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The Holocaust in Radoshkovichi, Ilya, and Kurenets

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  • rosen20817@AOL.COM
    Shimon Zimmerman: the day the war started in Gordno 1941 posted on: http://www.eilatgordinlevitan.com/kurenets/k_pages/stories_zimmerman.html So in the heat of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 7, 2000
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      Shimon Zimmerman: the day the war started in Gordno 1941
      posted on:

      So in the heat of the afternoon of June 24 1941, I stood shocked and confused
      after my first meeting with the Germans. I was 20-km from Radeshkovitz. The
      town where the poet Mordechai Tzvi Maneh, who I admired so, was born.

      Before I was let go by the Germans, I was sure this was my end; just thinking
      about it brought tears to my eyes. I was an only son and could imagine what
      my parents were going through. My girlfriend, Riva and my parents would have
      never known where I was buriedÉ The sound of what turned out to be two German
      planes chasing a huge Soviet plane brought me back to reality. I saw them hit
      the plane and tons of papers and maps dropped from the sky. The Russian pilot
      parachuted not far from me. I just lay there frozen with fear. A few minutes
      later pastoral quietness took over. I first stood, and then ran, not knowing
      where to go. Not far from there, I saw a little farmhouse. I knocked. The
      farmer was scared to let me in, but he gave me a piece of bread and cucumber
      and showed me the way to Ilya, a town where my uncle lived.

      When I arrived in Ilya, I learned the Germans had not entered yet. At the
      Soviet headquarters of war, I saw many armed soldiers. A policeman hung
      warnings on the street that two people had been executed for stealing
      something from a factory. At my uncle's home, there were a few Jews,
      merchants and businessmen during the time of the Polish control, and they
      were happy about the defeat of the Red Army! I was shocked and couldn't
      understand. Despite their knowledge of Hitler's views of the Jews, Jewish
      people were sitting so content, not even considering what was to come. The
      poor people truly believed nothing would happen to them, that they would

      At dawn, the German army approached Ilya, marching in the direction of
      Dolhinov. With help of relatives, I left Ilya for Kurenitz. The Germans
      entered Ilya. I immediately crossed the river Vilya at a hidden place and
      took the forest way to continue. I saw the Red Army taking groups of
      prisoners from Vileyka, handcuffed with barbed wire. The family members were
      chasing after the prisoners. I couldn't explain to the families that 20-km
      away the Germans were approaching.

      My legs were cramped and full of cuts from walking barefoot. I arrived to
      Kurenitz. Across from the train tracks on Costa, I saw Dishka, daughter of
      Zalman Mendel, strolling around with a basket in her hand collecting
      mushrooms in the forest. When she saw me, she threw her basket in the air and
      ran to my parents to let them know I was alive. A few minutes later, my
      parents and girlfriend came running to kiss me. For a moment we forgot the
      impending madness all around us.

      My time in Kurenitz

      On the 25th of June, 1941, the Germans hadn't arrived in Kurenitz yet. The
      Russian authorities left, and the town that was almost exclusively Jewish,
      was left without official control. The goyim farmers from the town's
      neighboring villages started coming toward the town with horses and buggies.
      Their aim was to take all the supplies that was left from the Soviet times.
      All the hooligans, criminals, and Jew haters lifted their heads with pride
      and newfound presence. One of the Christians from the town organized with the
      help of the Jews a line of defense for the Jewish homes. A group of Jews,
      amongst them, my two cousins named Shimon Zimerman had a watch patrol, and
      everyone armed themselves (in other shtetls the Jews were rubbed out as soon
      as the Russians left). When the Germans came to town and saw my two cousins
      they killed them. Only a few days later, we found out about it and gave them
      a Jewish burial.

      Shock and fear spread among the Jews, and they locked themselves in their
      homes. Two days after their arrival, the Germans collected all the Jewish men
      from 16 to 60 in the center of town. The German commandant said that all Jews
      had to wear a yellow star, everyday they had to participate in forced labor
      and make themselves useful, they couldn't walk on the sidewalk, only in the
      center of the road like horses, they couldn't gather more than three at any
      time, and they were only allowed out during certain hours. They had to choose
      Jewish representatives (judenrat) and they had to obey the judenrat's orders.

      We didn't want to believe that this was the beginning of the end of Kurenitz
      as the end of the rest of the Jews in eastern Europe. The Germans' first step
      was taking away all our rights not only as citizens, but as human beings. Our
      self-respect was walked all over. We were demeaned and humiliated in front of
      our friends and neighbors. Gentiles that were once our friends stopped
      talking to as if they never knew us. The shame and lack of control over our
      own lives made some of us not want to live anymore. Every month a new group
      of Jews would be executed; the first group for being communist, the second
      for being loyal to the Polish ways of old. But still people held on to hope,
      thinking of miracles that would keep them alive. People became very
      religious. On a regular basis the rabbi would announce another fast. We
      simply didn't want to believe that a cultural nation like the Germans could
      be so cruel and insane. When rumors spread about the annihilation of
      neighboring Jewish communities, many refused to listen. People refused to
      believe that all the males of the neighboring town of Vileyka, only 7 km from
      Kurenitz, were executed on the second week of the Germans arrival. People of
      our town sent them food and clothing, The Christian merchants pretended they
      were still alive so their relatives and friends would continue buying and
      sending supplies. Only after the war ended we found out they were all buried
      next to the Vilya River.

      The judenrat on the one hand wanted to please the Germans and on the other
      had to encourage the Jews to comply with the rules. They thought that if the
      Jews made themselves useful, the Germans would keep them alive. But they
      didn't always do their jobs perfectly and favoritism was rampant.

      At the beginning, I worked with the prisoners of war; they were transferred
      through towns towards Germany and their situation was horrible. When they
      came to town they would sleep on the ground at a field that belonged to Chaim
      Zukovski (Zukovski was executed two months later with 54 Jews of Kurenitz -
      they were taken to the woods and dug their own grave and then were shot and
      thrown into them with their wives and children). Later on I worked in Luban
      farm and my last job was in the labor camp of Vilyeka as a carpenter even
      though I had never held a saw in my hand prior to the war. With the agreement
      of Shotz, the Jewish head of the camp, my girlfriend Riva got a job as a
      printer in the printing press in the same camp. She was put to work with a
      printing press so she could secretly send printing material to our Jewish
      friends who joined the resistance and were printing fliers telling the local
      residents not to support the Germans and to fight.

      For a few months I worked for Foster, the infamous head of the German army in
      the area. After every actzia (a planned action where the Jews would be
      systematically killed), he would come to me and say, "Today we annihilated
      the Jewish residence of the town of ___. I brought a few usable Jews, get
      them a job." (In 1958, I went to Germany to give a testimony against the Nazi
      criminal, he was then a successful industrialist from the Ruhan region, who
      excused his deeds by saying he was only following orders and that in the war
      with the underground he lost an eye. In spite of my testimony that made
      people cry he got a symbolic punishment because of his top-notch lawyers.)

      They escape to the woods

      Immediately after we heard that the Jews of Kurenitz were killed, on
      9-9-1942, we, the young people of the camp decided to escape to the forests.
      The plans were complicated and difficult to achieve: first the danger of
      crossing the train tracks that were watched constantly by the German patrols
      and then to cross the Vilya River and the German troops. And more importantly
      each of us had a difficult time leaving our relatives with no hope. We also
      were worried that if we escaped and saved ourselves the rest of the Jews in
      the camp would be killed, but we still decided to go. Since I knew well the
      roads in the forests, I was the head of the first escape unit. One Saturday
      afternoon the Germans gave us an order to go to the train station to take
      down the cargo. Marching in one straight line, wearing the yellow stars, we
      walked in the middle of the street in the direction of the train. We came
      through a checkpoint and one of the Germans asked us where we were going, I
      said, "to take the down the cargo." He hit me with his rifle and said, "That
      is the way Jews go to work? Run." We ran like crazy to the other side of the
      train tracks and minutes later we were in the forest. From far away we heard
      shots. But the night came and we knew the Germans would not search at night.
      After an hour we met up with the rest of the groups, and we started going
      deeper into the woods, hoping to meet the other escapees from the town along
      with the underground fighters.

      Just prior to dawn, when we exited the village of Viloci, we saw two Jews
      from Kurenitz who had just returned from a night mission to get food. They
      took us to the thickest part of the woods near Andrieky, where most of our
      shtetl's Jews who had managed to escape on the day of slaughter stayed. Also
      some of the underground fighters under Didia Vassia hid there. It was a
      morning in late autumn of the year 1942. The frost had already frozen the top
      layer of the earth, and it sent chilling shivers through our spines.

      In the woods there was total quiet. We saw a very depressing site. Sitting
      around little camp fires dressed in rags, sat families of escapees from the
      slaughter of Kurenitz. Their faces were black from thick smoke. Only their
      eyes were shining and it was hard to recognize them. I found out that a few
      days before my parents had fled to the east with a few other families. We
      came full of excitement, we succeeded, and we escaped from the German camp to
      freedom. Now we realized we must confront the difficulties of every moment's
      survival. The winter, the snow, and the cold were coming. The underground
      fighters were going to go east for the winter, and they would not take us.
      Where could we go? Where could we live? All around us we saw families with
      little children, old men and women, single survivors of entire families,
      people who saw the woods for the first time in their lives with no knowledge
      of the area. They go to find wood for the fire and can not find their way
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