Truth – Legends / Speech of Michael Itzchaki-Gelbtrunk

Michael Itzchaki-Gelbtrunk said, at the rally to commemorate the forty-fifth anniversary of the escape from the Ninth Fort, on December 24 1988 at Kibbutz Tel-Itzchak:

Friends, escapees from the Fort, dear guests, Shabbat shalom and welcome!
We have gathered here today to mark forty-five years since the escape from the Ninth Fort. Forty-five years, almost half a century, and for us it is as if it happened not long ago. I will always remember the day we were taken out of the prison, accompanied by SS guards, and led slowly towards the Ninth Fort. We knew that the Ninth Fort was a death sentence; from there, no one came back. Each one of us, in his heart and in his thoughts, parted from his parents, his relatives, his friends.
We arrived at the Ninth Fort. Instead of getting rid of us immediately, as they had done with tens of thousands of Jews, we were put in leg irons and, together with prisoners of war from the Red Army, we were forced to burn the bodies of the martyrs.
I do not intend to talk of the horrors we saw in that dreadful place.  I will just say that the Ninth Fort was the epitome of hell on earth.
I was prepared to commit suicide rather than desecrate the honor of the martyrs.  I told my comrades how I felt, and Alter, who is sitting here today, said: “There is always time to commit suicide.  Perhaps we can escape.”
In my view, this was an impossibility.  Fact: the impossible came to pass.  On the night of December 25, 1943 all sixty-four prisoners escaped.
I will not tell you the plans relating to the escape. I, like others, have had the opportunity of seeing Hollywood movies about the escape of prisoners from German camps and stalags. There has never been an escape like the escape from the Ninth Fort.  Many stories have been written about the escape, and there was even a Soviet movie made on the subject which, incidentally, was not based on reality.
We, the surviving escapees from the Ninth Fort, feel it is our duty to uphold the martyrs’ demand: Please, do not forget us. Our request is that a monument be established to commemorate them, where Jewish youths from all over the world can come and learn of the dreadful fate that befell the martyrs of the fort, and of the heroism of the small handful of young Jews who escaped the fort.
I ask the public to rise and join together in memory of the martyrs and the holy ones murdered by the Germans and Lithuanians in all the forts around Kovno, including the Ninth Fort.  We will remember the escapees of the fort who were killed during the escape or fell as fighters in the forest.  We will remember our comrades in the Underground who were taken, after our escape, from prison to the Ninth Fort and were later burned.  We will remember the members of the Jewish Police who endangered their lives and did not reveal the “malinas” [hiding places] of the children and the elderly to the murderers, who were taken to the fort and, after being tortured, were burned alive.  We will remember and salute the memory of all the members of the Underground who fell in battle against the enemies of our people in the ghetto and in the forest, and foremost among them the commander of the Underground, Chaim Yellin. We will remember two dear friends among those who escaped from the fort, and who died an untimely death: Shraga Kulish, the first to escape from the Fort, who lived alone in the forest for two years, a life of legendary heroism, and lived a life of happiness in the State of Israel until war overcame the hero; and Pinchas Krakinovski, or Pini, as we called him, one of those who carried out the escape, whose goodness of heart was known to all. The home of Pini and Rivka, may she live long, was always open to everyone.  He left us suddenly, at such a young age. May their memory be revered.
We thought that the Association of Lithuanian Jews would mark the forty-fifth anniversary of the escape in a worthy manner. Apparently, they have more important things. We thank “Masuah” [The Beacon] for holding this meeting under its auspices.  On behalf of my friends, I thank them and invite a representative of Masuah to address the meeting.
Michael Itzchaki (Gelbtrunk)
December 24, 1988