Friday, April 20, 2012

One Day in My Family’s Polish Town

Every Yom HaShoah I try to write something from my family's own history as an illustration of wider themes. The material below, that happened almost 70 years ago to the day, is from my manuscript, Children of Dolhinov.

By Barry Rubin

Before dawn of Monday, March 28, 1942, German SS and Einsatzgruppe B units accompanied by a Latvian police detachment boarded a convoy of vehicles. Before dawn, they surrounded the town of Dolhinov, Poland.
The town awoke to the sound of stamping boots, barked commands, the wails of children, and sobs of women. The Kazovitz family hid, but David, the baby, was crying and his mother feared the noise would give the hiding place. So she ran to a Christian neighbor, handed over her fur coat and promised if the woman would conceal her she’d bring a gold watch afterward. The woman refused; the Germans killed the mother and baby.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family hid undisturbed. When night fell and the Germans left, Yankel Furman, stepfather of the Kazovitz family, returned, knocked on the door and let them out. They crawled from the basement to find few of their friends remained alive. Later, the Christian woman showed up at the Kazovitz’s house claiming she had helped and demanding the watch. A single misjudgment about a person’s character cost your life.
Chana Brunstein might have had the easiest time that day. She was cooking when a German soldier entered. He should have forced her out to line up with the other Jews but instead—Humane? Hungry? Lazy?—he merely asked her for some eggs and left. Esfira Dimenshtein and her family were saved because a friendly Polish policeman named Maslovsky had warned them the Germans were coming the next day. They made a big hole in their grandmother’s barn and stayed there until it was all over.
While most of the Kaplan family hid in a tunnel, his 82-year-old grandmother, Rhoda Kaplan, could take no more and stayed seated in the parlor.  Her son, Gendel thought his status as a craftsman might protect her, When the police entered, he handed them his document and said as a relative his mother was also protected. They returned the document, nodded seriously, then shot her dead right in front of him.
One woman, driven mad by fear, ran from her shelter and was caught by the Germans. They promised that if she showed them her family’s hideout they would let the Jews there go free. Out of her mind, she did so. The Germans promptly murdered her entire family then killed her, too.
Some Poles turned their neighbors, looting their possessions; others risked their lives to help. Still others locked themselves in, trembling at their own fate thinking, as one Polish survivor told me, “that we might be next.”
Surrounded by armed police, the Jews who had been caught were marched down the street to the market square, where many had worked. They were ordered to sit and wait. Some fell prostrate onto the ground and wept. Many prayed. Most hoped it was just some re-registration, minor humiliation, or even the execution of a small number who would be selected from the group.
A few ran for it, and were shot down. Two men made a break for it and got pretty far. A submachine gun opened up on them, they fell down. But, when the shooting stopped, one got up and took off again. Police fire brought him down, too. None of those who ran escaped.
Gdalia Levin whispered to Boris Kozinitz, “Take a good look at the trees and the houses; you shall not see them again. These will stay after we are gone. The world will keep on existing but many Jews will not be in it."  
One man, however, was given a choice. A German officer pulled aside Lipkind, a member of the Jewish council, and told him, "You, as an elder must see all your community being killed and we will kill you last." In response, Lipkind charged a Polish policeman named Komolka, hit him in the face and then went back to his place among the others. The officer asked Komolka if he wanted Lipkind punished. The policeman replied, "No, there's no need, he'll be shot soon anyway."
Esther Dokshitsky was among those marched to the square. She saw a mother holding a screaming baby. One of the Germans grabbed the baby, said, “We’re not going to waste a bullet on this one,” and smashed its head onto an electrical pole, then dropped the dead child on the ground.
The German commander read the names of men, technicians and professionals, who they still needed. Esther’s father and uncle were on the list. Since his own two daughters and wife were safely in hiding, the uncle grabbed his sister and her two children claiming them as his. A policeman escorted them away as their own father watched them, grateful no doubt that although he would die that day they would not
Then the soldiers and police opened up with rifles and machineguns and mowed down hundreds of people. They fell in place. Others were forced into two warehouses on which gasoline was poured and set alight. Having been used so long to store hay the buildings went up fast.
 Anyone trying to escape was machine-gunned. The screams of those burned were terrible, the cries of those who tried to escape were cut short by the bullets. At 6 PM it was quitting time, and the murders stopped. Any Jew caught after that was left completely alone, as if the Germans were indifferent to their continued existence.
               One of the few survivors was Ringa, a first-grade teacher at the Zionist school who, along with her own four-year-old son, was the last alive of in her family. When she saw Esther, one of her students, also still alive, she was astonished. She hugged and kissed Esther, and with tears in her eyes, said to her: “Remember how I taught you about Israel. But we didn’t have the opportunity to go there.” A few days later, she and her little boy were murdered, too.   
             Others, however, did make it to Israel eventually, where they and their descendants would get to be called Nazis and oppressors by the descendants of those who had murdered and oppressed them or who had stood by and done nothing. In fact, one ex-SS man even had a poem published in leading world newspapers about what terrible people they are and how their fear of genocide is just a lie and an illusion.  

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

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