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Elimelech Benari's Kletsk Memoir
The Organization of the Resistance
The partisan Joshua Kashotsky testifies to the organization of the resistance and the interference of the "Jewish Council":
We began to work in the woodshop near where they cut the trees. There we met frequently with neighbouring farmers who told us that in the villages groups of partisans were forming from Russian captives who had escaped and Soviet activists. They warned us that the danger of destruction was very close and advised us to join the partisans. We conveyed this intelligence to the ghetto and we developed propaganda to encourage people to flee to the partisans in the forests. When this became known to the Jewish council, I was called before them and given a strict warning, that if I would continue this propaganda, which was likely to cause a revolt in the ghetto, they would hand me over to the Germans.Grisha Goldberg, one of the refugees who fled to Kletsk, describes to us the details of the young people's organization and their decision to fight - to break through the fence and flee:
Anger kindled inside of me; I threw furious accusations at them, and I said that certain death awaited all of us here. Then the order went out to hold me under arrest in the Kalte Schul. Finally, they freed me with a strict warning not to encourage rebelliousness among the ghetto inhabitants.
[Source: Testimony of Yehoshua Kashetsky, Pinkas Kletsk]
The situation worsened daily. The people prepared for slaughter. But the young people thought of themselves and how to help themselves. I and 24 other young people deliberated among ourselves. It was up to us to decide what means to seize to meet the coming slaughter. At 8:00, were told to assemble in the synagogue. There we would not be disturbed. however, that night Jewish policemen followed us. It was forbidden to be out in the street at night. I ignored this and prepared to go out. Pniya asked me, "Grishe, where are you going?" She asked me not to go. I explained that nothing bad would happen to me and I would return right away. I arrived at the synagogue. Twenty-five men were assembled there. We elected a board to direct the underground work. The board appointed five members, of which I was one. The questions on the agenda were: whether to equip ourselves with arms so as to resist; whether to leave the ghetto and join the partisans. In the midst of the discussion, the Jewish police came in with the Judenrat. They warned us that we would bring destruction upon the ghetto.
We never considered the Judenrat's accusations, and we again called for the board of five members. We decided to acquire arms and to organize the young people in self-defense. Great activity began. We began to buy arms. The movement contained some 200 members. But the Judenrat decided to take action against this activity. They summoned us, the board members, and said, "We know everything . There's no logic to your idea. If it becomes known to the Germans, we'll all be shot like dogs. If we're quiet, nothing will happen to us."The chairman, Cherkovich, was a smart man, but in regards to this, he was fooling himself. He explained to us that Commandant Koch had visited him and ordered 10 pairs of boots, 2 leather coats and a woman's fur coat. If something were planned, he wouldn't order things. For our part, we claimed, "They can order and still, once again slaughter us like sheep one bright morning. We must resist as much as we can. We must prove that we are a people who can defend ourselves."
Cherkovich saw that the path of persuasion would not work. He banged on the table:, "You are going to make 1,500 Jews miserable. I will hand you over to the commandant." We parted. He began to direct a terror campaign against us. He sent us to the most difficult labour. At that time, they were building a railway line not far from the town. It was hard labour. We were also put to hard labour in the erection of a bridge over a canal. We earned words of praise from the German who employed us.
Every day the situation in the ghetto became more difficult. We waited for the slaughter. To organize was impossible. It was forbidden to walk in pairs. Even with all this, we organized as much as possible. We prepared kerosene and benzine in every house: if the decree came - everyone should ignite their houses and then people would be able to flee. To bring in arms was impossible.. The searches were very exacting. At the very beginning of the ghetto we had brought in a few weapons: a machine gun, 10 grenades, 2 rifles and 8 revolvers. At night we - especially the young among us - stood guard constantly in case they should attack us by night. We slept in our clothes.
In the forest near the town, they dug large ditches. We knew they were for us. But the Judenrat denied it. They said the pits were for military purposes and that we shouldn't talk nonsense that would encourage panic. They threatened to hand us over to the gendarmerie. We paid no attention to them and continued to stand watch.
The work on the railway line finished and they sent us all home. Now we knew for a certainty that we would be slaughtered. I promised Pnialeh, my lover, that I would not flee alone and that I would take her with me. The mood in the ghetto was like that of Yom Kippur. Everyone walked to and fro crying. All those who worked outside the ghetto were sent back. But Cherkovich was calm: "Don't be afraid. Koch ordered 3 pairs of boots from me, and I have until Shabbat to prepare them. He wouldn't order them if something were planned..."
[Source: Diary of Grisha Goldberg (Gontovich)]