Meir Yosef Itzkowitz

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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Addressed May 1st, 1989, Meir wrote a letter in Hebrew to Hillel Don Lazarus while the latter was compiling the Family Book. An English translation is below.

Dear Hillel Don Lazarus:

I am happy and proud to witness again the verification of the old saying, "The identity of Israel is eternal". This, of course, has to do with your recent desire and initiative to research the sources and roots of my mother's side of the family. The family of Cheyna Maidle Lewin. A project like this has the potential of creating new bonds between family members and particularly the children for many generations to come.

When I got the preliminary information you had sent to Avi Ashman, I was very excited and, in the spur of the enthusiasm, felt like flying immediately to meet you. However, as in this case, desire and ability do not always go along.

I would like to get actively involved with your project as I am the only one from my mother's family who actually survived all the horrors our nation had to go through in Europe in the times of Stalin and Hitler.

Here are some brief details of my life during the second world war:

1939 - Germany invaded Poland. I served in the Polish army and participated in the defense of Warsaw. I was taken captive by the Germans and returned during a prisoner of war exchange between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. I managed to get back to Devenishok (Dziewieniszki), which was under Soviet rule, but could not find peace and happiness there.

1940 - I separated from my family and fled Devenishok and went to Lithuania which was still independent and democratic. At the border, I was captured by Russian guards and had to stand trial. At the trail, I claimed that "I actually came from Lithuania and my intentions were to get to Russia". I managed to convince them since, when I was caught, I was accidentally facing Russia. The verdict was to return me to Lithuania where a special committee would decide if I could go "back" to Russia.

1940 - 1941 - I was a war refugee in Lithuania and I got a permit to work as a teacher in a Hebrew school in a village near Vilna called Olkniky. At that time, two girls came from Devenishok. They were Sara-Taiba Lewin and Pearl Lewin who were the wives of Nachum and Moshe Lewin (Nathan and Morris Levi). They managed to get "Affidavits" to emigrate and left for the United States.

1941 - Germany attacked its ally, Russia. Since I already predicted what we could expect from the Germans, a few friends and I planned an escape from Lithuania towards Russia. Not far away from the village, we were attacked by native villagers and they ripped us off, totally. I got to Devenishok only in my underwear. My father did not allow me to continue towards Russia. He said, "Thank God we got rid of the Soviet-Communists -- we will survive the Germans too."

July 1941 - The Germans came to Devenishok. They took the Torahs out of our Shules (Synagogues) and ran over them with their tanks. They denied the Jews citizenship rights.

May 11, 1942 - The mass murdering of Jews from Devenishok (Dziewieniszki), Kolelishok, Bienkoni, Voronova (Waranowa) Bastoon and other neighboring villages was executed by the Nazis. It was a nice sunny day. The flowers bloomed, birds sang, and all living things enjoyed the beautiful nature as masses of Jews were led to their graves. On that day, about 8000 Jews were shot and their bodies were thrown into a big hole dug in the ground. Some of them fell in still alive but terribly wounded.

On the following day, I walked along the death-road and, on my way, I found items that belonged to people I knew. I found pieces of a picture of Pesach Lewin, the father of Nachum and Moshe (Nathan and Morris). After this mass murder, the ones that were left (supposedly those with some profession) were transferred to the Ghetto in Lida (now a city in Soviet Byelorussia). I managed again to flee from the Ghetto and joined the Partisans. After a short time, a friend and I returned to the Ghetto and smuggled out 29 more Jews to join the Partisans, among them my wife-to-be, Esther Mikulitski. As a Partisan, I fought and took revenge against the Nazis and their helpers until the whole region was freed by the Soviet Army.

Summer 1944 - Esther and I went back to her home town, Lida. It was a horror town. Most of the houses were destroyed and the few that were left were empty. NO JEWS WERE AROUND. Late at night, Esther and I crossed the border into Poland and, from there, went through Czechoslovakia, Romania, Austria and went into Italy. Only in Italy did we finally find peace and quiet and begin to live again as human beings.

What you just read are only a very few details of what I had to go through. If I could only participate in the upcoming reunion, then maybe I could complete the picture and share with you all the information about our family that lived in conquered Europe. The family that lost so many of its members, who do not exist anymore.

I send my blessing for a successful reunion and many kisses to you all.

Too bad there is no way to help me make the trip, since I am the only "well" from which you can still get information and this "well" is also not eternal.

I only hope that maybe the next reunion can take place on ours and our forefather's land in Israel.

Yours with lots of love,

Meir Yosef Itzkowitz