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[Page 729]

The Judenrat (The Jewish Council)

Ben Tzion Karsh, Rishon L'tzion

Translated by Lazer Mishulovin

At dawn, we heard a very strong noise from airplanes. It was four o'clock, Sunday daybreak. This meant the war had already arrived here! The German airplanes bombarded our little shtetls—Kamin Koshirski. A bomb fell into a Christian home and killed ten people. Nothing happened to the Jews. Right away, there was a commotion. The Soviet military began to leave the city. They proposed that anyone who worked with them and wanted to travel with them could come along. Lots of people from Kamin who worked for them did indeed travel together with them, and thanks to that escape, lots of Jews survived.

When Kamin was abandoned by the Soviet military, a band of Ukrainians arrived, who were called Zelenovich. They attacked the city and robbed, killed, and tortured Jews and forced Jews to work for them. It was a difficult moment to endure…

They caught the Kobriner Rabbi, R' Rabinowitz, and murderously tortured him; the pain was so severe that it was impossible to witness. Shmuel Verble, a heroic Jew, went to the commander and struck a deal with him, for which he paid him with money and gold that he would guarantee the workers for him, however many he needed.

Early one morning, peasants from the surrounding villages arrived and wanted to make a pogrom. Just then, German military units arrived and ordered the peasants to leave the city and thereby even killed five Ukrainians. Afterwards, the German commander held a meeting and declared that they would get even with the Jews.

At that time, a rumor emerged that whoever had work would remain alive, so everyone began to look for work. Bentzion Karsh, Dov Ber, Shamai Miestel, and Yitzchak Berenholtz voluntarily undertook the work of preparing the granary for the wheat.

It was a Friday morning, and the sun was just beginning to shine when a frightened and pale Mrs. Henie Ber came to our workplace and called out to her husband Ber that the commander needed him. The Germans captured fifty Jews. At the same time, they nominated a Ukrainian commission. (The commission was made up of Vilgotsky, Lichashevsky, and Viniarsky; may their names be erased.) The commission freed forty-two Jews, and they killed eight of them: Avraham Katan, Yitzchak Sandiuk, Pesach Bersh and his son Dov, Noach and Yentl Biniuk (Krasavitza), Kolatash, and Nechemia Frishman (the wheelwright). They were deported to the cemetery where they were killed. Then, everyone saw that life was close to an end, and people looked for ways to save themselves.

In about three weeks' time, on a Thursday, a second band of German murderers arrived. They went from house to house, seized people, and chased them like meshugene dogs. Shmuel Verble was then “mayor,” chosen by the Germans, and the Germans took him along to show them where Jews were hiding. But he was a man with a refined Jewish neshama (soul); he used to come to a hiding place, and instead of ordering the Jews to come out, he used to say in a disguised language that everyone should remain where they were at their places, thereby saving lots of Jews from immediate death. The Germans, however, from time to time, used to seize hundreds of Jews and amass them in the city.

The next morning (Rosh Chodesh Elul), they deported eighty men just beyond the city and murdered them over there…. People saw that the Ashmadai would finish off everyone and that there was no way to save one's life because all of the areas were surrounded by murderers.

The province commissioner came in a few days. First, he turned to Dr. Lepel to create a Judenrat. Dr. Lepel turned to David Ber. They put together a list of seven men: David Ber, Shamai Meistel, Yaakov Kasher, Bentzion Karsh, Eidl Malik, Nachman Merido, and Arie Dekelboym. The list was submitted to the province commissioner, who issued an order right away that the people on the list must work and prepare a hotel with furniture for him– in about five days, everything must be ready.

In about five days, the province commissioner with the name Fritz Michaels from Berlin, may his name be erased, came to the city with four murderers. As soon as he arrived, he entered the home of Akiva Eizenberg, took his wife out, tortured her, and shot her. The next day, he called David Ber and gave him an order that in a half hour he should provide a hundred women for work. David Ber was very energetic, and he deemed that if he would fulfill the request of the German, he would remain alive. He called together the Judenrat in order to deal with the situation. The members of the Judenrat first sent their own wives, and afterwards, they went from house to house and thereby gathered one hundred women. They sent the women to the village Nuyno, 10 kilometers from Kamin. It was winter, and lots of snow fell, and a portion of the chased and plagued women collapsed on the way and were murderously beaten.

In the village, they cleared the snow from the railroad tracks. At night, they returned broken. They didn't receive any food or water all day, and only with snow, they wet their parched lips. They thought that they would never return by now.

The murderers used to regularly torture us every time the commander used to make new lists. One time, he commanded a compilation of a list of the entire city, and from the list, he marked with his bloodthirsty hand one hundred Jews to send to Kiev for work.

When the Judenrat received the list, they thought that maybe they would be able to free the people with a bribe. The gift was a golden watch. I didn't think about it for long; right away, I took off my watch and brought it over to the commander. As soon as he received the present, the gold blinded his eyes; he immediately erased more than half from the list, but the rest remained for deportation.

The Germans conducted a hunt for the Jews in the entire region and in all of the villages where Jews were hiding. As a result, the peasants gave away lots of Jews, bringing all of them to Kamin Koshirski and letting them all in the Gmine, which was sealed with barbed wires two meters high, so no one would be able to enter or exit, and with no food and no water.

As soon as David Ber became aware of this, he immediately ran to the province commissioner and implored to be allowed to provide the Jews with food. That is how they kept them for three days. On the fourth day, they sent all of them to work in the village Nuyno to clean the snow from the railroad station. During that time, there were severe frosts, but not one Jew's feet or hands became frozen. There was also not a bit of water. So I went to Nuyno and brought food. My life was then in great danger, until they commanded everyone to go back home.

On a Tuesday, at ten o'clock in the morning, we were informed that the Jews of the village Lishke [Mala Glusha] didn't surrender themselves to the Gmine. The commissioner ordered to kill them immediately. As soon as the Judenrat became aware of this, they went to the murderer and influenced him so that he would let them live. Also, when the commissioner commanded the transportation of the Jews of the villages to Kamin to not bring anything with them, the Judenrat of Kamin went to the commissioner and persuaded him that they should be allowed to bring items.

The Judenrat raised money and sent it for poor people to buy food. Their colleagues were forced to make great efforts to find a place to settle the Jews into the Ghetto. Not every family wanted to accept a neighbor. The Judenrat also arranged a soup kitchen for three hundred needy. With time, twenty-four police arrived. The Germans demanded from the Judenrat to accommodate them with living, food, and drink.

June 1942, twelve o'clock at night, an order was issued to move into the ghetto and take along packages that weighed not more than five kilos. No one slept that night because for every rustling of a tree, people thought the murderers were coming, and death stood before the eyes. When daylight arrived, people went to work, and food was supplied for everyone, but at work, we all experienced hell. The terror was great. If a peasant only winked that a Jew was not working good, the Jew already lost the hope to even be locked up in the ghetto.

The German murderers allotted one hundred grams of bread a day, but the Judenrat cared for the needy, and the rest of the Jews cared for themselves through various means, including selling stuff to the peasants, etc. There wasn't a day that a Jew or two was not murdered. The peasants used to rat on the Jews. The Germans used to, for the most part, attack the Ghetto at one o'clock, in middle of the night. Here they were searching for Jews, and in case they weren't found, as a punishment, they killed many more Jews. We received a letter from Rovno, Lutsk, and Kovel. They wrote to us that we should obtain work certificates for ourselves; others wrote that we should save ourselves because the Germans will annihilate everyone. Reading the letter, a great tumult erupted in the ghetto, and everyone was thinking about what to do, how to save themselves. But everyone was helpless, so people began to hide; a few at aquatinted peasants' homes or in the forest, while others created a hiding place in the attic of the house or built a hiding place with a double wall. But the murderers found these hiding places as well. The rest of the people relied on God's help.

August 10, 1942 – Twenty-seven of the Month of Av – it was a Monday morning when the murderers entered and ordered us to leave the ghetto. All of the Jews, children, infirm, and elderly were chased to the cemetery. Over there, they conducted the “selectzia” between those sentenced to death and those had the opportunity to be tortured for a period.

In the afternoon, they transferred the Jews not too far from the graves, which were prepared for them through the peasants. Everyone was ordered to undress, and everyone was shot. The commander lit up a cigarette and calmly observed. The earth was damp from the blood and was shaking when they hid the holly and innocent souls. Seventeen hundred people were murdered on that day. The other Jews stayed in the camp for three days. Afterwards, the German murderers ordered them to return to the ghetto; the size of the ghetto was decreased.

Kamin Partisans

We, the remaining Jews, understood that the weeks that we had to live were numbered. Then, we founded a group of partisans. Our first heroic partisan was Dov Drug, and then Sara Biber, Yosef Segal, Fuchs Kupershmidt, Mordechai Striet, Toizner, the two Weisgross brothers. To the second group of partisans belonged: Zusia Ingberg, David Lerman, Yaakov Yitzchak Karsh, Bentzion Malik, and Efraim Malik. To the third group: Aba Klurman, Zweibel, Moshe Plot, and others whose names I don't remember. The partisans tried to prepare a place in the forest where people would be able to escape and transfer Jews from the Ghetto into the forest, as well as attack the ghetto when the murderers would execute the last killing.

Yosef Segal used to smuggle into the ghetto and inform through various means that the people should escape. We gave him a radio and weapons to take along, and he connected us with all of the Jewish partisans, who were scheduled to attack the ghetto on the day of the last killing and enable the approximately six hundred Jews that remained to escape the ghetto.

Yosef Segal never came to the ghetto again; apparently, he was killed. One early morning, the commander came into the ghetto and issued an order to select eighty Jews from the six hundred. We understood that the final annihilation was approaching, so at night we began to run into the forests. The eighty Jews were killed by the murderers.

In the forest, there were also various murderers. Only the trees of the thick forest hid the Jew and didn't give him away….

I escaped to the village Zalezie – twenty kilometers from Kamin – with a group of seven Jews. We were lost for three days in the forest; afterwards, we saw from the distance a peasant's hut. We thought, what is there to lose? Life was hanging on a thin thread, so we entered the house, and we asked the peasant to show us where the forest guard lives. The guard was an honest person, and he led us into the forest. He paid with his life for his generosity. The Germans came to him and commanded him to give away the Jews that he hid in the forest. He didn't, however, fulfill the order. He and his entire family were murdered.

Being in the forest for a few days, we fed ourselves with berries, and at night leaned our heads on a stone. We weren't scared of the four-legged animals, only of the two-legged beasts. In about a few days, we met with Israel Shemesh, Toizner, and Shterenboym. Toizner told us that he had connections with partisans in the Forest Nevir. Who were these partisans – he didn't know. Toizner, Yaakov Yaffe, and Ingber left for the forest Nevir and made contact with the partisans. Exactly on that evening that they came, the partisans killed all of the Jews of their group. Ingber and another two Jews escaped and came to us in the Zalesie forest. We had weapons. Thereby we lived for three months. Afterwards, the Soviet partisans arrived; they calmed us and told us that they had an order to combine all of the Jewish partisans and fight together with them.

We used to go bomb the trains and conduct diversion acts. One time, the Russian commissioner heard that the Germans were preparing to carry out an attack on the forest, so they deployed patrols. Then we saw riders from the distance; first we thought that these were Russian partisans. As they were approaching, we realized that these were the Germans. We went on a shooting rampage, and twenty-six Germans were killed, but four escaped. Afterwards, the commissioner gave an order to leave the forest. We moved to the Wietly forest, to the local partisan. That's how days and nights, weeks, and months went by until the Soviet military liberated us. My only dream was to immigrate to Israel, and – after various wonderings – I achieved this.

The first family of mine – four children with a wife – was killed. I now have a second family – a son and a daughter. They'll never know the horror I went through.

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