Truth – Legends / The “Malina"
Eidka Pilovnik came down to the “malina." She brought us some food and a letter for her brother Tuvia from his Mirele Vainer. Tuvia gave me the letter to read. To this very day, I remember the last sentence: “Tuvia, my dear, know what you have to do!” Following these words, I added “Regards to Sima. Alter” and asked Eidka to give the letter to Sima.
That same day, head of the Gestapo and the SD in Lithuania, SS Obersturmführer Dr. Wilhelm Fuchs, called for the commander of the Jewish ghetto police, Meishe Levin.
Meishe Levin, a former Revisionist leader (21; 664) in the city of Memel, was transferred on December 15, 1942 from his function of head of the criminal police in the ghetto and appointed police inspector. On December 23, 1943, he was appointed head of the Jewish police in the ghetto instead of Michael Kopelman, who resigned for health reasons.
Dr. Fuchs informed Levin that he was aware that undesirable elements reach the ghetto and that they hide in what is known as “malinas." He demanded that they be found immediately and handed over to the Gestapo. Meishe Levin replied that he did not know of such instances. The number of Jews going out to work to the town every day is checked by the German and Jewish guards at the gate, and this is again repeated on their return to the ghetto and the number is always identical. At any rate, he is prepared to look for infiltrators together with the German and Jewish police.
On Monday, December 27, announcements signed by the Jewish Council were put up in the ghetto on behalf of the Gestapo commander and the SD stating that people had escaped from the Ninth Fort who were not inhabitants of the ghetto. The Jewish Council requested that these people be handed over (testimony of Avraham Frenkel in Yad Vashem, file 42E/389).
At my request, Chaim moved Mendl Deitch, Aba Diskant, Ivan Vasilenko and I to Chone Kagan’s house at 4 Broliu Street, not far from the “malina” in which we were hiding. We rested there after a sleepless night. It was impossible to fall asleep on the soft sofa and in clean bedclothes. I left the sofa and tried the floor. It was hot in the room because of the stove and still hotter owing to the warm feelings that Chone Kagan’s sister Chava Rabinovitch and Chone had for us.
In the morning, Kagan brought Sima. I was confused and did not know what to do with myself and for her. We sat on the sofa, gazing continuously at one another; we did not speak but held one another’s hand. She returned my wristwatch which I had sent to her from the Gestapo via Hilka.
“At night," Sima told me, "I would not take the watch off. I would sleep with my head leaning on my hand and would listen to the ticking. It seemed to me that you were holding your hand under my head... and I would ponder, would things really be as they were? Would I see you again? In the morning, my pillow would be wet with tears.”
My three comrades followed us with their eyes. I asked Sima to tell us what had happened after the Lithuanian police had caught me and how she had managed to return to the ghetto. Her story was as follows:
“You remember that you had said that we should walk at night. The group did not agree with you. It was decided that we continue walking. We left the wood – you and Maneiskin leading us, and I was some meters behind you, and behind me the two other boys, as far as they could see me. We had gone quite a distance. I saw you turning aside and disappearing from my sight behind the trees and bushes. I thought to myself that I would reach the crossroads and would see you again there. A little girl was standing at the side of the road. When she saw me, she started to shout ‘a Jewish woman, a Jewish woman!’ I could not understand. I was dressed like a country woman, how could she discern that I was Jewish? At a certain distance a farmer was working in his garden. When I reached him, I heard shots. I understood that something was going on, and stayed on the spot. The farmer took one look at me and shouted: ‘Run into the forest, run into the forest!’ I turned around and saw our two boys turning back to the forest. I ran after them, and could barely breathe when I ran into the forest and dropped under a tree. I was wearing a black coat with a white woollen scarf on my head. Instinctively I took the scarf off and hid it under my coat. After a short while, I heard the sound of running steps and saw two Lithuanian policemen. They passed by and were not aware of my presence there or that of the boys who were lying under a tree not far from me. After the policemen left the forest, we discussed what was to be done from there on. Frenkel went to the end of the forest. When he returned, he told us that the group of comrades was surrounded by Lithuanian police and following a wagon on which someone was lying.
“I asked someone if they had seen you and if you were walking or lying on the wagon. He answered that he had seen you walking behind the wagon. If you were alive, I tried to console myself with the thought that I still had hopes of seeing you again.
“I lay in the forest all that day. The men were arguing all the time about which route we should take in order to reach Kovno and return to the ghetto. One of them said – to the right; and the other – to the left. I did not interfere. I was deep in thought. In the early evening, I began to look around for something to make yellow patches from so that we could enter the ghetto. I had a thermos made of rubber which was yellow on the inside. With a pair of scissors that I had with me, I cut out the Star of David emblems and gave each of them two stars, which I attached with safety pins to our clothes.
“Evening came. Avraham Frenkel got lost. He decided to go to the ghetto on his own. Shabtai Fleishman and I remained, waiting for the darkness. From afar, we heard the barking of dogs. We did not know whether Frenkel had succeeded in reaching the road. A minute later we decided to leave the forest. In order to get to the road, we had to pass through a plowed field. Dogs were barking on both sides of the field and we ran and ran. Darkness fell and we walked, dazed, until we arrived at a town. This was Garliava.
“There was light in the town. Lots of people, police and Germans... We went through the town quickly. Someone looked at us suspiciously, but I said something in Lithuanian to my companion and the suspicious observer moved off. We turned right. We passed through the whole townlet and it then became clear that Frenkel was right and that we should have turned left rather than right. How we managed to pass through the townlet again I do not know. I was indifferent towards everything, weary and terribly thirsty. I was familiar with hunger from years in the ghetto, but this thirst was worse than hunger. I do not remember if rain fell on that day but I do remember that there were puddles on the way and that I longed to get down on my knees and drink from the puddles! Not far from town, we met up with a group of workers from the airfield who were returning to the ghetto after the afternoon shift. We attached the yellow patches to our clothing and entered the ghetto with the working crew.
“I dragged myself with difficulty and managed to reach home, the same home I had left earlier in the morning... when I opened the door and fell into the room, I did not recognize a soul. I asked for water. My cousin Mina hurried towards me, sat me down, and gave me a cup of water. I drank something like half a pail of water and burst into tears, giving them an account of what had happened. They all cried with me. Mina helped me take off my clothes and put me to bed. I do not know how long I slept. I had no desire to get out of bed or even to eat or drink. Suddenly I felt someone standing near my bed. I turned round and saw Chaim Yellin. At first I thought that I was dreaming, but Chaim began to speak to me, ask me questions. I sat up and began to tell him everything that had happened and how we managed to return to the ghetto. I did not cry and spoke with restraint, and answered all the questions. Chaim said he would do everything possible to free everyone. One must not lose hope. And I said to Chaim: ‘Now I have no one in the ghetto. I beg you not to leave me alone. I will join all those going to the partisans.’ Chaim promised me that I would not remain in the ghetto.
“A few days later, Israel Goldblatt arrived and sent me to see Chaim-David Ratner. I repeated my request and Ratner said that a group was going to Augustovo and that if I wanted to, I could join them. I answered that I would wait to see what had happened to you. I still had hope...Ratner also promised me that I would not remain in the ghetto.
“One day a rumor went the rounds that the prisoners were about to arrive with the Jewish work crew attached to the Gestapo. I stood near the gate. And indeed some arrived: Shimon and Rivka Bloch, Itzchak and Rachel Lifshitz and other comrades, but you, Alter, were not among them. Later on I learned that you had been transferred to the Ninth Fort...I came home and wrote the following poem." Sima handed me the poem, which read: