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Elimelech Benari's Kletsk Memoir
22 July 1942: Destruction And Uprising
The blow descended suddenly - and the details of that night - the igniting of the ghetto houses and its defense with ammunition - are related in the further testimony of Grisha Goldberg:
We did not sleep the whole night. We even joked a little. We tried not to break down. At 3 a.m. I said to Pnialeh, "Come, let's sleep a little...", but not much time passed before we heard shots. The guards immediately woke up everyone. It was 5 a.m. I woke Pnialeh: "Get up, the bandits have surrounded us." The shots could be heard from every side around the ghetto. We immediately brought our weapons to the gate of the ghetto -- the place where the murderers wished to enter. We opened fire on them and threw grenades. The murderers withdrew, leaving their dead: 3 Germans and 4 Belarusians. They didn't try to enter again and shot from outside. We decided to set the houses on fire, and the ghetto began to burn. The wounded and dead appeared in very corner.People ran from one corner to another. The streets around the ghetto were filled with Belarusian police and Germans. My friend and I approached the fence closest to our house which was burning, opened the door and began to run. I looked around and saw that my Pnialeh was already dead. She was still warm. The friends who left with me no longer lived. I began to run. I crossed the streets and reached the outskirts of town. [Source: Diary of Grisha Goldberg (Gontovich)]Among the Christians of Kletsk whom we met after 50 years, there were some who remembered that the Jews shot at the Germans with a machine-gun. The machine-gun was mounted in the great synagogue's window, across from the gate to the ghetto. They also saw Jews firing with revolvers.
In the testimony of the partisan Alter Marovich on this stage we read:
At 4 a.m., Thursday, July 22, at first light, the Belarussian police surrounded the ghetto. Immediately the Jews set the whole ghetto on fire. Each adult took a position of attack and greeted the Belarussian with a hail of stones previously prepared. It would not be easy for the enemy to destroy us. Better to die in battle in the ghetto than to be driven like cattle to the slaughter - that was the feeling in all our hearts.The following description of the same nights horrors comes from another's testimony:
The Belorussian police, under German direction, seeing that the plan for destruction had failed and that they would be unable to transport the Jews to the pits which had been prepared, opened fire on the masses of Jews with all their weapons. Hundreds fell. The cries of the wounded were horrifying. However, the courage of the Jews fighting, their resolve to break through a path to escape, did not die. Notwithstanding the many victims, the assault on the barbed wire fence continued so as to flee to wherever one could. Because of the strong wind blowing, the fiver of fire spread and took hold of buildings outside the ghetto. The murderers had to move back a little.
After hours of desperate struggle, the survivors attempted to find sanctuary in the cellars, in the bunkers and in different hiding places. Many committed suicide with poison. Many were burned in their homes or suffocated in the heat and smoke in the hiding places and only a very few succeeded, despite the hail of shots, in breaking through and escaping. With a group of twenty-three Jews, I managed to crawl to the barbed wire fence on Jews Street and under a hail of bullets I managed to climb up on the fence first. And there a miracle happened to me: fight in front of my eyes stood a Belarussian policeman, someone I knew. His gaze struck me and he stopped shooting. I exploited those few seconds, I jumped from the fence to the other side, I took off my vest and I began to run by the fields and gardens. I leaped over the fences as though the devil were chasing me - and behind me were the twenty-three others. And so we got to Kletsk Hill (Kletske Vail).
Our gaze turned for the last time towards the sad town burning. We began to march towards the forest, Joseph Peshpeyorko* and I and two other refugees from Warsaw.
In the morning, when we looked out and saw that we were surrounded by the Germans and Belorussian police, we immediately began to pour the gasoline on our houses and lit them. We didnt want to leave our belongings and our meager property for murderers who were waiting for the day they could loot and plunder. The fire that broke out was terrible and the wind quickly carried it to all sides. The fire, running amok, created consternation among the murderers. Their plans and specific calculations had been cancelled. There also occurred instances of struggle, although in small measure. It was related that Yitzchak Finkel and Abraham Poserik, two members of the Shomer Hatzair, threw grenades at the murderers. Others threw stones and attacked with shovels and axes. It is difficult, almost impossible, to describe what happened in those hours in the hell of the ghetto.[Note: Joseph Peshpeyorko is the only Jew currently living in Kletsk. He fought with the partisans and after the war returned to the town, studied economics and was the manager of the area's collective farm for 20 years. He is now retired. ]
My impressions and memories from those last minutes in the ghetto are this: I ran from my house, together with other Jews. We shouted with all our might: Jews, burn the houses and cut the wire! Immediately, we saw pillars of smoke nearby and flames spreading rapidly because of the blowing wind. The Jews were bursting towards the fences with axes and other tools and cutting the wires. The executioners were forced to withdraw some distance because of the fire and suffocating smoke. This time they did not succeed in carrying out their plots as planned. A hail of bullets from rifles and machine guns on all sides poured down on the fleeing Jews.
I went with an ax to the wire fence by the synagogue, near the gate. I cut the wire and burst through. I ran along the Jews street to the Wall, in the direction of the Kolandura farm. Many Jews ran behind me. Along the way, I also met a young man from Warsaw, Grisha Gentovich (Goldberg) who had fled to the Kletsk ghetto.15
[Source: Testimony of Yehoshna Kashetsky, Pinkas Kletsk]
Yaacov Geller told me that he hid with a group of Jews in a cellar. [Yaacov Geller, a Kletsk native, currently in Israel, fought with the partisans, was drafted into the Red Army and reached the gates of Berlin.] The house burned down and the group survived in the cellar. A day after the liquidation of the ghetto, the Germans searched for those in hiding and succeeded in finding them. The Germans did not descend into the cellar and demanded that the people come out. Some of them came out of the cellar, but Yaacov Geller and three others stayed below, covered by boxes for a day. At night, they went outside and went to the gate of the ghetto. The whole area was full of corpses, particularly the wells. Four of the survivors managed to get out of the ghetto boundary, leave the city and get to the forest. After some wanderers told them that there were still Jews living in the Baranovich ghetto, they decided to go there. In the dark of night they entered the ghetto. After some time, they joined a [Testimony of Yaacov Geller, in an interview with Elimelech Benari.]
Bella Adon-Olamremembers it clearly. Bella Adon-Olam, currently in Israel, fled the ghetto at the time of its liquidation and afterwards fought with the partisans.] The moment the first shots were heard, her older brother went down to the cellar, took out a rifle from a potato sack where it had been hidden, said goodbye to his mother who implored him not to go, and left the house. She also remembers that a number of days before the final attack, her brother gave her the job of soaking sacks in gasoline. The gasoline and sacks had been prepared according to instructions given earlier.
Her testimony relates that some days before the liquidation, a pit had been dug by the Starina forest near the town, designated for the Jews of the ghetto, as had been done previously on October 30th. But this time the Germans did not succeed in bringing the Jews of the ghetto to the pit alive. Most of them were killed, burned and asphyxiated within the ghetto limits, and of the hundreds who managed to flee, there were also many who were killed as they were chased by the Belorussian police. [Source: Testimony of Bella Adon-Olam, in an interview with Elimelech Benari ]
Betty Brody (Bella Chipin) relates that only a few of the ghetto inhabitants found refuge in the bunkers and cellars that had been in prepared in advance, and the Germans, in their exacting searches, found all of them. [Note: Betty Brody (Bella Chipin) currently resides in Canada. The farmers who sheltered her received a Sign of Recognition from the Kletsk Organization for their righteous deed.]
They transported the Jews to the deathpit, which had been prepared. The pit was filled first with the corpses of the dead collected from the ghetto the day before. Those brought alive from the ghetto were murdered in the same system used in the first stage. People were ordered to undress and to climb down into the pit, which was filled with corpses, and they were shot.
The pit was not covered at nightfall. Bella, who was in the pit with those shot, felt that she still lived. It seemed the bullets had not touched her. After she recovered, she climbed out of the pit naked, took clothing from the pile, dressed herself and walked toward the town. From a far she saw a light in one of the houses. She approached the house and knocked on the window. The tenants came out to meet her, took her inside, washed her and dressed her. They hid her in a pile of straw. As the days passed they became filled with dread, fearing that it would be revealed that they were hiding a Jew. They helped her get to the partisans, in whose company she survived the war. [Source: Testimony of Betty Brody (Bella Chipin) of Canada - in an interview with Elimelech Benari and additionally in her writings.]