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My Ravished Home
By Fayga Alperovitch daughter of Gitel and Mendel son of Yechezkel Alperovitz
Kurenitz my Beloved town: Only yesterday you were teeming with babies and old. You awoke at down brimming with excitement and slept with enervation at night. The ground of your allies and boulevards was not yet saturated with the blood of your beloved. Your little children, the children of Israel, played in your avenues. The tone of synagogue prayers vibrated in your fields, not the resonance of the last anguished cries of children, men and women underneath the striking axe.
I experienced all your horrors, and survived, and my heart is still firmly attached to you. Each day I will mourn and revisit the horror that could never be comprehended. Day after day, I would ask the inflamed question, Why? Day after day, I would be left with no answer. How can one describe and recount the tales of what had occurred for a period of three years, in the hearts of an entire community? What have transpired in the mind of man and women, young and old? How can one fatefully recite such enormity, when what occurs for one moment in ones soul is impossible for the inscribing hand to account?
A beautiful summer day arises in front of my eyes. It was during the first months of the occupation. We worked at the camp of the POWs on Dolhinov Street. Netka Rodantzki was shoved to the wall of Mishka Takontzik house, for their enjoyment they pointed their rifles at him. They pointed but did not shoot. They enjoyed watching his face pales, his legs shakes, his unconscious body drops to the ground. Nobody stopped them from killing him, however it was more pleasurable for them to torture him at that moment. We stood by and our hearts died from fear, but we could do nothing to save him…
Here I see you my brother Aharon. You came to me one day and your two eyes were one bleeding wound. All I could do was to secretly cry while putting towels saturated with cold water on your wound. You were returning from your work place, you were just done with cutting wood for your killers. On your way you met with the murderer Shernagovitz may his name be forgotten for eternity. He whipped you with his rod straight on your eyes. Again, he was free to kill you. Your blood was free for all, no judge or justice for you. Nevertheless, he took pleasure in seeing you squirm, he wished to humiliate you.
Another image rises in front of me. A clear winter day, the day of the thirteen- the thirteen martyrs who were murdered that day.-Yitzhak Zimerman was slaughtered in his home. he was studying the Torah when they arrived. The murderers passed by the homes that were designated by the Judenrat as wealthy. Homes were they would find valuables.
However, the true desire of the murderers was their souls. They entered Shmuel Zipilevitz home and shoved him to the corner when he fell on the floor, they took a wooden chair that belonged to Shmuel, and used it to crash his head…
On the carriage that stood by the home of Eetzi Chatzis (Charles Gelman's father), they put the victims belonging. Near the wall they arranged a line of Jews and shot them. From the window of the megistrat were I was forced to work as a servant, I watched the horrors in the market.
Your streets were empty my town, behind windows we diligently watched the approaching killers. We made sure that it was not we next. We slept in our clothes. Always ready to hear a message of catastrophe. Behind my room's window I watched our dear beloved rabbi, the towns' rabbi, rab Moshe- Aharon Feldman. They throw him on the market ground, his arms and legs were broken, and the hair of his beard was taken out. Where his eyes used to be, there were only empty holes now.
God o god, was our crime so heavy? Were our deeds so unforgivable?
------Another day comes to me, a day between Purim and Passover of 1942. The most hated; Sherganovitz and Sokolovsky were drunk. We paid a heavy tax with the blood of our beloved for their intoxicated condition. Thirty-two martyrs lied dead in front of the killers. They crashed people with axes and penetrated their bodies with knives. They started their murderous parade from Myadel Street. They killed the sister of Chaim- Yitzhak Zimmerman with her two children. They murdered David the shoemaker. Shifra Chadash and her daughter in-law, Frumka were killed. They killed the Minkovitz family. Eetzi Chatzis Zimmerman was murdered. Murdered, murdered, murdered.
Mina Spector the daughter of Eetzi Chatzis was killed, next to her on the snow in a red pool of her blood, laid her baby still alive. Her sister Ethel tried to run, but where was she to run? She was able to run to a street corner and that’s where they caught with her, and spilled her blood…
A true bastard grew in our town, Belizniyuk the son of the woman who was cleaning the slaughterhouse. Amongst all the bloodsuckers, the killers who spilled our blood, he was the very worst…
They told us that nothing belonged to us. Not our possessions or our toil not indeed our life. They were allowed to take anything they wished. If they let us survive another day, its not because we deserved it. Its only because they can suspend our killing for tomorrow, and in the min time they enjoyed torturing us, they loved seeing us poor, weak, miserable and humiliated.
On cold winter days they would go to all the Jewish homes and confiscate the little wood we prepared. It was not done because wood was difficult to obtain, Kurenitz sat at the edge of a forest, but their aim was not to use the wood for their furnaces. They wanted to see us shivering and freezing.
One cold winter night, at four in the morning I took five logs to warm my parents home. I took them from my work place at the magistrate, Belizniyuk, the policeman saw me. For unknown reason, he did not kill me on the spot. When I came home and told my family about Belzanyuk they started mourning me. Motoros, our town mayor promised to talk for me with Belizniyuk, to beg that lowest of human being to spare my life…
Days passed and a new fear spread in town. Early in that summer, the partisans assassinated Belizniyuk. He was killed in the village Tzavalitkass and his body was brought for burial in Kurenitz. The killer received a stately funeral. Two religious leaders eulogized and honored him. For us, the Jews of the town, it was a long, dark, torturous day. Not one living soul was seen walking down the street, many of us escaped to the fields fearing reprisals. Our entire family (including my brother Yosef's family, my sister Nacha and her husband Yakov- Lieb with their children) - hid in Nuvi Kurenets. We all feared that it would be the last day for the Jewish Kurenets. In the Yard that belonged to Yosef Zuckerman the killers found a headstone, they took it to be used for the slain murderer. (The first thing that Yosef did when he returned from the forest after we were liberated, was to remove the stone from the grave so future generations will never know the murderer burial place- how restrained was our revenge!)
The most horrible day is now ascending to vision, the day of the slaughter. In the town's building, behind a door, standing in the corner of a dark room, I hid the entire day. I heard the cries and the shouts of my Jewish sisters and brothers, the sounds of my beloved taken to be slaughtered. - The cries lasted the entire day, at night I left my hiding place. Stealthily I reached my parents home, I found none, not my mother or father or my brother Aharon. I checked all the hiding places we prepared, I found none, and finally my brother Yosef appeared from one of the hiding places. Together we ran to the forests…
Could I present details of our laborious journey from the town throughout the forests? Already on the first days, when I was left alone in the forest, (my brother was searching for food.) I met with a peck of hungry wolves. With the last of my might, I succeeded in climbing a tree. My entire body was scratched from the tree branches. The only dress that I had, a light summer dress was torn into shreds. Shreds embodying the mourning of our annihilated world.
For two months, we consistently moved throughout the forests of Hob and in the Pushtza. One "lucky" November day, we were able to reach the "Vostok".
One and a half years my brother Yosef and I, with many other Jews from Kurenitz, lived near Polotzchek, for some reason we called the area "the Vostok". My brother and I worked at the headquarters of the partisans, yosef was renown for his beautiful writing, and people with such abilities were hard to find.
The area was about eighty kilometers by eighty. The Russian partisans controlled the area. Seventeen months past in relative peace, we were all sure that we were going to survive the war. The Germans were losing, and retreating from Russia. May 1944, the Germans decided that in order of turning their withdrawal smoother, they would have to purge the partisan from their zone in the "Vostok". The partisans would otherwise combat them from the west, when they would retreat to the west, and the Red Army will fight them from the east. At first, they sent planes that would daily toss pamphlets. The pamphlets urged the local population to fight the soviets and to kill the Jews and then the Germans would not harm them.
they brought many army divisions to the area to fight the partisans.
In one of the most hopeless battles my brother Yosef, Artzik Dinerstien and I were wounded. We were all lying in the same spot, they were both very seriously wounded. my brother yosef was dying, with his last breaths he whispered to me; "Fayga don’t stay with me, go away, please let one of our family survive".
I told him that I refuse to leave him. Anyway I was also wounded, I just lied there amongst the wounded and the dead. At one point, when it turned dark, I fell asleep. One morning I woke up when someone was shaking me, I had no knowledge of how long I was there. When I opened my eyes, I realized that we were surrounded by Germans. A burning German tank was in the vicinity. They put me in a car with many other wounded, and they took us to the schoolyard in Asouatz. There they laid us on the ground. Amongst the wounded, there were many local residents and partisans. I soon realized that from here they were taking the wounded somewhere else.
My will to survive returned to me, I looked for a way to escape. I asked one of the German guards if I could search for my little child that was lying wounded not far from here. I told him that I wanted to die next to him. Since I was covered with blood he must have felt sorry for me and let me go. I walked and walked until I reached a bridge with a German checkpoint. They asked me where I was going, I told them that I am walking to my mother's house that is situated near by. They let me pass the bridge. Immediately I entered the forest, I walked deeper in until I reached the swamps, I lyed right next to the swamps and soon fell asleep.
I don’t know how long I was asleep in the swamps, I woke up feeling extremely hungry. I walked to a near by village and exchanged extra shirt I was wearing for seventeen slices of dry bread. Those seventeen slices sustained me for three weeks. The slices turned hard and stale and when I would brake them a little green smoke will disperse. Everyday I changed my sleeping location to ensure that no one could find me. The forest wildlife did not touch me, even they must have been scared when they looked at me… One night the forest was lit on fire and I had to escape to the fields.
Should I tell you some more intimate details of what had occurred to me during those eight weeks of horrors? Eight weeks of loneliness, deep depression, and lost of all human essence? Would awareness of the horrible details help people to comprehend the general picture? Would it help to know that at one time I was hiding underneath pile of hay and a farmer brought his sick horse to lye on top of the hay to spread concoction on his body?
One day my hiding place was detected by a Christian woman. When she saw me she became so scared that she started crossing herself. She told me to leave the forest, she said the Soviets were here. I begged her to have pity for me and to not give me to the Germans. I begged her to pity me so I could stay alive. She continued crossing herself and swearing that she was telling the truth.
I came to the village of that Christian woman, my body was covered with open infected abscess. I washed my body and I shaved my hair. I was as skinny as a finger.
On June 6 1944, I slept outdoors by the road. A Jewish officer of the Red army found me there. When the officer found out that I was Jewish he could not rest until he was able to transfer me to the Asouaz hospital. There my condition became critical, particularly when I ate some soup, after a long period of starvation. A decision was made to transfer me to a bigger, more modern hospital in Gorki. It took seven days to get to Gorki.
I was lying in my hospital bed in complete despair, a nurse came to me and said that the head of the hospital, a doctor, wants to see me. There was something important that he would like to discuss with me. I said;
"There is nothing to discuss, I just want to be left alone"
The nurse kept coming with the same request. One day I was told that the head doctor is the cousin of Rabbi Yakov Landau from Bnai Brak, rabbi Landau was born in Kurenitz and in my childhood, he was the Kurenitz rabbi as his father was before him. When the Doctor saw that my last name was Alperovich, he assumed that I was from Kurenitz. (Alperovich was probably originated in Kurenitz, almost a third of the Jewish population in Kurenitz was named Alperovich) the doctor could not find rest until I let him see me.
The Doctor was about sixty years old, he had a white moustache and his face had deeply spiritual statement. He treated me as if I was is only daughter. Anything I desired was brought to me. The best doctors were brought to take care of me, and the nurses were told to assist with my recovery. I was in the hospital in Gorki for three months. David Motosov's sisters, who lived in Gorki since world war one, would also come to visit.
I recovered but Kurenets was burning inside of me. The spilled blood was calling me and the urge of revenge was boiling in me. One day I received a letter from David Motosov, who had already reached Kurenets, asking me to join him there. I probably could have used some more rest, but I couldn’t wait; there was no rest for me. I said goodbye to the Motosov family. I also said goodbye to the dear lovely doctor, the head of the hospital. A nurse took me all the way to Moscow, and from there I left on my way to Kurenets.
On a cold, rainy October day, I returned to my hometown, Kurenets. I came through the road of mourning, Cosita Street. I came to my home to the hills of dust. I found the few survivors. The streets were filled with Gentiles, the bloodsuckers. They were fancily dressed with our clothes, breathing the air as if nothing had happened. How painful it was and how paltry was my revenge.
One day I stood at the house of Kashtuk, a Gentile from the village, Litwinki. He became rich from the stolen possessions of the Jews. I opened his cabinets. I broke the crystals. I screamed, shouted, and handed him to the NKVD (the Russian police), but I truly knew that this was not revenge. This was not reprisal.
One day I stood in Vileyka and saw them hang the limping policeman, the leech that could never have enough of the Jewish blood. They brought him from Gomel. The killer escaped all the way to Gomel. He was accepted to a Russian army band, accepted as entertainer. He was found out while playing music. I watched him die and begged that they would let me throw stones at him. Nevertheless, how diminutive was my revenge.
Daily I stood on your mammoth grave, my town Kurenets, knowing that the eradication could never be vindicated. There will never be equal restitution. Every day I'll call upon you in my heart and ask "why?" Likewise, day after day I will have no reply.
Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan, granddaughter of Bela bat Rachel and Aharon Shulman and Meir son of Frada nee Alperovich and Mordechai Gurevitch.