|While on the fronts...|
The impression we gathered from the fronts was that the Germans and their Allies would succeed in defeating the Russian Bear and with it all our illusions with regard to the Jews in the ghetto.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On December 8, the Japanese declared war on the United States and Britain. On December 14, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
Hitler was disappointed in his army chiefs and on December 19, personally took over the command of all the German forces in the east.
And then, when General von Leeb stood at the gates of Leningrad, when General Rundstedt took the Crimean peninsula and Rostov, when Field Marshal von Bock’s men peered down on Moscow from the heights surrounding the capital and it was possible to make out the outlines of the churches without field glasses, it was reasonable to assume that the Russian capital would soon fall into the hands of the Germans and bring the führer the victory he wanted so badly...
It was at that juncture, on December 31, 1941, at 8 P.M., that the organization of the underground struggle of the anti-Fascist partisans (AKO: Anti-Fascist Struggle Organization) in the ghetto emerged under the leadership of Chaim Yellin. This organization adopted as its aim to embrace all those who wanted to openly struggle against the Nazis, regardless of their political attitudes or affiliations.
Chaim Yellin summarized in brief the aims of the movement: “We shall not abandon the ghetto. And our major aim is the open struggle against the Nazis within partisan ranks. A member of our movement is a partisan! ... This slogan – ‘we are partisans’ – was unanimously accepted by all the progressive opposition groups in the ghetto who united on that evening into one organization and was adopted by all the movement cells."The executive committee of the organization consisted of five members at the outset: Chaim Yellin, Mere Lan, Peisach Gordon-Shtein, Meishe Sherman, Alte Boruchovitch-Teper. In July 1942, another two members joined the committee: Dimitri Gelpern and Shimon Ratner.
But over the course of two years all efforts of AKO to establish a connection with the underground movement in the town and with the partisans in the forest had failed.
In June 1943, Gesia Glezer, "Albina," was sent from Moscow to the partisan movement in the south of Lithuania. She had been given a singular mission to re-organize and revitalize the urban organizations in Vilna and Kovno. She got in touch with Chaim Yellin and gave him a message from the Lithuanian partisan command that the fighters of the ghetto should go to the forests of Augustovo and set up a partisan base here.
The groups of fighters of the ghetto that made their way to the forests of Augustovo had encountered the Lithuanian auxiliary police forces. There were casualties: dead and wounded. The arrested fighters of the ghetto had been transferred to the hands of the Gestapo and had been placed in the town jail on October 30, 1943.
The day was Thursday, November 18, 1943. After the distribution of coffee and bread, the jailer entered the cell with a list and read out: “Eidlson Shimon, Gelbtrunk Michael, Gempl Berl, Zimelevitch Meishe, Maneiskin Aharon, Faitelson Henoch – take your possessions, hand over the cutlery to the jailer on duty in the corridor and follow me.” We parted with the comrades who remained in the cell. I said my farewells to the dance professor, Valentinov. I thank Jonas, “the king” of Lithuanian crime, for his stories and noted a tear in his smiling eyes.
In the corridor near the administration office of the prison, a number of Gestapo officers were awaiting us. In the office our belongings, including our belts, were returned to us. Something was written in the prison registrar and we were taken outside. There a truck covered with a tarpaulin was waiting, the back door open. Standing between the prison exit and the vehicle were two rows of Gestapo officers. They ordered us to get into the truck and sit on the floor to the right. A bearded figure, wrapped in layers, sat in the driver's cabin. When my eyes became used to the dim interior of the vehicle, I recognized him as Meishe Gerber who had been brought from the Gestapo.
The Gestapo officers entered the vehicle. Two of them sat near the driver, the other nine sat on a bench inside the truck, concealing the door. They were armed with pistols. The car began to move.