Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan
The train was full of soldiers and officers of the Red Army, as well as some local civil servants for the USSR. There were also some prisoners of the Soviets who were taken from Vilejka's (aka Vileyka) jail. Also, some locals (mostly Communists and Jews) who wanted to flee the Nazi occupation had crowded the train. The young people who came with me from Myadel were Moshe Hadash, Hirsch Hadash, Yitzhak Alperovicz, Yoshue Leib Yanovsky, Yitzhak Keller, Shimon Kotzer, Yosef Rubin, Zalman Kaplan, and Nahum Perelman from Dokshitz. We barely found a spot to stand as the train departed. The ride was very peaceful until we reached Karlovisziczina, where about a dozen Luftwaffe Foch-Wulfes appeared. There were no Soviet forces in the area to repel them, so they rained their gifts down freely upon us. One of their huge bombs exploded right by the train and derailed the last three cars of the train, including the one we were on.
To our great fortune, we were not physically hurt, but we were very anxious since we could not continue on our journey. When we got out of our car we realized that the rest of the train was long gone. After a moment to gather ourselves, we decided to walk to Dokshitz, a place where we thought we would have easier access to cross the border of Poland and the Soviet Union (the pre-partition border from 1939).
Dokshitz was situated on the outskirts of the border. After arriving at Dokshitz, we found hundreds and I might not be exaggerating if I said thousands of refugees by the side of the road. Some came by horse and buggy, some by foot. They were running back and forth, looking for a place to cross to the other side and save themselves from the disaster to come. However, Soviet guards stood with weapons ready at every crossing point. They demanded that everyone go back, saying that we were all causing unnecessary panic, and that we must return to our proper places.
We had no choice but to return to our homes, but first I decided to visit Dolhinov (aka Dolginovo), the place where I was born and raised. My mother and my married sister with her children lived there, and I wanted to help them. As it turned out, although I was able to help out many and save their lives from the hands of murderers, I was unable to save my mother, my sister, or her children. My sister on the other hand, saved my life from a certain torturous death at the hands of the Gestapo, as I will tell you later.
Back to my visit to Dolhinov. Shortly after I arrived, on Saturday the 28th of June 1941, the first German scouts entered the town. They didn't hurt anyone at first, they just shot at a few farmers. We then decided that it was time to go back to Myadel, where our wives and children were.
Four young people from Dolhinov walked with me to Myadel. On the way we didn't see any Germans. We avoided the main roads, sticking to more out-of-the-way routes and we safely arrived at the village Nyavia, a few kilometers from Myadel. Here we had to cross the river using a boat since German planes had demolished the bridge. We saw a few farmers taking out the bridge debris from the river. After begging, pleading and bribing, we were able to convince one of them to take us with his boat across the river for a large amount of money.
At home, my wife and father-in-law received me with great delight. "The husband and son-in-law has returned," they said. However, after a few moments of discussion of the situation of the Jews, I realized, "What did I really achieve? Why did I leave and then come back?"
Forthwith I was told that there was already carnage in town, and blood was flowing like a river here. As soon as the German troops arrived, they appointed some local collaborators to take charge of the police department. Most of the youths in the police force were local Polish people, amongst them about 20 hooligans and thugs who were full of animosity toward the Soviets, and showed even greater repugnance towards the Jews. They declared, "All the Jews were Communists." That statement launched the first event in a series of tragedies and tortures that I would experience. Immediately I realized that we must organize young people to fight the enemy, though the road to achieving that goal was very long and there were many twists and turns on the way to accomplishing that lofty idea.
At the head of the local police in Myadel, there were two corrupt, cruel and bloodthirsty goons. The head of the police was Baginisky, and Koprevicz was his assistant. As soon as the Nazis appointed them to the job, together with the gendarme of Vilejka they started torturing the Jewish community, which was totally without defense and had never committed any crime. In some ways, the local assistants were many times crueler than their German bosses.
The locals said, "Who is guilty? The Jews. They were the cause of these people's imprisonment, and now they were the cause of their death." They soon organized a majestic burial ceremony that paid great homage to the deceased in which they made fiery speeches laden with malevolence called for retribution on the Jews. They also invited some Germans from the engineering troops that were rebuilding the local infrastructure to take part in the ceremony.
The Germans who were responsible for the improvement of the infrastructure decided to exploit the Jews to do the hard labor as slaves. They started kidnapping Jews and forced them to build the roads. One day for no clear reason they gathered 22 young Jews from Myadel and ordered them to walk. At the head of the procession they put the Rabbi and kosher slaughterer (shochet). Soon after, they started tormenting them and moments later they begun torturing them. The tortures were executed methodically and brutally. They used clubs and attack dogs that tore at their victims' limbs and flesh. I saw everything with my own eyes, since in all the panic around I was able to escape and hide in a house not far from this tragic event. I saw an agitated German officer holding a ferocious dog ordering it to attack the rabbi, who was already too weak to stand on his feet. The dog pushed him on the ground and started eating his flesh, which was bleeding profusely.
The killers ordered the other victims to put the rabbi's body, which was still twitching, on a wheelbarrow and to take him outside of the town. Others were also tortured mercilessly, and at the end, they ordered the few survivors who were still able to walk to take shovels and to start marching. Soon after, they were told to dig holes. When they had finished digging, they were shot on the spot and buried in the holes that they had just dug. In outrage, I escaped from my hiding place and took with me Berl Hadash, my father-in-law, who was also hiding out there.
Three people left with me: Hendel Swardlov, Chaia Dimmenstein, and Sara whose last name I don't remember. When we arrived in Dolhinov, life seemed very different here. There were Germans and also local police, and a Polish mayor by the name of Zygmund Volk. He was a local resident who used to be in business. He treated the Jewish people decently until their bitter end. Also, the head of the police, Anton Krosovsky, was a decent Christian man. For a little bit of alcohol you could gain his favor and he would do anything for you. Here also the Germans ordered the institution of a Judenrat, but during the first months in Dolhinov you hardly experienced the troubles that the Jews of Myadel experienced. The Jews of Dolhinov went to work for the Germans everyday, and in general, at that point of time they were not treated badly.
In September of 1941 we started hearing horrible rumors about the annihilation of the Jewish communities. Around Rosh Hashanah of 1941 we heard about the annihilation of the Jews of Zambin, near Borisov. A few days later we heard of the annihilation of the Jews in Kriyesk and Lagoysk. Early in October, sometime before dawn, we heard a knock on our door, and when we opened it, we saw our Aunt Rachel and her daughter Lyuba. They said that yesterday, in the middle of Yom Kippur, all the Jews of Plashensitz were taken to the forest of Borisov to be killed. On the third week of October 1941, we heard that during Simhat Torah, they killed 54 Jews in Kurenitz, which was located 37 kilometers from Dolhinov.
It wasn't a dilemma for us to allow refugees to reside with us. Almost all the Jews of Dolhinov helped their Jewish brothers with shelters. Sometimes we had refugees who stayed with us for weeks. Very quickly Leib Mindel and I became good friends and this friendship proved itself time and again during the horrible days to come and later.
Leib was a man full of energy and he had a "take charge" quality, and I felt that I could always rely on him. We had many conversations in those days and we realized that it was just a matter of time before catastrophe came to our town. We decided that, first and foremost, we must find a shelter for the women and children.
We recognized that as soon as the horrors came, women and children would be the primary victims, so we had to find a good hiding place for our family. We secretly started constructing two hiding places; the first was under the land in the barn of our neighbor Yosef Kremer. We dug a very deep hole in the soil. It was four by four meters and we made all the walls strong by using large and sturdy wood posts. We camouflaged the hideout and we were sure that no one would ever realize that there was a hiding place in this vicinity. The second hideout we built was inside our cow shed. We used double walls to camouflage the hideout. In these two hideouts, many people hid during the first and second massacres.
Our second plan was to escape to the forest, though we had to delay the escape a few times since the winter that year was extremely cold and everything was frozen around, so we decided to wait until there was a break in the frost. This break never occurred.
The atmosphere became more and more ominous. Every day brought another terrible tale of destruction in the towns around us. On Wednesday, the 12th of March 1942, a few survivors escaped from Ilya and told us about the harrowing annihilation of their town. About 100 killers came by car during the night. Early in the morning, all of the Jews were forcibly taken from their houses into the market. From there they were ordered to walk outside of town and then they were placed in a stable and were shot inside it.
Now it was clear to all of us that very soon our town would be annihilated. We decided to organize two dozen young people to escape to the forest. Since we were overseeing this mission, we gathered about 20 young men to decide what to do. A decision was made on the 14th of March 1942. Leib Mindel and I would go to the forest to try to connect with a Christian villager by the name of Bronka Klaga. He lived in the Kalich forest, which was situated between Dolhinov and Dokshitz. I knew Bronka as a very honest man, civil minded, and very capable. I was hoping that if I could get in touch with him he would connect us with partisans.
The next day we started walking to the forest. We made a huge strategic mistake: instead of going early in the morning when it was still dark, we left during the later morning hours. Seeing Jews walking freely made the Germans and their local aides very suspicious. We did have in our hands a letter signed by the mayor permitting us to leave. The letter stated that we were going to the forest to cut trees for the municipal building. We also carried axes and saws, so we would not raise suspicion, however, we were only able to walk one kilometer away from town when we heard loud sounds of horses following us.
We looked back and we saw that they were chasing us. At the head was the head of the police, who was not Anton Kosovsky anymore but a thug who came from Kriviczi. Sitting next to him on the sled was a German officer. Beside the horses and sled there were also some policemen on bicycles.
As they came near us they ordered us in Polish, "Stop and put your hands up!" When they reached us they started beating us. One of the policemen used his rifle to hit Leib Mindel on his head. He momentarily lost his consciousness and fell to the ground, and shortly after there was a puddle of blood encompassing him. All of them turned to me now and started hitting me with their rifle butts, all over my body, to every place they could reach. I was lucky that they didn't get my head. Maybe they didn't want me to lose consciousness as Leib had, so they kept hitting me on my shoulders, back, and waist. They kept doing it until one of the rifles broke. We later on took that rifle, during the first attack on the Dolhinov when I was with the Russian partisans.
Momentarily they stopped the tortures and had a discussion between the head of the police and the German who came with them about what to do with us. They decided to tie us to the sled. They turned the horses back toward the town and sat back in the sled. We were tied to the back of the sled and as long as the horses walked slowly, we could run behind. But when they started hitting the horses, urging them to go faster, we fell down on the ground and we were pulled along. Hence half-fainted, we arrived at town followed with the rest of the policemen on bicycle.
The Jews in town panicked when they saw us in such a state. As we reached the town they put us next to the well and the policemen kept taking water from the well using a bucket and drenched us from the top of our heads to the tip of our toes. Since the weather was very cold, we started shaking feverishly. In this state we were taken to the police station, where two German officers were waiting for us. These two Germans worked in the communications unit, building telephone lines. They were infamous for beating up Jews who they caught walking on the sidewalk (which was forbidden to the Jews), or who failed to give the proper salute of taking off their hats when they saw them.
As soon as we entered, the two Germans along with the head of the police started interrogating us, beating us continuously. They kept asking us questions about our contacts with partisans and any secret meetings that we had with them. We denied all connections with the partisans and said we knew nothing. The more we protested we knew nothing, the more they beat us.
Mindel lost his consciousness again and was covered by blood. I was barely conscious, lying on the ground and praying to God that He would bestow on me a swift death so I could be saved from this unbearable torture.
While I was on the ground I heard a phone conversation of one of the Germans with the Gestapo in Dokshitz. He let them know that they had arrested two Jewish partisans. I couldn't hear the response, but I understood that we were to be put in the prison to wait for the next day.
By the time they deposited us in the prison cell it was already dark. The cell was three by three meters and there were two big, open windows that had no glass but had bars. This night in March was extremely cold. There was a storm and since the windows were uncovered we were shaking mercilessly. Our clothes were drenched and we were twitching like we had pneumonia. Since our situation was so bad, they locked us there but they didn't put any guards to watch us, they must have been thinking that we would never be able to escape. All they did was to lock the door of the cell from the outside.
The cell had only one place to sit. The floor was much too cold to lie down on. All night we couldn't rest. We hardly had a place to sit, so we kept changing from sitting to standing positions until it was about midnight. There was silence everywhere, and all of a sudden we heard steps that sounded unsure, they clearly came from the outside of our window. I looked out the window and I recognized my oldest sister, Peshia Riva.
She came near us and asked if we were still alive and if there was anything she could do. She couldn't stop crying. I comforted her by saying, "You have no time to cry now, you must do everything possible to get us out of here. Run home and bring an axe. It would be better if your husband Yerochmiel (Katz) came to help us."
She ran to the house and after half an hour, my brother in law Yerochmiel Katz came with an axe hidden in his jacket. He tried to break the bars but was unsuccessful. He was able to push the axe inside the cell. We took the small chair and stood by the window. We realized that we were very lucky. The bars were attached to the wall by heavy nails. So we started disconnecting the bars one by one, and after a quarter of an hour, we opened a big enough space to get out.
Immediately we ran to the hideout that we had built in Yosef Kremer's barn. We entered the hideout and changed our wet clothes. We tied a wet towel around the head of my friend Leib Mindel, then we lay down on a haystack and fell into deep sleep. As much as they wished to see us, our household members restrained themselves from entering the hideout, fearing that someone would see them. A day passed and only then did Yosha Kremer and my sister Peshia Riva enter, visiting us the next day during dusk. They told us that at nine in the morning a Gestapo troop from Dokshitz had entered town to continue our interrogation. There must have been some turmoil when they found out that the "partisans" had escaped, since immediately the Judenrat head was called and told that if the two Jews did not return instantaneously, they would annihilate the entire Jewish community.
The members of the Judenrat immediately went to look for us but they couldn't find us since only my family and the Kremer family knew of our hiding place. The Saturday passed on the Jews of the town with extreme panic. The Gestapo was in town the entire day, and during the evening they left. For the time being, nothing happened.
On the 28th of March 1942, the Germans did what they promised. The first massacre in Dolhinov occurred on that day. Would they have not done it if my friend and I had sacrificed ourselves? Looking at other towns' experiences, it doesn't seem like it would have made a difference.
I'm not going to write much about the massacre since I was not a witness to it, and others who witnessed it can write much more about it. I only want to say that one fact that must be cleared: the head of this action was a Brigadier Weiss who came specially from Vilna per the instructions of General Koba, the head commissar for Belarussia, from his headquarters in Minsk. A few local Christian thugs joined them.
During the entire day of the massacre, we sat in the hideout in the barn of Yosef Kremer. With us sat my mother Leiba Haya, my sister Peshia Riva, her husband Yerochmiel Katz, and their three children. (8 people? But he says 18 people were hiding with them? Also Yosef Kremer's family?)
We didn't know anything of what was happening in town, but we could hear horrible sounds. We heard the barking of the Germans' orders and the horrified sounds coming from the people they caught. We heard the steps taken by Jews who were forcibly snatched to be killed and we heard the shots. Through the entire day until the evening we heard the shots. At one point we started smelling burning flesh and burning clothes. Only afterwards did we find out the details of the killing machine.
When we finally left the hideout, after everything was quiet, we saw from afar the flames from burning barns. We could also smell burning fuel mixed with the smell of burning human flesh and clothing everywhere we went. At ten in the evening we escaped the town on our way to the forest. There was a ghastly quiet on all the streets of the town, and we trudged amidst this deathly silence. Among us were Yosef Kremer, my brother in law Yerochmiel Katz, Leib Mindel and I.
We walked in the direction of the forest Shimkitzetzni. We trudged through deep snow. Some of the roads we were forced to take were in open fields. We were successful in not being seen, and around midnight we found ourselves in the forest. The freezing weather and the deep snow beneath our feet made our walk very difficult, while the sky was above us looked as if it...
We were too afraid to put up a fire, so we kept walking around like caged foxes. We were too afraid to sit in one place, fearing that we would freeze to death, so we walked like that the entire night and the next day. We were hungry and tired but didn't know what else to do but keep walking. We couldn't wait until the night hours came so we could return from the forest in darkness. We were arguing about what to do.
Finally we arrived into a little farmhouse at the edge of the forest. We could see that there was a little candlelight in the window. We knocked on the door and the farmer opened it, letting us in. He invited us to sit down. He pulled down the heavy drapes so no one would see us.
He told us that he visited Dolhinov and the Jews who survived were now walking around and no one was disturbing them at this point. So once again we discussed what we should do and how we could survive in this freezing forest with a man who was sick, his head crushed and bleeding. He didn't get any medical care and he was becoming more and more feverish. We knew he couldn't survive in this weather, so we decided that we must return to town for a few days. Once he healed and the weather improved, we would try again to contact the partisans.
When we returned to town, my mother opened the door and let us in. She told us the horrible story of what had happened and we decided to hide in the house and to not be seen since we were "unkosher" for both Christians and Jews. People kept complaining, "If it weren't for Segalchik and Mindel trying to join the partisans there would have been no disaster." Others complained that we had made it come sooner, although we knew it was only an illusion that the massacre could have been prevented.
We decided to hide in the barn. Ten days passed and there was an order that all of the Jews must move to a ghetto that was situated around our street, Borisov Street. There were explicit instructions about the location of the ghetto. Immediately they built a fence around it with a gate. Policemen from the Judenrat patrolled inside, and the local policemen patrolled outside.
One evening, about 20 young people came to our house to decide how to escape to the forest. I don't remember exactly who was there, but I remember Avraham Friedman and his nephew Mitzia Friedman from Postov, both of them later on were involved in extremely important missions, but we'll return to that later. Leib Mindel and I said that we should take two other people and leave the ghetto and the rest would wait to hear from us. When I asked who would go with us, all of them said they wanted to go.
We had a big problem. How could we go in such a big group? For such a big group, we needed to prepare supplies, and how would we do that? Finally a decision was made that Leib Mindel, Moshe Forman and I would go to a farmer, a friend of Moshe's, for a few days. We would try to connect with sympathetic people in the area and the weather meanwhile would most likely improve and the floods caused by the melting snow would subside. When that happened it would be a better time to take the rest of them, but during the waiting period they would have to store some supplies, gathering up anything they could get their hands on.
We left the town on a dark and rainy night. During an early morning hour we knocked on the door of the farmer, Anatosh, who let us in. He was very gracious and friendly. He suggested that we stay in the village bathhouse, which was 300 meters from his house. He gave us a huge loaf of bread, a stick of butter, and a jug of milk. At ten in the morning, he came again and told us that we could stay there longer since at that point no cars could get to the area as a result of the floods and mud. No sort of transportation was possible here. So long as the snow was melting we could stay there, and once the situation changed he would find a new place to hide us.
We immediately told him that we didn't want him to think that it was just the three of us who needed a shelter. We told him that we had left a group of young men in the ghetto that wanted to get out. He said he wouldn't be able to take care of such a big group at that point, but he promised to go to Dolhinov the next day and bring a note from us to our friends. The note said that on Sunday night, five additional people should join us with food supplies and that we would take them to the bath house.
The next day, when it turned dark we went near the fence of the ghetto. Everywhere we walked we saw a fence made of wood and around it was barbed wire. For a long time we walked around, looking for any place where we could enter. Finally we found a place that we could enter. Since we had to hide, we climbed to the attic in our house so no one would see us. During a later night hour, we went down to send a messenger to tell our friends to come. We told them of the situation and we decided to take the five people with us along with food supplies, and in a few days we decided that some of us would return to the ghetto to get the rest of them, 22 people altogether. The people who went with us that night were Israel Ruderman, Ruben Kremer, Yosef Baksht, Eliau Maisel, and Efraim Friedman (?). We walked through the night, through puddles and little lakes, but fearless since we knew no Germans would attempt to walk outdoors on such a night.
Once we arrived, we started preparing the place for the rest of the group. Three days later, on a Wednesday, Anatosh arrived in the early morning hours and with great excitement he told us that he had heard from a very reliable sources that last night a troop of partisans, wearing Red Army uniforms, had arrived in the village Kamyin. They confiscated large amounts of meat, bread, salt, and grains from the farmers and disappeared to the other side of the river. He said, "It's very clear that there is a partisan troop in the nearby area."
We felt as if a fresh flesh and skin coated our bodies. It was as if we were newborns! We begged Anatosh Zutzman to go and look for the partisans. We asked him to find a way for us to cross the river Vilja and that maybe he could find a boat for us. We told him that as soon as we knew the information, we would be able to leave the hiding place.
We didn't need to beg him for long. He left and the next day, and at two in the afternoon, he returned, brimming of merriment. Everything he heard was the honest truth, he said. Every night, the partisans crossed the river armed with automatic weapons and grenades, and there is already a large number of them in the area.
In the evening we walked to the ghetto to let the rest of our friends know the wonderful news. We asked that they all come. The next evening, only Mitzia Friedman and Eliyau Maysel came with us, but we arranged with them that at midnight we would get the rest of them out of the ghetto from behind the barn of Haya Heshka. We would break two or three pieces of wood there and from there the rest could come. We would all meet in the Russian cemetery. Everything was planned, but the plans didn't quite work out as we wished.
On the same day of April after we returned to the ghetto, a large number of cars of the Gestapo arrived at the police station in Dolhinov. Only moments after deciding on a plan we were told that police and Gestapo surrounded the ghetto, making it necessary for us to go to a hideout. I decided differently. I said that we must find a way to get them out. We must look for an escape route. I left to look for such a place and encountered three friends, Yehuda Ginsburg, Mikhail Lankin, and Avraham Friedman. Avraham told me that he had made an agreement with two of the local police, Meltzko and Zakhovicz, who were now guarding the ghetto, where they would let him escape as soon as the Gestapo people left. He showed me a break in the fence that he had prepared for his escape. While we were talking I saw in the darkness two people approaching, and I heard someone saying in Yiddish, "Avramil, itz geits arous."
I was very surprised but immediately I jumped after them. We started running and we went for about a hundred meters, when all of a sudden I said to myself , "What did I do?" I had left my friend Leib Mindel. For some reason, I didn't think of Moshe Forman or my mother or my sister. All I thought of was Leib who had gone through so many troubles with me. I stopped and told my friends that I had to return to the ghetto to get Leib Mindel out. Avraham said that this was crazy, but I didn't listen. I returned and waited for the police to pass the opening in the fence, and then entered the ghetto.
I walked quickly through backyards and houses, but no one was to be seen anywhere. I entered the hideout and yelled, "Get out Leib! I found a way out!"
Immediately 12 people left. Leib, Moshe Forman, Reuven Rubin, Arie Liebske, Abba Gitlitz, and Kelman Alperovicz, Yosef Baksht, Molke Ruderman, Eliau Mindel, my brother in law Yerochmiel Katz, Mitzia Friedman from Potsov, and Yehuda Mindel from Plashensitz.
We quickly passed through the backyard into the tract where there was an opening. We couldn't wait for the police to pass the area, and immediately we left the ghetto.
We walked toward the bathhouse of Anatosh Zutzman from the village Falian. We didn't have any food supplies because we had to run fast and we had to leave behind everything we had prepared. And like this we arrived at the new hiding place.
Early in the morning we heard loud sounds of gunfire. We understood perfectly that something awful was happening in town. For three days they annihilated one thousand two hundred men, women, elderly, and babies. The hideout that we prepared under Yosef Kremer's barn was discovered and everyone that was hiding there was shot. Amongst them were my sister and her children. My mother was saved once more; the killers and their helpers did not discover the hideout that we made in the double wall in our cowshed. With my mother there were another 14 people who survived for the time being.
After we found out what the killers did, we were even more resolute about joining the partisans. We walked to the village Kamyin to continue our search for contacts with the partisans. Now we knew very clearly that they were in the area. We entered one of the homes and asked that they connect us with someone with a boat so that we could cross the river. They told us where we could find such person and we went to his house and demanded that he help us cross the river. Since at that point they were already respectful and fearful of the partisans, he accepted our demands. We had fourteen people with us; almost all the people who had left the ghetto with us came. He could only take three or four of us across at a time, so he had to go back and forth to take us all. The river was about 1 kilometer wide and the waters were rough and overflowing that day, making the ride rough.
All night we crossed the river, three at a time. Finally we were all on the other side. Here we felt much safer and with great anticipation we waited for the meeting with the partisans. One day, when we searched the Malinkowa Forest for them, a partisan unit stopped us. They yelled in Russian, "Stop! Who's coming?" It was clear to us who they were, so we said "We are friends, we are Jews from Dolhinov."
We were ordered to wait and not to move until the unit commander arrived. We waited with eager hearts. The commander arrived and was informed that there was a group of Jews there. He said,
"So you are from Dolhinov? Do any of you know Ivan Matyovich Timczok?"
"I know him very very well," I answered with great confidence. "And just like I know him, everyone else here knows him because he was our employer in the sobkhoz."
"Soon you will meet him," the officer told us, and he went about his business. With our hearts racing, we waited for the exciting meeting. I knew Timczok as a very warm and loving person. All through the time when Moshe Forman and I worked in Zviyara sobkhoz, a ranch used to raise silver fox, I worked as a supplier of feed for the foxes and Moshe was the accountant. Timczok was not just our manager but he was a true friend. And now they were asking if we knew him? Tears came to my eyes and when I looked at Moshe, I saw that he was practically crying from happiness and excitement.
We waited for a few long hours and around six in the evening we saw three people dressed in green uniforms, coming from afar. As they came closer we could see that they had Mauser pistols that they wore on their hips in holsters made of wood. Two of them were looking through binoculars and then all three came in our direction. When they came about twenty meters from us, we stood at attention and our hearts were shaking with excitement. Moshe and I immediately recognized him. He came towards us and shook our hands and kissed us. I could see that he was extremely excited and he had tears in his eyes. He was a man with a very warm soul. He was a friend and lover of all people. Many will tell about all his deeds and forever people of our town will talk about him, and not only our town's people, but people from the entire area. With his help, hundreds of Jews were saved from certain annihilation in the shtetls and the ghettos. Timczok couldn't stop asking about every minute and vital detail. How were we saved? Which of the people he knew were saved? Who was annihilated and missing? He was particularly saddened at hearing of the loss of Mikhail Lankin and his brother in law Chonka. "Takya raviata inimogli spastasa," meaning such great guys and they couldn't save themselves? It is true that these two guys were strong and fearless guys but they were not lucky guys. They perished.
For a while we continued the conversation and he asked how many of us were here. 14 men I said. "Very well," he said. "For now you will be nearby along with another group of 22 Jews from Dolhinov. We will bring you there soon. Rest for a day or two, then we will see what we can do with you. It's very bad that you don't have any weapons, but we will see. For now we must part, but we will see you later."
He called the unit commander and told him to take us to the other Jews in the forest. The commander took us through a path in the forest and finally we arrived at a place where there were two tents camouflaged with tree branches and leaves. Near the tent there were two barrels tied to tree trunks and under them was fire. They were cooking food there. As we came near we recognized Chana Leib Bronstein, who was stirring the food, and Eliau Maisel was standing as a guard. I cannot describe our extreme excitement at realizing that there were other survivors from our town. As I found out that the same night we left, with Anatoz Tutzman, there was a group of 15 people lead by Eliau Maisel who escaped the ghetto using the darkness of the night. On the way to the forest they met with Avraham Friedman and a few other guys, and together they were 22 people. As we were talking, the food was ready to eat. About 15 people ate from each barrel.
Not everyone had utensils to eat, so we made some utensils from sharpened pieces of wood and we stuck them in pieces of cooked meat. The atriad commissar (political officer) distributed the meat to us. This was our first partisan meal, under the sky in the heart of the woods. It was a true "picnic" in the midst of nature. The people who we met were Avraham Friedman, Mitzia Friedman, Eli Maisel, Chana and Raia Brunstein, Mulke Koritzky, Haya Shulkin, David and his brother Avraham Itzhak Shuster, Yosef Kremer, Shmeryl Friedman, Hirschel Katz, Goodman and Rubin, Gershon Gordon, Elka Gordon, Velvel Zaev Minkel, Minka Chana Mindel, Etka and Razel Mindel, and Epelbeim, a refugree from Warsaw.. At night we slept next to them and we stayed there for a few days.
Then ten people would be divided amongst the different units. They would send five units of partisans, and we would be their guides to take them to their targets. Moshe Forman and I were going to guide Unit One of Troop B, which was headed by a Paponov with thirty fighters. The entire atriad contained one hundred and sixty people.
The five units arrived at the meeting point one kilometer from Dolhinov and were ordered to wait until 11 o'clock, and at that time they were to disconnect all the phone lines. All the units were supplied with axes and saws to cut down the telephone poles and to disconnect the lines. Each one had an exact destination. One at the entrance of Kriviczi Street, another on Vilejka Street, one in Dokshitz Street, one in Vilija Street, and one in Budslav Street. The sawing and the disconnecting of telephone lines made a lot of noise, which made the Germans realize that something was happening. They immediately organized themselves in defensive positions, so we lost the element of surprise and the enemy was prepared.
When Moshe Forman and I arrived at the police station with our units, we found it empty. After we threw a grenade, we broke in and found the place clear of any people. We put up lights and started looking. We could see that the members of the police had escaped hastily. We found hats on one of the beds, and we also found clothing and shoes and so on. Near the entrance to the 2nd room of the police station, we found 14 German rifles, amongst them the German rifle that was broken after they clobbered me with it when I was arrested with Leib during our first attempt to escape to the forest.
I cannot describe how happy we were to see this treasure of rifles there. The atriad was very needy of weapons, of which we had a very limited supply. All of us, the Jews, had no weapons other than my pistol so you can comprehend how happy we were to have not only rifles, but German ones. When we got out of the police station, we could hear constant, powerful gunfire from many directions. One came from the direction of Dr. Sadolsky's house, the place where a German communications unit was living. There were 11 soldiers, and at their head were a sergeant and an officer. As we found out, they were able to gather all the policemen from the station, about 15 people. All the Germans carried automatic weapons and they were able to defend the building. When the unit came near the house, they lit up the area with rockets and they fired on us constantly. In spite of it, a few units tried to approach the house, but they were not very successful. The other units decided to retreat and our units also took some losses. Right under my feet, the politruk fell dead, and another partisan was gravely wounded. I was only able to shoot a few rounds. First, I didn't have much ammunition, and second I was ordered to take one of the wounded away from the battlefield. So ended my first combat under fire, and soon after the operation ended for the rest of them.
The atriad Nardony Mastitya had lost five of its troops. The wounded were taken care of except for one gravely wounded man who we were not able to reach. This operation taught us that it is hard to have great successes if the enemy is prepared. Also, most of us were not really experienced and had little ammunition, but in spite of it all it was very successful because now we had 14 rifles and much ammunition. For us, the Jews from Dolhinov, it was extremely successful since those rifles were given to those without weapons. So now Avraham Friedman and I received two excellent rifles. Still, because the operation didn't achieve all it had set out to achieve, we had to retreat with the entire Mastitya since we knew there would be an immense German brigade coming to the area to destroy the partisans. There was no sense in staying nearby so all the units, including our group, were ordered to get out of the "Yellow Beach" (zashlati bjerg?) in the forest of Malinkowa and to go east. The retreat took place the day after operation, starting at dusk. All night, the troop of Mastitya jumped like rabbits, we jumped in weaving paths so that the Germans would not be able to recognize where we were going. I must tell you that just before the retreat, a few hours prior to the departure, all the Jews who came with us were accepted to the partisan brigade and were divided among different units.
So now we became full-fledged partisans and we started getting accustomed to the new units. After three days there were rumors spreading all over the atriad. People whispered that here in the meadow there would be gifts from Moscow dropped by parachute. Real treasures: supplies for the unit. To tell you the truth I did not really believe it. I saw it as the imaginations of dreamers. However, I was very surprised when two days later I was ordered to go with the radio operator to help him carry the radio's power supply. We went farther into the thickest of the woods. He took off his load, quickly put an antenna at the top of a tree and then searched for the proper channel to connect with Moscow. He received a message that this evening a plane would arrive by the meadow between Kriyesk and Lagozina and drop presents for Nardony Mastitya.
At midnight we could clearly hear the sounds of a rapidly approaching plane. After a short time it passed by our forest. It went around the area where we stood, circling a few times and then it turned back east. Shortly after, the special unit came from the meadow. As they came near we could see that many of the partisans were holding heavy containers on their backs. We were rewarded with ten automatic rifles, two machine guns, and a large number of (ask brother about this? What kind of equipment?) bullets for Russian and German rifles. I myself got a little bone: ten new bullets that were shining like gold. So now I had a rifle and a large supply of ammunition.
That morning, the atriad's scouts announced that a large force of Germans had arrived at Lagozina and Kriesk. Immediately we got an order to move. It took a few minutes for everyone to get prepared. Before we left, Uncle Vasya made a short speech.
"The agents of the enemy announced to all the headquarters in the area that tonight we received weapons from Moscow and maybe also extra units. It seems like the Germans are going to launch an offensive against us. We must immediately disappear in spite of the inconvenience and the danger. We are not yet ready for frontal battles with the enemy, but if we do encounter them, we must listen to the officers and not retreat in panic. I am sure that we will all move together as one brave unit, fighting alongside one another, shoulder to shoulder, until the last bullet."
Immediately afterward, the entire atriad left, one by one, in one long line through the forest. Obviously the scouts at the head of the line were armed, as were those at the tail. All day long we walked through the forest and we hardly used any paths through open fields. At dusk, around six o'clock, we arrived at Paranalina, in the area near Lagyosk and Plashensitz. We did as the general ordered when we get to a new base. We settled with each of the different units. Here the entire troop of Mastitya felt at home. There was much more safety since we were farther east, closer to the protection of the powerful Red Army.
The night passed quietly and no one disturbed us, so we could rest from the long walk. The next day, a small detachment headed by the officer Mayelnikov, went for non-military operations, meaning they appropriated food from the peasants for the atriad. We came to the ranch of Borosky in Sharkovichzina near the town Hatzinzin. As we arrived there we were treated with great respect. This was the first time where we felt like we were the bosses. We confiscated many supplies; cheese and other dairy products, flour, grains, all in large amounts. We harnessed two horses to wagons and filled them with supplies. We also took five cows and a huge bull, and like that we returned to the base. We were all in a good mood and we ate as much as our hearts desired. Not only did we bring back a large amount of supplies, but we started feeling that we had gotten some revenge over an anti-Semitic landowner. We felt our self-respect coming back. Here people respected us and treated us like equals. They gave us important missions. We felt pride as Jews for the first time since the Germans had arrived.
After three days of rest, the politruk Timczok addressed the entire atriad. We sat in a circle on the ground in the middle of the forest and listened to him. "We are nearing an important day, the Day of the Workers [May 1], the day of the Proletariat, the day of the International Brotherhood of the Working Class. In every place, everywhere in the world, it is a celebration. This celebration must pass for us with victories and military achievement against the invading enemy. We didn't come to the forest to hide from the enemy and to be parasites on the account of the working farmers, or even the few large ranch owners who recently returned to the area under the wings of the enemy. We must attack the Germans and the collaborators in every place that our hands can reach. We must attack the traitorous policemen and the municipal leaders who are enemies of the people."
At 8 in the morning the next day, I was added to a nit of 12 people, headed by Vlodia Kavilin, a partisan who was fearless and extremely energetic. Surprisingly he was an alcoholic but in spite of it, a staunch and brave fighter. He was once an officer in the Red Army. After the war started, he became a POW of the Germans near Molodechno. He escaped from the POW camp and Jews helped him when he arrived at Ilia, especially by Shrage Dagan Solominsky. You can read about it in the Yizkor Book for Ilia. All the people in the towns around us can tell about his bravery and all his deeds.
As soon as he received the order to head the new unit, he arranged us in a line and checked each one of us and our weapons. A sniper by the name of Kozantzov, who was the best sniper in the entire atriad, was added to our unit (along with his special rifle that he had received from the supplies from Moscow). I was designated as his assistant, and I received a backpack with six packages of ammunition. We walked for about two hours, stopping fifteen kilometers from our base to sit down for a meal. Our aim was to arrive at a village Toltaki, between Doshkovitz and Lagyoz, about 40 km from Minsk. In this village there was a huge lumber mill. Originally it was a Soviet mill, but now it was working for the Germans, and big trucks went back and forth to supply the Germans with wood. We arrived there hoping to surprise them and give them a present for the holiday. Our officer Kavilin checked out the place and decided that we would surprise them on a small hill where we could hide and not be seen.
We waited for about two hours and my hands were burning from holding the weapon tight. The hour of revenge was coming. Finally, at around 8, we heard the sound of heavy trucks coming. After 15 minutes we saw two big trucks loaded with boards. Above the boards there was a troop of Germans sitting on each. The trucks came near, Kavilin gave the order and we started firing. In a few minutes we were able to kill all the people in the first truck. They didn't even have time to protect themselves. Now we waited for the second truck, which was about 200 m away. Since there were a lot of supplies loaded on it, the truck moved very slowly and they must not have heard the sounds of shooting.
They stopped when they saw the other truck, but by then it was too late. They just had time to jump. There were about seven Germans and a driver, and we were able to get them. Now Kavilin told us to take clothes and everything we could find from the dead Germans. We took all the weapons and boots and uniforms. Inside the trucks we found many supplies, as well as food that had been stolen from the farmers. After fifteen minutes we left with all the supplies. Before we left, Kavilin shot into the gas tanks and lit them on fire.
Each one of us carried at least 30 kilos of supplies, but we were very happy and excited. We passed through three villages on our way back and we proudly showed the residents the "trophies" that we had taken from the Germans. Since we were wearing German uniforms, a guard unit of the partisans saw us and mistakenly thought we were Germans. He immediately announced a small unit of Germans coming near the base. Lucky for us, the head of the unit that was sent to attack us looked in his binoculars and recognized us. When we arrived, Kavilin jumped to a saluting position and said, "Commander, your order was carried out. We burned two big trucks full of supplies and we killed nine Germans. We took 15 rifles with us, 10 pistols, 940 bullets, 15 pairs of boots, and 19 backpacks full of other supplies."
Three days later, at dusk, there was a siren in all the atriad. The scouts had discovered a large number of Germans driving towards the village Kramnitz. Uncle Vasya ordered us to be ready for action. When night came we started walking through the fields and forests, and took a defensive position in a semi-circular formation from west to northeast, and hid behind the forest. We didn't have to wait long. At six in the morning we saw clear signs of the enemy moving toward us. Soon we saw about 20 cars, each of them carrying German troops, about 300 all together. They seemed to be very confident, thinking that there were no partisans waiting for them in the area. At the head of them was a villager from Maslitza. The traitor. He was their scout. Following him, they walked in groups and arrived at about 50 meters from us when we heard the loud, confident order of our commander, "Ogon!" (Fire).
Gunfire came at them from three directions. They didn't have time to get ready, and they began to fall like stalks of wheat before a reaper. It took fifteen minutes and the entire area was filled with the bodies of the gray-uniformed killers. Very few managed to escape by hiding under the bodies of their friends. But our job was not done yet. As we were ready to pounce on them, another large unit arrived with heavy fire. After half an hour we started retreating, with each unit covering the other. The retreat was done efficiently and quickly, and there was not one man left behind on the field with the enemy victims. During the retreat we had only one loss, which was very dear to me. It was my cousin Mulke Koritzky, a native of Donilovich, the youngest son of my aunt Frieda. He fell victim to the enemy during the retreat. Honor to the memory of a young, brave fighter. After we found his body, we buried him nearby and put a plaque with his name on it to commemorate a lost partisan.
The farmers from the village later told us that the Germans brought 17 trucks filled with bodies to the school, and they called a special medic to come and take care of the wounded, but they were not successful. Being very angry, they caught a few farmers and shot them. Later that night they left the area and went to Minsk.
Logistics and safety issues made the Revenge of the People leave the area for other locations. First the atriad had hardly any ammunition left after the battle, and it became so renowned in the area that we knew that the Germans would try to get their revenge. So we all left for the east, for the marshes and everglades around Borisov, Lapal, and Poloczik. On the one hand, we felt absolutely safe there, but on the other hand, the food supply was very limited. There was already a huge brigade of partisans in the area by the name of Staika, and there were members of that brigade from our area. Amongst others we met our Aharon, Herzl Zuckerman from Kriviczi, the very brave Riva Melamed and her sister-in-law Ester Sussman from Dokshitz. They all had tales of days of starvation and the impossibility of finding food in the area. I decided that staying hungry in the area, I should attempt to check if my wife and baby girl were still alive in the Myadel ghetto
So I asked Timczok if I could go west, saying that other than bringing my wife and daughter I would also bring food supplies. Timczok, who was always worried about our safety, was reluctant, but when he realized that no tales of danger would prevent me from going, he offered to let me choose any three men to accompany me and emphasized that I must take every caution in this mission. So I chose Mitzia Friedman and Yuzik Blachman who was known as the Estonczik (a native of Estonia, whom many others wrote about), and also a non-Jewish farmer by the name of Kolke Voroshniko. Our rifles were taken from us and were replaced by personal weapons. We received three pistols from the Nagan (Nagan pistols?). One was from Pistolet, and also we received four hand grenades. We started walking west. After we walked for about 20 km, it was easier to get food supplies and our morale rose.
After three days we arrived at the old Russian-Polish border near Dolhinov and we rested in the village Bakunik. From there I sent the (non-Jewish) farmer Jozef Zraba to Myadel so he could find out the fate of my wife, my daughter, and my in-laws. He returned after two days to tell me that my in-laws, wife, and daughter were alive. That evening, we left Bakunik. We arrived in the farmhouses near Zari and the farmers told us that there were a bunch of thieves who walked around the area and stole and confiscated supplies from the local population, pretending to be partisans. We continued towards the Malishka forest, when all of a sudden we encountered two men. They didn't see us since we walked like partisans, in a line with our weapons drawn.
When we arrived about five meters from them, we ordered them to stop and put their hands up. I asked if they had any weapons and they denied it. I asked Mitzia to check them, and we heard something falling. We looked and it was a small pistol. Mitzia kept searching them but found nothing else. When we asked who they were and what they were doing in the middle of the forest, they said they were looking for a way to join the partisans. We asked for their names, and one said he was Mleczko from Dolhinov. I looked at him closer and realized that he was a known killer and a real bad character who took part in all the actions against the Jews.
We went back to the first farmhouse that had told us of the "partisans" who had demanded gold and money from the farmers, while threatening they would burn the houses and kill the people. Although it was 2 in the morning, we woke the farmer and asked him to identify the men. He said that only yesterday these men had threatened him, and he recognized the gun we had found on them.
We took them out and discussed what we should do with them. As partisans we wrote down the testimony of the farmer and his household and decided to give the men death sentences. We took them to the forest and shot them, and put our reports on their bodies, and started walking toward Myadel via Kriviczi. We asked around about how we could go inside the ghetto of Myadel, and what was going on in town. After a short time we decided that in the evening, Friedman and Dolshenko should go to Postov, and I with the Estonczik should go to Myadel. I sent the wife of Stalyuk with a note for my wife that in the evening time I would wait for them near the Nivisolki cemetery on the outskirts of town. I gave her instructions that she and her parents and our daughter and some other relatives should escape from the area and come to a place where we would wait for them.
After a few hours, the woman returned and told me that that evening, my wife and her friend Golda Yanovsky would come along. Our baby was sick and my father-in-law refused to take her in such a condition, and that he would stay with her. I also learned that my mother-in-law had passed away a few weeks ago. I was very sorry that my child could not come, but I was hoping that in another occasion I would be able to get her out along with my father-in-law.
Around 8 in the evening we waited near the road to Myadel, when all of a sudden I saw two shadows walking toward our direction. I couldn't wait and I yelled, "Batya!" For one minute they seemed to be scared, then they recovered and ran toward us. I hugged and kissed my wife, and immediately we turned to Niviriyeh. We waited a few days for the return of Mitzia Friedman and Kolke Dolshenko, and when they returned they had 13 people who they got out of the Postov Ghetto, among them the sister and brother-in-law of Mitzia, his brother Hanoch and two other brothers; all together 13. Almost everyone survived to this day, except for Mitzia and his brother Hanoch. They were killed in battle in March of 1944. Immediately we left for the east to rejoin our atriad.
Shortly after our return, they organized a big group of Jews who were designated non-combatants, women, and children, to take them past the front and deep into the Soviet Union. The group consisted of sick and wounded partisans, women, old people, etc. Among them was my wife Batya. On September 12, 1942, they left from Biarozvyamast. About 70 people were in this group which was led by Captain Latishyev. Amongst the people who left from Dolhinov were Motel Friedman, David and Avraham Yitzhak Shuster, Yossel Baksht, Reuven Kremer, Leah and Moshe Friedman from Postov, and other Jews from the area. It was not easy to convince my wife Batya to leave. She wanted to wait for her father and daughter, and to stay with me, but I promised her that I would soon take my daughter and her father out of the ghetto.
So the group left. They had to go 1500 km past enemy lines, in freezing conditions, and with the possibility of starvation, in areas that still had some fighting, but they made it. I did as I promised to my wife. After three weeks I went with three other people to Myadel. It was easy to get permission at this time. Again I stayed with my friend Stalyuk and sent a letter with his wife to my father-in-law, telling him to give my baby to her to be taken out. At nighttime they must organize all the Jews in the ghetto and escape to Kunica.
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