West Virginia Remembers the Holocaust with Beckley's Annual Day of Remembrance (Yom HaShoah)

MAX LEWIN'S STORY

Background

In 1968, many Jews began to write memorial books related to their hometowns that were directly affected by the Holocaust. Max Lewin's brother, Avner Levin, was selected to contribute to and edit Lipniszki's memorial book, Sefer Zikaron Shel Ḳehilat Lipnishoḳ. This, and other volumes of this genre, told the stories of the survivors' hometowns, including personal accounts of the Holocaust and a necrology of those who died during one of the darkest times in human history. These books were primarily written in Hebrew, with many of the personal accounts in Yiddish.

Max Lewin, under his given name Meir, recounted the horrors he, his family, and his Lipniszki neighbors faced. This was not an exhaustive memoir, as Max had other stories that were not published here. He concentrated on those stories that directly related to his family and neighbors. Max would continue to suffer for nearly two years beyond the chronology that is written here. In addition to his personal story, Max is careful to cite dates of significance. Incidentally, the day his family was taken (September 19, 1941) was the day before Max's 23rd birthday.

While other memorial books have been translated into English, only the necrology of Sefer Zikaron Shel Ḳehilat Lipnishoḳ has an English version. Desiring to know what Max had written, I set out to translate his chapter and other passages of the book. He penned these memories in Yiddish, the lingua franca of the Ashkenazim. Yiddish is Germanic in origin, but draws upon Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic, and additional local European language families and dialects. It is written in Hebrew script and follows a right to left orientation unlike other European languages. Having studied both Hebrew and German in the 1970s, I had a cursory knowledge of both and could separate out some of the Hebraisms and Germanisms that were found in Max's chapter.

Honestly, I relied heavily on Google Translate to accomplish this goal, but online tools only do so much. I encountered unusual translations of some passages. These were obviously incorrect. Breaking down a word to its root allowed a better, but not perfect, translation. Once the rudimentary translation was completed, I reconstructed the order and wording to correspond to English. Max's emotion was prevalent throughout his chapter.

James M. Owston, EdD
March 2018

The Tragic End

Meir Lewin, America

Holocaust survivor Max Lewin in November 1946 - six months after arriving in America
Max Lewin in November 1946

We left Lipniszki on the 19th of September 1941 when all Jews from Lipniszki had to leave this small town and go, as the Jews were no longer permitted. Only criminals, the pharmacist, his wife and the patients he was treating were left in Lipniszki.

In Ivye, the Germans nominated a Jewish council and a Jewish correspondent who was the representative of the Jewish occupation and all the families that were distributed to the habitat in Ivye. Our family had an apartment in the farmers market along with another family of our small town. The Germans were able to target all the Jews from the neighboring region. I worked every day in various places and my father worked in the Ivye sawmill.

We Dug Ditches

On the 11th of May in the evening, the Judenrat reported that the Germans demanded a group of young men to work. I was in one of the groups. We went through Bernhard Street, passing the mill and later on the main road being 3 or 4 km from Ivye. A large group of German soldiers accompanied us to the designated location.

We immediately understood that our task was to dig pits, particularly they were designed and tailored as long as they should be broad. We began to work without knowing it was going to be tombs for many of our dearest and most precious ones in life. Many of these youngsters would be in the same pits that they had dug themselves.

When we came home, we were very unhappy and quiet because it was a terrible march. The situation in the city, however, was much more boisterous, as they knew something was going to happen. They ran to the Judenrat and to anyone who assured them that nothing was going to happen. Nevertheless, they were aware of their fate, because they saw how many Germans were now in the streets of the town that night. Some families were kept outside the city and were under guard. Everyone felt that something would happen, despite what we were being told. We could not imagine nor could we expect such a horrible act and such a terrible march.

The First Action

On the 12th of May, very early on, one of the German soldiers ordered all the Jews, from small to large, to the registrar. Sick people and invalids, who could not go, were lying in the houses.

In the market, all were ordered to their knees. One of the larger areas was packed with tanks, heavy machinery, and a large number of soldiers. They remained on their knees and waited. One has not waited for anything without knowing what might happen. A terrible feeling came over the mass of thousands of Jews who sat as one party. The air was filled with a dead silence which reigned all around.

However, they did not hear any sighs nor weeping of little children. We saw in this people that the hearts of the small and great were strengthened from all sides. Do those in the lines and group realize that on that day they were to be led in the direction of death? All the Jews went until it was too late. In the meantime, we've heard shooting and awful cries. Then we already knew what we had done before. What a lot to fall on us.

One way leads us to death. We calmly walk; families are hand-in-hand. No weeping and crying. We cannot cry; we cannot dream; we cannot look left or right. One must not disturb the great Germans. You would need weapons for protection, and so we went to the place where it was. There stood a group of German officers. One of them has pointed his sword at each of us to determine the direction he wanted us to go: "right," "left" or "ahead." With his sword, this murderer of a nation appointed the fate of thousands of people.

We did not even know the which of the three directions would be selected. Which one was to death and which to life? But we advanced. Minutes later, we knew that those going "ahead" were headed for death. When the Jews were sent ahead, only short steps were taken on the road, they were soon flung, hit, and pushed by the guards. We heard shots. The cries and the screams grew stronger and stronger from the first group that came to the pits. Reinforcements for the guards and shooters arrived and the screaming resumed. After about thirty minutes, the Germans finished their gruesome and bloody act.

The remaining families have lost a part of their lives. Weeping broke the sharp silence. We all stood up, and we thought that, when we would not have the blame on our blood, we did not know what to expect, and what will be our fate. Then came the fellow of the Judenrat, who hated us, and he told us to go back to our homes.

For our family, these times passed peacefully, and no one was lost. Going back home, we saw in the streets: blood stains, and numerous items increasing in number, such as shoes and clothing, as we walked.

On all sides. the pavement was red from shed blood. How are we going to sleep? We came back into our old apartment. The family that had lived with us never came back. Back in the houses, families had been torn apart and they were upset, as the bloodied collapsed slowly.

Again, our emotions began to drain and then they again increased. It is like our brains have died, as we begin to think and consider what had happened to them. First, they did know of this great tragedy that happened. Then they began to traumatize over the terrible ills which took their cherished and closest ones: the children, the parents, and sisters and brothers. Something like this could never be comprehended, but everything really happened, and their neighbors will never come back, because they are all dead.

However, during that same evening, the Germans selected and called group men to work. I was among that group. We knew where we are going. The whole road, which had been sealed off, was filled with signs of this cruel tragedy. Clothes, shoes, and various items were present; there was a line of dried blood the length of the whole path to the pits. When we were approaching the pits, we heard the cry and help of the wounded and half dead men. The long pits were filled with thousands of dead people.

"I am overwhelmed on how I would spend half of my life with the blood of relatives, friends, and acquaintances on my hands, my clothes, and my boots"

And whoever a saw a lifted hand, a head, or a half body needing care and requesting help, the prisoners ran to the pits and sought their lost relatives. Some recognized their parents, sisters, and brothers. And they began to cry and scream. The panic was great. The Germans struck the laborers and they were thrown down like their neighbors.

All the victims were naked, and some of them were lying on the edge of the pits. We were forced to step on the naked bodies of our relatives and best friends. We did not have any other choice. We have been driven out by the way, and immediately began to put the bodies into the pits. As the Germans commanded, we put bodies on bodies in the middle of the pit. From above and on the sides below it had the appearance of a huge tomb. Our work was mechanical, because our blood had been compromised and we were wholly inundated by our feelings.

As we remained, the Germans pushed us to work more quickly. Afterwards, we worked calmly rather than be regarded as rioters. Because of these traits, the Germans brought a lot of food, which nourished our bodies; after that, we began to complete the pits. Saddened, as this would be the last that we would see our neighbors and best friends in life.

When we had finished the work and lifted our heads and looked around, we first noticed the great piles of items: women's clothing, men's clothing, shoes, watches, gold, gold teeth all in separate piles.

The Germans did not do this, they forced the miserable victims to strip naked and lay down their personal items in this place and then go to the pits. Such a massacre, which the devil himself could not better plan and organize, but the Germans – those savage murderers – they brought about this conclusion. They planned it and had broken and sacrificed every one of them. This is what they wanted to do. We were those who saw it and would have never comprehended it.

According to the report, the Germans were celebrating this day by killing 7,000 people. Later, we realized that this occurred in other cities where they had killed all the men who had dug the pits. For us, we were brought back to the small town and sent home.

My mother was exasperated when she saw me back at home; it was like she saw us coming back from the dead. But today, when I think about those horrific ones, I am overwhelmed on how I would spend half of my life with the blood of relatives, friends, and acquaintances on my hands, my clothes, and my boots. Many don't understand what the surviving Jews experienced and how their minds and bodies harbor so much fear and anguish for such a long time due to what was committed by those murderers.

The Ghetto in Ivye

On the 13th of May, the Judenrat gathered all the Jews, and they reported that we had to move into a place near Ivye that the Germans appointed for the surviving Jews. From this day, the Jews will live in a closed-off area and will no longer move freely as before. Despite the horrific events of yesterday, it was mundane news.

No one knows what to do with us. Previously, there were already empty and uninhabited houses along the streets. The ghetto has parts of streets on both sides of the market. We lived in the house of our father, Yechiel, along with Eliezer Karklinsky and his family. We began working and the specific ghetto life resumed.

The severe wounds of the terrible actions are not forgotten, especially by the families who lost their nearest and cherished ones. Our sense of duty is to remember everyone in our hearts. What will be our fate? Is it not possible that the things that happened yesterday can be repeated? And why not? All signs seem to point to yes.

"I went . . . to Christians we had known living near Lipniszki . . . They were afraid of the Germans. They even feared to speak with us"

They were looking for ways to keep up the ghetto; however, it was not easy. It created various problems. The young people were able to escape to the Partisans, but what should the old and the sick people do? They would be left alone in the hands of the Nazi savages. We experienced this in our home.

My younger brother, Joseph, had wanted to go into the forest to the Partisans. All the children of our family could make it. As well, our father could go, but what would happen to mother? She had a weak leg, and she could not even stand one night in the cold. My sister Leah and I went out for a week from the ghetto and went to Christians we had known living near Lipniszki. We wanted to give them anything they wanted to help our parents. But none of the peasants wanted to do it. They were afraid of the Germans. They even feared to speak with us, and we went back with empty hands.

Our mother had implored that we escape and be saved. However, we refused to go and leave mother in the ghetto. When I consider now the situation, we made the right decision. I am very happy that we have so acted and did not leave mother alone. I would never be able to forget, and my conscience would always be unclean. So, we have complied with our fate of the severe life in the ghetto. We have heard that our aunt, Sarah Kabatsnik with her family were alive and couldn't have stayed longer. They were hiding out at a Gentile's home.

Liquidation of Ivye Ghetto

On January 1, 1943, we were all called into train cars, which have already been prepared for us. It was in a cold winter, when a thief was snow that covered the ground. The frost was strong, and every one of us were very cold. Many young people are going to the Partisans in the woods, but no one from our family has. No one was touched, because we did not want to be selected again. We all went to the wagons and let fate determine our future. In the wagon, mother was very cold, and she suffered from her weak leg. For a few days, we have stood and traveled from Borisov (Russia) and then to Smolensk.

The Tragic Day in Białe Błota: The Second Slaughter

Białe Błota is 14 km from Borisov. There in the forest was a small camp with an underground barracks, in which the Jews have been kept. But they clamored for life in the subterranean barracks and did not submit long to the Germans.

The 10th of March 1943 arrived in the camp of Great Lodge, and the Germans called all Jews out of the barracks to place themselves in lines. Here they did not count people like they did in the first slaughter in Ivye. They looked at these people who have arrived and desired the goods that they owned. Here was the tragic story of our family. They took my father, my mother and the child, Chaia. Leah, which when our parents were running, started back with me. Joseph stayed close to the truck.

In a short time later, the vehicles left and again we heard shooting from machine guns, which we had not forgotten from the first slaughter. We knew quite well what happened with our most precious ones. We cried until there were no tears to cry. I do not even know the precise location where they were killed and where to find their tombs – where they are buried.

"we asked the murderous assassins to take and annihilate us, for this . . . looked much better than life . . . One of them answered us, 'Your time will come, but you need to wait'"

I only remember only that they died not far from Białe Błota, which is 14 km away from the city of Borisov in Russia. It was here that their son Meir, in death, remained alive. Also Eliezer Karklinsky was the only one from his family who also had survived. In this situation, the women, older men, and children were killed. After the slaughter, we have one small boy who remained.

Of our shtetl, all that remained were me; my brother Joseph; my sister Leah; Meir, the son of Uncle Moses; Eliezer Karklinsky; and Eliezer Gotelevsky. Leah was our second mother, and we were her children. Despite the fact that no one knew anything and had no help or the hope that our parents gave us every day that we might survive these horrific times and this terrible, murderous war.

Max Lewin's parents: Yechiel and Sarah
Max's parents: Yechiel and Sarah Lewin

I would like to disappear. I am at a loss for words for what happened on the 10th of March 1943 and did not know what to do. I still remember today what we experienced and how we felt when, early in the morning, we asked the murderous assassins to take and annihilate us, for this had, in our eyes, looked much better than life. We wished that we could see how they destroyed our dearest ones. One of them answered us, "Your time will come, but you need to wait."

Smolensk and Minsk

On the 15th of August 1943, I was suffering from an illness of typhus. The disease had spread greatly among us in the camp, and many people were dying. Leah and Joseph worked and so did I, even though I was overtaken with fever. As a Jew, it had been tempered and I remained alive; Jews today cannot understand it. We did not stay long in Smolensk, with the front moved back, we arrived in Minsk.

In Minsk, all three of us were here. Joseph was diseased with typhus. He was so weak that he was unable to stand on one leg. In the course of working hours, we placed a bar under his trousers. In the meantime, and in the early days, both of us kept him standing until the Germans began killing people. None of us were selected. So, it was for us to save Joseph. Those who are sick were being shot.

Lublin and Treblinka

On September 1, 1943, we were brought to Lublin. Here we were all taken off the wagons. They have separated the women from among us by the older men including our sister Leah. Here we are no longer shot. People had not yet heard the cries of these crimes. From this place, those who did not remain in Lublin were sent to Treblinka. There they were all chained in the gardens and burned in the great furnace. [Ed. note: At Treblinka, the victims were first gassed, and their bodies were then burned].

None of these victims desired the new German state-of-the-art system that enabled them to execute great masses fast and quietly, without the need to carry out shootings as before. They have a great harvesting plan to destroy millions of people. These things happened so fast that I did not know what was going on here. This was a loss; our second mama has been burned by the fire and my world has already been darkened. I had Joseph with me and I tried to comfort him, but the loss was too great for the both of us.

On the last day, when they again checked us, I hoped I would now go anywhere alongside of Joseph. We agreed to hold both hands with our hands never separating. This day did not happen quickly with us. We were always together and not separated, not even for a minute, because we always lived in fear that that something could happen, and we would lose one another.

However, it arrived on the 3rd day in September in which I have lost the last candle of our family. Our little brother Joseph, in this day, also died.

Max Lewin's brother Joseph at age 11 in 1937
Max Lewin's brother Joseph at age 11 in 1937

The Lipniszki Jews: Meir, uncle Moses's son; Eliezer Karklinsky; and Eliezer Gotelevsky; and I remained alone. All the Jews from Lipniszki, who were along with me, they were my whole family. It was the only thing to do.

"But we, the survivors, have the sacred duty to always remember our people who were so tragically misused at the hands of the Nazi murderers"

That day we were driven from the carts, and again we were sorted into lines. All the Lipniszkim were standing one behind the other. I was with Joseph that day in the first line and I kept his right hand in my left hand. Then they arranged two positions and started to count. One of the officers came up with a knock with his baton over our hands and separated Joseph's group to go left. My group went right. I'm here coming from my line and letting go of Joseph, but the Germans began to march us, and I am unable to see this other group of Jews. From that moment, I have not seen nor heard of my dear brother Joseph. Is he safe? Or has he perished with the other Lipniszkim in the gas chambers at Treblinka.

These little broken Jews were again added to the wagons and moved to Germany. When I arrived at our new camp in Germany, I had, with the help of the German laborers, tried to find out the fate of the group that was discharged from us in Lublin. But, nothing could be found. Their documents are lost, as is the documentation of additional millions of victims.

This is all I remember and what I will never forget. These were the events and the tragic end of our great and beautiful family, and of also all the rest of the Jews from our town Lipniszki. Their bodies and their ashes are scattered over Russia and Poland. But we, the survivors, have the sacred duty to always remember our people who were so tragically misused at the hands of the Nazi murderers.


For other perspectives on Ivye, see Shifre Margolin and Dr. A. Kaplinski's accounts of this tragedy.

The Holocaust Encyclopia features information on the killings at Treblinka.