ON THE TRAIL OF THE TELEKHANY TRAGEDY
By BORIS USTINOV,
Novosti Press Agency Correspondent
Oswiecim, Majdanek, Sachsenhausen, Lidice, Oradour- World War II has made the names of these obscure towns and villages bywords for the ghastly crimes of German fascism. To their number we must yet add another -- Telekhany.
Telekhany is a little town located far inland, amidst the woods and marshes of Byelorussia, midway between the towns of Pinsk and Baranovichi and within 60 kilometers’ distance of the nearest railway.
Step by step, speaking to the inhabitants of this little town and neighboring villages, I was able to reconstruct the story of the appalling tragedy that was enacted during the late war.
2.Before the Hitler armies’ invaded Soviet territory, Telekhany was a typical little town in the wooded district of Byelorussia, with a large Jewish population. Most of the Jews were artisans and tradesmen, whose sphere of activity extended to the outlying villages. They were tailors, cobblers, smiths, tinkers, watchmakers, harness and cart makers, coopers, butchers, barbers and petty traders.
Disaster overtook Telekhany on JUNE 28th, 1941, when the German Nazi troops occupied the little town. This date marked the beginning of its end.
Telekhany soon remained far in the hinterland of the attacking German troops. On the surface life then seemed to resume its natural course. The inhabitants of Telekhany went on patching boots, sewing garments, tinkering, trading, arguing and praying to God. Many thought that now their greatest fears were behind them and the stories of Nazi atrocities grossly exaggerated.
However, one August morning of 1941, at dawn, Telekhany woke up to hear rumors that the town was surrounded. The terrible rumor was soon confirmed. Telekhany was cut off from the outside world by a chain of guards in green and brown camouflage battledress carrying tommyguns.
Mounted SS soon appeared in the town. With the help of the police they drove scores of the local inhabitants into the wood on the outskirts of Telekhany, making them dig long and deep trenches, … which were filled with water. No one knew exactly what the Germans needed these ditches for. On the next day, however, which was a Wednesday, the German command issued an order for the entire Christian population to remain at home, not to go out anywhere, and for all Jews of the male sex to assemble at the People’s House, as the House of Culture was then called.
Singly and in groups the men went to the appointed place. In front of the People’s House a great big bonfire blazed in which the works of the Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Adam Mickiewicz, Gorki, Mayakovsky, Sholem Aleichem, as well as numerous textbooks, went up in flames.
The half-drunken SS were indulging in a mad orgy around the bonfire making their victims stand on their knees, beating them brutally with their truncheons, and finally holding a “concert” by dragging a piano out of the building and forcing the cruelly abused, terror-stricken men to sing and dance to the accompaniment of a drunken SS officer.
Mass shooting began on the following day.
All Jews were driven from their homes, lined up in groups of 30, 40, and 50, and chased into the woods where the ditches had been built. Men and women, young boys and girls, old folks and little children -- all were herded together. No exceptions were made, neither for suckling infants, nor for the old and infirm who had to be held up to walk.
This is what Yevgenia Trigenskaya, a native of Telekhany, can recall of that day: “Although we sat at home, we could hear and see a great deal. There is a scene I can remember very well. In one of the groups walked two girls with their arms entwined. One of them I knew a little. Her name was Esther and her surname, if I was not mistaken, was Gotlieb. She was very beautiful and much admired by all of Telekhany’s young men. Often she sang and danced at the amateur entertainments arranged at the People’s House. She was a merry little thing and a chatterbox. One of the SS convoy, leaning down from his horse, said: “Ah, Judin, why are you so beautiful?” Esther’s beauty, however, did not save her. She was shot down with the rest.
The Nazi-Fascist firing squad spared nobody; not the gray-bearded old men, the pregnant women, nor the babes in their mothers’ arms. From the woods came reports of one volley after another. Those who were shot were at once covered with earth, even if they were still alive. Upon the layers of earth, running red with blood, new victims fell one after another.
On the next day the SS started a hunt for survivors, combing every barn, shed, attic and basement. The Jews that were discovered were at once dragged out into the street and shot in cold blood.
Leib Brestski, the tailor, had hidden under his stove. He remained there for two days. One of the SS, flashing a light, discovered the poor man, and he was brutally murdered in his own backyard.
It is hard to give the exact number of Jewish victims in Telekhany. However, it is a well-known fact that the Jewish population of the town was nearly 2,000. All met their death at the hand of the Nazi-fascists. The whole Gurshtel family, for example, which consisted of old Gurshtel, whose first name nobody seems to remember, and his four sons and their families, was wiped out. The tailor, Srul Gurshtel, his wife Sarah and their two children, 12 and 14 years old, were murdered in their own home. Osher, Yudel and Nisel Gurshtel, their wives and children were shot on the outskirts of the town.
The brothers Vainshtein, together with their families and their old father, a butcher, were also among those shot, as were the old carpenter, Rubakha, the brothers Esel & Mikhel Kosovsky - two cobblers, Rakhmil Landman, a fish dealer, Mikhel Likhfar, a tailor, the cobbler Beinus, the brothers Motl & Isik Shklyar, and countless others.
Very few managed to escape. Among them were Gdalli Karchmar and Yutsko Chernomoretz, who joined the partisans. No one in Telekhany knows of the fate of the former; the latter, however, is alive, and well today, working in the Ivanovo district of Brest Region.
Aron Rubakha and his brother, the sons of an old carpenter and both workers of the Telekhany district Komsomol, went to the eastern part of the country. Aron works as a cutter in Tashkent and his brother lives in Kiev. Komadeyev succeeded in escaping from the enemy’s encirclement. After the war he continued his education and now works in Leningrad. Five out of two thousand! No more, it seems.
We must not forget those resting in eternal sleep in the countless common graves in Telekhany and its outskirts, the Jews and the Byelorussians, the Russians, the believers in God and the non believers, the Communists and the non-communists, all of whom met their death at the hands of the fascist hangmen. We must remember the dead for the sake of the living, for there are today walking the earth persons “with two legs, two arms and one head,” following in Hitler’s footsteps, with their racist rantings and their hands itching to plunge the world into the shambles of an atomic war.
 Excerpt from Telechan Memorial Book, page 3-6
 According to the Black Book of Localities whose Jewish population was exterminated by the Nazis, Telechans’ Jewish Population between 1921-1931 was 463.