It began to get darker where the forest ended as I got closer to the village. I was overcome by the fierce cold. Suddenly my courage and sense of freedom vanished. I did not know what was awaiting us at the peasant's house in the village.
I stopped so no one would see me and looked over the village from a distance. It was very quiet, as if nothing had happened today. The entire village contained about ten houses that stood alongside the forest.
I saw there was no one on the way and I could walk to Kaminsky's undisturbed. I would find out what happened to my family there. Anyone who survived should be there. I was sure I would meet Papa and Chava there. As for the others, I did not know what to think. I really did not believe anyone else from the others was still alive. I pictured myself hugging Chava and Papa, while all of us worried about what had happened to the rest. I gathered up my courage and set off. Suddenly I noticed someone in front of me who had emerged from the woods and was going in the same direction. I stopped and looked carefully. His walk looked familiar to me. He walked calmly, his hands in his jacket pockets, leaning slightly to one side. I was wild with joy. It was Mundak. I ran with all my strength. He heard someone running after him and stopped to see who it was. He was very frightened and wanted to return to the forest, but I began to shout, Mundak, wait! He recognized my voice. We both said nothing and walked together to Kaminsky's house. When we approached the village, we saw a peasant girl with a flashlight in her hand. She rushed across the road from the forest and ran into Kaminsky's house. I realized that something was going on. I hope we meet them, I said to Mundak. He did not answer me. We both had the same feeling in our hearts. We were not happy we had stayed alive after this day.
We escaped from the pit, we were pursued by the murderers the whole day in the woods, and we managed to stay alive at the end of this day. We led them astray and we were still alive, but we were not happy. We did not embrace; we were indifferent and worried about what kind of death awaited us. We might be facing a worse death, and maybe we would have to struggle horribly until death would come. Our lives were in the hands of each one of the Germans. Perhaps we might be able to deceive them, but we were more dependent now on the Poles and Ukrainians. We did not need them to help us, but at least not to betray us to the Germans. Nevertheless, without their help we could not live. Where would we get food if not from them?
We were feeling all of that, and so we were quiet. No, we were not happy we had stayed alive. We were not like other people. We knew they were human beings, and what were we? What were we? It was hard to understand what we were. The world condemned us to death and we wanted to live. We could cry out to God, but even God does not want to listen to us. Therefore, we looked with envy at the dogs tied beside the village houses. The dog has his own hovel, covered with an awning, with straw spread out in it. They bring him food, and the farmer pets his neck from time to time. How could you turn into a dog? Perhaps the dog felt I was looking at him with envy, because he went into his kennel. He felt ashamed and hid.
Mundak moved the bolt of the wide country door aside. He opened it slowly, not to make any noise. I followed him. We went into the entrance. It was dark. Mundak did not shut the door behind him. He tapped on the house door quietly, with frightened, shy taps. We heard footsteps. Someone opened the door. I immediately saw the room was empty. Maybe they are hiding in a small bedroom or somewhere else. Thoughts were running through my mind. What did we really come to the Gentiles for? Is it their fault we stayed alive? For some reason I thought I was doing them an injustice by coming here. The Gentile woman who opened the door seemed a little bewildered, but she responded quickly and knew what she had to do. It seems that Kaminsky, who was not there now, told her in advance what she should do with us if we stay alive and come there to hide. All our possessions were with him, so he had to receive us and show us a little concern. Perhaps he hoped that soon we would all be lost and he would keep the rags and machines. Perhaps, if he had not known that Henrik was among the partisans, he would have thrown us out right away. I realized all this later. The Gentile woman was frightened when we entered, but she recovered immediately. She let us in quickly, told us to sit down, and closed all the doors. She spoke to herself: Good God! She put boiled potatoes on the table. I asked her in a whisper where my father and sister Chava were. They had not come. I felt faint. I put my hand on the table and put my head down. Did they fall while they were running, or are they somewhere in the woods or a field?
Eat, she said, I must lead you into the forest in a little while because you cannot stay here..Your sister and brother-in-law are already there with the girl.
Mundak ate the potatoes mixed with sour milk. He was very hungry and tired. Who knows what happened to him today. He has no one to think about. He left his family in Warsaw and he is struggling to save his life here. Mundak, do you hear what she is saying? This means Papa and Chava are no longer alive. Why did I let them run?
Sankeh, you cannot torture yourself. You do not know yet what will become of us
Mundak, Hene and Shmuel are already in the forest with the girl. They hid in the leather factory warehousewhere all the Jews were gathered. It seems that after all the Jews were taken out and led to the pit, they managed to leave the town. They still had some luck when I was with them on Yom Kippur eve, that is yesterday, and I told them about Kaminsky, and so they knew where to go. I was glad they had saved themselves, but I was very worried about Papa and Chava. Heniek had surely perished. He told me today he did not want to hide. He had no more courage to fight for his life.
You must eat the food quickly because you cannot remain here. The Germans might come and find you here, and then they will kill us too
She was overcome with impatience. We had to go. I gathered up my courage:
''We'll wait here a bit. Perhaps my father and sister will arrive.
If they come, I will bring them to you in the forest. You cannot stay here. That is what the master said!
This means that if Papa and Chava come, Kaminsky will not hide them as he promised. Mundak read my mind.
Sankeh, you must eat something because we are going into the forest and will stay there. We must see your sister and her daughter as soon as possible. They will be happy to see us.
She put bread and a bottle of milk into a basket, put a sweater on and beckoned us to come. I ate a few more potatoes, and we went after her. Why didn't I eat more hot delicious potatoes? What a pity. She went quickly, and we followed her at a distance of about twenty meters.
She stopped at the edge of the forest. We did not see her anymore, because it was dark. We crossed the road from the village and approached the forest. We stopped and looked for some sign of her whereabouts. We could not even see the trees. We had to grope with our hands to avoid bumping into a tree. Suddenly we saw a fire. She lit a torch, held it up, and signaled us to follow her. We followed the torch. Other than that, we did not see anything.
She walked quickly. She knew where every tree was because she was born there. We ran after her, we bumped into trees, nicked our skin and our noses. After walking for half an hour she slowed her gait. Her flashlight was moving in all directions. She turned a little to the side and stopped.
We approached and arrived at the flashlight. She turned off the light and told us to hold hands. We went more deeply into the forest. It was completely dark, pitch black. After a few minutes of walking she said, Proszê pani, here you are ma'am. She spoke to my sister. This is your brother.'' She put the basket on a tree, and said, Good night, and disappeared into the dark.
It was a few minutes before we began to see something. Trees, trees, thick trees Other than that, we could not seeanything. When our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we noticed something on the ground that looked like parcels covered with blankets. I heard Hene's voice. I bent over and strained to hear her words.
Sankeh, come closer to me Sankaleh, I want to touch you. Who else is with you? Is there someone else here with you? What about Papa, Chavele? What happened to them? Are they alive? What will happen to us now? Do you have something to cover yourself? Did you eat something? We have bread
I could not speak. I felt the terror of the moment. This moment seemed much more horrible than death. I envied all those who already had everything behind them
I began to see a little despite the dark, how they lie, my sister, my brother-in-law. Between them I saw the light hair of their daughter's head, of Goldele. They were saved with the child. How would the girl live in the forest? How would I make contact with the partisans to let them know where we are? I would have to struggle with the group to accept all of us. I needed to find the partisans as quickly as possible and to consider with Henrik what to do so they would accept the whole family. If only Papa and Chava would come today. Then I would go tomorrow to look for the group. This had to be done as soon as possible because the Germans might surround the forest. The Poles themselves might also inform the police to get rid of the Jews
Sankeh, take a blanket and lay here by us.
I lay next to my sister. She touched me to make sure I was alive.
It's good at least you stayed with us. What would we do without you?
Mundak sat next to my brother-in-law, and the two of them talked and told each other what they went through during the day.
The first night in the woods I could not fall asleep. Now we were abandoned. Anyone could kill us. We were alone, naked, and with no weapons to defend ourselves. I saw the girl turning over. It was hard for her to fall asleep the first night in the forest. I lay on my back and looked at the sky. Through the branches, I saw the stars dancing and darting from place to place. The same sky, the same stars, the world had not changed. The Jews were left lying in the pits, shot to death, and the Poles and Ukrainians were sitting in warm homes and waiting for our clothes. I wanted to say, My God, how did this child sin? Why should she have to lie on the ground now in the forest at the mercy of any thief? I could not. I felt He does not hear me. He is with the police now going around after the massacre. Why did I try to convince myself to believe that Papa and Chava might come? If they were alive, they would already be here. They knew we would meet here. They knew they could hide here in the village at Kaminsky's. No, they are not alive; they were shot when they ran away from the house. Which way did they run? Were they left lying there in the field, wounded and struggling with death, without anyone coming to help them? How long can a person stay alive, wounded and without help, without food, without a drop of water? What did Papa think about before his death, at the last moment when he felt the bullet? Where did the bullet hit him? How did he look when he was wounded? I imagined horrible scenes. How could he have looked? And Chava? Were they lying next to each other? What will we do when it rains? What will we do when the bread runs out? Maybe there are more Jews in the forest. It cannot be that only we escaped. I would go right now to look for the partisans, but how could I leave them alone?
I do not know how long I lay like this. Mundek approached me. We lay together to keep ourselves warm.
What are you going to do tomorrow, Sankeh?
I want to look for a way to make contact with the group. We have to organize the family. I want to wait a few days. I do not know what happened to Papa, to Chava. Maybe they are alive and will still come. Maybe they are hiding somewhere and will come later. How to keep the child in the forest is the most difficult problem. I will talk with Shmuel about making an arrangement for her with a Gentile in the village. I would like to be with the partisans. This is the only thing I still want to be able to do. They live as free people with weapons in their possession. They will take revenge. What are you going to do, Mundek? Stay here with my sister? Perhaps you will come with me to look for the partisans?
No, Sankeh, I am thinking of going back to the town. There are still ten Jewish families alive there who make leather for the Germans. I do not believe they will murder them, and I will stay there.
I thought about the beautiful girls there. I met them and Mundek knows it. He is still the same Mundek, I told myself, even after escaping from the pit.
The night passed and they did not come. Our hearts were sad. We sat in a circle, our legs crossed. We did not look into each other's eyes. Only the little girl, Goldie, slept. Apparently she had not slept all night long, so she slept now.
We spoke in whispers; our words could hardly be heard. We were frightened when a branch moved, and even more so when we heard shouting from far away, even if it was not intended for us. The air was cool, but not cold.
Hene, I said to my sister, I want to look for the partisans. I will see Henrik there. I will bring him here, and we will make a plan for the child. We need to talk to Kaminsky. Maybe he will take her with him or perhaps he can give us some advice. Maybe he knows people who would keep the child until the war ends. We will bring them clothes and food.
Hene heard me to the end. She stroked the child's head.
Sankaleh, do not leave me. Just a few more days, maybe more will come, maybe they are alive. Maybe we will make an arrangement for the girl first, and move to other forests, closer to the partisans. After all, this is only our first day in the forest. The police and the Germans are wandering around in the area. It is best for us to wait here a few days and then see what we need to do.
My brother-in-law Shmuel sat and did not utter a word. He looked at the girl, at Hene, and lowered his eyes. It was as if he felt guilty. I saw he was helpless; he could not come to the rescue, not even with a word. I began to feel that all the responsibility was on me. I was sure Chaim Henrik would come with a group of partisans at night and take us out. It was our only hope, but who knows when it might happen and what could happen by then.
During the day the forest was completely different from the night. It was light. You could see up to a distance of twenty meters. Pine trees were tall and straight, and not as thick as I imagined at night. The air was crisp and we wanted to eat, even though no one mentioned this. I looked around for the basket the Gentile woman had given us last night. I saw another basket. I took it and gave everyone a piece of bread and a little milk. As long as we live, we must eat. At least we would not die hungry. We ate and felt furious. At whom? At everything and everyone, but most of all, at God. We did not want to turn to Him at all, and we did not want to talk to Him. We pretended we had forgotten about Him, because of the cruel world, and the mothers who gave birth to us without choking us when we were infants.
The others were as helpless as little children. When I gave them food, they would eat. Otherwise, they would not taste a thing. We still had bread. I thought the first thing we needed to worry about was food. I remembered the peasants who would come to our house to buy leather. I began to wander in the woods and moved a few meters away. I listened to the sounds and looked through the trees, and every time the range of my vision expanded.
Shmuel I said.
Yes, Sankeh, what are you thinking about? I see you are planning something.
We must become familiar with the forest. We need to go out at night to the village, to take care of our own food. We need to have supplies. Who knows how long Kaminsky will send food to us in the forest. We need to start taking care of ourselves, of the girl. She cannot stay in the forest. It might rain, or they may surround us and cut us off and we will have to escape. This could occur at any moment. Last night I wanted to go look for the partisan group, but the fact that Dad and Chava had not come crushed me, and now I cannot leave until we make an arrangement for the child and for preparing our own food. Now you can stay here and wait until I come back with Henrik.
My brother-in-law looked at me with sad eyes, and it seemed to me he was quite astonished that I was planning and concerned about the matter even though I was the youngest of them all. At home I was the youngest and considered a child.
Yes, Sankeh, we will go at night to Kaminsky and speak to him about things. Perhaps he will help with something.
Shmuel, I said, We must ask Kaminsky. Perhaps he could get us weapons. I do not know how we will pay him.
Shmuel did not answer me. I understood he had money or valuable items in his possession.
We walked and got further away from Hene. Suddenly we heard footsteps. Before we had time to panic and hide, we saw the Gentile woman running quick as a rabbit, holding a basket. We saw she was alone. This meant Papa and Chava had not come. When we got closer, we saw she was putting steaming hot potatoes on a plate. She also brought bread and milk.
Did you ask if she knew anything about Papa and Chava? I asked Hene.
No, Sankeh, they still have not come. She had no clue.
In other words, they're not alive?
It's still impossible to know. They might still come tonight.
I did not say anything else. It was clear to me they were no longer alive. Please tell your boss, I said to the woman, I will come to him tonight with my brother-in-law. I want to talk to him about important matters. Alright, she said, and disappeared with the empty pots as swift as a bird. We ate and thought about Chava and Papa. We did not speak to each other much. I looked at Goldie, her long golden braids, her small face and tiny nose. I remembered home.
Did you hear what she told us? said Hene. There are other Jews in the forests. She herself saw a few Jewish families not far from here. They even set up a sukkah and are cooking food by themselves.
It made me happy to know there were more Jews nearby, but I was sure they would not leave us alone for long. The Devil must come.
We stood at the edge of the forest and looked at the village. It was dark, the blinds were drawn. No light was seen in the houses. Everyone was asleep. Hene was lying with her child in the forest, covered with a few blankets. She was not sleeping. She was worried about our coming back safely. If only I had a pistol with me Shmuel, we must decide what we will say to Kaminsky. If he just lets us in, we will talk to him about the girl right away and find out how he can help us.
Wait here a little while. I will cross the road alone and see if it is quiet in the village.
I crossed the road. Everything was quiet. You could not see a soul. I looked back. I saw Shmuel walking quickly. He ran rapidly and crossed the road. What is it, Shmuel? Has something happened? He was breathing heavily. Calm down, there is no one around
Shmuel was wearing his brown fall coat, light summer shoes, and a sports hat that was a little big for him. For some reason it seemed to me he was even smaller and thinner. My heart broke inside when I looked at him. I felt sorry for him, Hene, and the girl. At that moment, I decided not to leave them until they were settled. He relaxed. We'd better go together, he said.
We did not walk but rather slipped along like two shadows so no one would notice us, as if we did not exist. We had no more right to live, and the air we inhaled was not our air. It belong only to the Germans, and the Poles and Ukrainians were allowed to breathe it, but for us, for the Jews, no! If only I had a pistol with me
I opened the gate. I warned Shmuel that the dog would jump on us and not to be alarmed. But the dog did not. He was silent. What happened? I tried to open the door of the wide cabin. Everything went quickly and here we were in the house.
Good evening, gentlemen!
I had not expected that. We are human beings! I was ashamed. For some reason, the nice treatment angered me. Why did I deserve this? Kaminsky was an intelligent Gentile. He read my mind.
He sliced bread and poured borscht and sour cream. We ate, but I told myself we would finish the food and return to the forest, while he would remain with his family in the warm house. I thought about the cruel truth. Why should it be like this? If only we had weapons. Why don't we have a few rifles? I felt hatred for every Gentile, even when he did not do me any harm, even when he helped me. For some reason I had the feeling that the help was given with some motive, either to murder you later and take your rags, or out of terror and fear of something.
Kaminsky lit up some tobacco. He wiped his small mustache and looked at us with his white bright Aryan eyes.
Listen, I must tell you some important news. The situation is not good
We both sat quietly like children without reacting. What else could scare me now? Bad tidings? In any case, we were lying in the woods and waiting to die. We fought and did not assume they would slaughter us so easily, but we knew the end could come at any moment. Kaminsky spoke slowly and calmly.
Gentlemen, today I was in the village Przebraże, and my brother-in-law from Yaromel told me in confidence that there are partisans in the area,'' partisans with weapons. Last week they were at the home of a forest ranger. They took a semi-automatic rifle from him and warned him not to dare to harm any Jews in the forest. Yesterday at four o'clock in the afternoon, they came to a farmer in Yaromel. They came on two wagons. Shots were heard and everyone thought that Germans and police officers had come because they were wearing uniforms. Some spoke Ukrainian and others spoke German. Their free entry into the village accompanied by shots and the fact that they came to the Ukrainian guy Potop served as proof they were police officers. When they entered, their first question was if there were any Jews there. They introduced themselves as police officers from the district and said they had been told Jews were hiding there. The Ukrainian began to swear and cross himself and say he himself catches Jews in the woods and brings them to the police. This happens every day. Just today he handed over ten Jewish men, women and children who had survived the last massacre. He showed the rod he hits them with, and the Nagan, which was what the Russions called the Nagant M1895 revolver, and a rifle he received from the Gestapo for this purpose. But he does not shoot them. He brings them alive, and is paid for every one of them. Also they brought him ten Jews today to shoot them. But the group commander ordered that the house be searched and that everything found in the house be confiscated. They found many Jewish possessions there and lots of food items. They ate and he drank vodka with them. When they were finished, they put everything on their carts and even invited him to come with them. The farmer noticed that for some reason things were not going smoothly, but he had to go. His wife was crying and did not understand exactly what was going on. On the way, they visited the forest ranger again who had robbed Jews and took his weapons from him. The farmer who was sitting on the wagon grasped the situation and tried to run away. They shot him, wounding him in the leg, and took him with them again. In the forest, he dug a pit for himself, but he cried and shouted that he wanted to be a partisan. He told them everything. They killed him there and took the wagons back home.
At that moment I said to myself that if they would shoot me today, it would have been worth it to live these two extra days. Now I can die in peace. They are not sleeping, they are working. Kaminsky looked at me.
I think your brother is the head of the partisan group.
My brother-in-law asked him if he could help us find an arrangement for the girl, and he asked him to find out what had happened to Papa and Chava. He promised to look for a place for the girl and to tell us about Papa and Chava if he found out anything. He was afraid to hide people in his home, but for now, he promised to send us food in the forest twice a day.
Mr. Kaminsky I asked him, Perhaps you have a gun or some other weapon in your possession that you could sell us?
He looked at me. I saw he was hesitating.
Well, once I promised to sell your brother a gun. I will prepare something for you. When you come again, you will get it.
What will the price be?
Bring a watch or gold coins. We will reach an agreement.
Things are going well for us, I said to myself. If only Chava and Papa were here, things would fall into place.
He gave us a basket full of boiled potatoes, pickles, bread and milk. We parted from him and returned to the forest. When we entered the forest, Shmuel whispered in my ear, You know, Sankeh, if not for the fact that Henrik is with the partisans, he would not have received us so well, and who knows if he would have let us enter his home even though he has all our property.
You are right, and we should make use of this for the sake of the child.
When we got up the next day in the woods, I imagined we had been here for a long time. Our sleep was deep. We had become accustomed to the sharp air and hard ground. We began to feel confident, as though the forest belonged to us and no German could come here. The Gentile woman did not come that morning, apparently because we were there at night and had brought food with us.
I thought about the gun Kaminsky had promised me. A gun is not a combat weapon, but when we go to the village or lay down in the woods, it could be used in defense against the local gentiles. We avoided talking about Papa and Chava, but we hoped there was still a chance they were alive and were somewhere in the woods or with a Gentile. We did not want to torture ourselves with the thought they were no longer alive. In this way we felt some relief; we wanted to hope they were alive. But at noon on that same day, it happened. We all sat among the trees, far away from one another. Everyone was angry, sullen, lost in their own thoughts. We were isolated from the world and did not know what was going on around us, not in the Great War and not around the forest where we were. Were there actually people in the big world who were thinking of us? We were each tormented by the question, if it was so important to escape from death and wait here in the forest when we had no idea what might happen to us any minute. Hene combed little Goldie's hair. We men sat and looked at the girl's golden hair. The silence of the forest oppressed us.
Suddenly we all raised our heads. Rustling leaves and dry twigs crackling under shoes on walking feet woke us up. We looked at each other, but said nothing, as if we were not interested in who might come, German police officers, or good news, or perhaps Papa and Chava. We were ready to accept any event calmly. The steps came closer. I got up and saw a shadow slip through the trees. I thought it was the Gentile woman who was walking, but if so, she was not walking as quickly as usual. It seemed she was not alone, that someone was following, wrapped in a shawl like a Gentile woman. My heart already told me everything. She is bringing Chava. But where is Papa? She is alone. Papa is not alive! To be honest, I did not believe either one of them was still alive, so I was very surprised. When I saw this was indeed my sister Chava, that she was alive, I thought, I have Chava back, I was happy, because I had gone through the war with her from the first day, when our town went up in flames from the German bombs.
Everyone was sitting down. I was leaning against a tree. The Gentile woman put the basket by a tree and Chava stood before us as if accused.
Children, Papa is not alive! She burst into tears, and we all cried with her. He was shot while running away. I do not remember how long our silence and weeping went on. It took a long time, perhaps until the evening. We did not notice that the woman disappeared immediately, and we did not think about food. Chava was hanging on Hene and her tears flowed without stopping. It seemed that meeting with family after she had been by herself for two days helped her cry her heart out. We were all quiet and mourning Papa, but in my heart I said, he did not go into the pit like all the others, he fell as a hero.
When darkness fell, Mundek took the basket and gave everyone a little food. I was reminded of home when Mama died and Chaim pulled me to him and wailed: Children, we do not have a mother anymore! Night had already fallen by the time Chava calmed down a bit. We lay wrapped up in blankets and Chava began to talk. When Sankeh called to us to escape and not to wait until he got dressed, we heard his voice. We thought we could run through the fields to Kaminsky. But when we got to the field, they shot at us. The police were behind the houses and in the fields. Papa ran with all his might beneath the bullets and fell when a bullet hit him. I lay down, and when they stopped firing, I kept on running. Suddenly I found myself by a house, a very pleasant house near the mill. The Gentile put me into a granary, and I hid there. I heard all the shots and the screaming of the Jews. He would bring me food twice a day. He ordered me to be careful, because no one in his family knew about this. He himself was a Volksdeutsche, a rich man, and the mill belonged to him. But this morning he told me to go because he was not able to go on keeping me there. He told me where Papa fell when he ran on the same path I ran.
Do you believe he fell and died immediately, or was he wounded and suffering? This thought troubled me all the time.
I do not know, children, I did not have the strength to ask this question. I was broken, I lay down and cried. I did not know I would meet you all here. I want to see Chaim, I miss him very much. Chaim is no longer alive. Chaim is Henrik and he taking revenge for them all.
That night I did not go to the hospital. I saw it was two thirty in the morning. I was pleased when Sarah asked me to stay with her. The woman in the other room was still not asleep and found an excuse to come in from time to time to see what was happening. Sarah put a field bed and a few blankets in the other corner. When the woman saw that, she calmed down and went to sleep.
When Sarah got up, I was already lying on my mattress in the hospital. I did not sleep the whole night and was very hungry.
In the dining room there were cans of preserves and sliced bread with jam on the table. I had grown accustomed to the hospital. After six days, I knew all the nurses and other workers.
I entered the room of the head nurse. They changed my bandage. She asked me if I had pain. I felt a little stabbing pain and was tired.
You need to eat and rest, she said.
She called Marusia and told her I need to eat well and rest. Marusia nodded with her head and smiled at me, as if to say to me: You are running around more than resting.
There was noise and confusion in the room. Partisans were packing up their possessions to leave the hospital and partisans were coming. I heard them talking about Kovpak's division, where they were camping now and from where their airplanes took off, but I was not interested. I was fatigued. I covered myself in blankets and fell asleep. It is hard to say I slept. I was lying down and tortured by nightmares. Different thoughts ran through my head: Tamara and her mother who lost her husband and two sons in the war, Sarah who was waiting for her parents to come from Asia, the woman who lives with her and wants to get married, Boris who drinks a lot and tells everyone the truth, the Western family in the small room that runs their business on trains and is getting ready to start wandering around the world
When I woke up it was already afternoon. Everyone was resting on their mattresses, the atmosphere was calm, as if there were no war, as if they had not brought thousands of wounded and bedraggled troops, as if tens of thousands of Jews had not been shot to death and thrown into pits. Everyone slept. Among them: the Russian Sashkas, the Tatar Avdishuvs, Armenians, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, and many Jews. Everyone was relaxing after the battles, after they fought and marched thousands of miles while starving, some without a leg and others without an arm. The wounded who were able to move were happy. They were all resting now. You could not even hear a fly and there was complete silence here. I saw myself outside, on the street. I could not stay in bed, something was driving me, as if I had forgotten something, as though I was looking for something.
I wandered through the streets without knowing where I was going. It occurred to me to go to the Yevreyskiy Bazaar, the Jewish market. It was not far away, and I went there. I walked among the tables. I did not look at what was laid out on them for sale, but studied who the people were who stood next to them. I did not find Jews, only Ukrainians, Gentile men and women who were selling all kinds of objects: pieces of fabric, suits, trousers, jackets, women's clothing, candles, soap, various tools, old shoes and boots, leather scraps for shoes, none of it in any order. I was perplexed, and I looked at all this and did not understand why they call the place Yevreyskiy Bazaar when there were no Jews here at all. The Jews were left lying in the ground of Babi Yar and the Ukrainian Communists were selling their clothes. This seemed quite clear, but who noticed it? Surely there were others like me here who also thought so. Russian army soldiers offered army clothes for sale: kufaykas, a kind of long underwear, coats, boots and other things they robbed from the Western lands.
The market was quiet, a helpless kind of quiet. You could feel that the people who used to instill life in the market were missing. Our Jews are no longer here. I imagined they were stretched out on the tables and watching.
From time to time I saw a man go by with Jewish eyes, a Jewish face, and next to him a pair of pants or some other clothes for sale. I would stop and study all the people, and keep on wandering among the tables. I looked at the Ukrainian women and thought about my sisters. I studied the officers wearing their medals of excellence, and thought about my brother. I did not feel hatred towards them for being alive while my dear ones were rotting in the ground. I could not understand who was entitled to determine in the world that there is a need to exterminate one people while the other people must live. I felt that everyone was looking at me and criticizing me severely for still being alive. Now, when all the Jews had been murdered, some individuals remained, such as military heroes, heroes of the partisan movement, and heroes who had been in hiding. Hiding from whom? From everyone from the Germans, the Ukrainians, the Poles, the Byelorussians and the Russians. And now, here in Kiev in 1944, while battles were still taking place at the fronts and there is no anti-Semitic propaganda, with the wound from the war still open and oozing pus horrible hatred among the people is still sizzling. It is evident in their eyes. This is hatred for every Jew who remained alive. What was the reason for this? I understood this on that same day when someone suddenly touched my arm: Are you not Jewish by any chance? I did not answer, but I nodded: Yes, I am.
Facing me was a man of about sixty, smartly dressed, European. He was happy.
I knew immediately you were a Jew, but I passed by a few times. I hesitated about approaching you. You must be from the West. One knows immediately you are Westerner. Our Jews look different!
I did not say anything, I just listened. Over his arm was a nice pair of ironed pants.
We walked together. He began to tell me about his problems before he even knew who I was.
We were a big family in Kiev. Now I am alone. My four sons are at the front, all of them are officers. If you want, come to my house and you will see how beautiful the apartment is. I am alone, by myself. I recently returned from Asia. My sons are senior officers. Two of them are generals in the army.
He still did not know where I came from and who I was when he opened the door and we entered the apartment. He showed me a few rooms, richly furnished in the old Russian style. I asked him why he walked around in the market and why he was telling me all this when he did not even know me. He told me he goes around in the market because he has nothing to do and he lacks for nothing. He has many possessions and gold, but he is by himself and lonely. His wife died, and his four sons are at the front. He does not know if they are alive. He comes to the market to sell one of his possessions and make a living from it. He told me he knew immediately I was Jewish. He has a special interest in Jews from the West because he trusts them more. He had something to offer me if I would tell him what I was doing here in Kiev. When sitting in this home, I did not see any difference between being here or being in Rovno, Lutsk, or Lublin. This was the same kind of Jewish home and the same Jewish type. I realized that even here in Russian Kiev, there are different types of Jewish homes, homes of traditional Jews and homes of assimilated communists.
I told him about myself, but not in great detail. I told him I came from the vicinity of Lublin, that I was in the hospital because I had been with Russian partisans and was wounded. He told me how he left Kiev, and how his wife died. I saw the pictures of his sons, the officers. He opened his heart to me. My four sons are fighting in their army, but when I returned the anti-Semites did not want to give me my apartment back. A month went by. I ran around from office to office. The mayor is an anti-Semitic Ukrainian, but I got the apartment. Now I sit here alone. You see the house. Once there was happiness here. A happy family lived here, one of the most beautiful in Kiev. Tell me something about Poland. I'll show you something that might interest you.
He went to the bed and pulled out a sack tied with string thick. This reminded me of home. Mama kept bags of flour like these.
Come here and see
He untied the string. This was the first time my eyes had ever seen anything like this so many gold coins, like a dream.
When I parted from him and went out to the street, I breathed a sigh of relief. I found it hard to understand this Jew, his situation and behavior. He lived in the Soviet Union, his wife was murdered by the Germans or Ukrainians, his four sons were fighting in the Red Army for the Soviet regime. He is alone and lonely, and everyone hates him. They wanted to take his apartment from him. He does not feel he stands on solid ground like everyone else in the city. His belongings are in suitcases and the gold is hidden in the bed. Is this communism, the liberation of the peoples? If he felt as secure as the gentiles, would he put his belongings away in the cupboards? He would not need gold if he felt this was his country, that he was a citizen the Soviet regime would also take care of. I saw enormous fear on his face, terror of the future and of harm that might befall him from those around him.
When I remained alone, a feeling of loneliness overcame me. I stood in the corridor of the hospital and looked at the partisans with their walking sticks. Everything seemed sad and gloomy. I was looking for my own corner but had nowhere to go. Things had been so good for me and so bad. I went through the war with all its terrible experiences, with the family in the forest, the wanderings with the partisans, the daily battles, and now I was here. Tomorrow I would get a medal, but I was still so lonesome.
I covered myself with a couple of blankets and saw my sisters before my eyes, my brother-in-law with the little girl, when we were all in the forest. How could it have happened that we were not able to save them? What had gone on then
Another family joined us, but I do not remember who brought them to us in the forest. They were a man and woman of about thirty, and a girl of five. The father of the woman had also been with them in the ghetto. I saw them in a very desperate situation. They wanted to come to the forest to be with the partisans, but what could they do with their child and elderly father? This was the tragic problem of many Jewish families in those awful times when they had to decide what to do with a child, and what would happen to parents who were not at the height of their strength and could not go to the forest. Hundreds and thousands of strong and healthy people went to the pit so they would not be separated from their children or parents.
The family came from Lublin. The father was short and plump, and he looked handsome and noble. His daughter and son-in-law were well educated and cultured and also devout socialists, which was in vogue with Jews in their thirties at that time. They had been disappointed by the Gentile world, and by the fact that in the twentieth century people had resigned themselves to the destruction of a people. Now they managed to solve their family problem. The father went into the pit with the whole town, and they managed to hand the girl over to a Polish family in the village.
Now we were a big family in the forest: my two sisters, Chava and Hene, with her daughter, my brother-in-law Shmuel, my cousin Mundek and I, and also Mr. Lowenstein and his wife. A normal life began, for when you get used to troubles, you live with them. All this would be good if only the Germans, Poles and Ukrainians would leave us alone in the forest. There were also women with children whose husbands had been taken to work by the Germans and had not yet returned. The women and children had managed to hide, and now they were here with their bundles. Every day branches that had been cut off from their families arrived.
In the early days, the Gentile woman would bring food twice a day. We would sit and talk every day about those who had died or about the war that was going on without end. Who knows how long we will have to suffer like this? Every conversation would end with the questions how could long we live like this, how long would the Gentile woman still bring us food, would they let us live here, and if so, what would happen in the winter. Soon it would start to rain, and after that there would be snowstorms and frost. What would be the girl's fate? All these questions gnawed at our hearts like a worm.
I used to wander in the woods and go further away than the others, either by myself or sometimes with Shmuel or Mundek. I knew if I did not solve some of the problems I would not be able to join the group of partisans. I no longer believed they would come here. We had to make an arrangement for the girl. She could not stay in the forest any longer. Then we would be able to move more quickly if we needed to run. Something could happen at a moment's notice. We needed to build an earthen hut, a camouflaged place in the forest for Hene, Chava and Shmuel, where they would be able to hide during a search.
After a few days the Gentile woman began to bring food only once a day. She said she was being followed. We were satisfied even with that. The main thing was that we were able to get through the day. I visited Kaminsky a few times. I already knew all the forest paths well. I received the little pistol with ten bullets. I began to wander every night in the nearby villages. I would bring food and different tools we needed in the forest.
Chava was silent. Since Papa died, she spoke very little. When she calmed down after a few days, we drew closer to each other and spoke a great deal about Papa and everything that had happened to him, especially during his last days when he was discouraged but still believed until the last minute that the war would end and we would defeat the Germans.
He longed to return to his old house, where he was born. Every time we would end our conversation with the words, What we will be our end, and when?
We made up our minds to find Gentile acquaintances in the surrounding villages. We believed we might get some food from them. We remembered a rich Pole who often came to our house. We were sure he would let us into his house and give us something.
When it was completely dark, we slipped out of the woods. This was also something you needed to know. You had to know how to walk in the forest without making noise and at the same time to know what was happening all around. We had become like animals fleeing from hunters. Walking with Chava was even safer because two men together always aroused suspicion. It was safer to go with a woman dressed like a peasant. We went a few kilometers, bypassing the villages, because they were guarded. They knew Jews were wandering around at night.
When we arrived at the whitewashed house of the estate owner, we stopped and looked at each other. Each one of us waited for the other to say we should go back. We were overcome with fear, afraid to knock on the door of the rich farmer. What have we got to lose? said Chava, If he opens the door, that's good; and if not, we will go back.
We entered the garden and went up on the porch, which was strewn with flowers. Chava knocked on the door. Mr. Krasniewski, can you hear us? We are the Rozensons. Open up for us. We want to request something from you. We will not be here for a long time. We will go away immediately. Open us for us for just a moment. A long time passed and he did not open the door. But we waited and knocked again. Again there was silence. He did not want to open the door. Maybe he's afraid, let's go
Suddenly the door opened, but he would not let us in, and asked, Who are you, kikes? Why are you bothering us? Get out of here fast. Anyway, they will kill you. What do you need, bread? You better leave the furs and boots here, and run away. Anyway, you will not stay alive.
We ran in the dark and held hands until we sat down under a tree and breathed heavily.
Come, Chava, I know another Gentile, not far from here, just a poor man. You'll see he will receive us well. You know, Chava, I could have shot him, but what would we have gained from that? Furthermore, I have only twelve bullets, and that would be a shame.
We went away with broken hearts, embittered, but our spirits were still high, and we kept on walking with hope. We went off on a side trail. The woods were on one side and fields on the other. The sky was clear and the moon at the height of its glory. Chava showed me where the north was according to the stars. Now I told her about the day of the massacre when I lay all day in the woods and did not know where to go. She told me how she ran with all her strength with Papa behind her. When she fell near the house, she heard some shots behind her and did not see Papa running. They were not looking for her anymore. There were large barrels there. She hid in a barrel and covered herself with straw. A Gentile saw that and brought her food, but he did not want to keep her there for more than two days.
We enjoyed the walk. We forgot for a while who we were and talked quite loudly so we could be heard in the forest. We imagined we were alone in the world.
After we walked for three kilometers we saw a few huts. They stood alongside the forest at a distance of about one hundred meters from each other.
Do you know where I'm going, Chava? Nikodema lives here, a poor Gentile, a shoemaker and bachelor. You remember him. He would bring us a chicken in exchange for leather. He lived in this little village, but I do not remember exactly which house. When we get closer, I'll remember.
We passed by the first house and continued to walk. I was not sure if we would manage to find the house and this annoyed me because I had wanted to see this Gentile for a long time. I hoped he would help me.
We passed the second house and approached the third. I peeked into the window. Chava, look, he is sitting here and working. I went running and I looked through one of the cracks. Indeed, he was sitting there. I saw Nikodema sitting on the low stool, a shoe between his knees and hammering one nail in after another.
He opened the door for us immediately. He was of medium height and stocky. His long light-colored hair, which was almost white, was messy and uncombed so we could hardly see his forehead. When we entered the small room, I saw he was confused. He did not have the courage to keep us out, but he was not happy we had come. He told us to sit down, locked the door latch quickly, and drew the curtains over the window. The room was very small, no more than three by three meters. There was a small buffet covered with a coarse white tablecloth. Near one of the windows stood a small table covered with canvas. On the buffet were two small pictures, one of a man wearing a military uniform and the other of a woman and child. In one corner was a stove with two burners and in another a workstation with a small low worktable and two tiny stools with various work tools on them. Under the table were many pieces of leather from which he would make shoes and boots. Two pictures were hanging on the walls. One was a picture of Jesus crucified on the cross, and on the other wall a picture of Mary. Two beautiful and colorful images.
Chava sat on a small cabinet next to the worktable, and I was on the other stool. We had known each other two years. He used to come to our house twice a week to buy leather, and he would bring us food he had received from the farmers.
Nikodema returned to his place and took the shoe in his hand. I did not know whether he was Ukrainian or Polish. He spoke good Polish and Ukrainian. He knew we spoke Polish, because we were Jews from Poland, and so he talked Polish with us. He drove in the nails and spoke very softly.
Mr. Sankeh, how did you manage to stay alive?
We ran away and are in the forest. Mundek is also with us.
Oh, Mundek is an excellent expert, he interrupted me.
We also have our older sister, brother-in-law and their daughter with us. Papa fell. They shot him when he was running away.
So, you managed to deceive the Swabians, but what will you do now? Winter is coming. They are going around in the villages and warning that anyone who hides a Jew will be shot to death without trial.
Mr. Nikodema, I know you remember us and our home. We welcomed everyone graciously, and we were friends with everyone. We have not done any harm to anyone. My sister and I are now here with you, and we are very broken. We were at Krasniewski's in Zagajnik, and he threw us out. If you can help us with something, without it causing you any trouble, please help us. If we survive and once again become being human beings, we will remember it. We have family abroad.
Nikodema pushed aside the shoe and listened seriously to what I said.
Listen Sankeh, how can I help you? I have nothing even for myself. I can give you some potatoes, a loaf of bread. In this way I can always help you, but you must be careful. No one must notice when you come here.
He got up and left the house. I looked at Chava. She looked very down. She was pale and seemed to have aged overnight. The last few days had aged her by almost ten years.
Maybe you want to talk to him about the girl? I asked her.
Yes, I will talk to him.
What were we both thinking about when Nikodema went out of the room. I saw it on Chava's face. If only they would let us live in the little cottage, even on the ground, so the whole family could stay here throughout the war. The room was so warm and cozy. We were yearning to lie down here on the floor.
Nikodema interrupted our beautiful dreams. He returned, bringing a large loaf of black bread, a basket full of potatoes, carrots and other vegetables with him. He also gave us butter for the girl. We really did not want to leave this miserable cabin. I heard him talking with Chava about the girl, about how he would not be able to keep her, but he gave us the address of a small village, a very remote village. He told her about a childless couple there. Their name was Lisovsky. We should ask them. We also got some hoes from him and other tools we needed to build the earthen hut. We thanked him and went back to the forest, laden with heavy packages.
The road back was difficult and easy. The packages weighed on us as we went along, but our hearts were relieved, because we had achieved something. We were coming back, but we were not empty-handed. Everyone was sleeping. Despite all the signs we set in the woods to find our way back, it was still difficult to find the place at night, and we went a long way out of our way for nothing.
We felt like heroes returning from victoriously from a battle.
After that night we were busy organizing our new life. Immediately the next day, after the breakfast Chava prepared, I went with Shmuel to find a place where we could dig and build an earthen hut. I told him about the Lisovsky family. We decided to find the village immediately that night.
Three of us went there: Chava, Shmuel and me. We headed out of the woods again at nightfall and turned onto side trails. It was silent. It seemed as if the Gentiles had given the night over to the Jews. We walked carefully but full of confidence, without fear. We were getting used to our new life, if you could call it life. Nobody should know where we are. We had to get what we wanted and disappear into the darkness of the night because anyone who killed us would not be punished but would receive a prize instead. We were used to going many miles out of our way because we were afraid to ask for directions. So we were lost for many hours until we reached the village, tired and hardly dragging our feet.
In the Lisovsky family home a small kerosene lamp was lit, the smallest I'd ever seen. The room was large, square, about eight square meters. The beds were opposite each other in two corners. In the middle of the room, near the window, was a small table covered with a thick linen tablecloth. Right next to the entrance were the stove and the oven.
The mistress of the house told us to wait until her husband came home. Great poverty was evident in the house. We sat still and did not say a word. I left the conversation to Chava and Shmuel. Their Polish was better than mine. The Gentile woman showed no hatred. She spoke to us as if we were people who were the same as she was. She addressed us as Gentlemen, Sir, and to Chava, Ma'am. We could sense she was goodhearted, unlike other Gentiles, but we also felt the dire poverty. We felt they were really hungry for bread, and the woman was expecting some help from us. I do not know if Shmuel noticed it, but I was suspicious. He began to talk to the Gentile woman. She said they did not see any Germans or police in this village. I saw Shmuel was happy.
Mr. Lisovsky came in, short, plump, bald-headed, with a mustache and a thick nose.
He wore a hat that looked like it belonged to a railroad worker. He looked much older than his wife and did not seem compatible with her. He seemed like a goodhearted and not too smart schlemiel. She was a smart woman, pleasant looking and embittered, who had married him for some reason. They were alone, without children.
We all looked at him. He was embarrassed. It seems he was not accustomed to having people, even Jews, visit him. The Gentile woman took him aside and told him who we were and what we wanted. She brought him to Shmuel.
This is Mr. Finkelstein. He has a small daughter who does not look Jewish and speaks Polish. She could graze a cow and help at home.
Shmuel told them we had rich relatives in America and Palestine. If they would keep the child until the end of the war, they would receive a lot of money. And now we could bring clothes, boots, jackets, a sewing machine, and leather for shoes. Their eyes were shining when they heard all this. Finally, Shmuel told them our brother was a commander with the partisans, and that I too belonged to the partisans, and that we would bring them clothes and food items all the time. The man looked at the woman and nodded his head to everything she said. We agreed we would bring the girl in another few days.
The next day we dug a hole to build a camouflaged earthen hut in the woods. We dug a square pit, as if we were building a house according to plan. Other people came to see what we were doing because they were planning to do the same thing. The hoes were passed from hand to hand. There was commotion in the forest. We heard voices and work tools clattering. I heard my sister Hene talking to the girl, preparing her for going to another home where she would call them Tatush and Mamusha, and she would not be in the forest anymore but would sleep in a bed and take a bath every day. She must not miss them and should listen to everything her new mother said to her. I could sense the tears choking her, but she controlled herself. She turned her face away from the girl and two tears, white as pearls, rolled down her eyes and wet the accursed ground.
Hene wiped her eyes with the edge of her handkerchief and turned her head back. Chava started a fire to cook some potatoes. Shmuel planned how to camouflage the hut so the Germans would not notice it, and how air would get in so we could breathe. The Lublin couple were sitting on sawed off tree trunks and talking about politics, socialism, and the Soviet Union. Mundek lay covered with a blanket as though he were sleeping. The woman from Lublin still had a few cigarettes and offered each of us a few puffs. When the girl will be with the farmer, I will go look for the partisans. I cannot wait anymore, I thought to myself. I did not believe the murderers would let the few remaining Jews stay alive here.
It was almost evening. We waited for it to get dark. The girl was sitting with her coat on, wearing shoes and wool trousers that were tied to her shoes. Her golden hair was neatly combed. For the past few days they had been preparing her for her new life. When her mother would sit with her and explain where they were taking her and tell her she would have another mother, I was listening carefully and look into her eyes. I wanted to know how a girl of six or seven could accept ideas like that, and if she understood what people were saying to her. She did not cry or speak. She just listened. I could not read her mind.
A basket full of underwear, dresses, socks and other children's clothing was ready. Now we would also take Hene with us, with the girl, to see the house where her child would stay. Who can know what the girl thought during those hours? I only know what we adults thought: Would they really keep the child? Would they kill her, or give her away to the Germans for money? What would happen if the neighbors found out she was Jewish?
Shmuel went with the child in his arms first, and I walked with the bundle behind him. Hene walked alongside me. I changed places with Shmuel from time to time. When the child was heavy for him, I would take her from his arms and he would take the package. She asked a few times, Mama, is it still far to the new mother? Hene answered her: A little farther, my child. But when the girl kept asking from time to time, Hene got irritated and yelled at her to be quiet, but then immediately after, she went to her, hugged her head close to her and kissed her. In a little while, it will not take a long time, you will sleep in a clean bed. Sit still. Do not turn around. Papa does not have a lot of strength.
Perhaps Hene wanted the way there to go on indefinitely, so it would never come to an end. Now the girl is still sitting in her father's arms, but on the way back we would already be going without the child. What were Hene's thoughts? Would they take care of her? Would they starve her? Would she survive and remember her mother? The main thing is that she stay alive. If she remembers or does not remember is not important in this cruel world.
In the house was darkness, cold, sadness and fear. The sadness was deeper in Lisovsky's home than in the forest. The girl stood aside, not crying, not talking, as if she were not participating in the events here.
Hene took the girl's belongings out of the package and explained to the woman how to use the pajamas, pants, vests and underwear. She explained all the child's problems to her. The Gentile woman listened carefully, as if she wanted to understand and fulfill the role she had taken on herself perfectly.
You could see from her face she was delighted. Until now she had not had a child. Suddenly she would be a mother now, and that affected her emotionally. The fact that this was a Jewish child had no effect on her. She seemed to thank God that a war like this had occurred and God had brought a girl to her home with all the necessary items. Hene was choked with tears and bent down again to get another pair of pants and another pair of shoes and explained exactly the use of all these items.
Shmuel sat next to the mustached Mr. Lisovsky and explained to him in fluent beautiful Polish that the war had to end soon, that the Germans would go away and Poland would once again be free, that there were many Jews in the world and those who helped and kept a Jewish child or helped Jews in the forest would know happiness later because rich Jews would pay for it.
The Gentile sat and listened to all this while he was nurtured big dreams for the future.
They gave me a piece of paper and pencil to write down the addresses I remembered. I wrote down the address of a cousin in America and a brother in Palestine. I folded that sacred piece of paper and waited for them to finish.
Then the Gentile woman took the piece of paper with the two addresses. She held it in her hand like an enormous treasure and listened carefully to the significance of the words written there that she could not read.
If we do not survive, dear lady, said Hene while tears were choking her throat, write to these addresses and they will come and reward you handsomely and will take the girl with them.
The Gentile woman did not say: May God watch over you, may you stay alive. She did not answer at all. She just said to her husband: Look, Pavel, she does not look at all like a Jew and she only speaks Polish.
She took off the girl's coat, brought her to the bed, and showed her where she would sleep. You will sleep here, Genia, she said. Before we went out Mr. Lisovsky asked his wife, while we all overheard his words:
But what will we tell the neighbors if they ask who the girl is? After all, they know we have no children.
What a fool you are! the woman answered. Say this is the daughter of our relatives from Kivertzy or from another city.
Well, well, I'll know what to say, he murmured in a whisper, fearing his wife who looked at him with contempt.
A few more words from Shmuel and Hene to the woman. The girl was standing without her coat and we were outside. We were relieved. We no longer carried a package, nor the girl with her endless questions.
But now our way is heavy, much heavier than before. We stood a few steps away from the house. Why were we standing? Why weren't we walking? Indeed it was dangerous to stand there. Someone could go and see Jews near the home of Lisovsky, and this could endanger the child. But we kept on standing there. Later, when Hene saw through the window that the girl was lying in bed, we left the village with a lighter heart. The way back went very quickly. The thought that the girl had a roof over her head made us happy. Everyone rejoiced in the forest when they heard that Golda had been set up with a Polish family.
When we lay down to sleep under the covers, the air was so sharp it intoxicated us. I lay and looked at the sky between the tall trees. While I was thinking, I told Chava I would soon go to look for the partisans. She did not answer me. I felt she was overcome with sadness.
While everyone was asleep, I heard Hene turning back and forth. It was no wonder she could not fall sleep without her child next to her. I imagined to myself the first night at Lisovsky's house, the girl curled up, her knees digging into her stomach, trying to shrink as much as possible, to take up just a little space, even though the bed was very large and wide. The wood of the bed's edge was pressing her flesh, but the girl actually enjoys this pain. Since her parents had gone, she had kept her eyes open the whole time. Her eyes were wide open because she wanted to see everything.
It was dark in the country cottage. The light's wick was almost at its end because they were saving kerosene. She could see different shadows on the wall. Mr. Lisovsky goes in and out every minute. The door creaks as if it was playing a melody. It closes by itself and loudly slams shut.
Now he brought in two buckets of water. Before he had brought a stack of wood in that he cut at noon. He put it slowly by the stove and arranged the logs straight and neatly. While he was working Mr. Lisovsky went to the bed where the child lay. He stood for a moment, not too close, and looked at the girl's head, at her golden hair. See what beautiful children the Yids had in the big cities, he said to himself, and when his eyes met the eyes of the girl, he was embarrassed. Do you want a slice of bread? he asked. The girl did not open her mouth, but shook her head in denial. Get out of here, this is none of your business!'' the Gentile woman shouted, and he went to his work.
The woman has not yet arranged the child's clothes. She examined each item carefully, from every angle. She did not quite know how to put some of the pants on the girl. She looked at them carefully and put them in a small cupboard, where she arranged all the clothes. This was the first time in her life when she had to handle a child and children's clothing. And who was to blame for that? The pig! Why did she have to marry him, this jerk? All the women had children, only she did not! All of them had houses with gardens and fields, only this jerk did not amount to anything! At that moment he came in, and it was the right moment. She turned on him in such a terrible way he thought it was his end. I do not even have a child because of you. You are only capable of bringing a little water and wood, but nothing more! He ran away and did not hear what she was saying. This is what he always does. He feels when a bad mood comes upon her, and he disappears until she settles down.
In her surprise she forgot a child was sleeping in her bed, a girl with long golden hair. When she looked at her, she saw only two eyes and a little face that was hardly visible. Only two eyes and golden hair. Dear Lord, she said, crossing herself, How beautiful she is. She will be mine. You gave her to me as a gift, and crossed herself again. The eyes looked and the eyes talked.
Later there was complete darkness in the house, and only Mr. Lisovsky's snoring could be heard. The girl still lay for hours with her eyes open. She saw her mother and father and the trees of the forest. She was afraid to cry, but her lips whispered: Mama, Papa! On that night another girl was added to the village.
Her father did not sleep. Only Hene thought he was asleep, so she tried to roll over on her bed as little as possible. Shmuel was lying with his eyes closed, but he was awake. All night long he was thinking about Goldie. For him she was not just a girl like all children were for their parents. He wanted to give her an education that not all Jewish children could obtain. He had devoted a lot of time to her. Her parents spoke Polish with her so she could continue her studies successfully. The girl was very talented. He recalled how quickly the girl learned the songs in the kindergarten, how they would dress her like a princess, how all the people would look at her when her parents took her out for a walk in the streets. This girl was the source of all of his interest in life. He was ready to give his life for her.
At night he saw her, as though in a film, the few years since the girl was born, her entire development. He also saw everything they had gone through in the town, the small provincial town with friends and acquaintances, the poor and the pious, the organizations and the intellectuals, among whom he too could be counted, all the stories and gossip. How nice it all had been, and how could it all have disappeared so quickly, to be obliterated in such a short time, to be wiped out as though by a flood, as though none of it had ever existed. He opened his eyes and saw Hene lying down and crying. He too wanted to cry. His heart tightened, but he controlled himself. He asked her to stop crying. You should be happy Goldie is not with us in the forest. We are in danger. Every minute here can kill us. Let us be happy. She will stay alive after the war. But Hene's weeping became worse. I cannot, Shmuel, I cannot, I have to cry. Both of them wept loudly until the dawn put them to sleep.
The next day only adults remained. The men were busy finishing the earthen hut, and the women were sitting with their legs covered in blankets, their faces pale and worried.
One day Kaminsky surprised us with a visit in the forest. We told him we had arranged for the girl to be at the Lisovsky's, and we asked him if he would help keep her alive if disaster befell us. He promised us he would. We moved around him as if he were our guardian angel, but he remained cool and did not talk much. It was clear he saw our days were numbered, but he was more prudent than other Gentiles, and kept quiet not to cause us pain. He promised us another thing: Perhaps he could obtain a certificate for Chava as a Polish girl, and then she could get along and work in one of the villages. Perhaps he himself might prepare a hideout for Hene and Shmuel. When I heard this, I believed the problem of the family would be solved and decided to look for the partisans. After I would find them, I would return here to get Chava, Hene and Shmuel, if they had not found another arrangement by then.
I had no idea where the partisans were and decided to go to Zofiovka. There were still ten Jewish families there whom the Germans had left alive to help finish the leather works for the German army. I thought I might find a contact there.
I would often talk with Mundek and try to convince him that he should go with me to the partisans. He was alone and could fight with us, because in any case we would all die, and in the end, the Germans would wipe out the last remaining Jews in the town. But Mundek believed the ten Jewish families would stay alive. And so, he decided to return to the town, sneak into a Jewish family, and stay there. In this case he would join the family and work for the Germans. He could not live in the forest, without any comforts, and he certainly did not think about fighting. That was not for him. He decided to go with me to the town. He would remain there, and I would continue on my way to search for the partisan group.
I was terribly confused. I felt that every minute I sat in the woods I might be missing my chance to join the partisan group. When I escaped from the pit, I thought I would go to them immediately, and now a few weeks had already gone by and I had become accustomed to this life. Everyone had gotten used to me too. Chava and I supplied the food items and other necessities. We had become familiar with the area, and we had located all the farmers we knew before. Even though they would drive us away and set their dogs on us, and we would return to the forest ripped up, worn out, and tired, we would go back the next day and the good Gentile would eventually let us in and give us a piece of bread. Furthermore, in a good mood, they would tell us we would be killed anyway and should leave them boots and some clothes.
We moved more freely. Other Jews in the forest also used to go out to the villages at night to look for food items, to take them in exchange for things, or to ask for a piece of bread. A lively traffic of Jews began in the area. The Poles and Ukrainians saw what was going on, and it was easy to understand this information would eventually come to the Germans. Even if there was a miracle and the Gentiles did not tell the Germans, another enemy was approaching - the winter. In another week or two it would begin to rain. Large swamps would form, which would make it harder for us to walk to the villages. We had to prepare supplies because we would be lying low in a bunker, buried alive, on the naked and cold ground. And the situation would be even worse when frost and snow would be on the ground. How would we hold up in the cold with our current state of nutrition? We had been living off pieces of bread and a few potatoes a day. And the most serious problem was how would we be able to go to the village? Footprints in the snow would bring to the forest police and Germans, who would then kill us all.
We knew about all these problems but could not solve them. So we kept quiet, waiting for another day and another night to pass. Perhaps there would be a miracle. This was in 1942. The Germans went from one victory to another, conquering all of Ukraine and Belarus as they advanced towards Moscow. We heard the news, grit our teeth, sighed, and kept on looking for ways to go on, planning how to survive the winter. At that time, I had to leave my two sisters and brother-in-law and go to the woods to look for the partisan group where my brother Henrik was one of the head fighters.
We sat in the bunker. Dirt spilled down from the walls. A little light came through from the top. We would close the cover in case murderers would attack or conduct a search, but now the cover was open. We felt good. The woman from Lublin smoked. She found cigarettes and offered them to anyone who wanted to smoke. Tonight I would leave. Mundek prepared himself all day long. He washed up, combed his hair, and cleaned his clothes. He was going to the town, to the Schwartz family. He had been friendly with their daughter for a long time. The Schwartz family was one of the ten richest families in the town. They owned tanneries. The first time, they murdered people who were not experts. The next time they wiped out the experts. Now only ten Jewish families remained, the factory owners. They had a lot of gold, silver, and leather. Instead of buying weapons and going to the forest, they stuffed the Germans with gold and believed what they were told: No harm will befall you! That is also what they told us.
Mundek did not tell me why he was going to the Schwartz family, but I knew he used to visit them back in the days of the Russians. They had a lovely daughter. I saw her once. She was tall, with long black braids, a pale face with deep dark eyes, a genuine Jewess type as depicted by Jewish writers. Mundek decided to live as a man, if only for a short time, and to enjoy himself as much as possible. There were moments when I envied him, but these were only brief moments and nothing more. I saw immediately, in advance, what our end would be. It was better to fall in the forest, or even better in battle, if that would be our fate. I deluded myself that I would return and bring all the Jews to the partisans. This is what I thought, even though I remembered what had happened in the group before the last Jews of the town were wiped out. A quiet battle had ensued among the group members, a struggle with bitter disputes about the purpose of the group. Some felt the goal was to stay alive. They argued that if we wanted to survive until the end of the war, even though we were sure we would not survive, we could, despite everything, hide as a small group, prepare food items, so we would not have to leave the forest in winter. We were capable of installing excellent bunkers so we would not suffer from the cold. We would be well camouflaged, and in this way we would have a chance of staying alive. If we succeeded and were able to see the downfall of the Germans, we would be considered heroes, because we would certainly be among the few who survived. This meant we would not need to fight now and take revenge, but only to hold on, and this is how we would become heroes. It was clear to them that we did not need to get more young people to join us, the young people who were roaming in the forest and begging us to save them and help them get organized, because they wanted to fight. Their end was tragic. They were rejected. They returned to the town and went into the pit.
Even more difficult was the problem of the group's families. Those who decided the goal was simply to stay alive did not want family members brought into the forest, a sister or brother-in-law, even though they were young and could help themselves and over time could also obtain weapons and become a combat force. No, they said, We will not take anyone except for the ten people who were organized before.
The others proposed that we organize a large group, bring them into the woods, set up a camp, provide them with food and train them to fight, give them guard duties and so on, until we became a larger partisan unit. Each one should bring his family members who remained alive. Unfortunately, the first group was in the majority. There was another option to leave and set up a separate group, but this could not be done. I knew all this, and yet I believed that after the last Jews in the town were wiped out, we would be able to bring in those who were still alive. I was sure our brother Henrik could arrange this, so I decided to go and find the group. I did not talk with Chava much before I left. I also did not speak with Hene and Shmuel. They relied on me and knew I was going for their benefit, to save them. They knew I would bring Henrik and the group to move everyone to the partisans. That is why they were silent. They asked me to bring Henrik along with all the partisans, to come as soon as possible, because it was dangerous to stay where we were. This is how I went. We did not kiss or embrace. We did not look into each other's eyes. They did not know whether I would arrive at the woods or not, and I did not know what would happen to them the next day.
Night fell. I sat in the corner of the bunker, and looked at them for the last time. Shmuel wore his brown autumn coat. Hene and Chava were wrapped up in their shawls. Chava's face was full of bitterness. They seemed to have turned into stone, as though they could no longer move, laugh, or cry. Her watery eyes did not shed tears but looked aimlessly at the ground or the trees. Sankele, she said, tell Henrik to come as quickly as possible, and she fell silent. Mundek called me. I crawled out of the bunker and disappeared into the darkness of the forest.
Sleep wandered away from my eyes. I shaved and went downstairs. Why am I running, I said to myself. I still have time. It is eight now.
I wanted to convince myself that the medal neither interested nor impressed me, but it did interest me. I had been a partisan for such a long time, I had fought so much, I had been wounded, and now I would get my medal of honor for fighting bravely. For whom did I fight? I did not fight for the Russians and not for others. I wanted to enjoy life and see the world after the victory. And now I was seeing the world. It was the same world but without Jews.
I knew and felt that the hatred for the Jews who survived was growing. It was deeply rooted due to Hitler's propaganda. Defamatory and false propaganda appeared daily in the newspapers. It nourished the Gentiles spiritually, day and night. It was no wonder they hated us. It did matter whether I fought or not. Everyone hated me. Indeed, who put me on the list? When I was injured, an Armenian served as commander of the unit for a short time. I do not remember his name. He also saved me after I had been bleeding in the snow for two hours. I would have died otherwise. If the previous commander had served then, the Ukrainian Tritak, I could have thrown myself into combat every day and been injured a dozen times, but he would not have put me on the list because I was Jewish. I may be wrong, but I believe this is so. Actually, we had a good relationship. I would stay with him in one house when we were resting. I would bring him vodka and pork, and sometimes a nightshirt, even though this was strictly forbidden, and whoever violated this could expect to be shot to death. When we would pass through a rich village, he would give me a sign. I would enter one of the houses, I would change my underwear there and would bring him a shirt too and a bottle of vodka, and he would thank me. We stayed together. He sent me to give orders in all his units and relied on me, but I knew he was an anti-Semite. I saw it in his smile, in his beautiful songs and jokes about Jews.
You must respond, I serve the Soviet Union! when the Ukrainian Communist Party Secretary hands you the medal of honor. Take the medal in one hand, extend the other hand to him, and respond. Understand?
At first I did not like this. I had to promise I would keep on serving the Soviet Union. I was a free man now and could serve whatever I wanted. However, on second thought, I realized I fought in the ranks of the Soviet partisans, and I had to be grateful to them for that. And now that I was on Soviet soil, I was grateful for that too. And they also let me stay and keep on serving the Soviet Union, and I should be grateful. I sat in the back rows and scanned the hall, the stage with the people who were sitting and waiting for their medals of excellence and honor.
The hall was not big, but very beautiful. A long table was on the stage with four people alongside it. Two were in military uniforms and two were in civilian clothes. One of the men who was dressed as a civilian was Khrushchev. He wore a black suit, a white shirt and a tie. His fair hair and facial features showed he was a typical Ukrainian. He was the Secretary of the Communist Party in Ukraine. I thought that only partisans were here with me, but when I began to look over all the people, I realized I was in good company, beginning with sergeants and going all the way up to generals. Most of the people were in the regular army. It seems that the medal of honor would be granted to everyone here without exception, soldiers, officers and partisans whose commanders had put forth their names for a medal of honor. This project took place regularly two days a week. Behind each person who received a medal of honor was a combat story and experiences that included suffering, struggle, hunger, and marches of thousands of kilometers on foot in the woods and in the cold. These people carried out heroic tasks, were injured more than once and kept on fighting. They were all sitting here. I did not hear all the speeches. Perhaps I arrived late.
I heard them reading names: Lt. Kozlov, Major General, Captain and names of soldiers and partisans. The people whose names were read went up on stage and stood erect while Khrushchev gave them the medal of honor. Each answered with the same wording: I serve the Soviet Union, shook his hand, and went down.
I sat and watched the proceedings. I was curious to see all those who went up on stage. I searched for a familiar face, but I did not find one. I saw them going down from the stage, some were smiling and others had serious faces. Suddenly I heard a voice that seemed to wake me from my sleep. They said, Rozenson Sankeh Davidovich! They interrupted my pleasure in watching the proceedings. I imagined everyone was looking at me. The name itself aroused interest. I got up from my seat and went out from the row of benches on the right side of the hall. The Russians stared at me. My face was quite serious, but it seems the event affected me. I was in high spirits.
I went up the stairs to the stage. The man in the black suit stood in front of me. He looked at me with a slight smile on his face, but I stood motionless. He handed me the red box. I shook his hand and said, I serve the Soviet Union! He said a few words to me. I did not hear what he said clearly, but I think he said, May you continue serving the Soviet Union!'' When I got back down I saw everyone looking at me. I realized my name told them I was a Jew from the West. I held the box tightly, so they would not take it from me, and suddenly I saw myself on the street. Why did I leave so quickly? Why didn't I open it there? Here on the street I would not do it again. I went to the hospital quickly where Boris was waiting for me in the corridor and shook my hand. I want you to put the medal on immediately. They have to see that Jews fought. We opened the red box. In it was a red star and three small booklets: a ticket for free train travel, a certificate entitling me to receive money every month, and a permit to wear the red star. And now I was already walking the streets of Kiev with the red star on my chest. Boris did not leave me. First we went to be photographed, both of us together and each one separately. The photographer put his head into the camera and photographed us in all sorts of poses. One where the two of us are sitting on a bench, or another where one of us is standing and the other is sitting. It reminded me of the pictures of soldiers from the time of the Czars.
Naturally we had to drink later. Boris told me they prepared a party in my honor today at Asana's. We both sat down, Boris with his partisan medal and I with my Red Star, and we drank to life. I saw German prisoners today. They marched in formation. I do not know if they were working, but each one was carrying two bricks. I did not know why. Perhaps the intent was to make it difficult for them to walk. This was all that was being done to them? They were being treated as regular prisoners
You know Boris, just the sight of this could make you go crazy! Tell me, Boris, if we shot a few Germans, what would they do to us?
What would they do? I think they would arrest you, because the Russians say you are allowed to kill as many as you want in battle, but it's all over when they are prisoners. The Russians are not like the Germans, but whenever they need to, they exile people to Siberia. I think Siberia is already full of Germans. A German is even working in the hospital. He lives like a Lord, cleans a little, eats together with everyone, washes up like a man, and sleeps like a person.
You should know, Boris, the Russians and Germans waged war as two ordinary nations. If there are German prisoners, the Russians cannot wipe them out. And what, in your opinion, would the Germans do with the Russian prisoners? After all, they took hundreds of thousands of Russian prisoners. We only know what they did to the Jews here at Babi Yar and in all the towns we saw. What do we know except for that? Do you remember what we thought about what we would do to the Germans if we survived and became free men with medals on our chests? And what are we doing? We are sitting and drinking vodka to forget everything they did to our brothers and sisters. Let's kill a few Germans in the middle of the street! Let's take a little revenge for our blood!
Sankeh, remember, just two weeks ago you came from the front after two years of war. On the fronts there are still so many people who are fighting the German beasts. You yourself have not yet been released from the hospital. You are a Russian soldier. They can still send you back to the front.
What do you think? Will we see someone else from the family? Is someone still alive? They say that if there are only a few Jews left in Kiev, there is no longer any Jew alive in the western part! Do not forget, here the Communist regime has been in existence for many years! Why did they let the Germans wipe out all the Jews?
So what did communism achieve?
What communism achieved is not important. What is important is that the Jews should go to the land of Israel and not be involved in the affairs of foreign countries. The Jews should stop trying to free the world. They should free themselves. But it is too late. There is no one left to go to the land of Israel.
In the afternoon, Boris did not let me rest for long on my mattress. He interrupted my thoughts. Who could I rely on now? If only my brother Chaim were alive now. He was awarded the Lenin Medal of Honor, but I did not know if I should go to receive it. If he was no longer alive, I was not interested in their medal of honor.
Where are we going, Boris?
Get up! Today is a holiday! We are going to Asana! There are more Jewish partisans there!
How do you know that?
I was there today. We need to prepare something, don't we? Get up, we still need to go to the 'Gastronom'.
At Asana's, I met two brothers, partisans from Volhynia. There are Jewish fellows like this who are still alive, even with their parents. Why didn't every Jewish youth go to the forest? I remembered all kinds of things that happened in the forest, and my heart tightened up.
The atmosphere was pleasant. I was happy to meet two more men, Jews who fought with the partisans, Srulik and Chune. We started to talk about our experiences from the time of the Germans, about the partisans, and sometimes there was even a bit of humor in the tragic stories.
I saw that the few Jews who remained were full of courage to start a new life. Hitler did not break them. I did not understand where they got their strength.
We went to the Gastronom, the big shop where you could get everything for very high prices. We bought vodka, delicacies, and so on. We were not lacking money. There were just a few people buying there - high-ranking officers, and the two of us, Jewish partisans.
When we returned, our acquaintances from Kiev were already there. Boris had taken care of that.
Today we are drinking in honor of the 'Red Star', everyone said, and I looked to the left, at my chest, where the red star was shining. I was a bit embarrassed because I imagined I had not fought enough to deserve the medal, but nevertheless, I was proud I received it.
It was probably the only Jewish house in 1944 where Jewish partisans gathered to drink to the medals of honor they received from the Communist regime. But aside from the Kiev women who were a little embarrassed by the meeting, everyone knew this was not our final destination.
We drank to life and showed the Russians that we can fight and also drink. We drank vodka 96% and finished the meal with fat meat, which Asana warmed with onions. Our spirits rose and we began to talk. There was no lack of topics to talk about. We sang partisan songs and Jewish songs. We drank tea and, as usual, there was an argument, but this time about specific Jewish problems. I felt the partisan Srulik was brought up in the same national spirit I was. Indeed he helped me, and we managed to explain to everyone there that the Jews were also responsible for the great tragedy because we should have sent every Jew to the land of Israel who wanted to go there. All the Jews should have gone to their own country and not just some who were chosen for that. If that had been the policy, one million Jews could have left Poland. Our leaders were to blame. This would not happen again. Everyone would leave this accursed land and immigrate to the land of Israel. Boris banged on the table.
But first we have to kill all the German murderers!
I would like to find someone in my family. I have a sister and brother-in-law with a girl in Siberia and a brother in the land of Israel. I also left a sister and brother-in-law in Poland. Will I ever see any of them again? I said.
Asana's father talked about how he went into the woods with four children, and what they went through until the partisans took them to be with them. That a family like that stayed alive is heroic, something not everyone can understand.
Russian battle songs were reverberating: We will go to battle on a sled and take the shooting machine with us. Srulik talked about his partisan experiences, how the Germans surrounded and bombarded them for several weeks when they had no food. As a result, I told one of my experiences, when our unit was surrounded in the Carpathian Mountains.
It was the spring of 1943. Our partisans marched from Galicia. Four armed battalions marched freely in the center of the German occupation during the day on the roads. Wherever we met Germans and police on the roads, we wiped them out. They fled from the villages and towns before we entered them. On the way, we set fire to all the oil wells in Boryslav. We attacked towns and wiped out hundreds of Germans until they sent planes that bombarded us and a few divisions surrounding us. That pushed us to the mountains. We were split up and we lost our heavy artillery and also all our food supplies.
I lay at night on a high mountain, above the clouds, and looked at the black darkness on the foggy horizon. I noticed a small fire that seemed not too distant. I told myself that a fire is a sign there is a house, and if there is a house, there is also a person and food and drink there. I looked at the people around me. Everyone lay tired and hungry on the cold damp ground. I asked a few of them if they wanted to come with me because the house was so close. No, they were too lazy to walk. They preferred to go to sleep hungry. Volinatz told me, Stupid, it is far away! But Andre agreed to go with me. The distance seems like fifty meters, we both agreed. Within one hour we will be back at the battalion and perhaps we will bring the guys food and their joy will be great. We did not ask the commander and we left. We walked in the dark. Partisans from different battalions were lying on the ground and we crawled over them. We did not look around, just at the small fire, but it was not getting closer. Suddenly we started to slide down the mountain so quickly we could not stop. We went into a deep abyss and found ourselves in a deep gorge between two high mountains. We no longer saw the fire. We were determined to go up our mountain or to climb up the other mountain.
So, Andre, what do you think, I asked.
And what do you think, Sankeh? Should we go back?
While talking we started to climb and crawl on the second hill, but the more we went up, it became apparent that the higher mountain went up without end. Despite the cold damp night, we were covered in a cold sweat. A few hours went by until we reached the summit and saw the fire again. We were very relieved and started running over the hills and rocks. We were panting and running.
Who are you? Andrei asked two tall men dressed in furs.
We are shepherds, they replied.
And where are the sheep?
The sheep are far from here.
And what do you have to eat?
We have milk and cheese.
We fell on the cheese and milk and took all of it with us. We started back. Already more than half the night had passed, but something unexpected happened. The milk and cheese affected us too quickly. We had the runs a few times in our pants and we felt terrible, but our desire to reach the battalion as soon as possible urged us on, and we kept on going with all our might. When we went up our mountain, the dawn broke, but our mood was worse when we found the mountain empty. They had gone. Our spirits fell and our fate held us up for a long time. Another thing happened to me on that mountain. I found a coat that looked terrific. I threw off my coat and put on the coat I found, but after I had gone over to our mountain, I felt bites all over my body. I put my hand under it and pulled out a pile of lice. I remembered that I had pictures of my father in the other coat, and in return I now had an infested coat. This clouded my spirits for a long time.
And in this way I began to wander all around Galicia with Andrei while my body was covered with lice.
We sat as one family. Everyone talked with feeling and warmth about his experiences. Boris told of his town in Volhynia. There were Polish refugees who had fled from the Germans to the Russians. The Soviets did not allow refugees to live near the border and suggested that the Jews from Poland travel into the heart of Russia. When the Jews refused to go, the Russians asked them if they wanted to return to their homes. Many of them signed up to return to their hometowns under the Germans, including many Communist Jews from Poland who had become disillusioned with the Soviet regime. The Russians put them all on a train and transported them to Siberia. But this turned out to be good, I said, because thanks to that they all remained alive. The Russians did not send people to the pits as the Germans did.
But to enslave them in temperatures of forty degrees without food, they did do that, said Boris. I know that from a Communist in our town in Poland, who returned to Poland from Russia. The Russians caught him and forced him to stand barefoot on the ice for the whole night and he died. They exiled other Communist patriots from our town, and they all perished.
This is exactly like the situation under Hitler in Germany, added Boris and Tamara glanced at him angrily.
Palestine is our land, said Srulik. There we will be farmers and workers, and also soldiers and officers. The conversation moved to the rest of our journeys and other wanderings. I think soon I will go closer to the west, near the front, if they release me from the hospital.
Are you taking Sarah with you? Boris asked.
If she wants to
She looked down and said nothing. She was silent, meaning she agreed.
Will you come for tea tomorrow? she asked.
Boris is leaving tomorrow. We are going to the train, I said.
Before we left we made our last toast to life. I thanked them for the party they made in my honor and said a few words, which I concluded like this:
Dear friends, so far we have fought against the Germans murderers and liberated a foreign land, the homeland of others. The land here is still reeking with the Jewish blood of our fathers, our mothers, our brothers and sisters. The pits are still moving because the people were buried alive and crying out for revenge. Even if we avenged, it is not enough, but one thing we swear: We will build our home only in the land of Israel, our homeland. We will build our home with the surviving remnant.
Thus ended the day when I received the medal of honor, the Red Star. We walked a little drunkenly on the sad empty streets of Kiev and saw our country from afar. We still had a goal we could live for.
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