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Spiritual Resistance—The Hanging

By Nesse Godin

Nineteen forty-three was a very cold winter. Life in the ghetto was very difficult. People did not have wood to heat their rooms; they burned every piece of wooden furniture to keep warm. The hunger was great—the small ration that was given to us could not keep us alive.

When you worked outside of the ghetto you had contact with Lithuanian people who tried to help by sharing some food with you. Some people bartered some of their belongings for food so they could bring back some for their family, especially for their children or elderly parents who did not go to work.

To bring food into the ghetto was forbidden. The order by the Nazis was no smuggling food into the ghetto. When people came back from work, they were searched at the gate. Some of the Lithuanian policeman were bribed and they searched you but let you in with a few potatoes or a piece of bread.

Every so often, German SS officers came to the gate as groups of Jews were coming back from work. Many people were caught with food and taken to the Gestapo jail, where they were tortured and beaten.

Sometimes the Jewish Council intervened and the people were let out from jail. Records show that at the end of May, the Jewish Council was called to the Gestapo, where they were told that the Gestapo was holding a man by the name of Bezalel Mazavecki, who broke the law and was caught with some potatoes and bread as he was trying to smuggle them into the ghetto. Mazavecki was just trying to bring a little food for his wife and little girl.

The Jewish Council tried very hard to convince the head of the Gestapo—I believe his name was Bub— to let the man free but they did not succeed. The Gestapo ordered that a gallows be made in the Kaukazus ghetto—where my family lived—in the center of the large space, near the gate, where people assembled to go out to work. Two Jewish men were to be appointed to be the henchmen.

On Black Sunday, the beginning of June, all the Jews from the two ghettos were to assemble at that place near the gate. The Lithuanian police were running through the ghetto, checking every place to make sure that everyone obeyed the order.

When my family and I got to that place, there were already many people there. What I saw was a table in the middle of the area. On top of the table was a chair and a wooden pole with a cord hanging down. The two Jewish men that were to do the hanging stood near the table. I do not know how they were picked.

There was a silence, as though the angel of death was right there. All of a sudden we heard motorcycles and trucks coming. We saw many SS men and the head of the Gestapo, Bub, coming through the gate. Behind them Bezalel Mazavecki was led in by the police. He was taken directly to the gallows.

We were hoping that at the last minute the death sentence would be called off. When we saw Bub all our hope was gone. When Mazavecki reached the table, he asked to untie his hands and legs and then he hopped on the table, put the cord over his head, and with a loud voice he said to the Jewish men that were supposed to hang him that he forgave them and to the SS murderers and Lithuanian police he said, “You are not going to win the war by hanging me.” Then he kicked the chair from under his feet and his body fell limp.

The cry of the Jewish people was so loud, with people saying the kaddish, the prayer for the dead. Then dead silence. Bub, the commander of the Gestapo, made a speech. “This will be the punishment for anyone who tries to bring food into the ghetto,” he said. Then he turned around, walked through the gate, got on his motorcycle, and left.

I stood there wishing it was a bad dream, or that the earth under my feet would swallow me so I would not have had to witness that crime against an innocent person.

Yes, the Nazis killed Bezalel Mazavecki, but even in the last minutes of his life he resisted them spiritually. Every day of the Holocaust, Jewish people resisted the Nazis—some by fighting with guns and many of us just by not losing hope and surviving day by day.

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