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Elimelech Benari's Kletsk Memoir
26 October 1941: To Their Deaths
Events followed rapidly in succession. On October 26, 1941, all the Jews were ordered to register in the Labour Office. Rumours spread that a ghetto was going to be set up in the barracks area, near the sandpits, where the murders took place. People arranged to protect their meagre belongings. Many sold their remaining valuables to their Christian neighbours in the hope that a time would come when they would be returned. In the midst of this, they paid almost no attention to the activities of the Germans who were secretly preparing pits for mass slaughter.
29 October 1941
On October 29, at sunset, an order was published that ordered all the Jews, young and old, women and children, to appear the next day at 6 a.m. empty-handed in the market square. All those outside of town, in villages, estates and their workplaces, were required to return to town at the specified time. Even though rumours of this action had circulated in the town for some days, it came as a surprise and aroused panic. The conclusion was drawn in all its horror. People ran in panic and fear -- some to say goodbye to relatives, and some to give their goods to Christian acquaintances, or to conceal them in secret places.
The night of horrors continued. We couldnt escape the fate that awaited us the next day. Not a man closed his eyes. The feeling was bitter and sorrowful. Then the dawn broke and everyone prepared to leave. As said before, it was forbidden for the Jews to take anything in their hands, and they wished to save at least their best clothes, so they wore their Sabbath and holiday clothes, as though they were going to celebrate a wedding.In the morning hours masses of Jews, families, from all streets and alleys streamed into the market square. A terrible stillness reigned. They walked with heads bent and said nothing. The Christians escorted us with their gazes, mostly hateful, but some expressions of friendship and shared sorrow.In the market square, a representative of the Labour Board of the Jewish Council met the arrivals and placed them in alphabetical order. There were no Germans to be seen and the mood gradually calmed. Not all Jews presented themselves. A few hundred were absent, who took the risk and did not appear, despite the threat of death. These people hid in secret places or fled to fields and towns. Some of the Labour Board's officers searched for the missing and found a few families and placed them in separate lines.
Suddenly, tanks appeared from all four corners of the market, with Lithuanian soldiers who surrounded the market and seized positions. A terrible panic broke out. Shouts and the wailing of children split the air. Flight and running from place to place began, from group to group, without knowing where was the right place to survive. Pandemonium was unleashed. The panic and confusion was so great that even the Germans despaired of restoring any order.Those imprisoned in the great synagogue knew nothing of what transpired. They despaired and waited for the end. Suddenly the door burst open and in rushed Isaac Tsiook and his wife. Commander Koch had him taken out of the pit. Koch was angry that they were about to kill a skilled professional, an expert mechanic whom he needed. Tsiook and his wife, after they recovered a little, related all they had seen in the sandpits and described all that had happened to most of the Jews who had remained in the market.
Rightand Left they shouted - and they separated the people into the length of standing columns. It was impossible to know where lay salvation or what fate could be expected for the different groups.
In the end, there were two large groups: The first one numbering some 4,000 souls, was left in the market - and the second, some 2,000 souls, was driven under heavy guard to the large synagogue (The Cold Synagogue - Die Kalte Schul). In the main, there were artisans and factory-workers. In the entrance stook Commander Koch, who made an additional selection and sent back some 500 men to the market square, mainly old men. The remaining 1,500 were pressed into the synagogue. Belarussian and Lithuanian guards watched over the locked door.
The whole operation of bringing the Jews to the market and the great selection was prepared and led by spreading pacifying rumours that the Germans were setting up a ghetto in the barracks, and they were registering the population for their labour needs. According to the testimony of Christians, present-day inhabitants of Kletsk, the rabbis were forced to stand wrapped in talises and tefiilin on raised bimahs so that the congregation would see them and by this means order and calm was kept. The rabbis appealed to the crowd to be calm, that this was decreed from heaven.
Four thousand Jews were concentrated in the market square, guarded by Lithuanians and surrounded by light armour, and they, the majority of the congregation, were not left in place. Every so often they were driven in groups of a few hundred, group after group, to the sandy area near the Catholic cemetery, not far from the barracks. There the pits, dug previously by the local Christians, awaited them.
The people were ordered to undress. Specific belongings were appraised. The Germans searched for money, gold and other valuables. After this, they were ordered to enter the pits, to lie down with faces down. And then they shot them. The gunmen were the Lithuanian soldiers. The small children they threw into the pits without shooting them. The shots and cries could be heard for great distances.
There were three graves in that place, each grave 20 meters long and two meters wide. They were all cast into the pits, moving convulsively between life and death, until the soil covered them
There were those who tried to flee and did not succeed, as well as resistance that was crushed. The noted communal activist, Isaac Ketsev, poisoned himself by the pits.
Also in those last moments by the pits, the Germans did whatever they could to extract money and gold from the Jews. They promised to free anyone who would return home and bring back money and gold. They endorsed passes during an hour. There were Jews who tried their luck, but upon their return were shot like the rest of their brothers. Old people and the weak remained along the road to the pits. Their corpses were later brought by wagon and tossed into the pits.
The sun hid, the sky did not shed a tear. Many of the Christian townspeople came to look upon the horror...and were quiet. A group of diggers covered the pits by nightfall when the blood overflowed from their brothers graves.
In the German documents uncovered after the war, the action was documented isolated words in the Belarussian commander's monthly report to the Reichskommander of the "Ostland" in Riga, in this language:
In the purification operation [Sauberungsaktion] in the Slutsk-Kletsk area, 5,900 Jews were shot to death by a police battalion of reserves.[Wehrmacht document images: Page 1 Page 2]