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Written Testimonies

The letter of Chaim Prinzental The letter of Chaim Prinzental YVA O.75/58

From one of two letters written in Yiddish in 1942 by Chaim Prinzental of Łuck, a teacher, to his son Jacob and the latter's wife Erna, who were living in Palestine on Kibbuts Ma'ale Hahamisha
October 3 [should read September], 1942, it is exactly two weeks since the horrible slaughter [at Gurka Polonka] in Łuck and its surroundings. For two gruesome weeks we – a few Jews who had succeeded in escaping from Łuck at the very last moment – have been roaming about without sleeping at night since death threatens us every moment. Out of the forest and back into the forest…. Our eyes can no longer shed any tears. The heart burns with pain, there is a pressure so strong as to break it, and there is no help. We are all condemned to death. My dear son David - God knows if he is still alive – your mother was like a dove when they led her to the slaughter. I did not witness this with my own eyes; to my great pain and despair, fate willed it that I should abandon my dear wife and son and escape alone like a coward. However, they are in a better position than I am, [since] they have already gone through what they had to, and every moment I expect to be caught. I am sitting in a dug-out in the forest… and I am writing both of you a farewell letter. Maybe fate will not be so cruel after all and, when the war is over, you will receive it by mail with the help of a goodhearted Gentile. Thus, I embrace both of you – you and your wife - and I send you my fatherly blessing before my death.
Reuven Dafni and Yehudit Kleiman, eds., Final letters, London, 1988, pp.83-84 (English).
From the testimony of Vasilyi R., who was born in 1901 and was living in Rowancy village near Łuck during the German occupation
… in 1942 …. I was eyewitness to the mass murder of Jewish civilians [of Łuck] carried out by Germans. It took place on August 19 [sic, for 20], 1942 in the Polonka Forest…. I was present for two days at the site of the mass murder of Jews. I was sent there by Andrei Sedukha, the elder of our village…. I was ordered to cover with earth bodies in the mass graves. The situation in the Polonka Forest was as follows: when I came there with a shovel, 4 or 5 large mass graves had already been prepared there…. I didn't see and I didn't know who dug those graves. About 5 or 6 Germans, wearing grey-green [i.e Gendarmerie] uniforms and armed with sub-machineguns were present at the site. Approximately 10 [Ukrainian auxiliary] policemen stood near the Germans.… At about 10 a.m. groups of about 3-4 trucks began to arrive at the Polonka Forest from the city of Łuck. In each of these trucks were sitting Jewish civilians guarded by [Ukrainian auxiliary] policemen. Among them were men, women, and children. The policemen forced the people out of the trucks and made them strip naked, while the Germans, armed with sub-machineguns each time took 5-6 of the people who had been condemned to death, forced them into the mass grave, made them lie face down on the ground, and then shot them to death. [Each group] of victims was placed in the grave in rows so the grave could hold as many bodies as possible. When [each mass] grave was filled with the piles of bodies, the shooting stopped. [Then] the Germans who had killed these people drank rum at the site of the grave and ate snacks, while we workers were forced to cover the bodies with about 10 centimeter of earth. Afterwards, other Germans carried on the shooting, while the first ones took a rest. The shooting lasted the entire day, until evening and the [mass] shooting of the Jewish civilians lasted a whole week. As I mentioned before, those who had been condemned to death were taken to the grave in groups of 5-6, while the elderly or infirm people were dragged by a [Ukrainian] policeman and [several] Germans out of the truck and thrown directly into the grave and shot to death there. Until this very day I recall the following terrible scene: among those condemned to death was a young mother who was holding in her arms twins about 3 months old. The Germans drove this woman, who was then nursing them [the infants], into the grave. The Germans brutally dragged this woman with twin babies in her arms to the edge of the mass grave and threw her in. I don't know the total number of the [Jewish] civilians who were shot to death at the Polonka Forest, but from what people said I gathered that it must have been about 18,000. All the clothes of those who had been shot to death were sorted by the [Ukrainian] policemen into women's, men's, and children's clothing and then taken somewhere [to Łuck] by truck.
YVA TR.10/1422
From the testimony of Adam Sawicki, who was born in Łuck in 1900 and was working at the Krasne labor camp during the German occupation of the city
… during the murder operation in August 1942 [the liquidation of the ghetto], Seidel [an official from the Gebietskommisariat who carried out a census at the labor camp] compiled a list of people whom he promised to save. He also promised to save the families [who were in the ghetto] of those who worked at the camp. … We joined our families [in the ghetto] and we were sure that Seidel was protecting us. And indeed, the families of those who worked in the camp were about to assemble at the [Lubart] Fortress and we were supposed to be taken outside the ghetto but then [Josef] Glueck appeared. He ordered the women and children to stay in the ghetto. The men were taken 6 kilometers outside the city [i.e Gurka Polonka] and were ordered to dig pits, 6 pits… . The TOD organization provided us with shovels. There were several hundred men. We dug for 24 hours without any rest. At night the site was illuminated by the headlights of trucks. [Otto] Ebelung [the deputy of the Gebietskommissar] … came [to the site] and asked us whether we knew for whom we were digging those pits. "We don't know" – we answered. "This is for your mothers, fathers, and children" – said Ebelung. The pits were dug in the Gnidava forest [several kilometers from the Jewish neighborhood of Gnidava]. The next morning we were taken back to the ghetto. On our way to the ghetto we saw our families being taken to their death. Afterwards, an [order] policeman named Weichtel told us that [several] steps had been dug inside the pit and the victims [who descended those steps into the pit] had been ordered to strip naked and to lie [there] on top of each other. Then they were shot to death with machineguns. [After the shooting] chlorine was poured on one layer of victims and then another [group] of people was ordered to lie down [on top of the previous one]. If it had not been for Glueck, many families of those who worked at the camp could have been saved.
… [after the liquidation of the main ghetto] the Germans felt that too many people entered the camp illegally [i.e., those Jews who had hid during the liquidation of the ghetto and afterwards managed to penetrate the camp]. … some German [Order] Policemen, headed by S.D. [sic, for SA] officer Glueck, arrived at the camp. The policemen ordered all the [camp] workers to appear in the courtyard. Those who didn't would receive the death penalty. Those who remained in the camp illegally would receive the death penalty as well. On the order of Glueck, a teenage boy of 13 was shot to death [according to another testimony it was Glueck himself who shot this boy] on the spot, along with two older men [who were in the camp illegally]. Before being killed, they were forced to dig a grave for themselves. We saw all this. Those who did not appear on the list [of legal workers] were put aside. All of them (including my wife) were taken under [German] guard to the building of the former regional police headquarters in Krasne. They were held there overnight. Those who could ran away. My cousin ran away, my wife joined the women who were working at the workshop [in the camp] and thus remained alive. Those who remained in the building of the former police headquarters – all of them were murdered [at Gurka Polonka].
YVA O.3/2224
From the joint testimony of Dr. Rubin Pinus, who was born in 1906 and was working as a doctor at a Łuck hospital, and his wife Munia Pinus, who were both living in the city during the German occupation
Part I [the liquidation of the main ghetto on August 20-23, 1942]
[Dr. Rubin Pinus:] … During the liquidation of the ghetto in September [sic, for August] 1942, many [Jewish] doctors who worked at the hospital committed suicide. I witnessed this. It happened as follows: … The Jews were rounded up at the [Bazarnaya] square near the former Zlucki pharmacy, in front of [the office] of the Jewish council. A selection was carried out at the site. Specialists were going to be sent to the [Krasne labor] camp. I wasn't included among the specialists [though he was a doctor] due to my health condition [he had a paralyzed leg and needed crutches]. While trying to slip away [from being taken to the murder site] via side streets, my wife and I decided that to try to save our lives again and so we went to the hospital. When we finally arrived at the area of the hospital, we saw a gruesome sight. Before I tell you what we saw, I have to tell what took place the previous day. What happened at the hospital then [the day before the liquidation of the ghetto]? The doctors who worked at the hospital were ordered to send their families, with their valuables, to the [Lubart] Fortress. Those families, supposedly, were omitted from [the list of] those who were about to be killed. Thus, they [the families] packed up their best possessions. The women and children of the doctors went to the Fortress. [A group of] men from among the [Jewish] doctors was taken from the hospital and ordered to dig pits at Gurka Polonka. A group of men from the Krasne [labor] camp was taken [to the site] together with them and they too were ordered to dig pits. Apparently the doctors suspected that they wouldn’t come back [alive] from Gurka Polonka so the doctors who remained at the hospital preferred not to wait for their death at the hands of the Germans and committed suicide. When,… my wife and I arrived [the next day]… at the hospital, we found them all dead. One doctor was lying on the grass, his mother - [was lying] beside him. Both of them had slit their veins. The doctor was still conscious, but his mother was not. Blood was flowing from their wounds. "Give me a cigarette" – the doctor asked…. I put a cigarette into his mouth.
"Tell me what I should do" – I asked him.
"You see what I did" – he replied.
Since I knew well the structure of the hospital building, we found a temporary hiding place for ourselves in the cellar of the house where the [former] hospital director was living.… A minute later Dr. Rappaport went down to the cellar and saw us. He told us that he was going to inject himself with morphine. He told us that his wife was no longer alive – she was the first to whom he gave a shot injection of morphine. We learned from him that Dr. Baksht, the hospital director, had poisoned herself with morphine and was lying dead in her office. Dr. Rozenshtrum poisoned his mother first and then gave himself a shot of morphine, and Mania Maiden a pharmacist, also poisoned herself. The accountant of the hospital … poisoned his son, wife and mother. When he was already holding a syringe in order to inject give himself a lethal shot, the news came that the [rest of the Jewish staff of the] hospital was saved. This happened as follows: when we were sitting [hiding] in the hospital cellar, Dr. Rozenkrantz came running and informed people that all the doctors who had dug pits at the [Gurka Polonka] hill had returned home safe and sound. He added that for the meanwhile there were not thought to be in danger. We immediately ran from our hiding place in order to save those who were still showing signs of life. We managed to save Mania Maiden, but she died later…. Dr. Rappaport and the accountant… didn't have enough time to commit a suicide. Though these people remained alive for a while, they no longer had a life! Terrible pangs of conscience tore at them: why had they rushed to put an end to the lives of their dear ones? No one was allowed to leave the hospital. The whole building was surrounded. On one side there was the police [Ukrainian and German], on the other side - the Styr River…. When we saw that the danger had passed, we left our hiding place…. We saw how the people [Jews] were taken across the bridge over the Styr to the mass graves [at Gurka Polonka]. Trucks loaded with people made their way [to the site]. All [the Jews] were standing inside the trucks [body], while Gendarmerie men and Ukrainian policemen were sitting on benches around them. Gendarmerie men on motorcycles were riding in front of and behind [the columns of trucks]. The men who were taken to their death were quiet and bowed their heads. The women cried and cursed. The clothes of the victims who had been murdered were taken back [to the city] on the trucks. The clothes were piled up in the synagogue.… During the whole time that the victims were taken to the pits, the sounds of cheerful songs were relayed via loudspeakers. These songs were played for the whole period of the murder operation. The doctors who had returned safely from digging [at the murder site] thought that their families who had been sent to the [Lubart] Fortress would come home safely, as the Germans had promised. This hope sustained them. Meanwhile, Dr. Rozenkrantz, who was standing at a hospital window, noticed among the belongings of the murdered … a suitcase that belonged to his wife. In extreme anxiety, he ran to the [German] hospital director and asked him what that meant. "Your families are no longer alive" – was the [director's] reply. Jewish policemen and the members of Jewish council, among them the head of the council – Pinczuk, Friszberg, Karczemny, and Dal the pharmacist were also shot to death at the site where the pits had been dug.…
[Munia Pinus:] … near the hospital was a Jewish orphanage. When the trucks that took them to their death stopped at the entrance of the orphanage, the toddlers scattered [trying to hide] all over the place. From the window of the hospital I saw several of them trying to hide. Toddlers 2-3 years old took sticks in their hands and tried to dig pits. Apparently they thought that they could be saved this way. When I saw this, I burst out crying hysterically….
YVA O.3/1692
From the joint testimony of Dr. Rubin Pinus, who was born in 1906 and was working as a doctor at a Łuck hospital, and his wife Munia Pinus, who were both living in the city during the German occupation
Part II [the liquidation of a small ghetto in the first half of September, 1942]
[Dr. Rubin Pinus:] … After 8 days [of remaining in the small ghetto as doctors], in the early morning of a day in September, we heard the sound of marching feet. We looked through the window - Ukrainian [auxiliary] policemen and German soldiers [Gendarmerie men] drove [all the Jews] onto the road from every courtyard. We were living in the house of the Kirszon family…. . I went down to the courtyard in order to find a way to run away but, when I noticed the Ukrainian policeman, I jumped quickly [through the window] back into the house. On my way to the room I noticed a small door in the hallway roof. I realized that the door led to the attic. My brain was working feverishly on how I might escape from this trap. In one hand I grasped the lintel of the door that led to the room. I lifted myself up while leaving my crutches leaning against the door handle…. I pushed the door that led to the attic… and found myself in the attic. Then I called my wife.
[Munia Pinus:] "When I saw that we had been surrounded, I ran to the courtyard. [Ukrainian] policemen took me back immediately and I wasn't allowed to leave the house.… At that moment I heard my husband calling me from inside the house. I immediately ran to the hallway and saw the crutches leaning against the door handle. When I heard my husband calling, I looked up and saw him at the entrance to the attic.
[Rubin Pinus:] … when both of us were [already] in the attic, we called for others [Jews who had also remained in the house] so they could save themselves as well. I pulled six more people up … in the same way that I had I pulled up my wife.… A moment later there was a commotion around the door handle that led to the attic. [These were] Ukrainian [auxiliary policemen] who saw something; they came in and conducted a search in the hallway. Of course, the door handle was closed. They didn't bother [searching] any further and left the house. We saw through cracks in the roof how the Ukrainian policemen took out [of the house] the body of [Dr?] Pfeffer, who had committed suicide. We saw trucks loaded with people making their way towards [Gurka] Polonka. …the [remaining Jewish] staff of the hospital, doctors and nurses, were taken to sheds on the other side of the Bazilyanksyi Bridge. A hasty selection was carried out there, after which several of them were taken to the [Krasne labor] camp, while the rest – to their death [at Gurka Polonka]….
YVA O.3/2224
Rachel Zaidman was born in Łuck in 1922 and was living there during the war years
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Rachel Zaidman was born in Łuck in 1922 and was living there during the war years
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