Raisa Khusid (6/3/2022)
Raisa Khusid never met her mother’s parents, Hasya and Samuil Gershman, due to their tragic deaths during World War II. They lived in Lepel, a small Byelorussian city, and worked in a kolkhoz. They had two sons, Arthur and Naum, and one daughter, Ester (Raisa’s mother). Her mother got married and lived in Leningrad, and Arthur left for a job in a brigade that reconstructed demolished bridges. Having graduated from school, Naum left for Leningrad three weeks before the Great Patriotic War began. Her grandfather and grandmother stayed alone.
The Great Patriotic War began. Before the occupation of Lepel, it would have been possible for her grandparents to leave, especially because they had a horse. However, someone convinced them not to do it, and they stayed. Fascists took Lepel during the night of July 3-4, 1941. On the first days of occupation, German soldiers gathered all Jews in the center of the city. They ordered the Jews under penalty of death to place a sign (a yellow six-pointed star) on their houses, to sew the stars to their clothes (on front and back sides), to wear a green band bearing the word “Jude,” and to walk only on pavements. The next step was to create ghettos, where they gathered thousands of Jews. The conditions were terrible. The houses had no windows, doors, or floors. Thirty to forty people lived in each house, and there was not enough room on the floor for everyone. They were not permitted to switch on the lights in houses. During winters people got water by melting snow. They did not have enough food, and there was no medical assistance. Everyone had lice. The fascists exhausted people with hard work. All day long the Jews sawed wood, washed toilets with their bare hands, and cleared snow from the streets while Germans hurried them with clubs, sticks, and whips.
On the cold morning of February 28, 1942, trucks appeared near the ghetto. Members of the polizei and the SS took people from their houses and put them into trucks. When people tried to escape, the Germans shot them dead immediately. The trucks filled with people arrived at the outskirts of the city. Seven kilometers from Lepel, near the village of Chernoruchye, the Germans prepared four pits that were 10x4x9 meters in size. All the Jews were undressed, thrown into the pits, and then shot. Women and children were buried alive. Two thousand Jews were destroyed. The pits were covered with soil, but many people were still alive, and for several days the ground continued to move. After Lepel was liberated from the Germans, Raisa’s family received a letter from a neighbor. The letter informed them that her grandparents were thrown into a pit and buried alive.