The Story of a Jewish-Zionist Community

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In 1988, fully 43 years after the Holocaust, Katriel Lashowitz published a memoir about Volkovysk in Tel Aviv titled "Volkovysk: The Story of a Jewish-Zionist Community."  Lashowitz was well-aware of Moses Einhorn's 1949 Wolkowysker Yizkor Book , but concerned that it was inaccessible to younger Israelis because it had been written in Yiddish. He enlisted the aid of other Volkovyskers and penned his own story, focusing primarily on the Holocaust period.

 

Included in this book was a short section on Porozow, which was translated into English and republished by Jacob Solomon Berger, who has graciously given permission to reprint his translation here. Anyone interested in purchasing Jacob's work, which includes translations of the 1949 Einhorn book as well as of Hurban Volkovysk (1942), is welcome to contact him via e-mail.

Porozow - English Translation

 

About six hundred Jews lived in Porozovo, nearly all of them living in the four streets and few byways alongside them. Apart from a few farmers, most of the Jews who lived there made a living at trades, commerce and store keeping, as was the case in most towns of the area. The economic and spiritual center of the Jews was Volkovysk, and it was also the last station before they were sent to the death camps.

During the brief period of the Russian regime in the town, beginning in October 1939, the Jews continued with their way of life. Trades people were forced to organize themselves into cooperatives, but they made a living from their trades. There were no big-time "capitalists" in Porozovo, and the Soviets didn't have anyone to exile in Siberia, as was their custom in the larger cities, but they did manage to put pressure on the small merchants and the store keepers whose stores had been closed. Opposite this, there was no change at all in the lives of those who worked the land, who kept on doing so as they had done since time immemorial.

Porozow - Original Hebrew

 

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On June 24, 1941, the sounds of the exchange of gunfire between the Germans and the Russians could already be heard in the town, and German vehicles could be seen in the area. After a few days, the fire reached the town, and a specific part of it was consumed in flames (including the Schulhof, the old and new Bet HaMedrash, the community hall, etc.). The Jews didn't even try to put out the fire, because most, if not all of them, went into hiding out of fear of the Germans, who destroyed the houses where the Jews lived, and took a number of Jews out to be killed that same day, for no reason. On Thursday of that week, the Soviet soldiers had the upper hand in their battle with the Germans and they returned to the town, but on the following day, German reinforcements arrived, and drove all the Russians out of Porozovo. All of the decrees used against the Jews (yellow badges, prohibitions against commerce, and many other prohibitions) were publicized during those first days of German occupation. The Jews were ordered to elect a Judenrat, but there were none particularly leaping at the job, because the nature of the responsibilities were well-known.

During the three months from September - November 1941, there was relative quiet in the town, but the economic condition got unbearably bad. The real power in the town at that time was the town head, a Pole named Radivinsky. The head of the Judenrat was the baker, Lev, who succeeded in a number of instances to get several decrees abated by means of bribing the Germans and Poles. Refugees from nearby villages began to reach the town, and the Jews of Porozovo tried to assist them, even if their means were severely limited. At the end of the summer of 1942, a new German commissar arrived in the town, who increased the pressure on the Jews, even though he also benefited from receiving bribes and payoffs.

In general, one can say that there was a very effective partnership between the Germans and Poles, in all matter pertaining to making life miserable for the Jews, surprise searches of their homes, etc. There was no ghetto in Porozovo, but the entire Jewish population was compelled to do all manner of forced labor for the Germans, never less than 10 hours a day. One day, they arrested all the young people in the town, but after a week, they were let go, thanks to the efforts of the Judenrat, which greased the palms of the local people. After several months, a ghetto was erected that stretched for two blocks: the entry road up to Zapolia and Novy Dwor Gasse. The crowding in this small ghetto was literally awesome, and the sanitary conditions caused the onset of disease, epidemics and death.

On one of the nights, all the Jews were ordered to assemble in the marketplace square, and from there, a trek began in the direction of Volkovysk. Only mothers and small children were permitted to ride in wagons. About fifty old and sick people were left behind in the town. Thirty of them were later transferred to Volkovysk, but the rest were taken out and killed. All the Jews that were transferred from Porozovo were interred in bunkers, in which the Jews of other towns in the vicinity were already imprisoned, and after a time, they were sent to the death camps.
2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011  Scott D. Seligman