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{193}

The Battle and Murder in the Forests of Dolina


On the day of Simchat Torah, towards evening, we suddenly heard the sound of heavy truck wheels and columns of battle tanks approaching us. An alarm went out, and all of us fled for our lives. We spread out and only very few remained in the camp.

The tanks appeared in the forest. They were driven by the Vlosoviches – the rebel battalion of the Russian general Vlosov under German command. They opened fire and spread out quickly throughout the camp. They destroyed the camp almost instantaneously, so that no remnant remained. The following people were killed during the attack: Chana the sister of Hershko Ratenbach, Dania Schwartz, and Emil Beril of Krakow the son-in-law of Hugo Fisher.

After a few days we began to reorganize ourselves, this time with greater seriousness and caution. We set up watches at the edges of the forest. We moved deeper into the forest and arrived at the place that was known as “the place of the cross”.

Rumors circulated that the Germans had begun to attack the partisans in the forests, for a command was issued from the higher authorities to clear the forests of partisans along the path of retreat of the army that was defeated at the gates of Stalingrad. We agreed together that in the event of a new attack upon our section of the forest, we would retreat toward the direction of the forests of Vygoda, Vorokov and Krechowice.

On the following Sabbath, we all began to pack the movable objects and move toward the new location. In the evening, we began to walk through the forest to the new place, and toward morning on Sunday, we arrived at “Babiovka”, where there was a young sparse grove which had only recently been planted. Suddenly Stas Babi arrived, running frantically and all covered in sweat. He informed us of the bitter news that we had fallen into a German trap. We had entered directly into the snapdragon. The entire forest was surrounded by troops of the German army who were waiting to storm in and clear the area of partisans.

As we were discussing among ourselves and debating about where to flee, a frightful orchestra of all types of guns began to be heard in all areas of the forest. Not one meter was free from bombardment. Automatic weapons, guns, cannons and tanks all participated in this orchestra. The earth under us shook from the bombardment. There was no hiding place around us. The trees were low, almost bushes, and everything was open and exposed.

Suddenly everything became silent and the Germans began to storm in. They advanced in rows, armed with guns and bayonets. They searched under every bush. Under one bush, not far from the bush beneath which Meirke and myself hid, they discovered two people and commanded them to stand up. These were Gartenberg the son of the shochet of Bolekhov and a girl from Kalush. Machinegun fire was heard, and both of them were killed on the spot. We were not more than three or five meters away from them, and we witnessed this. Until today I ask myself: What is the supreme power and secret of life that enables one to witness death before one’s very eyes yet have no fear at all? On the contrary, some sort of feeling of peace passed over all my limbs. I wish upon myself that when my time comes to depart from the world, I should feel the same feeling of tranquility that I felt when I saw the Germans approaching us, step by step. I prayed in my heart without uttering any words and strongly embraced Meirke who was lying next to me trembling. I drew near to him, kissed him, and whispered in his ears: “Meirke, in another moment it will be better for us”.

Behold, rather than continuing along their steps directly toward us, they suddenly changed their direction. What happened there? As they slowly walked, they found a radio and electric wires next to the previous bush. They lifted it up and examined it, and immediately changed their direction to follow the electric wires that they had just discovered. An overt miracle happened to us, and I believe with complete belief that the hand of G-d was involved in this. The Holy One Blessed Be He wanted us to remain alive so that we could relate to the next generation what the gentiles, may their names be obliterated, did to us.

On that day, more than sixty Jews were murdered in the forest. In order to instill fear among the gentiles of the area so that they would not assist Jews in any way, they captured twenty gentiles randomly and hung them in the village square, so that everyone would see and take heed. This matter left a deep impression upon the gentiles, and they began to tremble with fear. From that time, a terrible period of tribulations, hunger and hell began for us. We were pursued like dogs up to our necks. We were warned that the Germans had captured several Jews, and by means of torture, they forced them to inform them about the hiding places of the partisans. Therefore, we were forced to leave all of our hiding places, and move on. Despair and depression overtook our ranks.

For the entire time, I was in the company of Meirke. Now another pair joined us. Meir had always been quite resourceful, and dared to perform brazen and dangerous deeds. Even at this moment, when hunger, pain, and oppression overtook everyone, Meir was brazen enough to enter a nearby village in order to visit a gentile who he had known for some time, despite the fact that this endangered the life of both of them, both the gentile who would offer assistance, as well as the person who would receive the assistance. One Saturday night, he stealthily entered into the village of Krive to visit a farmer whom he knew. He knocked quietly at the window. The farmer opened the door and served him a plate of potato soup, a few hard-boiled eggs and a cornmeal roll, and requested that he quickly leave.

It is impossible to describe the joy and brave deeds that Meir performed. I wish to describe his refined and noble manner. He never ate alone. He always shared his morsels of food with others. He joyfully extended help to his fellow, even though this was fraught with mortal danger. The two of us lived like one family. We shared our food, and took counsel together regarding our future, our situation, our various plans for escape, etc. Nothing could come between us. The two of us desired and hoped to survive through the difficult times together, and to arrive at better days together.

The situation became more desperate and sad day by day. The security situation and means of finding food particularly worsened. The farmers stopped completely assisting us with food, even in return for large sums of money. They were fearful for their lives. No underground existence could continue without external help. In a place that we spent the day we could not spend the night. We wandered from place to place. The German attacks became more frequent. The number of victims increased. Daily we were informed of a friend who was captured and murdered on the spot. We were like animals seeking refuge.

My strength dwindled and I could no longer maintain my stand. I realized that I was beginning to slow down the movements of Meirke. He was armed with a gun and belonged to the group of armed fighters of the forest dwellers. I was not similarly armed. Therefore I requested of him that we separate for a while, and I would find a shelter in the forest. He did not leave me completely. He would visit me on occasion, and bring me food. We took counsel together and he promised me that under no circumstance would he leave me alone in the forest. Wherever he would go, I would also go. The group of fighters made plans to cross the Hungarian border.

Due to my strong connection with Meir, they wished to take me with them to cross the Hungarian border. However, I knew from the outset that my strength was minimal, and I would not be able to withstand such a difficult effort, crossing mountains and valleys on the route to the border. I would only be a burden to them. Therefore I requested of them that they leave me here, and I would join up with the other wanderers of the forest, including the Babi brothers.

Aside from the hunger, cold, dampness, and lack of a roof over our heads, another terrible affliction came upon us, the plague of lice. The rivers and ponds had frozen due to the cold, and we had no opportunity to wash our bodies and our clothes. Since we had nothing to change into, we did not take off our clothes for weeks and months. It is small wonder that lice came upon us and devoured our flesh ravenously.

People gathered together in the ruins without a roof and without foods. They simply sat or lay down on account of the great weakness, and awaited a miracle. Whoever had any strength rose up and scavenged through the fields for some plant, potato, or vegetable that had by chance been left in the fields. They would light a few branches, roast them in fire and eat them. They would share this food with others. A few literally died of hunger on the ground. There was a problem as to how to bury the dead. We did not have any implements with which to dig a grave. The ground was frozen, and we did not have the energy to dig with our hands. Without having any other choice, we would carry the corpse deep into the forest and cover it with branches and wood. That was all. I said in my heart that it would not be long until the same thing happens to me, and perhaps there would no longer be any branches left with which to cover my corpse. A shiver passed through my body. No, at least I should be buried. I decided to leave the forest and to try my luck in some other place, where I would merit to be buried like all other dead people, and would not simply be placed on top of the ground.

When I left the Bolekhov ghetto, the news came to me that a certain gentile from Rozniatow was searching for me. He told people that if they were by chance to come across me, they should inform me that he was searching for me and wished to assist me.

I knew that Aharon Weidman had heard about this story. He was far from me, in a different group. I received an answer from him regarding my question that Mosko Jagelavitz is searching for me. Of course, I took counsel in this matter with Meirke. He had just decided to leave the forest; however he promised me that if I finally decide to leave, he would accompany me the entire route until Rozniatow, and would not let me travel alone.

At that time, a strange event happened to me that sealed my fate. One day, on a Sunday morning, Pinieli Stern of Mizin saw me, attired in tefillin (phylacteries), leaning against a tree and praying with devotion. He was talking to himself out loud saying: “Why should I remain here dying of hunger. I will go to the village of Stratin-Vizna, where a calf of mine is with a certain gentile. I will take it from him by force and we will be able to live… I will take with me Hesio and Muni Pecker…” I told him “I will join you…”

I informed Meirke of my decision, and I felt that my strength returned to me.

We began to travel at evening. Meir joined us.

Snow fell. We were frozen and damp to the marrow of our bones. There was no place to seek shelter. We reached a pond. On the other side of the pond, through a large garden, we arrived next to a house with two residents. Meirke said to me: “See Sheike, on one side of this house Mosko lives, but I do not know on which side.” He stood at a distance with his gun, ready for any eventuality. I approached the window and knocked on it very carefully. A clean curtain was pushed aside, and a young girl appeared in the window. She looked at me and immediately came to open the large gate of the courtyard for me. With great caution I asked who lives here. She answered me: “Here lives my uncle Mosko Jagelavitz.” Even though I was quite unkempt and would instill fear into anyone who saw me, he recognized me immediately. A stone was removed from my heart. Indeed, this was the house in which I had hoped that I could find some shelter and rest from my pursuers. I uttered our password from the forest, and Meirke immediately came into the house. She, Stefka, recognized him immediately. She brought us into the house. Without saying a word, she went into the kitchen and brought out two bowls of potato soup, a piece of meat and a whole loaf of bread.

With a smile on her face she said: “Please, eat to your hearts content.”

I restrained myself and also insisted that Meirke not make haste to eat, lest the food harm us after such a long period of hunger. Eating fast could injure us. We ate slowly, drop by drop.

After the meal, she spread a clean white sheet on the carpet that was on the floor, she wished us “goodnight”, and left the room.

Who would have imagined that after years of hunger and troubles, without a roof on our heads, pursued as leprous dogs from place to place, we would receive such a fine and tasty meal, and be able to sleep on a white sheet in a warm room.

Early the next morning, Stefka came in and wished us a hearty “good morning”. She brought us to the second part of the house. When we entered, we were surprised to see Idzi in front of us, the daughter of the well-known Rozniatow resident Hersch Landsman. She fell upon us, kissed us, and broke out in great weeping. We did not realize at all that Mosko had mounted the wagon that was about to transport her to a work camp in Germany, removed her, and brought her to his house.

We then received a good breakfast, and in the meantime Stefka prepared a warm bath for us. It had been years since we had tasted such a thing. After a haircut and a shave, we changed out of our filthy, tattered clothes.

Mosko was not yet in the house at this time. He was in Stanislawow to conduct his various business affairs. Stefka was afraid of the tax collectors who might enter at any moment. Therefore she advised us to leave the house for a short period, until the tax collectors had finished their investigations and leave. They would be searching for tobacco and liquor that was being held without a permit. Earlier, we had thought we would hide in the nearby forest, however due to the great cold and dampness, we had dire thoughts about this. Meirke, with his great resourcefulness, found a hiding place for us. Pinkovski lived not far from the house, and there in his yard we found a large haystack that protected us from the rain and dampness. We jumped on top, lifted several bundles of hay from the large stack, and thereby made a large hole in the stack so that we would be able to lie and sit there. Thus did we set up for ourselves a “house” where we would be able to live for a few days.

On Friday night, we again entered Mosko’s house. Meirke decided to return to the forest on Saturday night to bring back a doctor. He wanted to save him from a certain death in the forest.

Dozia brought me to a certain farmer, Stas, who brought us directly to the grain shed. There, he removed several bundles of hay and showed us a door that led underground.

I crawled into the dark bunker, and with the light of a small torch I saw in front of me Aharon Weidman and Meir Ungar, the husband of Dortzi Gelobter. I cannot describe to you my feelings upon this sudden meeting in the bunker, after what each of us had experienced until this time.

I joined this group, and due to the great weariness and travails that I had experienced over the preceding days, I fell asleep on the spot. They let me sleep for 24 straight hours, for they said that the sleep would strengthen me.

When I woke up, I experienced a great hunger. I had nothing to satisfy my hunger. Simply, there was nothing to eat there.

Stas brought into the bunker a spoon, and a cup, as well as a bottle for my physiological needs.

I do not want to discuss at length the ideological ideas and moral state of the people who were pursued and were hiding in the forests and bunkers. This I will leave to sociologists or other researchers. I simply want to point out how people are capable of raising themselves to great heights.

At first, when Stas would bring the plate of food to us in the bunker, the order of eating would be as follows: Meir Ungar would take the first spoonful, then Aharon Weidman, and I was next in line. I suddenly realized that the food in the plate was beginning to be finished. Meir dried the spoon and made a face as if he was becoming tired of the food. Aharon did the same thing, he made an expression with his lips as if to say “enough, I am not eating any more. Perhaps you will finish the bit of soup.” After a few days I realized what was transpiring there. They withheld food from their mouths, even though the food was never sufficient, so that I would be able to regain my health a bit and return to my strength.

After some time, Meir Ungar moved to the bunker of Mosko, in the place where Harold was. From time to time the Ungars, who were with Mosko, would send Dozia, who was in the house, to our bunker with some food that they had obtained for a great deal of money. Once they sent to us an entire loaf of bread, some onions, garlic, and a bottle of liquor. Mendel Landerman and his wife Chana were also in Mosko’s bunker.

Deeds such as this strengthened our spirit and will to continue to bear our burdens. Perhaps, even with all this, we would merit salvation, and go out from darkness to great light.

However, the situation in the underground became more difficult and serious daily. For months we did not go out in daylight, and we did not wash, or change our clothes. Inside, it was stifling and smelly. People began to lose their strength. Aharon Weidman stopped eating completely, and slowly began to waste away in the bunker. Stas advised us about where we could dig a secret grave for him, so that it will not become known to others.


The Budding of Freedom


Immediately after Passover, in April and May 1944, we began to hear good news from the fronts. However our own situation was quite bad. We did not have enough food, or any fresh air and light. However the hope and desire for freedom and liberation gave us the strength to maintain our stand.

In the beginning of August, we had already begun to hear in the bunker the echoes of the Russian artillery. We would rejoice at the sound of every explosion of a bomb, for we knew that it would be falling on the German positions nearby, and that their end was coming quickly. The echo of the bombing was so loud that we had to close off the hole that let fresh air into the bunker.

After about half an hour, we heard that the Russians were already next to us. On Friday might, our Meirke appeared with a Russian soldier. He brought out Harold and took him to Mosko. On the Sabbath, we heard that there was a heavy battle in the area of Dolina and Rozniatow. We left our bunker and sat in the grain shed. On Sunday we saw through the cracks the throngs of gentiles with their wives, children, and cattle leaving the villages and going out in the direction of the forest. All of them were collaborators with the Germans, and all of them played a significant role in the murder of the Jews. They knew that the Russian army would take revenge against the Germans and their assistants.

Stas also took his family and cattle and went along with those that were leaving, so as not to arouse suspicion. When we saw our savior and protector leaving, and that all of those who were hiding with Mosko got into a transport truck to escape to Stanislawow which had already been liberated, myself and Aharon Weidman – who in the meantime had regained his strength – decided to go out in the daylight and walk along the paths that lead to Rivnia and from there to Stanislawow. When we reached the mountain at Krasna, we met other Jews who had left the forests and bunkers, and were walking in the direction of Stanislawow. Among them we met Hirsch Ratenbach, David and Tzili Keish, Hesio and Munio Pecker, Klara Segal, and Wilech Kanohal. We all walked together in a group, until we arrived at the home of Wilech in Nadworna. There I stayed for two or three weeks, for I was not able to continue along the route. After a few weeks, when the Russians had already set themselves up in the area, I decided to return to my home in Rozniatow. I went to Stanislawow and then to Kalush for a few days to see who had remained alive.

I arrived in Rozniatow at dusk. I slept in an abandoned house, and the next morning I went to see my parents’ home and my birthplace, where I had spent the best of my years and days.

I arrived to the synagogue and looked from afar upon the lane where I had lived together with my family, and my eyes became dark. I saw nothing at all. I could not believe what I was seeing – from all of the houses that were on that lane, starting from the house of Yitzchak Shaya Katzman, afterward Avraham Hoffman, Hindi, Zishia Ziring and the children of Rikel Schwalb – Chaya and Esther and their families, Kuni and Leib Kertshman, Chaim Shimon Lutwak, and behind us – Avramtzia, Marek, Yosel Robinfeld, Avraham Itzik and Mindel Lenderman, Somi Zimmerman and Shmuel Hirsch Wechter – there was not even one remnant of all these houses. The ploughed earth was divided up into lots and planted with potatoes. On the opposite side, only the house of Shmuel Rosenberg (Shmukel) and the bathhouse stood. It was only because of these houses that I was able to get my bearings and realize where I was.

With great heartbreak, devastated by what my eyes were seeing, I leaned on the side of the fence that overlooked the place of my house, and I let out a great and bitter scream from my throat:

May G-d avenge the blood of the pure and holy martyrs. Remember what the Nazis did to us.

Yitgadal Veyitkadash Shmei Raba [1].


{201}

Our Mighty Ones


With the conclusion of the writing of my memoirs from the time of the holocaust, and what happened to us at that time, I now want to strongly push aside all allegations that people went to their deaths without any opposition, as if they were animals going to the slaughter. Certainly, nobody who makes such an allegation can even imagine what he would have done had he been in their place, at a time when the Germans did everything possible to take away the desire to live, at a time when the entire thought of a Jew was for a slice of bread in order to sustain his soul. The Jew was downtrodden and persecuted, all of his friends and admirers had abandoned him.

There was no place to flee or to hide. The Jew was conspired against even in the forests and meadows. The murderers pursued him in the treetops and in the depths of the earth. In all of these dire straits, he did not lose his hope. The desire for life and the will to live gave him the strength to help those who were downtrodden in the camps. We could see how people of other nations who were sent to the camps very quickly lost their Divine image; they gave up upon life and could not even maintain themselves for several months. The situation was different with the Jews. In all difficult situations, without bread, without air to breath, persecuted up to the neck, they fought for their lives and their existence with the hope that they would still merit to overcome the difficult time, and that better and more pleasant days would arrive.

It is strictly forbidden for anyone who has not been tried with this situation to pass judgement on the oversights and negligence of those who were persecuted, claiming that they did not do enough to overcome the enemy and to die the death of the mighty, taking a stand and without giving in. There indeed were such people, however most of the people were elderly or young, who did not have the physical strength to struggle. Even they assisted and took pride on any occasion where they saw Jews openly struggling against the murderers. There was one instance of many of which I was an eyewitness, which I now wish to relate, in particular to the young readers, so that they would not think that there were not any incidents of supreme power. There were mighty people whose stories will yet be written about in the annals of the world.

There were two youths with us in the forests of Dolina. One was Meir Turteltaub of Rozniatow, the son of Itzi Leizer Turteltaub. The second was Hersch Ratenbach, the son of David and Mamtzi Ratenbach of Dolina.

Meir – or as we called him “Meirke” – and Hersh – “Hershke” – will both undoubtedly be recorded in Jewish history as mighty men of Israel. It is obligatory to tell of them and their might. It is good that I have the opportunity in the Rozniatow Yizkor book to perpetuate and honor their activities and their might. This is my modest contribution to their honor.

At the outbreak of the war in 1939, Meirke served in the Polish army in an artillery unit. He was wounded in the foot, and he returned home when the Soviets were still ruling the town. As a person who was wounded in battle, he became involved in the life of the youth that still existed in the town, and he began to become interested in sports. He quickly became the organizer and chief activist in the sports club. With the outbreak of the war between Germany and Russia, Meirke volunteered for the Russian army and was immediately sent to the front. After a very short time, he was again injured, and he returned back home, where now the Germans were in charge. His parents were exiled to Dolina, and he joined them.

The life of the exiles who were sent to the Dolina ghetto from the entire region became more difficult by the day. The hunger was increasing. Jews were perishing in the outskirts of the city from hunger. New decrees were issued daily, each one harsher than the preceding one. Meir, with his active temperament, was not able to tolerate the situation, sitting and doing nothing, and waiting for what was going to happen.

Then something took place. One day, some Gestapo men came from Kalush in order to teach the members of the Dolina militia how to behave with the Jews, and how to make their lives more difficult. On the road, they met a young boy who wore the shameful Juda insignia on his arm slightly lower than was required by law. This happened to be Meirke. They took him to the Judenrat office to teach him a lesson about how things should be, so that people should take heed and be afraid.

A few days later I met by chance Moshe Ziring, who happened to be present at the time when they were teaching Meirke his “lesson”. They began to shout and beat him. They took a chair from the office and began to beat him angrily from the right and left. Nobody could stop them, until he finally succeeded in escaping and fleeing from there.

He did not hold his peace. He made plans as to how to escape from this hell, how to cross the Hungarian border, and from there he would figure out where to go and what to do.

In Vishkuv at the Hungarian border he was captured, put into chains, and brought to the prison in Dolina. It was decided to give him over to Kriger, to send him to his famous place in Stanislawow, Rudolf’s depot. Meirke was brought to the transport truck with his hands bound in chains, and that began his time of inhuman torture and backbreaking work without food. He again began to think about how to extricate himself from this hell. He succeeded in a manner that we cannot figure out even today to jump over the high wire fence, to escape between the nearby houses and to return to Kalush. However, the Jews were afraid to let him into their houses. With an empty sack and a pack over his shoulders, as a gentile going about his work, he continued on his journey. After much wandering, he arrived at the town of Rohatyn, where his relative, the grandson of Mendel-Nechis lived.

At the beginning of June 1943, when they began to liquidate all of the ghettos and concentration camps of eastern Galicia and bring the Jews to extermination, Meirke escaped over the fence of the ghetto and went to the Stryj ghetto. However he arrived there just at the time of the large aktion when hundreds of Jews were brought to be slaughtered. They attempted to capture him but he escaped from their hands. He fled to the bridge. They shot at him, however he jumped with a jump of Nachshon [2] into the depths of the Dniester.

He hid in the riverbanks until it became dark. In the darkness of the night he again began his wandering. He hid at night and traveled during the night until he reached the gates of the Bolekhov ghetto. He remained there in order to regain his strength, and then he continued his wandering until he reached the border again. As he fled from Bolekhov, he on occasion ran into some Ukrainians who were attacking the Jewish passers by. Shimshon Katzman the son of Shaya Katzman and Herman Laufer the grandson of Efraim Rechtschaffen of Rozniatow were killed near him by the Ukrainian bandits who collaborated with the Germans.

All of his wanderings were accompanied by a long string of miracles. On more than one occasion, it seemed as if he was about to fall directly into the impure hands of the Germans or their Ukrainian helpers. Finally he succeeded in reaching the forests of Dolina, and there he met up with those of us who had been hiding there from the murderers already for some time. He became part of the group, and was loved and appreciated by all of those who were in the forest.

Given that the main problem of the fighters in the forests was the obtaining of weapons and various other fighting implements, he was given this responsibility. His duty was to search out connections with gentiles and obtain weapons, explosives, and bullets from them. He decided to set out in the direction of Rozniatow, where he hoped that he would be able to obtain weapons and assistance from his former friends and acquaintances. According to the plan, he was to return to the camp whether or not he managed to obtain weapons. Two weeks passed, and there was no word from Meirke, as if he was swallowed by the earth.

One bright day, Stach Babi, one of the righteous gentiles, appeared. He had helped us greatly and he served as our contact with the outside world. He did not do this for free, for he received a fitting payment for this; however at that time it was a brave deed to endanger oneself and assist the Jews, even for money. No gentile wished to give us any help. Stach Babi brought us the news that some young Jewish man killed a Gestapo man and fled for his life, and all of Dolina was in turmoil.

After a few hours, Stach appeared with a form that looked like a human being. He was wounded, his face was swollen and blue, and his clothes were tattered and torn. He bore no resemblance to a living soul, for he was like a blue piece of flesh. It was hard to recognize who he was, whether he was young or old. Was this the man who killed the Gestapo man and fled? All of us residents of the forests gathered together quickly to lay eyes on this anonymous hero who fought with a Gestapo man and defeated him. Everyone looked at him and did not recognize him until he, with great difficulty, began to utter words from his throat. Then we realized that he was none other than Meirke.

After some time, when he returned to his strength after the meager medical care that we could offer in the forest without medicine and without a physician, we learned of the details of his adventures when he went out in search of weapons.

When he arrived in Rozniatow, he met up with a few of his school chums, friends from days gone by. He revealed to them his request, and his reason for his presence there. They brought him to his former friend, the bastard Vasyl, who worked for Baron Walisz. Vasyl advised Meirke to hide in one of the storehouses in the outer houses. There, he would bring him a bit of food and drink, and later he would advise him as to what to do about these matters.

Meir Turteltaub

 

Meirke entered the courtyard of the postman Jagelavitz, and there, in one of the storehouses, he waited for his friend Vasyl to bring him food. Instead of bringing food to him, Vasyl went to alert all of the neighbors and the Ukrainian militia, headed by the German Jarasch. The militia surrounded like a chain all of the homes that were near the storehouse where Meirke was hidden, and they began to close in on him.

Meirke saw all of this activity which was brought on him by his friend, and he understood what had happened. Having no other option, he surrendered. After a few days of physical and spiritual torture by the local militia, they decided to transfer him to a prison in Dolina.

In the prison, he succeeded by means of a nail which he had hidden in his pants to make a hole in the wall, and to remove the first brick from its place. He continued with this activity until he made a hole that was large enough for him to escape from the prison. However, his efforts were noticed by the prison guards. He was captured as he was carrying out this activity, and he was tied with fetters and placed on a pillory. There in the dark he conducted all sorts of experiments as to how to free himself from the fetters. By means of a metal wire which he had succeeded in bringing with him, he was able to open the lock of the fetters. He repeated his experiment several times and made plans as to how to escape.

A few days later, they took him out with the fetters on his hands, and loaded him onto a transport car to take him to an unknown place. A guard armed with automatic weapons boarded the driver’s cabin, and another German Gestapo guard was right next to him. As the car neared the Jewish cemetery of Dolina, a hilly area, and the car slowed down, Meirke decided that the time for freedom had arrived. He placed the wire into the lock and unlocked the fetters. By the time the guard realized what had happened, Meirke had already jumped out of the car and began his desperate run for life or death.

The car stopped. Meir ran to one of the gates and attempted to jump over it, however the guard opened fire upon him and injured him in the thigh. As Meirke was holding on with all of his strength to the wire fence in order to climb over the gate, the armed guard approached him, hit him over the head with his gun so that he fell to the ground. Meirke, who was wounded badly and was bleeding, began to struggle with the guard. He hit the Gestapo man directly in the face with the metal wires that were still upon his hand that he had freed. The man fell to the ground, with his face bleeding profusely. Meirke removed his gun and attempted to shoot him, but there were no bullets left so he hit the dying guard as hard as he could until he had finished him off. He hung him on the gate and began his desperate flight. In the meantime, the second guard had gathered some militiamen from the area, and they began to search for the Jew who had killed the Gestapo man. They spread out among all of the monuments in the cemetery, and began to fruitlessly search for him. Meirke had founded a place to hide until the evening. In the evening he began to walk toward the forest until Stach Babi met him and brought him back here, wounded but still alive.

After a few months of recuperation and primitive treatment for his wounds, and after the siege that the Germans had laid against the dwellers of the forest, and having been saved with great miracles, I am able to relate all this from my memory of the days of the Holocaust. We returned to Rozniatow…

I hid with the fine gentile Mosko Jagelavitz and Meirke hid with Stash Jurezko.

After the Soviet army had liberated Rozniatow, Meirke approached the army and requested that they enlist him immediately so that he could take revenge for the murder of his parents and the members of his nation. He was immediately sent to the front, and fought his battle until victory.

Today, he, may he live until 120[3], lives with his family here in New York. He lives a calm and peaceful life.


{206}

About Another Brave Person

As I begin to turn the pages of my memory, page after page, remembering all that had taken place to me during my wandering, from my time in the Stryj ghetto until my escape to the forests of Dolina, remembering everything that had happened to me and how I reached this point, I cannot conclude without relating a few words about Hirsch Ratenbach. I must tell about his deeds and bravery in saving his fellow Jews.

Hershko risked his life by entering the ghettos of Stryj and Bolekhov in order to take Jews out into the forests. It is only thanks to him that those who were transferred to the forest were saved. He also attempted to take the rabbi of Bolekhov, Rabbi Shlomo Perlow, out from the ghetto, but he did not succeed.

He himself was a quiet Jew, calm, and greeting everyone pleasantly. He was always willing to help. However, when it came to taking revenge against the non-Jews and fighting against them, he knew no mercy, and pursued them unto death. After an area was liberated from the Germans, when the survivors who had remained alive in the forests and bunkers gathered together and began to reestablish their lives anew, Hirsch Ratenbach being among them, a gentile girl approached the Jews. She was one of the few who helped the Jews during their time of difficulty in the holocaust. Later on, when the Jews decided to leave Dolina out of fear of Ukrainian oppression, it was Hirsch Ratenbach who decided to take the girl with them wherever they might go, in order to save her from the revenge of the gentiles who would certainly wish to take revenge upon her for the help she offered the Jews, and her approach to the Jews. Thus, she joined up with the group of Jews who went from place to place searching for a resting place.

Hershko found out that there was a Jewish child who had been given over to be guarded in a Catholic monastery in Lvov. He succeeded in bringing the child out from their hands, and he made the child part of his family.

During his return wandering he discovered a Torah scroll with a gentile. He redeemed it for a large sum of money, and arrived in the displaced person’s camp in Berlin with a gentile woman, a Jewish child who had been rescued, and a Torah scroll that had been redeemed. The woman converted to Judaism, they married, and she conducts a kosher Jewish home. They had a child of their own, and they live a peaceful and modest Jewish life.

May their be honor and praise for the mighty people of Israel.


Translator’s Footnotes
  1. The opening phrase of the Kaddish prayer. Back


  2. A reference to the crossing of the Red Sea, when by legend the Children of Israel were afraid to enter into the sea, until Nachshon the son of Amminadab, the leader of the tribe of Judah, jumped into the sea first. When Nachshon jumped in, the sea parted. Back


  3. A traditional Jewish blessing for a long life. Back

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