by Pearl Karsh
Translated by Jerrold Landau
1939 The Poles had left the town. For two weeks, it was left without a government, at the mercy of the Ukrainian murderers. They robbed and pillaged anything that came their way, and perpetrated pogroms. It is hard to describe how two weeks could be so long, seemingly endless. The Red Army took control over the Jewish property and nationalized our large businesses in the city, such as the building materials shop, the soda factory, the general store, the wholesale liquor store, and the agricultural machines business. All of these passed to the government, leaving us without any livelihood. Furthermore, the right to work was taken from us. Our identity certificates were replaced with certificates stamped with the letter J. From that time, we no longer had rights of citizenship. The government produced lists of candidates for deportation to forced labor camps in Siberia. Due to my fluency in Russian, I received a work permit and directed a government sick fund with several branches. Thus, I was able to help my family and my husband's family.
The situation was easier for my parents, because my two brothers were able to work and somehow arrange themselves with the new government. Since we were not among the wealthy, the government did not pay that much attention to us, and we were able to obtain work permits. My older brother worked as a carpenter and my younger brother was engaged in commerce.
Life continued in that manner until 1941, and I raised two children: one was mine and the other as my sister Batya's.
On July 6, 1941, after the German-Soviet war broke out, two brigades of Nazis entered our town along with a commander, an S.S. unit, and the Gestapo.
The Ukrainians, who were in the town and were occupied with plunder and pillage, met the Nazis with shots. The reaction of the Nazis was not long in coming, but it was directed against the Jews.
The next day, all of the Jews were called to leave their houses. They arranged us in lines, and then chose thirty young people to be taken to be murdered. A deep pall of mourning fell over the city, and the fear of what was awaiting us under the Nazi boot increased.
The first demand of the Nazi command was to organize a Jewish community so that they would have a reliable address to present all of their demands.
The first demand was that all Jews must wear a yellow patch on their chest and their backs. The affixing of these patches further oppressed and degraded us. We suspected that the earth was burning under our feet, but who would dare not obey? The community organized itself with several good and trustworthy people to help, who carried out their work
with dedication. The head of the community was my father-in-law Reb David-Aharon Shapira. Yitzchak Grabov, his son Leibel Grabov, Yitzchak Karsh and others worked alongside of him.
The Nazis ordered the community to provide them with clothing, furs, gold, and furniture. The Judenrat acted to the best of their ability to respond to the demands of the Nazis, if only the Jews would not be swallowed up.
First of all, the chairman gave over everything that he had, and he received the rest from the Jews in the town, who responded and gave over everything that was imposed upon them. We had hoped that thereby we would exempt ourselves from being sent to forced labor, from which, as we knew at that time, nobody returns. However, the turn for this decree also arrived.
The Germans began to demand people for work. Members of the committee organized the shipment of people in such a way that, at first, children of three-child families were sent, then children from two-child families, and only at the end would children of single-child families be sent. At first, only bachelors were sent, but in the next phase, as the demands increased, the decree also fell upon people with families. This decree caused a commotion in the city. Members of the communal council said that they would go to jail as guarantors, but they would refuse to send married men to forced labor.
My brother, Shlomo, was among the lads sent to forced labor. He was sent along with other men from the town to Zabolottya, where they worked day and night in a large carpentry shop manufacturing furniture that was sent to Germany.
When the turn of my brother, Aharon of blessed memory, came to go to forced labor, my father, of blessed memory, volunteered to go in his place. He was sent to work in Kovel. After two months of backbreaking work, an aktion of 2,000 people began in Kovel. Father succeeded in escaping and wanted to return to Ratno. Along the route to Ratno, some Ukrainians warned him that a return to Ratno would be fraught with mortal danger. However, Father held his own. He had to see the family, and he continued on the journey as became clear later: on his journey toward death.
Finally, the heads of the community were forced to give themselves over as guarantors, and they were sent to prison. (Yitzchak Grabov, Yiitzchak Mrasiuk, Shaul Gafman, Yosef Kamfer, Meir Toker, and two named Sofer). However the Nazis left the head of the community, Shapira, in the town for the time being, since one of the Ukrainians interceded on his behalf, despite the fact that he himself urged them to take him as well, and even informed them that he would no longer send innocent Jews to their deaths.
The townsfolk, confounded by the terrible decrees that fell upon their heads, pleaded that the imprisoned guarantors be freed. After much pleading and intercession, they succeeded in obtaining freedom from prison for the heads of the community. One of them, Toker, could not withstand the prison, and died.
On the 1st of Tammuz, 5702 (1942), the partisans conducted a revenge operation against the Nazis and killed two captains of the gendarmes. The Jews of the town were worried about the reaction of the Germans, and fled to nearby villages, forests, or to the houses of Ukrainians whom they knew and trusted.
After a few days, when the Jews found out that no revenge operations against the partisan operation were taking place, many returned to their homes. That evening, my father of blessed memory arrived in Ratno, after he had escaped, as has been mentioned, from the aktion
in Kovel. Our joy was indescribable, but it did not last. That night passed quietly. In the morning, my parents took their two grandchildren that were with them, left the house of Yaakov Shmuel Rider where they were staying, and returned to their home. That morning, Germans entered our home and demanded that my husband present his work certificate. When they saw our certificate indicated that we had one child, they asked where the child was. I answered that he was with his grandparents on Pilsudski Street. They said that the child was no longer alive, for he had been killed. When they saw that I fainted, they asked me if we had a place to hide. My husband led them to a room which had a closet, behind which was the opening to the cellar. A German urged us to hide in the cellar, and he himself placed the closet in its place in order to cover the opening, as we were in the cellar!
My husband and I sat in the hiding place and wept. We heard the shouts and weeping of Jews being dragged to their deaths, and we sat and wept, and wept. In the evening we heard my father-in-law and mother-in-law walking through the room, weeping for us, for they were sure that we had been taken along with all those hauled to their deaths. We began to knock on the ceiling of the cellar, which was the floor of the house, and they opened the opening to the cellar. I immediately ran to see what happened to my child and my entire family. When I arrived at my parents' house, I did not find anyone alive. The door was open, and on the stove there was still a pot of soup that my mother had prepared in honor of Father's return.
They went together and met their deaths in the single communal grave: Father, Mother, two grandchildren, and my beautiful 14-year-old youngest sister, Breindele.
I ran to the street as if overtaken by insanity, with the hope of finding them, until I arrived at the place called Rycz Sponczyk. This was a windmill, and all the 120 martyrs lay there in a large heap, for they still had not been buried.
Without knowing what I was doing, I began to search through the martyrs for my dead. I found my father holding one grandchild in his hands, my mother holding the second grandchild, and my sister Breindele between them.
I sat among them, looked at them, and was confounded.
Suddenly, a German who was apparently assigned to guard the place approached me and said, Get out of here! I was unable to answer, for my throat was choked. I took his hand and pointed, Kill me here, this is my place, I am not leaving here! He stood his own, Get out of here! I continued to sit. He gave me several blows, and I, like a stone, did not move from my place, until he lifted me up with force and chased me away. I went, and returned, and he once again chased me away and forcibly prevented me from returning to my beloved martyrs.
I returned home with nervous tension, sick, broken, and enveloped in deep depression. I refused to see anyone, and the following questions constantly went through my mind, Why did this tragedy afflict me? What was my sin? Why has my entire family perished? How bitter is my lot?
My brother, Shlomo, who worked at forced labor in Zabolottya, sensed that a disaster had struck in Ratno. The people who worked together with him in the work camp knew what had happened to our family, but hid it from him; however, his heart told him that he must hurry home. He requested from the Gestapo a permit to go to Ratno. He
arrived during the days of Shiva [the seven day mourning period]. Many had gathered in the house for prayers for the elevation of the souls of the martyrs. When Shlomo saw those gathered and heard about the tragedy, he fainted. My younger brother Aharon would also faint when he recited Kaddish.
During those difficult moments, I was not only a sister to my brothers, but a mother and father. I encouraged their spirit, spoke to their hearts, and did everything that I could to protect them. It seemed that the tragedies both strengthened and weakened me.
In the meantime, the Gestapo began preparations for the aktion in Ratno. Opinions in the town were divided. There were those that said we should leave the city, go to the forests and hide. On the other hand, others felt that it was appropriate to remain and wait, for perhaps G-d will have mercy, until the storm passes. Others looked for hiding places in the town.
My brother-in-law Niska, who owned the soda factory, prepared a hiding place in the cellar, beneath the pile of ice that he used for his business. There, he stockpiled sufficient food provisions for the family, and he was certain that nobody would expose the hiding place. My brother-in-law advised me to come hide with his family, but I strongly refused. I felt that the end of Jewish Ratno was approaching.
My husband and I joined a group of Jews who went to one of the Ukrainians on Zabolottya Street. We entered the barn and hid in a high pile of fodder. There was a lad from Ratno, Ziska Marin, with us. The gentiles found us out and immediately told the Germans that Jews are hiding in the barn. The Germans entered, and first took Ziska Marin down. They asked him if there were other people in the barn. We heard him answer with self assurance, No, there is nobody there. They believed him, did not continue to search, and left the place. Through his answer, Ziska saved our lives. After a few minutes we heard the sound of a shot: Ziska fell there. The Ukrainian who turned us in did not live long. He stepped on a mine that was hidden in his field, and thereby met his death.
We remained in the barn for some time, and then returned home.
About two days later, many units of German soldiers arrived in the town along with the Gestapo and S.S. soldiers. It was clear to me that our fate was sealed. I decided that I would not remain in Ratno. For what was left for us in the city? My only child would not return to me, and I would never be able to hug and kiss him. I would never see my dear parents again. I turned to my brother Aharon and urged him to leave the city with me. My brother refused. He hid with a Ukrainian neighbor, who promised to protect him. About a week later, the neighbor turned him in to the Germans, and they took him out to be killed.
I requested that my mother-in-law, whom I loved very much, join me, but she explained to me that she could not leave Ratno, for my father-in-law David Aharon, saw himself as responsible for the Jews of the town, and would not leave them as sheep without a shepherd. My husband attempted to convince me to hide with his brother Niska, but I did not agree.
I set out on my journey without knowing to where or to whom. I remembered that our former assistant, Matrona, lived in the village of Shmenky, near Ratno. In the past, I had helped her
and her family, and I hoped that I would be able to find a hiding place from the Germans in her home. I did not know where exactly she lived, and it was very dangerous to knock on a strange door in those days, for they would be likely to turn you in immediately to the Germans. However, I had nothing to lose. Death was lurking in every place and every time. I approached the first home, and recognized Oksani, Matrona's father, through the window. A thought flashed through my mind: G-d is with me! He led me to precisely the right place. For all the houses of the villages were similar to each other, and I arrived exactly at the place where I intended!
Matrona brought me into the home and hid me under the roof of the barn, endangering herself and her family, for the Germans decreed that anyone who would hide Jews would be killed along with their entire family.
I sat alone between the piles of hay and wept incessantly. Matrona brought me bread and milk from time to time. They themselves were very poor and suffered from hunger. There were seven children in their home, and Matrona, the oldest, was only 16. On the third day, I suddenly heard the sound of footsteps. I became very upset, but I immediately saw that it was my husband, Itzka. I was happy, and this calmed me greatly. We were together again. Together! He was as always, with his perpetual smile on his handsome face. He said to me, I had hoped that you would change your mind and return to town, but when I saw that your decision was firm and that you were not returning, I decided to come to you, for what is life without you?
We both wept from joy, for we were together again. He told me that they had already taken out many Jews from Ratno, brought them to a hill in the village of Prochod, shot them, and buried them on the spot.
Matrona gave us information from the town. She would go to the pharmacist, who was our friend, hear from him everything that was taking place, return, and tell us. Thereby, we found out when my brother Aharon was murdered, how they removed my brothers-in-law and their families from their hiding place, and when they took the Judenrat members to be killed. From her mouth we found out how my father-in-law stood bravely before the Germans and refused to send additional Jews to their deaths, and how he was cruelly beaten until he died.
We continued to remain in the hiding place, and realized that Ratno was already Judenrein. The sky continued to be blue; the sun continued to shine, and the world itself was still in existence.
Our Ukrainian neighbors were now living on our account. They lived in our house, they murdered and also took possession. They collaborated with the Nazi enemy. They earned a prize for every Jew that they turned in and for every Jewish child whom they brought to be murdered. My heart was filled with feelings of revenge, and the desire for revenge inspired in me the will to live. The essence of my thought, that the day of recompense and revenge would come for the pure blood that was spilled, gave me a great deal of energy to continue to live.
About two weeks went by. One day, Matrona informed us that they were being suspected of hiding us. We hurried to leave our hiding place and hid for several days among the bushes. The Germans searched the house of Oksani, and left when they realized that there were no Jews. We returned to
the piles of fodder in Oksani's home. He was a merciful and kind Ukrainian, honest and upright. On occasion he would tell us, It does not matter to me what happens to me myself, but I feel bad about the children. If the Germans find you in my house, they will take us all out to be killed.
At times when we sat in the fodder at Oksani's home, we heard steps. The fear of death took hold of us, but we immediately realized that our friend Michalski the pharmacist, had come. He recommended that we agree to accompany him to a village near Vladimir. He told me that his cousin had died there, and he would provide me with her papers, so I would be able to work as a Ukrainian maid, and nobody would realize that I was a Jewess. I was fluent in the language without any strange accent. I had long locks of hair and a thin figure, and if he were to give me appropriate clothing, nobody would suspect me. But what would happen with my husband?
I pushed off all urgings and logical reasoning with one statement: if we would be saved, we will be together, and if we were to be captured and murdered, then too we would be only together! The pharmacist realized that he would not move me, and he returned from whence he came. We remained together and waited for a miracle from heaven. But there were no miracles.
The Ukrainians once again came to search after the Jews. We were forced to leave our relatively secure place and continue with our wandering. Matrona gave me some of her clothing, atop of which I wore a warm winter coat with a belt, in the fashion of the gentiles. I wore felt shoes (Pustules in Ukrainian) on my feet, which were wrapped in rags.
Thus did we wander in the forests for a few days. Then, we returned once again to Matrona's barn, tired and desperate.
A ray of hope greeted us. The pharmacist informed us through Matrona that in the Samolna Forest, 18 kilometers away from Ratno, they were searching for woodchoppers. They were not particular if they were Jews or gentiles, as long as they were familiar with the trees of the forest. Oksani took us to Samolna, where the elderly forester name Buchhalt met us. He seemed like a good man. We hoped that he would be kind to us. We parted from Oksani as from a dear family member. We hugged each other and wept on each other's neck, with hearts full of gratitude.
We met several people from Ratno with Buchhalt: the Steingarten family a couple with two children, whose son Aryeh was killed with the 20 who were the first victims of Ratno; Avrech, Sheftal eleven Ratno natives in total.
The men worked in the forest, while Bat-Sheva and I performed domestic work. We tended to the cows and pigs, and baked bread for al the workers. The work was not easy, but it enabled us to continue to live. We wandered around with relative freedom, and we were registered with the gendarmes of Ratno. We lived!
My husband traveled frequently to Ratno with Buchhalt for shopping and to arrange various matters. In this manner, we found out that several of the most beautiful girls of the town the daughter of Gittel Karsh, Reizel Gutman and Feigele of Krymne were in the hands of the gendarmes of Ratno. There were also a few Jews who had remained alive and worked in Ratno, but we all had the feeling that the end was approaching.
At night, Jews who had remained alive and hid in the forests came to us in Samolna.
They came to ask for a piece of bread. Shlomo Perlmutter, W. Kagan and others were among them. They hid among the bushes in the forests throughout the day, with their torn, worn-out clothes, starving for bread.
Indeed, we also did not have sufficient bread, but I always gave them a piece of bread without worrying about the next day. It was clear to me: death would come, if not today then tomorrow, so why should I worry about bread?!
We suffered greatly from lice when we in Samolna. We waged a constant battle against filth and scabies, but our hand was the weaker one. The lice overtook the head, the body and the clothing. We used to say that even a baby emerging from its mother's womb would not be free from scabies, and it would even penetrate its eyes.
After some time we parted from the Steingarten family, who set out to search for partisans, so they could join them. We hoped that among our Ukrainian friends we would find someone who would be willing to hide us until the wrath passed. We wandered about for a week searching in vain for a hiding place. Our Ukrainian acquaintances were concerned for their lives and refused to take us in.
We returned to Buchhalt, and he agreed to hide us. We hid behind the double wall during the day, and at night we went out to help Buchhalt with his night farm work, such as the night milking, feeding the pigs, preparing food for the animals for the day, and baking bread for the next day.
Wanda, Buchhalt's wife, a pious Catholic, would show us that the New Testament states that The Jews crucified Jesus, and therefore the punishment had come upon us, and we were obligated to accept the judgment. We had no choice other than to be quiet. She made our lives bitter in various ways. Among other things, she claimed that I did not milk the cows properly. When my husband came to help me, she sent him away, claiming that a man's hands are always filthy. Buchhalt saw her many attempts to afflict me and asked her to leave me alone, but she did what she wanted. We felt that the earth was burning under our feet. The hatred of Wanda, the frequent visits of the Ukrainians who were searching for Jews, the constant, repetitive claims of Wanda that she did not want to endanger herself on account of us, her threats that she would move to Lutsk and leave Buchhalt with us all of these made it clear to us that we must leave.
Buchhalt, the good, upright man, dreamed that the war would end soon, and that he would come to dance with us on the streets of Ratno as a man who succeeded in saving a Jewish couple. He decided to join the partisans along with us and fight the Nazis.
On a cold winter day, Buchhalt went out to the partisans to inform them that we would be joining. However, Polish collaborators with the Nazis attacked him. They beat him fiercely and left him lying on the frozen ground.
He arrived home with his last strength. My husband and I tended to him, plastered and bandaged his wounds, and helped him with his illness.
One day we heard knocks on the door. My husband and I hurried to our hiding place, and Buchhalt strengthened himself and opened the door. In the past, we were accustomed
to Buchhalt calling us after a few minutes, for the visitors were usually friends. This time, nobody called to us to come out from our hiding place. We worried greatly about Buchhalt. We left the hiding place and did not find Buchhalt in the house. The house looked as if it had been hit by a pogrom. The hunting gun that had been hanging on the wall was also gone.
We decided that we could not remain there with the homeowner not present, for it was dangerous for us. We left the place. We found Buchhalt lying dead between the trees, a few meters from his home. We could not bury him because the ground was frozen. We covered his body with tree branches and bushes. We wept over the death of this good man who had been kind to us, and we swore that that we would return again to bury him. It was clear to us that he had been killed because he refused to turn us in to the Ukrainians. He preferred to die.
Our tribulations began again. We were forced again to find a place of refuge. We decided to go to Samarovich, the village in which our acquaintance Ivan Shtoch lived. He was a trustworthy Ukrainian, and we hoped that he would agree to hide us.
Most of the residents of Samarovich were Ukrainian. We required the grace of heaven to enter such a village without being detected and turned over to the Germans, but our desperate situation gave us no choice.
We entered the village at night and immediately turned toward the home of Ivan Shtoch. He immediately took us to the attic of the barn and hid us among the piles of fodder. His wife and children did not know about us. They would have objected were they to have known.
Ivan took responsibility for the care of the horses and cows upon himself, so that nobody would wander around near us. He brought us food once a day: potatoes, milk, a piece of pork and sometimes even a piece of bread. The place was not ventilated, it was impossible to stand, and there was not even enough room to lie down. We had to go down to the barn at night to relieve ourselves.
The Dream and its Interpretation
Ivan would bring me wool so that I could knit scarves for his children. I knitted in the darkness on the roof, and he brought the scarves to his family as if he had bought them as gifts. Once, he asked me to knit gloves. I did not know how to knit five-fingered gloves. My husband Itzka and I struggled for two days until we overcame the problem. I also knitted gloves for Ivan's family.
We hid with him for six weeks.
One night, my father-in-law Reb David-Aharon appeared to me in a dream and warned me that the place was dangerous. He urged me to move on.
I got up and woke Itzka up. I told him about the dream, and urged him to get up and leave immediately. Itzka opposed the idea and claimed that we must not leave as long as Ivan agreed to keep us with him. However, I did not give up, and my husband finally agreed to my suggestion, but he insisted that we part with our host before we left.
Ivan did not urge us to stay, but asked to know where we were going. We told him that we would try our luck with Nikon Krybsky in the village of Kortelesy, 14 kilometers away
We set out on our way when it got dark. Walking was very difficult for me. My legs had become stiff after six weeks of sitting in one place.
Itzka carried me on his shoulders and dragged me for 10 kilometers. He was stronger than I, and was able to overcome many obstacles.
I was concerned that even were I to remain alive after the hell, I would be lame and blind, for the long sojourn in darkness also affected my eyes. However, hidden powers were apparently awakened within me, which helped me to prevail. We succeeded in reaching Nikon Krybsky.
He was a well-to-do, perhaps even wealthy Ukrainian. He was a good acquaintance of ours, but he refused to hide us with him even for one day! We begged him to permit us to wait with him until the partisans arrive in the village, and we would then be able to join them. He finally agreed to let us hide in his field, so that he would not be held guilty in the even that we were to be caught.
We hid in the piles of fodder in a corner of the field. We were without food or water, and without cigarettes which was very hard for Itzka. However, at least it was warm. We were not concerned with the cold in the winter that was all around.
Ivan Shtoch came to us on our second night. He told us that on the same night that we left, a group of Banderites came to him and searched the house thoroughly. They went through the entire farm, and took down all the fodder as they were searching for Jews. Of course, they found nothing, and left him alone. He came to us to ask why we left suddenly. What was the interpretation of the miracle that took place to him and us, for it was clear that had we remained, neither we nor his family would have survived!
I told him about the dream that moved me to leave. Ivan was deeply affected by these words. He kissed the ground, crossed himself, and could not calm himself for a long time. We kissed and hugged as if we were beloved family members.
He left us a piece of bread and some tobacco for Itzka, and then returned to his village.
We sat in the fodder, and Krybsky sought ways to connect us with the partisans. He finally succeeded in forging a connection, and arranged a meeting for us.
In the Partisan Camp
The partisans in Ukraine were primarily Soviet citizens who had not been able to escape from the Germans. They did not have great faith in Jews, especially because we did not have weapons, which they needed.
One group of partisans agreed to take us in. We went with them for some distance, and then they suddenly ordered us to lie on the ground. We lay down, and they began to beat us cruelly. I asked them to kill us, for I could no longer breathe from the beatings. They shouted You are spies! They claimed that we must have certainly helped the Germans, for if not, they could not understand how we managed to survive to that point. They finally took my wedding ring, searched our bodies, and said that they would not take me because they had no use for women. However,
they agreed to take Itzka. They brought me to the home of a Ukrainian whose name I do not recall, and told him to protect me so that no harm would come to me. They took my husband, Itzka, with them.
I found myself once again in a Ukrainian house, this time with a family that did not know me, in a remote village near Kortelesy.
With the partisans, Itzka did his best to prove that Jews are not fainthearted, as the partisans thought.
He took upon himself every difficult and dangerous task, and bravely carried out in full everything asked of him. After he proved his trustworthiness and dedication to the partisans, they responded to his requests and permitted him to bring me to their camp. We were together again!
I was sent for two weeks to study first aid: tending to wounds, giving injections, making bandages, and other such tasks. I also went through training in the use of weapons. When I returned to the camp, I received a band with a red cross for my arm and a satchel for my shoulders. I went out with the soldiers to fight against the Nazis.
My primary role was to rescue the wounded, move them off the battlefield, and tend to them. When I now think about everything that I did among the partisans, I am astonished that a woman of 31-32 could have gone through everything that I did.
I had a sort of field hospital in the village of Burobni, in the area of Samary-Kortelesy. Aside from the wounded, there were also many people ill with typhus. This terrible illness spread among the partisans due to the poor hygienic conditions, as well as the large lice infestations. We knew that, if the lice settled upon you, your chances of contracting typhus was certain
A special hospital in the home of a Ukrainian was opened in order to isolate those ill with typhus. I was responsible for tending to these sick people. The entire burden fell upon me, and I was not able to rest for a moment, day or night. I gave them medical aid and especially moral support. I told them stories to encourage them. I talked about the awaited end to the war, about the defeats of the Nazis on the battlefield, about the fortunate times that would come to humanity after the Nazis were defeated.
We did not have medicinal compounds or pills, of course. I utilized ordinary cups instead of cupping glasses, and vodka instead of alcohol, which was lacking. I do not recall even one case of death in my unit.
It is worthwhile to relate one episode, from which one can learn about the anti-Semitism that pervaded among the partisans.
One day, while we were in the camp, all 40 of us were summoned for a roll call, and were brought to the place where there had been a fire. The names of two Jews who were with us were called out, and they were accused of setting the fire. They were accused of spying due to the fact that poison was found during the search of their possessions. They rejected the explanation offered by the Jews that they carried the poison with them when they fled from the Germans. The partisans unanimously held that the Jews set the fire, and that they were spies and traitors. They shot them to death on the spot as we stood there.
On the way back to the camp, I poured out my dose of poison that I constantly carried with me, without anyone noticing. There were two reasons for this: a) the danger in carrying poison, and b) the knowledge that the end of the war was approaching, and I should not be thinking of suicide, which is a sin against both the laws of G-d and man.
The news from the front was very encouraging. The defeat of the enemy was approaching. We were approaching the awaited day of salvation. At that time, they enlisted Itzka to the Red Army. I accompanied him to the place of his draft. I recall that we walked together for about an hour until we arrived at the place where all the draftees were gathering.
Itzka urged me to return to my workplace in the hospital. We said that we would meet in Ratno. I parted from him with a feeling of deep oppression. My heart prophesied that I would not see him again. I went along my way, weeping and in despair. I was pregnant at the time.
I did not remain at the partisan hospital for long. The news reached me that Ratno had been liberated by the Red Army. I received a letter of recommendation from the partisans for my good and dedicated work, and set out to my town of Ratno.
The sight revealed before my eyes in Ratno was horrifying. Everything was destroyed and in ruins. There was no trace of the houses and streets. Everything was mounds of ruins. I recognized every stone, tree, and corner, but people did not recognize me. They were new faces the faces of strangers. I had nowhere to go. Only one house remained standing, the house of Avraham and Dvora Berg. I heard that they had survived. They told me that my brother Shlomo survived, and was in Zabolottya. I did not know if this was true. I entered the house of the Berg family. The house had been taken over the by Red Army authorities, but one room remained empty and they allowed me to live there.
I began to work immediately after my arrival. I directed a large cooperative with many branches. My job was to receive the provisions and send them to various branches. I was given a free hand to act in accordance with my judgment, as long as I protected the government property.
I received a coupon to obtain food from the cheap restaurant, where they served a form of liquid that was called soup. I also received a dress, which I have kept as a souvenir to this day. It was as if I was divided into two. Half of me worked and lived, and the other half wandered as a shadow in my Ratno, Ratno without Jews! I was searching for a sign or remnant of the near past, but in vain.
From time to time, some survivor of the city came to search for relatives or acquaintances who survived.
Those who came included Yechezkel Kotler who had been wounded and injured in his hand in the Red Army, Yaakov Klodner, his wife Reiza, Golda Sheftal, and Shlomo Perlmutter.
With every survivor who came to town, the pain and mourning increased, for nobody remained alive, there was no remnant from the home of Father and Mother everything had gone up in flames. Therefore, they returned from whence they had come, in despair and mourning, with each person going along his path of suffering and loneliness.
Shlomo Perlmutter urged me to leave Ratno, which was full of gentiles, but I
remained put, for I had promised my husband, Itzka, that I would wait for him there.
One day, as I was walking on the street, I saw the Ukrainian murderer, Yurek Yandovich, wandering free opposite me. I knew no peace in my soul. I immediately turned to the K.G.B. commandant Nikishechenko, and told him about the murder that Yandovich perpetrated against innocent people on Mount Prochod. I had heard about the entire incident from Prozina of Prochod. The commandant was interested to know whether there were only Jews among the victims, and I responded that there were also Soviet citizens. He summoned Prozina and received testimony from her, confirming everything that I had said. I did not meet Yandovich again in Ratno
My due date was approaching, and there was no appropriate medical supervision in Ratno. Avraham and Dvora came to me from Kovel and asked me to come with them for the duration of the birth and recovery, but I decided to not leave Ratno, and placed my trust in G-d.
I prayed that I would give birth to a girl, for the issue of circumcision was complicated, and the thought that I would raise an uncircumcised child caused me great suffering.
The labor was very complicated, and the elderly Ukrainian woman who had been called to assist did not know what to do. When she realized that she did not know how to proceed, she ran outside and began to call for help. Finally my daughter Rivka was born. She now lives with her family in Israel.
Avraham Berg came to visit after the birth. We both drank Lechayim and he gave my daughter her name, Rivka. He left a book of Psalms with me. I placed it at her head when ever I left her alone, and it protected her from all evil.
After some time, I received a letter from Itzka, who wrote that for him the war had not yet ended, but he hoped to return soon. He requested again that I wait for him in Ratno.
One day I was called to the command, and given the terrible news that my husband had fallen. I went into shock and took to bed. It was only the urgency of caring for my daughter that gave me the strength to overcome the terrible shock. At that point, the period of wandering, suffering and great tribulations began, until I arrived in the Land of Israel.
by Shlomo Perlmutter
Translated by Jerrold Landau
(From the diary of a 14-year-old child)
July 7, 1941
It took place at noon. I stood with other children next to the school, when a young, tall man wearing white clothes and black pants, with a revolver in his hand, suddenly sprouted up as if before our eyes. Lie down, don't look! I am shooting, he ordered us in Ukrainian. The sound of shooting was quickly heard. The doves standing on the roof of Liber Karsh's house were startled. They spread their wings and disappeared At that time, a new reality began in the town. It was as if things suddenly became dark at midday. Images of armed Ukrainians fluttered through the streets -- -- -- I did not heed the command Lazshis! (Lie down). I fled. Two bullets sliced through the air, as if pursuing me. I reached the entrance of my house frightened and confounded.
Daddy, Mommy, a pogrom! Flee![Page 203-alt]
The windows were open wide. At that moment, they were sitting and drinking tea.
The atmosphere in the house changed immediately. The escape began Everyone tried to hide to save his life. I ran in the direction of the river and hid in the bulrushes. I lay there with my entire body immersed in the water, and only the tip of my head sticking out.
After a few minutes, I began to sense the extreme cold, and my teeth chattered. The shots and screams did not cease. I saw how Binyamin Friedman was taken out of the house of our neighbor, the wagon driver Yitzchak-Hirsch. Two strong hooligans tied his hands. A shot was heard, and Binyamin fell dead. He was 32 years old, healthy and strong. When the Ukrainians broke into his house, he split the head of one of them with an axe. After that, they caught him and killed him.
The intensity of the pogrom increased from moment to moment. At first, they tried to defend themselves a bit, but they quickly gave up. Everyone knew that the German government stood behind the Ukrainian hooligans. Jewish property became open for all. The Ukrainians began to empty out the houses of the Jews who had left to find hiding places. The heads of the rioters were (here, there is a list of the full names of 12 rioters) .
-- -- -- When the shooting abated, I left the river and went to a Jewish home. The elderly Tzvia (Efraim Kotler's mother) was standing at the entrance of her house, with her grandchild beside her, weeping bitterly. Her lips were whispering: Master of the World! In sanctification of the Divine Name. With her own eyes, she witnessed the slaughter, how tens of Ukrainians broke into Jewish homes, and how everyone ran to hide. However, she was already elderly, and she had no energy to run. Therefore, she sat and waited for death. I broke into her house as a madman, with my clothes dripping water. I was prepared even to slink into the oven in her house and hide there, but I quickly left her house, and ran with all my might to the house of Yankel Prossman. As I was running, I recognized three Ukrainians with Nagans in their hands, walking the length of Zabulotia Street. I knocked on Prossman's door:
Open the door, have mercy, it is me, Shlomke!
The door opened, and Reb Yankel, with his long, splendid beard stood before me. He was
trembling. He clapped his hands together when he saw me and said, A bitter and difficult time has come. His wife sat there confounded, muttering something silently.
I also could not find a place for myself in the Prossman home. I went up to the roof many times and surveyed the area, wanting to know what was going on. My ears heard incessant shots. At that moment, we heard loud knocks on the door, with shouts, Open up the door, accursed Jews! The Ukrainian hooligans began to break the door. Without giving too much thought, I jumped out the window into the garden next to the house, crawled to the vegetable patches, and lay down among them.
It was only then that I understood for the first time the full meaning of the word pogrom. My heartbeat became more rapid, and I was literally afraid to think about Mother, Father, and my brothers. Who knows where they were located at that time? Where did they find a hiding place? Were they able to escape? For how long will the pogrom continue? The situation intensified at night. Ukrainians arrived from all the neighboring villages in groups of hundreds, armed with guns and revolvers.
I got up quietly from where I had been lying down. I carefully crossed the street, climbed over and crawled through gardens and barbed wire fences, and reached the home of Shefa Lander. I spent the night in the garden of Anatolio that was next to Shefa's yard. It was cold, my clothes were wet, and groans and the thunder of shots were heard from time to time. Avraham Gutman and his daughter Reizel, Berish the son of the scribe, and other Jews hid there.
July 8, 1941
It was a cold, dewy night. We were startled by the explosion of grenades already before dawn. The earth literally shook, and large flames flashed up. The Germans had entered the town.
Suddenly, I heard a voice ordering: Halt! Las! Somebody in green fatigues grabbed me by my sleeve. He ordered me in German to raise my hands, and began to lead me somewhere. Along the way, he ordered other Jews to raise their hands and join the row
of those being led. Nobody knew where they were taking us. Everyone who seemed to be age 13 and above joined the row, which continued to grow. This was a Tuesday. As if to mock us, it was a lovely summer day. Not even one small cloud appeared in the sky. Birds chirped, and a light wind was whispering. The universe seemed happy. Announcements that had recently been posted on the walls informed of the showing of a new movie. Lines from the well-known poem of Bialik came to mind, For G-d called spring together, the sun shone, the doctrine grew, and the slaughterer slaughtered. We, hundreds of Jews, were now marching with raised hands as the armed Germans accompanied us the entire way. They were chasing Jews from their houses, and the same question afflicted everyone: Why and to where? In this manner, we were led to Steinberg's home on the Kovel-Brisk road. We were all arranged in a row on the left side of the road. During better days, we used to meet the bus arriving from Kovel in that place. Aside from Jews, several Poles and 15 Ukrainians were arranged there at the side of the church. I was also among those standing there. A German who noticed me began to mock, Children, go home! Without thinking, I began to run in the direction of our house, but some demon in green fatigues with a revolver in his hand stopped me and ordered me to return. I passed by our house. The windows were shattered, feathers were scattered, and pillows and washing utensils rolled in the street.
When I arrived at the hundreds of Jews who had been captured, I heard a voice, Oh, woe to me, Shlomole, you are also here? This was the voice of my father. I turned my head. His face had darkened. Who knew where he had been during the last few days. When I reached him, he hugged me strongly and kissed me. I felt how good it was to have Father It had only been two days since I had seen him, but in my eyes it seemed like two full years. What is your opinion, Father, to escape? Do as you wish, he answered me. In circumstances such as these, even Father could not help. Various thoughts went through my head: To escape? Not to escape? Perhaps I would be killed as I escape? And perhaps all of this will end with simply a fright? I weighed the options of what to do. The faces of all those standing there were in mourning. One could not see
the faces, just the sadness. Hundreds of Jewish women whose husbands were standing here in a row were now wailing in their houses. Yossel and Meir, two Russian soldiers who found temporary refuge in Ratno, were also standing there. When I turned my gaze toward them, I saw that they were suddenly removed from the line. They were taken by eight German soldiers. I followed after them. Rumors spread through the row that a Polish Jew who had a bad reputation in the town had turned them in. Others said that Ukrainians, who knew all the Jews of Ratno very well, informed the Germans that those two were there. The Germans selected two Jewish youths as undertakers (Moshe Leker and Yossel Mostishter). The former Soviet soldiers went quietly to their deaths. The undertakers later said that along the way, Yossel tossed his watch into a sewer, and before he was murdered, he asked that the town of Kozima in the region of Odessa be informed as to what happened to him and his friend. After they were shot, their bodies were tossed into a pit in which there were also the bodies of the three hooligans from Yakush had who had been shot earlier by the Germans due to the fact that weapons were found with them. A large unit of Germans surrounded us. Machine guns were set up at different vantage points on the road. Groans and murmurs of Master of the World, and Shema Yisrael were heard. People clasped their hands. At that time, the Nazis freed the few Ukrainians and Poles. Their wives greeted the Germans with gifts: sour cream, butter, eggs, and milk. The Ukrainians gave testimony that the Communist Jews were those who shot the German soldiers on the night of July 5. This testimony was sufficient for the Germans. So that they would not be surprised that the Jews were such wanton people, they added that the Russian prisoners who found refuge in the town perpetrated the attack. The German captain ordered all the Jews to arrange themselves into fours, decreed loudly Achtung! (Attention!) , and began to read the verdict:
When we entered this town, the Jews and Russian prisoners began to fire at us. Therefore, I order that one out of every 15 Jews be taken to be killed, as well as 35 Russian prisoners. As the verdict was being read, his face became inflamed[Page 207-alt]
and he began to curse the Jews as follows, You Jews have always been provocateurs of war. Because of you, our blood was spilled on the battlefields. We will annihilate you!After he concluded his words, the military prosecutor, wearing white gloves on his hands, began to select the Jews who were to be killed. One, two three. When he reached number fifteen, he commanded him to turn to the right. Then he repeated this. Thirty-eight Jews stood at the right, and they all knew what their verdict was. Aharon Reisman begged to be allowed to bid farewell to his wife, whom he had married only a week ago. Leibel Steingarten wept and Yisrael Steingarten chain smoked. I witnessed with my own eyes how all of these people who were chosen for death were hauled along with the Russian prisoners to the designated place. I heard with my own ears the shots that put an end to their lives. After some time, the Germans freed all the Jews who were gathered in the square, and accompanied them with the following warning, Go home, but know that in the event that one more shot is heard in Ratno it will be a clear sign that weapons remain among the Jews. We will then kill you all.
July 9, 1941
German captains are wandering around the town. They are apparently conducting the local enumeration. For the purposes of this enumeration, the homes of Yehuda Leib Vernik and Motel Tiktiner were expropriated. Many Ukrainians arrived in the morning to celebrate along with the new rulers. They marched through the streets of the town, waving their yellow and blue flags as well as German flags. A German captain, a Ukrainian translator, the Ukrainian commandant Danilevich, and the mayor Chatzovich greeted the marchers. The German captain issued his words of greeting from atop a stage that was set up next to the firefighters' building: The Bolsheviks have been defeated. Only small bands of them are still fighting, but they have no power. In order to achieve the final peace, it is necessary that you Ukrainians assist our fighters through your work and with your wheat. May the new regime live throughout the world! For the Jews we will prepare
a 'Sabbath', for the Poles a Sunday, and for you and us a wedding (Translated from Ukrainian).
The speech was translated into Ukrainian, and the crowd received it with applause. The Ukrainians did not like the innuendo regarding the wheat that was to be placed at the disposal of the Germans. They awaited taking rather than giving. However, the final words hinting that everything would be given to the Ukrainians once again raised the morale. Not one Jew was seen on the streets throughout the celebration. Only children ran about the area. I sat in the home of Avraham Barg near the place of the celebration, and heard everything.
July 10, 1941
Tidings of Job arrived from Kovel. The Germans surrounded Warsaw Street, took out 300 male Jews from their houses, hauled them to the area of the barracks, and commanded them to dance. After the dance, they brought all the Jews into the barracks. The Jewish community of Kovel made efforts to save the Jews. The Ukrainian residents of Ratno also knew about this. A few of them even said, Tomorrow, you too will dance for us.
July 12, 1941
I am presently sitting next to the window in the front room of our house and writing. It is quiet around, but this is the calm before the storm. There is a deathly silence in the market. All of the stores are closed. A child is coming out from the lane of Shaya Bakler, and he disappears immediately. Nobody knows what the day will bring. There is no newspaper or radio. We are living as in the days of our ancestors, as grandfather had told us. We are afraid of every rustling leaf. The Beis Midrash is the source of news. All of the frightening news comes from there. The atmosphere around is like that of a cemetery.
July 14, 1941
Two decrees were issued. Decree number 1 states, The police chief of Ratno decrees in the name of the German civilian government that the entire Jewish population, from age ten and up, must wear a white patch with a blue Star of David on their right arm. Anyone not fulfilling this command will be liable to justice. The City Commander: Mironiok. Decree number 2, signed by Danilevich
and Mironiok states that From tomorrow, Jews are forbidden from talking to and greeting Ukrainians. From 5:30 p.m. until 6:00 a.m., Jews are forbidden to leave their houses.
It was very sad in the house. Father sat all the time with his book of Psalms (he had become very pious), and mother was busy preparing bean soup from the beans that grew in our garden. Shaykele was reading Children of Sailor Garnet. Motele was not in the house, and I was sitting and writing. In the evening, I read what I wrote to my grandfather. He was the only one who had the patience to listen to me
-- -- -- In the afternoon, I and several of my friends fell into the hands of Wonka Komorover. He ordered us to burn the garbage and to come the next day to chop wood and light the stove in the kitchen. We suffered beatings from him. I heard my mother tell her aunt Chasia-Breina, This is some evil affliction, who runs through the streets all day.
July 17, 1941
A Judenrat was set up by command of the German civilian authorities. The chairman was David-Aharon Shapira, and the members included Leibel Grabov, Fishel Shuster, Yossel Shniter, Asher Leker, Nachum Reiskis, Izel Grabov, Yisrael-David Feintuch, Mendel Blatt, Yitzchak Chayat (Leibel's son), David Steingarten, and Yankel Liberman. The policemen were Yona Stern, Ozer Klapech, Lerber, and Yossi Leivont. Iserke Stern was the messenger of the Judenrat. The Judenrat was located in the house of Yankel Liberman, and a Ukrainian sign fluttered above. Toward evening, I brought David-Aharon a letter which stated that he must send, a blue Boston suit, three blue silk shirts, two blue ties, and towels. Signed by S. Danilevich.
by Yisrael Chayat
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Ratno, June 25, 1942
Around, it is still verdant and sprouting. It is only on the Jewish street that autumn winds are blowing. The pall of the Day of Atonement is hovering over us. Here and there, one can still see a woman scurrying about. The yellow patch on her clothing makes her recognizable from afar. During these perplexing times as the ambushes of the Ukrainian police increased, she is the only one who can still concern herself to some degree with the needs of her family. Children are playing in the streets and yards around the houses. They are screaming, making noise, acting wild, and attempting to mimic the deeds of the adults with their childhood enthusiasm. Now, they arrange themselves into two camps, and everyone is girded for battle against his fellow. For a moment it seems that nothing will distract them from their game. However, the Green fatigues approach, and again, they are no longer innocent children. In the bat of an eye, they turn into wise tourists. The news is given to the adults. The houses empty. Life goes underground. Only the few Judenrat policemen still walk around securely through the streets of the city. They greet the Ukrainian policemen with an honorary bow. The white band is on their sleeves, its purpose to create an air of importance. In truth, it adds to the disgrace of its owner in the eyes of the Jews who see it.
The Judenrat members, headed by David-Aharon, enter
into a council meeting in the morning. The frightful news of the slaughter of the Jews in Kovel does not let up for one moment. Has our end not arrived, and can it not be stopped due to the severity of the decree? It seems that such is the case. The feeling of death overtakes everyone. Jewish cities are burning. Cities are being wiped out, and entire communities are marching to oblivion.
June 26, 1942
After midnight, our ears heard the rattle of dozens of cars that arrived for the Ukrainian command, with their headlights extinguished. That year we became accustomed to the noise of cars, and every time they arrived, we became more afraid. The heart prophesied atrocities.
The eyes of Jewesses peered through the cracks of the closed shutters and covered windows, searching in the dark, trying to figure out the meaning of the incessant rattling and the bustling around the police station. The darkness aroused fear just like the darkness of the shadow of death in the cemetery. Nevertheless, the Jews prayed that the night would continue on forever. They were more afraid of dawn than the previous nights. Our hearts suspected that this would be our final night in the town.
At 5:00 a.m., the echoes of gunshots heralded the beginning of the end. Half naked men, women and children, with unkempt hair, were running in confusion through the streets and alleyways of the city, frantically searching for an exit. They wanted to escape to somewhere beyond the bounds of the town. Others made efforts to get to their hiding places that they had prepared while there was still time. Those who were more settled went to the Judenrat house to find out anything. Some of them went out to sweep the streets, a job that was given to them the day before.
The shots did not stop. At 6:00 a.m., Gestapo men accompanied by Ukrainian policemen appeared on the streets. They arrested Jews and brought them to the open area next to the house of Eliahu Ivanovich. Berl Held, the first Jew who did not obey the command and attempted to continue on his way, was shot on the spot. Ratno was surrounded by 400 Germans Gestapo men and death squads like bloodthirsty leopards running through the streets. They passed through the Jewish houses, searched the cellars and attics, removed their victims, and dragged them to the
square of slaughter. From there, they were transported to the sand dunes of Prochod to the pits into which 1,300 people were buried in one day.
It was 4:00 p.m. The shots stopped. The murderers and our Ukrainian neighbors celebrated on the ruins of the town, pillaging and stealing Jewish property.
The eternal night had just started.
by Pearl Vernik-Karsh
Translated by Jerrold Landau
I met Ben-Zion Karsh in Lublin. He was one of the activists in Petach (Pioneering Partisan Soldiers) who was connected with the smuggling of the Israeli brigade. Together with him, I left Poland and arrived in Italy. I was together with my young daughter Raya in the U.N.R.A. camp in Carmona. My wedding to Ben-Zion as well as the wedding of my brother Shlomo with his wife took place one night in Milan. Our son, Yehuda, was born in February, 1947, and we began to prepare for aliya to Israel. Leaving Italy was fraught with many dangers. In the darkness of the night, we waited at the seashore in Genoa until the small boat arrived, which took us from the port to the midst of the sea, where we were transferred to a larger, shaky ship. The men busied themselves with fixing the boat throughout the entire journey, for water was coming in from all sides. We did not believe that we would arrive to our destination in this ship, but we arrived. As soon as we saw the coast of our homeland, we began to sing Hatikva. Our joy was boundless, but did not last long. The British policemen and soldiers who used to fight with the illegal immigrants exposed us and transferred us to a warship that brought us to Cyprus, before we could set foot on the soil of the Land.
At that point, a new, sad chapter began the chapter of Cyprus. We were housed in a camp of bunks on the coast. The camp was surrounded by a wire fence. We were given food in minimal quantities, and if our behavior was unacceptable to the British, they would not give us food. There was a shortage of fresh water. The suffering of the families with babies, mine included, was especially great. My husband Ben-Zion of blessed memory would set out to a second camp and remain in line for an entire night to obtain water for our baby. Illness spread among the children due to the inhuman conditions in which we were placed. At first there was no doctor there. Dr. Falk arrived only after some time, bringing with him two volunteer nurses and vital medicine. An epidemic broke out among the babies and many
died. They separated the mothers from their children for health reasons, and I was not able to hear the crying of my child. Despite the ban, I entered the room of the babies and sat beneath the cradle of my child so that they would not detect my presence. I recall that one morning, Dr. Falk came to visit the infants. When he saw me sitting beneath the cradle, he ordered me to leave the room, but I strongly refused. He took his camera in order to perpetuate this strange scene, where a mother was sitting beneath her child's cradle. Only then did I accede to his request, and left.
Who knows how far our suffering would have reached were it not for the fact that a certain group of certificates arrived for the Cyprus deportees on the occasion of the birthday of the Queen of England. My family and I made aliya with the first group, and arrived in the country one day after the declaration of the state. We were greeted with great joy in the aliya camp in Raanana. The first letter that I received was from our fellow native Shmuel Goldman, who was then the secretary of the labor council of Rishon Letzion. He offered us his assistance in our first steps, and he gave his assistance willingly.
by Tova Gandelsman (Bokser)
Translated by Jerrold Landau
I frequently see our town in a dream at night, or as I lie sleepless at night. There was a vibrant Jewish life in Ratno, and the existence of a different, gentile environment right next to us did not bother us at all. Aside from rare instances, a sort of peaceful coexistence existed between the gentiles and us. In our street at the edge of town, life carried on as if literally in a village. There were plots of land around the houses, and all the residents had cows. Our land reached the Pripyat River, and the gardens around the houses instilled a veritable village spirit. Our family lived together with another family in a shaky house with a straw roof. My father earned his livelihood by transporting mail to Ratno from the Zabolottya railway station. The other resident of the house, my mother's brother Zalman Kolpac, earned his livelihood by teaching. I recall that as children we spent most of our time in the home of my father's cousin Sheindel Prigal. This was not only because of the family closeness, but also because there was something in the atmosphere of that home that attracted our hearts. It is difficult for me to recall exactly what this was.
In January 1941, during the time of Soviet rule in Ratno, I was sent to Lwow in order to complete studies in the area of Soviet cooperatives. I did not think that I had a special aptitude toward that topic, but this was apparently the only chance, and I took advantage of it. I wanted to return to Ratno when the war began, but this was no simple matter in those days when the chaos was great, and the trains were bombarded incessantly. The train that I traveled upon from Lwow to Ratno was also bombarded during the first night. I somehow reached Tarnopol and enlisted in the army assistance unit. I was sent to work in the military pharmacy, and after some time, I accompanied those wounded in battle to the trains. In accordance with an ordinance of Stalin, former Polish citizens, I among them, were fired from such roles. I returned my uniform and began to search for some refuge. I wandered endlessly. In the winter at the end of 1941, I arrived in the district of Starovo along with a group of other refugees. There had been an autonomous German republic in that area, and they deported all the Germans from there to Siberia at the beginning of the war. I remained there until the end of the war. I suffered from loneliness, cold and hunger, but not from anti-Semitism or any form of degradation. I worked as a secretary, bookkeeper, cashier, warehouse official, etc. There were times when I worked at three jobs, and even then it was difficult to earn a reasonable livelihood. Simple people helped me during the times of tribulation, and many of them related to me as if to a family member. I recall this very well to this day.
During the time that I was in that area, I learned that Russian people known how to adjust to suffering and tribulations.
When we received the first news of the German retreat and the liberation of Ratno, I began preparations for the trip "home," even though I knew that I no longer had a home there. I sent letters to all sorts of institutions in order to receive any sort of information as to whether any of my family members survived. I received a response from the town council of Ratno that nobody survived from the Bokser or Kolpac families, but from the Prigal family, Reicha
(Raaya) Kolander-Prigal survived. I began to write to her even though she was not a relative. When I arrived in Ratno, she was no longer there, for she had traveled to Kowel and then moved to Luck. When I arrived in Ratno, I first went to see the house in which we had lived. I found plowed up land in the entire area of our and my uncle's garden. I walked the entire length of our road, and reached the home of my uncle Baruch-Hirsch - and there was no trace of an acquaintance or a relative. The sounds of gramophone music emanated from the home of my uncle Yaakov-Pinchas. These sounds oppressed me to the core. I returned to the plowed up area of our house, lay down on the ground, and had no desire to get up. After some time, Yisrael Chayat arrived there. He brought me to the home of the aforementioned Raaya, where the "Lame matron", the new owner of the house, greeted me. I slept over in our former house - now her house. Yisrael Chayat came the next day and convinced me to travel to Kowel with him. He brought me to the home of Avraham and Rachel Wiener. I remained there for some time until Raaya came and took me with her to Luck. Their home served as a form of refuge for anyone who survived. There, I met the man, Yosef, who later became my husband, the Ratno native Motel Tyktyner and his girlfriend Fruma Bergel, as well as others whose names I have now forgotten.
We were not Zionists, and my husband and I wanted to remain in Luck, but there were no opportunities to set up our life there. We moved to Poland, but when the wave of anti-Semitism increased there in 1956, we decided to make aliya to Israel. We arrived at the Yavne transit point in March 1957, and were helped greatly by the Ratno natives Pearl Vernik, Aryeh Wolk, Chaya Grabov, and others, who worked to the best of their ability to ensure that we would be properly acclimated in Israel. After some time, we decided to move to Kibbutz Ein Shemer, where we built our home. I wish to point out that only the aforementioned Ratno natives, as well as Mordechai and Zelda Gefen, gave us the feeling of being at home when we arrived in Israel, and we will always be grateful to them.
Tova Gandelsman (Bokser)
by Yisrael Chayat
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The thunder of the cannons echoed incessantly and increased from hour to hour. The walls of the stable in which I had found a hiding place were almost falling down. I began to feel that I was liable to meet my death under the ruins exactly at the threshold of the liberation. The retreat of the Nazi occupiers brought a great tumult, with the terrifying screams of the confused residents, the movement of the vehicles, etc. However, now silence pervaded around. Hidden, wonderful feelings were awakened within me and swept away the gloom, dampness, cold, and fear that had been my lot throughout the long months that I lay covered under the dung heap upon which stood the cow of Cecilia the butcher woman. The tense wait for liberation and freedom overtook the precautions that I observed to this point, thanks to which I succeeded in evading my German and Ukrainian persecutors. I no longer had the patience to wait for the signal that was agreed upon between Cecilia and me, and I freed myself from the pit.
A deathly silence enveloped the suburb of Znatica, the lanes of which I walked that morning. It seemed as if a wave of thick water silenced the pulsation of life in that suburb. This is how the Jewish alleyways looked at the beginning of the Nazi occupation, now with the addition of ruin and destruction. A completely different environment existed there only a few weeks earlier, including acts of pillage, attacks, and murder through the joint efforts of the Nazi demon and the Ukrainians. Only the yelping of the dogs testified that a living being was present. I recalled the motto If the dogs are yelping - it is a clear sign that the Angel of Death is in the area. Who was he stalking this time? Perhaps me, myself? This deathly silence around and the cannon shots that were getting stronger awakened in me the faith that the hour of vengeance and recompense was approaching. The murderers will be brought to an accounting over the murder of millions of innocent people. These feelings in my heart accompanied me as I left gentile Ratno on my journey eastward.
I continued along my journey through fields, forests, and frozen rivers. Wagons of Ukrainians from the villages of the areas, laden with women, children, and belongings, were hurrying along in front of me and behind me. The increasing thunder of the cannons frightened them from their comfort, shook up their certainty of a Nazi victory, and instilled fear and trepidation in them. They hastened to escape before the feet of the Red Army would trample there, and before judgments would be passed on them too.
I thought about the irony of fate. A lone Jew such as I was able to walk without fear along these roads, which until this point were dangerous for any Jew, while the thunder of the cannons that he could hear was like the shofar of the Messiah. Whereas the brave ones of yesterday who instilled fear on all Jews were now running
frantically like mice in a trap. Perhaps it was worthwhile to suffer so much in order to see - and not just within one moment - that which I was seeing at that time, the world of tomorrow, the world of peace and brotherly love that also includes the Jewish nation. I longed for and waited for that day when the liberated world would begin to repay the angels of destruction that which they deserved.
I sat on a sawed off tree stump in the forest of Luchichi in order to rest a bit. The shooting stopped. I glanced around and noticed that the surrounding landscape and vegetation had also changed. The forest was imparting a benefit to a wandering, hungry, barefoot Jew who was going on a journey to nowhere, with no destination. Various strange thoughts ran through my mind. Pictures from the terrible recent past blended in my mind with visions of the future. These were random thoughts that I could not organize. The shout of Stay! (Stand!) that pieced the air put an end to these mad thoughts. Five fighters of the Red Army stood next to me. They began to interrogate me vigorously while I was standing next to them with my hands raised, answering all their questions. Only after they were convinced that they had some business with one of the Jews who had survived, and that no danger was coming from that Jew did they order me to put down my hands. They even treated me to a slice of bread and a piece of sugar. The commander ordered them to transfer me to their bed.
The bed was located in the house of farmers in the village of Luchichi. When we entered the house, the person accompanying me disappeared for a moment. The old farmer woman came out of the kitchen, noticed a living Jew, and looked at me as an other-worldly creature. She muttered something, perhaps a prayer or perhaps a curse, crossed herself and left. The door of the next room opened, and I was ordered by the person accompanying me to enter. There was a table in the corner upon which there were statues of Jesus, Mary, and other Christian saints. A Red Army captain sat at the table, looking at military maps. He did not turn his head to me or even respond to my greeting as I entered the room. He only turned to me, smiled, and responded to my greeting after he finished what he was doing and folded up the maps. The person accompanying me left the room, and I was invited to sit next to him.
So, what do you have to say, my friend? he asked me, with a soft, loving tone of voice. This pleasantness moved me to open my closed heart and tell him about all the tribulations and suffering that I endured, about my wandering through forests and fields, about the persecutions, and about the great destruction that I had witnessed with my own eyes.
The captain sat motionless. It was possible to see from his facial movements that he was moved and emotional, but he tried to the extent possible to withhold any sign of emotion. After a brief silence, he said, Yes, my dear one, we already knew about and had heard a bit about these things. We will certainly hear much more. We will pay them all back with the full force of the law!
I was unable to control myself. I sighed. The words of the captain regarding justice for the murderers echoed in my ears as if they came from Divine providence. After I calmed down, I asked him to draft me into the Red Army.
The captain politely explained to me that he understood my spirit very well, and furthermore
that he understood my reasoning, but that the matter of enlisting in the army could only be decided upon by the higher authorities who were now far from the front. Therefore, he recommended that I enlist in the ranks of the partisans who were fighting in the area, for he was certain that I would be able to bring great benefit to them, for I knew the area well, and I would be able to identify all those who collaborated with the Nazis in those areas, so that they could be brought to justice.
I began to explain to him that the partisans in this area did not willingly accept Jews into their ranks. However, he retorted and said, This is not the case, but if it is the case, they will accept you with our recommendation. As if to end the discussion, he instructed me to go to the partisan command in the village of Vydryche. He extended his hand and wished me success.
I dragged my feet with difficulty through tortuous paths parallel with the main road from Ratno to Kamin-Kashirsk. It was difficult for my tired legs to bear my emaciated body. The few words that I heard from the captain regarding judgments against the Nazis stayed with me and encouraged me throughout the journey. I hoped that this time, as opposed to previous times, I would be accepted into the partisan camp and they would not present me with their usual conditions: weapons, gold, etc.
At the entrance to the village of Vydryche, I ran into a partisan guard post. Three typical villagers with murderous expressions on their faces stopped me. What are you doing wandering around here, little Jew? I responded quietly, I have come to you in order to enlist. A smile came across their faces, and one said to his friend, Here you have a new fighter. Take him out to the depths of the forest and show him how we fight…
A cold sweat covered my body, and my legs weakened. I attempted to not lose consciousness, and said, I have come to you in accordance with the recommendation of the captain responsible for the district of Luchichi. He also informed your captain of my arrival, and I am supposed to give over important information to him.
When the guards heard my serious words, they changed their tone, and consulted with each other. Instead of hauling me to the thickness of the forest, they accompanied me to their command post. There was a great deal of movement surrounding the command post. Fighters both in uniform and out of uniform, armed and not armed, were running around. Among them was someone I recognized - a Jewish partisan from the village of Datyn, named Blit (today in Canada). I stopped him and asked, Are you not from the Blit family of the village of Datyn? He responded in the affirmative. I continued asking, Do you not recognize me? He responded, Yes, I recognize you. You were an official in the people's bank of Ratno.
Perhaps you know of any other Jews of Ratno who survived?
Yes, yes, Yaakov Grabov, Hershel Leib and Reicha Janowicz.
To each of my questions about what happened to him, and his past, he responded with mechanical responses. It was impossible for me not to realize that this fortunate Jewish partisan was suspicious of the evil eye of gentiles around us who were following after the conversation of two Jews.
I separated from Blit, and in the eyes of my spirit, I saw myself as a partisan like him, with a belt and weapons, wearing the vest of a Nazi soldier who had been shot.
of the partisan commanders were sitting in the room designated as the weapons warehouse in the command building and were discussing technical problems of dismantled weapons. One of them, short, hairy, and with an athletic build gave me an evil glance from the side when I entered the room. The conversation among the commanders continued, as I was immersed in thoughts about what was awaiting me and about the good fortune that fell into my lot to be a fighting partisan. I thought to myself, Who knows, perhaps tomorrow I will reach destroyed Ratno not as someone seeking refuge among its ruins, but rather as someone taking revenge for the blood of my family, my townsfolk, and my nation… I recalled from my childhood school days the statement that gentiles only recognize the power of the G-d of Israel after he conducts a fierce battle against them. The question suddenly directed to me interrupted my thoughts. The following is a transcript of our conversation.
What is your name? asked one of the commanders.
Yisrael, I responded.
Where did you hide during the period of the Nazi occupation?
In various places. At first in the fields, forests, huts, and pits, and later with a butcher woman from a village.
Is she still a butcher woman currently, even after she received some of your gold?
She did not receive any gold from me, for I did not have any gold. She is still a butcher woman.
Why did she give you refuge if she did not receive any reward from you?
Because she knew my parents, who used to give her presents in a generous fashion. She also believed that it was a good deed to save a human being.
Is she religious?
How old is your butcher woman?
Who of your family is still alive?
I do not know. It is possible that someone survived, and it is possible that nobody did.
When did you separate from them?
I parted from my wife and children on October 26, 1942.
Where were they on that day?
As in all the previous aktions, my wife and children entered the pharmacy that day, and she began working as a pharmacist. This seemed to us to be the best course of action, for it was forbidden by the Nazi directives for a Jew to enter a pharmacy.
If that is the case, how could she, as a Jewess, have worked in that pharmacy?
Since the supervisor of that pharmacy, the Pole Koblaski, gave her support, and her external appearance and fluent Polish accent would not give her away.
And if your family members are no longer alive, do you want to continue to live alone?
Under no circumstances do I wish to be murdered by a Nazi.
Perhaps due to the hope that someone of my family is still alive. I do hope for this.
Are you prepared to be killed by one of our bullets?
If it comes to this - yes!
Why do you wish to be a partisan?
I searched for such an opportunity throughout the time of the war, but I did not succeed. The partisans wanted me to provide them weapons, and I was not able to.
And now do you have weapons?
Enough! One of the captains sitting in the room cut off the interrogation. At this point, we will continue the war without him.
To me these words seemed to be a death sentence, without any chance of appeal. I wanted to remind them that I was sent to them through the agency of the regional commander of the partisans, but an armed partisan was already standing in front of me, and I was ordered to follow after him.
We reached one of the houses of the farmers in the village in which the partisans of the region and from other areas of Russia were gathered. Some of them were smoking and drinking, and others were playing music, and dancing and singing songs of the awaited victory. I noticed Motel Tyktyner on a bench in the corner of the kitchen. He looked terrible. It was clear that he was emaciated from hunger. Parts of his body appeared blue through his torn clothes. He rested on his two hands and tears were flowing from his eyes. Two female Jewish partisans were baking and cooking next to the farmer's oven. A partisan with a freckled face tried to tend to them, but left the house after a few moments. The partisan Blit, whom I had met earlier, came in from outside, and crossed the room without even glancing at us and apparently without noticing that he was in the presence of two Jewish youths who were in danger. Then, the two Jewish partisan women left the house. A villager who was breathing heavily entered and announced that the pit that he had been ordered to dig was already prepared. My brother in danger, Motel Tyktyner, reacted to this declaration with the groan of a dying person in his death throes: Yisrael, they are going to shoot us! In the murderous eyes of the person who dug the pit, staring constantly at my pants with the intention of getting them after he killed me, I found reason to believe what Tyktyner said. At that moment, I was standing at the threshold of the house, immersed in nightmares and frightening thoughts. I concluded the thoughts with the realization that I was standing on the threshold of death.
Master of the World, I shouted as if to myself, is this indeed how the life of freedom looks? In those moments, I began to feel that the bleeding wound in my soul would never heal. The fear of despair and lack of hope would accompany me as long as I lived. What was worse than anything: I would not have
anyone to participate in my grief and agony, for I would never find my relatives. It was getting dark outside. A small flame, like a Yom Kippur candle, was flickering on the farmer's oven. A tall, blond shegetz entered, took down a gun from the wall, put a magazine with bullets into it, locked the lock, smiled and gestured to his friends and said, My friends, come to the event!
I walked first, after Motel. When I opened the exit door, and saw the darkness of the night outside, I began to shout to myself and Motel who was following after me, Escape! Escape!
As I was running, I heard the sounds of the shots and saw the red flares. I ran for my life. Only after I found refuge behind the stable of a farmer, did I begin to feel the pain in my left foot. I took off my shoe that had been pierced by bullets, and bandaged the wound with my last shirt that I took off my body.
(Translated from Yiddish by Simcha Lavie)
by Shlomo Vernik
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Many years after the Holocaust, we continue to ponder one question: Why did Jews go to their mass deaths as sheep to the slaughter? Why were there not many resistance actions in every place? Why was there no mass escape? Where were the leaders?
I do not pretend to be able to answer all these questions, but it seems to me that every deliberation of this nature must take into account the circumstances and conditions of that time. First of all, we cannot ignore that the heads of the community, especially in the small towns such as Ratno, were religious men who tended to see all tribulations and harsh situations as decrees from Heaven, regarding which there can be no guile or means of escape. The younger leaders, members of the youth movements, left the stage during the era of Soviet rule, and the conductors of the adult community were primarily the religious men who were suspicious that any escape or opposition would cost us dearly. Therefore, there was no choice but to make peace with the situation and go along the path of sanctifying the Divine name.
This concept was not acceptable to us, the youth, but in the absence of appropriate protection, we had no choice but to accept the judgment - and so we did.
I myself was drafted into a two-year compulsory period of service in the Red Army in 1941, while we were still under Soviet rule. We, a group of eight youths from Ratno, set out together in the direction of Kolomyja, where we were required to present ourselves: M. Sheinis, Sh. Chayat, Z. Bender, Sh. Prigal, M. Hornstein, Tovia (Mokeches), D. Eilbaum, and me. We were together in a labor camp next to an army camp, under very difficult conditions. We worked at backbreaking work and the food was insufficient, but we supported each other in the Soviet Garden of Eden in order to sustain ourselves.
After four months in this camp, the war between the Soviet Union and Germany broke out, and we found ourselves as Soviet soldiers on the Ukrainian front. The front was quickly broken up, and we were taken prisoners along with thousands of other soldiers. Since the prisoner camp was not guarded stringently and the conditions inside were unbearably terrible, the Ratno natives took council and decided to escape at the first opportunity. This is what we did, with the intention of returning to Ratno. Our friend D. Eilbaum of Ratno decided to not join us, and I do not know what his fate was. After escaping from the camp, our first stop was the town of Tlumacz in Galicia. There, the Ukrainians caught us and put us in jail. They housed us on the third floor in order to make another escape difficult.
When the Jews of the town found out that there were Jewish prisoners in the
local jail, they quickly made contact with us, brought us food and clothing, and worked to the best of their ability to free us. Indeed, we quickly succeeded in being freed. They provided us with food and we left the town with the good Jews, for this was the condition of freeing us. The Ukrainians pillaged, perpetrated pogroms, and rejoiced at any opportunity given to them to attack the Jews. We, the group of Ratno natives, went together to Lwow. When we arrived at the gates of that big city, we were told that it would be best to avoid the city, for the Ukrainians were pillaging therein. We were tired, fatigued, and hungry, and we did not follow the advice that we were given. There, the group disbanded, with each person going in his own direction. We talked about meeting a few days later in the Great Synagogue of Lwow. The parting was difficult for each of us, but we had no choice, for it was very dangerous to continue going as a group.
I continued walking sad and depressed, when I met a Ukrainian woman along the way who told me incidentally during a conversation that her only child was serving in the Red Army. It turned out that her son had been a good friend of mine in the army. She invited me home, and treated me to a good meal and a place to sleep without knowing that I was a Jew. In brief - all the comforts. After three days in her home, I decided to go to the synagogue as we had arranged to meet the rest of the group from Ratno. There, I found out about the large pogrom that had been perpetrated by the Ukrainians against the Jews of Lwow, which ended with 8,000 murdered Jews. I never met my friends from Ratno again, and I do not know what their fate was.
I remained alone and did not know what to do. After much deliberation, I decided to advance in the direction of Ratno to see my family. When I consider today the conditions and circumstances of that time, it is hard for me to understand why I endangered myself to such an extent. However, in fact I arrived in Ratno on the evening of August 4, 1941. I was the only one of the group of Ratno natives who went out to Soviet Army service to return.
I told my family members and anyone else willing to listen about the tribulations that I had endured and about everything that I had seen on the journey - about the pogroms perpetrated by the Ukrainians, the atrocities of the Germans, etc. However, I saw that it was hard for them to believe that the situation was such. They said openly: Perhaps the Ukrainians are liable to perpetrate the atrocities about which you have mentioned, but regarding the Germans, it is impossible to believe what you have said, for we know them from the time of the First World War… In short - the people of Ratno believed that this would not happen to them -- -- --
The Germans began to draft people for work, and I found myself in a group of 30 people who were drafted for work at the sawmill in Zabolottya. I worked in the sawmill together with 15 other people. The labor camp consisted of several dismal bunks containing two levels of crowded beds. We worked under very difficult conditions, and I was always thinking about how to escape. I even encouraged other people in this matter, but few were interested in this. The Germans began to conduct selektions in the work camp in stages. People
were taken out to be murdered or were transferred to an unknown location. Finally, only A. Berg, his wife Dvora, and I remained in the sawmill. Three other Jews remained under guard in the city for service work.
According to the news that reached me, the German director of the sawmill, K. Kraus, promised Avraham Berg that no harm will come to him and his wife, and that they did not have anything to worry about, for he intended to take them to Germany.
One night in the autumn of 1942, I saw my father of blessed memory in a dream, who had come to warn me that I must not remain in the camp, but that I must rather escape to the forest. This dream gave me no rest. I got up in the morning, opened the sawmill, and began to work. In the meantime, additional workers came, and the work whistle was sounded at 5:45. I left the sawmill, quietly entered our bunk where A. Berg and his wife were still sleeping, took a small pack of food, and told Berg and his wife, I am leaving you and going to the forest. I slammed the door and set out with sure steps.
After traveling along the way a bit, I heard the voice of A. Berg from behind me, Wait, we are following you! I waited and continued along with him and his wife. We were already in the forest after walking for about half an hour. Two days after the escape, I was accepted into the ranks of the partisans, and I fought against the accursed Nazis for two years. After that, I served once again in the Red Army until the end of the war.
After the war, I passed through the cities of Ukraine, visited Luck, Kowel and Ratno, and saw the great destruction with my own eyes. From our large family of about 200 people, only two of us remained: my sister Pearl and I. We both succeeded in actualizing the desire of our souls, as we arrived in the Land of Israel through the illegal immigration. My fellow escapee, A. Berg, settled in the United States.
by Elchanan Steingarten
Translated by Jerrold Landau
To a large degree, I was saved from the Holocaust thanks to one man named Buchwald who lived in Ratno. This Buchwald served as a forester in the government guard, even though he was not an expert in forestry. When the Five Year Plan (Piatletka) was declared, and it also included the forestry business, Buchwald began to feel that he would be unable to stand up to the demands placed before him in accordance with this plan, and that he would therefore be liable to a punishment of imprisonment or deportation to Siberia, as was the custom of the Soviets. Therefore, he approached my father, who was a professional forester, and asked that he take the job instead of him. My father agreed, freed Buchwald from all responsibility, and carried out the work in the best possible manner. Buchwald owed a debt of gratitude to my father,
who saved him from a great deal of unpleasantness. Two years later, when the Germans entered Ratno, and their first activity was to murder 30 young, local Jews as revenge for the supposed attack by gunfire upon a German unit. My brother Aryeh of blessed memory was among those murdered. When Buchwald found out about this, he approached my father and recommended that he come with him to the Smolna forest, where he would protect him. He would be able to do this, for he was considered by the Ukrainians to be a Ukrainian, by the Russians to be a Russian, and by the Poles to be a Pole; and when the Germans entered, he declared himself as a Volksdeutche who was close to the Germans.
We took advantage of the generosity and protection of this Buchwald. Whenever there was a fear of danger, my parents, my brother Yisrael, and I escaped to the city and found protection with this Buchwald. This situation continued until August 1942.
On Thursday, 13 Elul 5702 (August 26, 1942), the Germans began to liquidate the Jews of Ratno. On the first two days (Wednesday and Thursday), we hid in a hidden cellar in our house, and on Friday night, we escaped to the Smolna Forest. After some time, Buchwald obtained a permit from the Germans to employ us in forestry work. Pearl Vernik and Itzka Shapira were with us. We worked in the forest for a few months, until the Ukrainian police appeared on December 5, 1942 (26 Kislev 5703) and brought us under guard to Ratno. Along the way to Ratno, the Germans also captured the family of Elkana Szeftel and joined them to us. When we arrived in Ratno, Buchwald began to negotiate with the Germans until they freed us. The Germans informed him that they would take us to the place where they took Jews to be killed on the route to Cheplik, and would free us there. When we arrived at the bridge over the river, one of the Germans asked my father, Where is your family? When my father pointed to us, for we were nearby, the German instructed us to stop. We were returned to the prison in Ratno, and toward evening, we were brought to the Artel that existed in Ratno. We remained there until Tuesday, and then we were returned to the forest
where we remained until February 7, 1943, the day of the liquidation of the remaining Jews of Ratno, including Gittel Karsh and the girls. We found out about the final liquidation of the Jews the next morning. From that time, our only hope was to go to the partisans. Throughout the entire time that we were in Smolna, we knew that Buchwald maintained contact with the partisans, and even gave them information about the various actions that the Germans were preparing. We pressured him to bring us to one of the partisan camps that operated in the area. On Friday night, we agreed with Musyuk, one of Buchwald's assistants, that we would go to one of the places in the area that was known to my father, where the partisans would accept us into their service. That is what took place. On February 12, 1943, two Ukrainian partisans accepted us into their unit. (It is appropriate to note that to the best of our knowledge, Buchwald's grandfather was a Jew who converted to Christianity. Jewish blood flowed through the veins of our benefactor, but this did not stop himself from presenting himself as a Ukrainian, a Russian, a Pole, etc.)
I wish to tell about one of the partisan activities in which we participated. This was in December 1943. Our unit camped around Pinsk and received a directive to go out to an action in the area that was known as a German supply route to the front. A group of 30 people, including my brother Yisrael of blessed memory and me, went out to this action that was to be conducted in the area of Ratno. After we arrived in the designated spot by vehicle and by foot, we hid a distance of a few kilometers from the Brisk-Kowel railway line. The number of people who went out to each action varied from between four and five, all volunteers. The active groups would alternate, and the same group would not go out to an action day after day. After two weeks, my brother returned from an action of bombing a train on the Brisk-Kowel line. The same evening that he returned, I went out with a different group to attack a train. Of course, we would conduct scouting observations before going out, for the Germans would patrol the railway line incessantly. Most of the time, we would wait with our explosive material until
literally the last minute as the train approached. That was the way it was this time as well. We would place down our explosives when the train was a distance of about 100 meters from us. We would hear the sound of the explosion right after we placed down the material. It became clear that another unit had placed explosive material a minute before we did. We were forced to dismantle our load, but instead of returning to the base, we camped for the night in one of the houses of the area. In the interim, the Germans managed to repair the railway line, and we returned to the same place in order to place down our load. We did not have enough time to conduct a scouting observation before the action itself, for the train was already very close to where we were. We placed down the load and remained in hiding. When we saw the lights and the steam, we began to retreat from the area. The explosion would take place when we were close-by rather than in the forest, as we usually were. The train and the railway line were damaged. We returned to our base in the morning hours. I knew that my brother Yisrael said he would be at the base, for he had returned from an action the day before I went out, but I did not find him. I was tired, and I went to take a brief nap. I saw Yisrael when I woke up. I asked him where he was, and he answered, I knew that you went out to an action, and instead of sleeping here and thinking about what might happen to you, I preferred to go out again to an action in a different place. After a few days, we received a notice from our mother camp in Pinsk that the Russian Army was advancing through Ukraine in a significant fashion, and we must unite with the army that was fighting at the front. We moved from the area of Ratno to the area of Pinsk, and, in January 1944, we met up with a patrol of the Russian Army that was advancing toward our base.
My Journey to the Land, and my Activities in Italy
After the liberation, we began to search for the shortest route to get to the Land of Israel. We arrived in Lublin as repatriated individuals, but we did not want to remain on Polish soil. Rumor had it, that there were unutilized certificates in Romania, and we therefore wished to reach Romania as quickly as possible. We indeed arrived there through a roundabout route that took us through Czechoslovakia and Hungary, but we were too late. There were no certificates. We therefore traveled to Italy in order to be as close as possible to the Land of Israel. In order to ensure the possibility of aliya, I began to work in the Revisionist Movement, to which I was connected while still in Poland. There was a Lechi representative working in Italy at that time, and my friends and I decided to collaborate with Lechi until an Etzel representative would arrive. It was not long before such a representative indeed came, and he was actually a Volhyner (a native of Luck), with whom we had a common language. He chose several dozen members from amongst the activists and brought them to a special course in Torrecuso. Officially, this was a course for Beitar leaders, but in actuality, it was a course for resistance attacks, use of weapons, etc. At the end of this course, my brother was sent to an Etzel activity in northern Italy, whereas I was given a task in the area of Rome. I began to work at obtaining weapons and in leadership. After the Mandate Government suppressed all aliya from Italy, and the Etzel command decided to carry out a serious resistance attack upon the British embassy in Rome, other members and I were given the task of providing the necessary explosives. The action was set for the night of October 31, 1946 at 2:45. Five hours before that time, I arrived in Rome by tram from Grottaferrata with two suitcases of explosives. The action was carried out successfully, and Etzel confirmed its responsibility for this action by proclamations and notices in newspapers. The Italian investigators began to follow the perpetrators of the action. Since at about that time, I had given to one of the Etzel commanders (a native of Kamin-Kashirsk) my documents for the purposes of a specific action, and the documents were captured, the investigators began to suspect me and to search for me. In accordance with a command of the Etzel commander, I was to leave Italy immediately. Since the first ship that I was able to board was travelling to Cyprus, I travelled to Cyprus. While there, I read in a newspaper of December 26, 1946 that the police were searching for Steingarten. I suspected very much that my brother Yisrael, who remained in Italy, would fall into the trap (the police investigators did not know that there were two Steingartens). I wrote to my family that was still in Italy that I was very worried about my brother Yisrael. Their response was, We know who has to worry about whom. In any case, I changed my name, and after some time, Shlomo Reiner (my new name) arrived in Israel from Cyprus. I began my new existence as an Israeli. A trial against the perpetrators of the bombing of the British embassy in Rome took place on October 31, 1951. Among the accused in absentia was Chona the son of Yaakov Steingarten, as the person who hid the explosive material.
by Shlomo Perlmutter
Translated by Jerrold Landau
We were three:'Sheikele, Motele, and I.
Sheikele was a pale child with curly hair. A thin film of blue showed in his sad eyes, and the dimples on his cheeks added charm to him.'He was diligent in his studies, and his graduation certificate showed excellent marks, and imparted honor to father's table with the various prizes and silver certificates.'He was only 12 years old.
He never asked me, his older brother, for protection.'He always expressed his opposition to my opinions and attempted to compete with me in every area.'He was stubborn, and at times he permitted himself to even mock grandfather.'Among everything else, he claimed, Is it any wonder that father shows preference to Sh. over me?'For he bears the name of his father - Shlomo Aharon?!' In general, there was a battle between him and me over one topic:'who will have more influence over the youngest brother, Motele.'We attempted by all means to win over his heart, especially with sweets, and Motele would always tend toward the one who seemed to show a weakness.'At times, he befriended me and preferred me over Sheika, and at times he turned his back to me.'As long as he was at my side, we together covered Sheika with the small decorative cushions that we threw at him.'If he was at Sheika's side, they both would toss the cushions at my head…
Our pranks ended when the war broke out.'I was taken away to a far-off labor camp with Father, and mother remained with my two younger brothers.'Later, Mother was forced to hand'them both over to one of the farmers that we knew in the area in order to save their lives. They worked as shepherds for the farmer.'At that time, at the end of the summer of 1942, many Jewish children were working as shepherds for the flocks of farmers in the pastures and forests of Pulsia and Volhynia.'Among them were well pedigreed children such as the son of the pharmacist Mogilenski of Ratno (Betzalik), and the son of the elder firefighter of the town, Yehudale.'Betzalik was a thin, blond child.'He was a student in grade six, and baby eyes peered from'the shadow of his thin, yellowish eyelashes.'Yehudale had black hair, and his eyes were recessed in their sockets, adorned with thick, black eyebrows.'The testimony that I collected is dedicated to the three of them.
I visited the community of Ratno a day before the slaughter.'Mother gave us much love as usual, and a great deal of food for the journey.'She accompanied us to the house at the corner of the large street and the Post Office Road - Brener's house.'I urged her, Mother, do us a favor and come with us to the village, for my heart
foresees evil.'Large tears fell upon her cheeks as she heard our request. She responded, I cannot leave Grandfather alone.'She kissed us.'We left her standing and looking at us, as she was drying her tears.'We felt bad for her.'I did not cry, and neither did Sheika.'It was not appropriate for me to cry in front of Betzalik and Yehudale.'Thus did we take leave of Mother.'I never saw her again after that.
The next day, as I lay down in the pastures near the town, I heard the thunder of shots. I was very afraid, but I did not imagine that they were murdering the Jews of the town, including Mother and my grandfather.'When it got dark, I returned to the village with the cows, with a great heaviness in my heart, that prophesied evil tidings.'Suddenly I heard the sound of the footsteps of Alexander the American.'He was my gentile, whose flocks I tended.'Motel, he said to me with a hidden tone of satisfaction, they slaughtered the Jews of Ratno, all of them…
I felt the need to visit Sheika, who tended to the horses of Emilian at the edge of the forest.'I went to him in the darkness.'Betzalik and Yehudale were sitting next to him.'They were whispering among themselves.'They were ten and twelve years old - big boys, not merely shepherds, but rather workers of horses.'They were also very worried, and told me that they would consult with the Jewish shepherds in the village the next day.
I returned to my farmer.'Sheikele and Betzalik led me through the fields.
I snuck into the barn like a bewildered rabbit.'I did not close my eyes that night.'I thought only about our house, about Mother, about Grandfather.'Who knew what happened to them.
The first light of day found me awake.'I went out once again to the flock in the meadows next to the town.'Shots echoed endlessly.'I had never heard so many shots.'It seemed to me that the cows were also disconcerted, and were mooing fiercely at the sound of the shots.'They jumped from one grassy area to the next, and barely ate.'They returned from the meadows hungry, and there was no milk in their udders.
Alexander greeted me next to the barn.'He told me that he was in Ratno, and he saw with his own eyes how they captured and murdered the Jews.'He also saw Mother as she was walking arm in arm with Grandfather, who was wearing his tallis and tefillin.'Uncle Asher, Shevale and Beila were next to them.
That night, my gentile did not invite me to the table as usual, but rather brought my supper to the barn.'
After everything became silent in the barn and the yard, I realized in the darkness that Alexander, his wife, and children were busy unloading the loot that they had hauled from town.'It was impossible to fail to notice their joy in undertaking that work. I could not remain there.'I placed my two shirts in the shepherd's sack and fled to my brother Sheika.'I knew that I would find him in Emilian's grove, and that was indeed how it was.'He was waiting for me. That night, we fled in the direction of the forests of Zabrody.'Yoshke Ginzburg, Yisraelke Zisik, Zeligl Bukler, Betzalik, Yakovle Hochman, Yechielik Weiner and others were with us.
We remained in the forests of Zabrody for no more than three weeks.'We sustained ourselves with the potatoes that we stole from the fields of the farmers and from the bread that we would get as a gift from the gentiles at night.'I ate anything that was available.'Later, we wandered to the forests of Adamivka which were denser.'The farmers in the region were evil, and even threatened us with knives.'We remained there for a few days, and then continued to pass through the known marshes of Wielimcze.'The farmers quickly detected our presence, and warned us, waving axes, that they would take care of us appropriately if we did not disappear from their area.'Our situation deteriorated.'Sheikele, as well as the oldest among us Yehudale and Betzalik, decided to go to the town, for there was a rumor that any Jew who returned to Ratno of his own free will would not be killed.'In Ratno, there were approximately 30 Jews who had returned of their own will.'They organized themselves into a collective of workers. Sheika even promised me that after he would arrive in peace, he would do everything to bring me to him.'He went.'I ran after him. I wept.'He left me alone, as Betzalik and Yehudale returned to Ratno with him.'The next day, I heard of their deaths.
This ended Motele's story.
I heard and wrote the following from the mouths of Reizele Gutman, Feigele Fyuler and Golda Karsh:
The Ukrainian policeman Borysiuk from the village of Postupel was walking
home minding his own business one Sunday.'When he reached the shallow brook at the edge of the village of Luchichi, he noticed three pale, emaciated boys sitting at the brook.'He asked them where they were going, and when they told them that they wanted to go home, he offered to accompany them.'He turned them in to the police and received the specified reward:'50 marks per head, and products that were more valuable than gold, such as tobacco, salt, and cigarettes.'All the efforts of the few remaining Jews of Ratno to free the children failed. They were held in a dark cell that served as the final stop for the many refugees from Ratno who were found in the forests, villages, and various hiding places.'In the evening, a Gestapo man ordered the children to come out of the cell.'The children ran about like trapped rabbits, as if they were seeking refuge in the bosom of their friends.'They were marched through the roads of the town. They passed through the marketplace near their houses, went up the bridge and continued to walk in the direction of Cheplik.'Ukrainians saw the procession of the children on their way to their deaths, but their hair did not stand on end.'For them, this was a regular, daily scene.
When the procession reached the home of Avraham the smith, many shots were heard from all directions.'Sheikele escaped from them despite the barrage of bullets.'He was seen jumping over the fences and running toward the fields that were
behind the row of houses on Olianka Street.'The policemen were certain that he had escaped from their barrage of firing.'Suddenly, he slumped down and fell.'A stray bullet hit him.'The policemen approached their victim, and heard the tune of Hatikva coming from the mouth of Sheikele.'Heavy clods of earth covered him and put an end to him and his song. -- --
The Gestapo man ordered Betzalik and Yehudale to strip.'They joined arms, and before they were shot, they also began singing the hymn of the Jews that they knew so well.
One more testimony - from the mouth of the farmer Oleksei Pinkovich of 24 Zabolottya Street, who lived approximately 150 meters from the communal grave in the plots of Cheplik.'I recorded his testimony on September 22, 1944:
Sheikele was shot next to my house.'I accompanied him to Cheplik.'Throughout the entire journey, he was singing the song that all the Jews sang while standing in silence. (I attempted to sing various tunes to the farmer to verify the song that Sheikele was singing before he died, and only when I began to hum Hatikva did the farmer say that that was it.)'The blond policeman Borysiuk ordered me to hitch up the horse, to tie the body behind it, and to bring it to the pits.'I was forced to carry out the command.'They murdered the majority of your people next to my house.'I was a witness to the deaths of many of the Jews of the town.'At first it was difficult, but later I became accustomed to all this, just as my brother-in-law Fedya had become accustomed to the abattoir situated near his house.'Nevertheless, this scene was different from all the other scenes that I had witnessed to this point.'My horse was dragging a live child, bleeding and singing.'Believe me:'I could not look at his face. I could not.'When I brought him there, the policemen shouted at me as they would to their dog who had fetched game.'They kicked him into the pit, and from the pit - to G-d -- -- --'The policemen stood next to me and ordered me to bury the children while they were still alive.'They wanted to see how I would do this.'I recall that the spade slipped out of my hands, and a wave of tears flowed from my face.'I fainted.'Vanka Halstim restored my consciousness with a blow from the butt of his rifle.'He warned me, saying, Stop lamenting. From now on, you will only bury live Jews, and you will weep every day.
by Eliahu Liberman
Translated by Jerrold Landau
I left Ratno in 1937 and went to Brisk to study in the ORT trade school. When the Russians entered our area, I continued my studies in the Technikom of Brisk, which replaced the ORT school and the Polish technical school. At the beginning of June 1941, a group of students, I among them, was sent to Vitebsk in Byelorussia to complete our studies. When the war broke out on June 22, I asked to return to Ratno, but I was told that there were no trains going west. I remained in the factory in which I was training, but it was not long before our factory began the evacuation. All the equipment and machinery was loaded upon the trains traveling eastward. After about a month of travel in echelon, we reached Yalach, and began to set up the enterprise. With the German advance, we had no choice but to retreat again. After a journey of six weeks, we reached Chkalov in the Urals along with all the equipment of the enterprise. There, thousands of miles from the front, the enterprise was reestablished, and I worked in this enterprise until I was drafted into the Red Army in the summer of 1944. Life in Chkalov was more or less punishing. We worked for 12-14 hours
each day, however we were not lacking anything from a physical perspective relative to the situation of that time. The news of the murder of tens of thousands of Jews by the Germans even reached the far off Urals, but we did not want to believe this. In the spring of 1944, after Ratno was liberated, I wrote to the secretary of the division (or the head of the council) in Ratno, asking for information about what happened to the Jews and to my relatives. The daughter of the head the council responded to me and described the great disaster in detail. She gave my letter to Avraham Berg, and I also received a detailed letter from him. My Jewish friends and I who studied together with me in Brisk decided to enlist in the Red Army and to find a way to get to the land of Israel. After two months of training in the region of Chkalov, I was sent together with nine other soldiers to the command of the communication division in the district of Bucharest. We crossed the Russian border in Galatz, a town in Transylvania. In this town, I met a Jew who had survived along with his family. From him, I learned that many Jews survived in Romania. Among other things, he told me that the main leadership of Hashomer Hatzair was functioning on 2 Olimpului Street in Bucharest. I did all that I could to get to Bucharest. I went to the address that he had given me, and found several youths there. At first, they were very hesitant to tell me anything, but after I convinced them in Hebrew that I was not a provocateur, and no danger awaited them from me, they told me that activities of the Zionist movement had restarted in Romania, and that they were organizing aliya to the Land. They hinted to me that if I were to defect from the Red Army, they would begin to concern themselves with my aliya. However, I decided to continue with my army service, and to make aliya only later. I joined a unit that worked in expanding and strengthening the telephone lines and electric stations. News of the conclusion of the war reached me when I was in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. They began to sort the units, and all professionals from my unit were transferred to Moscow, where we worked in the central workplaces of the communications division.
With the beginning of the repatriation in March 1946, I presented my request to return to Poland,
and expressed my willingness to forego my Russian citizenship. After some time, I was told that I must return my army equipment. I was placed on a train, and after several days of travel, I arrived in Brisk, the city where I had studied for several years, along with several dozen other Jews and Poles. In this city that had once bustled with Jewish life, I did not find even one Jew. I was not given the opportunity to travel to Ratno. After wandering, I reached Walbrzych, where there was a group of the Dror Kibbutz that I joined. I was appointed the head of the group, and after several months, we began to advance in the direction of the land of Israel. This included stealing across borders at night, and following various circuitous and complicated routes along with the smugglers. We spent some time in the camps in the district of Frankfurt in Germany, where I got married. Later, I moved to Munich to work in the Dror center. In March 1948, I arrived in the Land of Israel along with my wife as part of the Fourth Aliya.
by Dvora Dorner (Teitelbaum)
Translated by Jerrold Landau
I know that many of the Holocaust survivors tell that they wore the yellow patch with pride. I confess that I was embarrassed of it, and I attempted to hide it to the extent possible. I recall that I once passed by the house of Mogilenski, where the Ukrainian policemen were housed. I held in my hand the coat upon which the yellow patch was sewn. One of the policemen noticed this and asked me why I was not wearing the yellow patch. Without waiting for my response, he began to beat me with murderous blows. When I arrived wounded and injured at the home of my Aunt Mindel, my aunt broke out in hysterical weeping.
After the liquidation of the ghetto in Dubove, I escaped with my sister in the direction of Hirnyky. We searched for survivors of the Jews of Ratno, so that we could join them. We met Yidel Janowicz in the forest, who recommended that we join him and go to Brody, for Jews remained there. There, we met Nechama Melnik along with her mother and brother, who were working in construction. This was on a cold winter night. We asked them if we could stay over in their small house, but they did not agree. They claimed that if we would be found with them, we would all be taken to be killed. We found refuge in some barn at the edge of the village. Yidel went to the house of farmers who were acquaintances, and waited for their help. At night, we heard screams and shots. The Germans, with the assistance of the Ukrainian farmers, took out the remaining Jews of the area, including Yidel Janowicz, to be killed.
We escaped to the forest, and arrived in Samary, trembling with fear and cold. We went to the house of a Ukrainian widow with four children, that was isolated and far away from the other houses of the city. We hid in the barn until morning. When the woman entered to milk the cows, she began to cross herself. She recognized us and was certain that we had already been dead for some time. We begged her to give us refuge for several days, but remained with her for over a year.
At night, we helped her with all types of housework. We sewed, knitted, ground wheat in her home mill, and did all tasks that she asked. She told us that our mother had been thrown into some building that was used for preserving ice during the summer. Our tension during the time that we were with her is indescribable. We sat in the attic and listened to the laughter and songs of the Ukrainian children. At that time, I thought that I would never be able to listen to sound and laughter again. I covered my ears at the sound of their laughter. With the help of the partisans, we later reached Rafalovka and Manevychi. When I later reached Ratno, I did not recognize the place. It was a heap of ruins. From Ratno, I returned to Kowel with my sister, and from there to Luck and Breslau. Later, we reached Germany via Czechoslovakia and Austria. I succeeded in arriving in Israel with my husband in 1948, before the declaration of the state. My husband was immediately drafted into the communications brigade of the Israel Defense Forces at the rank of sergeant. He was the only one of his family to survive.
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