Translated by Shoshana Stiftel
Posted with permission of Yad Vashem
Those wishing to cite this material must get permission from Yad Vashem as well as the translator
The Witness: Liber LOSH, born in Szczuczyn, lived in Israel, passed away in 1998. He was devoted to the memorial activity of Szczuczyn Jews and one of the founders of the Szczuczyn organization in Israel
The first patrol groups of the German Army entered the town on
Thursday, June 26, 1941. They immediately took community dignitaries hostage,
keeping them for a few days and then releasing them. They immediately started
to organize the local authorities and local police. The local citizenry
and the Polish intelligentsia mostly voluntarily joined the police.
Selected as Chief of Police was a Polish former construction worker named Kocut. The Polish mayor continued on, serving well his new bosses. Despite this, the Germans killed him after a while. We do not know why.
The German Headquarters, consisting of about fifteen men, was on the grounds of the local landowner's mansion. Together with the local police, they ruled Szczuczyn.
1. The First Victim: the first victim in our town was a young
Jew, once active in the Communist Party--"Der Naier Nagid." The Germans
hanged him the market place.
2. Nomination of the Judenrat and the Jewish Police: In the first days after their entrance, the Germans appointed the Judenrat. As the head, they placed a Mendel PORECKI, a Jewish refugee from Danzig, who spoke very good German. He arrived in town in September1939, immediately after the war started. Other members of the Judenrat were Itshe-Mendel LEVIN, Zusel LEVIT, Hershel MARSHINSKI, and Chaim-Leib LIDSKI.
The Judenrat was placed in the FURMAN house on Grodno Street. Its function was to fulfill German orders very punctually and to bring the German all the "kontributzia" (tax per person), which gave the Germans money, clothes, and jewelry and a free supply of Jewish workers. The Jewish police, headed by Rafael (Rafie) FRIEDMAN, helped the Judenrat. The policemen were Alter RATMAN, Simcha MARSHINSKI, and Ahron KAMENICKI. The police were housed in the old Ratman building.
The First Persecutions: The first order of the Germans was that every Jew must wear a Yellow Magen David. Jews were not allowed to trade in the market. Jews were not allowed to have any connection with the Christian population. Jews were not allowed to come and go from the town. A curfew was imposed for Jews to be on the streets.
At the beginning, the Jews were not strict with the orders. They made a living, though dangerous, by exchanging clothes and articles for bread and food with the peasants from the villages and the townspeople. In the beginning, the non-Jews had no special hatred for the Jews. There were even cases of aid and sympathy.
The Jews still lived in their homes and became accustomed to the situation, saying, "The devil is not so bad." They survived on illusions and rumors of the Russians returning. They thought they would see the fall of the Germans. Such was the situation until December 1941.
3. The First Slaughter in the Palace: One day, the local headquarters Germans aided by the Polish police, gathered forty Jews, who worked in the palace, and murdered them. In various places in the palace grounds, they shot and buried the Jews there. They would not give the bodies to the Judenrat. Among those killed were Herzl MEDLINSKI, Leibl LOSH, Gutka the coachman, JANCZUK, and others.
Those killed were a random chance. Already, before this terrible slaughter, there were rumors about slaughters in nearby towns but the Szczuczyn Jews believe that these resulted from the Jews not promptly fulfilling the Germans' dragon-like orders. They could not imagine that the Germans were capable of killing people for no reason and without provocation. Thus, they believed that fulfilling the German orders would save them. The December 1941 slaughter disabused them of their illusions. They finally felt and understood the Germans' capacity.
4. Organizing the Ghetto in Szczuczyn: At the end of December 1941, the Germans ordered Jews into a ghetto. They were allowed to take their possessions with them. No border or fence defined the exact boundary of the ghetto. Orders about not leaving the ghetto were not enforced strictly. The ghetto was on the left side of Grodno Street. The Polish police took bribes so they looked away from the comings and goings of the ghetto. Once the ghetto was established, Jews from Rozanka, Belitsa and other nearby towns were brought to Szczuczyn and accepted with open arms.
5. The Slaughter of the Jewish Intelligentsia and the Rabbis: One morning, the Germans ordered the community's rabbi and shokhets, teachers and melamdim with the families to the Police Station. They all came--ten families with about fifty people. The police handed them over immediately to the Nazis. That day, they were taken about seven to eight kilometers to the village of Tofilishki and murdered. They included the rabbi, the shokhets, the teachers CHOMSKI and BATZEK, the teacher ZAMUDSKY, who taught two generations of the town's pupils. Merchants were killed also.
The only survivor of this massacre was the shokhet, Abramski. He told us that after they were brought to the village, they were told to lie face down in the earth. Then, the Germans shot guns and machine-guns. He was only grazed. After the Germans left the dead to bleed, he recovered from the shock. He saw his family and acquaintances all dead. He crawled out slowly, running back to town. With great effort, he reached the door of a peasant, who took him in and cared for him, washing him and changing his clothes. Late that night, he returned to the ghetto, telling everyone about the day's occurrence.
Later, he wrote the entire story for future generations. Unfortunately, he was later killed on the day of the great massacre of May 9. He tried escaping when the people marched to their death. The Germans killed him. His notes were lost with him.
The murder of the ten families filled the ghetto inhabitants' hearts with great fear. During the weeks and months that followed, their nights were restless, but without movement.
6. Life in the Ghetto: Constant fear filled the everyday life in the ghetto. Here and there were murders of individual or groups of Jews. The men worked for the Germans on the palace grounds, in the Rozanka train station, and in the service of German collaborators. At the train station, they loaded wood on the train. The Germans and Polish police worked them cruelly. From time to time, the Germans demanded money, boots and clothing for themselves, the police, and the mayor. The Judenrat met their demands, each one promised as the last.
The Judenrat had other work beside these demands. They kept order in the ghetto. They were people of true goodwill despite being chosen for that contemptuous job. Not only did the Jewish police not harass the ghetto inhabitants, they tried to help.
In the winter of 1941-1942 most of the ghetto population starved, particularly those expelled from nearby towns. Israel ZLOCZOWSKY from Belitsa proposed to the Germans that he organize a public kitchen for soup for the needy. An organized committee included Israel ZLOCZOWSKY, FREEDMAN the hat-maker, Sholom WYTECKI, and Mrs. LESNIK from the bakery. From every house, they collected the daily German break tickets (200 grams) to exchange for flour and buckwheat. This way they eased the hunger in the ghetto. They also organized the doctors for medical care of those in the ghetto.
And to the killing. . .
Once the Germans looked for the town's insane, who walked the streets. Fearing he was about to be killed, one's sanity returned. He began shouting at the Germans, "And who will kill you? Who will kill you?…"
The Germans killed Betzalel, grandson of Chaim-Josef of the Judenrat, and Dwora KAPLAN from Belitsa, who left small children.
A Jew from Rozanka worked for the Judenrat, helping people from his town with goods and clothes. A Christian informed the Germans about him. He was killed in the middle of the street. Everyday brought new victims.
Once, an explosion of hand-grenades at the airport killed Jewish boys who worked there. Because of a brief water shortage at the German quarters, Jews were killed. One Friday in February, the Germans came to the ghetto ostensibly to check sanitary conditions. They killed nine women and nine men: David ZLOCZOWSKY, Feigl MAKEL from Belitsa, Chaim-Josef KOPELMAN and his son Betzalel, Jankel the builder, and others. On Shabbat evening, the Jewish police brought two wheelbarrows in which to place the bodies to take to the cemetery. The earth was frozen. They bodies were left there until the next day. All night, snow fell. Relatives were not all allowed to participate in the burial.
Shlomo BUTRYMOWICZ from Szczuczyn worked on the farm of a Polish peasant named Adamczyk to whom he gave all his possessions, including a cow. Daily, he brought milk to the ghetto for those who were ill. A maid working on the farm informed the Germans of Shlomo's activities. They ordered him, with his wife Tzvia to come to headquarters where they were killed immediately. That night, the Polish police came demanding their children, too. Neighbors summoned Chaim-Leib LIDSKI from the Judenrat to save the children, a boy of four and a girl of six. Lidski hid the children and said, "I will save them and give myself instead." The next day, the Germans killed the KOPELMAN family--man, wife, and two daughters. A son working in Rozanka survived. Still the police demanded the KOPELMAN and BUTRYMOWICZ children. Three Jewish policemen brought them to the Germans. They were sent away but summoned again after a few hours. Then, the Germans killed one of the policemen, two BUTRYMOWICZ children, and the KOPELMAN's son with his wife. The little BUTRYMOWICZ children later were found in the garbage can of the police yard, embracing one another.
7. Children in the Ghetto: Children's lives in the ghetto was particularly hard. Parents had to leave them alone all day. The little ones gathered in one house to play but wondered always what was going on outside, ever vigilant for danger. Older children assisted in food scavenging.
8. Religious Life in the Ghetto: Few minyans for prayer existed. Despite being forbidden to pray by the Germans, Jews gathered secretly three times a day for prayer. Until the last day, such a minyan occurred in the KOPELMAN home, directed by Rabbi LOSH and the old miller from Vasilishok.
9. The Last Slaughter on 9 May 1942: Rumors circulated about mass slaughters in nearby towns -- Slonim, Nowogrodek. The people felt the Nazi rope tightening yet the "optimists" believed that the Germans in Szczuczyn were "good" because they were bribable. This they took as a good sign. Ghetto inhabitants fooled themselves and did not lose hope until May 1942. On 7 May, the Germans issued an order forbidding Jews from leaving the ghetto. They ordered the Judenrat to collect gold, silver, and valuables to deliver to the market. The ghetto was surrounded.
On May 8, the Jews saw the German bringing peasants from the surrounding villages with picks and shovels. They headed in the direction of the cemetery. The ghetto knew they were digging pits. Polish police patrolled the ghetto. The Jews still did not grasp the danger. Not one escaped.
On Shabbat morning (May 9), the Germans ordered the Judenrat to gather all the Jews, who were to leave their homes open and proceed with the families to the Beth Hamidrash. They did. By the synagogue waited Stabs-Leiter Windisch and the Pole Wasiukiewicz from the Gebiets-Kommissariat in Lida. Police Kommandant Kocut and the town's mayor accompanied them with about twenty-five S.D. soldiers. The Jews were forced to march before these murderers, who separated them into two groups. To the right were those who remained alive. To the left were those destined to die. The murderers said that most of the Jews would remain in Szczuczyn with the rest going to Lida to work.
Meanwhile, people from both groups began to mingle. To the left were some doctors and Judenrat men. Jews from the group on the right decided to join them. They also died. Immediately after the selection, the group of five hundred men was removed to another street. They were forced to lie with facedown, guarded by the Polish police.
Then, some Germans on motorcycles started shooting people who stood there, about two thousand and fifty people. Many died there. Some who still lived were taken to the airport in front of the cemetery where the ready pits waited. Christians who witnessed this terrible event (not one Jew survived this [except two small children]) told that the Jews, in small groups, were forced to remove their clothes and step into the pits. There, they were murdered with machine guns, pistols, and grenades. The dead were covered with chlorine. Then, the next group was brought. The S.D. Germans did this horrible murder themselves. The Polish police watched to prevent escapees.
Those destined to "live" were taken around the town to the market where they sat for long hours under the watchful eyes of the Polish police. They heard the shooting for the slaughter field. Two Jewish children about four or five, who had hidden, came out and slowly approached the Jews sitting in the market. The Police chief Kocut gently took them by the hand and led them straight to the pits.
At 5:00 p.m. came Shtabs-Leiter Windisch to give a short speech: "The Jews of Lida stole weapons from the Germans. As punishment, the German government exterminated all non-useful Jews. If you remained alive, you must fulfill all the German rules and work diligently to stay alive…" Following this sadistic speech, he asked quietly, "Is there a barber? We want to be shaved."
During his shave at the Polish police building, Windisch said to the barber, who held a razor in his hand, "You now have the opportunity to avenge the death of your dead brothers." The Jew did not take revenge.
The next day, after the slaughter, Israel ZLOCZOWSKY visited the mass grave. He saw the cracked earth, spongy with blood. Here and there, hands protruded from the earth. Not far from the pits, he saw MARSZYNSKY's wife lying dead, her baby with its mouth to the mother's nipple. The child died suckling. He returned to the ghetto, telling the Judenrat of what he saw. They went to the mayor for permission to bury the dead still lying in the streets of the town. Permission was granted. All the sainted were buried in the cemetery. The mass grave was covered with earth.
Meanwhile, two survivors of the slaughter, two children, Golda BUTRYMOWICZ and Semach, the son of Leib LIDSKY's brother, appeared. Golda was injured during the shooting. Semach managed to hide. The mayor demanded that they be brought to the German headquarters. Chaim-Leib Lidski wanted to hide the children whom he was sure would be killed. The mayor then demanded two replacements. Lidski decided to bring his mother and wanted ZLOCZOWSKY to bring his sister. He refused. The, the two went to the Mayor, asking for mercy. After lengthy begging, they obtained the mayor's permission providing the children did not appear on the ghetto list of five hundred inhabitants. Golda survived the war and lives in Israel. [She also testified.] Semach was killed later.
10. Ghetto Life after the Slaughter: After the slaughter, the Jews returned to the ghetto, now only one street, Platowa Street. They were allowed their own things as well of those of the others, now dead. The reorganized Judenrat head was now Chaim-Leib LIDSKY with MARSHINSKY and LISTOVSKY. The employment bureau head was SOSNOWICZ. Israel ZLOCZOWSKY again managed the public kitchen. The Germans promised no more killings if the Jews devoted themselves to work and fulfilling German orders.
Survivors from slaughters in other Jewish communities like Vasilishok, Zaludok, and Radun arrived at the Szczuczyn ghetto. From Radun came thirty orphans, who were taken in by different ghetto inhabitants. An underground school organized. ZLOCZOWSKY got four horses and a wagon to remove ghetto garbage. Jews sowed vegetables in gardens for the public kitchen. After a bribe and clothing, the Zonderfuhrer [commander of the Nazis] agreed to allow Jews to harvest their field in Kolonia, bringing more food to the ghetto. Men toiled in TODT work camps in Belitsa, Oshmiany and Borisov. The ghetto sent them food and clothes. To improve sanitation, a bathhouse was built where survivors found temporary shelter after escaping the "Third Reich" in Prussia where a new constitution mistreated Jews. ZLOCZOWSKY organized prayers in the former bet-midrash houses, now workshops. The Jews laboring there prayed three times a day.
One day, the Germans ordered men up to a certain age to work in Lida. ZLOCZOWSKY went also. LIDSKY and the Judenrat wanted to bribe the Germans to keep ZLOCZOWSKY in Szczuczyn because only he knew how to manage the public kitchen. Nothing helped. He was taken away. All the children accompanied him to Lida. ZLOCZOWSKY managed to escape the Lida work camp with his son. They joined the partisans. He brought the rest of his family to the forest. They all now live in Israel.
11. Szczuzcyn Without Jews: In the summer of 1943, all Jews were moved to Lida, living in the Merchant House building. On 17 September 1943, all Jews were loaded onto cattle trains, brought to Maidanek and killed.
The Partisans of Szczuczyn:
The younger, healthy people were taken to forced-labor camps of TODT in Lida, Oshmiany, and Borisov. Nothing is known about, nor were there any survivors, from the last two. A few survived the camp at Lida. This camp was located in the prison building. From the beginning, some of Szcuzcyn's young men decided to escape at the first opportunity. The greatest problem was obtaining a weapon. They knew they could not survive in the forest without a weapon. Weapons were safety. With one, you could obtain food from the peasants.
For a huge sum, Yakov MAZOWIECKI succeeded in buying a cut barrel gun (Otriazanka) from a peasant. He hid it in a nearby stable. Shneider tried to get a weapon without success. The Lida and Szczuczyn folk feared the unfamiliar forest so they took a guide from the area. At the time, they had not heard about the partisans in the forest. They mainly planned to hide there.
MAZOWIECKI and six or seven other men decided to go to the forest. One from Voronova knew the area well and acted as guide. Daily, fewer men were prepared to go. Early in December 1942, only four men went to the forest. They planned to dig a lodge in which to hide. They went out at night in search of food from peasants. They only had the otrizanka as a weapon.
After reaching a few kilometers from the Lida ghetto, the groups suddenly experience the freedom of a world without Germans or wire fences. They felt safe and headed for Voronovo. At the first village, they forced a peasant with a coach and horse to take them about ten kilometers, then let him go. In the next village, they committed a great error. To repeat the same act as before, they choose one of the first houses instead of going to a peasant living at the end of the village. Suddenly, shooting came from all directions. MAZOWIECKI jumped into the bushes to hide, hearing peasant on horseback searching for him. Luckily, they did not find him. When everything was quiet, he ran away quickly. He did not see his friend. One was dead. The peasants took the other two to the Germans. Thus, tragically ended the first day of freedom.
MAZOWIECKI's prospects were poor. He was twenty kilometers from Lida, alone in a hostile and unknown area and without a weapon, food, or clothes. The long, cold dark winter night began. He despaired. He did not want to return to the ghetto but could not stay where he was. He wandered aimlessly until he saw the light of a lonely hut. He knocked on the door. An unknown peasant admitted him. Yakov told his story. The kindly man treated him to bread, wine, and meat.
The peasant told Yakov that he knew what it is to be a refugee. He was a Polish settler when the Soviets came. They wanted to send him to Siberia. He hid in the forest for two years until the Germans came. He advised Yakov not to return to the ghetto but to hide nearby. He said he knew that there are bad Christians ["people-wolves"] but there are also good stories. He gave Yakov the names of some good people and recommended that he contact them. He said to dig a lodge in the meantime and sit there during the day. At night, he will come with people to help.
The first night, he spent in the peasant's hut. Early the next morning, Yakov left with bread and meat in his bag. He asked the peasant to help him find the partisans. He said that they kill Jews and told him of a Jew in a group of partisans. The Jews was very religious and prayed daily. The others scorned him. One night, the Jew was on watch. He killed a Russian partisan and ran away. In the morning the partisans searched but could not find him. They were very angry and since then had killed every Jew they met. Despite this story, Yakov was determined to meet the partisans. At midnight, the peasant's son accompanied him to search but they found no one.
After the son left, MAZOWIECKI was alone in the dark. After a while, he saw a house with lights and an armed man in the entrance. He approached the partisan, identifying himself as a Jew running from the Lida ghetto. The watchman admitted him. Inside, four or five men drank heavily. First, they filled a big cup with liquor, forcing him to drink it. Yakov never drank in his life but understood that this first impression would decide his fate. He drank the drink in our draught. One man inquired if he knew that they killed Jews. He answered that he had heard about the Jew who killed the Russian partisan but that every nation had traitors and bad people. Then, he told them about his experiences in the Szczuczyn and Lida ghettos. If it was his fate to die, let it be in a fight against the Germans because his only hope of revenge was killing the German murderers.
He felt their suspicion melt. They asked if he could handle a weapon. He said he could.
Then, they asked him to translate a Polish underground pamphlet into Russian for them. Though bleary from the liquor, he did it, receiving a compliment for his scholarship. They took him into their hut. He became a partisan.
This group of eight partisans, ex-officers of the Red Army, hid from the first day of the Nazi occupation. They robbed. They drank. They wandered from place or place. They wore half-uniform, half civvies. They were well armed, with a commander named WOLKA. Though they treated MAZOWIECKI well, he did not trust them for days. On the fifth day, he received an automatic with ten bullets. This signified his acceptance by the group. They wandered, participating in weddings, having a good time. They took women in different villages. More Russian partisans joined them.
The First Fight: One day, half drunk in a woods about ten to fifteen kilometers from the town of Granioni [?], suddenly one rose and said, "Comrades, we sit here as gluttons and drunkards while our army is bleeding. We are now strong enough to fight the Germans. We are all young and capable. There is no excuse for us to sit and do nothing. We have to do everything to help our army defeat the Nazi enemy. This is our holy obligation. We have to purify our homeland from the Nazi swarm. We all stand up and fight!"
Everyone agreed with him of course. They decided immediately to attack the police station in the town. A detailed plan drew over the next two days. Everyone had a mission and knew his role. Mazowiecki was appointed to activate their one machine gun. The sudden and unexpected attack succeeded. The stormed the police building, killed every police policeman. In the short fight, spoils were taken and the building burned. Returning to the forest, they killed a Polish ex-senator collaborating with the Nazis. The attack greatly impressed the local population who spread a story about hundreds of partisans who really were only fifteen.
This group formed the foundation of Iskra Squadron [literally "spark" in Russian], part of the Kirov Brigade active near Lida. Yakov MAZOWIECKI participated with his squadron in many battles and sabotage in which eighty Jews and non-Jews died. Meanwhile, more and more Jewish refugees from Lida ghetto and other surrounding ghettos joined them. Despite the typical Russian anti-Semitism, the Russian partisans appreciated them. They repeatedly requested permission to recruit in the Lida ghetto. Finally, with permission, they had a specially printed pamphlet calling ghetto youth to the forest to avenge the death of their brothers. In January 1943, Mazowiecki went to the Lida ghetto, meeting many young men. Few followed him to the forest. The majority made excuses, waiting for a Spring that never came.
In all Byelorussia, Jewish partisans survived fighting in small independent units. Their aim was to kill Nazi collaborators and to murder informers in the local population. This was their revenge. MAZOWIECKI fought with the partisans until liberation in June 1944. Once he gave his machine gun to a Russian friend. The commander accused him of losing it. Execution was imminent for such a crime. He escaped, hiding with BIELSKI's squadron until his Russian friend verified what had happened. MAZOWIECKI was a very good machine-gunner, participated in many battles and was very popular. He saved many Jews from the Lida Ghetto.
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