by Aron Lasky - Brooklyn, N.Y. (2003)
It’s already more than half a century since the Germans bombarded Lida with napalm bombs on June 22, 1941, at 6 A.M. I remember clearly all the happenings and places where I was on that day. I do it as a duty – The terrible crimes of the Germans toward the Jews of Lida should not be forgotten, they are engraved in our souls. The dear Jews with their conscious, proud youth, with their institutions, organizations, Talmud Torah, Hebrew schools, Tarbut gymnasium, Orphan home, Old age home, the worry for the poor, the Jewish hospital, TOZ etc., the beautiful, massive synagogue and many houses of worship. We felt a strong bond to our town of Lida, where we were born and raised with the hope for a better future.
Several days before the Germans attacked Russia, the redactor of the newspaper “Wperiod” left Lida with all the Russian co-workers. He told the compositors to remain in the composing room located on Suwalski Street. A short time before the bombardment I left the building. I returned later to take my summer coat and some food, which I left. I went up the second floor and saw a hell-fire burning there. I backed up immediately.
I went to my sister-in-law Fruma, her little son Jacob was in a baby carriage and her mother was also there. Her husband was drafted into the Russian army and was serving near Leningrad.
Since my sister-in-law had relatives in a small town Zetyl, I thought that it will be safer there, not thinking how to get there, the road was dangerous especially with a small child. The idea was not a logical one; whatever I did was spontaneous under the fire of the bombardments.
The Russians confiscated our apartment on Comercyjna Street, and assigned us another one far from the center of the city. We went to my sister Rachel and her husband, there was a big cave in the ground where we put some clothing and important effects, to protect them from the bombs.
In my military booklet was a red card, that in case of war I was to report to the army. I took along bandages, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste and towel. I did not take even a jacket along.
I was helpless to do anything for them. I left them with a heavy feeling. I did not know where to go, there was no living thing moving - where are the people? I walked on the side streets where there is a fearsome quiet. I am on 3rd May Street near the home of Kaplinski, the printer. A bomb exploded and small pieces of shrapnel fell on the pavement a few meters from where I stood. Close by was the entrance to Patrowski Park, were the bodies of two sisters lying in a deathly embrace. Deeper in the park were more bodies of people killed - their small packages near them. As they ran out from the burning buildings they were shot from the airplanes overhead.
I was resigned with a heavy heart. I found myself now on the Falkowski Street, then on Szkolna Street with all houses of worship including the beautiful, massive synagogue, which was burning inside. Suddenly it occurred to me to get back a technical book about photochemigraphia, which I bought in Warsaw, and I lent it to a father and son printers, that came to Lida running from the Germans. They lived on Suwalski Street, where the railroad tracks run through. I saw a slow moving train without light and wanted to climb over, but was not able to do it. I went into the father and son apartment, there was no light in the house. We talked about the situation and left without taking the book.
From a driveway came out a military truck and stopped. The officer ordered me for a way to the train station and was told to stand on the steps near the driver. I showed the way through Szkolna, Falkowski Streets until the train station. There was no more trains going, an officer asked me whether I knew the way to Gavia Station, I did not know that, but I knew the way to Zarecha. I got an order to get on the truck, we passed Zamek Gedemia, Russian soldiers were standing with bayonets on the rifles, a few meters apart, the reflection from the red sky shown on their pale faces. We passed the bridge of Lidzeika, where the way to Zarecha goes. I forgot that I have to show them the way, I wanted to be with my family and jump from the truck. There was shooting, everybody jumped off the truck and shot back. When the shooting stopped, everybody got back on the truck. They saw a limping soldier, they stopped and took him on the truck, he was asked to show his documents, when he opened his military coat, he did not wear a Russian soldier’s uniform, they asked him several questions, but I did not hear his answers. I repeated the rumors I heard: that Berlin is burning and Russian parachutists are in Warsaw, they started laughing at me. It started to get light. I saw Ms. Druck (with red hair) walking alone.
They stopped the truck near a brick house with red bricks, across from a cornfield. They got off the truck and left the limping soldier watched me. He took a rifle with a bayonet from the truck. He looked around and also on the sky, and asked me where I am from. I told him from Lida. He then said whatever they had to do, they did already and told me to go back to Lida.
I wanted to jump into the cornfield and wondered whether he will shoot after me. He put away the rifle and got off the truck, he did not limp. I jumped off the truck and headed into the cornfield, where I laid down and fell right away asleep. I heard a noise nearby, and awoke to see a Jewish young man. I told him my name and showed him my watch. I asked him to remember me. We left the cornfield. There came a truck with Russian women and a lot of packages. He got on the truck and the women pushed him down, he showed them a document from the NKVD. Soon after we separated.
I got into the forest and met a young man from the hachszara who told me that Uzbeks and other from Middle Asia, took everything he owned. Walking deeper in the forest I heard a scream of a young woman, I wanted to go immediately to help her, but I could not move to help her, and it became quiet. I got off the forest to see a heavy, new motorcycle lying on the side of the road. A big armor with a long barrel was standing in the middle of the road, a skinny horse was moving slowly near the edge of the road. I walked on the ground that goes through the Naliboker grand forest and saw a group of boys and girls walking one after another in a long line. I heard a noise of motors, I thought they were German tanks and got off the road. The boys and girls did the same. The quiet and smell of the trees relaxed and soothed the mind. The tar from the trees trickled in the conical white bark. I am going deeper into the forest, I realized what I am doing - concentrating to find the way back to the road. From afar I observed a column of Russian trucks, a went on the road and jumped on a truck and touched a body covered with a brezent. I jumped off the truck and got onto another truck and stood near the drivers seat. The officer, sitting near the driver, took out a gun and said: I count to three, I will shoot. So I jumped off the truck.
While I am walking I saw a freight train, I went in and sat down. When the sun set, soldiers came out from the woods and went into the train, some climbed on top of me, with great effort I got off the train.
It became darker, I approached a village, and saw the windows were closed. I went over to a window and listened. The people were speaking Yiddish. I knocked and a jewish couple opened the door. I told them what I knew happened in Lida. They gave me bread and tea, and a jacket to wear. The next morning the man took his horse and wagon along with some belonging and went with his wife to a Jewish farmer who had a family. They gave us bread, potatoes, and sour milk to eat. There, I met there a Jewish technician from “Ardal” (a big factory from rubber shoes in Lida). He had already run 3 times from the Germans: Chechoslowakia, Grudzions and Lida. The Russians wanted to shoot him because they thought he was a German parachutist. He wore a combinezon as a technician. A Jewish Russian officer saved his life.
We continued together toward Russia until dark. The Uzbeks, who were mobilized by the Russians to work for military projects, lied down near the road to sleep, who walked with us, the two of us lied down, but did not sleep. When it became dawn we started walking again. We saw a parachutist coming down and started to run. We lost one another. I looked around and did not see him. I could not call him, because it was dangerous to call loudly.
I came to a crossroad and read the directions, a man came over and asked me where I am going, I told him to Minsk. He told me in Minsk is a Gehenem, go to Mogilow. The man disappeared, I did not see him coming or going. I looked around in all directions, the land was flat, no trees or houses. When I arrived in Mogilov, there were deep trenches against German tanks. I don’t remember how many days I walked and I did not feel thirst or hunger. It was raining heavily as I approached the train station. A lot of people were inside and out. I met the younger son Abraham Zeldowitz and his friend Iwenski. I went on the train it was night. The train stopped in the morning in Bogayavlensk, I went to the military office (woyenkomat) to register, I had a red card and had to explain a lot. In a few hours I was transported to Tambow. The recruits were supposed to unload the evacuated from Kiev factory parts and other heavy equipment. We also had to do military exercises. I became very friendly with a young man from Lodz - he was also mobilized.
Before they sent us to the front I was stricken with a high fever andsent to the hospital. The doctor who took care of me asked if I know a man Spokojna from Lida. I told the doctor the man in question lived on the same Komercyjna Street where I lived – he was a bookkeeper, very friendly, and used to tell stories and anecdotes, and had one leg. The doctor’s name was Spokojny and looked very much like the man from Lida, perhaps he was his brother. As soon as I felt a little better I asked the doctor to discharge me from the hospital as I wanted to be together with my friend from Lodz on the front. However, the doctor kept me in the hospital. I don’t remember how many days. After mydischarge I retrieved my military booklet and went to the military office “Woyenkomat” in Tambow where they gave me some money. I was told to go to the place where I was drafted. Later on I went through a lot of hardship and many dangers, but I want to write about Lida.
In the winter of 1945, I came back to Lida. I knew very well the road from Wilna to Lida, and when the train approached Lida, my heart was beating faster. I met Isaac and Shulamith, my brother was discharged from the army as an invalid in Berlin. Dr. Broino and Shulamith were in the partisans, got medals. Isaac took part in heavy battles and was wounded. While in the hospital he met Dr. Caplan from Lida, his father was also doctor in Lida. After recovery he volunteered to fight the Germans. He was decorated with many medals including a medal for the battles of Berlin, which was very important to him. I saw on TV Channel 13 a Russian documentary film of the war, showing a group of soldiers putting the red flag on the Reichstag, and there was Isaac wearing his long military coat, he was very thin. I tried to get a copy of the video, but was not successful.
In Lida were not many Jews including from surrounding places. A gentile woman who used to work by the family Zeldowich, told me she saw the Germans were leading the older son Sholom with a spade to dig his own grave. I went to the Jewish cemetery, which was covered with deep snow, the cemetery looked smaller, the Ohel of Rabbi Itzchok Yaakov Reines zt”l, was the indication from the grave of my father Yaakov obm, when I was a young boy. A young man from Wilna told me that my brother Saul was in Wilna on Arian documents, a gentile from Lida recognized him and told him he will not report to the Germans. He was killed in Wilna ghetto in 1943. He worked in the monthly journal “Zemia Lidzka” and “Nash Przeglond” in Warsaw, He used to visit the Wilna ghetto.
On Postowski Street I met a Pole from school, we embraced and kissed each other, afterwards he jumped away form me and said: “Co ja zrobilem pocalowalem Zyda” what did I do kissed a Jew! I did not say a word and got away from him. He was unshaven, wore dirty clothes. He worked as mechanic by airplanes. On September 1, 1939 the Germans bombarded the airfield, a bomb destroyed his father’s house and there were casualties. The Jews gave him some clothing and other help.
I was in Lida a short time. A young man from the “Bricha” came from Wilna and asked me to take two Lithvian Jewish girls, freed from concentration camp, over the border to Poland, there was a risk involved, but I undertook it. The man gave me instruction what to do. When it was dark I went with them to the train station, my brother Isaac, dressed in army clothes accompanied us. The situation became complicated and dangerous, my brother quick orientation helped us out. I said goodbye to my brother and the next day I crossed with the girls the Polish border. Then we went separate ways.
My wish was to get to Palestine, I was smuggled across the border to Czechoslovakia, Germany and Austria. In Sainfeld, the “Bricha” organized a group of forty young people to cross over the border to Italy. I was second in command. We went through the Alps, the road was covered with snow, we did not want to leave traces in the snow, we got off the road and went up higher on the edge of the mountain, further off the road. It was dark, the group spread out and I watched that no one should stray away. On the Italian side there was no snow. We took a train to Genoa on the Sea of Boglasco. There was an “Aliya” place. At night small boats took the people to the ship that was farther from the shore.
I got a telegram from Rome to come to work in the newspaper “Baderech” as metropage and compositor. From the Questura di Roma I got a permit to live and work in Rome. After a certain time I sent my belongings to Palestine, since I had planned to go there with “Aliya B”. I got news that my brother Isaac was sick and in Minchen hospital. I took care of all formalities and papers so that my brother with his family whould be able to come to Italy.
I went to Minchen, Germany. As soon as I arrvied they called me from the “Bricha”, Dr. Sneh the director asked me about Itzchak the man from Wilna, who arranged for me to take the two girls to Poland. I was very sorry that I had bad news: the NKVD arrested and shot a member of the “Bricha” from Wilna. I saw the pain and sorry and a girl went in grief there, that was probably near to him. To this day I wonder how they found out that I came to Minchen, because I never mentioned it to anyone.
I went back to Rome. It took time until Isaac and family also arrived. Israel became an independent state. Isaac got to know the people from the Hagana and wanted to go to Israel as an artillery specialist, in the situation that ensued he could not realize it. The Joint arranged for Isaac with the family to go to USA by plane. I came to visit my brother and family in New York. I started to work here to save money for the trip to Israel. I became involved with my work and also worked in the Herald Tribune and the New York Times.
I went many times as a volunteer to Israel and worked on military bases around jeeps and other technical jobs as well as cleaning rifles. I was holding a Polish and Russian rifle as a soldier, but the Israeli rifle was dear to me because it could save a Jewish life.