The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/05/31

Q. What was the name of the woman?

A. Her name was Pessia Aharonowicz. She changed her name.
Up to the last day in the ghetto I saw her as a worker in
the ghetto workshops. And all the time she sat there and
remained silent and did not tell anyone that she was saved
from Ponar; she was afraid that if this were revealed to
the Germans, that would be the end of her.

Q. Let us go back a little. Immediately, in July 1941, an
order was issued which obliged you to wear the yellow
This was a sign of identification for the Jews?

A. Correct. This was the sign that turned us into an
object of mockery and scorn and we were at the mercy of
all our neighbours.

Q. Subsequently there were other signs you were ordered to

A. Every few weeks the signs were changed: once it was a
white bandage, after that a blue Shield of David,
afterwards a yellow Shield of David, later on patches of
different kinds, until in the end we had to wear the badge
on the chest and on the shoulder, so that both the
neighbour in front of whom we were walking and the
neighbour behind whom we were walking could see us, so
that they might be able to shoot us, and to expel us from
the society of live human beings.

Attorney General: May I request Dr. Dworzecki's book for a
moment? Dr. Dworzecki, in your book there is a list of
these signs which were changed from time to time.

Witness Dworezecki  Work certificates.

Q. And thereafter there is a "tin number." What is this
"tin number." What page is it on?

A. On page 65. The Germans gave us various certificates
and these certificates were changed like by a
kaleidoscope, in order to confuse, to mislead, to reduce
awareness and weaken the spirit of revolt. From the very
beginning they gave us certificates, and afterwards it
turned out that there were two kinds of certificates -
those with photographs and those without photographs. It
turned out that if they seized you with a certificate
bearing a photograph, you remained alive, and if the
certificate was without a photograph, you were taken away
for further examination. Afterwards they introduced
certificates for girls which were signed by the Judenrat
and also stamped by the district officer. Later on there
were certificates stamped Facharbeiter (skilled worker),
and we noticed that whoever had a certificate marked
Facharbeiter was more protected for the time being. And
all the time there was this chasing after the best
certificate, and one had always to be on the alert in
order to know when there would be another certificate.

Later on came the days of the yellow certificates
Lebensschein (life certificate), and the Germans promised
that whoever had such a certificate would remain alive.
Thereafter they gave members of the family, a wife and two
children - not more - they gave them blue life
certificates and green life certificates. Afterwards they
added additional blue, green pink, violet certificates.
After that they issued a "Ghetto Passport." Following that
they issued a pink labour certificate, and subsequently,
finally, they gave us this certificate that everyone had
to wear on his chest like a dog, and we called this
"hintischer nummer" (dog number) - a piece of tin on which
there was the person's number, W.G. "Vilna Ghetto," and M
(Man) or W (Woman) was also written there so that there
should be no mistake. All this kaleidoscope was a planned
and calculated method to deceive the population of the
ghetto, to confuse it and to undermine its strength and
its awareness towards revolt.

Q. Tell me, Dr. Dworzecki, what happened when someone was
unable to secure for himself and for the members of his
family any valid certificate - a life certificate?

A. When a person was unable to secure a life certificate
for himself, there were two courses open to him, or one
course: one way was to be kidnapped - but the people of
the ghetto did not want to be kidnapped; so they organized
places of concealment in the Vilna Ghetto; they were
called "Malines," after the verse "ve'notra Bat-
Zion...Kimeluna ve'miksha" (And the daughter of Zion is a lodge in a garden of cucumbers (Isaiah 1:8).

Then an underground town was established. Every simple
house had a built-in hideout - either in the cellars or in
the attic walls, or below a well, or beneath a lavatory or
under any storeroom. These bunkers constituted a network,
and it was sometimes possible to pass from one bunker to
the next, from one malina to the next. Hence in the course
of months, in the course of years, the ghetto became, from
top to bottom, an underground city of malinas.

Q. And anyone found by the authorities and who did not
possess a valid certificate - what would happen to him?

A. Anyone who was seized by the authorities and who did
not possess a good certificate - ended up in Ponar.

Q. Do you remember the case of a man who returned home and
reported to his mother: Mother, I was obliged to take out
a certificate either for you or for my wife?

A. Yes, I remember this. This was a painful problem
throughout the ghetto, where they gave people one yellow
certificate and they could register a wife and two
children. But if a man had a wife and a mother - he had to
choose whom he would register.

Presiding Judge: The man himself?

Witness Dworzecki: He himself had to decide upon whom he
wanted to bestow life.

Attorney General: On what basis did he get the

Witness Dworzecki: That he should register either his wife
or his mother.

Q. But what was the general basis on which a man received
such a certificate?

A. We came to the police and said: "This is me, this is my
wife and those are my children."

Presiding Judge: Did every Jew receive it?

Witness Dworzecki: No, only those who possessed a
certificate that he was a skilled person, that he was
working in some profession  recognized as a vital
profession. Those professionals who were considered to be
of no importance were teachers, writers, journalists.
Important ones were shoemakers, tailors, furriers who
could be of use to the army. There were a number of
doctors in order to treat sickness in the ghetto. But a
man of the spirit or intellect - a teacher, a rabbi, a
ritual slaughterer, a judge of a religious court, a
writer, a journalist - these
were of no importance and weren't able to receive any life

Attorney General: And so a man would come home and say:

Witness Dworzecki: A man would come home and say to his
mother: "I have here a certificate and I can register
either you, mother, or my wife. One of you has to hide in
some bunker in a Malina, perhaps luck will come her way,
perhaps not.  And if I have three children, I can register
only two and I must abandon the third child to the
Germans. I remember a case where someone went to his
mother and said: "Mother of mine - you tell me what to do.
Wasn't it you who led us to the marriage ceremony and now
I can take only you or my wife?" And then the mother said
to him: "It is written in our Holy Torah 'Therefore shall
a man leave his father and his mother and remain attached
to his wife.' Your wife was destined for you by Heaven,
you have to build a family for yourself; I forego my life
- give life to your wife." And she gave a last blessing to
her son, to the wife and to the children.

Q. This man was you, Dr. Dworzecki.

A. I was the man.

Q. How was the population of men and of the intelligentsia
in the ghetto reduced?

A. When the Germans entered we noticed a very
characteristic phenomenon. From the very beginning the
seizures were carried out solely on men. From the suburbs,
from the centre of the city, young men aged 20, 30, 40,
and up to 50 kept on disappearing, and there remained
women, husbandless women. And we also noticed that the
teachers, the writers, the journalists continued to
disappear. One day was devoted specially to Rabbis' Day.
On that day the Germans went from house to house with a
list and removed the rabbis, the judges, the judges of the
religious courts. They took them away and they did not
return. We understood that there was a German plan to
eliminate the male population of the ghetto so that when
the day came there would not be a fighting force. We knew
that they kept on eliminating the intellectuals, men of
spiritual stature and thinkers, so that there shouldn't
remain leaders and guides for the revolt.

Q. Let us pass over the provocation which led to your
being confined to the ghetto. We shall invite Abba Kovner
to talk about this. Tell us how you went into the ghetto.

A. One day, early in the morning, German armoured cars
suddenly entered the suburbs of Novigored and began taking
out the people by force, men women and children. There was
tremendous confusion. Children searched for their mothers,
a mother would shout: "My child," and they began pushing
us in the direction of the ghetto. As we were walking and
approaching the ghetto, we heard shouts all the way. I am
ashamed to relate that we heard the shouts of our Polish
and Lithuanian neighbours who cried "Death to the Jews!
Death to the Jews!" And this shout haunts me to this day.
"Death to the Jews!" - this was our neighbours' blessing.
And we were chased and herded into the ghetto. And
suddenly we saw that they were splitting us into two
columns - one section was brought to Straszuna Street and
entered it, and the other
part to Lidzki Street, adjoining Straszuna Street. We went
into the ghetto, the streets were teaming with people - no
one knew where he should live. Suddenly we learned the
first principle of the ghetto: let each person live
wherever he could. We burst into apartments which were
open and empty those were the apartments where, until a
week ago, there had been 30,000 Jews, who as a result of
the provocation, had been evacuated from this place to
Ponar, and in this way they made room for us in the
ghetto. Twenty to thirty of us went into a room, into a
room in which some family had previously been living. We
saw a photograph of an old man with a heavy beard, we saw
a passport with the name "Kramer," we saw a glass of tea
with jam, we saw an open prayer book. We understood - the
man had been taken when he was about to go to sleep, taken
to his death.

Throughout the night we heard shouts, and in the morning
it became clear to us that the Jews who were taken to
Lidzki Street were removed from there to the goal at
Lukiszki, and from there to Ponar, hence life and death
was a matter of chance. A person who happened to go to
Straszuna Street remained alive, and one who chanced to go
to Lidzki Street was put to death.

Q. How many people still remained alive in that ghetto at
the time you entered it?

A. In that ghetto there were actually two ghettos - a
first ghetto and a second ghetto. We had no statistics,
but we believed that together there was a total of some
tens of thousands. Some estimated it at 20,000 and others
at 30,000. But one thing immediately became clear to us.
In the second ghetto there were concentrated people
without skills or people whose skills were not important
in the eyes of the Germans. We called it "Ghetto of the
non-professionals." They understood what awaited them.
There began a clandestine movement from the ghetto of the
non-professionals into our ghetto, that of the
"professionals," until that ghetto was wiped out in
several "actions."

I remember another name that was often mentioned, a man
who always was standing near the "actions," Franz Muerer,
who now lives a free man in Austria. He was the deputy
Gebietskommissar (Area Commissioner). The Gebietskommissar
was Hingst. Muerer was his deputy and the expert, referent
on Jewish questions. We read in the press that Muerer is
now a free man in Austria and that he has an important
post in the agricultural field.

Q. Do you know which German unit he belonged to, which

A. No.

Q. You do not know. Possibly Abba Kovner will know?

A. I only know that a few months ago he distributed medals
of merit to farmers who had succeeded in their work, and
that this was in the presence of the Minister of Justice
in Austria.

Presiding Judge: You read this in a newspaper?

A. Yes.

Attorney General: And so the ghetto began to organize?

A. The ghetto began to organize from the first day. The
doctors met together in Straszuna Street and began to set
up a clinic and to organize a hospital. The teachers - led
by an old and beloved teacher, Moshe Olitzky - decided to
establish a unified school for all those children who
previously had attended schools of different trends.

On the third night in the ghetto, I participated in the
first underground meeting and I remember the faces of many
of those who took part. Mordechai Tenenbaum-Tamaroff, the
man who later became the legend of the revolt in the
ghetto, and Yechiel Scheinbaum, who subsequently fell in
the battle of the Barricade at 12 Straszuna Street.

Q. Did you also commence organizing cultural and
educational work?

A. We commenced organizing cultural and educational work.
The beginning of the cultural activity was the
organization of schooling. Gradually we set up a school in
the ruins of destroyed buildings, there was nowhere to sit
- they sat on the ground. There were no desks - they put
their exercise books on the shoulders of their fellow-
pupils and wrote. We organized schools. In the course of
time about 3,000 children studied there.

Q. How many Jews were there in Vilna on the eve of the
outbreak of the War?

A. On the eve of the outbreak of the War there were about
80,000 people. During the War a further influx of refugees
from German-occupied Poland was added. When we were put
into the ghetto, we knew that in the first ghetto there
were roughly 12,000-15,000 people, and in the second
ghetto about 8,000-10,000 people during the few months
until the liquidation of the ghetto.

Q. You knew that the ghetto was a corridor to

A. We knew, we understood that it was a corridor to

Q. You even spoke about it in your daily conversation?

A. We even spoke about it in our daily conversation,
sometimes we would say "Meisim, lomer geyen" (Dead people,
let us go). Sometimes the Germans used to distribute
cheese - this was mainly after the "action." One day an
"action" the next day they distributed cheese. And we even
had a rhyme: "Es, mes (in the Ashkenazi pronunciation)
weisse kez" (Dead man eat white cheese.) The Jews
understood the sadistic irony of the Germans in giving
cheese to the Jews after the slaughter of their brethren
the previous day.

Q. After that there began the individual "actions?"

A. After that there were individual "actions," and
thereafter collective "actions." Individual "actions"
meant that they kidnapped people. They began for any
trivial reason - the badge wasn't right, the paper wasn't
in order, they didn't like it, for no reason at all - for
the Jews were fair game in the hands of the Germans.
Subsequently the collective "actions" began, firstly the
Yom Kippur "action." You should know that the Germans had
a predilection for carrying out "actions" and slaughter
especially on Jewish
Festivals and Holidays. One of the greatest acts of
slaughter, both in Ghetto No. 1 and Ghetto No. 2 was on
Yom Kippur. Then there was the slaughter of the "Yellow
Certificates" at the end of October and on about 3
November, the day after Hanukka, until there remained
approximately 10,000 to 12,000 people.

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