Fighting the Blockade
As the partisan movement spread and the attacks became more effective, more and more areas came under partisan control. The Nazis, with their mighty power, were surrounding Leningrad in a blockade of metal and artillery. They also arrived into the area of Karkaz (Kharkoz?) on the way to the Caspian Sea. They were also spreading to the towns of the Volga, trying to get to the Ural Mountains, and to make contact with the wing that went to the Caspian Sea, trying to buttress their position through the length and the width of the Soviet Union, in an attempt to reach Moscow.
It was erroneously thought that the Red Army did not take any initiative in those fronts other than a few unimportant battles where they succeeded in neutralizing some German tanks. At least this would be the impression if you listened to the information on the Soviet radio. It seemed that these announcements were made to confuse the enemy. At the same time, the Red Army and the Soviet Politburo (or military commanders?) were planning an attack that would turn the whole war around (turn the world on its head?).
On the other hand, the partisans, with some influence of the Soviet political command in Moscow, was always busy. Constantly there were new units and brigades established who caused much trouble for the German Army. Behind the front lines, in distances from 600 to 800 km from the front where the battles were taking place, the partisans increased their sabotage activities. They would lay mines on the train tracks to destroy trains carrying weapons, artillery, armor, and food supplies. Derailing trains became an almost daily activity. The partisans even started battles with smaller German Army units. The partisan movement proved itself as a constant and powerful force.
The huge German force that flowed toward the Volga was finally defeated by the Red Army in Stalingrad, which today is named Volgograd. On the 19th of November, 1942, the powerful German Army was swallowed up (slowed down? Collapsed in?) by the Russian snow and was surrounded by the Red Army. General Paulus' (?) army surrendered to the Red Army. This German defeat was like (healing to the partisans' bones?), it was like oil to a fire for us. During those months of the fall and all the way through the winter of 1943, we felt for the first time like there was a wind that symbolized a fresh spring (a new start?). We saw points of light through the dark sky. A victory of the forces of light over dark forces.
Generally we had very little outside communications. The only paper we received was the partisan paper that would not come on a regular basis. We didn't know that much about what was occurring far away from our area, and definitely we didn't know what was happening in the front other than what we heard from the radio in the headquarters of the partisan brigade. This would be given to us by the Politruk of the brigade.
One day, the first brigade was called together to celebrate a special occurrence in the front, and that made our hearts warm, and this apathetic situation we usually felt started dispersing, but still we had to go a long way
It wasn't only because we knew it was a long way that we could hardly celebrate. The main reason was that we felt lonely and orphaned and eaten by our loss. How could we look forward to a better tomorrow without immediately bringing up questions like, Where should we go and how should we go and to whom? Do we really have a home? Can we really face reality? We were like a branch that had been cut off its trunk and its roots. Would we not dry up and die?
The Russians and Belarussians among us were truly happy, but we already felt then that our little happiness was covered by a heavy cloud. The hopes and the urges that were awakened as the Germans surrendered in Stalingrad were only a sign of a rosier future, but it was clear that we could achieve this future only through many toils and sacrifices. Soon we found out that the powerful force of the German Army was not yet broken. They seemed to have had unlimited reserves pulled from other European countries that they controlled.
While they were still licking their wounds from the embarrassing defeat, Hitler gave an order for a general attack (to attack on all fronts?), and the headquarters of the Reichswehr launched an initiative in a typically efficient (mechanical? Robotic? thorough?) German way. The idea of a general retreat didn't even come into their minds. For their first target to save their reputation (?), they decided to destroy the partisan forces where ever they could be found. They took it very seriously, realizing that they could not succeed if they did not get rid of the partisans. They realized that anytime they wished, the Red Army could instruct the partisans to separate the German forces from their bases (in the middle? Where the reinforcements were sent?) and disrupt the flow of supplies and reinforcements to the front.
In order to get rid of the partisans, the Germans brought large forces from other locations, even from important front positions. From this large force, which contained some of the best and most sophisticated weapons and tanks, the German Army came to the forest in different areas in an attempt to find a weak link where they could break into the headquarters of the partisan army. The Germans and their assistants (collaborators? Traitors? Vlasov?) came in large numbers to the area where I was in the middle of May, 1943. We received information that the Germans were buttressing their positions along the length of the train tracks between Smolensk, Minsk, and Borisov, and the train stations of Lushak, Globoki, Dokshitz, and also Dolhinov-Krivich and Vileyka. The announcement came from the main partisan headquarters in our area in the village of Voloki.
In the morning of the 17th of May, they attacked with all their might. All our battalions, including mine, fought them with all their might, but since they had heavy weapons (tanks, artillery) with limitless supplies, we could not stop their advances. A decision was made that we should just try to fight until night came. The headquarters assumed that when night arrived, the enemy would not fight night battles in the forest, and in the darkness we might be able to surprise them.
At first it seemed that the assumption was right. As soon as darkness came, everything quieted down, but still we got an order to retreat while fighting for control of the marsh area Bogomil and Borisov, near Palek and Domsbitz in the direction of Polochek.
During that night, our battalion separated into small units in an attempt to fight the Germans in their back. Meanwhile, we started our retreat. Our attack seemed to prevent the Germans from chasing the main retreating force.
When the Germans renewed their fight the next morning with all their might, our entire battalion (brigade?) was able to retreat to a better situated position while we mined the roads and trails of the forest. The same was done by other battalions.
In the next two weeks, until about the 3rd or 4th of June, almost all the battalions retreated while constantly fighting, slowing down the German force as much as we could. Despite all these battles, the Germans advanced faster than we wished. But still they lost a lot of ammunition, tanks, and soldiers due to the mines we laid, and they paid dearly for their attacks.
Once we reached the swamps, they stopped their chase. They could not bring their heavy machinery and tanks through the marshes, and our situation was greatly improved. Their infantry units that were sent could not enter the marsh area since once they reached that area they started drowning and couldn't go any farther. From our hiding places we could shoot at them. We watched as many of them drowned in the marshes, and others were barely able to retreat.
The artillery that stopped moving when they reached the marshes kept shelling the area, but it was not very productive--they could not reach our hiding places. Once the Germans came to the realization that they could not destroy our force, they decided to make the blockade very tight and to tried to starve us into submission. The ring of the blockade around us became more and more tight, and even during the night we could not leave to get to the villages where we had received food. Starvation spread and our condition was very difficult. We lost all of our energy since morning til evening we were in starving situation
Like this we passed nights and days, morning and evenings, evenings and mornings. Once in a while, the enemy force would open with heavy artillery and this lasted until the last week of June of 1943. Maybe it was the 25th of June. I still don't know what and how this happened, but one day, we woke up and everything was quiet.
A few people were able to climb with the last of their energy up some tall trees, and they said that in the entire area you couldn't even see one German
Immediately we realized that for some reason the enemy had let go of this blockade. For some reason, they decided that despite all their might, they would not be able to defeat us, and they returned to their bases, and others went all the way to the front. Later we found out that a few units were able to break through the ring and arrive to the eastern bank of the River Berezina and to launch attacks on the Germans from another direction, something we didn't know at the time. That was the reason that the Germans retreated.
Now our starving units, which had been in a blockade situation for 22 days in the marshlands, organized on the morning of the 28th of June, 1943 to return to the bases where we stood before this attack. Two days before that, we sent a scout unit to check the roads. Also, other units were sent to bring food from the villagers, and I must say that breaking the blockade and the retreat of the Germans made the name of the partisans renowned in the villages. When the units came, the villagers gave food in good spirits and they gave all that was asked for. After we ate and rested and recovered from our horrible conditions, we returned and arrived at dusk of the 30th of June, 1943 to our original bases.
The Revengers (Avengers?) and the Perished
During the summer of 1943, we were busy with attacks on the German enemies and his collaborators. From our old bases where we continued to live, we left for far away places. Sometimes we went on missions that took a few days. Now we took part in many more sabotage missions and mining the train tracks and the main roads that the Germans used. By doing so we caused our enemies to be fearful, and they lost their confidence. Now the soldiers could only move about in big groups.
As time passed, the partisans became more and more experienced, and also they received much better equipment, both in what they took from the enemies and what they received from the Red Army, which would parachute weapons, ammunition and trainers who gave us fighting instruction as well as political propaganda. All this greatly improved the spirits among the fighters.
Amongst us, the urge to get revenge was burning, and we had to satisfy it. The more we took part in missions and the more we saw our enemy perish, it seemed to increase this urge, and we never found a way to satisfy this urge. This strong urge made many of us brave and encouraged us to take great risks without careful consideration. Many times, it would result in the unnecessary loss of life Such missions took Mikhail Katzovitz, a brave partisan, a dear and loyal friend, a fighter with not even an ounce of fear. Mikhail Katzovitz, ZL, Glory and honor to his name.
This took place in July of 1943, in the evening. Our unit was readying for a large mission against the enemy force that arrived near our base, but first I, as well as a few others, was sent to scout to see the enemy force. We went to small village near Borgomil, and there we found out that in one of the homes of the village there were Germans. We didn't know how large the force was or how many weapons they had. We decided not to fight them until we had more information about where they had come from and what their intentions were. But our Mikhail would not be stopped. Against the explicit orders of the person who was responsible for the scouting missions, he took a grenade and ran to this house to take revenge on the enemy, but it seemed that the Germans realized his rapid approach, and they waited for him. As soon as he got close, they opened fire from everywhere and Mikhail fell dead without succeeding in using the grenade. We had to retreat from the village and return to the base. After a few days, we returned to the village and brought the body of our dear friend to the forest for a funeral ceremony. (Had a 21-gun salute?) With grinding teeth, we pierced the air with our gun salute, and we buried our friend in the middle of the forest. We saluted him and our hearts were filled with pain
A few weeks later, in the beginning of August, 1942, another member of our family from Krivichi was lost. Our good and brave friend, Kopel Shulman fell in battle. We had set mines to blow up a troop train heading for the front, and just as the train was approaching, we realized that the mine would not work. The train was to arrive at any minute. Kopel was very dedicated and loyal, could not accept any failure, so without any hesitation, he ran to that mine and fixed it, but he didn't have time to leave the area. The mine detonated, and a few train cars flew in the air. When they landed, they killed Kopel and two other Jewish partisans whose names I do not remember. Glory and honor to his and their memory.
Under the command of the General Winter, work continued in the different plants. We still saw no end to it, and also the mission of the partisans continued without any big changes. The summer was gone and the fall was behind us, and winter with all its might was one of the most difficult winters ever with heavy snows and freezing winds. Although the conditions were very difficult, we continued with our mission against the enemy force. With bitter jokes, one saying was, Here, General Winter uses his typical punishment on the partisans for being unorganized, undisciplined, and neglecting to salute
At that time, there was an announcement that there would be a large, critical battle that would include large forces during a freezing day. At the end of December, 1943, during lunchtime, a contact came running to our brigade and announced with great detail that a large German force, with large amounts of ammunition and also a field hospital with all its tools, had arrived in the village A., which was about 50 km from our base, halfway between Borgomil and Pleshensitz. Immediately, we sounded our alarms, and all the units that were in our brigade (division?) were alerted. After a short time, the entire brigade, with all its troops were ready for action
At three in the afternoon, an order was received to advance, and it started walking to that location. Immediately the battalion left in an orderly manner to go on its way. In the base, only six people with a small guarding unit was left. Through the entire night, the different units advanced. When morning light came, we received an order to stand according to our different units and to arrange for camouflage and to rest during the daytime hours. We stayed until 4 in the afternoon, and we continued. Four kilometers away from the village, we stopped again, and it was very dark, and four fighters were sent ahead to scout.
After two hours, two of the scouts returned and gave us information about the guards, and they said that they hardly guarded the place. There was only one guard group at the edge of the village, with only two guards with automatic rifles (submachine guns?) and other weaponry.
The hospital was located at the center of the village, and the German army unit was on the other side of the village. This unit was not yet told how long they were going to stay there. They found this information because there was a big party, a wild party in that village. The Germans were eating and singing and drinking. They were drunk and singing songs. They were dancing and (?) with the girls, very few of whom were from the village. Most were nurses who had come with them. We knew that these conditions would make our mission easy. Brigadier Kaluminko didn't hesitate for even a minute. Quietly he sent an order to the different battalions, and quietly they all stood up, and quickly they arrived at their destinations. They stopped at about 500 meters and waited for instructions.
We continued with the instruction of the two scouts. The village was located on a hill. After a short time, the village was surrounded. The two other scouts, who waited near the guard booth at the edge of the village, listened carefully for the password that the Germans would use with the guards. One time, when some Germans returned, the two scouts mixed with them and they were not noticed. Then they were able to attack the guards in the booth and take their weapons and everything else that was there. They left the guards tied and gagged.
From that point, everything was simple. The village was surrounded and at once, the entire brigade opened fire. While we were shooting, we entered the village. We checked each home, and into every home where there were Germans, grenades were thrown and shots were fired. One of the units went to the other side of the village trying to capture the headquarters of the German unit, but they were not successful since the Germans opened fire. Another unit attacked the hospital unit and took all the supplies. The Germans were in great panic. They didn't know what to do. Their fire was very uncoordinated and confused--they shot at some of their own comrades. Some of them left their weapons and ran off, making easy targets for our fighters.
We stayed in this village for some hours until the Germans were able to awaken from their drunkenness and were able to ask for reinforcements. As soon as we saw flares lighting up the area, we knew that large reinforcements were coming. We could also hear the sounds of tanks and armored vehicles off in the distance. Since we didn't know how large this force would be, Brigadier Kaluminov announced an orderly and rapid retreat while confiscating all weapons and supplies that we could carry. Whatever we couldn't carry we should destroy. He said that we had nothing else to do in this village, since we had achieved our objective with very little loss from our side, so at three in the morning, we split. The Germans started chasing us, but we were told to not return fire, to just run as fast as we could and to only open fire if we encountered Germans in front of us. So like this we ran through the deep snow, dressed in white fur coats that we used as camouflage.
Sometimes you need luck, and sometimes there are miracles in this world. I don't know whether it was luck or a miracle, but not one person was wounded in this chase, particularly lucky was our friend T.S. Her white fur coat was filled with bullet holes yet she was not wounded
After a quick run through an area of about 10km, we stopped to rest in the middle of the forest, putting up many guards around us. Despite the fact that we were far away from that village, we could still hear from far the sound of shooting, and even the last people to retreat from the brigade arrived here. So we sat there and prepared food and rested. A few people, I amongst them, took the weapons and separated them. Slowly, as time passed, the shooting gradually stopped. We saw it as a sign that the enemy had given up and returned to their bases. We had a large amount of light and medium weapons, and a huge amount of ammunition of different sizes and kinds. Also, we received a few machineguns, maybe two. But the pride of the entire brigade was the hospital supplies that had fallen into our hands, amongst them, surgical tools and very valuable medicines that the partisans did not have, as well as bandages and stretchers to carry the wounded, blankets, and many other things that we greatly lacked.
In this mission, our brigade of partisans by the name of Mikhail Kalinin, ended the year 1943 and celebrated the arrival of 1944.
Missions in 1944
As I wrote before, our Sylvester celebration was in the village between Borgomil and Pleshensitz. 1944 was the year of the victory against the dark forces.
Despite certain information that we had heard, we didn't know yet that the liberating army was marching towards our area. The bells didn't yet toll [to announce victory]. Since I assumed that others from Krivichi would tell about missions from the first month of 1944, I will not say much about it. Particularly since my memory is not clear. As far as I remember, my particular unit was busy with small missions, daily sabotage missions. [On the other hand, the Red Army was making advances on all fronts The author gives more detail about each front.]
One of the main signs for the final victory was the liberation of Kiev in November of 1943. The victories were huge and the Soviets advanced with a steady pace. There was constant movement, but not very rapid movement. In December of 1943, the Red Army started an offensive in the Baltic front and in the Leningrad front. In the middle of January of 1944, they broke the German blockade and liberated Leningrad from a 2-and-a-half year siege. At the end of February, 1944, the Soviets were in control of both Polish and Soviet Volinya [another name for what is now the Ukraine?], and continued from one side to Lubov and on the other to Polsia [west Ukraine, or East Galicia]. Every day, another town would be liberated. Zitamir and Slaboka, Novograd and Voholinsk, Kramnisk, Vatashko, [etc.] and many others. It seemed like the advancement of the Red Army was not to be stopped by the retreating enemies.
These victories on the Ukrainian front also gave new forces to the Red Army units in the Belarussian front. In the beginning of March of 1944, the Red Army started advancing towards Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Germans were kicked out of Smolensk and Rosselbel, and Orsha and Sokolov, but the Germans fortified their positions in Minsk and stubbornly resisted the Soviets. But this was ineffective, as the rest of the Red Army bypassed then. After they liberated towns like Mohilov and Gormel and other towns, there were only little German pockets, with the main pocket in Minsk kept fighting bitterly. But after what Bobrosk and Azula were liberated, the enemy could not hold Minsk anymore, and on the 3rd of June, 1944, the Red Army liberated Minsk, and the Germans started their retreat, which was organized and without panic. They continued fighting the Red Army, which was marching in the direction of Beranovic, Bialystock, and Warsaw.
Even before they retreated from Minsk, the German headquarters decided to set themselves in new defense lines that were more convenient, and they were hoping that they could stop the advance of the Soviets, and from there they could start a new offensive. These new defensive lines were planned according to the Soviet secret service (spies?) near the rivers Nyman, Vilya, and Berezina, on both the east and west banks in the area of Belarus, and the Dvina and its tributaries in the Baltic. This area clearly contained the forests where partisan bases were located, so the main concept that the enemy had in mind was that they must prevent, at all costs, the rapid advance of the Soviets toward Warsaw and Riga.
The partisans in the forest, who became a more and more formidable force as the Soviets advanced towards Belarus, were seen by the Germans as the big obstacle in their plans. They knew that if they didn't succeed in their mission, they would have to retreat and the partisans would chase them and kill them from every side, from the front and from the back. So now their main mission became the clearing all the roads of partisans. They remembered their failure in clearing the forest the year before and decided to use the most careful plans. They must use large forces and close any openings that would give the partisan units a chance to break out, and to use any partisan bases as their own to tighten the ring around the partisans.
Preparations for this battle started in the middle of May, 1944. One day, all the units were told by their contacts about a large enemy force traveling on the train lines between Molodeczno, Borisov, Witbesk and Polochek. From one side, this concentrating of their forces lasted about two weeks. On the 27th of May, 1944, the Germans started heavy attacks from every direction. They started advancing, closing off every trail and road in front of the partisan units. One hundred-twenty thousand troops with the best weapons, with light and medium tanks and other armored vehicles, opened fire. And this fire was like Gehennim. To tell you the truth, the partisan units in this area of eastern Belarus were not much less in numbers than the enemy, but our weapons and our supplies were far inferior in comparison to the German supplies. This fact caused us to carefully watch so that we would not find ourselves in face-to-face battles where our people would have to fight German tanks. We were ordered to retreat while fighting a hit-and-run type of battle, to only disturb the enemy and try to delay his advances as much as possible. After a few days of such stubborn and brave battles, about 100 brigades were told to retreat to the area of the swamps near Tallik.
Already, at that point, some of our forces by the names of Koronza, Kotosov, and Zelniak, whose bases were near Witbesk, Polochin and Polochek, suffered from great lack of food supplies. The enemy chased them from every side and did not let them have any way to reach the villages in the area to receive food. Despite all of that, many of those units kept in high spirits, as people started dying from starvation. They slowed the advances of the enemy by cutting trees and put them in big piles on every road. Also, they put mines everywhere. So, like this they arrived to the area of the swamps. Most of them survived against the enemy that did not stop its shelling. They also used planes to bomb us.
Despite the fact that they were very weak from starvation, they held to their bases in the swamps. They ate whatever plants they could find in the swamps to save themselves, not wishing to be captured, hoping that the Red Army's attack would come soon enough to save them
There is no way to know what our end would have been if the Red Army had stopped its offensive in our area. On June 23, 1944, the Red Army started a new advance in the Belarussian front and the Baltic front, both in the east and the west. The Soviet planes bombed the German lines day and night. From afar we could hear the sounds of the Soviets. Our hearts (? Spirits lifted). The Germans started retreating. After a few days, we saw the first Soviet scouts, who greeted us as their fighting brothers, and gave us some food from their rations, and like this we were filled with hope and anticipation.
The Battle for the Railroads
From this point on, we felt that every mission, even if it would be the most routine, gray (dull?) mission, would bring our final liberation closer. We must return to the bases that we had retreated from, and from there destroy and sabotage the enemy's war effort as much as we could. We had to return to where we ourselves had put mines and disarm them to get back safely, and then clear the forest of all the Germans who were not able to retreat. We knew that the main roads would be filled by the Red Army on their way to the final attacks that would now surely would come, and our job as fighters of the forest would be to prevent the enemy from regrouping and disrupt their retreat.
When we returned to the base, we found our homes and our bunkers burned to the ground. The hospital that we had built using the loot we had taken from the enemy, we found was completely destroyed. The destruction was total, but our spirits were still good. We diligently worked to repair things. The entire area surrounding Minsk was in the hands of the Red Army. Pleshensitz, which was very near our base, had been cleared of the enemy. We rested and waited for new orders. We knew that we wouldn't stay here for long. Soon we would probably receive instructions to return to our hometowns, to the graves of our brothers and our dear ones and all our martyrs. If I'm not mistaken, this occurred on the 3rd or 4th of July of 1944. Sometime around noon, we received orders from the united headquarters of all the partisan units in our area. All the brigades were ordered to move forward, in a western direction, towards the old border between Poland and the Soviet Union on one side, and for others to move northwest to the border of Latvia (Latvia and Lithuania) and the Soviet Union.
Our duty was to put blockades to prevent the retreating German Army from going west. We were also ordered to destroy all the bridges and the railroad tracks near Molodeczno, north and south of it. Other units were told to destroy the railroads on the way to Latvia in the Dvina area. These missions were named The Battles For the Railroad Tracks. Our entire brigade was divided into different units, and we each received a different bridge and region to take care of.
Two classes with about twenty fighters, and I was the only Jew amongst them, were told to destroy the railroad tracks near Postov (northern Belarus). Our mission was very successful. We reached the places that were pointed to us on a map, and after we mined the places we returned without losses to a new base which was situated near the old Polish-Soviet border. This was the area where the Germans had crossed the Vilia on the way to the forest during their last blockade of the partisans.
Heading these two classes were my childhood friend B.A. and another Jew, W.G.* They got to the area of the train station in the town of Globoki in order to destroy the train tracks and other strategic buildings in this area. Soon, five days passed and we didn't receive any information. Since we did not hear from them, we assumed that they encountered Germans and they were in great trouble, but on the 11th of July, at dusk, the entire battalion was called to move within a few hours in the direction of Globoki. Everyone was armed and ready within a short time, and that evening we were walking.
After we had walked about 5 km, we saw two fighters coming toward us. As they came close we realized that they were the demolitions men from the missing unit of B.A. We were all elated that after a few minutes the rest of the unit arrived and announced that they had been very successful in their mission. We were so happy that we didn't know how to celebrate. I hugged my friends with much excitement and blessed each other in Russian to show our happiness. This is what they told us:
When they reached the place where they were supposed to put the explosives, morning was already coming so my friend, without any ability to communicate with the headquarters, decided to wait until the next night to carry out the mission. So they went to the forest to hide, but once again they encountered a problem. The Germans had sent villagers to cut the trees in the forest and to use the tree trunks as obstacles for the approaching Red Army. Not wanting to be caught by the Germans, B.A. ordered the to immediately run to the field and to hide amongst the harvest until darkness came, and they passed the entire day there.
When darkness came, they used their explosives and their mission was successful, but the Germans started chasing them on all the roads. They were very clever and were able to escape, and now they were standing here with us. But I must say that it would be an incomplete story if I only talked about the missions of explosives and the fight for the train tracks as the only mission that we had at that point. New duties were assigned to us in coordination with the Red Army, and now that every day a new area was liberated, there was a need to train local people to take over civil and administrative control of their areas. So for this purpose, the leaders of the partisan movement arrived in each place and tried to put a new face on the image of the partisans amongst the farmers and the local residents.
The Germans' propaganda showed the partisans as ugly terrorists who wanted molest, rob, and kill the local people. So now the Soviet authorities wanted to reeducate us in establishing good relations with the local population. They ordered us to stop confiscating food and other goods from the people. We had to take only the most essential goods and not plunder them. We had to change our image into liberators, not people who benefited from irresponsibly plundering. They aimed to establish an image among the local population that only the partisans had the ability to take care of the safety of the community and to protect their possessions.
As the Germans retreated in defeat, the local population realized that there was no reason to cooperate with them. Not only that, the people who originally collaborated with them started fearing for their future. Everyone who was able to transfer loyalties and join the partisans immediately did it. Another important duty that was assigned to us was to find such collaborators who were now disguised. The Politruks in the different units worked very hard to find people who were energetic and leadership qualities as well as administrative skills. They readied them to take jobs as civil and military administrators in the liberated areas, in order to free the Red Army as much as possible to focus on the fight.
In the middle of July 1944, the town of Globoki and all of its surrounding region was cleared of the enemy. It was then controlled by partisan units. The regular army had already gone ahead to other battles. Some parts of the Revenger, Strombolya, Mastitel, etc. (different partisan units) were already settled in towns and shtetls throughout the region. Other units received control of Dizna and its area. Our unit, the Kalinin Brigade, was settled in the town of Miory near Globoki.
In this area we met with regular Red Army forces who met us as if were just another part of the army. A week passed and we were told to gather in Miory for reorganization. The young people who were in good physical condition were transferred to different units within the Red Army, and the rest were left in town as a police force and to take over the civil administration during the first months of establishing civil order. Our commander, Major Kalimenko, who was promoted to colonel, became the governor of the city and its surrounding region.
Jewish In-Laws in Christian Weddings
In the last week of July 1944, they started giving us short vacations. The purpose was that we should visit our family members and then return to base. The first to be released from the service were the women and the old people. My friend Rashka and my other friend, the partisan T.S., who later became my sister-in-law, were released from their service at the beginning of August of 1942 together with many other women and old partisans. They left in the direction of Krivich, hoping that they might find someone of their family members or friends alive.
I stayed with the unit together with the rest of the men, taking part in routine jobs of patrolling different locations, finding weapons and seeing what would be useful--particularly weapons and vehicles that the Germans had left behind during their retreat. We also looked for folksdeutsches who had collaborated with the enemy and took part in murders and pillaging. Everyone we found, whether they were Polish or Belarussian, was taken to both civil and military courts and according to their deeds, they were either sent to be executed, put in prisons for life, sent to Siberia, or put away for some years. When someone received a death sentence and did not appeal or receive any clemency, they were immediately executed. So now our dear neighbors and friends who took part in the pillaging and killing of Jews received their punishment. And as Jews we could breathe a little easier and receive a little bit of revenge for all the evil we had experienced. I must say that as I write about it, I took part in such revenge and found guilty parties and brought them to justice.
At the beginning of August of 1944, all the partisan units who had fought in the region of Vilna and the entire front of Belarus, both the eastern and western parts, were called for special parades in Globoki, Vileyka. For the main parade in Minsk, all the partisan units joined the Red Army and became part of it. This central parade took place in the most beautiful city center of Minsk. We were joined by renowned battalions of the Red Army who had fought in the fronts of Ukraine and Belarus together with the different partisan units. On the stages of this celebration, we heard excited speeches and songs of our Soviet nation, and everything was going along very fancily.
For some reason, I didn't really take part in all that. I felt, as most Jewish partisans did, some deep reservations about this celebration. Why? Wasn't this also our holiday? Didn't we get to this happy time where the most horrible of enemies of all generations in the history of the Jews had been dealt a most humiliating defeat? But there was something that stood between us and the excitement of the liberation. It was as if there was a drop of poison in our cups of happiness, drops of blood and tears filled it, and we were like mourners. Once again, like Jewish in-laws at a non-Jew's wedding, I stood the Jewish partisans in the lines of the celebratory parade. They spoke about all of them in the special commemoration. All received glory and honors, Russian and Belarussian, Ukrainian and Polish, Lithuanians and Latvians, and even Tatars. Only the Jews were passed over.
Tens of thousands of Jewish partisans fought in all the areas, but they remained the unnamed soldiers. The reason is that we fought as Russians, Belarussians, Poles and Lithuanians. Despite the fact that the renowned Lithuanian division in the Red Army was made up almost entirely of Jewish people, no recognition for the Jews. Actually, in all the Lithuanian partisan units, the Jews were the majority. Even today, after dozens of years, I still feel as if I was kicked in the teeth (different expression, he uses something about burning mitts), and the bitter taste of this insult that we received stays with us. Even now, during gatherings to commemorate the Holocaust and our community, I still see the tragic pain of our fighters during the victory parades. Rivers and oceans of blood of parents and brothers and cousins and all of our friends and martyred relatives and dear ones, and there was not even a mention of their name. Only mourning mothers who had lost their children and orphans walking around us.
We were like strange and foreign creatures. Enveloped in loneliness and desolation from the depths of agony, we stood in the midst of the thousands of celebrants in a land of victory filled with splendor and (lightning? Is what he uses). It was as if it was not our celebration, as if we had no part in this victory, as if we deserved nothing
We are not feted amongst the fighting nations. Even a little bit of self-congratulatory spark was undeserving. Are we really so much more guilty than any other nation? Are we so different from others on this land ?
Where my shtetl used to be
Until the end of December of 1944, I was assigned to the military administration in Miory. Finally, it was my turn to be discharged from my military partisan service, and I was allowed to go home to Krivich. My home that was destroyed and purified of Jews. How empty and desolate the town appeared to me. Most of the Jewish homes were now inhabited by gentiles, from the residents of the town and the surrounding villages--people who took part in the murders and pillaging. I encountered some Jews, Mariyasha and Elie Botwinnik, my comrade in the partisans T.S., Aharon Shulman, and Clara Tauger, who was later to be my partner in life, my wife. Temporarily, as with most of the Jews who returned, I settled in the first home that was available and started looking for jobs. It was strange to acquaint myself with a job of my own will, not forced labor
Also I started re-taking possessions that had been stolen from my home. Possessions that had been taken from our parents and our dear ones. We all needed at least a roof above our heads and a bed to sleep on, as well as a table and a chair. Amazingly, they looked at us as if we were the thieves and looters. Our heirs looked at us with eyes filled with anger and with spite, as if we had taken something that belonged to them
It was very difficult for us to work in this land which was saturated with the blood of our dear martyrs. It was impossible to continue living in a place where we were surrounded by loss and desolation. We couldn't breathe this air that was filled with hate and blood. Already in the first days, our eyes and souls looked for a place to escape from this environ. We wished to leave the place where we had grown up, which had become a death trap to our parents and our family members. To live in any other place under this sun
Particularly difficult were the evenings and nights. Friday evenings and Sabbath days we could not rest. The brotherly grave had been turned into a place for the gentiles to pasture their horses and cattle, and wild dogs were running freely amongst the graves. Every corner that we used to love, places where our dreams ran free, like the River Sarbetz, the Boulevard, Vihan Land, and the road to Kotlanka, now became an unending nightmare that not let us rest.
The passages; Jew, a man of Israel! How can you sit here quietly as the vultures tear apart the remnants of your dear ones? Kept echoing in our ears Run to where ever your feet will take you! Run to the big desert, to the unending desolation where you can at least roar your bitter roar and violently condemn never-ending pain to all those around you! Morbid reflections and emotions constantly occupied our souls.
Once again we became filled with bitter hate, the medic Mikolin recited to us every detail in the horrors of all the martyrs of our time, and his stories made our blood boil and shook our nerves until we couldn't take it. We knew that we had a holy mission to put a fence around the brotherly grave and to prevent the entrance of the trespassers with their dogs and horses.
At first we came to the Rasifolkum and we asked for permission and assistance. They gave us permission but no financial assistance. So temporarily we only put barbed wire around the grave. After some weeks we were able to lay down posts and concrete to set up a good fence. But before we did that, we collected all the bones of the martyrs, some that were found in isolated homes, others in fields and in the forest, and we buried all of them in the cemetery while praying and memorializing them.
On the brotherly grave, we prayed El maleh rahamin (God is full of pity )
We prayed against the Death-filled sky that had witnessed the days of the slaughter. This commemoration gave us some satisfaction. We felt that in just a little way we fulfilled our duties for our dear ones, all those pure souls who were sacrificed for no crime that they committed.
The next question that stood before us was what to do next. The realization was that there was nothing else left for us to do here. There was nothing else tying us to this home, we were like uprooted plants. We must leave, we must run, but the roads were closed. For a while it seemed that there was nothing on our horizon, but deep, deep, somewhere in my soul, something was awakened. An old, subconscious love started whispering to my heart, There is a place calling me. It is our eternal home, the land of Israel.
Quietly, a new tune awakened from the depths of my heart and kidneys Od lo avda tikvatno .. The first line of the Israeli anthem, Our hope is not lost yet.
My eyes diligently looked for any piece of Yiddish newspaper where I might see something about the land of Israel and my heart could be filled with hope. My ears were always open to hear something from any Jew who passed through town on the way back to their home. One would tell me stories about the Jewish Brigade, and another would talk about the units from the land of Israel that was fighting with the Allies in the Italian campaign and in other fronts in Europe. This news about the Jews of Israel who fought for the final defeat of Hitler was very exciting. I found out that there were some paratroopers who were sent from Israel and parachuted right into the midst of the calamity to help their brothers. I would also listen to the radio to hear about the fight for independence. The land of Israel filled my whole being. But how would I be able to get there? How could I get wings and fly to it? I was so eager to go there that I was even ready to go by foot.
It took a long, long time before this dream took on substance, from a dry, bare bone to having flesh and meat [he describes it in an almost Biblical sense, that it went from a bare bone of a dream to becoming real]. Meanwhile, the family grew. We had daughters who grew up in the Diaspora and became adolescents. Finally, after 13 years we arrived in Israel and started a new life, new struggles, and new obstacles to overcome.
* The lack of names is due to these people being in the Soviet Union, and they could have gotten in trouble if people had found out that they were Jewish. Return
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