Mom didn’t let us mention this city.
“Mom didn’t let us mention this city.” Descendants of runaway ghetto prisoners came to Grodno
Two close families from Argentina – the Solnitsky and Kurash – started preparations for a trip to Grodno last November. Grodno is a special place for them. It’s a place of their roots, where their parents miraculously survived during the WWII and later moved overseas. Prior to a long journey, the Argentineans have studied the memories of their parents, searched for documents and old maps to find the houses they needed on the streets of Grodno. The first weekend of July they finally arrived on the land of their ancestors and saw a city that their parents did not want to remember.
The Argentineans spent only two days in Grodno. During this time, they managed to fulfill their plan: to find their parents’ homes, as well as to visit the territory of the former ghetto. They also expressed gratitude to the family in the village of Kukali, which had helped the Jewish refugees to hide. A valuable gift that they brought to Grodno was a record of the memories of their parents, which were collected by the Steven Spielberg Shoah Foundation.
“Mom had run to the Bielskis”
Jose Pyaskovsky was looking for his mother’s house in the area of Bolshaya Troitskaya and 1st Trudovaya streets, where before the war there was a Jewish quarter with a small Towarowa street.
“My mother, daughter of Ephraim, Rachel Kurash was born in Grodno in 1924 and lived on Tovarova Street. She remembered well the life in the city when it was under Polish rule. Then she often experienced insults and humiliation in the streets. When Soviet power came in 1939, life in the city changed for the worse, but my mother began to feel more freely than under the Polish rule.
In 1941, the Nazis came. Mom and her family, like other Jews of Grodno, got into the ghetto. Nevertheless, she managed to escape, as she worked for the Germans outside the ghetto. She fled to the forest; from there she got to the Jewish partisan unit of the Bielsky brothers. There she met my father and they fell in love. After the liberation of Belarus in 1944, my Dad continued to fight and was seriously wounded. Mom, meanwhile, returned to Grodno and found none of her relatives – there was nothing left of the pre-war life…
After the war, my parents agreed to leave Grodno. First, we left for the Southern Europe and then overseas from there by ship. Mom had very sad memories about all the events in Grodno, she tried never to speak Polish again and forbade us to ask her about Grodno, much less go there. She did not want to return to the past, and when we suggested recording her memories, she wouldn’t agree for a long time, but we begged her. It was hard for her. ”
Hiding at cemetery and at kind people’s houses
Sabrina Solnitskaya with her father Pablo were looking for the house of their Grodno family on the now Vasilka Street. In the 1930s, it was called Rydza Smiglego.
“My mother, Paula Vinitskaya, was born in Grodno in 1925,” says Pablo. – “She lived with two sisters, a brother and parents in the street now called Vasilka, 29. They lived well and happily, her father had his own sawmill in Rybnitsa. Mom studied at the Queen Jadwiga School. At a young age, she met my father Yacob Solnitsky, he was also a Grodno resident. Dad lived in the Jewish quarter, his father was observant; he was pickling cucumbers and then selling them.”
Pablo says that with the coming of the Nazis all the Jews of Grodno got to ghetto, including his parents.
“Father had an opportunity to leave the ghetto, he worked at some meat factory in Grodno. He would steal meat and carried it to the ghetto little by little to feed the others. When he managed, he brought the children to work, thereby saving them. He left the babies in different churches and some of them changed their faith afterwards but others did not forget about their Jewish roots and found their parents after the war.
One day my father took his father-in-law and fled with him. At first, they hid in the forest, not far from the grandfather’s sawmill. The clerk was hiding them in some well. The second part of the family - grandmother, mother and her sister also managed to escape. For two weeks they’ve been hiding at the cemetery. Afterwards, there appeared one man who helped our women. He hid them in the attic of the house of a famous writer. They have stayed there for about a year. Then the family reunited and all five people hid in the village, not far from Grodno. To split up was the right decision. ”
After the liberation, Pablo’s parents returned to Grodno, but their family home was occupied. In a while, the house was delivered to them, but the family decided to leave the city.
“A lot has been lost. Old Grodno was gone, the surviving Jews scattered around the world. They said that after the war there were a little more than a hundred. Yet today it is difficult for us to understand how some of the Grodno Jews remained in this city after horrors of the war. Our parents first left for Poland, and from there sailed across the ocean. There was a problem – Argentine did not want to let Jews into its country after the war. However, one Jewish organization in Odessa bought 50 thousand German passports and people left Europe with fake documents. There was such a tricky system. And our parents took advantage of it. First, they sailed to Paraguay, made new passports there. And after that they moved to Argentine. ”
Back to Europe
The Kurash and Solnitsky families who had known each other in Grodno before WWII met in Argentine and helped each other. Together, the Grodno residents established a successful shoe-making factory. They tried not to remember about Grodno and no one wanted to go back there.
“But in the 1970s, our families had to recall everything. Grandad went to Europe to testify in court in Cologne against the crimes of the head of the Grodno ghetto, Kurt Wiese. This criminal was sitting like such important and all dressed up, and my Granddad wanted to kill him with his own hands. At the trial, he recalled all the atrocities in the ghetto and beyond. Wiese was eventually sentenced. However, after this hard trip, the Granddad died. My father was too upset and a few years later committed suicide.”
The Argentineans started arranging their trip to Grodno in November 2018. They gathered at home, discussing moments and future searches. Now they have accomplished their goal.
“We came here, we saw Grodno, the houses where our parents lived, the ghetto territory, the people who helped them to flee. Now, finally, everything has cleared up in our history - the puzzle has been assembled”, said Pablo.
Before World War II, about 29,000 Jews lived in Grodno, by 1945 about 200 people survived. Only a few dozen got back to live in the city. Today, several hundred Jews live in Grodno, but only a few of them can say that their relatives had been the prisoners of the Grodno ghetto.
The Jewish Tour Agency organized the trip you read about. Do you want to visit Belarus? Write to us and visit the site page - http://jewish-tour.com/services/planning-of-an-individual-tour.html