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The 11th Kilometer

As everyone in Simferopol, or most certainly every Jew in Simferopol knows, the 11th Kilometer, a short ride from the city, is the site where the Nazis (may their name be obliterated) murdered thousands of the original 20,000 Jews who had been living in Simferopol.







Several months ago, I read with interest, an article in the New York Times, about the work of a French Catholic priest, Patrick Desbois, who is uncovering evidence of what he calls the Holocaust of bullets.  Last night I came across a video of witnesses to this.  And I noticed that the third witness looked strangely familiar. 













Quickly looking through my pictures from this year’s memorial service at the 11th Kilometer, where my husband yearly recites kaddish, I immediately found the man's picture. 









I remember clearly what he spoke about.  He and several friends had gone that day to an area not far from my home.  They were playing with binoculars, and saw what was happening.  In shock, they ran home to tell their parents what was happening to their Jewish friends, and their parents did not believe them. 

Here then, according to many eye-witness accounts, is the story of what happened in Simferopol and the Crimea in 1941.









The Germans faced an “ideological problem,” for in the Crimean peninsula, there were three different populations that were potentially subject to their policies regarding Jews. 1. The Karaim, a Turkic people that adhered to Judaism; 2. The Krimchaki Jews, descendents of the Jews reported to have converted to Judaism in the Kuzari; and 3. Ashkenazi Jews who had emigrated from Central Europe.  While there was no doubt that the Ashkenazim would be wiped out, they were not sure how to handle the others. After consulting his "scientific" experts on "Jewish matters", Himmler himself – who claimed it his prerogative to decide who was and who was not a Jew – eventually decided that the Karaim would be spared, but the Krimchaki would be killed.









In the beginning of December 1941, they were involved heavily in anti-partisan duty, so they brought troops from Odessa to Simferopol to carry out the extermination of the Jews. This was urged by the Wehrmacht, which saw the "action regarding the Jews" as a means to ease the dramatic food situation in Simferopol “by getting rid of mouths to feed” (!)  On the 20th of November, 1941 they ordered soldiers to understand “the need of visiting harsh atonement on Jewry, the spiritual carrier of Bolshevism. It is also necessary in order to choke at birth all revolts, which are mostly incited by Jews.”






This "harsh atonement" began in Simferopol on the 9th of December, 1941, when the Sonderkommando 11b and Einsatzgruppe D wiped out the city's Krimchaki -- at least 1,500 people, men, women, and little children. The killing stopped for two days because the Nazis had to solve a “problem”: the policemen who had assisted in the massacres were tired of killing and had requested being given another duty. Their request had been granted, and they had to wait for a replacement unit to arrive at Simferopol.   When it arrived at Simferopol, there was no time for getting used to the killing on a gradual basis. The execution continued on the 11th of  December, 1941.  The soldiers were told that they had a "major combat day" ahead and even the medics would have to take part. The killing of the Jews lasted for three days.  The Jews were ordered to gather in the area of the former Communist Party building in the city center and to hand over their bags and valuables, for – so their killers told them – these could otherwise be stolen during the transport that was to take them to labor service, and they would receive them back afterwards. Trucks, buses and smaller vehicles were used to quickly bring the people to an anti-tank ditch outside Simferopol.  The newly arrived police had to take part in the murder right away.  Some of them had noticed that their colleagues had "cracked"; now they understood why.  Again and again, they were commanded "Ready, aim, fire!"  50 men firing in salvos stood in a row. In the icy cold chosen prisoners had to pile up the corpses in the ditch so that no space would be wasted, others dragged corpses lying aside to the pit and threw them in. Whoever tried to flee or faked death was shot with machine pistols. The perpetrators' cynicism was ever present, like when the instruction was given not to waste another bullet on a Jewess still alive lying in the pit because a heap of earth would be thrown unto the corpses and she would choke anyway.  A young Jew tried to resist, whereupon the leader of the action ordered not to shoot him but to beat him dead. Thus the murder went on in the following days.  The Nazis reported that, with the end of the action on the December 15th, 1941, Simferopol, along with the rest of Crimea, had been made Judenrein, or free of Jews.  This turned out to be inaccurate, as many Jews were still in hiding, and smaller massacres throughout the Crimea followed until the end of the year  (Kerch 2,500 Jews,  Feodosia over 1,000 Jews and Krimchaks, etc.)

The Holocaust of Bullets:


The Story of a Bris

One year ago, I spoke to a new boy in our school about having a bris done.  During communism, performing a circumcision was illegal, and afterwards most people either didn't know that Jewish baby boys should have a bris when they're 8 days old, or didn't know where to turn to, to have one done.  The result is that almost no Jewish boys have had brissim, and we try to convince them to do it.  We have made nearly 100 brissim to date, from several babies, to school age children, to adults and old men. 

The boy readily agreed, and I met with his guardian, who signed the permission slip.  Then I contacted the mohel.  As is usual, he asked me to put together a group of people who would like to have brissim performed.  We did that, but one thing and another kept happening to prevent his coming to Simferopol to perform the brissim.  During this time, unfortunately, one of the men moved to Germany, and another "chickened out."  However the original boy kept asking me "when am I going to have my bris already, Leah?" 

Finally, we thought everything was going to work out, when I got a text message from the mohel that he had accidentally overslept, and would be late.  Okay -- there was still enough time left.  Then he sent another SMS -- his wife was out of town, and his babysitter had not shown up!  He had to feed and dress his kids, find another babysitter, etc....  He wouldn't be able to arrive till the evening, and had to return early the next day, so he'd have to do the brissim at 7 a.m. the next morning.  Satan was definitely working overtime to try to make sure this bris didn't happen!  I knew that if the boys were going to be there on time, they'd need to sleep over at my house, and they were overjoyed to hear that! 

After school they arrived at the house.  If you've read this blog from the beginning, or seen the pictures, you must know that by any normal standards, our house is "the pits."  However the walls in the dining room are quite nice, if I say so myself -- the woman I'd hired to sponge them didn't know what she was doing, so I had to take over, using various shades of beige, and finishing off by spritzing gold paint from a toothbrush as a finishing touch.  On the buffet were my silver candelabra, which I received after several of my daughters had already been married, and they had beautiful candlesticks already.  As the boys sat down, I offered them some Lemon Fanta, one of the few kosher drinks available here.  "Wow!"  they said, in awe, "We fell into heaven!  Leah, will you adopt us?"  They kept repeating this. 

After dinner, I took the boys downtown to pick up some small electronic games for them to play with during the brissim.  It's been awhile since I've had little boys in the house, and I had to keep my eyes wide open as the three of them ran around, while we searched high and low to find something.  We went home in a taxi -- another new and "luxurious" experience for them! 

The next morning, 357 days after the first permission slip had been signed, the boys had their brissim.  Artur became Aharon Sholom.  Nikita chose 3 names -- one that he liked, one that his mother liked, and one that his older sister liked -- becoming Aharon Eitan Daniel!  And Maxim became Menachem Mendel, or Mendy.  Here are pictures of the boys before, during and after the brissim.


Before the bris, as per the advice of Rabbi Shain, a leading American mohel, I told the boys they should refrain from caffeine -- coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate -- for 3 days, but that I would compensate them by giving them each a 2 liter bottle of Coke, a bar of chocolate, 100 points at the school "store," a new yarmulka with their Hebrew name, and a present.  One of the boys excitedly said "That's great -- can I have a bris every day?"  Now that it's over, he's fine with having had it once, which of course is as it should be.  Cute though.





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