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The Escape from the Vileyka Ghetto
By Jehoash Alperovitch

The Germans occupied our area in June of 1941. After several months they organized a Ghetto/camp in the city of Vilejka, about 5 miles from the town of Kureniec, where I was born. Most of the Jews of Vilejka were killed a short time before, but we were sure that they were just sent away to a work camp in another area, as the Germans told us.
In the Ghetto there were about 300 people, most of them women with children. In a short time after we arrived the Germans divided the Ghetto in two: one - for specialists and the other - for people who did not have a clearly defined specialty. Our family (including my father, mother, my younger brother and I) was enrolled in the list of the specialists Ghetto, for the reason that my father and I were designated as "Carpenters” when the Germans asked for professional men. We were sent to another location, about a mile from the common Ghetto.
It was a big hut near the workshops where we labored all day. We were about 100 people including the specialists and their families. I was then 15 years old. About one month later the non-specialists Ghetto was liquidated, everyone was killed and the entire place was burnt down. We could see it burning through the windows of the workshops. Now, we could only wait for our turn and most of us knew that it was only a matter of time until our turn would come. 
During the first two weeks after the killings, six youths escaped from our Ghetto. They looked for a way of connecting with the Russian partisans, who only recently began to have underground missions in our area. The Underground units badly needed guns and other ammunition. Most of us intended to escape from the Ghetto in a short time, but we were faced with two big problems. First of all the Ghetto was well guarded at night, so we could go out of the Ghetto only in daytime. But in the day all the men were in the workshops, which were guarded. At noon we had an intermission for about a half-hour. Around the Ghetto there were a lot of German camps, including the Gestapo, so we had a short window of opportunity to escape. We had to leave at noon, and during a period of half an hour, with the families and children, cross over about three miles of land covered with snow, avoiding been seen by any Germans. Three miles from the Ghetto there was a vast forest and we hoped to hide there until the nighttime arrives. Accomplishing it was our first challenge.
The second problem seemed to us even more complicated to overcome. Some families had many young children and they objected to the idea of escaping out of the Ghetto. Those people had good reasons for the objection. It was wintertime, the snow was deep and it was a very cold winter that year. To go out into the woods with little children in such winter meant (in their opinion) a hundred percent death for the children. They said that if they would wait, maybe the Russians will return to this area and the Germans would not have enough time to kill them. To Furthermore complicate the escape The Germans had threatened to kill all of us if anyone would attempt to escape, so they objected to anyone else escaping, and they even carefully watched at night all the people who were suspected of planning to escape. This was a real complicated dilemma, which did not seem to have a good solution.
In the meantime we found a way to get guns and ammunition, we arranged a connection with the six young teenage boys who escaped earlier and sent them guns and ammunition. We also got guns for ourselves. The method to send ammunition was organized this way: We made two thick wooden boards, which had holes along them. We filled the hole of one board with ammunition and closed it very thoroughly. The boards had the same measurement as regular boards of a wagon. A farmer who lived near the woods would come once a week to Vileyka and leave the horses with the wagon near the hospital wall that was adjacent to the Ghetto. One of us would come to the wall and take out the board from the wagon and put in our board with the ammunition, which looked exactly the same. The farmer would return to his horse and wagon and ride home. The boys would come at night to this farmer and take out the ammunition.
It was March 1943. The Germans still needed us, so we were kept alive. But rumors arrived from all over the area about liquidations of the last few Jewish communities of our area. We knew that the time we had at our disposal to plan was not long any more. We made meticulous preparations and decided on plans of escape, we all got guns to be used during the escape. But the problem with the large families remained. Those families didn't like the entire idea of escaping and they made every effort to prevent it.
A solution of this problem must come, maybe from heaven, and it did. It was the beginning of the spring. At daytime the sun would shine, but the nights were still very cold. The snow began to melt, but at night the surface would be covered with ice. We had been waiting for the farmer, who would take the "board" once a week. We looked through the window and saw the farmer coming on time. Then we saw one of our people taking the farmer's board and putting ours into the wagon. Ten minutes passed and we saw the farmer come, take his horse and wagon and go away. Everything was perfect as usually. But five minutes passed, and somebody in the workshop shouted;
, "We are lost! The farmer with the "board" was caught by the Germans".
Everybody ran to the window and saw the farmer with his horse going along the street and a policeman was walking behind him. The direction was to the Gestapo building. It was about 20 minutes before the lunchtime. We consulted with each other quickly
” What are we to do?”
We decided to go out of the Ghetto at once. We went out of the workshops and told the families what had happened. We told the women to prepare themselves and the children to go out of the Ghetto in five minutes.
We took off the yellow stars, which we wore constantly, we procured the little bags, which were prepared for the escape and went out of the Ghetto.
According to our plan (which was prepared for an occasion of escaping) every two- or three people went in a different direction silently. I went with my father and held his hand. My young brother went with our mother and held her hand. We agreed to meet each other at a certain point in the woods and then continue together.
On our way out of town we met some Germans, but they didn't recognize us as Jews and didn't pay any attention to us. First we went along the street and the road. Later we turned across the fields. We knew exactly that in twenty minutes (when the intermission in the workshops will be over) the Germans would be coming to chase us and we hurried on. We were about a half-mile from the forest when we heard the noise of the German cars and motorcycles behind us.
They jumped down from their vehicles and ran in our direction shouting to us to return and shooting at the same time. The distant between the Germans and us got shorter and shorter. When the Germans were about 150 feet from us, some of our people took out their guns and began to shoot at the Germans.
The Germans stopped for several minutes, apparently to better organize their pursuit according to the unexpected circumstances. This short stopping allowed us to reach the woods. The Germans continued the pursuit in the forest, shooting from the machine guns and using dogs. Many of us were killed or caught by the Germans. Needless to state here is the fact that each one of us has a different story about this day.
To finish the story briefly I will tell you the results of this action for our family; my father and I arrived safely to the Partisan's Zone after four days. My mother was killed in this action. It is not clear why the German, who killed my mother, let my brother go (he was then 9 years old). Somehow or other my brother remained alone in the woods. After rambling in the woods for four days during a very cold time and without any food he was still only about one mile from the city of Vileyka. A kind-hearted farmer found him on the fifth day and gave him to a Jewish partisan from our town. The partisan brought him to us in our hiding place in the woods.

Jehoash with parents; Liba and Mordechai Alperovitch/Shapiro
My brothers’ entire body was swollen and he was unconscious. Nobody even believed that he would survive. After several weeks he recovered, but only physically. For years he shouted during the night and held our father's hand even when he slept. He shouted, "Don't leave me alone!"
My brother died in Israel as a result of a work accident, when he was 24 years old. It happened in 1958. It was a short time before I left Russia to live in Israel.
I didn't even have the opportunity to see him again after 1944.
To conclude my story I would say that the escape, generally speaking, was the least of the evils we could have choose. Despite all that had happened;
The deaths of many people and suffering of many others living outdoors in the woods, there were some positive results of our escaping;
First of all about 60 people out of a 100, who attempted, succeeded to escape to the partisan’s zone in this action. About 50 of them survived the war. It was a lot, relative to other Jewish communities of our area. Secondly, my cousin and I had the opportunity to be witnesses in a court during the court case of the chief of the German Gestapo of Vilejka and to tell hundred of young Germans who were present in the hall, what had happened there. Being in Ghetto we didn't believe that even one of us would have the chance to do so.
Finally, despite of their warnings the Germans didn't kill the specialists who stayed in Ghetto after our escape. The Germans needed them at that point of time. They continued working for the Germans for almost another year and a half until the day the Russians liberated the region. However, just before the Germans left, they killed all of them. After the liberation we found a letter from one of the victims, which said:
"We can already hear the cannonades of the Russian cannons, but the sound of freedom are not calling for us. We are sure that we will not be alive when the Russian army will reach us”
The same fate would have been waiting for us if we did not escape when we did.
One more question of this story requires an answer: What had happened with the farmer and the board with the ammunition? The answer to this question is very simple. - Nothing. Yes nothing. A policeman asked the farmer to take his wife to the hospital. So he brought her to the hospital and then he went home safely with the ammunition.