|Mass Grave in 1998 courtesy of Judy Baston||Rabbi from Eishoshok(top) conducting Yizchor at Mass grave site(bottom) in 1945. Courtesy of Allan Berkowitz|
The Massacre in Vornonovo: May 11, 1942
Voronovo Necrology and Survivor lists
Voronovo Holocaust Resources
THE MASSACRE IN WORONOW: May 11, 1942
We heard rumors about organized partisan groups in the Lithuanian forests of Natsier and Wishnitzer. A Jew who had fled a massacre came and told us he had made contact with partisans who were ready to take him into their group. They have enough weapons to supply even the newcomers. The refugee had come to Woronowa to get his two children, who happened to be there by accident, and take them back with him to the forest. This man's name was Yekusiel SALZ, he was a native of Olkenik; and he and his family are alive today. SALZ also sent letters to us from the forest, urging us to follow his example and join the partisans. He sent a pistol as a gift to my brother-in-law M. Whenever we thought of the heroic partisans and the defense, our hearts filled with hope. But we were tormented by the problem: "How could we take our families into the forest? Children, sisters, brothers, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, a mother." Our despair was great. "How would we manage in the forest? With children, women. We'll die of starvation and rot in dirt."
With aching hearts we looked at our children. We were constantly despondent and indecisive. Should we or should we not take our fate in our own hands and flee with our families to the woods? We were not aware of our approaching end; we did not realize at the time that our destruction was imminent, was rushing toward us. We were deluded by rumors, different versions of events.
"We are surrounded!" My pale, terrified wife Rashe came into the house. We are lost! The SS and the Police have surrounded the town!" It was the morning of May 8th, 1942. We ran to the windows and sure enough, our houses were surrounded by troops of SS and Gentile police. Our hearts began to pound; dark, awful, gloomy visions filled our minds. SS men ran about the streets; warned us not to leave our homes and not to stand by the windows. All workers were sent home or told not to come in. Because I had a permit, I could move about freely. I went to the electric works. An elderly SS man angrily commanded me to go home, because today or tomorrow was our doomsday, our day of reckoning. Nobody is allowed to be outside. When I asked what it was all about, he told me there would be a strict check of all documents. Some Jew-communist-spies had run away from jail and they must be caught at any price. All Jews will be searched and controlled and segregated. The honest, industrious ones would be freed and the suspects would be shot. "How refined these Nazi fiends are," I thought. "They always manage to find an excuse. They are so adept at deception, that they have pulled the wool over the eyes of the world." I went home and told my family what had happened.
"What did you expect the Nazi to tell you?" said my sister-in-law Chane. "That they're going to shoot all the Jews?" Our Gentile neighbors, who had eaten our bread, worn our clothes, lived in our homes, now offered their services--every one of them--to the Nazi killers. All the Gentiles organized spontaneously against us, and could hardly wait for the moment when we would be annihilated. These German "servants" were greedy for Jewish possessions, houses, fields, clothing, furniture, etc. And their hopes were fulfilled. At the present time, there is not a trace of Jews in Woronowa. It is a usual reaction that in times of crisis one cannot think logically, but grasps at a straw, believing false assurances and deceptive promises. It was really remarkable. A day before the massacre, the Regional Commissar of Lida and his Chief of Staff called in the Judenrat, and told them there would be a thorough investigation of the Jewish populace; that the sick, the old, the weak and crippled would be shot because they were incapable of working. The Judenrat must prepare fifty liters of whiskey (first class) for the control-brigade and table settings for 250 men. For this "good news" they asked for five suits of clothing, five pairs of boots, and 50,000 Russian rubles. Within a half hour the clothing, shoes and money became available. Through the Judenrat, they told the Jews not to despair; and that the Fuehrer would save the world.
The Jews were overjoyed. They embraced and kissed, wept with happiness that only the sick, the crippled and the old would be shot. A large number of Jews and their families had been hiding in the bunkers the past few days since we had been surrounded. When they learned about this "joyous miracle", that only the sick, the old and the crippled would be slain, they all emerged from their hiding-places and dressed in the Sabbath garments to prepare for the ensuing march. Old men trimmed their beards dressed up as for a holiday in white collars; others shaved in order to look younger. Grandmothers adorned themselves, put on powder and cosmetics in order to look young and capable of working. As far as I remember, the following came out of their bunkers: Chaim Wolf RUDNIK, son of Elimelech RUDNIK, and family; Nahum KUZNETS (son of the driver Nahum) and family; Benjamin LEVINE and family; Meyer SHMERKOWITCH, son of Samuel HIRSH, by the river; Abraham EDELSTEIN, the miller, from Biniakan-Brazhets; the lacemaker Esther from Biniakan with son, daughter & grandchild; Abraham PUZEIRISKI and family; Israel DUBINSKI from Bastun, and family; Leah OLKENITSKI, wife of Moshe OLKENITSKI and two children; and Moshe'le KAGAN from Wishnewe. Of all these, the following survived the massacre: Meyer SHMERKOWITZ and his wife Nehama, the daughter of David; Lipe PUPKO. But they perished in Lida. The others all died in the massacre on May 11, 1942.
The "refined" criminals, the Regional Commissar of Lida and his Chief of Staff stationed two hundred peasants outside the town to dig a mass grave for the victims. Besides the two hundred that had been mobilized, one hundred peasant volunteered. These monsters, these "Yurkes" and "Petrukas" wanted to inherit the victims' clothes, shoes, coins and sometimes a gold piece.
Esther LICHTMAN, the wife of the president of the Lida Judenrat, was a boarder in my home. She was the sister of my brother-in-law Reuben and the daughter of Solomon Joseph EISHISHKI. Her husband, Alexander LICHTMAN and the entire Judenrat of Lida were brutally murdered toward the end of March, 1942, for allowing the so-called "aliens" from Wilno and Lithuanian provinces to take refuge in the ghetto. The members of the Lida Judenrat were: Attorney TSIDEROWISC; Attorney KERSHNER, Dr. PUPKO, and others. The honorable Alexander LICHTMAN had welcomed the "wandering martyrs", the Jews from Lithuania, to the Lida ghetto, had given them food, living quarters and clothing. He and his comrades paid dearly for rescuing these people, at least temporarily, from death, although death hovered over us all every moment. Mrs. LICHTMAN had two children, a daughter Shulamith and a son Hanina. On Sunday, the day before the massacre, the seven-year-old Hanina kept running to the clock on the wall, calculating how many hours we had left to live. When in the evening he found out that only the sick, old and crippled would be shot, he said: "Why should the sick be killed? I was sick, too, and then I got well. The Nazis have some nerve."
We exchanged glances, bit our lips; and tears filled our eyes. During the encirclement, we did not sleep at night. Monday morning, May 11, 1942, our whole family jumped out of bed, startled by the commotion of twelve trucks racing through the town. We saw SS men, Gestapo and Lithuanians hiding inside the trucks. They stopped in the marketplace and summoned the helpless Jewish police with their chief, ZALBERG, and made a speech, announcing that for the sake of the Fuehrer's victory, there must be an Action against the Jews. The Jewish police must assist them in every way. All Jews must be driven out of their homes, and beaten, nobody is to be spared because it is war; and the Nazis must win. After the Action, there will be peace. The Jewish Police must obey the commands, maintain discipline, be dignified and cooperative. They ran from house to house and drove all the Jews to the marketplace. We all went, in our holiday attire, dressed up, shaved, with clean faces. They lined us up. The urge to live is overpowering. My twelve-year-old son Eliezer, standing beside me, said to me: "Papa, why should I go to the marketplace? I'll run into the village, maybe friendly peasants will give me shelter if I work for them." With lightning speed he slipped out of line and stepped onto the sidewalk. The Nazis detained him, asked where he was going. He said he was a Pole and was going to his teacher. They believed him and let him pass. He reached the nearby village of Boyari one and a half kilometers from the town, where two armed Gentiles, volunteer policemen, stopped him. This police force consisted of various Gentile hoodlums, thieves, drunkards, knife-wielders, other underworld figures, who had been promised a share of Jewish property. Amateurs by the hundreds volunteered for the police force, ready to beat, torture and kill Jews. These two Gentiles knew my son and drove him back to the marketplace. "Today you belong in the marketplace, Zhidku (sheenie). Today you Jews will all be taken care of."
Every cloud has its silver lining. Those who had fled, who were wandering about, were found on the back roads and murdered. My son was returned to me and my wife;and I were happy to have him back with us. There were 2,700 men, women and children in the marketplace from Woronowa, Divenishak, Soletchnik, Biniakan and Konvelishak. We all sat on the ground, motionless. Of the rest of the Jews, about 500 had gone to the forest during the "encirclement" after paying large bribes. The others were hiding in bunkers in the town, in an attic or camouflaged cellar. Among them was our honored cantor-ritual slaughterer, Rabbi Judah KANAFKA with his wife and four daughters, who today live in Linz--the American Zone in Austria. We estimated that about 200 had hidden. In addition, a small percentage of Jews were at work in Bastuni, Stanova, Yanishvtsizne and in the forests at the time. Seventy-five men were at work at the time.
The marketplace was surrounded by countless Gestapo men, who in order to terrorize us and increase our panic, from time to time shot to death an adult or a child for allegedly rising from the ground and trying to escape. There were also machine-guns of various calibers. The Jews were ordered to sit motionless. The least move was punishable by death. The savage shouting, moaning, hubbub and shooting affected our already-weakened nerves. The tension was unbearable. Several groups of three hundred men, women and children, had already been herded to the place of execution, which was in the direction of Lida. On the way they had to undergo "segregation" by the murderous committee. Then they had to walk through two lines of Gestapo, SS, Lithuanians and police. The victims were beaten with rifle butts, poles, clubs and rubber whips. Every Jew in the death march was beaten, blooded, half-conscious. These unfortunates, our brothers and sisters, obeyed the commands of the fiends without protest and without resisting. As though paralyzed, they stumbled toward their graves. Some of the Jews in the marketplace, when their turn came to be driven to the death march, tried to retreat deeper and deeper into the crowd, so as to prolong their lives by just a few more minutes. But this "trick" did not succeed. They were not spared. The last-remaining groups were not even segregated. One of the senior officials howled: "Enough garbage"; and the Jew were driven to the execution place at full speed.
I cannot forget the faces of my Jewish neighbors: Isaac TROTSKY, the son of Jacob Moshe, with his wife and four children; Israel LEVINE of Konvelishak with his wife, son and daughter; Moshe LUBETSKI of Divenishak; Mrs. Shoshe CHARMATSCH of Biniakan with her two sons. The son of Isaac TROTSKY fled to the forest at night and joined the partisans. He died fighting the enemy at the end of 1943. All around me sat my neighbors, in a cold sweat, their eyes extinguished, as though the sun was no longer reflected in their eyes and no longer shone for them.
The Gestapo ordered families to group together. A small child asked to relieve itself in the field opposite. "Do it right where you are, under you," was the brutal reply. "It makes no difference, you will soon be kaput." An example of high culture, noble German humanitarianism.
Moshe LUBETSKI, the young lawyer from Diveneshok, disguised himself as a Christian and together with the Gestapo ran about driving the Jews from their homes to the marketplace, hoping to make a break for it at the last house. But he was recognized, caught; and he was taken to the marketplace to be shot, led there demonstratively as an example to the others. But he slipped away from them into the mass of people seated on the ground and came over to our group. He told us about his failure to get away. White foam covered his lips. In order to change his appearance, he had shaved his moustache, and changed his hat and jacket. The Gestapo and the police searched for him, but could not find him.
Then it was our turn. But luck was with me, because my Obermeister, who knew me, said to the committee: "This is the chief mechanic of our town. I need him." Bellek, the Lieutenant Major and leader of the Sonderfuehrer called: "This is our architect, master builder, we need him." Together with my family I was driven to join the select. Sitting on the ground in Germnishke Street, we heard the resounding shots of the death-dealing machine guns...These were the bullets that felled and sent to their graves our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives, children, relatives, friends--saintly, precious, unforgettable. Their cry of "HEAR O ISRAEL" pierced the air and split open the heavens. At the words "THE LORD IS OUR GOD,
THE LORD IS ONE," they breathed their last and gave up their souls. One thousand, eight hundred and eighty-five Jewish saints---men, women and children, died a martyr's death at the bloody hands of the Nazi blackguards.
It must be noted here that many Jews, after having paid large sums to the Nazis during the "encirclement" were paid off by them with bullets, behind the houses in town. Some of these were: Sarah GERSHENOWICZ and her daughter Chasye; Benjamin GRODZENIK, the son of Henoch; Benjamin KAPLAN and his wife; Leyzer KATZENELENBOGEN, a young man from Olkenik; the wife of Berl KARKLINSKI and her two children (from Eishishok) and others. All these martyrs are buried in scattered graves in the fields outside the town. GOD SHALL AVENGE THEIR BLOOD!
We who were left alive--about eight hundred--were taken back to the marketplace and registered. Thirty peasant carts were filled to the brim with the clothing of the martyrs: linens, shawls, coats, shoes. The peasants showed them to us, bragging. The Lithuanian savages rode into the marketplace and celebrated --drinking whiskey. The brutal Nazis and Lithuanians had forced our unfortunate brothers and sisters to make orderly piles of their clothing; and then had driven them naked to their graves. The young Dena KUDLIANSKY cried out to the: "Shameless murderers! It's not enough for your animal instincts that you are killing us...your vile, wicked system will make you lose the war! You've already lost it! I spit on you!" And she spit into the faces of the Gestapo men. The girl was flogged to death by the rifle butts.
Two young men, NAFTOLI, the uncle of MINTZ from Diveneshok, and Meyer ZHABINSKI of Woronowa resisted so fiercely that they knocked out two teeth of one of the Gestapo men. They were bothbeaten to death with clubs, sticks and truncheons. Other Jews also spit in the faces of the Hitler brutes and threw rocks at them. The German and Lithuanian henchmen tortured the young men by stabbing, inflicting such suffering that they begged for death. Every case of the slightest resistance, every man who tried to defend himself or beat the savages off, was bestially liquidated.
Windisch, the chief of staff of Lida, made a speech to those of us whose lives had been spared and were sitting in the marketplace: "Jews, for thousands of years you have made war against the German people, trying to destroy by any means at your command. For hundreds of years we have been sharpening our swords to fight you; and now the time has come. You will drown in your own blood. As you can see, innocent people are dying too, such as small children, the old, and women. But that is your fate. We, the noble German race and our Fuehrer, will not rest until we do away with you. In the meantime, Jews, the select few among you are still alive. You must be obedient, work for the benefit of our German people. If you disobey our laws and rules, not a trace of you will remain. You must work diligently and hard, because our Fuehrer must be victorious. We will feed you; the larger families will stay in Woronowa as of now. The smaller ones will go to Lida, Krasna, and other places. I am sure, Jews, that you understood everything." We didn't even have the strength to catch our breaths, to sigh. We had no more tears left--we were dried out. We listened to the assurances of this German hypocrite and swindler, the "superman" of the higher race. We remembered the lies he had told yesterday in his oration just before the massacre, when he swindled us out of money and clothing. Today, he put on a different face and talked differently.
German so-called naive criminal despotism stretches far and wide. Deceived by various pretexts and ruses, our brothers and sisters were lured and entangled in the net, going voluntarily, not stopping to reconsider, and recognize the vile, savage face of the enemy, so they would realize the scope of the criminal, merciless, shameless villain--the Nazi degenerate. Thus, again and again, we were deceived by the "cunning" German beast. Thus, our noble Jewish nation was annihilated by various means. The rest were driven into the ghetto.
CHAPTER XV: THE MASSACRE IN WORONOW, Berkowitz, Moshe. Voronovo, Voronovo. Unpublished Manuscript, 1944. Courtesy of Alan Berkowitz, Moshe's Grandson.
Voronovo Necrology and Survivor lists
Voronovo Necrology from Voronovo Yizchor Book(see reference below) at Yizkor SIG
Survivors from Voronovo from Moshe Berkovitzs Manuscript(see reference below)
Name index of Moshe Berkowitz's manuscript
Surviving Bielski Partisans : Beryl Chafetz, Joel Chafetz, Isaac
Olkinetzki, Yaakov Okinetzki, Lazar Berkowitch, Rashke Berkowitch,
Eliezer Berkowitch, Hanan FINKELSTEIN, Hirsh FINKELSTEIN, Leib, wife.
0.3-3753 7310, Kaplan Manuscript, Hebrew, 1 Mar 1973, KAPLAN, Yosef: Jews of Lida under Soviet rule; members of the Judenrat (with names); German workers Werner, Windisch an Hannweg; residents of the neighborhood, WASILISKI, IWJE, WORONOW in the Lida ghetto; failed escapes; escape of the couple Kaplan and their joining the Soviet partisan group Iskra; sabotage and battles;
0.3-4010,12562,Testimony, Russian, 30 Oct 1978, SINALEVITZ, Felix: Transfer of WERENOW Jews to WASILISZKI; their stay in the ghetto; description of the murder of Jews in the cemetery and their escape from that place of murder, their conditions in the cities around Grodno and Bialystok; their joining the partisans with the name NEVSKIJ and their joining the partisans of the Red Army
TR.10-646 68650, Testimony, German, 15 Dec 1966, written accusation against Leopold Windich and Rudof Werner in the synagogue in Mainz; description of pursuit of Jews in the LIDA area; establishment of ghettos in the cities and expulsion of the Jews from the towns into the ghettos; description of 3 ghettos in LIDA city and the projects in them in which Jews worked; review of the Judenrat; forced labor; description of "Actions" in SZCZUCZN, ZOLUDEK, WASILISHKI at beginning of 1942; murder of 300 Jews in VORONOVO in Nov 1941; description of murder of Jews in the LIDA area in the fall of 1941 and winter of 1941-42; murder of 86 prisoners in LIDA city in the winter of 1942; "actions" in 1942 in the LIDA region; in LIDA city August 1942; in ZAOUDEK 5 Jan 1942; in WASILISZKI 10 May 1942; in WORONOW 19 May 1942; in IWJE 12 May 1942; notes on the number of Jews that were murdered by him. The files also accuses the occupied governments of LIDA city and their leaders Dienst, Stellen of Himmler in the occupied eastern territories.
United States Holocaust Research Institute Reading Room Information for Voronovo
1) Tec, Nehamiah. Defiance: The Bielski Partisans(New York:Oxford University Press, 1993).
2) Bielski, Tuvia, Zus, Lilka, Sonia & Viner, Abraham. Forest Jews: Narratives of Jewish Partisans(Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1946).
3) Voronova; sefer zikaron le-kedoshei Voronova she-nispube-shoat ha-natsim; (English Title: Voronova; memorial book to the martyrs of Voronova who died during the Nazi Holocaust) Editor: H. Rabin Published: Israel 1971 Publisher: Voronova Societies in Israel and the United States Volumes: 1 Pages: 440 Languages: HY;
4) THE MASSACRE IN WORONOW, Berkowitz, Moshe. Voronovo, Voronovo. Unpublished Manuscript, 1944
Updated by JG 17 March, 1999
Copyright © 1999 Jack Gottlieb
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