Wax dripped from the candles. The Cantor chanted Kol Nidre, weeping. The Jews were not wearing holiday clothes. On the small table near the eastern wall were two brass candlesticks holding two fat candles. On the left side of the table was a small ark containing the Torah. The ark's door was open during the entire prayer. A Jew stood beside the table, wrapped in a tallis over his head, and said Kol Nidre. No words were heard, only weeping. Some of the Jews were wrapped in their prayer shawls, and others were not. They sat on stools. Some prayed in a whisper, some wept together with the Cantor, many just stared at the walls. They no longer believed God would help them. Not even one of them thought any more about a Gentile with a good hiding place, or about going out to the forest. A few women stood by the door holding prayer books. They did not pray, they did not cry, they were standing indifferently. This seemed to be a rebellion against God. How greatly have we sinned? Why have we been doomed to die together with our children? The main question to the Almighty was: Perhaps we have sinned, but our little children, when could they have sinned? And they had one more question for God: Whose side are you on, God? If you are with the German murderers, then you are not with us. For that was what the Germans asked the Jews when they beat them and were bleeding: So, Jude, where is your God?
The heat was so heavy. The candles melted quickly. A kerosene lamp burned. The windows were closed and hidden by curtains. I could not breathe.
Papa sat with his shoes off and his tallis around him. He sat and thought because there was not enough light to pray. During the prayer he saw his whole life and his marriage to Golda. He remembered when his children were born, when he was proud and happy with them. How much work and effort that had been, how ill Golda had been when bringing up all these children. And how quickly it all passed ... Mama's funeral, the beautiful Golda ... Where are all those children strewn and scattered now?
These thoughts troubled him. 'Why didn't I stay with my daughter Chaya Toiba in our hometown in Poland? Why I am now in Ukraine? It would have been better to die in Poland near my mother in our cemetery and not here in an alien place. Why did Hitler come to slaughter all the Jews? Maybe we should have gone to the Land of Israel, the place where one of the children went? At least he will survive. If we stay alive after the war, we will not have to stay in accursed Poland. We could travel to the Land of Israel.'
Loneliness overcame him. He closed the prayer book and closed his eyes. He saw his life pass before him so clearly. This gave him a shred of pleasure.
I slipped quietly away. Now I could breathe. I filled my lungs and felt relieved. Darkness surrounded me- silence. Someone approached with light quick steps. It was Sheindeleh, the neighbor's daughter.
Why are you coming now, Sheindeleh? I asked.
I came for my mother.
Stay here. They will finish the prayer soon. Anyway it's already dark.
So what are they doing there?
They are listening to the Cantor's weeping.
We sat on the step and told each other what Yom Kippur used to be like before the war.
Shh, Sankeh, she interrupted. Do you hear something?
I don't hear anything. What do you hear, Sheindeleh?
Listen carefully ...
I don't hear ...
Why don't you hear? There is noise from cars, German trucks. I already recognize the noise of German trucks. Maybe they are fleeing. They have already captured almost all of Russia, and perhaps all of Europe. Listen carefully.
She grabbed my hand and I shivered all over. Both of us were listening to the noise from the German cars on the roads all around the town. We kept on telling each other what Yom Kippur used to be like before the war when we were together with our whole families. They all wore nice clothes and thousands of people stood near the synagogue and listened to the Cantor's prayers. There was a serious atmosphere in the town, but it was also festive and happy.
Is it true your brother is with the partisans?
Yes, I replied.
And will you go too?
Of course I'll go. Everyone should go to the forest. Here we cannot do anything. The noise of the cars is frightening.
Tell me, Sankeh, maybe we should tell people that cars are going?
So what if cars are going?
I don't know why, but I'm afraid ...
You should understand, if they wanted to do something, they would not move in such a way that we would hear, I said, and pressed her hands even tighter in mine. I would run away now into the woods with you.
You are not afraid?
No, it is safer there than here.
We drew closer and I felt her close to me.
Sankeh, why don't you come to us?
I don't know. I sit at home. I cannot leave my father by himself.
I know you are shy. You promised me you'd come, and you don't come. I often see you walking around alone. You are a lonely person.
I'll come, maybe tomorrow. I do not have the patience to sit here and pray.
The first worshippers began to emerge from the synagogue. They did not see us in the dark. Papa went by, a little bent over and helpless. He walked calmly and slowly, which was unusual for him. He has no more need to hurry. Everything is lost. Everyone went out. The worshipers wished each other, A good year, if only those who hate us will wither away.
Sheindeleh, I would sit like this all night long. For some reason, I don't feel like going home.
We walked across the town in the dark.
Sankeh, before the Germans there were the Russians; before the Russians there were the Polish ... You see, there was once a stage here, and a youth who is in Palestine today made an impassioned speech to the Zionist youth. My friends went away when the Russians were here. I am sorry I stayed here. You don't see a living soul. Come, Sankeh, let's go home. Will you fast?
Perhaps I will, I replied.
From the age of thirteen I fasted every Yom Kippur. But ever since I dug the first pits, I realized God is with the strong. First, one must be strong, and then a person can afford to believe. When they kill a Jew, the Germans do not distinguish between a religious person or a non-believer, a communist or a nationalist. We were late for everything. We could have been in the Land of Israel already. Who is to blame for this? We ourselves! No, not entirely we ourselves. Also our leaders.
We stood very close to each other and looked far away to the town's edge. We imagined we were moving shadows.
So, tomorrow I will come to you. We will keep on talking. We are only living with the past. Good night.
Everyone was already sleeping. No one heard me enter. I also lay down quickly to sleep. Tomorrow I will go to Sheindeleh. That is better than praying . Maybe I'll also take Chava with me. We'll tell things to one another and talk until evening falls when Papa returns from services. I took another look at my father's bed. I also took a peek at Chava's bed, and then I fell asleep.
I awoke to many harsh sounds of shooting. I opened my eyes. I saw Papa was already dressed. He peered out the window to know where the shots were coming from.
Chava dressed quickly, but neither of them knew why there was shooting because the police often fired shots when they took people away to work. When I opened my eyes, I heard a lot of single shots from every part of the town. I saw policemen through the window on the road firing their rifles without stopping, as though they were crazy. I told Papa and Chava:
It looks like we've been surrounded. Every moment is precious. Don't wait for me. Run on the side roads. We will meet at Kaminsky's.
All of this lasted a few minutes. Father disappeared from my sight. I never saw Chava again. We heard the shots all the time. I dressed, but not quickly; why -- I did not know. Perhaps because I was sure Papa and Chava would get to Kaminsky's and I would manage on my own. I dressed without hurrying and did not think about the people in the other room.
But when I was already dressed and looked again out the window, I saw dozens of police running around with guns. I said to myself: I'm lost. It's too late. I did not have the courage to flee. Through the window I saw they were shooting anyone who tried to escape. I stood alone, a little confused, but I still had not resigned myself to my fate. I resolved not to go into the pit alive. I would look for any opportunity to escape. It would be better to fall while running away than to walk into the pit and undress before death. I spoke to myself: Good God, why did I miss my chance? I was already in the forest. I already held a rifle in my hands. My blood was boiling. I saw nothing before my eyes except for the partisan group crouching down in the forest bearing arms. At least I could die with this picture before my eyes, I consoled myself, but why did I miss my chance? How did the murderers manage to trick me? I was already in the forest.
Suddenly I heard someone talking to me: Sankeh, why are you talking to yourself? Where is Papa, Chava? Mundek was standing next to me completely silent, as if he were ready for it. His calm irritated me.
Mundek, we're done for. We are about to die. I missed my chance. They managed to deceive me. I was already in the forest. Good God, why aren't we all in the woods now?
He thought I had gone out of my mind.
Sankeh, be quiet. Perhaps we can still get away.
How can we manage to escape? Look around, see.
I pointed through the window at how they were leading all the occupants of the houses, entire families and individuals, children and the elderly. He looked through the window and stayed calm. I looked at him and thought, Mundek, you led an unusual life and now you are ready to die an unusual death. I did not live such a life. I worked and prepared weapons. I want to live, to take revenge. What happened to Papa, to Chava? Did they manage to get out of town? Are they already at Kaminsky's? Maybe I should have run together with them? What happened to Hene, to Shmuel, Heniek and the girl? Now they will kill everyone. No one will remain, and this is happening on Yom Kippur when everyone gathered from the forests and the villages. The Germans outsmarted us. They understood. Now everyone will go- those who were saved from the first massacre. They are going quietly, they do not cry; they do not shout. They know this is fate. Today is Yom Kippur. Jews pray for a good year, and indeed their prayers were fruitful. We can even make fun of ourselves before death. Where are the partisans? If they would pounce on the murderers, we could escape to the woods in the meantime.
We heard boom - boom! The door burst open. We both stood at the work table, as if we were working. Two tall Germans entered, one wearing a brown uniform, and the other a gray one. These were the Gebietskommissar and the Chief of Staff. Both were holding long clubs in their hands. They would often come to us to bring and receive work projects, and they treated us well. But now they were different. They went to Mundek. Have you finished everything? Yes, gentlemen, replied Mundek. He was sure they would save him or both of us, so he stayed calm. Yes, gentlemen, everything is ready. The two tall Germans (At that moment I imagined them as the tallest men in the whole world; their high boots and narrow pants and tight uniforms made them look even taller.) slowly and calmly packed the bags, the house slippers. Everything was well prepared. Even the house slippers they sent to their wives and children in Germany, as though nothing special was happening now. They finished packing and talked among themselves in rapid German so we could not understand. Mundek gathered up his courage: What is going to happen, gentlemen? Now the moment of threat had arrived. Outside, into the square! Mundek blanched. His disappointment was apparent. Dear gentlemen, we will keep on working and do everything you need, whatever you want! No, there is no more need. You are going there with all the Jews. Go out quickly! Did you forget you are Jews? Quick!
We put on our coats, and they pushed us out with their sticks, and we went out to the street. The two of us walked side by side, and they were behind us. The town was silent. It seemed they had already taken all the Jews out to the square. Only a few policemen were walking around on the road, Ukrainians, stout with red full faces, and Lithuanians, tall gentiles, blood-thirsty animals. What does a person think about when being led to death? I sometimes wondered about this. Back when I was a boy I heard many stories about people who were brought to their deaths. When I read about soldiers who were executed, I would think: what does a person think about in the last moments before being shot? And here I am being led to my death. Two tall German officers are leading us. The police looked at them with awe and saluted. For whatever reason these Jewish Kikes are better and have the honor of being led to the pit by the Gebietskommissar and Chief of Staff.
Suddenly I felt I was no longer hysterical. I calmed down and strolled alongside Mundek, as if we were just strolling along. I said to myself:, The world will go on living. No one cares about all this. The Jews in Palestine, do they have any idea what is going on here? And the big democratic nation in America? Where are all the free countries? I want to think about something special, but I don't know what. I know only one thing, Henrik will not forgive himself for sending me back to the ghetto on Yom Kippur. I am walking with all the Jews to my death. I could not save myself. I did not get to fight. We turn left, going the same way I went yesterday to my sister Hene. There seem to be hundreds of police guarding all around, in the alleys, alongside the houses. We are going deeper and deeper into Satan's hands. Mundek, I was shouting out loud in a weepy voice, We missed our chance! We are going to the pit! Why did I come? I was in the forest. No, I will not go to the pit!
Mundek was white as chalk. He did not answer. He was silent and deep in thought. Who knows what a person thinks about before he is about to be shot? Maybe he knows. I will not bother him anymore. I missed my chance. I was already in the woods. This thought nagged me and gave me no peace. I felt this thought was preventing me from thinking about escape. I felt every step I took decreased my chances of escaping. Where is the forest? I turned my head to the right and saw the forest. It was about two kilometers away, no more. It was foggy, but I saw it, or I imagined I saw it. I felt a blow from a club on my back. Had the German read my mind
There were horrible screams and gunfire volleys. They pushed and hit me with their rifle butts. They shoved me through a gate. I looked around. This is the courtyard where I was yesterday, at my sister's. I saw the house surrounded by police, I saw the leather factory. I saw all the locked warehouses. Where is my sister? Where is everyone? The yard was full of men, women, children. Some lay on the ground, wounded, bleeding. Some were standing around confused. They did not know what was happening here. Some were running around like drugged mice looking for a hole to crawl into because there was no longer any way to get out. The police stood all around, two yards apart from one another, like a wall. Anyone who went out of bounds was shot.
I turned around and saw that all those who tried to escape were lying dead on the ground. I bit my lip. This means there is no hope. But it is essential to run away. When I remembered the need to undress before entering the pit, I shuddered. Papa also ran; even Chava fled. It would be disgraceful if I lacked the courage to run away. I saw someone who was taller than everyone else looking at me. Who is this? Good God; it's Heniek. Why doesn't he come towards me? Is he afraid? I went up to him. Heniek, I said, This is our end. Sankeh, he said, I deserve this. I did not flee with the Russians. This thought constantly troubled him, just as the thought about the partisans troubled me. Heniek, we need to run away, I said. No, Sankaleh. His hat was tilted to one side. I looked at him and it crossed my mind that he was insane. He had lost his mind. He did not think about life anymore. He was reconciled to his fate. We drew close to each other.
Perhaps you know where Hene and her daughter are?
They all hid in the warehouse of the leather factory. I didn't want to.
He did not say anything else. We walked together among the masses of people shouting, crying, and hearing shooting. Everyone was moving, and we were moving with them, until we reached the edge, where the policemen were standing. Here we stopped. The guns were aimed at us. Now only one step more was needed and it would be all over. We would be laying down here on the ground, shot by a bullet or a few bullets, or we would fall immediately and die. We would not even feel how they take our clothes off and throw us naked into the pit with the other Jews. And perhaps I might stay wounded, bleeding, and no one could help me dress the wound. On the contrary, I could still get a kick from a policeman's boot. I could shout and beg, and no one would give me a drop of water. One could only be rescued from the horrible suffering after everyone had already been brought to the pit. So try to get to the pit first, and plead that the pit will be as near as possible.
Dozens of rifles were aimed at us. Heniek, we need to run away. A few shots rang out and some people were falling, twisting in pain. We were mixed in with the crowd and walked back. We did not walk anymore where we wanted to, but in the direction we were pushed. We did not see what was happening around us. People were increasingly losing their minds as they saw all the blood and heard the shouts growing louder, becoming a stormy and mighty wave swallowing people drowning in a sea.
I do not know if there is any writer who can describe all of it. I lost Mundek. I did not see him. Heniek took away my last ounce of courage to escape. I looked at the crowd; I saw no one I knew. I was overcome by heat. Maybe I'll take my coat off. No, now I am cold. I did not know what was happening to me. Heniek put on his gray suit and wore his sports cap, and I was wearing a heavy jacket. What do I need it for? I did not know if we were going forward or standing still. The size of the entire yard was about one hundred square meters. There were a few hundred people there, but the number of policemen exceeded the number of Jews. When would we go to the pit? Maybe they would shoot us right now? Perhaps Mundek escaped. Why did I leave him? What are the partisans doing now? Maybe they will come in a little while? Papa and Chava are already at Kaminsky's. He will hide them. Why didn't we go to Palestine? We could have run away with the Russians. Heniek is right. I held him by the sleeve. What was he thinking now? Perhaps that Shmuel did not believe that the cultured German people would be able to murder an entire people so brutally. I believed it, so why did I stay
They pushed us with greater force. I saw the gate. It opened. I dragged Heniek closer to it. A German soldier entered. The gate closed again. The German shouted or perhaps he just spoke. What is the German saying? Thirty young men! What thirty young men? Thirty young men that would go with him.
Heniek, come, Heniek, let's go! I dragged him.
Heniek pulled away from me. Go, don't go, I thought. Better to be out than in this hell.
The German counted: One, two, three, four, five ... I was already beyond the gate.
We were a group of young men outside, two - two in a row. All around us were police with guns cocked to shoot if we tried to escape. The old German counted to thirty, checked if no more had come out, but there were no more. We were exactly thirty. I stood in the back row, and suddenly I saw Mundek standing in the front row. I was relieved. Fate let us stay together. There was silence. No one knew what was happening here. The old German who had taken us seemed very nervous. He turned this way and that holding his pistol. He shouted to the police, but they did not understand him. The truck, the truck, he shouted. Not long after, the truck arrived. We are about to go, but where? No, we did not go. A policeman jumped on the car and threw out one hoe after another. We had to catch them in our hands. The truck left, and we were standing in a row again, but now with hoes in our hands. Now we knew we were going to dig pits for the people who were struggling there and waiting for death.
Stand up straight! the old German shouted. We stood straight with the hoes over our shoulders like rifles.
And perhaps they are rifles? No, these are hoes. And not just any hoes, but excellent and mighty German military hoes. But if these were guns ...
Can anyone understand what a rifle is? ... Only a piece of iron, but the life of a people. Without a gun you go into the pit with the whole family. With a rifle you live. You are a person equal to the German master people. But unfortunately, these are not rifles, these are hoes, and we will soon dig a big pit with them for all those who are waiting, who are already reconciled to their fate. I looked at the German. He looked about fifty and older, quite short. His uniform was hanging on him, everything was too large for his size. Even his boots and three-cornered hat. His pistol was in its holster, but from time to time he would take it out and put it back in place. He was nervous. About sixty policemen were standing around us, and he ran around and counted incessantly to see is someone was missing, or if there were too many. Apparently he was responsible for digging the pit.
Everyone looked at him and thought, If only the hoe were a rifle.
To the right, he called out, even though he was standing next to us. We were already arranged in threes, ready for the march. The police surrounded us, the German walked behind us holding his pistol. So we assumed. We could not turn our heads. Forward march! came the command, and we marched like soldiers. We were all stirred up. The news traveled through the rows: We're going to dig, to dig, pits, pits. I am going to dig for the second time. Again I hear a voice: We are going to dig pits.
Stop, stop here!
It was so fast, we had only gone two hundred meters. We thought they would bring us to the forest, to the place where we dug the first pits. And now we stopped on the way, among homes and townspeople.
And now we were standing for the second time holding hoes by the roadside. Policemen surrounded us. We were all pale. We leaned on the hoes and lowered our gaze. It was a few minutes after six. Not even an hour had gone by since we got up, but it felt like a long time had passed. So much happened to us during that hour.
There was deep silence. We stood on the grass, on very short grass. Pasture. Jewish cows from the Ukrainian town grazed here. The cows have long gone, and now the last Jews will also not be here, and the silence will grow.
A farmer went by in a cart. He urged his horse on strongly. He went to the field to plow or sow. They will sill plow the land here. The plow will run into the bones of a child or mother. The farmer will throw the bone away and tell his son: Once the Kikes were killed here.
In front of us was a small farmhouse that stood among the Jewish homes in the town. The Gentile made his living among the Jews. Now they were standing near the tiny windows. They peeked out calmly at what was being done to the Jews. It was said they had already received a Jewish family's tannery. I had not seen Sheindele. Last night we walked here together and remembered how Yom Kippur used to be. Perhaps she is hiding with her parents.
A small car arrived. It crossed in front of us, went off the road and turned toward us. It stopped in a field, on the pasture. Two tall Germans got out.
They were the Gebietskommissar and Chief of Staff. They each had a rod in the left hand and a pistol in the right hand. They shouted loudly. They always shouted in full voice, terrorizing the Ukrainians and Poles.
The German in the brown uniform marked the size of the pit on the ground. They knew how many Jews remained. They were already experienced and knew how to customize the pit for the number of Jews to be killed. They did it all over Ukraine. They would not prepare a pit that was too big. It would fit exactly. When they would cover it up, and all the Jews would lie here deep in the pit, they would pack everything up and send the shoes and wallets home for their children, while those who made them were lying dead in a sea of blood.
We were arranged in threes again. We started to walk, but slowly. Our legs did not carry us. We already saw what was happening. The German shouted, Quickly! Quickly! It is already late! Damn Jews, hurry up!
Whispering was heard in the line: Do not dig, don't dig! It came from the first row, where a brave guy named Moshe-Yossel marched. He whispered, Brothers, do not dig. Do not dig guys. Pass it on. Do not dig! Pass it on. With the hoes on their heads once we start digging. People passed this on from one to another as though it were a military command: With the hoes on their heads once we start digging. Anyway, we will be the first ...
Stop here! shouted the old German.
We stopped where the German had made the mark for digging. Now the German took the hoe from one of the Jews, and on the place he had marked before with a stick, he made the mark bigger so we could see exactly where to make the pit. It seemed as if the German really wanted to do the work, so he would have a good appetite for his meal later. He even dug a little dirt and spread it on the side, so we would see where to scatter the earth. And now begin! came a shout from the old German.
We were lined up. Three Germans holding pistols and a few policemen stood in front of us. Most of the police, armed with rifles, were standing behind us.
The hoes penetrated the ground and threw the earth to the places the German had marked. The hoes rose up again. Lumps of dirt flew with increasing force and speed. The German was satisfied. The work is going well. The Jews are working quickly. The hoes are rising and falling, lumps of earth are falling; we were all heated up from the work.
Strike their heads guys. We will die here, cried Moshe-Yossel. The hoes stopped going down. They no longer turned over the ground. They struck heads, eyebrows, any place they could find. This was such a surprise to the murderers that the Germans dropped their pistols and the police did not shoot us. The Germans were shouting like wild beasts. All this lasted one minute. So we ran, ran towards the woods. It was foggy. Visibility was poor, but we ran through fields, over fences, on stones, over barbed wire. We ran. This is what I wanted. This is what I prayed to God for, that before I die I would be able to run, to get the bullet in my back, but not to undress and go into the pit. I was happy now that I was running, running, running. But the running was getting more and more difficult. I was running out of strength, but I still had to run. We ran alongside one another. We found ourselves in a field full of shepherds and animals. They hit us and prevented us from running, but who cared about the blows
Boom, boom, whiz ... they shot.
Only now, after we had gone several hundred yards, did they begin to shoot at us more rapidly. They were chasing us and shooting. The bullets whizzed by us - Zzz ... One of us fell, the first sacrifice. Indeed, it was Moshe-Yossel who fell. The one who actually organized the rebellion fell. The hero fell. We must not think. Every moment was decisive. Running was difficult for us. Why is it so hard for me? Why am I so hot? Yes, the coat. I threw it off and it was easier. Now I ran like a bird, I jumped like a deer. The shots were further away. There was silence. We went about a kilometer and we all stood still. We felt relieved. We looked around with wild glances and trembled with fear, but we decided not to all run together but to split up into small groups. If they surrounded us, they would not be able to capture us all.
The fields ended and small trees began to appear. The forest was closer. The groups separated and went in different directions. Our mood improved. Here in the forest we could breathe. The forest was now a source of life. Shots were heard nearby. There was no time to rest. I looked for Mundek, but did not see him. Did he fall, or just run in another direction? There was no time to think. The guys broke into small groups of two, three, or even four. We went in different directions, some to non-Jewish acquaintances, some to other towns, and some to stay in the forest. I was overwhelmed with sadness and fear, I remained alone. Where would I go? I would look for the partisans, for my group. Yes, I had somewhere to go. Henrik would be happy I managed to escape. I just thought about which direction I should take.
Where are you going? one of the people who also remained alone asked me.
We can go together.
It was as though he woke me up from my sleep. After all, first I had to go to the village of Zagajnik to see Papa and Chava. Maybe I would meet my sister Hene, my brother-in-law, and their daughter.
The shots came closer.
I'm going to Zagajnik, I said. He also wanted to go to that area and we began walking together. It was good to go together, especially since he knew the area well. This put my mind at ease. I imagined how I would approach the peasant who is hiding Papa and Chava and tell him what happened to me, and we would embrace.
I'll take a slice of bread and still go to the group this evening. What is your name? I asked.
Abraham, I remember you from Zofiovka!
I remembered that Abraham is the man the whole town talked about, who was already about forty years old and had still not married. They called him the old bachelor. Now he led me, because he was a native of the area and knew the way. He went first, and I followed him. We walked through thick bushes and came out again into a field. We saw shepherds and animals, and therefore retreated. He wanted to take a shortcut.
Abraham, we must only go in the woods because the fields are full of shepherds.
Yes, he said. We can go through a thick forest, but we'll have to cross a road.
That's still better, I whispered in his ear, so the trees wouldn't hear.
The road is dangerous, he said. There might be travelers and German policemen there who might surround us. We are in a grove, and there are roads around it.
Perhaps we should stay here until tomorrow? I said.
That would be even worse, because after they finish with the town, they will look in the nearby woods.
Abraham understood the situation well. I told myself we were already in the forest, and yet we were still in their hands.
Abraham, if this is so, we will not stay in the forest. We will go to the nearest road, any way you want, as long as we stay away from the town.
We entered a thick forest with very tall trees. There was darkness and silence.
We slipped through the trees like two shadows. Abraham stopped from time to time and listened to where the voices and shots were coming from. He looked around to check if we were going towards the village where we wanted to go. We continued to walk a few kilometers until we reached quite a wide country road. Abraham motioned for me to sit down next to him. We looked through the trees and saw the road. Abraham gave me a sign and we began to move. We walked slowly and softly, careful not to break a branch with our feet. We moved from one tree to another and rested. We listened and again continued a few steps more. Now we saw a way, a wide way and not a road. It was a good dry way. On the other side, right where we thought we would cross, was a house, but there was silence. We stood by the last trees. One step was enough to take us out and expose us to the whole world. We leapt towards the way. A few seconds was enough to put us on the other side.
Halt, Jude! Stop, Jew! I saw a German gendarme and a Ukrainian policeman standing by the house next to a machine gun. When they noticed us they shouted at us to stop.
We started running again, but in the opposite direction. We ran like wild beasts afraid of being trapped. We ran with all our strength to get away. After we had gone about half a kilometer into the heart of the forest, we were sure we had been saved. We wanted to rest, but suddenly we heard the same voices: Halt! Stop! We did not feel they were pursuing us and wanted to take us alive. I turned around and saw the German and Ukrainian. They ran after us and came over to us quickly. They ran and shouted: Halt! Stop! They too were tired and could not run any more. We felt they wanted to take us alive. Otherwise they would have shot at us. But they did not shoot. They wanted to tire us out and capture us alive. We ran again with our last ounce of strength. Abraham ran but I held him back so I could run after him. Sometimes it was the other way. We did not want to separate. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the forest, and they were still behind us. We did not run more. We held onto each other and dragged our feet with difficulty, but we walked quickly, and every time we turned among the trees we felt they were behind us. We heard the beating of our hearts. I felt my heart was like an engine operating with great effort, and any minute it would stop working.
We took a few slow steps and gathered up strength to break into a run. We ran again. Abraham was in front, and I was behind him. He was stronger than I was. No, we will absolutely not fall into their hands. We ran again. Zzz, zzz, zzz, Some bullets whirred past our ears. Abraham fell down bleeding. Abraham, Abraham! I dragged him by the hand. He did not move. I could not run any more. The game was over. They came closer. I stayed alive. Why was I alive? My dreary destiny, I said to myself. I saw them, the murderers, a few steps away from me. I broke into a run.
My legs did not carry me. Good heavens, they are taking me alive! I went, I ran, I did not know what was happening to me. I noticed a pile of thick bushes on the right, only a few yards away from Abraham.
Suddenly I found myself lying stabbed, scratched, among the small thick bushes. I saw them remove Abraham's boots. They searched his pockets, took his watch. I waited for death. When will it come? I saw them take off with the loot and get further away from me. There was silence, then shouts and whistles from the Gentile shepherds and mooing of the cows. It seems they are grazing near me, I thought. I held my breath and put my face to the earth. I was alive again!
Sarah's hands were resting on the table. Her head was in her hands. She had dozed off. I lifted up her black hair a bit and saw her face. Is she sleeping? No, I'm not asleep, she said. She looked at me. I covered her face again with her hair and quickly closed the door behind me.
The streets were empty. I walked quickly. It was almost four o'clock. I felt cold. I felt a twinge where I had a wound. Now I would rest in the hospital. I walked with quick steps. I was almost running. I crossed the streets. I did not know if I was going towards the hospital. It took too long. I ran into a couple of Ivans: Listen, where is the Hospital of the Partisans?
Good, thank you. And here I am by the hospital. I adjusted my bandage better. I lay in bed and covered myself with a few blankets. Why do I feel so good now? I asked myself. Because I do not have to stand guard. Who can understand that, the nights, the guard duties?
I wanted to sleep. For a long time, sleep had not seemed so pleasant to me. But they won't let me be. There is commotion in the rooms. Get up! Today is May Day!
I pulled the covers up over my head and went back to sleep. Suddenly all the blankets were pulled off me. Boris stood there and laughed.
Why are you sleeping? Today is May first. Some important partisan commanders will be here soon. Something will happen here.
I rubbed my eyes. There was silence, emptiness. Where has everyone gone? They went out into the courtyard, the garden. And now I am going with Boris, bathed and dressed. Anyone who can walk on his feet is already standing in a double row. We joined them. A few more men also joined in and shook the hands of the partisans. They asked us what regiment we came from. They wished us a speedy recovery and that we would keep on fighting for the motherland. They distributed food packages to us: wine, pork, oranges, cigarettes, all made in America.
Who are they? I asked.
Ukrainian Communist Party leaders, including Secretary Khrushchev.
The first of May. The sun was shining. There was the scent of spring. I felt good with the package in my hand. Just to eat and drink.
Boris, do you remember the first of May at home? With the scent of lilacs all around, we would stroll with our friends.
Sankeh, we're having a celebration today at Asana's. He took the package from me and left.
The meal was excellent: shredded potatoes and ground meat patties. After dinner, I went into the bathroom, shaved, and showered. It was the seventh day I had washed with warm water, shaved, and changed my underwear. I stood in front of the mirror and looked at my wound. I touched it with my finger. The bullet entered the right side, where it healed quickly, but a piece of flesh was torn where it exited from my back, and this healed more slowly. The bullet went through the lungs, but I did not feel any pain except for some stings from time to time. The doctor said the wound would heal.
I combed my hair the way I used to comb it at home. I saw myself in the mirror. I had not changed at all. I was just the same as I was in the small Jewish town, but where was the Jewish town? Where were the Jews? ... Had I really remained the only one from my family and from the whole town? How would I get through all this? At home, when I was a child, I was so shy and quiet, and here I am all by myself among Russians, Tatars, Uzbeks, Ukrainians. How did I get the courage to go first everywhere, where everyone treated me with respect
I looked in the mirror again. I sat down on the old, worn out, clay washbasin. Chaim, Henrik, I thought, If you were with me, I would live. I am sure you have fallen because you had no one else. Only revenge, this is what you had in the last days, and I ran to the fire, because you were no longer with me. If at least you were injured. Thanks to you I am alive. You fell as a hero, because all the heroes fall. I wonder if there will be anyone whom I can tell about you?
I went downstairs and out into the street where I had been yesterday. Walking the streets was very pleasant. It seemed there were more people out than on other days, but there was no holiday feeling about the people or their clothes. It was just the same simple clothes, the same serious faces. There were no women with grocery baskets like in the west, only men with old satchels, a loaf of bread, and a bag of sugar, or women wearing men's windbreakers with a small basket in their hands. There were soldiers, officers, with clubs, without a leg or an arm, bandaged, wearing such wide canvas or leather boots that their legs looked like sticks in them. They bought newspapers. Some of them read a bit, and some immediately tore a piece of the paper and rolled tobacco in it.
The front was already near Kovel, in the area of Lublin and Warsaw. When had I been in Lublin? In 1939. Five years had already passed. The city had been full of Jews. The ground collapsed under the weight of so many Jews. The German murderers brought masses of Jews to Lublin. All the Jews from the area of German-occupied Poland and from the towns that went up in flames had come to Lublin. The apartments and all the public buildings were full. The streets were so crowded it was difficult to move on them. They said the Germans would concentrate all the Jews of Poland there, so they would be independent and manage Jewish life by themselves. First we went from our town that had gone up in flames to Lublin. The German soldiers did not do us any harm. We saw hordes of German officers on the streets of Lublin, but we felt free. A few days later everything changed. The civil authorities arrived, the Gestapo and Hitler youth. We were beginning to hear terrible things. Jews were placed with their faces to a wall. Some were shot. Others had their beards cut off. I saw a few Gentiles from the Hitler youth ride motorcycles in the streets. Suddenly they stopped, pouncing on the pedestrians, looking for Jews and beating them with rubber sticks until they bled. At a time like that, everyone would run into one of the courtyards. They would also come in a few trucks, kidnapping people, mostly men. Non-Jews would be released immediately. Then they would fill a few trucks up with Jews and leave.
When there was a lull, the Jews would come out of the courtyard and begin to talk again about the news, that the Germans were retreating, that the British were going to war. They nicknamed the news as Y.V.A. News for Yidn Veln Azoy, Jews Want it So. I could not spend much time in Lublin, and returned to the small town.
I walked across the quiet streets of Kiev and saw in my mind's eye the streets of Lublin, filled with Jews, so many Jews, a sea of Jews. But slowly I came back to the present. I said to myself,What have I done? I ran away from Boris. He will be looking for me. But then I saw myself in front of the door of the home where I sat last night until four in the morning. I was a little embarrassed. I did not know if I should knock on the door, but it opened and I saw the two black eyes. I saw she was annoyed with me, and I did not know if she would let me enter her home. Why did you run away, Sankeh? What kind of a partisan are you who is frightened of people?
I was overcome with shame and could not come up with an answer.
Sarah, today we are going to Asana's. Boris said ...
She would not let me finish. She took me by the hand, and led me into the room.
You are afraid of people. I wanted to go to you now to the hospital. I am not going to go to Tamara today. We will go by ourselves.
Sarachka, today we received groceries and wine.
What did you do with the groceries?
Boris took them from me. We are going to party tonight at Asana's.
I felt I did something foolish. Who knows what she ate today? I should have brought it all here. I saw this in her eyes.
Who is this Asana?
She is the daughter of the Western family.
Oh, the Western family, where the father and daughter are busy smuggling on trains.
I felt I had been foolish and wanted to correct it.
Sarachka, come with me. We'll find a place to eat on the street. I have enough money.
I was very embarrassed. I felt like running away. She noticed. In a moment everything changed. She sat down next to me. I caressed her smooth black hair. I was angry at myself for giving the groceries to Boris. We drank tea without talking. I stood up and began to pace across the room.
Do you want to go away?
As you wish.
Tell me what happened to you when you were on the ground by yourself in the low shrubs.
I approached the window. I pulled the curtain aside a little and peered into the quiet courtyard. I was sure yesterday she was sleeping, but she knew exactly where I had left off. I did not turn my head, but in my imagination I saw the small trees, the ground steeped in odors, and the dog who lay curled up and afraid to move from his place.
I do not know how long I lay on my stomach, my face pressed to the ground. I believe it took about an hour. I believe there was silence. The shepherds moved away with their cows. Slowly I raised my head a little, I strained my eyes and saw children through the branches running around and chasing the cows. I studied how big the trees were. They were very small, but thick. How did I get in here without their noticing me? When will I get out of here? Where is the town? Where is the way to the village Zagajnik? Suddenly I heard shots. Are they surrounding the forest? Are they looking for me? Those were machine guns. The sounds only came from one side. Now they have murdered the people. Tu, tu, tu, tu. One minute it was quiet and then there were endless gunshots. Who dug the hole? What happened there after we fled? Maybe they are shooting people in the courtyard? It seemed that the firing continued endlessly, with pauses.
What was done there to all the people, the last ones in the town? Is Heniek still alive? What are the partisans doing? What happened to Papa and Chava? Are they at Kaminsky's? Have they removed Hene and the girl from their hiding place?
There were some lone shots and then it was quiet again. Silence was all around. You could no longer hear the cows mooing, and the shepherds' shouting and whistling had quieted down. Only birds chirped and fluttered while the branches swayed. Voices were heard from a distance in the field. Now I remained alone. Now what I had always been afraid of happened to me. I was alone. I turned around into a comfortable position and glanced at my watch. Half the day had already gone by. It seemed to me that a year had already passed since last night. Papa was very pale during the Kol Nidre prayer. Papa had given met the watch a few months ago. It was a wristwatch made of gold.
That had been a bitter and bad day. Germans took people away to work. We sat all that day in the hiding place under the floorboards. We prepared the hiding place in the first ghetto. We opened a few planks of the floor, dug a pit of two meters by two meters and one meter deep, and arranged it so we could cover it over with planks after we were all inside it. When the Germans would come to take people away to work, we would go down there, five or seven people, and we breathed with difficulty until the danger had passed. On that same day a great many German and Ukrainian police came to the town.
It had happened suddenly in the middle of the day. They dragged all the men out of the houses. Terrible panic broke out in the town. Many people fled to the fields and the forests. They shot at them. People were hiding in all kinds of places: in attics, in closets, and under beds.
We stopped working. All the men went into the other room and lifted the planks. We were five men lying there for a few hours. We were suffocating and suffering. When Chava told us we could get out and we breathed in fresh air, I saw that Papa had changed. He saw the situation was grave. He called the children and said, My children, who knows what might happen to us at any moment. It is best that everyone has something from what is left of our possessions because we may be separated suddenly, and each of us might need to manage by himself and save himself. Everyone received something of value. Sankeh, take the watch. This is a gold watch. Maybe you can save your life. If there is a God in heaven, He should at least help you. It was twilight. Darkness was falling, but it was still not completely dark. We were standing next to the worktable. Papa looked at me with moist eyes. I put the watch on and was somewhat happy with it. I was still a child. And now, here I was in the woods, looking at the watch. Should I go out now while there was still some light? Why did I stay alive? I was jealous of Abraham who was lying calmly and no longer afraid of anyone. Who could cause him any harm now?
I started shivering. I felt a chill. I covered my face with my coat and pressed myself closer to the ground. If I had my overcoat now, I would be warming up. I was lying down like this, lost in my thoughts until I fell asleep. When I woke up, it was already evening. I felt cold and sad. I did not feel hungry and had not thought about it. I flexed my legs, lifted my head, and sat up. Which direction should I take? I did not know exactly where I was. I will go back to the town, I told myself. Whatever happens will happen. Maybe I'll meet someone who will show me the way to the village Zagajnik. There, at Kaminsky's, I'll see Papa and Chava. I stood up. My head was spinning a bit. I looked all around. Woods and fields. And how long had I been in Ukraine to really be familiar with the paths?
?There was still some light. I decided to wait until it was completely dark. I sat down again and waited for darkness to fall. I crawled among the bushes. I was in a small area. There was grass around me, a green pasture with woods all around it. I will listen. Perhaps a road passes through, not far from here. Now it was silent, no shepherds. An awful silence all around. What direction had we run from, and where did Abraham fall? Where is he lying? It seems like it was all nothing but a dream. I did not know where we came from and where I had to start walking. One thing I knew. I had to walk quickly if I wanted to get myself anywhere today.?
? Night had fallen. Stars and even the moon appeared. Now I knew which direction was north, east, and west. I believed I should go to the north. I am going, walking quickly, almost running. Now I felt warmth. I did not think about where I was going and where I would end up. I gathered up my strength and walked. I walked across meadows and woodlands. I was covered with sweat. Who knows how long I would walk like this. I imagined I had already been walking like this for a few hours. A faint sound reached my ears from a very great distance. I stopped and tried to listen. It seemed like wagon wheels turning on a dirt road. I started running with all my might in that direction. I stopped again. Now I heard the rattle of the wagon better. I ran, I ran towards the sound. I jumped into a ditch, I stayed lying down, I fell and got up again. I saw a road on the left side. I heard the cart coming closer. What should I do? Perhaps these are Germans, or police
? I saw trees along the side of the road. I stood behind a tree and waited. A horse-drawn carriage was approaching. The horse galloped quickly, and now the cart was alongside me. I recognized the Gentile who was sitting on the wagon. I do not know how I recognized him. Perhaps from the shouting: Giddee up, or from his face, or from the two of them together. I shouted with all my strength, Panna Hodorovsky, Panna Hodorovsky! The wagon stopped. I approached and stopped at the cart. I did not say anything. The Gentile recognized me immediately.You are alive? he said. He took a bag from under the straw and put his hand into it. I asked him,? Zagajnik? One word, more than that I could not do.
Go straight on, then right ...
The Gentile disappeared immediately. The horse ran fast. I stood and watched him. In my hand I held half a loaf of bread and a large apple. The whole thing lasted a few seconds. Hodorovsky was a Pole, the head of a large Polish village in Ukraine. He used to order leather for boots from us, and that is why I recognized him.
I was not hungry and felt a little better. I had something to eat and knew the way. I did not think anymore about what could happen and went straight ahead. While walking, I ate the apple. I gained strength and courage. The evening was clear, and gradually I recognized the way. I realized I was approaching the town. I turned at the first road to the right, as the Gentile had told me. This led to the village Zagajnik. Another three or four miles and I would get there. I was sure I would find Papa and Chava there, and that I would still go out to the group today. I was curious to know what had happened to Hene and the girl, and if Heniek was alive. I walked quite freely, without hiding. There was no one on the way. There was silence. The road went through small groves. I entered a grove. The road wound around among the trees. It was dark, but I saw how to walk. Suddenly I saw light, night light of stars and a moon and wide meadows and fields. I saw houses, a few lit huts. I did not know what to do, but I kept walking and approached the houses.
In one house the light was bright. At first, I wanted to stay away from it, but I did not want to stray from the path so I approached the house. I heard a harmonica playing. I came close to the window and heard wild shouting. I looked around. There was nobody. I glanced through the window and saw ... the house was full of drunken policemen and gentile women. They were holding bottles of vodka. They danced and got drunk like this after murdering the last Jews who had remained in the town.
I stood like that a few minutes and left. No one noticed me. I felt freer. The night was mine and the forest was mine. Now I went to the village.
׆Sankeh, have you gone crazy?
With those words, Boris opened the door.
Today is the first of May. I am looking for you. I was already at Asana's. We are having a party. I brought the groceries there.
Sit down! Have some tea. We'll go later.
What later? Tamara and her mother are waiting outside.
Our plan had changed. We went with Boris, because we could not refuse.
Asana was the eldest daughter of the Western family in Kiev. She was tall, slim, upright, with long dark hair. She always laughed and that gave her some feminine charm, because when she was serious, she would lose her charm and have a masculine look. In fact she was sort of a man. She had been among the partisans with all her family and participated in partisan activities against the Germans. Now we were sitting in their house, in the small room. The kitchen was there, and we slept there. Asana had an elderly father, two younger brothers, and a little brunette charming sister. Her mother was no longer alive.
We sat on the beds. I looked at Asana. She wore a khaki military shirt. Her face was flushed. She looked as if she had just come now from the road. She would travel on trains, on the roads, with a backpack. In this way she earned money and supported the family. She continued to live the partisan way of life on Russian trains. They were not going to stay in the communist countries but intended to travel to Palestine or America.
Asana stood by the portable cooking stove frying. She made what she could from the supplies Boris had brought. We all sat and waited impatiently for the food to appear on the table. Boris kept shouting over and over that today was May Day. I did not know what was so happy about today being May first and tomorrow would be May second. The Germans massacred the Jews on May first and on Yom Kippur just like on all the other days.
Asana's father poured vodka into the glasses and Asana put a plate of fried meat, which she had taken out of the cans, and a plate of boiled potatoes on the table. She put a tin plate and aluminum fork next to each of us. Asana was studying me. I know what you are thinking about, Sankeh, she said.
You are thinking this is not the way the partisans ate.
I do not know how things were where you were, but when we camped in the villages, we lived like normal people. However, when we were on distant roads, battling the Germans day and night, the situation was different. We all ate from one bucket, and whoever did not have a spoon, would wait until one of the people would eat his full and then give him the spoon. Sometimes there was only one spoon for ten people, and it was passed from hand to hand around the bucket. One day we walked towards the Carpathians. The Germans bombarded us, and the horses scattered in every direction. The carts of food were left behind. After we walked for two days without food, while they were shooting at us from all around and from above, I suddenly noticed a scattered sack of flour on the way. We had a bucket. I took a little rain water and poured some flour into it. Now I looked for a place to light a fire. The entire unit was advancing rapidly. It was before dawn and we wanted to get into the mountains as quickly as possible. I stayed with another three Russians. We went off the road, collected some wood, and put the bucket on the fire. When the water with the flour began to boil, and I stuck my first spoonful in for a taste, we heard tra-ta-ta-ta A barrage of bullets had punctured the bucket full of holes. The porridge, the salamacha, poured out of the holes, but we remained intact. I did not think for too long. I grabbed the bucket and began to run with all my might. I had to pass a few battalions before I reached my unit. Then everyone gathered around the bucket and ate while walking. The spoon went from hand to hand, from mouth to mouth, and everyone asked me how I made such a delicious 'salamacha.' Those guys did not forget that 'salamacha' for a long time.
What is 'salamacha'?
When there was nothing for us to cook except for flour and water, sometimes with salt and sometimes without it, what could we call that dish? We did not find any name for the dish, until someone said, It's 'salamacha.' And so the name 'salamacha' remained.
Boris stood up and took a glass of vodka in his hand.
Today is May first. We are a nation of workers. We all looked at him and laughed, especially Asana. The face of Tamara's mother's was serious. She did not understand our cynical laughter. She whispered something to Tamara. Everyone filled up their glasses except for Tamara and Sarah. We began to taste the food.
What did you do with the partisans? Boris asked the old man.
I peeled potatoes, I helped with the cooking, and all sorts of other things ... Boris burst out laughing.
What's so funny? Tamara's mother asked. There is a need to fight and also a need to cook!
If only my father had been in the woods and peeling potatoes, I said. The Russians could afford not to fight, to travel in wagons, peel potatoes; but when a Jew would do this, they would make fun of him ...
And how was it in your regiment Sankeh? Was there anti-semitism? asked Tamara's mother.
I did not feel anti-Semitism. They were not rude or insulting to Jews who participated in the fighting. I also suffered a few times, but I responded immediately, and this saved me. They respected me and told me I am not a Jew. Interestingly, whenever there was some disorder or chaos, the Commissioner would shout: 'What is the matter with you? Is this a Jewish Bazaar here?' This annoyed me at first, but I got used to it. In my unit there were former officers of the Red Army, students from Moscow, excellent people, and intelligent, but it was actually among these people that I sensed a whispered anti-Semitism in stories and jokes. I could not stand it, but I kept quiet. After they would tell a few jokes, they would ask me if it annoys me. I told them, I do not care, they can go ahead and tell some more. 'You are one of us, a Russian, you are not a Jew.' I would pay them back, and I would tell them what the Gentiles do on Sunday and what the Jews do on Shabbat. They would be a little irritated when I described how non-Jews would get drunk every Sunday and would lie down dirty in the gutters. Jews, however, would take care of their children, go to the synagogue, walk with the family, visit the theater, and so on. They listened and did not respond. They just asked why all the Jews sat in the offices and not in the factories.
I glanced at Tamara's mother. She was sitting up alert and listening to me. I went on, We walked in the marshes of Belorussia and every day it rained. We would go fifty or sixty kilometers every day. People were tired. Everyone was dragging their feet in the deep swamps. Once I fell into a deep swamp and a wagon passed over me. I stood up covered with black mud but did not feel any pain. I did not understand what happened, how I remained intact. I touched myself over my whole body but did not find any scar or scratch. At the same time, the platoon commander ordered that everyone should be transported in a wagon for half an hour to give our feet a rest. The horses were tired. They dragged the wagons with the heavy weapons, the crates of bullets, the food supplies, and also the personal weapons everyone put on the cart. The horses walked with difficulty. Despite that, people changed places, and every half hour someone else sat in the wagon.
When my turn came and I wanted to get on the wagon, the driver would not let me do so. 'The horses', he started yelling, 'can hardly drag the wagon, and you still want to make it more difficult for them! Kike!' If he had said those things without the addition of Kike, I could have understood and would have gotten off. But the word Kike was meant to say that everyone else was entitled to travel on the wagon, they are not a burden, but the Kike is a burden. I stood with one foot on the wagon and noticed my rifle. Without thinking much, I grabbed it and put a bullet in, cocked it for shooting and with a Russian curse ordered him to get down from the wagon. I threatened to shoot him like a dog if he didn't get down. He turned pale and got off the wagon. 'If it is difficult for the horses, you can go, because you do not participate in combat.' The guys laughed and did not intervene.
And how did it end? asked Boris.
The next day, when we came to where we camped, I was called to the command. I did not know why, but when I entered, I found him there. The commander asked me whether I wanted to shoot him. I said no, I just wanted him to get down from the wagon a bit because it was too difficult for the horses. After all, he rides for the whole day, and we walk the whole day, and that's all. He was a tall fellow and everyone made fun of him. When the rains were over and the winter ended, that fellow ran away from the partisans. They caught him and brought him back. And who had to watch over him? His feet and hands were tied, and I, holding a rifle aimed at him in my hand shouted, 'If you move from your place, you will be shot in the head immediately!' He cried; 'Rozenson, Sankeh, I will not run away anymore. I will fight.'
There was a serious atmosphere in the room. Everyone remembered all kinds of events. Tamara's mother talked about May first before the war, about the large demonstrations. Then Boris got involved and talked about the May Day demonstration in a small town. The speaker, the Communist party secretary, came up on the stage and read from a paper: Long live Comrade Stalin, long live the father of nations, the leader, liberator, redeemer, the beloved leader of all the nations, Comrade Stalin.
We laughed, but Tamara and her mother did not.
Lay off, Boris, they said. Do not talk nonsense. Stalin is a great leader. He defeated the Germans. Without him, the Germans would have conquered the whole world!
Yes, said Boris, They say that Stalin was on all the fronts simultaneously. Where did you find so many Stalins?
Boris had been drinking too much and was overcome with joy.
Tell me, Sankeh. Who fought better, the Russians or you?
I did not know how to answer. I did not want to offend the Russian Jews. Everyone fought, but the political commissar urged all the fighters in battle with a submachine gun. I did not need that, perhaps because I had to prove I was a fighter because I was Jewish, and perhaps it was a drive of revenge for our brothers and sisters.
Asana served the table and the old man filled up the glasses. We ate and drank. Boris sat down next to Tamara and hugged her. She pushed him away.
You're drunk, let me go!
This annoyed him. He finished his glass and wiped his mouth dry with a piece of bread. I felt he was planning something...
Dear friends, he began in a hoarse voice. With whom did we remain, and how many were left? Look around you. How many in total have we remained? Sankeh is a Polish Jew, I am a son of Wo³yñ, Asana's family is from Belorussia, and you are daughters of Kiev. Here he pointed to the mother and two young women. Now we will go out into the street and look for Jews. How many Jews were in Poland? Who will I meet in Rovno, in Lutsk? Do you know what I am telling you? He began to pound the table. This may pain you, but this is the truth, that your brethren the Ukrainians massacred and killed more than the Germans did. After all, if they had not helped to massacre, murder and rob, many Jews would have survived in the forests and villages. Sankeh tell us. When they murdered the Jews in your town, how many Germans were there and how many Ukrainian police?
I looked at him with pity. He was covered with sweat. His eyes were bloodshot.
Tell them, Sankeh, tell them honestly.
I started thinking. I remembered.
Yes, Boris. Where we were, there were three Germans and a few hundred police officers, Ukrainians, Lithuanians and others. They slaughtered in a few hours five thousand Jews, women and children. The Germans gave the orders and they murdered.
Sankeh, who murdered the Jews in the woods? The Ukrainians, the Poles! They would catch these miserable people, turn them into the Gestapo for a bottle of vodka. For a pair of boots or a coat, they murdered entire families!
Boris drank from the glass and wiped his mouth with a piece of bread.
Who robbed the homes of the Jews? Who wore the shoes of the murdered Jewish children? Everyone without exception, one sooner and another one later, one out in the open and another one in secret!
Boris hugged me and began to kiss me.
Sankeh, my dear sister, the little children ...
I calmed him down. I wiped away his sweat.
Asana served tea and Russian biscuits. We were all silent.
I went with Boris to the hospital. We were both quiet. We did not see Sarah and Tamara walking behind us. We did not see the houses in Kiev, the streets, the people. We saw the pursued, the inciters, the hungry, the naked, with their panic-stricken eyes, and facing them were the murderers, satiated, well dressed, healthy, holding weapons. Those pictures did not vanish from our eyes. I brought him to his room and covered him with two blankets. I saw him fall asleep, with his father, with his mother, with his sisters and brother whom he would never see again. I walked down the stairs quietly, but Marusia noticed me.
How do you feel, Sankeh? You must go to the doctor. An x-ray should be taken, your bandage should be changed. Go to sleep. And then she went away from me.
Three Jewish women waited for me below. Who can understand it? Seven days after I left the partisans three Jewish women were waiting for me.
These were not the young women of our town. They had been our mothers and girlfriends. Those from Kiev were lacking something. They were a little foreign, but still, they were waiting for me.
How does he feel? said Tamara angrily.
He is already asleep.
Why does he get that way when he drinks?
Tamara, were you at the place where they murdered the Jews at Babi Yar?
No, my mother and I were at a remote kolkhoz until the Germans left Kiev.
Did they know there that you were Jewish?
And if they had known? ...
I do not know what would have happened. I do not want to think ...
And if we had not hidden that we were Jews. We lived as Jews, we fought as Jews and lived long after the Germans came as Jews. And who did not defile our honor, did not murder, did not make fun of us ... Do you want us to forget suffering like this of some years in such a short time?
Sankeh understand, we were born here, this is our homeland. My father and two brothers fell to defend the homeland so we would be free. They fought against the Fascists. They liberated the homeland so we could build a socialist home for all the nations.
Tell me, Tamara, I want to ask you. You say this is the homeland for all nations. Why didn't you say you were a Jew at the kolkhoz? Why did neighbors here loot Jewish homes on Soviet land? Why was everyone silent when they brought the Jews to Babi Yar? Why did the Red Army not liberate even one place one hour earlier to save Jews? ... She tried to stop my words a few times and in the end said that all are equal in the Soviet land, so it is not necessary to say that you are Jewish.
Lie! I shouted. I know that in the villages they informed the Germans about Jews in hiding. Here on the streets of your Kiev we still hear curses about the 'yevrei¨v'. [TN - Jews in Ukrainian] Yesterday I heard from the mouth of a stout Ukrainian woman and also from a wounded officer that Jews are not fighters.
Stop, Sankeh. It's enough, Sankeh ...
I met a Jew who returned from Uzbekistan and they did not want to return his apartment to him. This Jew told me that four of his sons are fighting in the army. I also fought. Now I need to receive the 'Red Star' medal of honor. But I did not fight for others. I took revenge for my sisters, my brother and my children. We have our own Jewish home, and that is our country. There are Jewish farmers there, Jewish soldiers, everything is Jewish. There, Tamara, you do not have to hide that you are Jewish. There you can be proud of it. I had the impression they did not understand me.
I thought to myself: I will take Sarah to Poland and Tamara will go with Boris. Then they will see a free life and from there we will move to the Land of Israel.
It was still early. Tamara and her mother went home and left me with Sarah.
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