By Volf Oks (Buenos Aires)
English Translation by Susan Sobel
You can't remember everything terrible that happens to you during terrible times. At a terrible time, the time when the Germans were here was even more terrible than usual they were actually horrible times. At such times, you spend most of the time thinking about how to survive or save your nearest and dearest. And at such times, you can't always remember extraneous facts about those times or the possibility of saving yourself.
Some things, however, are etched in your memory so deeply that you can't ever forget them, even if you want to. You have to recollect and record some of them so you remember and so people who weren't there and can't imagine such horrible things will know about them and remember.
I'll describe them as well as I can, because you have to be a master and great painter to recount everything that happened to the Jews and, in particular, to the few who managed to survive. I'll try to describe some of the horrible things I saw and lived through, as much as my poor memory lets me.
May these recollections serve to memorialize the thousands and millions of fallen martyrs and serve as information for our children, so that, God forbid, neither they nor anyone else will ever have to live through the difficult and horrible things that we did.
As the Germans were overrunning most of Eastern Europe and soaking it in Jewish blood, I found myself in the village of Mizoch, 30 kilometers from Kremenets in the direction of Zolbenov. When the Germans entered our village, all the Jews were united and strongly believed that it would be spared from destruction. But we didn't rely solely on miracles, and we made the mighty Germans pay a high price.
When the Russians occupied Mizoch, they set up a place for all the barbers, and I ran it. When the war began, they mobilized me and sent me to Dubno. However, when the Germans invaded, they captured a big bunch of recently uniformed soldiers, took them to the non-Jewish cemetery, and shot them all. Another soldier who was already a veteran of the war and I were the only ones who managed to survive and return to Mizoch.
As soon as the Germans arrived, they organized a Ukrainian police force, which did horrible deeds deeds much worse than the Germans'. They searched for and looted Jewish businesses during the day and even more so at night. There was a Jewish mayor in town, Aba Shtibl, who didn't know any German, but the Germans linked him up with several homeless people who knew German.
They formed a Judenrat and, later, a Jewish police force, whose task was to consent to and carry out German orders, which meant taking gold, money, fur coats, and other contributions from Jews.
After about two or three weeks, the barber's guild was reorganized, but this time under German auspices. The German police chief ordered that all equipment appear in half an hour and it took no more than 15 minutes for everything to be in place. One of my hair clippers was missing a spring, and they beat me so hard that I was sick for a full two months.
Later, the Germans organized a work market, where you had to come every day and ask what work was needed, which was a way of identifying those considered weak and sending them to do the worst, most humiliating work. Bunyes, a rich Jew, who was known for his nervousness, was sent to nurse a baby . We lived, you understand, by selling goods, the things we had earned.
Immediately, there was an edict that every Jew must wear a patch with a Star of David on it. Later, a new edict proclaimed that you must wear two yellow Star of David patches when you went to the market. Jews, however, were permitted to come to the market only after two in the afternoon and were forbidden to sell products such as milk, eggs, and meat. In addition, Jews could only be employees and were forbidden to be in business for themselves.
Jews secretly looked for a cow or calf to slaughter for a piece of meat. This is how Gelman the slaughterer remained occupied. But the Ukrainians informed on him, and when the Germans came in and saw the meat, they removed Gelman, and two days later built a gallows in the middle of the street and hanged him. He hung for a day, and then the gallows with the murdered Jew was taken to the neighboring villages. They also looked for the Christian who sold the cow, but no one revealed his identity, and they didn't find him.
After that, they created a ghetto in the village. There were no longer any Jews in the surrounding area, and we wanted to be with our own people and know what was happening in other villages, mainly in Kremenets. We sent a Christian there, who brought back very sad news. He told us that Jews were still alive but that the number was diminishing and that a large number of Kremenets Jews had been liquidated near the brickyard.
Meanwhile, life continued as usual in Mizoch. Other than in the case of Gelman, no one was harmed until 1942. There was Rabbi Getsel, a tall man with a stately appearance and a snow-white beard, who commanded respect even among non-Jews. The rabbi received permission from the Germans for us to gather in the synagogue on the Days of Awe and other holidays, and when the permission was given, he interpreted it positively, because if they let us congregate, the rabbi pointed out, it was evidence that we would live through the hard times.
All the Jews, even the freethinkers, came to the religious services, and not just on the Days of Awe but on all holidays until the last day of Simchas Torah, when we heard sporadic shooting. It became louder and more frequent, and we saw that the synagogue was surrounded by soldiers and firefighters. Many who tried to run away were shot.
I hid in the prepared hideout, but my mother-in-law said she would stay in the courtyard. When a German arrived, she saved herself by giving him a ring. Meanwhile, the synagogue was set ablaze, and those who tried to jump out were shot. I myself saw them shoot Katshke, an old man of 90. I saw my neighbor Azriel's daughter, who was insane, run into the fire.
And that terrible night, the Jewish village of Mizoch was burned down and wiped out.
I ran away and went to a poor Pole, a broom maker who was known as a good person, and asked him if he could save me. He answered that he could hide me at his place, and in return I gave him my clothing. However, to my misfortune, a Ukrainian policeman, a known scoundrel, found me and demanded money. Because I had no money, he took me to the Mizoch commissariat, where I ran into my acquaintance Volodka, who wanted to rescue me but was afraid of Nikepor. At the commissariat, I saw my wife and my children a boy and a girl. They threw us all into the cellar, where we had to wait for more people and a semi-crazy person who made prophesies. He foresaw that I would be saved.
With our bare hands and our nails, we ripped out pieces of stone in the shape of an eight. We made a hole and tried to leave. My child started crying, and the Germans starting shooting. However, the escape, including mine, turned out well.
I returned to the Pole again, who again agreed to rescue me and hide me in the loft. However, I heard the husband and wife arguing, with the wife saying she'd inform on him. In the meantime, the infamous Nikepor also came, took my belongings, and let me go.
I aged over the course of the next few days. My beard grew, and when I ran into a policeman, who barely recognized me, I begged him to kill me. The policeman gave me a piece of bread and told me to go to his village, where Jews were hiding in haystacks. When I got there, I saw dozens of haystacks. I asked a non-Jewish boy where the Jews were, and I broke into tears.
At night, the boy took me to Semyon, his father, who was the leader of the Bandera Gangs. However, the Bandera Gangs were then fighting only for an independent Ukraine, not against the Jews, and he led me and a group of Jews to a camp, a pit on an island.
There in the pit, Barukh, a boy, developed typhoid fever. The only medicine we had for him was a bit of snow, and not surprisingly, he quickly died from such a remedy. Where do you put him? We left him in the pit, put up a marker, and set aside a second pit to dig. We stayed there for eight days, and the second boy, Yisrolik, got sick, became delirious with fever, and died there, too.
At night, I ran away from that cursed place and went back to Semyon's. He asked me how I had gotten so swollen. His wife gave me a piece of bread, which I hadn't had in a long time. Later, I came to a lone peasant's, who usually ate alone. At night, I took his horses to pasture, and the peasant treated me with respect. In the village, a rumor spread that I was a saint or an angel and that nothing could kill me . Once, a peasant begged me to spend at least one night with him, and I stayed for three days.
At that time, I met my current wife, whose hair had turned gray from distress. I cut her hair, and a peasant made us a special hiding place in the woods and brought us food daily.
One day, Alenkovsky, a peasant with a moustache, came and told me that there were 20 Jews in the woods. I went with him and saw 20 Mizoch Jews who had survived, all fearful and unkempt and, as you say, with one foot in the grave.
The first thing I did was shave them with a sharp knife and give them a bit of courage.
Right at that moment, a band of 60 Ukrainians began shooting at the Jews. They shot through my shirt and hat. The peasants heard that the tshloviek (the mentsh, as they called me) had been killed, and when they saw that I was alive, they crossed themselves, and one peasant took me into his bed as a cure
Later, we set ourselves up in the woods, where we lived like wild men. We hid from the Germans and the police many times. One day, we learned that there were a number of Jews in the village of Tshekhen, and we went there and found some people we knew and some we didn't. I met a Jew named Nachum Kopet (who now lives in Israel) and found my current wife, Bronye, whom I had already lost track of; Hershke and Mekhel, two boys I knew from Mizoch; the Fliteres brothers; Hershke and Meir Rozenblat; Max Kotovits; and many others. There were also Czech partisans, who were friendly to the Jews.
I wanted to stay there. I even tried to give them some money two fivers but it was impossible for me to stay there, and they told me to go with God and my money.
I wandered far and for a long time. On the way, between some nice houses, I found a broken-down barn and stayed there. A few days later, I heard gunfire, and they told me that the Russians had arrived.
The Russian intelligence arrived, and one of them was the former Dubno procurer, who treated me and the other Jews very well, even though we also found an anti-Semite among the Red Army men. From that moment, we were free men, and our constant running from death came to an end.
|Group of Kremenets Survivors at a Memorial Service in Germany for the 14,000 Martyrs|
|Jewish Primary School in Kremenets|
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Updated 12 Aug 2012 by LA