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Maxim Nakhvat

THE MOST IMPORTANT IS TO LOVE AND REMEMBER

Story of a shtetl. Dokshitsy.

This letter came from Dokshitsy, Vitebsk region, in February: «My name is I.M. Gelfer. Thanks for your newspaper. I contacted a person, who has information about the Jews of our town before and after the war, including the last names of those, who were executed by Nazis. Could you send us a person to examine all the archives? The best way to reach us is by bus.» There was another sheet of paper: «…In the September of 1941 Germans issued an order about establishing a ghetto in Dokshitsy. The ghetto zone began from the synagogue garden and included several neighboring alleys and a part of Kostushko Street. 3,000 people were forcefully driven to the ghetto. It was liquidated at the end of May, 1942. The location of execution was a trench near the first cemetery in Mayakovsky Street. I have the list of the victims. In accordance with a government act, dated May 5th, 1945, there was a decision to open the mass graves of Jews, shot by Nazis. It was then determined that the graves contain 3,000 – 3,500 bodies. On May 18th, 1968, a memorial square and a stele with bas-reliefs were established at the location of the execution.

Before the war Dokshitsy had 679 houses, after Germans were defeated (02.07.1944) – only 206 houses. I possess original documents or copies, proving this information and I am willing to share more details. Chistyakov Nikolai Dmitrievich.»

The editorial board sends me to the town, which met me with snow and strong wind in the narrow streets on the way to the hotel.

The exact date when Dokshitsy was founded is not known. Historical sources witness that settlements started to emerge in the 14th century, maybe even earlier. In the 16th century it received the status of a town.

According to statistics, in 1999 the population of the town was 7,068 people, 7 of them Jewish. The population before the second world war in 1939 was 3,600 people, 75% of them Jewish. The town had 106 shops and only 8 of them belonged to the state. The rest were owned by Jews. The Jews were all religious and attended synagogues on a regular basis, especially on holidays.

There I was, in Dokshitsy, at Nikolay Chistyakov’s place. He is a local historian, possessing an impressive library about the history of the town, the region and Belarus in general.

- There are practically no Jews left in our town. The only ones are Ilya Maksimovich Gelfer, who moved here after the war, and a woman, Roza Lazarevna. Her maiden name was Oliva. She has broken her leg and has to stay in bad now. Here lives with her daughter and grandchildren.

Quite often the town is visited by relatives of those Jews that used to live here before the war. When the state was formed in 1949, they moved to Poland, from there – to America, Argentina, but mainly to Israel. And therefore the town is now constantly visited by delegations of former town dwellers or their ancestors. They now live in America, Israel, Poland, Germany…

Historically, whenever a war started in what is now Belarus, everyone went through Dokshitsy: Tartars, Swedes, and the French. During the Civil War the town was shifting from one power to another: Germans, Poles, Bolsheviks. From 1921 to 1939 the town was annexed to Poland. In 1941 Germans invaded and in 1944 they were ousted. Anyone who passed, burnt and destroyed the place, nobody helped to build.

- Did you witness the events, connected with ghetto establishment and liquidation?

- Germans appeared here on June 2nd, 1941 and were here exactly for three years. As for the execution location, it is situated right next to my house. So when Germans took people there, I saw everything through my window. There are four mass graves; the bodies were put in layers. Now this place has a memorial and people come to lay flowers on it every holiday. I also made sure that there would be an organization that would clean up the territory. Sometimes schoolchildren do it. Nothing else is done, however and, since the memorial is in a low place, it is frequently flooded with water. Perhaps this year I will try to obtain a decision from authorities to raise the land level.

The memorial, a tragic reminder of the fate of Dokshitsy Jews, is indeed located almost next to Nikolay’s house. «On the day of ghetto liquidation the weather was exactly the same, - he says. – There was slight frost and wet snow, which melted as soon as it touched the ground and the bodies of those who were taken to the execution.»

A former partisan, Boris Kozinits, describes his memories in his «Memory book», published in Israel in 1990:

«I came to Dokshitsy on June 29th or 30th, 1941. Owing to my torn peasant-looking clothes I was not recognized and managed to enter my relatives’ house, and they immediately let my parents know about it. My dad came and took me home.

The first two victims were Mazin, who was insane, and Markman, who was shot in his own house. In July the order for Jews to wear a yellow strip became widely spread.

Germans started choosing people for work brigades. I was sent to a sewing workshop, where, using primitive equipment, we had to work for the army. Basically, my fate depended on this work. Dokshitsy now had its own local authority …

Several executioners were sent from Germany: Hartman, who worked until the «final elimination», his assistants and several «rammers». When Gestapo appeared, they first «took care» of the Jews, who had been active during the Soviet period: after four days of torture they were taken out of town and shot. The location of their graves is still unknown.

The order to found a ghetto in Dokshitsy was issued in September, 1941. All Jews were commanded to come within two days and take everything that would fit into a carriage…

The first pogrom took place in April, 1942. The local Nazi police, without Germans, intruded into the ghetto and started raging. The following morning they told a group of young people to dig a hole next to the Jewish cemetery. Arrested Jews were forcefully taken there and shot. After that event many people began building shelters and some young people managed to escape and join partisans.

I went on working in sewing. We dug a 2.7-meter hole under the kitchen and reinforced it with thick beams with sand underneath. The chimney served as the entrance to the bunker. Then we dug a passage from the bunker to the garden for air supply. The entrance was hidden with stones. We were ready for the second pogrom.

The second «action» was in May, 1942. At dawn the ghetto was surrounded by the Nazi police. Jews hid in their bunkers. This was done after a warning from Judenrat, which was watching the actions of the police and the Germans. From the bunker we clearly heard the steps of the policemen and our father screaming. One fascist, for whom we made clothes, recognized him and ordered him to leave. In the afternoon father knocked at the bunker entrance and told us about the pogrom.

Deeply shocked, we looked at what had happened. Dead bodies were lying in the streets and roads; everything around was covered with blood. People were lying on beds in houses, as if they were so exhausted that they were unable to get up. The first victim that I saw was old Mordekhai Ziib Shultz lying in his house with eyeballs out of the sockets.

On the bridge Jehuda Pesach Kaplan was picking the brain of his child, who had been blown up by fascists. There was no body left. All the Jews, caught in their bunkers, were gathered 200 meters away from the big trench. There Germans checked who had work permits. Those, who were employed by Germans, were freed, the rest were taken to the grave and shot. 350 Jews were victims of that pogrom. Rabbi Sheinin, one of them, chose not to hide. Germans found him praying in his house. When he was taken to be executed, he looked happy and said he was under the grace of God. Was he insane?

The last «campaign» and the final liquidation of the ghetto took place at the end of May, 1942, on a Saturday. At 4 a.m. we were woken up by neighbors and my relative Zeinel Kazinits, informed us that the ghetto had been surrounded. Some of our neighbors hid in our bunker, too. At 8 a.m. Germans started looking for the entrance to our bunker. Then we heard: «Jews, come out!» Naturally, no one replied and they threatened to throw a grenade if we didn’t react.

Staying inside was now pointless. I came out first and was hit on the neck with a cudgel. I dashed to the corridor, which lead to the door, jumped from the balcony and within seconds was on the other side of the street. The rest of the people were beaten mercilessly and my father was wounded on the head.

Suddenly I turned out to be among Judenrat’s people: Varfman, his wife and children. Within an hour 70 Jews were gathered at the entrance to the ghetto. Hartman, having seen my father’s bleeding head told one of the policemen to bring him water. Then he said to my father: «Do not worry, you will live». Naturally, we did not believe that.

More and more Jews were coming. Gdalia Levin, who had tuberculosis, sat close to me and whispered: «Look attentively at the trees and the houses. You will not see them again. All of this will remain when we leave, nothing will change, but we will not be there. The world will continue living, but many Jews will not be there.» I remember these words even now. They are imprinted in my memory forever.

When Germans gathered 350 people, they ordered us to start walking. Near the trench we realized we were surrounded by a lot of policemen and fascists. People, who attempted to escape, were shot at once. One of the victims was lying next to me. The leader of Judenrat jumped into the trench, but he was brought back by one of the Nazis who said: «You, as their leader, will first watch us killing all of them and only then we will kill you.»

At that moment Hartman approached me and called me to the side. He also called my father, step mother Gita and her daughter Haya. My brother Haim approached him, showed his permit and mentioned he had also been working for Germans. Instead of an answer he was hit on the face. He started running in the direction of the Jewish cemetery and was killed by a policeman.

Sara Markman, our neighbor, was standing behind me. She told Hartman she was my wife. He did not mind and let her stay. Shoemaker Yashin and his wife also joined our group, but their children were murdered. Hartman took us back to town and the execution near the trench started. We were locked in a garage 200 meters away from the trench. We silently sat waiting for our execution.

At dawn the door opened and in came Nazis. They gathered all the women and asked me who they could take and who was to be left. They said they could save only one person of each profession. My father immediately replied he was ready to die, since he was old and I was still young. I contradicted: «You know, I can only sew but I have no skills in cutting. My father is excellent at cutting.» The Germans consulted and decided to leave both of us. They took all the women and left. We spent the whole night in dead silence. The next morning they let us know we would live. We would not have to wear the yellow strip and we were granted the right to move freely around the town. We were promised houses and all we had to do was work obediently. «You will get a horse and a carriage to move your things and equipment», - they said and left.

All the specialists were gathered near our house. Opposite, in a garden, we saw all the Jews that had been found in their shelters. They were ordered to undress, leaving only underwear on. Then they were pushed into a big barn. We saw more and more Jews being taken to the barn. The pile of clothes was increasing. That was the second day of the «campaign». On the third day they were pushed out of the barn and forced to run towards the trench. All of them were shot in less than 30 minutes. Among them I saw the Shleifer sisters. They were dressed in short nightgowns and were shyly pulling them down.

The ghetto liquidation lasted 17 days. On the 17th day the Germans caught the last group of Jews, which consisted of 20 people. They had managed to escape from the ghetto and hid in the ruins of Jewish houses on the way to Glubokoye. A shepherd boy detected them and reported it to the Nazis. That day in June, 1942 was the end. The odd and terrifying thing was that only we, a tiny group of Jews, was left alive, to continue working.»

«Berega» newspaper, April, 2000

Еврейское местечко под Минском


Jewish settlements in Vitebsk region

Vitebsk Albrehtovo Babinovichi Baran Bayevo Begoml Beshenkovichi Bocheikovo Bogushevsk Borkovichi Braslav Bychiha Chashniki Disna Dobromysli Dokshitsy Druya Dubrovno Glubokoye Gorodok Kamen Kohanovo Kolyshki Kopys Krasnopolie Kublichi Lepel Liady Liozno Lukoml Luzhki Lyntupy Miory Obol Oboltsy Orsha Osintorf Ostrovno Parafianovo Plissa Polotsk Prozorki Senno Sharkovshina Shumilino Sirotino Slaveni Smolyany Surazh Tolochin Ulla Verhnedvinsk Vidzy Volyntsy Yanovichi Yezerishe Zhary Ziabki

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