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[Page 399]

My Experiences

by Sheyndil Oks

Compiled by Leyb Ayzen

English translation by Tina Lunson

The Polish–Russian War

In 1939, a war broke out that ignited a fire over the whole world. The Hitler army advanced at a fast pace, occupying the captured Polish provinces. At the same time, the Soviet army came “to help Poland” and liberated Ukraine according to the agreed–on borders. My husband, Leyb Zats, along with many others, was mobilized then by the Russians. I received letters from him but did not know where he was stationed. After some time, I received the news that my husband was near the town of Lutsk–Kivertsy with others from Radzivilov. Some other women and I decided to visit our husbands. Our surprise visit to them was a disappointment–they had been shipped out from there deep into Russia.

Our little town Radzivilov was full of refugees fleeing various towns where Hitler had already set foot. They related the cruelties of the first days of the Hitler authorities, but no one believed the murderous hand could reach so far as here. But the day was coming.

In 1941, on June 22, the war between Russian and Germany broke out. Cities and towns were taken very quickly, and the refugees' warnings were realized. Each day, new orders were issued. Jews began to think about how to save themselves. They began to seek out good gentiles that they knew, something rare to find. My sister, Sime Oks, was lucky: she found the best place. She carried all her possessions to the famous priest, Langin Taranovski, who was a good friend of hers.

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The gentiles from the town and from the surrounding villages were having a swell time; they came every day with sacks to fill up with Jewish possessions, which they stole unhindered. And the horrible experience began, and the stormy era of World War II, in which Jewish life was in chaos. The town authority was taken over by the Germans' hangers–on: Ukrainian nationalists under the supervision of German SS officers. Taranovski the priest became the mayot. The ethnic German Mateyko was a top leader, along with other Ukrainian bandits.

 

The First Decree

All town residents must hang thick curtains on their windows so as not to allow the tiniest light to shine out. Disobeying carries the death penalty. The first victim was Avraham Yitschak Chomut, who unintentionally parted a curtain. A German noticed and shot him on the spot. They did not wait long before they gathered a group of innocent people and killed them in the Brody forest. A melancholy overtook the town. The danger made everyone tense. The German administration and the Ukrainians began to take their revenge on the Jews.

Another strange decree: Jews must wear a white band with a sewn–on Star of David on their arms. Later they change it to yellow patches. A Jew should be recognized from a distance.

All the Jews, without differentiating between men and women, must turn in their wedding rings, fur coats, and best clothing, all according to the decree!

Once they had relieved us of our belongings, they went after our souls. They created two ghettos for us, enclosed by barbed wire, and drove us out to work every day under police guard. A short time went by, and rumors reached us that the Rovno ghetto had been liquidated and no Jew was left alive. Not everyone wanted to believe the sorrowful report. Many people came to Sime Oks to learn some news, because she was friends with Taranovski the priest, who was now our “provider.”

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His once good–friend wife, Boretski the priest's daughter, used to pop into the ghetto to chat with my sister. All the Jews believed that she would stay alive because the priest and his wife and father–in–law Doctor Boretski had assured her they would save her. My sister would also hop out of the ghetto to the priest's home to hear the news, because Jews could not read any newspapers or listen to the radio, so she was the only source of news. The Jews in the ghetto waited impatiently for her to come back, often alternating waiting places to learn some news. But to our great regret, one day she came back from the priest's with the sad report that we innocent Jews were condemned to death.

This was right before Shavuos. Our holiday would fall on the same day as the Christian holiday. We hid indoors, angry, thinking, what help will come? We look out to the street; our hearts are torn seeing how everything is alive and blooming. The gentiles go around dressed up in stolen Jewish clothes and laugh at the world. Along the highway that divides the two ghettos, little gentile boys stroll, throwing stones, sticks, spitting, sticking out their tongues and shouting, “Go on Jews, you've lived long enough!” We look up at heaven and hope to God that perhaps a miracle will happen soon as in all the times when Jews were in trouble, and a prayer was murmured in the stillness, “One and only God, give us strength to endure the trouble that must come.” The sun goes down, night comes. It is dark in the houses; it is forbidden to light them, and the windows must be hung with thick curtains so that the light from the moon and the stars should not illuminate our mournful situation…

We doze in the darkness and do not forget to keep watch, because no one knows what might happen. We remark on projectors that light the other side of the ghetto. Suddenly we are surrounded by the bestial murderers with rubber truncheons in their hands, shouting, hitting, and chasing the Jews out of the ghetto. The sick, the old, who cannot go quickly, they shot on the spot. They threw the little children like balloons, playing with them, until they fell dead.

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The young and middle–aged they set in row six across, a big herd of sheep with a few armed Germans and Ukrainian murderers. Outside the town, near Suchodol, pits had already been dug. They murdered them all there and threw them into the pits, some alive, not shot at all.

So did our dear fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, children, go unknowingly, innocent, to the slaughter. And we, Jews left living for the time being, knew very well that the dark day would come and the same would happen to us. There was no hope, no redemption for Jews.

After the liquidation of the first ghetto, the place was left scattered with the various things left by the victims: clothes, shoes, little clothes from the dear, innocent children. Tossed aside, a few holy books from which Jews had prayed and believed that there would be a miracle from heaven. But the miracle did not happen… The small number of surviving Jews started to look for gentiles they knew who might be prepared to make bunkers for Jews.

Among the survivors of the first ghetto were the two sisters Leyele and Zelde Charash and their mother, Dobe. They had hidden in an attic. Later there came an order that the area of the former ghetto must be cleaned up. Under police watch, people were sent from the second ghetto for this forlorn work. The two sisters and their mother joined in with the workers and set to work. With quiet weeping and broken hearts, they assembled all the things of the just recently murdered sisters and brothers, sorting them according to precise German orders. The earth shook, the heavens screamed, a black chimera lay over our heads. Who knew what else we would have to go through, and perhaps the living were envious of the dead?

Every day the Jews were driven to various work assignments and begged God that they would come back alive.

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One fine day, there came into the ghetto the German judge's uncle, Volodka Kobit (I note that Sasha Kobit was the German judge in our town). He visited us and offered his help to save us. Knowing Sasha Kobit as a teacher who used to visit our house often, I was very happy to go with him. My brother did not trust it; he warned me that Sasha Kobit is no teacher now but a German judge, and Volodka Kobit, you already know, is the biggest thief in the town. He will make you his first assignment. You are na´ve, and you think that you can believe everyone. We would do better to go with Yashke Gopman; he knows a lot of gentiles who have prepared a big bunker for his whole family. They like him a lot: he had worked for years with the forest ranger Vladek and another gentile, Vasil, in the Chotin forest. Gopman says that that is an iron bridge, the only place where we will live through this and take revenge for our murdered brothers and sisters.

Night falls, and we set out. I go with my brother, Yakov Oks, and his wife and daughter Zore. And with Yakov Gopman and his family. He is our guide. He knows the whole area. After a few hours we arrive at the indicated place. We are crawling on all fours among the thick branches. Gopman had forbidden the proprietor to make a toast that we made it safely through this way. Meanwhile, we are happy. The bunker is comfortable, and we can talk and walk around freely in the woods. The bunker is well camouflaged. The good gentile Vasil does well by us. There is no lack of food. He brings good news every day, that the Germans will lose the war. The Russians are advancing, and soon we will be liberated. But today none of us should go out of the bunker because young boys are pasturing the cows, and they could notice us and turn us in. He goes away. The Jews in the bunker say that this is not a gentile but an angel. I do not believe it, and I try to go out of the bunker. Gopman gets very angry and calls me to come back. Leaving the bunker, I got furious: I can see in the distance that we are surrounded by SS men and Ukrainians, with weapons poised.

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I cannot manage to scream “Jews save yourselves!” My brother, who ran behind me to call me back, could have run away but he wanted to save his wife and child. Someone calls out “Halt!” but I run breathlessly. In the distance, I hear my brother shouting “Zorunye my child, run!” Solitary, lonely, I run alone in the night darkness through the dense forest. There is no longer anyone with me. How am I? Where am I? Who do I have to live for? Who can I be useful to? Alone as a stone, where should I go now? Who needs me? Everything lost, no trace remains…

No, I need to go back to the place and see my dearest ones murdered with my own eyes. Yes, Sheyndele! I talk to myself half out of my senses–you are going there to be killed yourself… There is Gopman's “angel” Vasil, the murderer who turned us all over to the SS men. I know everything, but I am pushed on by an unnatural strength, I must go, I go not knowing any direction, a step forward, and step back and almost in the same place. Angry, faint, I fall down in the forest and pass out.

 

The Horrifying Tragedy

The loud barking of dogs wakes me from a deep sleep. I think that something must have happened, there must be murderers around with dogs, who are jockeying for our souls and seeking fresh victims. But I am not afraid of death anymore, I have no one to live for. I go further and notice how a pack of dogs is tearing pieces from the dead human bodies… I arrive at the place of the murder and see my great calamity: everyone from the bunker is lying dead. My brother and his wife are among them. My heart is rent with pain. I pull the hair out of my head. But all for nothing. But where is my brother's child? I do not see her among the dead, I go into the forest and shout. Shema yisroel, Only God, is this possible? Can it be that the child is alive? Be in the murderer's hand and still live?

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Would she, as a child, have so sharp an idea in her brain as to lie alive among the dead and save herself that way? No, it could not be.

Night falls; I am alone among all my own dead. I don't sleep; I talk to them from the pain in my broken heart and my shattered spirit. There is no consolation for me. Day begins to dawn… I stand up for the day–to–day struggle for existence… Alone, solitary, I turn myself around. My mind works quickly. I consider nothing now except my child. And maybe, not knowing the danger, she ran back to the gentile, to the murderer? I must run so as not to be too late. I wander among the woods, the fields, my thoughts weary me, maybe I might really find the child, my consolation. It is very hard for me to find the house of our gentile murderer. Finally, I see in the distance a house in whose yard the figure of a child is playing about. I lose my indifference; it is no human power that propels me. The skies open for me. A great miracle has happened under the heavens… I hear the voice of my child, “Shendeniu, you're alive?” “Yes, my dear, I am alive. Now I have someone to live for and fight for!”

Our joy cannot be described. We cry and laugh and forget our situation for a few minutes. I thank God, who has given me back my lost treasure. My child strokes my face with shaking hands. I have some consolation. Then the murderer was standing there with wild eyes and an ironic smile and looked at the scene of the tragic meeting. His thought is decisive: “You won't be happy for long.” I am forced to carry on a conversation with him, that he was right when he warned us not to go out of the bunker, if I had obeyed we would all still be alive. The murderer was happy with my understanding … but now he says, now no one will come to me looking for Jews. You can sit easy because the war is coming to an end and the reckoning will come. He prepared some food for us, and drink, and made a place for us in a room. Now, he said, he was going to Radzivilov, he would be back at night and would call us into the house to wash up a little. His kind words did not surprise us.

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I had seen in the angel the image of a murderer. Now I realized that he was traveling into the town to denounce us. After he left, we decided to escape. We went out to a field far from his house and found a hideout among the ricks of harvested straw. Not sleeping so we could hear every rustle. Suddenly we heard the loud barking of dogs. In the distance, in the night stillness, we heard the murderer Vasil calling my name in Russian: “Sonya! Sonya!” We both sit frozen, holding on to each other, hardly breathing, hearts pounding. We hear the cursing voices of the policemen, who run around like wolves. They shoot in every direction. We lie in great fear and murmur a quiet prayer, not knowing whether anyone could help us. They do not achieve their goal this time. After that great tumult and shooting and the barking of dogs, we just sat in fear and did not move from the spot, did not talk to one another. After a few hours had passed and stillness prevailed in the area, the roosters began to crow; we knew that day was starting and we must not stay in this place. We must run further. But where? The roads are impossible for us. Death pulled at every step and turn, but we must keep fighting and running wherever our legs will carry us. We will go to a gentile and ask for bread. This is a big risk. We go slowly, avoiding the villages so as not to be noticed by gentiles who could recognize us. Night falls. We spend the night in a gentile cemetery. We lie the whole night in fear of the dead as well as of the living persecutors. Dawn comes. We go further. We see a house in the distance. We head in that direction. A gentile with a murderous glint in his eyes approaches us. He signals us not to ask for bread, but calls us straight into his barn, then turns to us with these words: “You're still alive?” He raises his ax over our heads to put an end to us. I scream out with a voice not my own: “One minute! I want to talk to you about something, and if you don't like my suggestion, you can do with us as you like. Hear me out, dear gentile: we are going around the villages and looking for a hiding place. We were in Baranye with a gentile, and we have a lot of gold.

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If you agree we can stay with you until the end of the war. We will give you everything. Drive with us to the village; we will turn everything over to you and we will stay with you.” The murderous gentile became softer; he liked the plan. He brought us bread and water; he also agreed to go to Baranye with us. We came to a river. He carried the child over first, then me. He showed us where to go. We agreed that he should wait for us by the river until our return. He told us that we should not be there for too long. Walking in terror, we arrived in Baranye. Gentiles who knew me before the war took us in with tears of joy in their eyes. They told us to go right up to the attic so that a neighbor would not notice us. They brought us food, they calmed us with words of consolation, that we would live to see things get better, but that they were afraid to keep us. They told us that Radzivilov was clean of Jews. Only in Brody was there still a ghetto, and there were a lot of Radzivilov people there. We cannot think for long; we decide to go to Brody so we would be with all the Jews who would be with us too. We have no strength to wrestle and torment. I talk to the gentile and ask him to be our guide. I see that he is terrified and at the same time very kind, he wants to help us. He explains that the border is heavily guarded by German patrols. We understand everything, but we must go, we have no choice. The good gentile goes over to a neighbor who knows the roads well and asked him to help to transfer the “illegal goods.” The child and I change into long peasant clothes, kerchiefs on our heads and baskets on our arms. The two good gentiles, one in front of us and the other behind, carry a big can to purchase fuel oil in Brody. Not far from Brody, we stop under a tree for a while. They go to check the area. When the Germans move farther away, we cross the border without incident and safely come to Brody. Arriving in the town, the tumult was huge, Jews running around, hiding themselves in the forest, fields, and bunkers. Each day there were actions, Jews were killed. It was the same scene I had already experienced more than once. We meet some relatives there.

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They take us in very warmly, and we perceive the taste of our one–time home. Others from Radzivilov come over and give us the news that my sister's son, Izi Viser, is still alive. I am dizzy with joy but in my heart think, who knows how long we will exist? Our friends, Brody residents, prepared a bunker long ago. They were certain that they would survive.

On a certain day, when I met with some Radzivilov gentiles who used to come to Brody for fuel oil, I noticed Volodka Kobit among the gentiles. Earlier, when he was in the Radzivilov ghetto, he had offered to rescue us. My brother did not trust him at all. Since his nephew Sasha Kobit was once my good friend and often came to our house to visit, I used this opportunity to send a letter through his uncle with a plea that only he could help and save me from certain death. It appears that my clever letter found a reverberation in a stony heart, because the next morning Volodka Kobit came to take us with him, with the assent of Sasha Kobit. People were simply envious of us. In those hellish days, that is called happiness.

First came Raye Kestler from Kremenets to ask to go with us. And my nephew, Izi Viser. Volodka Kobit waited one whole day: when it had gotten quite dark, he told us to gather in the road. I offered to take our friends from Brody with us, but unfortunately they did not trust in our leader. They only wished us to get through in one piece. In the middle of the night, we get through the border without any disturbance. Volodka Kobit takes us right into his home. We all settle, stuffed into the attic, but it is very dangerous to stay here, we must find another place. Turns out that “good gentiles” have carried news to the Germans that Volodka Kobit is hiding Jews. One night the house was surrounded by Germans, who searched in every corner. They tormented and beat Volodka, but he did not confess to anything. To our good luck, we were in a temporary bunker not far from the house.

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Since Volodka was now suspect, he must transfer us to another place until another bunker can be located. It is not possible to describe what Volodka Kobit did for us; it all involved the death penalty for him. Volodka himself did not take that into account. His goal was to rescue us so that we could survive, and he helped many Radzivilov Jews in several bunkers.

The danger grows from day to day. The Germans issue a stern decree: any gentile who helps a Jew will receive the death penalty. Not considering that, Volodka Kobit goes among the villages looking for a place for us, knowing all the bunkers where Jews are hidden. He took us to the village Gay Levyatinsky. There we met up with Ayzik Treybitsh and his family, whom we were with until liberation. Volodka and the gentiles made a new bunker for us. We could not settle in easily there either, because the Ukrainian police made inspections from time to time and looked for Jews, but we did not lose hope. Volodka came every day and brought us good news and comforted us, saying that we would not have to suffer long now. He always reasoned with the gentiles that those who helped the Jews now will be blessed and rewarded for the humane deeds.

Time passes. Volodka comes and delivers the recent good news that the Russians are advancing and the Germans are having a reversal. One fine morning, Volodka comes and tells us that two young girls who had been hiding in various places were wandering around in Radzivilov. They are in grave danger from both the Germans and the roving gangs. He doesn't know who they are now, but the next time he comes, he will bring a note from them. I do not care right now who they are; the point is they are Jewish children. Not considering that I have paid well for everyone, I cannot take more people into the bunker without the agreement of the proprietor of the house. Knowing earlier from our savior Volodka that there is another bunker of Jews not far from here that he takes care of as he does for us, I send them this letter through him:

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“Sisters and Brothers!

In our town of Radzivilov, there are two girls wandering around who are unknown to me. Our duty is to help them; they should not fall, heaven forbid, into the hands of the murderers. They are in grave danger. We are the only ones who can save them. I am prepared to take one of them into our bunker, and I believe that you will also find the understanding to save one of them, too. On the virtue of such deeds we will all hope to remain alive.”

At the same time, I sent a letter through Volodka to the unknown girls:

“My dear unknowns! You may go with this person without fear. His appearance is poor but his soul is that of a saint. God will help him to bring you safely through the way.”

Volodka Kobit did not wait long. He went out that very night to bring them. It appeared that these were Binyamin Lekhtman's two children. The encounter was heartrending, with quiet weeping. I was happy that we succeeded in saving them. The elder, Dvore, stayed with us until liberation; the younger, Yafe, stayed in the second bunker with Yitschak Vaynshteyn, Simche Simogran, and Hersh Kiperman and their families.

Volodka Kobit sits by the radio and listens with great suspense to the Russians' latest victories at the fronts. He soon comes to us to share his happiness that we will be liberated very soon. Suddenly we hear canon fire in the distance; they are bombarding from every side. The Germans flee like poisoned mice from one place to another and scream, “Faster, faster, the Russians are coming!” Our savior Volodka cannot yet go home; he sits with us and waits for the Germans' defeat and for liberation by the Russians.

The Germans give their last order: that all the gentiles should leave the villages because that is now the front line. The German headquarters occupies our house. We remain in the bunker, imprisoned, unable to go outside.

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The bombs whistle over our heads, literally an earthquake. We think that we will simply be burned alive in the bunker. This goes on for several days. We cannot get out of the bunker after all. We cannot endure the hunger and thirst.

In the middle of the night, Volodka decided to go outside. In a few minutes, he came back with the good news that the Germans had retreated, but we were forbidden to go out because the Russians had not yet taken the village. A few days went by, and we heard the rumble of trucks and tanks. Also the Russian language. We could not contain the concept of our great joy; we could not believe that we were free. Our town Radzivilov was liberated at the same time. We bid farewell to the proprietor of our bunker and thank him for his great accomplishment and the humane heart that he has shown for us, to be with him in the most horrible days of our lives. All of us survivors of the great destruction set out for our town Radzivilov with our faithful rescuer and guide Volodka. We can breathe freely, the air is pure for us, the sky is blue, the sun sends warm rays, a little breeze soothes us and comforts our beings. At last we are free! We must begin a new life.

We arrive in Radzivilov. We see the ruins of Jewish houses. The once–Jewish town is not recognizable. The Jewish houses are occupied by gentile neighbors. No trace of Jewish life remains. Everything is strange to us. There is no one to talk to, to tell, but our savior's family takes us in. They take us into their house with great joy and pleasure, like their own sisters and brothers. Volodka made a big feast, with whisky to drink a toast for our liberation, with the best wishes and further success in life. He turned to us, holding the glass in his hand:

“My dear surviving children! You know very well what I have done for you so you could survive, so you should never forget your rescuer Volodka Kobit.”

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And sitting there at the table, I was interested to know the details of my sister's final days. They told me about the “holy” priest Taranovski, how out of the clear blue sky he drove out my sister Sime Oks and her husband and child. Her husband was held overnight by the military, knowing what awaited him. He poisoned himself. They turned Sime Oks and her child over to the town murderer Demko, for him to kill. They relate the tragic moment when the child Liusik kept screaming “Mama, Mama, why do we have to die?” Tears choke me, my heart is even more broken, a dull pain presses on me…

I draw a parallel between the “holy, kindly” priest Taranovski with a cross over his heart, which predicates morality and religion based on verses from the Bible–thou shalt not kill!–who is transformed into an animal in human form; and the kindly, simple gentile Volodka Kobit, who had a reputation in town as the biggest thief and who demonstrated such a humane, good heart, ignoring the danger that it placed him in. I cannot answer that for myself. My heard is broken, my soul bloodied…

Our account with the Germans will never be closed, because the surviving Jews after the murder of 6,000,000 are also half dead, sick, broken like a tree whose roots were chopped off. Our task is to describe the sorrowful tragedy of our past for the young generation. They should read and remember what the Hitler beasts did to the Jewish people in World War II.

With this opportunity to describe my experiences, it is worth mentioning two fine people: The first, a Bukhari Jew in the person of a Russian officer; and the second, a well–known priest (formerly a Jewish boy).

After the liberation, while we were in town, gentiles came to tell us that in a village located not far from Radzivilov, there were Jewish children who had been saved by good gentiles.

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Full of fear and knowing about the Ukrainian bandits who had carried out the death details along with the Germans, I was afraid to go to the village alone in search of the Jewish children. By chance, I knew a Russian officer by the name of Rubin, who came from Bukhara. A national Jew in the full sense of the word. He helped to release Jewish children from gentile hands at some self–sacrifice. It was not an easy assignment, because the Russian authorities were not so interested in such activities. It had to be done on the sly, but his nationalism forced him and pushed him to carry it out with great success. I traveled with him to several villages, collecting some Jewish children from the gentiles without any resistance.

Among others, we were able to save Sheyndele Shrayer (now in Israel) and others whose names I do not remember. And so were rescued a lot of Jewish children who did not even know their parents. I am not capable of estimating the value of that person's willingness to sacrifice.

In leaving the town of our birth after liberation, our savior Volodka Kobit accompanied us with his entire family. He wished us success in continuing our lives and told me quietly: “They know that my nephew Sasha Kobit did a lot for me. He also knew that I was hiding Jews even though he was a judge for the Germans. He is away from Radzivilov now, afraid of the Russians. I ask you, if you ever meet up with him and if he ever needs your help, help him in any way you can.”

His request was fulfilled shortly.

Wandering from town to town, we arrived in Krakow and settled in a transit camp, where we lived in very bad conditions. On the second day, the door opened, and, unexpectedly, in came Sasha Kobit. I was surprised by his sudden visit. He did not look like the proud German judge; he was unfortunate, with eyes that pleaded for mercy. He was restless and upset. [Page 414]

He spoke only a few chosen words: “Your debt now, Sheyndele, is to save me.”

I asked him to sit and to tell me what had happened. He told me briefly what had happened up to his coming here and asked me to help him to get out of Krakow.

The news spread quickly through the camp that Sasha Kobit, the former German judge, was here among those he had prosecuted. So, many wanted to hand him over to the police. Not everyone knew of his true past. I, on my part, promised to help him. His desire was to get to Czechoslovakia. I soon found out from some Jews that there was a famous priest (a former Jew) here who helped anyone who needed it. I went to him personally. He received me very well, asking me about all the particulars that were relative to my visit. I told him everything, though with some caution. He told me to do what was necessary as quickly as possible. Soon I accompanied Sasha Kobit to the train. He took his heartfelt leave with many thanks for this valuable help, saying he would never forget it.

I will never forget the scene that I saw with my own eyes in Brody, at the home of my relatives, the Tiger family from Leshnev Street, during the time in the ghetto. Sitting in the house, sunk in my own problems, with roiling thoughts about my survival, singing suddenly interrupts my troubled mind. I hear the call of a familiar voice:

Play gypsy on your fiddle,
once again that sad little song.

A shudder goes through all my limbs. I quickly open the door and stand there speechless. I recognize our Avraham Groysman as a beggar. I see a thinned–out, hardly human figure with its hand stretched out, begging for alms. His once–rosy cheeks are the color of flour. And his misty blue eyes seem restless. But the sound of his voice reminds me of my school friend.

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He recognizes me and lets out a bitter cry and says to me in a broken voice, “Sheyndele, I have no alternative, otherwise I would die.” I beg him with tears in my eyes, “Avraham, don't sing! Your song cuts my heart and touches my open wounds.” Poor thing, he stands lost, his lips silent, shaking his head. I ask him into the house, give him some food. We talk about things, and both are happy with this sad meeting, but he cannot promise me that he will not sing anymore. His words echo in my ears even now: “This is my livelihood, I mustn't liquidate myself. The murderers will not take my spirit and my voice from me until the last moment of my life.” Those were his words before leaving our house.

And a few minutes later, I heard him again in the distance with this song:

Green leaves, green as grass,
tell me God, why
oy, oy, people plague us so.
What has been must be no more,
red is blood and red is wine.
Green leaves,
green leaves.

We, the survivors after liberation, go around like strangers in the town where we were born without a good–morning, without a future. We meet solitary survivors from big families. We feel we are superfluous. We decide to leave the town because we are walking around among wolves who pity us because we are survivors… We travel further through various countries and cities until we arrive in our longed–for land, the Land of Israel, where each of us builds his home and creates a family.

The surviving Lekhtman sisters are happy with their homes and families, but to their great regret, the happiness of both sisters is destroyed forever.

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Our Dvore became suddenly ill and had no hope of recovering. Two days before her death, she said to me, “Sheyndele, you saved me from the Germans, but now no one can help me; my fate is sealed.”

The good, clever Dvore is taken away from us before her time. We will never forget her!

Still to this day, town survivors gather with me in my house. They talk, and we spend good time in one another's company and do not forget to mention and tell about the life of our tragic past, how each of us lost our dearest and most loved.

Honor their memory!


How I Stayed Alive

Told by Etye Albert (Zlotnik) to Leyb Ayzen

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

In 1941, shortly after the capture of our town, Kozin, where I last lived, my husband became one of the first victims killed, leaving me alone with two children. In the ghetto in 1942, I learned from a member of the Judenrat that the Kozin ghetto would be liquidated on October 6. I took my two children and whatever else I could and fled. I succeeded in crossing the river that separated the ghetto. I set out for the village of Ivashtshukes. A gentile there took me in and put me up for two weeks. After taking all my possessions from me, he violently drove me out, saying, “It's a sure thing you'll be killed, so you don't really need anything.”

So I began wandering from village to village with the two children, searching for someone who would have pity and give me a hiding place, but with no results. I began to struggle for my existence, hiding out by day and at night in gentile horse stables so as not to be seen, God forbid, by any human eye.

[Page 417]

In the village of Sofiyevka, when going to a gentile by night to beg for food, I was hidden by a Ukrainian policeman who happened to be there at the house. He soon told me, “You will never escape from my hands!” My children started to cry and plead. That bandit had pity and told us to get out. We ran breathlessly, thinking that we would be shot, but for luckless people we had some luck, that our torment was to wander in the darkness until late at night. We settled in a stall at the house of a certain Czech named Hulmar, whom the gentiles called “the Jewish rabbi,” may his name be mentioned for good, because it is thanks to that Czech that I stayed alive, having no chance and no means at all to pay him.

I want to mention his fine wife, Helena, who was like a mother to me, cooking food and even washing me from time to time. She sympathized with my pain, calming me and giving me hope. It is hard for me to remember every detail, but this I can tell:

At night I had to go over to another Czech settlement, Stiskalubka. I stayed there for a while with a certain Czech, Anso, a poor gentile for whom I had to go begging. To thank me, he hid me. That was until 1942.

In 1943, we already had no place to hide, and we went to the pitch makers. It was frightfully cold outdoors; we were tired and broken. We staked our lives and went to a Czech's house. Seeing us, he told us to leave his house. His noble wife, Manye Blekh, seeing our condition, stood up for us and said to her husband, “If you want to drive out this woman and the children, you will then have to come to their defense.” The man was silent, and we stayed there.

That year, my little 6–year old son Yankev was killed by Ukrainian bandits.

After further wandering and more experiences of hunger and want, completely broken after my son's death, it was the same to me to live or to die.

[Page 418]

As fate would have it, we would stay alive and relate this, which we can never forget.

At the beginning of 1944, we suddenly heard terrible shooting. In terror, we looked through the window to see the Russian intelligence. One of them turned to us, asking in Russian if there were many Germans in the village. In my great surprise, I did not know what to answer. My heart was full of joy, but my joy was mixed with my great sadness that my second son, 9–year–old Hershele, had been killed before the liberation, and this did not merit rejoicing after so difficult an ordeal. The village, us included, was liberated within an hour. We received a warning from the Soviet Army that we should leave the village so as not to fall victim to bandits. So then I went all alone to Dubno. On the way, I met Sheyndil Oks. We were happy to talk and cry … I met other Radzivilovers. Each one had to tell his experiences.

So life is stronger than death. We are now in our own land and gather from time to time with other survivors from our town and do not forget to recall the horrible experiences of the past, how we lost one third of our folk. All of our tellings should serve as a tombstone for our dearest and most beloved, who were killed for no reason.

[Page 419]

rad419.jpg
Remnant from Radzivilov in Camp Luntz, 1947
Seated (right to left): Ite Gun, Duvid Balaban, Yosel Royzman, Gutman–Kisis
Standing: Sheyndel Oks, Yankel Poritsky, Zine Oks, Leye Charash, Borya Hofman, Zelde Charash

 


[Page 421]

I Will Remember Them

R' Avraham Danik and His Family, of Blessed Memory

 

Feyge Danik,
Perished in the Ghetto,
25 Tishrei 194

 

Standing, from left to right: Bat-Sheve Shpitsgluz (née Danik), Dochya Mess, Polya Shternberg, Zina Vaysberg
Sitting: Mochya Fayfel, Meta Mess, Niunye Segal

 

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