He wanted to say, "Even if it will be the last Passover in our lives, we will not deny it. We will celebrate as all of Israel, as all of the Jewish people in every nation, and we will shout `Shfoch Hamat-ha' [revenge on the nations who harmed the Jews]".
The old man did everything on his own. HE cleaned the house and the dishes and the oven of all chametz, and baked matzos not only for us but also for the Jews of Kurenets who lived in the camp. Instead of wine we had to use tea, and we had plenty of maror (bitter herbs). When Passover came we all prayed in the minyan and everyone said Kaddish. Malishkevitch, with the other Vileykans, were busy preparing the table for the seder.
To this day, I still don't know what happened to me that evening. I remember as soon as I entered the room I started crying. It was a deep cry of mourning for all my family. I couldn't take control of myself. In front of my eyes stood all my family members that had been alive until recently. And in front of the line stood my sister-in-law carrying her baby in her arms. It had been less than 30 days since they had been taken from this world, and the picture of her face was haunting me. The look in her eyes that wasn't from this world, when she stood in front of her killers it seemed as if her spirit was no longer in this ugly world and with the image I heard the sounds echoing in my ears, the passages of those who had given the death sentence. Even the silence was echoing in my ears, screaming to me their last testament, "You are spared to live alone as fate chose. The last remnant of your family, you must keep your life, escape to the forest and avenge our deaths."
Meanwhile the table was prepared and the old man came to me and begged me to take control of myself, and to re-enter the room and not to take away from the holiness of the holiday. I answered him. "How can I celebrate when I am the only one left from all of my family?" And once again I started crying.
He wouldn't let go. He demanded that I join the other people, and when I arrived there they begged me that I must not add to the sorrow, that I must stop crying. Come to think of it, this was the only time during the days of the Holocaust that I could not control my tears. The truth is I hadn't even reached the age of 18 at that point.
When I asked Malishkevitch what he planned to do if the Gestapo came to take us in the middle of the seder, he answered, "If that is what they demand, we will accept it."
At that moment my decision became very clear. I would not go as a lamb to the slaughter. They will never catch me alive. My head was filled with thoughts of revenge. I was able to convince Muleh that evening that we must be always prepared for the trouble that would come and if they would come to get us we would escape from the window straight to the bath house, where we had prepared a hideout.
In the seder ceremony, the son of Hayya Gita asked the four questions, and received the traditional answers: we were slaves, but on the fifth question, "Why do we deserve all that?" was left without an answer. I still do not know if anyone can answer this question until maybe the day when the Messiah comes.
Nachum (son of Pesia nee Castrol and Moshe Alperovich) Alperovich came from Kurenets everyday to work in the yard of the Gvitz Commissar. Together with him was Rivka Alperovich, also from Kurenets. I asked the manager of the printing press to take Nachum to work there since he was experienced and there was much more work to do. It seemed reasonable to the manager so he asked for Nachum and Rivka and they received permission. So from then on, every morning they would be brought by German guards to the printing press, and in the evening they would be be returned to the Kurenetser camp headed by Mr. Shatz. They slept now in the slaughterhouse. On Saturdays they would be returned with heavily armed German guards for the night.
I worked from morning til night, and sometimes I Slept in the printing house with the knowledge of the manager, Shteshifan, who gave me permission because there was so much to do that we couldn't finish during the day. I had a double reason for wanting to stay there: I stayed there alone and printed pamphlets for the underground, and when Nachum and Rivka left for Kurenets, they transferred them to Bertha Dimmenstein from Kalafi, who looked liked a Christian person and was in touch with the Russian Underground. She served as the liaison between the Jewish youths in Kurenets and the Russian partisan.
During the day, Nachum and I would discuss the wording of the pamphlet, and at night I would print and prepare packages of pamphlets, which they would hide in their belongings in the hallway. When they returned o their sleeping quarters they would take these with them. I already found out that there was a big effect of the pamphlets on the local population. I brought a few pamphlets to the Vileykan Jews and they held on to it as a lucky charm.
Before Shavuoth, sometime in June of 1942, Nachum didn't return to work. As I later found out from Rivka, together with Benjamin Schulman and Itzhak Einbender, they left to join the partisans and to be trained in the Soviet Union. I notified the manager of the printing press that Nachum was killed on the way to work and that it had nothing to do with us. The total time that Nachum was with us was two months. I continued working and now I had to do a double job. Now Rivka took the pamphlets and transferred them to Bertha. Sometimes Bertha would come directly to the Gvitz Commissar building. She knew where she would find our clothes in the hallway and she would just go there, take out the pamphlets and leave showing not even a hint of fear of getting caught.
Shortly before Shavuoth, the world seemed to be awaken with the summer blossoms. Again I felt a strong desire to split, to go out in the world. Every day I talked to the other workers and begged them to escape, but they said without weapons it made no sense to do so. So I said to them, since the Gestapo people came almost every day to the place of work of the Vileykans to order leather bags for them, for their wives, for their lovers, they came to the Jewish tanners to make a scabbard, that the tanners should trick them into going into the basement, kill them and take their clothes and weapons. Then we could escape to the forest. The tanners liked the idea very much, but when their wives found out about it, they were very fearful and asked us to delay the plans. Meanwhile, the Gvitz Commissar announced that the remnants of Jews who are still in Vileyka were very much needed and that no harm would come to them so long as they would work hard. And if any were to leave their workplace and to try to escape, everyone would pay and everyone would be killed. So again and again we would talk about escaping to the forest, but others would say that the time had not come yet.
During the summer of 1942 we were always prepared to escape. We slept in the attic of the tanners' cowshed. Muleh, Weissman, a son and a daughter of the tanner brothers, and I would go every day using ladders to the attic that was filled with freshly cut hay that smelled very crisp and good. We had a hole in the roof that we could escape through in case of emergency. Also we had a hiding place in the bath house that we always kept clear.
Two days before Rosh Hashanah of 1942, in the afternoon Rivka Alperovich arrived from Kurenets. The look in her eyes made it clear that something terrible had happened. After a few minutes she told us that in the morning there was an action in the Kurenetser camp. About 150 people, mainly women and children, were taken from the camp to an isolated home near the cemetery, and the house with all the people in it were burned. Only two girls who hid underneath the planks of the floor and didn't go to work were saved. Immediately I said to myself, "Here comes our end." If they started annihilating the professionals in the Kurenets ghetto, they would soon come after us.
Immediately I left my work place and ran to the tanners who were working in the house of Lampart. I told them all that had happened and suggested that they keep watch since you never know when the Germans would come for you. After work I told the brothers very clearly, "I am leaving for the forest. You can decide what you want to do, I have done all that I could." The family of the tanners started arguing between the four brothers and the wives. After the difficulty of making a decision they decided to send two brothers to the manager Shatz of the Kurenets camp to find out if they had plans to escape to the forest. They returned as confused as before, as they found out that people there were also arguing and that no decision had been made. Everyone realized that we should leave for the forest, but they still had some reservations. After a sleepless night, the brothers decided that principally they would go to the forest, but before that they wanted to transfer some belongings to the Christian acquaintances so they could later exchange it for food. It took four days and the house was emptied.
Our few belongings we transferred to Bilzovitz, an acquaintance, and also some to Simon, a Christian man who returned from the US sometime before and now lived in an isolated home behind Makova. The tanners prepared holsters for us. We still didn't have guns, but at least we had holsters, and we thought that when needed we could pretend like we had guns. Later on, since these holsters looked like the ones soldiers carried, some of the Christians we would ask for food later might not realize that we didn't have guns and they would give us food out of fear. We made a plan to leave on November 12, 1942, at five in the evening from the house of the tanners that was near the synagogue of the Lubavitch Hasids in Vileyka. We decided that once we escaped we would again meet behind the train tracks near Mayyak. On the road between Kurenets and Porsa. The plan was that we would leave in groups of three, about fifteen minutes between each group, with small backpacks that we would carry in our hands. Just before we were ready to leave, Old Malishkevitch came to us and started complaining, "Where are you escaping to? Why are you separating yourselves from the rest? You should accept your fate like the rest of us?" No one answered him and he just left. Schmukler also left and went to a Christian acquaintance in Vileyka.
At exactly five in the evening we left the house with one prayer in our hearts, that we must succeed. We walked quietly since it was already past our curfew, and we quietly walked by the fences. Finally we arrived at the train tracks. We lay down there, looking to see if there were guards. When we saw a moment when there were no guards, we quickly ran across the train tracks in the designated place and met again in the forest near Mijiyak (Mayyak?). Yosef Bruch from Dolhinov didn't reach the place and we never found out what his fate was.
One of the tanner brothers, Zalman, only arrived at the village four days later. So now from all the Vileykans who survived, the only people who were left in the camp were Golov the Miller (from Edelman's mill), his wife Chaia Gita and their son, and Old Malishkevich and his wife. From the Mayyak forest we continued on the road to Smogon near the village Biltzevitz. On the side of the village Makova, there was a forest where we hid the entire day. At night we walked about five kilometers until we arrived at the village Horodishtsza. Here there was the old manure business of Kaplan from Vileyka. Here, in the forest near the village, we stayed for six days. Late at night the tanners would go to the Christian acquaintances where they engaged some possessions for bread and potatoes. On the third morning we woke up covered with snow. We put a little campfire to get a little warmth and to boil something to eat.
When we went to the manure place, we found there Mrs. Kaplan and her children, and all of a sudden we heard from the direction of the forest, sounds of shooting that seemed to come closer and closer to us. Later on we found out that the partisans came to the village Makova and shot two brothers who were policemen who had collaborated with the Germans. Through the entire day we hid in the forest, fearing that our footsteps would be found in the snow. Finally that avening we met the first partisan in the area. Volinitz from Biltzevitz. He went for a partisan mission in Molodetzno. He gave us a rifle with short barrel (a carbine?) with five bullets and promised he would bring us to his partisan unit if we would be able to somehow get weapons. HE gave us some hints on what ways we should get weapons.
We waited and waited for him but he didn't return. Since we were supposed to go that evening to Biltzevitz, we didn't wait any longer. We knew we had to get some weapons and we thought that maybe in the village we could find some. We divided ourselves into two groups so that it would be easier to escape. In my group there was Muleh Norman, Muleh Weissman, David Majasky the Millman, Yechiel the Tanner with his wife Feygl and his sister Rivka. The other brothers and their families belonged to the second group and their mission was to find weapons in the village they went through. As Volinitz suggested during our first meeting, we should all meet at a Christian acquaintance's house in the village. We walked that night very carefully when we passed through villages since the dogs would bark.
After two days, we arrived at midnight at Bilzevitz. We knocked on the door of a Christian farmer and he received us warmly. We sat by the fire and surprisingly gave us a very depressing bit of information: the other group of the tanners arrived there a day earlier and they decided to return to Vileyka. They said that they didn't want to die in the forest. The villager told us that he harnessed his horses and took them to Vileyka and the Germans received them very graciously and they said that we should do as they did. The brother Yechiel had much trouble deciding what to do. His legs were in great pain from the walk. He decided to take off his boots and decided to wait until the morning, and then he would make a final decision. When morning came, he decided to return to his brothers. He said that this week of walking around in the forest aimlessly was enough for him, so together with his wife and his sister they decided to return, and also Muleh Weissman said he would return. I had no doubts in my decision, and I begged them to not return but they were stubborn. When four in the morning came, I asked again, "Who is staying and who is leaving? I want to go somewhere else, to leave this place."
At this point, only three stayed: Muleh Norman, David Majasky the miller of Dubin, and I. We immediately decided to leave the area. We were only four kilometers from Vileyka and we had to go farther. The Christian man showed us the way to the puszcza Roskovsky where the partisan bases were located. We separated from the rest of the group and wished to meet them in more pleasant circumstances and left for the village Zymdori. We went around Kurenets and in an early morning hour we arrived at a forest of tall pine trees, about 20 km past Kurenets. The entire day the snow was falling. It was the month of November and the snow was thick all around us. We hid behind tree branches and we became very wet, but still we were happy to be free, thankful for the trees that hid us from the eyes of the killers.
Through the day we saw Germans traveling on the roads and we were surprised that they never noticed us. When it became dark we continued to the village Ozla, where there was a Christian who knew the miller. Here we sat by the fireplace, warming our frozen bones and drying our wet clothes. They gave us food and drinks and when morning came, we were transferred from that house to a bath house about five hundred meters away in an open field.
In the bathhouse it was freezing and we were dressed in summer clothes. We sat there the entire day so the neighbors wouldn't see us. To tell the truth we didn't completely trust this Christian man. Who could promise that he wouldn't tell anyone about us?
When evening came we again entered his home, warmed ourselves and ate something. We left for the village Rosky, as we were told we could find some partisans there. I had a map where I marked all the villages we would go through. We went through a few villages, and to our great luck we could walk there in the day since the partisans practically controlled the area.
When we arrived at the puszcza Roskovsky, we met with partisans riding horses. As we found out, those partisans were some Jews from Kurenets. We were extremely happy. Finally we met our brothers in trouble who we knew and who were lucky enough to be amongst the ranks of the regular partisans. Their job was to serve as scouts. Can anything be more brave than that?
When evning came we came to a very thick forest and here we met with hundreds of Jews, amongst them complete families that had arrived from Kurenets, Dolhinov, Myadel, and other surrounding areas. Each family found a little corner in the forest where they would light a fire and lie around it. Each group had about a few hundred meters between the other group. At that point, each of the groups started building a bunker to hide in during the winter. Exciting as it was to meet them, it still left us depressed. Those lonely campfires. Everyone seemed to be in a somber mood, and dirty from their toes to the top of their heads, dressed in rags and very hungry and thirsty. Still, their spirits somehow remained high, and everyone seemed ok despite the fact that they were covered by lice. I told Majaski, "we shouldn't be another separate group in the forest. We didn't escape to save our skin. Our aim is to fight the Nazis, to avenge the killings of our beloved. We must join the partisans, whatever it costs us."
Meanwhile we met with Rivka Alperovich from Kurenets who escaped from the camp to the forest, and we joined her campfire with her friends. The next day we found out that Dr. Shimshelevicz, who escaped alone from Lyuban, was here in the forest and also two old people from Vileyka, Rabonski and his wife. So we went to visit them. We found them lying under a tree with no clothes. They were very sick. We had a few clothes we had brought from Vileyka as well as some pieces of soap and bread we recerived from Christians along the way. They were in a horrible situation, but how could we help them? Still, it is hard to describe how happy they were to see us. It was as if they had found their children in the forest. The old man said, "I am crying from happiness that I was blessed to see with my own eyes, remnants of young people from our town Vileyka who God will surely grant many years and energy to get revenge on the German killers. And they will be left as remnants to tell the next generation what the killers did to us."
Some months later we learned that both of them died in the forest from either freezing or from starvation. May God revenge their blood.
The next day we found out that the brigade Nordony Mastitl from the division Dyadia Vasia was in the forest and in one week they would transfer to another area. This was very bad news for us. We saw hope to be accepted by the partisans with all the duties and rights that it entailed, and yet we were not able to and they were going to leave the area. So quickly we came to them and begged, and they had a very clear answer for us, "If you don't have weapons you won't be accepted. Go to the front area and bring back weapons."
So we were left in the forest and became more accustomed to life there and its freezing weather, and the snow that was higher than a meter. At night I would go with the Kurenetsers to get food. On my back I would carry a thick log pretending like I was carrying a weapon. We would come to the village, knock on the windows and ask for food. When they refused we would threaten to burn their homes, so most of the time I was successful in getting some little bits of bread or potatotes. But this lifestyle was very unrewarding. We still wanted to organize and be accepted by the partisans.
Two days before Nordony Mastitl left the forest, Shimon Kaedan [Shimon Kaedan was latter killed, his sons now live in the US] from Krivicz, Sonia Fistonovich from Vileyka, Shifra from Dolhinov [now lives in New Haven], another woman, Muleh Norman, and I. All together we were seven people. The rest of the people were with families and didn't want to join us. Together we went to the old Russian border, hoping that there we could join some partisans and be equal among equals.
We walked at night, taking only isolated side roads. Once in a while we would encounter partisan units that were going for sabotage missions. Every time we asked them to let us join, and they said, "No weapons–we cannot take you." We were at one point stuck in the village Bolshvik near Plashensitz and Hoisk. We could not safely continue. Coincidentally at the same time there was the commissar from Dyadia Vasia, Ivan Matvivitz Timczok, a very personable Christian man. We approached him and told him all that had happened to us. We emphasized that we escaped the camps not just to save our skin, but mainly to fight the Nazis and to avenge the spilled blood of our families, since most of us were the sole remnants of big families. I also told him that I worked for the Germans in a printing house and I prepared many pamphlets for the underground that were very effective in the area.
He was very impressed by what we said and this dear man sent us to the third brigade of Dyadia Vasia, which was organized shortly before by the name of Kotovsky Atriad. We arrived to the base in a very thick area of the forest that was difficult to reach. On three sides it was surrounded by impassable swamps that a man could easily drown in, and near the camp there was a spring but at this point it was frozen. The partisans would break the ice and stand half-naked washing themselves. The pathways were very narrow and the trees were all very tall pine trees, and very close to one anohter. Whenever the wind blew, snow would fall from the tree branches and land directly in our shirts. There were two bunkers in the forest. Half of them were deep in the ground and they were covered for camouflage with tree branches, but at this point you couldn't even recognize anything since everything was covered by snow. Each bunker was 20 meters long and 5 meters wide. And in each one, 40 people lived. The head of this brigade was Barkov, who was Jewish, and the head of the division was Yaltzov. Most people were soldiers of the Soviet Red Army who had escaped becoming POWs. They put us in a row and asked us questions. The second in command of the head of the base couldn't understand why we served the Germans. He started cursing us, saying that it was clear to him that we deserved a bullet in our head and he said he felt bad that he didn't have permission to do so. I tried to explain that I had used my jobs for the Germans for the benefit of the underground by printing pamphlets for the Underground. I tried to say that this was just as important as taking part in missions for the partisans, and finally he agreed to accept us.
I don't know why he did it. Just because were young and eager to do something? Or maybe because Timczok sent us. We were sent to the bunkers, the women were sent to the kitchen, and finally we became partisan soldiers.
Already that night I was appointed to guard the bunker. There was another partisan who stood outside with a rifle. My job was to wake up the others if we saw anyone approaching. While I was guarding the camp, I also had to take care of the fire, keep adding wood, so that the fire would not subside. Since I was inexperienced, I put too much wood in the oven. The pipes, which were made of metal became all red and the socks and other wet clothes that were put on those pipes to dry started burning. The heat in the bunker became unbearable and the partisans started choking. The partisans woke up, started choking, and were unable to breathe. This misfortune almost cost me my life, but in the end they decided to forgive me.
The next morning we received rifles, and when I saw my rifle I kissed it. We were taken to a ceremony where we made an oath to be loyal to the partisans. We repeated the oath: To fight and Die for the Nation. This oath was with me since the first day of the first action, to get revenge on the enemy even if I had to pay for it with my life.
At noon Zaharov took me to a secret guard station at the edge of the forest. I was supposed to watch this path, and if needed to warn the partisans by shooting my rifle. I stayed there alone even though I didn't receive clear instructions of what to do.
After half an hour, the guard who I replaced came toward me. When he got within 30 meters I ordered him to stop. When he repeated the correct password, I asked him what he was doing there. He said that the head guard sent him to replace me for a short time, so I would have time to eat. Since I didn't know the rules that at least two people must come, one of them being an officer to approve the rotation of the guard. When I came to the bunker to eat, Zaharov started yelling at me, "How could you let a partisan replace you without an officer's approval? Maybe he's a spy! You must immediately run back there!"
This was all staged. I was told that such a mistake could be punished by a death sentence. The rest of the unit told me I was very lucky that Zaharov didn't take it any farther. There was a case with one of the brothers from Dolhinov, who was caught asleep while guarding and his death sentence was immediately carried out.
Most of the missions that were done were not in the nearby area. For missions that only required breaking telephone lines or demolishing bridges, we would go two or three days away from there. On our first mission we went during the night on a cart harnessed to a horse. During the day we would hide at the edge of a village, at the farm of a local villager. After three nights we arrived at a village near Plashensitz, where we found out that a certain collaborator was hiding weapons. When we arrived there we took a lot of his belongings, including alcohol, meat, and beans, and returned to the base.
Later missions were to attack German trucks. We would put some lumber and rocks in the middle of the road, and when the driver would slow down, we would ambush them. This we did on the road between Minsk and Borisov. For the telephone lines we would put a meter from the ground some explosives on the telephone poles and then we would light the fuse and run. The poles would break as if they had been sawn off. We were in that area for two weeks, and we received an order to organize a unit of 15 and go to a new camp 20 kilometers from the village Stavicki, in a thick forest surrounded b marshes. We left early in the morning. It was thirty degrees below zero Celsius. We were still sweating from walking so fast. Anytime we stopped for rest, our clothing would be covered by frost. Sometime before evening came, we arrived to a village where we were able to get a horse and a buggy, as well as axes and saws. We also took some doors and windows and two pigs, and a few metal buckets for cooking.
The next morning we arrived at an island surrounded by dangerous marshes, and all through the day we built a big bunker. It was very difficult since the lumber was very big and heavy. It was extremely cold and the snow was deep, but during that night we were able to sleep in the bunker, which had an oven in it that was made from the metal buckets we had taken, and it even ha d a small smokestack.
Muleh Norman became sick and couldn't walk anymore. The next morning we built another bunker near Stavicki, and this was to be used as a base for emergency time. From there we started going on a few sabotage missions. After a week, Timczok came for a visit. He remembered well my story about working in a printing house and he decided to use me for a new printing house that Moscow ordered them to establish in the HQ of Dyadia Vasia. So now he took me to the HQ for work on the printing house. I told him that I preferred to stay here and keep taking part in combat missions, but to that he responded that with one pamphlet you can kill more Germans than one hundred bullets. Those pamphlets would be able to reach places that no bullets would ever reach.
There was a special bunker with a big container, filled with letters. There was also a primitive, wooden printing press. Here I met with Dov Katzovitz from Globoki. He had just started working in this place, but still didn't finish the first pamhlet. He was very happy to see me. We worked an entire day until we prepared the first pamphlet in Russian. During the three days I was there I was able to publish two different pamphlets. On the fourth day, Timczok came back and took me to the center of the partisan movement in the area of Borisov. This group was named Kirov and the location was somewhere behind the Berezina River. It was near the headquarters of Dyadia Vasia. Here I stayed to sleep and Timczok left, at a distance of three or four kilometers away. In the center was Zokovitz from Kurenets. He was sent here from Moscow with instructions on how to do certain missions. Zokovitz was the secretary of the Communist Party in Kurenets.
The center was on dry land in the middle of the marshes. During the days of peace, no one ever set foot there. As soon as I entered the area I fell asleep. All of a sudden I was awakened by someone calling my name. I couldn't understand who could know me here. And then I saw Batia Kaplan! She used to study in Vileyka and when she came near she explained that she was now in the brigade of Kirov as a partisan. As soon as she heard there was a guy from Vileyka by the name of Yosef, she knew it was me so she walked several kilometers that night to see me and to find out what happened in Vileyka, and to speak some Yiddish with me.
The next morning I went with Timczok to the basse. When I arrived there I saw a small winter town. Amongst the huge, tall trees stood houses. The earth was covered with snow, and outdoors stood horses and cows tied to trees. On the tree branches pieces of meat were hanging and there were haystacks.. One of the wooden homes became a hospital where we put wounded people and those who had typhus. One doctor escaped from being a German POW and now he took care of the sick. He was able to operate there. One patient he had to amputate a leg without any anesthesia. There was also one house designated for sewing and mending clothes. The wife of Ruven from Postov, a Jewish partisan by the name Galia Vant, worked there. In the kitchen of the brigade they would prepare food for 150 partisans. There was also a bakery and a cobblery. This was the central artery of the partisan movement. When I arrived with Timczok to Zokowitz, he said, "You must stay here and establish here a central printing press for the movement."
Here I also met the first commissar of the Atriad by the name of Kirov. The newspaper man Potohov. I knew him very well from Vileyka where he worked as a newspaperman during the time of the Soviets. He used to work in the same printing house that I worked, so now he was very happy to see me. Zokovitz then made me work for Potohov, under his supervision. This was shortly after the Zlazniak Brigade conquered the town of Gomel, where they found a complete and fully equipped printing house, and they brought it to the forest. Se we used a lot of the supplies that they had brought to establish a central printing house. The commissar Potohov was appointed head of the newspaper and I was head of the printing house. We went about 80 kilometers in the forest to Zlazniak, but in the middle of the way we found phone lines and we followed them to Zlazniak. But at one point we were stopped by an armed partisan who would not give use permission to continue. Finally he was able to contact headquarters in Zlazniak and they let us pass. We continued the next ten kilometers on a sleigh to get to the brigade headquarters at Zlazniak. Once again we found a little town with homes made of wood: little bathhouses were taken from communities in the area and rebuilt here as homes. Also they were able to transfer electricity and telephone service to the area, and here we found a printing press with one machine to print and all the needed supplies. We received two containers filled with letters and other needed supplies, and I received some instructions on how I should do it without all the necessary printing materials.
So here Potohov and I stayed for a few days to get some instructions. When we
entered the kitchen of the headquarters, Potohov was pleasantly surprised. The
woman who was serving the food at the headquarters of the bridge was none other
than his wife, whose whereabouts he had not known since the war started.
Other than pamphlets we wrote a small newspaper 1/8th the size of a regular newspaper, and there we would write the latest news from the front and descriptions of actions done by the partisans from the Kirov brigade, and announcements to the local population. Some more memorable announcements I remember were the atriad under the officer P. attacked a German grenizon in Babranza and killed 1000 Nazis. At the end we would say, "And you, tell us what you did for your contry."
Eventually they buiiilt a special bunker for the printing house, complete with radio communications, and every day we would print a new pamphlet to be distributed by the partisans going into towns for missions. We also received an accumulator from a a car so we could work at nice. We started printing weekly by the name of "Krasnya Zamnniya" (The Red Flag). As I became more acquainted with the people I started looking to socialize with some Jewish people. About 5 km from our base there was a bunker where Jewish partisans, the brothers Schreiber lived with their female cousin. There they established a warehouse for leather goods. There was plenty of raw materials to be found, and the partisans needed leather jackets and boots. So the brothers Schreiber and their cousin lived separately from the headquarters, but it seemed they lacked nothing. Once when I came to speak Yiddish with them, to visit them on a Friday night, I was shocked to see them baking a white chala brad for Shabbat. This visit awakened in me many memories. For a few days my head was spinning. Once again came to my eyes my home during Shabbat and the holidays and I had no one around me to express my feelings of the great loss I experienced.
During the big blockade, before the war ended, the Schreiber family's enterprise miraculously survived when they hid for a few days in the marshy areas. That blockade took place in April 1943. The German attacked us in three prongs. About 20 divisions, or about 200,000 soldiers with tanks and artillery and also planes started destroying the partisan bases. They started from the marshes Bialoviatch in White Russia and from there to Lithuania and Latvia. They kept tightening the noose and pushed all the partisans to the area of the river Berezina intending to destroy them in that area. This blockade was caused because the partisans started controlling all the roads in White Russia, despite the fact that the area was under German control.
Our brigade contained four atriads. One was Kirov, second Pronza, third Provida, and fourth Artiliriyaski. In each of them there were four "classes" of about 60 people. Altogether there were about 1000 people in the atriad.
The forest and the marshes where the partisans settled contained hundreds of kilometers from the Berezina all the way to Borisov. When the enemy plans started flying very low to try to find us we immediately received orders to build bunkers and dig trenches to protect us from bombing. We were ordered to not make any more fires, not even for cooking. I was assigned to a unit of scouts. So I put all the printing materials in the ground near the base. I took all my personal materials to the front near the Berezina River. Our job was to prevent the Germans from crossing the river from East to West. We hid in trees in the marsh across from the river and we could see the Germans in an open field but they couldn't see us. To tell the truth, the partisans were not really prepared for such an attack. We didn't have sufficient amounts of trenches dug and we didn't have real fortifications. Only in the last minute before the attack we started digging and making bunkers, and setting communications lines. During the first shelling many, many fighters were killed. We received a two word order from Stalin which was "Don't Retreat!!" This order became one with us, flowing through our minds and hearts as if it were our own blood. We asked for more weapons from Moscow and they ordered us to prepare what they called an envelope. This meant to make a fire in the shape of an envelope where the planes from Moscow would land. Unfortunately the Germans also saw these signs and they started attacking the area. It took two weeks for the plane from Moscow to arrive in a small airfield where they distributed some ammunition and took with them a few wounded, some women including the wife Zokovitz and returned to Moscow. The enemy planes bombed us every day. In the scout unit I belonged to, many were killed. The Germans came closer to us from the West of the river and started firing. Other than the planes that would bomb us, a few times a day, there was heavy artillery that was used directly from the forest. They shot blindly at the forest constantly.
We lay between the bushes in the marshes for two weeks, and every German that came near the river in order to cross we would shoot on the spot. We killed many of them. Finally we couldn't stop them. They kept tightening the noose around us and we were shelled from the eastern side constantly as well. So we received an order to retreat to the base that was 5km east of the eastern riverbank. The entire brigade of Kirov was now gathered at the base and here they decided that each battalion would be on their own. The order was that each group must find a way of escape on their own, but must try to maintain communication with the brigade. So we left for the marshes. In the daytime we would hide in the bushes and at night we would walk the dry paths we could find. The Germans, meanwhile, succeeded in crossing the Berezina. They found our base, destroyed it, and kept coming near us. On each path they took they cut 50 m from the sides of the path, leaving many kilometers now open. They also built bunkers and trenches. So now clearly we couldn't take the paths because we would get caught. They had very detailed maps of the area and they knew where all the paths were. In a few days they were able to cross the whole forest, so we didn't have control of the forest except for some isolated pockets.
Originally we took all the cows and horses from the base, but since we couldn't retreat in such a condition we just left them all in the marshes. Before we left we slaughtered one cow and each one took enough parts to cook and eat for two days. I walked with a friend and at one point we stopped to cook the meat. We saw that about three meters from us there was a woman who sat and stared at us. S he asked if the meat was tasty so I invited her to eat. I found out that she was a Jewish woman from Minsk and she had a daughter that was 5 years old that she had left with some Christian villagers nearby. She belonged to the Atriad Zar Rudino (For the Nation) and that it had been days since she had eaten anything. After a few days she told me simply, "You saved my life." Later I found out that the officer of our brigade, a Jew by the name of Patia Grindir took her to his unit and she survived and now lives in Minsk. In the forest we went to the direction of Gomel.
When the Germans kept bombing the area and the headquarters ordered that we must try to cross the German lines since they were tightening the noose and they could destroy us with their planes, during the past ten nights, some brigades tried to break out of the ring but to no avail. Dozens of partisans were killed, amongst them, the head of the area, Zoskovitch from Kurenets, who was killed about 15 km from the Berezina. A few units who knew the area very well were finally successful in crossing the enemy lines. One day, our unit was surprised by fire from the Germans, who discovered us. A very brave Jewish lieutenant who was the head of the Artillery atriad by the name of Kritzbesky was killed 30 m away from me. He was a great guy and we became like brothers. His second in command was also a Jewish lieutenant by the name of Patia Grindir.
So now we looked for a place to hide. We crawled through the open fields where the Germans had cut all the trees. We hid in the marshes, and for two weeks we stayed there. All the food we had taken from the base, a supply to last for three days, was long gone. Now we were starving and ate the grass that was next to where we stood. We would try to make some soup out of it that had no taste or smell. While we were in the marshes we were somehow able to hear a communiqué about the fight of the Warsaw ghetto, about how they stood for one month against the Germans. We saw them as heroes fighting against the enemy and I felt that this would be my fate and it would teach the world that our blood would not be spilled without retribution, the killers would pay some price. At that point I was absolutely sure I would not survive the blockade, but something started boiling in my blood. Here what we wished for deeply in our hearts, it happened. All of us must show the world that we are capable and this miserable life became worth living if only for the reason that the world must know tht the Jews are not cowards and if they were given a chance and were given weapons, they would fight the enemy.
One night we met with the brigade of Didya Kola and Zlaznick. They took us and together we all decided to try to break through the enemy lines, no matter what, although most of the unit had been scattered since the Germans attacked, and had surrounded us with fortified bunkers, preventing us from remaining one strong, brigade.
At night I went out with two other scouts to check out the Germans' lines of defense. We discovered the bunkers were about 50m from one another, and two guards watched each bunker. We knew if they saw us they would destroy us, so I let the commandos know the information and we decided that we had no choice but to cross the German lines. The next night we started going through the dry paths. I who knew the area went first. I felt as if someone was showing me the way, as if I was not only pointing the road, but having the road pointed out to me by some other power. We arrived near the bunkers and instantaneously threw grenades in the front bunkers and then they fired in all directions. Somehow we succeeded, and it seemed as if the Germans thought they were attacked by a large force: they started lighting the sky with rockets but we were already past the front. It was as if our small unit had been taken on the wings of the wind.
After we crossed the front we went through the forest and the marshes. We went at night through dry paths but we didn't meet any Germans or Partisans. Although the blockade took about two months to end, we found out that the Soviets started an attack in the Smolensk front and that the Germans were obliged to discontinue their blockade and had to take their forces to Smolensk. This was sometime around the end of May 1943. We regrouped at a new base 15 kilometers away from the old base and we re-commenced our military operations. We destroyed trains and tracks, bridges, etc. We kept busy all through the summer, gathering supplies and kept getting orders to keep doing even more than we had done.
As the winter of 1943-1944 came, we built a winter base on a dry island that was about 200 m in diameter. From three sides there were marshes. We built small homes, hideouts, zimlankas from lumber and we covered them with earth and plants. Inside we built ovens from metal and a pipe that would come out for the smoke. The commissar of this brigade of Kirov by the name of Pasikov, who was both the secretary of the party and the commissar, asked me to prepare a printing house in one of the bunkers. There were three partisans who helped me, one was the editor of the newspaper. I would print and offer any other assistance. So now we took out our equipment from the place we hid it in the ground and started printing a weekly. Every day we would also print the news from the front since they put a radio in our bunker where we could hear all the news from Moscow. This radio used an electric generator. We also heard news of the partisans of our brigade. The paper and the ink we received from Minsk and Borisov. What we wrote would be dispensed by the units that left for missions in the early morning house. Every night I would sit there by the simple oil lamp and print the news. At one point, the soldiers took a German truck so we took out the battery and the engine and somehow were able to use it for lights. So from then on every day we would print 800 pamphlets to be distributed among the villagers who wanted to know news from the front, and also among the partisans.
I still went to visit the brothers Schreiber from Dolhinov to keep in touch
with the Jews in the area. At one time I received news from Sonia Pistonovich
who was in one of the villages in the area where the partisans had settled. All
through the summer I also went on missions to destroy trains. We would go as a
group of five people in the area of Minsk and Borisov. Sometimes we would have
to wait for days until our turn would come. Many people wanted to take part in
these missions. In one occasion we waited three days since so many other people
to take part in these missions. In another occasion when we arrived to take
care of the mission we were surprised to find two other units came to take part
in the mission.
The Germans kept bombing us from planes and tanks and artillery. We fought them with Molotov cocktails, grenades, and Patia Grindir also received about 50 shells but he had to trade rifles for them. When all ammunition was used we retreated. I became sick with appendicitis and for three days I couldn't move. I just lay in the bunker and when again they started to shell the area I asked the commander to go to the doctor. The second in command at that point became sick with typhus and the doctor took him to a secret hospital in the middle of the marshes. The commandant let me know that the doctor, just a few minutes before had left for that hospital so I must run to catch him. With tremendous pain I walked to the base. I could hardly carry my weapon. I walked for the entire day. I couldn't find the doctor, as he went to other areas to see the sick and wounded. Here I met some partisans from my unit. I slept there and decoded to return to my unit, but all of a sudden we received news that the Germans had surrounded my troop, and all that survived escaped to another area.
So now there were only five people from my unit and the Germans were coming nearer. We escaped to the east of the Berezina and we found a few units of partisans who were trying to cross the river. Since there was no bridge they took two pieces of wood the width of the river and tried to cross to the other side. A few of the partisans fell into the river and drowned. The enemy planes discovered the crossing and started shooting at us. We would retreat to a different area and as soon as they disappeared we regrouped and tried to cross again. We waited for our turn, but there were so many that we had to eventually cross by swimming the next morning. The water was very cold and deep, but we still succeeded in crossing,, but when we arrived at the other side we saw some Germans approaching us. We escaped to the forest and we went through the Didya Kola base but it was empty. In one bunker we found some food.
The Germans crossed the river and divided it into small areas where they cut the trees and buttressed bunkers and started shelling all the partisan units from every direction. Many of the shells fell near us and I don't know how we survived. Thousands of partisans were killed. During the night they would shell and bomb. At one time I lay down under the trees and when the forest was shelled, the tree I lay under broke in two as if an axe had split it. But somehow I was not hurt. For two weeks we walked from place to place. We had no rest since the Germans patrolled the area. Someone found a dead horse and they started cooking it, but while cooking the Germans shelled us. They must have seen the smoke. So we left the meat that was cooking and escaped to a small dry island that was only a few meters in diameter. We cooked there in little containers some plants that we found. At this point I didn't eat anything for four days, but still I could not eat more than a few spoons of this awful concoction. At one point the Germans found our hideout and yelled to us to put our hands up. There were three Christian partisans and they put their hands up. I with my two Jewish friends took our grenades and threw them at the Germans who were 20 m from us. We took their rifles and ran because we knew what our fate would be if we were caught alive.
My friend next to me Oppenheim from Minsk fell dead. I was just slightly wounded from that attack. Yuzik from Hoisk also survived. The Germans were able to catch many partisans and take them as POWs but we were not discovered. One time I went with Yuzik in the forest and we met with another unit of partisans looking for a way to escape. So we arrived in a big group to an island that had very thick woods. We decided to wait here and hope the Germans didn't discover us. During the noon hour the Germans saw us while they were chasing another unit that succeeded in escaping. So they started shooting at us.
Each one f us ran to another area. Yuzik and another person and I ran deep into the marsh looking for a hideout. We hid near the German bunkers in the water that came up to our necks, hiding among the plants. I said to Yuzik, "It seems our end us coming Let's shoot them til we have on bullet each, and with our last bullet we will shoot ourselves so they can't take us alive."
Meanwhile it was getting dark, and the Germans kept coming towards us. They looked under a bush and caught some who were hiding. We threw our last grenade at them and somehow we were able to still shoot. When it got very dark we were able to get out of the water. We passed about 50 m away from the bunkers, hoping they would not look there since it was so close. During the day we hid about three hundred meters from there. For three days we were there and then we transferred to another area. We met with other partisans who gave us some food. I had horrible stomach pain. Somehow we made it to another island where we decided to wait for our fate. A German unit came to the area but didn't notice us. We were there for two nights, but we knew the Germans weren't' far since we could hear dogs barking, so we had to be close to their bunkers. On the morning of the third day we heard dogs barking, but they seemed to be from farther. In the sky we saw planes which we thought were Soviet planes, so perhaps the Germans were retreating. We decided to stay and to check the area. The next day we couldn't hear dogs barking and we only saw Soviet planes. We were near a marshy lake by the name Falicki.
When we left the area through dry paths we met some partisan units and some
solitary partisans looking for their units. We started all walking together and
we met with the Red Army, which was chasing the Germans. I would like to point
out that our brigade stayed in its place outside of the blockade, and it was
the only one that didn't suffer since they settled outside of the marsh area a
long distance from the Berezina. Since I went to the doctor, my fate was to go
through all the horrible experiences of the blockade. We returned to Klafniczi
in the area where our brigade settled. Once again a civil authority was
established in the area. I organized a printing house and became its manager.
Pesikov, the party secretary, appointed the mayor of the town and established
some civil and national committees. Normal life started returning to the area.
Now all these institutions were managed by partisans that survived from the
brigade by the name of Kirov. I was sent to Minsk and received two medals, one
was the highest of Soviet medals, and other was a victory medal.
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