Testimony of Shoshana Nachimowitz (Medlinski)

Yad Vashem testimony O.3/3956

translated from Yiddish by Artur Stiftel

[personal data edited for privacy reasons]
Members of family exterminated in WW2:
Father: Joseph Medlinski, killed in 9 of May 1942, in Szczuczyn.
Brother: Herzel Medlinski, killed in Szczuczyn at the end of 1941.
Sister: Hana Yelin (Medlinski), killed during the liquidation of the
Szczuczyn ghetto, in May 1942
Husband: Shmuel Gershoni, killed in Vilna, in July 1941

The testimony of Shoshana Nachimovitz

My name is Raizel Medlinski from Szczuczyn.I was born in 1908. I finished teacher`s seminary in Szczuczyn, in 1930. I
worked there the first four years, until 1934, as a teacher in a elementary school. Then, I was moved by the school board to Vilna were I worked from 1934 to the beginning of WW2 as a teacher in a "sabasovke"- School number 38 located on Shvartzevi street.

Question: Maybe you can give us some details about culture and social life in
-In Szczuczyn were living more than 1000 Jewish persons. When the town was promoted to a main town of the area, it began to grow larger. Until 1932, there were in the town two schools: an Yiddish school and a Hebrew school. But the schools faltered, because not enough children lived there. By an incident, we succeeded in creating parallel classes for Jewish children in a Polish school. Here, I worked these four years. It was a big school; and for the Jewish children we got separate parallel classes.

Q: How many prayer-houses (beth-midrash) did you have in the town?
-In the town was an old beth-midrash and a new beth-midrash and a beth-midrash for the lower class people. In those days, we had several rabbis. One of them was rabbi Chasman; the second one was rabbi Rabinovitz. There was also a folks-bank, a guest-house for homeless people, and a bath [mikvah].

Q: Were there also Jewish political parties?
There were political parties with Jewish ideology and Hebrew ideology with a constant battle between them, with sarcastic songs against each other. It was a joy.

Q: When did you marry (in what year)?
-I married Shmuel Gershoni in 1935; my daughter was born in March 1938. Her name is Batia.

Q: What happened to you and to your family in the beginning of WW2? I understand that you were then in Vilna. What did you do for the Lithuanians?
-For the Lithuanians, I worked in the same school. We had to pass examinations in the Lithuanian language. Until then, I had not heard a Lithuanian word in all my life. Now, we learned the language to get permission to work as teachers. The Lithuanians treated us well. We didn't have any special troubles with them. However, one thing I ought to say is that in those days instead of the Polish language, the official language of the country, the Jewish children learned in Yiddish. Besides, there was a request for the Lithuanian language. In such way, I worked until the beginning of the Russia-German war in 1941.

Q: What happened than to you and to your family?
-The summer before the beginning of the war we spent in a place near Vilna. My husband worked many years in a big mill located in Ponary, the Barancevisk mill. In the beginning of the war, he could have left Vilna together with the Red Army. We were near Vilna, in Czarny Bor, in a summerhouse. He didn't want to leave us. I remember that from the very first day when we came back he had a feeling that he is going to die soon. He looked at his new shoes and said: "What a pity, I will not use them." He had a misgiving that he is not going to live long and on 12 of July 1941, they killed him in the big action.

Q: Tell us how it happened?
--When the Germans began to separate Jewish families from the Lithuanians, they took about 500 men to the Bernardin Gardens; and from that day, we never saw them again. We heard afterward, that each man was forced to dig a grave
for himself, to lay in it; and they shot him. They killed all of them in this way. It was in Ponary.

Q: After they killed him what happened to you?
-When they killed him and we were left alone, we began to think what is going to happen to us now. New actions began in Vilna. The killing of people went on. Until the day came that they began to move people into the ghetto.   When we heard that another action was coming soon and all of us were going to the ghetto, I collected all that I had in home: jewelry, documents in a file and began to think what I was going to do with my little girl. Accidentally, the Poles from Czarny Bor, where I stayed came to see us, so I thought to myself maybe I will leave them all that I have and that they temporarily would take my girl and bring her up. But things went in a completely different way. When they came to take us to the ghetto, I ran away instinctively, in a nightgown and hid myself on the loft. Those who came to take us noticed that all the things were there, so they understood that I was hiding, but they didn't find me. I was under the roof. I heard my girl crying: "Mama! Mama!" She took my old mother-in-law by the hand and in this manner, the old woman with a young girl went alone to the ghetto.When I came out after, it was silent. The house was empty. I ran to the neighbor, a Lithuanian policemen. I told him that I wasn't home and asked him
to take me to the ghetto. I took a little package with some things from the house and went with him to the ghetto.  I began to look for my daughter and my mother-in-law. We were in the ghetto on the Ghaon Street, near the main gate. Real troubles began. There was no food to eat, but I was always a vigorous woman. I got a connection with Polish people, who sent me packages from the lofts tied to a rope.

Q: You could make a connection with Polish people?
-Maybe they found me. I don't remember exactly. Anyway, I got a few packages; and they believed that the account was closed with this. However, I thought all the time about how to escape from the ghetto. I had a connection with my pupils. I worked some time in the German barracks. In the end, I worked in a kitchen, full of food but I knew that it would not last a long time and that we must run away from there. One day when I came back from work, the gate was closed. They didn't let me
go into the ghetto. German solders were standing by the gate. I forced my way into the ghetto. I ran to my house, caught my little daughter and ran away. I saw stairs. I climbed up on the stairs to a loft and through this loft to another and another and another loft, a whole street of lofts. In the last loft, I lay down with my daughter.  We lay in the darkness. From a distance,
we heard shooting, They probably shot our brothers and sisters. Some time, I heard steps in the loft. I didn't know where I was exactly. Another day, when I lay with my daughter, a Polish man appeared. This was probably the doorkeeper of the building. They sent him to check and to report if Jews were left in the building. I told him that I was a teacher; and I worked not far
from there. He understood our situation and had pity on us. He went away; I didn't even notice when. He came back with some bread and milk. He told me that if I want to survive, I have to come to the same place and he will take us to a wide road. I learned that they used to put a ladder to the loft; and the corridor led to a tailor shop, where Jewish tailors worked for the

Q: Did you know the doorkeeper's family? Why was he so good to you?
-He simply pitied us. I went back to the ghetto early in the morning. I found my mother-in-law in the ghetto. She was an old woman; I couldn't escape together with her. I already thought of leaving the ghetto. Sunday, before the action, before the liquidation of the second ghetto, I went to the loft, keeping my daughter by hand, I knocked. The doorkeeper came and took us through the ladder to a wide street. I didn't have an exact plan but I wanted to go to Lipowka. I knew some people there. It was a suburb of Vilna. I knew a Polish woman there, who worked in my house. They received us in a friendly way. We spent a few weeks there, with my daughter, but the neighbors began to look and understand that Grisha is hiding a Jewish woman with a child. I had a feeling that we had stayed there long enough and had to leave the place.  One nice day, early in the morning, I took my girl and went to the town. I knew that our ghetto was already liquidated. Nobody survived. I didn't know what to do. When we walked through the wide street, we met the door-keeper who asked me: "What are you doing? I will have to take you straight to the militiamen!" At once, many strange men began to move around us. I ran away. I still didn't know what to do. My plan was to leave my daughter in an orphanage and escape Vilna. I went to Rase. A cloister was there, full of priests. A priest was coming toward me. I saw him for the first time in my life. I asked him who was in charge of the orphanage. He looked me straight in the eyes. He understood everything and said to me that he is an Lithuanian. They ask the names of the parents and if they decide that it is a Jewish child, they get rid of it. I spoke to him Polish and I told him that I am a teacher and he was a teacher too. He pitied us and took us to his room. I cry out there all the bitterness of my heart. He already planned how to save
me. He told me to come back in a few days. When I came back, he ask me what I want to be called. He probably kept stamps, so I got a birth certificate for me and my daughter. When I got the documents, I went back to Lipowka, to my Pole. People from the neighborhood used to visit him. One of them took my daughter and me to Wielkie Soleczniki (W. S.). We came to the goyernor. He already had the information from my Pole, that I am not entirely "kosher" in spite of speaking not bad the Polish and having Catholic papers. One must run the risk a little. We learned that the Goy didn't want to take a risk. He was afraid to loose his head.    He often declared that he can't keep me any more. He told me that not far from him, just a few kilometers away, is a big forest. In the forest lived a forester, a very good man. He would be able to hide me for some time. So I went to meet the forester. For the time being, I left my girl there, in W. S.  When I came to the forester, he told me that he could not take such a risk, but that not far from there, I don't remember how many kilometers, I could find a property named Umiastow with a very good priest and an orphanage. They would receive me there.  I came to Umiastow and found no priest living there. He lived in a town named Konwaliszki and had some influence of the orphanage. So, I went to the priest from Konwaliszki and told him all the truth about me, who I was and who gave me the papers. He took out a book with the addresses of all priests and saw that I was not lying. He wanted to help me. He went to the orphanage in Umiastow and asked the woman-master of the house to take me with the child into the property. However, the old woman turned out to be a very bad person and an anti-Semite. She didn't want to accept me in the house in any terms. It was Sunday. The priest received me very well with good food on the table. I don't remember his name, but the other priest, who provided me the papers, was named Olszewski . He used to pray in Ostrobrama.When the priest from Konwaliszki didn't obtain anything, I sat with him and asked for an advice on what to do next. We decided, both of us, that I had to visit Umiastow once again and beg the orphanage master to let us join the house. I went alone. I left the child behind. Her first question was: "Why did you come again? I already spoke to the priest. I can't except you. I don't have enough maintenance for the children." I told her: "Listen to me. You are still a religious woman, a Catholic. You go each time to the priest to confess and when you see a woman being drawn down, you don't want to help.
After a long discussion, after many ups and downs, she finally allowed me to stay the first few weeks in Konwaliszki. I took my daughter with me; and we stayed there three to four weeks. After that, I couldn't stay any longer in Konwaliszki. I got a connection with one teacher from the area, who advised me go to Dziewieniszki to find a teacher who was now a village head. His name was Kucharski. "Go to him; show him your documents; and ask him to book you in."  One morning, I went to Dziewieniszki. I didn't tell him the truth. I showed him the certificate of birth and he asked me about the other documents, but
he understood everything. He quoted the sentence of the Polish poet Slowacki: "Shall the living not loose hope." He took my document, went out to his office and told to his secretary Stieszka: "Take her document from the woman and book her on the list of our village. To Stieszka came many people from the area; and he applied to Kucharski, the head of the village in this words: "I will not do it! How do you know who the woman is? The head of the village answered nothing, opened the door in silence and stepped in into his office.The secretary booked me in temporarily in Umiastow. During the time, when I was in the property of Umiastow. I worked as a nurse, but most important, I didn't have to appear as a Jew. When Christmas came, I knew all the Christmas carols, which I learned years ago in the Polish teacher's seminary. I joined the Christmas carols with them. I used to sit with all the children, about 40 - 50 orphans, on my knees, together with my daughter, making the sign of a
cross, praying all the right prayers, and going to the church from time to time.  My daughter was exceptionally religious. She used to sit at night near the bed on her knees and pray all the prayers. One day two young and pretty girls came to visit us, Zosia and Wanda.  Zosia told Wanda not to say who she is. But when I looked at Wanda. I recognized her as one of my students from school, a Jewish girl, probably a member of Arkin family. They owned a bonbon factory in Vilna. She was a cousin to them.

Q: Did they recognize you?
-Wanda, of course couldn't tell that she doesn't know me. Silently, they used to say that a Jewish community grows up here. But from where came the girls? Kucharski knew all my secrets. The girls worked near Vilna, in place with an aerodrome; and one day a German said to them: "Dear children, run away from here. They are going to get rid of you. At the end of the war, I will know where to find you." They were young and pretty girls... Kucharski knew my secret; and he let them stay here for a while.
Meanwhile this event happened: a Polish woman, whose two sons were with us in Umiastow, informed Lida, that Kucharski employed Jews and she, the former wife of an officer, can't get a job there. Finally, came a complaint from Kucharski. They sent a German Commission to find the truth. When the Germans came, the girls hid themselves. I walked around with a plaid on the head. [sic] They didn't even pay attention that I am Jewish and went away.  After this, the girl couldn't stay with us one minute longer. The Polish woman who informed Lida was shot as a black market dealer. I can't find the girls to this day. They went to Lida. In 1943, when they changed our master, a Lithuanian came to replace her. This was a time when some Belarus regions
became a part of Lithuania. All the benefits went to the Lithuanians. Then, the Lithuanian government came and sent us a Lithuanian master. The old woman master knew all my secrets. She went to meet the priest who said: "Let her still stay here."
It seems that the priest did for others what he did for me, so they caught him and shot him. When I came in 1945 to find him, nobody already remembered him.

Q: What special experiences did you have in the orphanage?
- First of all, I had to be wary of everybody. Michael, the goy from the property, was drunk one day and shouted at me "zidovka." My daughter didn't know a word of Yiddish, which was my luck. If she spoke to the children in Yiddish, a disaster could happen. Another day, somebody arrived on a bicycle, looked on me and said: "Funny, aren't you by any chance a Semite?" I answered: "They don't exist here any more."    I used to meet Jews running away from the graves; and I had to pretend that I am not Jewish and I didn't care about these things. Anyway, compared with those who were in the ghettos and in the camps, I wouldn't say that, for us, it wasn't more difficult than for them. In the beginning of 1943 ,some organizations showed up, in particular in the region of Lida. In the place where I was, A. K. showed up. They were more dangerous than the Germans. From them were no secrets. Maybe only thanks to the fact that the priest was involved in my secret, I could survive. One cannot imagine another reason. They used to come by night, catch a Russian woman with 2-3 children and kill her and say: "We know everything exactly!" They used to draw out hidden Jews from every hole. It was a very dangerous time for us. I had a feeling that the earth is burning under my feet; and I wanted to run away from there.  But at this time, our master was still a Pole, Wolkowski. He told me: "Everybody knows everything about you here and nobody will hurt you. But the moment you will pass the gate you will be killed." This held me back and thanks to this, I could stand it. Sometimes, we had to hide in the fields and in the woods. I stood it until 1944, before the end of the war. I saw Vilna in flames. I was 65 kilometers from Vilna. It was a terrible fire. We saw a big part of Vilna houses burned out.  My daughter grew up there. There were little incidents. They used to call her "zidovka" (a nickname) and she answered: "Don't call me names." One day, there was a competition of who will dress first. She said something sounding like Yiddish and the children looked at one another. What kind of a word is this? Fortunately, the children didn't understand it and we came out without harm.

Q: Tell us how when the Russians came to you?
--We hid in the garden. My daughter was saying, she still can remember it, that we laid close one to another in case they shot us, they will kill us together. It was July 1944. When the Russians came, we learned that the Polish people didn't want them to come. They would like the Germans to come back better. They heard that near Grodno and Bialystok fighting was still going on, so they hoped that good times would come back for them.

Q: How it was with the Red Partisans?
- They used to meet in the woods, the Polish and the Russians. Shooting went on often. One thing was interesting to see. When the Russian army began to move forward, the Polish partisans tried to make the "swine kosher" and give the impression that they were together with the Russians. Obviously, our situation changed for the better.  When the power changed and the Russians came in, we had to think about ourselves and leave Umiastow. I went to see town and villages that I knew. I was in Szczuczyn. I didn't meet almost anyone. I wept. .... One Russian saw me and said: "Who is to be blamed? You don't know how to fight, how to defend yourselves and this is the result." The house, where generations lived before me, the father, the grandfather, the grandfather's father, all this was empty.

Q: Did you learn from somebody how the Jews from Szczuczyn were exterminated?
- I met a few Christians, one of them even was a friend from school. Sobol was his name. There was not much to tell. We knew everything. We knew that they got rid of all of them. It was very clear to us.

-Q: How long did you stay in Szczuczyn?
- One day, one and a half. Then, I went to Vilna. In Vilna, I began to think what to do. I had no document showing I was a teacher. So, I went to meet the head of the health department, Lazutko. He gave me a job as a master of a kindergarten. The war still went on.  When I got organized a little, I went to take my daughter. On my way, I met Stieszka, the one that showed such "lovely" hospitality to me. He was shivering from fear that I would inform on him to those who needed to know, but as usual, I had more important things to do.  I took the child and installed myself in Vilna. In 1945, walking on the Zawalna Street I met a well-known Jew. We were from the same branch. He was a little older from me. He used to visit us in Szczuczyn. His name is Aaron Nachimowicz. We got married. We lived in Vilna until 1957. In 1950, I found my documents and worked as a teacher. I was a regiment teacher. In those days, in each Republic was a national regiment. My job was to teach the Lithuanian soldiers a little bit of the Russian language. This lasted five years until a serious accident happened. When the Georgian Republic broke up, an uprising occurred in the national regiment. They demanded freedom. After that, all national regiments were closed; and Shoshana Nachimowicz became unemployed again. I didn't work for a few years. In 1957, we left. We lived in Poland, in Wroclaw, for three years. I didn't work there, but my husband kept a job. In 1960, we came here [Israel]. I didn't know the Hebrew language so I went to learn in a "ulpan". Now, I work as a teacher, already for ten years in a institution for children. My daughter married a lawyer and is living in Petach-Tikva. She has three children, two daughters and a son.

Q: She remembers still something from those days?
- Not much. She doesn't remember when the children used to shout: "Your  Mother died... You don't have a mother any more." To a six year-old child, it was a hard feeling, because they envied somebody who has a mother.

The testimony was taken and edited by J. Alperowicz.

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