17 September 1992
Memorial and Dedication
Honorable citizens of our little town and friends,
Here I, Meir Svirsky from Kobylnik, stand here before you, deeply moved and excited by our meeting. Here are meeting Jewish survivors of Kobylnik, representatives of the few who left together with citizens of Kobylnik (Naroch today). The first meeting after 50 years.
For us to be back here with you again, is a meeting with our distant past with a world that was a Garden of Eden in our childhood and youth, with a world that later turned into hell on earth for us.
Our history in Kobylnik
It is good for one to know the history of where he lived and was born. The history of Naroch is also the history of the Jews who lived for generations in neighborhoods with Byelorussians, Poles and Tartars. Everyone lived and believed in the same creator. The blue skies were shared by all of us just like this earth which nurtured us and all of us benefited from its fruits, and in the wondrous nature though our lives, we were brought up and taught to live with integrity.
During my childhood, 65 Jewish families lived in Kobylnik. The Jews were involved in trade and in work, they were farmers and fishermen. The Jewish stores, the shoemakers and the tailors, the blacksmiths and the tinsmiths, are preserved in my memories. Jews also lived in a number of nearby villages, in Gluboky-Ruchai, in Pasinky, in Zanroch and in Vahlahy. Many Jews in Kobylnik were named after their original hometown such as Verenky, Balashy, Sluky, Kachargy, Melniky, Yanvichy, Struhalapy, Pasinky, Muchany and others.
We, the children of all the nations, visited together in nursery and later on, in elementary school. Here, there are people of my own age, from my own class, and other acquaintances from those long ago days. Remembering those times are an inseparable part of my life, together with the rich nature of the region, the forests in which we went on trips with Grandma and gathered mushrooms and berries, the flora and fauna that we knew from close and Naroch, the lake where fish were plentiful.
Remembering those days also include the days of the market on Tuesdays and, in contrast, the quiet Shabbat days when the Jews of the shtetl were in the synagogue and the Sundays, when the churches attracted streams of people from the neighboring towns.
The Germans arrive in Kobylnik
Fifty years ago, this Garden of Eden vanished. Those terrible days which drastically changed our lives had arrived. Fifty years ago, our common history with you ended. The Germans arrived in Kobylnik and our lives were turned into a never-ending nightmare. I was not yet 14 at the time. Our childhood and youth was ended, we stopped learning. We were instantly transformed into adults. Our lives as such, in effect, were ended. We lived with unrelenting fear and without any hope for any kind of solution. We became outlaws, marked for destruction. The murders began once the occupation started. In the beginning, anyone with ties to the Communists was caught and shot. It was forbidden for Jews to walk on the sidewalks and to go the market. Each Jew had to wear a yellow star on his chest and on his back so they could be identified from afar.
We worked (including me) in forced labor required by the Germans and for the local authorities, including beginning with polishing boots and road construction and maintenance. Of course, we were not paid and it was necessary to support families. We worked in the area of Verenky, Gluboky-Ruchai, Shemietovo and even up to Myadel. I especially remember the work in Shemietovo, 15 kilometers (10 miles) from Kobylnik. We walked this distance each day, both ways, and it was a hard day’s work, accompanied with beatings, degradation and brutality. We would leave for work in the morning before sunrise and would return late at night. For around 15 months, which felt like years, we lived in hell. Each day one of us was beaten or killed, sometimes individuals and sometimes in groups, until half the Jews of the shtetl were wiped out… Three Jews (2 women and 1 man), including my Grandma Rivka, died a natural death; they were considered holy.
The Jews from Krivichi escape
Here are several examples from those terrible days:
Three Jews who miraculously escaped from the shtetl of Krivich, looked for refuge in Kobylnik. They approached the home of Chanan Dimenshtein. Since it was night, they made a mistake and knocked on the wrong door. The local police rounded them up and also wanted to arrest Chana and his wife Esther. They escaped from their home, knowing what awaited them. In their place five men were taken as hostages, two of whom were fathers of families. Esther Dimenshtein went to the police. She was shot to death together with the three refugees from Krivich and four of the hostages. (Chana Persikov, the daughter of one of refugees from Krivich is here with us today). Two days later, the local police arrested the wives and children of the two hostages, while they cried that it wasn’t humane to leave them alive without a breadwinner. To this day, I can hear the cries of the women, the mothers, through the bars of the prison in the police station. These were Ida Reider and Monia-Chana Shteingart who asked for pity and help for themselves and their children. They were taken together with their children to the cemetery and shot to death.
Most of all, I was shaken by the murder of the Glot children. David Glot was murdered together with Yosef Chadash on some kind of a pretext. When they came to take his wife and children, his wife wasn’t home, so the policeman took the two children away. His son Hershl-Yona was 3 years old and his daughter, Yentela, had not yet learned to walk. Their uncle, Avraham Kayevsky was forced to carry her. I will never forget the sound of the policeman’s boots echoing when he passed our house on Postav Street (the street which leads to the Jewish cemetery) and the sight of the children being taken to slaughter. The little boy looked content making the trip outdoors after being forbidden to leave the house for such a long time, his blonde curls flew in the wind and he marched and jumped in turn... After that, we heard the shots and something in my heart tore forever…Late that night, my cousin Hertzke and I dared to sneak out to the cemetery and by the moon light, we could see the most possible terrible sight- the children were lying down as if sleeping, and next to their heads, white brain matter spilled out. We buried the children next to their father.
Help from the local citizens of Kobylnik
The local citizens knew what would happen to them if they would help Jews, their conscience led some of them to overcome the fear and danger in order to help their neighbors who were sentenced to death. There were some people, human beings, who in different ways supplied food to the Jews. The local Prevoslavi priest who lived on Postav Street in our neighborhood, paid with his life because he had guarded Jewish property, including ours, in his house. Someone turned him in, he was horribly tortured but never revealed the names of the Jews he helped. He died in the Gestapo in Vileika while he was being interrogated.
On 20 September 1942, the last "Aktion"
For all of us, adults and children, it was clear that our fate was sealed and that we were going to be killed, and if we were lucky, it would be a quick death. On 20 September 1942, the last "Aktion" started and with it, the end of the existence of the Jews in Kobilnick and in Mayadel.
All the Jews were forced into the community hall of the municipality (in Polish, the "Dom Ludowy") which stood next to the Catholic Church. They were told that they were going to be moved to the ghetto, supposedly. Some individuals were released, those who were needed to work in Myadel for the time being for the murderers. The windows and doors of the community hall were boarded up. For over 24 hours, the Jews were kept there crowded, hungry and afraid.
Among the Jews, there was a popular seamstress who was forced to sew for the local government workers. Out of curiosity, one of her clients came to the community hall and remembered that the seamstress hadn’t finished sewing her dress. She demanded that the seamstress be freed in order to finish sewing the dress. The seamstress refused to be released without her husband and children. The dress was so important for the client of influence that she got the seamstress and her family freed. The seamstress was my mother!
The other Jews of the shtetl, approximately 120 in all, including the elderly, women and children, walked down this terrible path, the road of death, that led from the community hall to this mass gravesite, where they were mercilessly shot. The friends of my youth, relatives, neighbors, including Yaakov Yonovsky, together with his children and grandchildren, all walked down this frightful road.
Our own personal "miracle"
Each one of us, the few who survived, has their own personal "miracle". I would like to emphasize that some of us are alive thanks to the help of the local citizens who put their own lives in danger and hid Jews. Among these were: Joseph Tunkevitz, Adolf Zhelubovsky, and Jan Valaji. To our joy, the latter is still alive and is here with us today. All the three were recognized by Yad Vashem as "one of the righteous of the Nations". We will always remember their noble deeds. Some others of us were able to escape to the forest and exist there under indescribable conditions until release by the Soviet Army in 1944.
My family was among those which succeeded to escape to the forest, while my mother carried my one-year old younger brother, Zundel in her arms. Today, Zundel is 51, an architect who lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three children. Zundel is also here today.
The Jews in the forest
Once again, I would like to mention some of all those wonderful people who helped the Jews in the forest under the frightful conditions by giving them the little food that they managed to get. I especially mention Pyoter Rolitch and his family from the village Nanosy, and the Talajeka family from Kolodino. But, there were also many others. All of them will be in our hearts forever.
Some of the survivors fought with partisans, among them was Meir Chadash, Herzl Gordon, Chaim Shteingart, Feretz Kropsky, Avraham Chadash, Heshl Krukov and Chaim Gilman. Heshl fell in a battle in the forest. Chaim Gilman fell on the front in the battle for Koenigsburg (Kaliningrad today).
After the war
Shortly after the war, we left these places in our search for a place of refuge in other countries. Many of us found this in our historical homeland, Israel, where we live since the new Israel was founded. We live there with our families, raised our children and grandchildren, there we rebuilt our lives anew.
And here we are before you, representatives of the survivors of Kobylnik. We established the ties that were severed 50 years ago. Two years ago, we first visited you after all those years. Since then, we restored the old Jewish cemetery and the mass gravesite, the place we are gathered for a memorial and assembly.
These places will be memorials from now on, witnesses to our history here, ours and yours.
On this memorial day, a day of sadness and loss, I would like to wish the citizens of Kobylnik and all the other good people on this earth, that:
The terrible tragedy of the Jewish people will never be repeated for anyone else in the world.
Our tragedy must serve as a lesson for all mankind to remember. No nation should lift sword against another and there shall be no more war. Everyone should have the tolerance and understanding that each individual has the right to be different, to live as they wish and to believe in their God according to their understanding.
My request for you and for all citizens of Kobylnik, is to keep watch over this memorial and the graves of our predecessors. I would like to propose that the 21st of September also be a day of loss and memorial for you.
One has to know the past even if it causes pain and anguish.
An eternal memorial for all the murdered who are buried here.
I wish you, and your descendants, all the best and much happiness on this earth.