Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Miriam Brysk - February 7, 2004

Escaping Death

Everybody had to come out?

Everybody had to come out, me included.

You were...

Oh yes, that I remember. So we came back, we came back to the ghetto and uh, prior to all this having happened, there, since--as I said before, the, the Jews of Lida were artisans, craftsmen, they were very, they were very industrially oriented production and they--there were factories owned by Jews and run by Jews. So, one of the engineers, his name was Altman, he went to the Germans and said to them, "We have all these trained people. I want to set up factories, workshops that we can work and produce whatever you need in Germany." And so the, the Germans said, "Fine," and they established all these workshops and my mother, my mother worked in a place that made um, belts out of leather. You know small pieces that they would put together, wallets and belts and my aunt worked on some other stuff and the men continued working where they were. Uh, periodically the SS would come with a car in the ghetto and get my father. At first, we thought they were going to kill him or something, but they were only taking him away to operate because some important German was wounded and that--so we would get these special, special things like that. And uh, so these factories were established. And, in fact, they sent photographers apparently from Germany to photograph how productive the Jews of Lida were, who thought they would save themselves by being so essential. And uh, after that, things were quiet for a short time. Maybe a couple months later after the, the incidents with the Vilno Jews, suddenly there were all these rumors something terrible was going to happen. And Altman went to--apparently to the, to the German authorities and wanted to know what was going on. Nobody would tell him anything. On May the 7th, 1942 uh, the White Russians and the Germans and whoever they--the collaborators surrounded the ghetto and in the dawn of May 8th of 1942--it was cold there, there was still snow on the ground--started a big uh, a big slaughter of the, of the Lida Jews. It was--as I say it was dawn, it was very early in the morning. And they, they came in with metal rods and were telling everybody to get out on the street. My, my, my, my mother quickly put my shoes on and covered me and my father. My mother tried to help a woman whose little baby was uncovered in the hair and told her, "No, you stay with your own family." And very quickly they got everybody out of the ghett...out of the houses. And they told us to march as families in, you know, small rows of like three, four people. And uh, we started walking. We walked out of the ghetto, we walked through town. Uh, those who couldn't walk or those who were sick or those who whatever uh, anybody who couldn't go was shot on the spot and it was just red all over the snow. And we walked and we walked, and uh, wal...walked past, past town to this place called--it was called uh, Stoniewicze. And, and then the line briefly came to a stop.

Was it like a ravine?

No, it was an intersection of two roads. And, of course, the, the famous selections. And at first uh, at first, the, the first bunch of people they, they carefully picked--made sure that some of the essential people in some of the factories or whatever were pulled out. That they--if you were going to be sent to the left, you were going to live, if you were sent to the die--to the right, you were going to die. And so--and then my, my aunt, aunt Ala and my uncle Tadek in front of us--he was an essential tinsmith and they decided they needed him and they sent him to the left. But, but it, it was already--by then the quotas had been filled so they weren't really looking. When it was our turn they sent us to the right.

Your aunt Ala also went to the right?

No, my aunt, my aunt and uncle were, were sent to the left...

Oh, I see.

...and we were sent to the right. You know uh, I can't tell you uh, I mean, they would, would hit us from the back to make us run faster. My, my mother, my father--I looked up at them and I, they were just ashen. You could hear firing coming closer. And uh, now during the selection process they had the Gebietskommissar, which was the head of the Germans, they had some SS people. They also had this Altman who periodically picked out people that he needed. And uh, my father wore a red cross because he was a physician, on his arm. Somebody had seen him and apparently said to whoever that they needed, still needed him in the hospital to, to operate. And so suddenly the Germans were saying, you know, soldiers were screaming "Arzt zurück." "Doctor, go back!" My parents didn't hear a thing. You know, oblivious at that point. And they had to physically just stop us. And for awhile we thought my--they would just take my father and they would send us to die but they let us stay together as a family and uh, and we were brought back to the other side. I cannot tell you what it was like meeting up with my aunt and uncle, and you know, just absolutely horrendous realization of, of what was happening. Those who were, were sent to die were taken certain amounts of distance into adj...adjoining forest and there was a pre-dug ditch there and they were undressed uh, and uh, shot in mass graves. One thing I learned later, I didn't know for quite awhile was that the children who were sent to die were all thrown into a separate ditch and, and grenades were thrown at them. So we escaped what seemed like a certain death.

You were six then.

I was six then.

And you knew what was going on.

You had to. It was, it was, uh...

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