More on Alex Faitelson's The Time of Storms and Fights
Yalkut Moreshet no. 61
Much has been written about the Ninth Fort at different times during the fifty years and more that have passed since then. Every author has found what he was looking for in the incident and has embellished it without penetrating into the heart of what took place, without basing himself on the stories of the prisoners who escaped, and without trying to collect together all those who remained alive in order to arrive at an overall view based on facts. Over time, a legend has been created which is based on different ideas and intentions.
Of the sixty-four prisoners who escaped, three are still living in Israel and it is my opinion that those who are looking for deficiencies in Alex Faitelson’s book must take his memories into account, which no-one knows better than we, Aharon Vilentchuk and Mendl Deitch.
R. Krakinovski-Diskant has approached me a number of times, looking for faults in the book, and although I have proved her claims to be groundless she has remained unconvinced, as though she herself took part in the epic events behind the walls of the Ninth Fort. Her listing in the Yalkut Moreshet is unsupported. It is built on the words of people whose descriptions of the facts have been somewhat exaggerated and who have later changed their evidence in writing (Michael Itzchaki-Gelbtrunk). Below I give my opinion of the accusations.
1. The late Meishe Zimelevitch (Pok) was one of our good “fortnik” friends, one of us. According to his story, he came to the fort three times: in the days of independent Communist Lithuania; in the days of “Trotskyst” Communist Lithuania; and during the German occupation, as a Jew. I am not in a position to penetrate the meaning of the relationship between him and Faitelson. During the last period they disagreed with each other in their plans, and the entire burden of organizing the escape fell on Alter Faitelson, including contact and collaboration with the prisoners of war (Jewish) who were together with us but in separate cells, and with Jews who were snatched from the ghetto brigades (such as the late Tuvia Fridman and Yudl Maister and others). We, the ghetto fighters brought to the Ninth Fort, were shut up in one room and there were no secrets among us with regard to the escape plan. Alter Faitelson had the possibility of leading the preparations because in his occupation as a mechanic he moved freely about the fort, which we were not allowed to do. My opinion is that Zimelevitch was more of a politician that an organizer. One of the big mistakes was to talk with other prisoners and, with a number of our friends, go together to the ghetto, and it was at his initiative that they went to the forest, with no experience and no weapons. And indeed, the group that he headed soon fell into the hands of the Germans, and almost all of them perished together with him. It was our opinion that we, the ghetto fighters, should return to our leaders who had sent us out on the missions. This was the correct way. Thanks to our fighting organization, and with its help, we were concealed and later we reached the partisan brigades in the Rudniki forest with weapons in our hands.
2. Aba Diskant, who absolutely trusted Pinia Krakinovski and myself, suggested that we join the fighting organization in the ghetto and we immediately and gladly agreed. Pinia was one of my best friends. Together we set out for Augustovo forest to search out the partisans. Together we fell into the hands of the Gestapo and were sent to the "Yellow Prison" of Kovno, and from there to the Ninth Fort. Pinia Krakinovski’s part in breaking through the infamous walls of the Ninth Fort was great, and Faitelson does not deny this in his book. On the contrary, he mentions it at every opportunity, for example on page 255: “Without Pinia and the drilling he had done, we should have been lost." But let us not forget that we were all merely carrying out our part in the escape campaign, while the preparations were in the hands of the committee headed by Alter Faitelson, Alexander (Sashka) Podolski and Roman Shachov (p.248). Thanks to their great efforts and excellent organization, as well as the discipline of our friends (the partisans) in carrying out the escape plan, all sixty-four of the prisoners got out from behind the thick walls that were considered impregnable, and this should be remembered forever as a display of Jewish heroism and dedication.
Faitelson’s story describes in exact detail the events that took place in the Ninth Fort, the life of the prisoners and the preparations for the escape. At the same time it should be emphasized that select German units guarded us closely and everything that was done was kept a close secret. Alter does not name the “corpse-burners," such as Mishka the "Vagabond” and others, but he presents an accurate and detailed picture of what happened. One of his aims is to bring out the tragedy of our people during Hitler’s time, and the desperate fight against the Nazi murderers.
And to sum up: I do not know if the daring and legendary escape from the Ninth Fort would have succeeded if Alter Faitelson had not been among us.
I agree with all Mendl Deitch has said about Faitelson’s book.