caught outside was immediately executed. Only healthy strong males were taken out to work and then returned.

My Work in the Ghetto

I worked in loading timber on train cars in Boktove. The loading camp was located seven kilometers from the shtetel. We were a group of sixteen men who worked there for a whole week. On Friday evening we would return to the Ghetto and another group from the Ghetto would relieve us. On Saturday evening we would again go back to work. The Germans guarded us. We would begin work in the morning. We used axes, saws and ropes for cutting and loading the timber on the train cars. The Germans who worked in this location were not from the SS and as such our relations with them were more normal. For us, going to work was a relief from the depressing atmosphere in the Ghetto. And for our work we got two-hundred grams of bread per day.

When our group returned to the shtetl after a week of work, police frequently approached us with insults and then began beating us and forcing us to stand, jump, lie down, run, etc. Our Gentile neighbors, who had already settled in our confiscated homes, were watching the sadistic spectacle and our misery with tremendous glee. Their children would throw rocks at us. I remember Konski, a Gentile neighbor who settled in the home of Yaacov Rabinovich, shouted, "Sing the Katyusha (a popular Russian song). Hurry, why donít you sing the Katyusha?"

The Last Time

The last time we returned to the Ghetto on Friday evening, the German police beat us more cruelly than ever before and confiscated whatever we carried. Before reaching the Ghetto gate we concluded that something was very wrong. We decided not to stay at home for the entire Shabbat, but to return to work early on Saturday morning. We gathered at 6:00 AM and walked back to work. The other shift was amazed to see us so early. We told them what happened and begged them not to return to the Ghetto. They decided to go back. They said that they would avoid the beating by passing through Bogdanov and asking a friendly German to accompany them until they entered the Ghetto gate. They returned to the Ghetto on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday all of them were dead.

What Happened to Us

We did not know anything. On Sunday nobody was working. We were sitting near the Germans on a hill, talking and worrying about the future. Suddenly a Gentile woman from our shtetl was passing by. She told us in Belarus language, "Oy, my dear Jews. Don't you know? Do you know what's happening in the Ghetto? They killed and burned everybody."

From the testimony of Gedalia Dudman in the Vishnive Memorial Book - "At dawn Sunday the SS surrounded the Ghetto. The Jews were notified that they would be transported to a labor camp. They were ordered to pack their most important belongings immediately and wait outside their residences. When everybody was standing ready, all the luggage and some of the old and sick people were loaded on trucks. Then SS men began herding all the others with whips, forcing them to follow the trucks towards the synagogue at the end of Krave Street. Batia Podbereski, who was on one of these trucks, suddenly jumped off and shouted, "Jews, save your lives!" She was shot dead on the spot. After her shouting and the shooting, many Jews began to flee into the fields, but most of them were killed by the German bullets. Their bodies were scattered all over the area between the shtetl and the forest."

We were stunned. We could not move. It was clear that our turn to die would come soon. It was getting dark. We decided not to escape at night but wait for the morning. The reason was that the partisans were very active at night. Therefore our German guards were very alert at night as they were guarding mainly their own lives. That is also why we were sure that nothing bad would happen to us at the camp that night We went back into the big house where we stayed during the work week. Just to be on the safe side, we stayed in our clothing that night watching through the windows to see if anybody was coming to take us. At 6:00 AM we went to work instead of the usual 7:00 AM. The Germans were in the habit of coming later and giving us work instructions and priorities. Instead we cut the fences and entered the forest. We split up into three groups in order to improve our chances. We were already deep into the forest when the Germans arrived. We heard their shouts, "Jews, don't worry, come back, nothing bad will happen to you, Jews! Jews!" Then they began shooting in the air. We never responded but continued walking. My group leader was Chazkel Glik. He knew the forest very well. He brought us to a hill inside the forest where we hid until the night. The hill was near Vishnive.

I knew the local Gentiles very well. That night Chazkel and I went to some Gentile acquaintances of mine to ask what was happening. They told us that everybody was burned. I could not believe it. I wanted to believe that somehow somebody was saved by the Gentiles. My parents knew that the only chance to save their lives was to be among the Gentiles. My Gentile acquaintances gave us bread, milk and cheese which we brought back to our group in the forest. The food was sufficient for several days. We stayed on that hill for two weeks. Then we continued on to Krave Ghetto.

My long journey of sufferings for survival had just begun.

To the next chapter
Vishnive After the War

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