a small town in Southern Lithuania
Where the Jewish Community is no more
From the original story by Shmarihu Pustapetski
To put down on paper events that happened over 50 years ago are not always so easy, whilst events stay clearly, the exact dates have become a little hazy - but this is what I want to do today.
These events happened during my sixth year of imprisonment in the slave labor camp ROSHTI in Siberia. This was after suffering and torture of the "ROBERTIGA" to fell trees in the Siberian forests. With no proper medical care I was unable to continue with this work and was sent to do office work at MOSGERA.
At the end of each month I was sent from Camp #5 with an armed guard to the central camp at ROSHTI a distance of some 30 kms where I was to complete the monthly financial reports for the camps. My guard would pass me over to guards at MOSGERA as the offices where outside the camp itself.
All this I tell as the background to The Miracle of Rabbi Norek.
Together with me in the camp was BRACHA SIGLUVUSKI, I knew this pleasant man from MINOVA in Lithuania.
During one of the freezing nights BRACHA woke me from my sleep and in a whisper told me that we should leave our hut. The night was a real Siberian winter night and the cold cut into my bones, but I understood that something important had happened. I dressed quickly and left the hut. Standing outside was BRACHA trembling with excitement and he began to tell the story in a whisper "Shmia" he told me " I have just received a letter from my wife and she tells me that Uncle Norek is now in Moscow."
I told him "For that you woke me and dragged me outside in the freezing cold." I was very angry as you can imagine.
"My wife does not have an Uncle Norek" said Bracha with great emotion.
At that moment I had the idea that perhaps this Uncle Norek was in fact Rabbi Norek who had been a member of the Lithuanian Parliament before the war.
"Tomorrow you go to ROSHTI" said Bracha again with great emotion in his voice. "Perhaps you can write a letter to Rabbi Norek using my wife's address and ask his assistance to free us and allow us to go to Israel."
I thought to myself "is it possible to realize this dream of returning to Zion from thisdreaded and miserable place?Ó
We returned to the hut and there we wrote a letter in Yiddish to Rabbi Norek stating "That we the prisoners in Camp #5 of Prison Camp complex ROSHTI desire to make Aliyah to Israel and ask him for his assistance in making this possible. To free us from the MOSGERA where we had been unfairly imprisoned because of our Zionist activities.Ó I placed the letter in an envelope and returned to my bed.
Suddenly there entered the hut the "NARVICHIK" [the person responsible for giving out the places of work] and in loud voice announced "zak" [the term for prisoners] SIGLUVUSKI and Pustapestzki immediately leave the hut."
In side the hut everyone was asking "What has happened?" Why?" Where to?"
The "NARVICHIK" replied " Those fascists received permission to travel to their Palestine and let them go as soon as possible." The curses of the "NARVICHIK" were music to my ears.
My joy was short lived as I was woken by being shaken and I realized that this was just a dream. I opened my eyes and standing by my bed was the "NARVICHIK" telling me that my guards were ready to take me to ROSHTI . I was sad to think that this had all been just a dream.
Within half an hour I was on the way to ROSHTI with my armed guard. All the way I was so sad that my wonderful dream had disappeared so fast. It took several hours to arrive at ROSHTI and after having our documents checked we were allowed to enter the main camp.
The following morning we stood by the main gate before setting out to work - I was with a group of prisoners that were to work outside the main camp I understood that something untoward had happened. We all stood outside the main camp and there arrived a large group of guards that carried out a very thorough search of each prisoner. It was too late to go back and my heart began to pound for the letter to Rabbi Norek was hidden in my winter boot. Now it was my turn to be searched - first they search my bag/case with documents and then I was ordered to remove my boots. I tried to refuse by saying that it was impossible to remove my boots in such cold weather - to this I received a few well-chosen curses.
I removed the right boot in the hope that this would be enough but the guard was a Ukrainian and very strict who had decided to do the job to the very end. After I removed the second boot he discovered the letter hidden in my sock and I was roughly pushed back into the camp.
Once back in the camp I was put into a special interrogation room and was completely stripped. The guard said: "Here, I have found the conspiracy" and show his friends the letter to Rabbi Norek. I was taken immediately to the detention cell and I heard the door close and the sound of the lock turning. A prison inside the MOSGERA I thought of my pretty bad situation. I was held here all day with nothing to eat or drink. At night it became even colder and I kept myself warm by walking back and forth inside the cell. My situation could not be much worse, cold, hunger and the chance of a very heavy sentence because of the letter to Rabbi Norek.
All night long I thought of all the possibilities that lay before me and I anticipated another ten years on my present sentence. The calculation was quite simple. of the eight years that I had been sentenced to in Moscow, there remained on two years, now to add to this another ten years I would have to spend double the time I had already served.
I was totally in despair and I felt that I could no longer stand the prospect of an additional 12 years in prison. I thought my only prospect was to escape but I realized that this was completely impossible. I had seen those who had attempted to escape , their corpses tied to the main gate to deter others from attempting to escape.
The night continued as if it would never end, finally the morning came and I was taken by two armed guards to the officer in charge of the camp. For over half and hour we waited by the door to his office. Finally I was pushed inside whilst the armed guards a waited outside. Sitting on the other side of a large desk was the officer in charge of the camp in his uniform of a Colonel of the N.K.V.D. behind him on the wall was a life size picture of the "Father of the Nation" Stalin.
I saw that in his hand was the letter to Rabbi Norek, I stood in front of him in fear that he was about to determine my future. The Colonel began the interrogation in the usual way "Name, family name, age and then the accusation. After he had received all my answers he asked: "What is written in that letter?" And I remained silent. The Colonel raised his voice and asked me again "What is written in that letter?" I had no desire to make my situation worse and I continued my silence.
The Colonel shouted at me "So you think you are so clever. You think that I do not know what is involved here !!!!!!!!! You write in Yiddish and you think that no one knows what you are writing!
At least another ten years is what you deserve to receive!Ó He then calmed down a little and spoke again in a softer tone "Who ever heard of such a thing! Fool! Idiot! Where is your "Yiddish Kopf" He seemed unable to calm down.
Something had moved in my heart "Yiddish Kopf" [A Jewish brain] he had pronounced with a Jewish accent and this indeed warmed my heart.
"I have read the letter " said the Colonel." Judging by your situation today its just a fantasy. With only two years left of your sentence don't make any more problems for yourself - who knows next time which officer will deal with you. Take the letter and tear it up and don't do anything stupid again "Zey Gezunt." [Yiddish for "be healthy"]
With trembling hands I took the letter. I was so completely amazed that I could not find the words to thank him. The Colonel told the guards to release me. I stood outside his office and felt as if I had been reborn. My ears watered with tears. "What a wonderful people we are," I thought. Under the clothes of the N.K.G.B. Colonel was beating a Jewish heart.
The Miracle of Rabbi Norrek