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The Spektor Family of Kurenets
I was born in Kurenets in
the Vileyka-Vilna area. At the time I was born it was part of Poland.
Kurenetes was a small town and most residents were pretty poor. The
majority were Jews that supported themselves with stores. There were
a few that worked in offices, in education, and social services. The
town was surrounded by villages where most of the population was of
Belarussian origin. The high officers and the authorities at the time
when I was growing up were Polish people who were sent from the western
part of Poland to run the place.
The Jews spoke amongst themselves
Yiddish and seldom Polish. The youth studied Hebrew and very much wanted
to live the Hebrew culture. The youth movements were very developed
and there was a strong attachment to the Land of Israel. Most of the
children studied in the Hebrew school, Tarbut, and were deeply ingrained
in the language and the Zionist ideology. Since the town was small,
almost everyone knew the entire population. A few words about the Cheres
family who Im writing about: I knew the parents very well as well
as the three daughters and Yehudah, the youngest and only soon. The
father, Shalom Cheres, who came from Dolhinov, was a simple Jew, very
honest and hard-working, and very dedicated to his family. He was a
glazier, and would use a horse and buggy to come to the different villages
to fix the windows and also to sell certain glass products. The family,
like most families in town, lived a modest life, but despite that, they
always seemed to be very happy. The older girls, Dvoshka (Dorothy) and
Itka, studied in the school Tarbut. My father (Nathan Spektor, ZL)
was a teacher of Torah in the school, as well as my older sister Esther
Spektor, who later on joined the staff at the Tarbut school. Hundreds
of children of the town were educated by here, but tragically, most
of them perished in the Holocaust, and she was amongst them.
The sleepy, relaxed sort
of life continued until the year 1939, when the war started, and even
then, after the Russians came, things didnt change much. But then,
when the Germans attacked Russia, our world was turned upside down.
Shortly after they entered the town, they announced new rules against
Jews, and from then on, they started systematically killing the population,
and many of the local, non-Jews became their collaborators. The main
actzia (killing) took place in 9/9/1942, three days before Rosh Hashanah.
On that day, about one thousand forty people were killed, which was
most of the population of Jewish Kurenets. More than a hundred people
succeeded in escaping and hiding in basements, attics, and some of them
were later caught by local farmers who brought them to the Nazis, who
killed them. Others escaped. Amongst them was the Cheres family, who
survived greatly because of the familiarity of Shalom Cheres with the
environs of the forest. They survived there for almost two years of
deprivation, living in a state of starvation and through two very cold
winters, hiding outdoors until the area was freed in the summer of 1944.
I, Deena, was amongst the
few who survived. I was in the camp in Vileyka with my sister Sarah,
my brother Koppel, and my brother Eliyau. Both of my brothers were strong
like lions, and since we were all in very good condition and able to
work any kind of job, the Germans used us for hard labor. From the ghetto,
we escaped with a few other Jews, although my brother, Koppel, was amongst
the leaders of the escape, and everything was prepared for an orderly
escape, things didnt turn out so, and we had to escape all of
a sudden. The Nazis and the locals who helped them ran after us, using
dogs, and they shot at as, killing many, including my brother and sister.
I was wounded but survived as the only remnant of my entire family,
the last of the Spektor family that does not exist anymore. With the
little bit of might left in me, I was able to run to the forest with
other survivors and together we survived the hard years in the forest
until the war ended. After the war, many of us were able to go to Israel,
and to build a new life there, and rehabilitate ourselves. I kept in
touch with every survivor, amongst them the Cheres family. Since Shaloms
wife was caught in the forest and killed, the father Shalom, with his
four children, went to Germany after the war and met another woman who
he married and had a daughter with.
After I married, Shalom would visit our family often in Herzelea. He would often talk about his son, Yehudah, who later immigrated to Israel. He particularly loved his daughter-in-law Wanda. In Israel we are still in great contact with all the Kurenets natives and survivors. Here in Herzlea where I live, I have a good friend, Chaiat Tzirolnik Sheingood. Shes also a Kurenets native and a survivor who is left as the only remnant of her family. Shes also in touch with the Cheres family. We all greatly appreciate Yehudah Cheres for all his activities for the sake of our own Kurenets, and now his involvement, great involvement in the issue of making a street named after Kurenets in Israel.
From Eilat Gordin Levitan:
I called Dina from Herzelia
, Israel. Here is What Dina nee Spektor told me:
My father Natan Spektor was born in Dolhinov. As far as I know he was an only child, at some point he moved to Kurenets and married my mother who was from the Frankfort family of Soly, now in Belarus. She also had relatives in Oshmiany and the U.S.
Our original troop leader, Kopel Spektor, was a man of all seasons- an athlete, a bookworm, a mathematician, and a generous and dedicated person. He was like a father to us. During the days of the Soviets, he was a technician and a cartographer in the central train station in Molodechno, 30 kilometers from Kurenets. He was a graduate of a technical institution in Vilna and an extremely capable man
His job compelled him to
travel throughout the USSR. When he came back from his trips he was
very disappointed. He asked Benjamin Shulman to congregate in his house.
It was the winter of 1940. We sat in the dark and listened to his sad
statements. He told us about Minsk, the capital of Belarus,It had a
large Jewish population. He only found one Jewish school there, and
when he went to the one Jewish Theater to see "Fiddler on the Roof",
they had changed the essence of Tuvia and made him a fighter against
Czarism. He found a lot of mixed marriages there and people pulling
away from Judaism. Our dream that the Jewish problem would be somehow
resolved in the Soviet Union and that the Jewish entity will be recognized
as a separate minority was abolished. In conclusion Kopel said, "The
Jewish population in the Soviet Union will mix with the general population
and in no time there will be no independent Jewish entities"
At the end of the evening
Kopel passed the flag to Nyomka Shulman and suggested that we should
find a way to get in touch with the movement headquarters in Vilna.
us to take part in the congregation, and we all decided to arrange watch
groups. Mendel, the son of Henia Motosov, marched us to the house of
Reshka Alperovitz, the former headquarters of the Soviet police. We
found rifles and ammunition there. The rifles were divided among the
young people who knew how to use them. Shostakovitz, the Belarussian
doctor that was later a German sympathizer, was at that moment on the
side of the Jews. He organized patrols of gentiles and Jews to patrol
the town. I was stationed at a watch point near the railroad, together
with Eliyahu Spektor. The farmers started coming with horse and buggies.
We told them that they couldn't enter town and that if they did, we
would shoot them. They all left, and for two days, there was silence
in the area. But then the town's gentiles started robbing the Soviets'
storage areas and a few of them also robed some Jewish homes
Kopel Spektor had just
returned to Kurenets, so we asked him to secretly meet us in a hideaway
on June 30. This was our first meeting since the German occupation.
The main question on our mind was "What are we going to do?".
We all came to the same conclusion: we must fight the Nazis. We were
only 17 and 18, and we were still naive enough to believe that there
was something we could do. We believed in the slogans of the Youth Movement
about our collective and personal responsibilities. Kopel knew that
the situation was grave, but didn't try to stop us. All he said was
"I so hope that you will succeed". We devised a practical
plan. Firstly, we were to collect weapons and organize a Partisan group.
Secondly, Shimon Zirolnik suggested that we print flyers urging people
to fight the Nazis. Nachoom Alperovitz, who prior to the 'Soviet time',
had worked in a printing office, decided to organize this. Lastly, and
most importantly we would try to find other people that could join us.
We hoped, in particular, to contact the Russian resistance
-Zalman Uri Gurevitz
Sometimes, Elik and Motik
Alperovitz would invite us to the barn that belonged to Reuven Zishka,
their father, and there we would hold the meetings. During our vacation,
we would walk to the village, Mikolina, near Dolhinov, a distance of
about 20km. There we would spend many days in what we called either
our summer camp or our winter camp. We would meet members of the HaShomer
Hatzair from the Dolhinov Ken (unit), from the Dockshitz ken, and the
By 1940 the meetings of our
Youth Movement became increasingly covert. Therefore, in many ways this
began our underground activities. The core of the Youth movement for
us was our leader, Kopel Spektor, although he didn't spend much time
in town. Kopel finished his Techniyon studies in Vilna with very high
grades. When the Soviets realized his skills, they sent him to work
in Molodechno where he had a lab. He was working on an invention. He
made something to do with trains.
He was beloved by all of
us teenagers and we waited impatiently for the times he would come to
How shocked I was when Hertzel
told me that you could not even try the gun because it did not have
the barrel with bullets.
After horrible arguments, we managed to elect a committee for the escape. The members of this committee were Mordechai, son of Havas Alperovich, who now lives in Israel; Hertzel Alperovich, may he rest in peace; Yosef Zuckerman, who now lives in Israel; Kopel Spector, may he rest in peace; our manager Shuts; Yonah Riar, from Ilya, both live in Israel; and I. The mission seemed very difficult. How would we be able to get the women and children out? .....The gun worked. From near the train tracks, I heard sounds someone walking and saying, "God, what did you do to us? Mommy and daddy, your situation is better. You already live in a better world." I tried to see who it was. At first, I saw a shadow on the snow and slowly I saw a short person wearing boots with a dark coat and messy hair. It was a woman who was limping. All of a sudden, I recognized Dinkah Spektor. She stopped, confused, and scared. She fell on the ground saying, "Where am I?" The snow around her was red from the blood coming from her leg. The blood kept coming, so I took my shirt and tore the sleeve and put it on the wound. I started covering her bloody footsteps and transferred her to another location. She told me that together with many of the camp workers, she already passed the train tracks and on the other side, they met German soldiers who shot all the escapees. She told me who ran with her and who she knew was killed. How she survived, she did not know. Instead of running to the Kurenets area, she somehow returned to the other side of the tracks back to Vileyka. She did not see my wife and son. I put some snow on her wound. Quietly, she twitched from pain. I thought that I should take the other sleeve and put it on her wound. Unexpected, I heard more steps, quick steps. I peeked from the hiding place, it was Doba Alperovich. Her jacket was open and her hair was messy. I yelled to her and she stopped but couldnt see me. I yelled to her again and she saw me and started crying from excitement. She also thought that she was on the other side on the way to Kurenets. Lacking any energy and depressed, we decided that when night came we would cross the tracks. From the bushes, we could see the road. I saw some people riding bicycles. I crawled closer to the road and saw that it was a farmer that I knew from the Soviet days. He greeted me, "Hello," and told me that I must quickly go to the other side of the forest since the Germans were coming to this side. He blessed me and quickly departed. I returned to the girls and told them. We decided to somehow go near the road to Molodetchna. Dinka had horrible pain. Doba and I supported her and walked toward the road....
I warned him not to go to
the train tracks. All of a sudden, we heard the sounds of a German voice,
"Rashkas Slinchas." We started running and I lost Yitzhak
and his child. I did not hear any more German voices but I could hear
many shots that were getting closer and closer. I lied there all by
myself and a thought came to me. I never shot my gun. What if the gun
does not work? I must try. Among all the shots, no one would hear my
shot. From all the ammunition that I had collected through time, I was
only able to take seven bullets. I pulled the trigger and shot. The
gun worked. From near the train tracks, I heard sounds someone walking
and someone saying, "God, what did you do to us? Mommy and daddy,
your situation is better. You already live in a better world."
I tried to see who it was. At first, I saw a shadow on the snow and
slowly I saw a short person wearing boots with a dark coat and messy
hair. It was a woman who was limping. All of a sudden, I recognized
Dinkah Spektor. She stopped, confused, and scared. She fell on the ground
saying, "Where am I?" The snow around her was red from the
blood coming from her leg. The blood kept coming, so I took my shirt
and tore the sleeve and put it on the wound. I started covering her
bloody footsteps and transferred her to another location. She told me
that together with many of the camp workers, she already passed the
train tracks and on the other side, they met German soldiers who shot
all the escapees. She told me who ran with her and who she knew was
killed. How she survived, she did not know. Instead of running to the
Kurenets area, she somehow returned to the other side of the tracks
back to Vileyka. She did not see my wife and son. I put some snow on
her wound. Quietly, she twitched from pain. I thought that I should
take the other sleeve and put it on her wound.
Unexpected, I heard more
steps, quick steps. I peeked from the hiding place and saw it was Doba
Alperovich. Her jacket was open and her hair was messy. I yelled to
her and she stopped but couldnt see me. I yelled to her again
and she saw me and started crying from excitement. She also thought
that she was on the other side on the way to Kurenets. Lacking any energy
and depressed, we decided that when night came we would cross the tracks.
From the bushes, we could see the road. I saw some people riding bicycles.
I crawled closer to the road and saw that it was a farmer that I knew
from the Soviet days. He greeted me, "Hello," and told me
that I must quickly go to the other side of the forest since the Germans
were coming to this side. He blessed me and quickly departed. I returned
to the girls and told them. We decided to somehow go near the road to
Molodetchna. Dinka had horrible pain. Doba and I supported her
and walked toward the road. All of a sudden, we heard horses running,
and the sounds of Belarussian and Latvian voices. We fell on the ground
in the bushes. I held my gun ready. We could see them. They were policemen.
We all decided that we would commit suicide if they caught us. Dinka
was begging that she should be shot first since she was wounded anyway
and would not survive. Doba was begging that she should be shot first.
Dinka was shaking so much while talking that she sounded as if she was
stuttering. We were all watching the killers every step hence
we would not fall in their hands alive. I was almost ready to use the
gun, but Dinka stopped me, "Maybe you should wait a minute."
Doba said, "They are coming right by us. What are you waiting for?"
unanticipated, I saw the police going in our direction turn to the right.
They continued looking for people in a further direction from us, so
now we had some hope of escape. Finally, we could not hear their talking.
It was getting much darker and the air was getting colder.
A meeting at midnight.
We waited for the late night
to come so we could pass the train tracks, but we were not lucky. The
night was very clear, the moon was shining, and the snow was very bright.
We stayed lying on the ground and our clothes froze and became hard.
I looked at my watch, it was 10pm. I decided that we must leave. I was
also starving. I helped Dinkah get up. She was lying on the ground
and it was impossible for her to move. I tried to encourage her to get
some strength telling her that we must go to the other side of the tracks,
because if we stayed here until daytime, we would be dead. From among
the trees, we could see the lights of the houses where other people
sat safely in their homes. We walked and the snow was making a swish
sound beneath our feet. This made us very upset. We were very fearful.
We thought that someone was waiting behind every tree. We reached the
edge of the forest. We hid under a bush, looking at the train tracks
that were about 50 meters away from us. All of a sudden, we saw red
flares then green flares then other colors. The Germans were busy watching.
They were not going to sleep. We went to another area and we saw shadows
of people on the train tracks. We heard sounds of talking but could
not understand. It was already midnight and the watchmen were busy patrolling.
Without warning, we heard the sound of breaking snow as if someone was
We were lying on the ground quiet and scared. Could the Germans be searching so late at night or could it be Jews? We were very fearful. From afar, we could see the barracks with the red flag and swastika. We could see two shadows going toward the barracks. It must have been the watchmen returning from the patrol. Then we saw the running people returning to where they came from, stopping in certain spot and searching for something. For some reason, in my heart I was very sure they were Jews who were lost like us. I started running and the girls tried to catch me being fearful that they would lose me in the dark. The two shadows must have heard our sounds. They stopped, as if they hesitated, I stopped and waited too. A womans voice started calling, "Dont shoot!" It was like an electric shock going through my body. I recognized the voice, I could not talk for a second. I then yelled, "Rosa!" My son immediately recognized me and yelled, "Abbah!" He ran to me and we all started hugging and crying from excitement. The second shadow was of Batshevah, the wife of Yitzchak Alperovich, with her children. Doba and Dinkah started hugging Batshevah and her children. I told Batshevah that around 5pm, I saw in the forest her husband with her son but I had lost them. I carried my little son. He hugged me very tight and said, "Now we wont leave you daddy. Now we will be with you." Somehow, he felt much safer now, believing that I could protect him. Life seemed much dearer now, I had a reason to live and fight and try to get out of here.