Latest update: November 14th, 2011
The crazed throng emerged into a space cordoned off by the troops, littered everywhere with underwear, shoes and clothing. Ukrainian police shouted: “Undress! Quick! Quick!” while coarsely beating the people with brass knuckles, drunken viciousness and sadistic frenzy.
From the side where the naked were being led away, Dina heard her mother call: “Dina! You don’t look like one. Save yourself!” Dina, summoning all her strength, turned to a policeman: “I came to see someone off and by accident I got caught in the crowd. I demand to see the commandant!”
The policeman snatched her purse, checked it, and found nothing to contradict her words. He pointed to a hill at the side where a small group of people sat: “Wait up there. We will shoot the Jews and let you go”.
The nightmare unfolded before their eyes. Incredibly, not one person threw himself at the feet of the Germans, begging for mercy. Mothers clung to their children. Now and then a German, or a Ukrainian policeman, would snatch a child from his mother, stride to the earth wall, swing him in the air and hurled him over the top like a log of wood.
It began to grow dark. Suddenly an open car drove up, carrying an officer who was obviously in command.”Who are these?” he asked a Ukrainian policeman. There were close to fifty people on the hill now. The policeman replied: “These are our people. We weren’t sure whether to release them.” The officer stormed: “Shoot them! Shoot them right away! If just one of them gets away and spreads the story, not a single Jew will come here tomorrow!”
“Get going! Move! Get up!” shouted the policeman. The people staggered to their feet. Perhaps because it was late, or perhaps because they were thought to be non-Jews, nothing was done to undress them. They were led directly to the other side of the earth wall, in batches of ten. Dina was in the second batch. There was a ravine, a quarry, with steep walls rising from both sides. On one wall a ledge was cut, so narrow that as the victims were led unto it they instinctively leaned against the sand wall in order not to fall down.
Dina glanced down and grew dizzy. The quarry was fearfully deep. Below lay a sea of bloody bodies. She caught sight of light machine guns strung out on the opposite side of the ravine, and also of German soldiers. They had lit a campfire and seemed to be cooking something. When the file of victims had occupied the ledge, one of the Germans, a cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth, moved away from his food by the fire, took his place at the machine gun and with total indifference started shooting.
Dina felt rather than saw the bodies fall as the line of fire rapidly approached. Without waiting for the bullet, she hurled herself from the ledge with her hands clenched. She seemed to fall for an eternity. The ledge was high. As she hit the bottom she felt neither the impact nor the pain.
Warm blood splashed over her, and blood covered her face. It was as if she had fallen into a bath of blood. She lay with her eyes closed, her arms spread out. There were muffled sounds all around and beneath her. Many of the victims were still alive. The entire mass of bodies was perceptibly stirring, settling deeper and tighter because of the motions of those being buried alive.
She grew aware of footsteps, stepping directly on the bodies. The Germans had come down. They were bending over corpses, extracting gold teeth from their mouths, and shooting at whatever moved. Within minutes she heard a voice above: “Come on, shovel away!” Sand began descending on her. She did not stir, not until it dribbled into her mouth. She lay face upward, inhaling sand and choking until, losing control, she began thrashing about in wild horror, ready to be shot rather than be buried alive.
About the Author: Dr. Ervin Birnbaum is founder and director of Shearim Netanya, the first outreach program to Russian immigrants in Israel. He has taught at City University of New York, Haifa University, and the University of Moscow; served as national superintendent of education of Youth Aliyah and as the first national superintendent of education for the Institute of Jewish Studies; and, at the request of David Ben-Gurion, founded and directed the English Language College Preparatory School at Midreshet Sde Boker. Dr. Birnbaum’s memoir, “Turning Obstacles Into Stepping-Stones,” is now in its second printing and can be acquired by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
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