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[Page 231]

Revenge and Recompense

by Shlomo Perlmutter

Translated by Jerrold Landau

One January day in 1944, as I was riding on my horse in the snowy forest path during the course of carrying out my tasks in the Kotovski Unit, I suddenly noticed a man whose appearance alone caused my heart to beat so strongly that I literally almost lost consciousness. Was this indeed him? I refused to believe the image before my eyes, but the personage was clear – the image of Vanka, the infamous murderer of the Jews of Ratno, the murderer of my brother Shaykale and his friends Yehudale and Betzlik. Here he was in the partisan camp, armed with automatic weapons, wearing the partisan cap with the red ribbon on his head. Was it possible? Was he also among the partisans? This murderer? Was it possible that he was wandering around securely in the area under the command of the unit commander Feodorov? I felt myself covered in a cold sweat. It was as if thousands of hammers were banging at my temples. I could not even turn my head backward to check if I was not mistaken – if my eyes were not misleading me. I placed my feet in the stirrups of my horse, urged on the horse, and galloped directly to the communications unit. I continued to think about this Vanka throughout the entire way, this wild murderer of myriads of Jews, this frightful monster, who was now serving in the same unit as I was…

I quickly gave over the transmissions and mail that I had with me, and decided that, before I returned, I would discuss this Vanka with the command. My feet carried me to the office of General Feodorov himself, whom I had met a few days earlier when he visited our unit. I was so emotional that I did not even make efforts to ask permission of the general's office guard, who was completely astonished at my brazenness. I entered the office of the general as if I was one of his confidantes. I walked properly, but my legs trembled, and the words choked in my throat. I was unable to control the level of my voice, and I literally shouted”

“Aleksei Feodorovich, Comrade General, a wild animal is walking outside here!”
The general rose from his chair, approached me, sensed that something had happened to me, and attempted to calm me. Perhaps he sensed that some sort of evil spirit had overtaken me, and I had gone mad.
“Sania, what happened to you? Tell me, what happened?”
His loving voice and calm manner of speaking gave me back my sense of self- assurance, and I calmed down somewhat. I explained to the general that the murderer of my family and many Jews of my town was now a partisan in our unit, and I had just run into him on the path.
“Are you sure you are not mistaken?”, said the general in the same calm voice, “What is his name?”

“Ivan Lokianioch, Vanka, from the village of Komarovo near Ratno. I am not mistaken. He is the man, and he is the one who murdered my family members.

[Page 232]

{Photo page 232, top right: Shlomo Perlmutter and Yaakov Kaldner in Moscow.}

{Photo page 232 top left: Members of the partisan headquarters with General Feodorov (in the center). Standing at the right edge -- Sh. Perlmutter.}

{Photo page 232 bottom: The partisan unit of General Feodorov. Third from right in the top row -- Sh. Perlmutter.}

[Page 233]

{Photo page 233: Shlomole on a journey with the partisan unit.}

I saw it with my own eyes, Comrade General.”
Feodorov sat down in his chair, and requested that the person in charge of special services as well as the commissar be brought to his office. When they arrived, they asked me many questions, and I attempted to respond to the matter as calmly as I could, despite the fact that inside I was all stormy and emotional. The next day I heard that Vanka was imprisoned…

*

The investigation of the murderer lasted several days. During the first stages of the investigation, he insisted that he did not know me, and he denied everything. He only admitted that he had served with the Banderites for a brief period, but deserted them after he became convinced that their way was not correct. He never attacked Jews, and never killed any of them. On the contrary, he offered help to the Jews at every opportunity, and even saved a Jewish girl whose name was Caroma[1].

However, the investigators were not satisfied with his admission. They continued pressing him, and he broke down and admitted to his investigators that he had been sent by the Germans and Banderites to spy in the partisan camps. Among the tasks imposed on him, there was one additional one: to kill General Feodorov. He also confirmed that he knew me, and even began to call me by my name Shlomo rather that Semion or Sania, as I was called by the partisans.

During one of the meetings of the investigation, I told about all of Vanka's atrocities in Ratno, and recalled how he murdered a Jew by beating him with a stick only

[Page 234]

because he had gone out without the yellow patch on his back. The murder took place next to Berger's house on the road, as tens of local Ukrainians were standing and watching the deed, and even encouraging this “hero.” The investigator Zolotoronko asked me if I wished to repay him for this. I responded affirmatively. I took a stick from the linden tree that stood in the corner and beat him until I ran out of energy. The Ukrainian “hero,” the murderer of my brother, screamed like a wounded animal, and rolled like a ball off the bench upon which he was sitting all the way to the corner of the room, overturning the heating oven with its coal in the process. “The two-gun murderer,” as he was nicknamed by the Jews of Ratno, now sat as a captured, bleeding rat. I was only sorry that only a few people were able to see this varmint lying and wailing at my feet. I only told one person from Ratno, Eli Zesak, who also served in Feodorov's group, about the imprisonment and investigation of Vanka. He encouraged me, strengthened my spirit, and told me to not let up until justice is served. Zesak said that this was the purpose of our lives now – this is why we had remained alive.

*

In the meantime, days and weeks passed. I went out with my units to action in the expanse of Sarny. I was concerned that Vanka's investigators might have mercy on him and free him. At the end of our action, I immediately galloped to the command to find out what the situation was. Zolotoronko calmed me and informed me that they were dealing with Vanka “Pa Partisanski” (In the manner of the partisans), and I had nothing to worry about. He would receive his punishment.

A few days later, I met Michael Glider, our cameraman and photographer. He told me that Feodorov decided to hang Vanka. I did not hide my joy, and asked that they not forget my role in this matter when the time comes.

On the evening of February 11, I was informed that I must immediately come to the command of the general. When I arrived, I was officially informed that the general decided to execute Vanka, and I was one of those designated to accompany him to the gallows. At that meeting, I was also told that the procession to the gallows was to be filmed by Michael Glider, to be included in a movie that he was preparing about the partisans, their lives and activities. Feelings of joy, depression, and powerlessness all converged together upon my heart. I had to take control of myself, and I did so by bringing to my memory my brethren of my nation, my brothers Motele and Shaykale, and my parents; and by imagining their joy about my being able to take the revenge for which they had so yearned.

*

When they took Vanka out of his jail cell, he recognized me and smiled at me as if he had seen an old friend. I did not return his greetings… He was wearing a short farmer's cloak. A beard had sprouted on his face, and his hands were tied with strong parachute rope. He was commanded to march forward, and I marched behind him. We brought him to the partisan gathering area, which had

[Page 235]

been prepared from the outset in a cut-down area of the forest at the edge of the camp. Vanka turned his head backward several times and asked me where they were taking him. I responded that he was been taken to a partisan court. He appeared calm, but when we left the area of the camp and crossed the dirt path, he was suddenly overcome by a spirit of madness, and his entire body trembled.

“What does this mean?”, he asked.

“The time of revenge has arrived,” I answered. “Did you think, Vanka, that you would escape? Did you think that you would not be brought to justice for all your deeds? Did you think that you killed them all, and nobody remained who would settle the accounts? You were wrong, Vanka. You will surely be repaid, you will pay with your life! All the Jews of Ratno whom you murdered are accompanying you now on your journey to the gallows.” I do not know if he heard all of my words, but he realized full well that his time had come. At times he stopped and refused to move, but we prodded him on with the butts of our rifles.

When Vanka stood next to the partisan gathering area, and Zolotoronko read out the verdict that had been signed by the general, the commissar, and the head of the unit, I felt as if had I soared off the snowy ground upon which I was standing, and was floating upward to far-off, holy places, among my parents and my brothers. I felt as if the last wish of thousands of martyrs had been fulfilled, and that the Revenge and Recompense had finally come.

One by one, Zolotoronko enumerated all the atrocities of this poisonous snake who had fallen before us. When he finished, we brought Vanka to the rope that had been tied upon one of the tall oak trees. Two partisans of the unit tied the noose to his neck. I took the noose knot in my hands, and my hands began to tremble. The ancient blessing of my fathers and ancestors came to my head. I recited it silently, with only my lips moving: “Blessed art Thou, oh G-d, our L-rd, the King of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.” I was obligated to recite this blessing for myself as well as for the thousands of martyrs for whom I was acting as their emissary at this moment! They, all the martyrs, held the knot of the noose along with me, and they, together with me, tightened it around the neck of the disgraced murderer. A strong fire was kindled in my eyes. I could not maintain my strength, and I fell.

I recall that when I arose, I saw Michael Glider, the photographer and filmer, standing by me and giving directions, as if we were in a photography or movie studio. I turned my eyes to the direction of the gallows. I saw Vanka swinging. A wave of tears broke out in my eyes.

These were tears of joy.

{Photo page 235 top: Shlomole decorated with medals.}

{Photo page 235 bottom: Shlomole at the time of the giving of the verdict on Vanka.}

Translator's Footnote

  1. There is a footnote in the text here: This refers to Fruma Bergel of blessed memory, who fell into the hands of a nationalist Ukrainian Banderite unit. Return


[Page 231-alt]

The Traitor

by Michael Glider

Translated by Jerrold Landau

(A chapter from the book “With a Camera on the Neck of the Enemy” by Michael Glider, published in Moscow, 1947.)

In January, a tall, strong youth joined our partisan unit. A young, 15-year-old partisan, Semion, who fought in the Kotovski Unit, recognized him. Semion immediately ran to the head of the unit and told him that this youth, Ivan, had been a policeman in the German ranks in his hometown of Ratno, that he had been cruel to the Jews, and had murdered his family members, among others. The youth Semion had served in the unit for approximately 2 ½ years. He was pleasant and talented, and had witnessed more than enough atrocities during his brief life as a Jew and a partisan. He immediately recognized the murderer of his family, and swore that he was not mistaken. He trembled and wept when he related this. An investigation was opened, but I will not describe the details here, so as not to go on for too long. I will only include the essence of the words of testimony of the subject of the inquiry himself after he broke down during the first stage of the inquiry. His name was Lokianioch, I. L., born in 1923, served in the tractor brigade of the M. T. S. in Bucyn, in the region of Ratno. He was drafted into the Red Army, and deserted with a bicycle and revolver. When he arrived in Ratno with the entrance of the Germans, he took part in the organization of the Ukrainian police, imprisoned Russian soldiers and captains, pillaged the local population, Jews in particular, and beat Soviet citizens on the streets if they did not wear the recognizable symbol (the yellow patch) on their backs. When the Germans began to enlist people for work, this Lokianioch behaved with great cruelty, separated the men from

[Page 233-alt]

their wives, and removed babies from their mothers' breasts. As a payment for his actions and his faithfulness to the German fascists, the Germans sent him to the school for field gendarmes in Kovel. After he completed three months there, he received the designation as gendarme guide. He later went to Ratno, Turisk, and Kupichev along with the Gestapo men. Then he returned to Kovel. His job was to expose Jews and other citizens who collaborated with the Russians during the era of Soviet rule in the district. The prisoners were shot, and Lokianoch took an active part in taking them to be killed. According to his words, 18,000 men, women and children were killed in the district. Their property was pillaged by the Nazi troops. He also took part in the looting.

In May, 1943, following German directives, he met with the commander of a partisan unit who had known him previously. This commander, who did not know about his past and his deeds, recommended that he join the unit. Lokianoch did not yet agree to the recommendation, for he said that he did not yet know who would be victorious. In 1944, the Germans sent him to a partisan unit that was active in the district, and instructed him to tell them that he was now already convinced of their victory, and that he wanted to switch to their side. He was given the order to go through several units, and then to penetrate the camp of General Feodorov. His tasks were 1) to verify if the partisans had a connection with Moscow; 2) to verify the type of assistance that they received from Moscow; 3) to discover the names, origins, and history of the commanders; 4) to determine the morale of the partisans, the number of fighters, and the types of arms that they possessed; 5) to discover their signals for the landing of airplanes. Aside from all this, he was promised a reward of 50,000 marks if he succeeded in killing General Feodorov himself. In the verdict against him, it was stated among other things that he had demonstrated that he was an enemy who was not fitting to support the homeland. The verdict was unanimous – hanging. The verdict was signed by the commander of the unit, the commissar, and the head of the division.

The command was read before a gathering, and the partisans greeted the verdict against the traitor with shouts of hurray. He was brought to a tree from which hung a rope with a noose. The partisans were silent

[Page 234-alt]

during the hanging of the traitor. Only Semion, who revealed him, wept, of course not because he had mercy for the hanged traitor, but rather because he remembered all of his victims. That day, there was not one partisan in the unit who did not express words of congratulation and support to Semion.

*

I often had the chance to talk to Semion, who felt closeness and trust toward me. Several days after the verdict, he approached me and said, “David Mishka, take me with you.”

I said to him, “How can I take you? I cannot teach you, for this would require specific conditions. I already have an assistant. Perhaps I can take you as a rider, responsible for the horses.” Young Semion answered me, “Whatever you want, just take me.”

I told him that he was a fighter in the ranks, and the commander would not free him, for it is not right to turn a fighter into a rider. He was stubborn and said, “If you ask – they will free me, and I will also go with you to the battles.”

Eventually this worked out. I obtained a new rider – Semion. Feelings of friendship quickly developed between Semion and Pomzanka, but at times this friendship caused unpleasantness for the youth. He caught a cold, and Pomzanka decided to cure him in his customary manner with “Samogon” (a type of homemade liquor). I did not know anything about this, and I got very angry when I found Semion drunk. In my anger, I raised my hand to him. As he received his beating, Semion said to me, “Now I know that I also have a father.” I could only smile when I heard this response.

[Page 235-alt]

In its time, the story of the execution of the enemy of the Jews Ivan (Vanka) earned great acclaim and special interest from famous Soviet writers such as Ehrenburg, Markish, the Hidden (Der Nister)[1], and many others. Shlomo Perlmutter was often asked to explain how he discovered the traitor in the partisan camp of General Feodorov, and how he tied the noose to his neck. In 1965, the Ministry of Security of the Soviet Union published the story of General A. P. Feodorov, who twice earned the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union.” On pages 224-236 of this book (“The Last Winter”) the general discussed that period of time at length, going into minute detail. He even mentions the name of Semion Olitzky (as Shlomole was known among the partisans) as the person who exposed the traitor and took revenge upon him for his people and family members, who were among his victims.

Translator's Footnote

  1. Three Yiddish writers. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilya_Ehrenburg, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peretz_Markish, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Nister Return


[Page 236]

Next to an Open Album

by Yisrael Honik

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 236: Yisrael Honik and his wife from Argentina at a meeting with Ratno natives in Israel.}

We have just returned from the memorial evening for the martyrs of Ratno. Pictures and images from there floated before our eyes: the house, the friends, the youthful dreams, the happy, bright days and nights. Shnitzel, a native of our town, described everything that took place there – the Holocaust with all its details: “You are obligated to know everything; you are obligated to sense and remember everything just as I do. The images from the valley of murder must accompany you throughout your life. The fact that all of us sitting at this memorial survived is only a coincidence. You must see yourselves standing next to the large graves, watching how they tossed children into the open pits, hearing the shots. I come from the pits into which my children, brothers and sisters were thrown. I am standing and talking to you, and with my eyes I see this frightful march, the march of death, when the entire town, young and old, women and children, were marching through the market street to meet their deaths… I went to these graves after the awaited liberation and relived the frightful scene. I lay down next to these graves for hours, and then began to run like a desperate animal – I ran to you. To this day, my soul cannot find rest. Thus, I continue to run endlessly across seas and lands -- -- -- The pits with all of the victims are located in the large garden of the town, the garden in which you used to stroll with your girlfriends during the evenings. There we debated, wove our dreams, and dreamed of a better and more just world. -- -- -- There, all of our dear ones are now bound in the bonds of death – they along with all their dreams.”

*

The Ratno native who was saved from the hell told us this and similar things. We all listened to his words with trembling. We felt ashamed, and feelings of guilt also rose up within us, for we have now experienced 21 years of satiety and peace since the years of the great, tragic destruction.

After this memorial, we went to Velvel's room. He took out from some drawer his album with hundreds of photos of Ratno. We began to leaf through this album with tears in our eyes. The world of yesteryear was revealed before our eyes. We saw our boys and girls at various ages, our houses, our parents – everything that was once there and no longer is. Here is my entire family at my sister's wedding. My elderly grandmother is sitting in the center surrounded by her grandchildren. Here are her in-laws, here are our dear parents. Joy radiated from all faces – and the date was 1938. Here is the whole gang sailing in two boats on the Pripyat. Zelig was playing his mandolin and Aharon-Yankel his violin. The girls are singing songs of love and songs of freedom and revolution. -- -- -- We filled all of the gardens of the town with youthful mirth, tricks, competitions and races. – Ah, how I remember those days and nights, the long strolls on white, winter nights, the ideological debates regarding both important and unimportant matters.

Here is another photograph: Jews going to Taslich on Rosh Hashanah. The entire street is filled with Jews going to observe the commandment. This was a religious parade. These Jews are standing at the bank of the river, their mouths murmuring the prayer, and their eyes staring at the river foliage. Here are the photographs of organizations and movements; musicians and wagon drivers; the Tarbut School with its teachers and students, the pride of the town; fighters returning from prison with their faith in the revolution, prepared to fight and actualize it.

Thus did we sit for a long time, glued to the pages of this album. Velvel's small room was filled as if with hundreds of people who knew each other and loved each other so much. A world that once was and ended rose to life. The distant past turned into the present reality. The album remained open. We could not close it, but we felt the need to disconnect for a moment from the reality that its pages were telling us. We escaped to some small coffeehouse, and tried to summarize the former times in friendly conversation. “You remember Velvel,” I said before my friends, “how our parents and grandparents sat at twilight between Mincha and Maariv in the Beis Midrashes and told wonderful stories about landowners, noblemen; and, to differentiate, about great Tzadikim and wonder workers? They always concluded their conversation with the same sentence, 'What a wonderful world it was in those days, and perhaps we will yet merit a wonderful world in the future.' The soul of the nation was woven in a wonderful, better world. Now look at what type of a world they actually receive, what type of bitter end they suffered. They went to meet their end without power and without hope. Will we merit a different world?”

[Page 237]

{Photo page 237 top: A memorial of the martyrs of Ratno in Buenos Aires.}

{Photo page 237 bottom: The committee of the Organization of Ratno Natives in Argentina (1946). Sitting right to left: H. Cohen, A. Feigelis, Y. Tucker, Ch. Steinberg, M. Honik, M. Telison. Standing: Y. Honik, Y. Wilkomirski, Y. Fuchs, Y. Werag, A. Y. Rief, B Tanis.}


[Page 238]

The End of the Story

by Shlomo Perlmutter

Translated by Jerrold Landau

(From the diary of a 14-year-old child} For five hours straight, Shlomo Perlmutter told his daughter, at her request, about his town of Ratno, about the way of life of the Jews, about the school, about the realities, etc. At the end of the story, he told her the following (recorded on tape):

This is, more or less, the story of this town. I wanted that you should know about it and also that your children should know about it. I have lived in the Land for 36 years, and this story accompanies me with every step. I cannot forget what was there. I live with it, and I cannot disconnect. Not a day goes by when I do not think about my parents. Sometimes this “comes to me,” as you say, in the middle of a class that I am giving at the school, during a meal, or at many other occasions. In my story, there are “vitamins” that you will probably not find in the story of other Holocaust survivors. This is because I endured the Holocaust in a somewhat different, unusual manner. Few were able to tie the noose with their own hands on the neck of the murderer of the Jews, as I merited. Do not forget that the fear of the persecutors pursued me for a long time, and do not forget that I was a child at that time. Perhaps it was to my good fortune that everything took place when I was still a child. Many of those who went through the Holocaust at an older age remained afflicted in spirit throughout their lives. It is difficult for me to describe the feeling that constantly accompanies me, that they are pursuing me, that I must escape, escape... There was a time when I wished to commit suicide, but I did not have the strength to climb up a ladder and throw myself off. Despite this – and this will certainly seem strange to you – I had then the will to live, to survive, and to tell others about everything that I experienced. Have you seen my diaries? Even today, I cannot explain to myself what moved me to maintain a diary at all times, to tell what I was seeing, sensing, and hearing. Today I am a history teacher, but then, during my oppressed childhood, I still did not have a sense of history. Time did its work. Many things descended into the depths of forgetfulness, and perhaps I myself pushed them to those depths, for otherwise I could not continue on. Now, even the dreams of the persecutors no longer afflict me every night. Here I am speaking to you now, telling you about various events, but it is as if I myself am passing by these events, as if I was not there, as if these things did not take place to and with me. It seemed as if I was constantly walking by a pit, but I never descended into it, but rather held myself with great strength at the edge of the pit. I know that I am unable to impart to you a full picture of what was there. I now see before my eyes the motto that was written on the wall of one of the houses in Ratno after I returned there one day, and found it empty of Jews – “Judenrein” as the Germans said. The motto is “Woe to the nation whose leaders protect the murderers.”

This motto had survived from the days of the elections to the Zionist Congress of 1934, and was referring to the murder of Arlosoroff[1]. I am incapable of describing to you, and you are incapable of feeling the sensation that I felt in my soul at seeing this motto in a town where all the Jews had been murdered. My father loved the poems of Bialik very much, and apparently, he also instilled this love to me. I walked through the alleyways of Ratno and saw myself walking in the “City of Murder” of Bialik. Many verses and lines of that poem sounded within me:

“With your eyes you will witness, and with your hands you will feel the fences
And upon the trees and the stones, and atop the plaster of the walls
The clotted blood and the hardened brains of the victims.”
Indeed, I did not see clotted blood here on the fences and the plaster of the walls. However I certainly saw the “hardened brains”… In this manner, and through this manner, the masses of Jews struggled with the threshold of the abyss on the eve of the great slaughter. I was embarrassed and horrified at the sight of these mottos, and I hoped that there would be nobody there who could translate them for the Ukrainians that remained…

Translator's Footnote

  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haim_Arlosoroff Return


[Page 239]

On Martyrdom and The Violin
(Not fiction, but rather a true story.)

by Shlomo Perlmutter

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Unpaved roads covered with mire and swampy mud in the fall and layers of dust on the scorching summer months go forth from Ratno toward the fields. Among the small houses that stood on those roads are some plastered, wooden houses covered with tile roofs or white metal sheets. The latter testified that their owners were among those “burnt out,” who rebuilt their houses after the fire. In one of those houses, very close to the streets of the gentiles, lived the family of Dovidl.

His father, Avraham, was a blacksmith with a black, curly beard. His face was always covered with soot, and he had good, fiery, eyes. One had only to take one glance at Avraham to realize that he was a pure, honest man. He was one of the Hassidim of the Rebbe of Stepan. On Fridays in the mikva [ritual bath], he did not suffice himself with the seven immersions that the Hassidim of Stepan felt obligatory. Rather, he poured several additional jugs of hot water on himself, and went up to the highest level of the sweat rungs in order to be flogged and to purify himself from any taint of secularity, so that he could greet the Sabbath Queen that was about to arrive. He was from the simple folk. His words would only rarely be heard in the synagogue, and he regarded himself as one of those who cleave to the dust of the feet of the scholars and serve them. To that point, but no further. Avraham raised three sons in his workshop, one of them being Dovidl. He was a tall, handsome lad, with especially shiny teeth. His thick, black eyebrows decorated his fiery eyes like those of this father. Dovidl learned all the trades of the hammer and anvil from his father; but after he learned these thoroughly, he went to Shmaya the tailor and requested that he accept him as an apprentice. “I do not want any more soot,” he said to Shmaya. However, after he had studied and learned how to make fine men's suits, he rejected tailoring too, and went to the elderly baker in the shtetl and requested that he teach him the trade of baking. This too did not last long. Something mysterious nestled in the heart of the lad. He sought and searched. Nobody knew what he was looking for, and perhaps he himself did not know.

I myself barely knew him. At times I would see him at the banks of the river that passed through our shtetl, swimming wonderfully, arousing admiration from the entire group. I was lucky, and we became close with each other. We became friends.

The following is the story that took place. When I turned nine, my mother, may peace be upon her, decided that the time has come for me to study violin and to prove my musical talents, which doubtfully existed at that time, and certainly do not today… In the marketplace, she met a villager from Konysche who exhibited a fine, handmade violin. My mother jumped on the bargain and purchased the violin for me. The next day, she invited Aharon Reizman, who was known as an expert violinist, to our home and asked him to teach me to play the violin. She said that she would pay him very well. He agreed. Several months passed, and one summer evening, a few years before the Holocaust overtook our shtetl, Dovidl's face suddenly peered through the window of my room as I was practicing my music. I stopped playing and snatched a hurried glance at the lad. He was also a bit frightened. His face blushed, and he uttered a few garbled expressions, the meaning of which only became clear to me after a little while: he asked me in all manners of request that I permit him to listen to my playing. I was apparently very moved by the fact that there was a “connoisseur” for my music. I invited Dovidl to enter my room, and I played an étude for him that I knew thoroughly. When I finished, Dovidl asked me to teach him how to hold the violin. When I acceded to his request, he opened his heart to me and told me that he

[Page 240]

wished to play the violin. He wanted to take lessons from Aharon Reizman who was teaching me, but his father opposed this.

His words touched my heart and I told him that I was prepared to teach him gratis the little that I had succeeded in learning. Dovidl could not control his emotions, and tears streamed from his eyes.

A year passed. It became clear that of all his endeavors, Dovidl displayed perseverance only in violin playing, and this reached the level of professionalism. He played day and night, got a violin, and quickly became known in town, especially amongst the klezmers [popular musicians], as a lad with an absolute pitch. They took him under their protection, and included him in their appearances at weddings and celebrations. Sometimes, he would even play a duet with Aharon the Great himself. At times when Aharon did not appear with the band, and the hosts were concerned that their joyous occasion would be marred, Dovidl succeeded in enchanting all hearts and ears. Even the musicians themselves, who were not free of the taint of jealousy, praised him effusively and said that one day he would reach the highest levels of musical playing, and the town of Ratno would be too small for him.

They prophesied and knew about what they were prophesying. It was not long before Dovidl left Ratno and all its weddings and joyous events. He left his parents' home without asking for permission, went to Lwow, and was accepted in the conservatory, where he quickly became known as one of the best students of that institution. He would send me letters from time to time, all with the same theme: It was in my merit, in the merit of that summer evening when I taught him how to hold a violin, that he attained all that he attained. In one letter he told me that he had already appeared in a special concert, and had earned the recognition of his teachers who foretold a great future for him. He wrote, “Music purifies my soul, and I am happy that I have become acquainted with the wonderful world of music. One day, I will return to Ratno, we will gather together all of our friends, and I will play tunes for them that you have never heard before.”

The war broke out. Many people's plans became spoiled in our world, Dovidl's among them. Emptiness, void, and waste. Dovidl, who was a stranger in the big city, decided to return to his shtetl Ratno. He set out by foot through the roads that bustled with human and vehicular caravans. Masses of people fled eastward out of fear of the Nazi beast, but Dovidl was among the few who went north. He would hide in the groves throughout the day, and would wander at night, hungry and perplexed. At times, he would feel the desire to go along with the stream that was flowing eastward, but he pined for his home, his parents, and his small shtetl - so he continued northward. He continued on - until he fell into the hands of the Germans at the entrance point to the city of Zbaraz.

He was administered many beatings, placed in a car of prisoners and taken to Zloczów. There he was placed in a large courtyard along with thousands of Jews who were rolling on the ground, crawling on their bellies, licking pavement stones. Armed officers stood next to them, beating them until blood flowed and not leaving them be until they completed licking the entire courtyard. In the evening, they were taken outside the city along with many Jews, where volleys of bullets put an end to the lives of masses of Jews. However, Dovidl miraculously survived, and, under the cover of darkness, dug his way out of the pile of bodies that covered him. He covered his nakedness with whatever clothing he could pick, and continued to run through the side roads, hungry and tired, until he came close to the city of Dubno. There too he was captured and brought to the police. After he claimed that he was a pure Pole, they put him in a car that was traveling to the interior of Poland. Thus did he arrive in Toruń, the birthplace of Copernicus, thousands of miles from his shtetl of Ratno. They dressed him in work overalls, brought him to the large foundry, and put him under the care of a young Pole who was commanded to include him in the work circle.

Dovidl looked at the young Pole and became pale. This was Alek, the son of the police chief of Ratno from the days that Ratno had been under Polish rule. He had studied in the Ratno elementary school along with this Alek. Dovidl thought about hiding his identify from this Alek, who did not recognize him, for he remembered well that Alek did not maintain especially friendly relations with the Jewish students. However, he finally decided to identify himself to him with his name and family name. It was surprising: Alek

[Page 241]

expressed love and related to him in a special way. Furthermore, he also invited him to his home, the home of the Nawara family of Torun, where they welcomed him politely and granted him the feelings of a warm family home for a little while. The Nawara family took care of all his needs during those days. After the war moved to the depths of Russia, they furnished him with identity papers and put him on a train that was going directly to Brisk, near to his Ratno.

One day during the time of the Nazi occupation, news reached me that Dovidl had returned to his parents' home. Avraham the blacksmith and all the family members were very happy at the return of Dovidl. However, during those days, no joy lasted very long in a Jewish home… Dovidl had not yet been able to shake off the dust of the road when his younger brother was ordered to be sent to a hard labor camp in the Kowel ghetto. Dovidl saw himself as more experienced than his younger brother, so he packed his bag and presented himself at the Judenrat in the place of his brother. One summer evening, he was loaded on the wagon before the eyes of his bitterly weeping family and sent to the far off Kowel ghetto along with approximately 80 young Jews.

From that time, we had no news of him. The 50 kilometers that separated Ratno and Kowel was literally an exaggerated distance at that time. An opaque curtain separated those who were sent there from those who remained in Ratno. One day, I was called to the home of Avraham the blacksmith. I imagined that I would hear the tidings of Job that my dear friend Dovidl was no longer alive, for we had been informed that many of the youths of Ratno had been murdered in Kowel. As I opened the door to their house, there was Dovidl extending his arms to embrace me. I did not believe what I saw. He was the only one to escape from the field of death, as a bird who escaped from the birdcage prior to slaughter. My tongue failed me - as did his. Only after some time did he tell me about the seven departments of hell that he endured until he reached his parents' home.

On the 13th of Elul 5702 (1942), the S.S. troops surrounded the shtetl, took all the Jews out to the Prochod sand dunes and shot them. Only very few succeeded in escaping the besieged shtetl that was going up in flames and reached the forest. That time as well, Dovidl was among them, for he hid in the hidden cellar of his father's smithy.

He wandered for a year through the Smolna forests, passed through villages at night and collected bread. He fell into the hands of the Germans more than once, and succeeded in escaping. When the cold winter days arrived and the snow covered the entrance to the forest, hunger forced Dovidl to seek refuge with a farmer in the village of Konysche. This was the same farmer from whom my mother, at that time, had purchased my violin, which also served as Dovidl's first violin. The farmer's neighbors noticed the entry of the young Jew to the village, and followed him from a distance. When he entered the house of the violin-maker villager, they also entered, bound him in ropes and tied him to a harnessed wagon that was setting out for Ratno. Dovidl was turned in to the police. Their reward for turning him in was tobacco, salt, cigarettes, and other such luxuries of those days.

When Dovidl was brought before the police, he was asked about his profession. When he responded that he was a violin player, they hurried to bring him a violin and commanded him to play. Dovidl refused to take the violin in his hands. This instrument, which had become part of his body, an inseparable part of his essence, through which he expressed his longings and desires, enjoyment and tribulation, was now strange to him, and he would not play for these Germans and Ukrainians who were pursuing and murdering his nation. He would not violate the holiness of the violin. Over and over, the Germans ordered him to play. They brought him new clothes as would befit a professional musician. They also attempted to entice him that on account of his playing, he might be able to save his life. However, Dovidl stood firm in his refusal. He did not accede to them even when he was badly beaten.

On January 15, 1943, Dovidl walked along Holianka Street, along with many other Jews who were surrounded by German and Ukrainian guards, toward the pits on the property of Cheplik in Prochod. This time, he did not escape death. He fell in sanctification of the Divine Name and in sanctification of his violin.

 

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