[Translator's note All the names in this section are transcribed according to their phonetic spelling from the original Hebrew text; therefore, they may not appear as they were spelled in their original language German, Polish, Russian or Ukrainian.]
According to Soviet military strategy, the territories annexed to the Soviet Union from Poland in September 1939 were to serve as buffer zones against German attack. Therefore, they began constructing airfields, fortifications and other military installations. In addition to those who became of draft age, that is those born between 1918-1920, some of the reserves, those born between 1912-1917, were drafted for three months to help in the construction of Volhyn's defenses. The area was included in the Kiev Special Military Zone, where the Fifth Army was positioned and whose headquarters was located in Lutsk. The fortifications on the old Polish-Soviet border, the Stalin Line defenses, remained and were incorporated into the security configuration.
At dawn on 22 June 1941, the German attack began with the Sixth Army and an armored group penetrating into Volhyn. They operated in the framework of Heeresgruppe Sud Southern Army Unit. The armored unit, which stood at the head of the attack, saw action in southern Volhyn moving in the direction of Kiev. The armored units reached Dubno on 25 June and reached Rovno on 28 June. To stop the German advance, the Soviets launched counter-attacks, one on 24 June in the Torczyn area and the second on 26 June with two Soviet units that arrived. One came from the north and one from the south, with the goal of driving a wedge in the German armor in the Dubno-Rovno region. Two thousand tanks took part in this battle, which was the last in the Volhyn campaign and lasted until 1 July when the Soviet army was defeated and withdrew to the Stalin Line. By the end of June the southern part of Volhyn was overrun with the exception of the Kremenets-Szumsk-Ostrog area, which was conquered in the first week of July. The conquest of Volhyn was completed by the middle of July when the northern portion of Volhyn fell.
The invasion, which was accompanied with heavy bombing and shelling coupled with the rapid advance of the German army, prevented all but about 5% of Volhyn's Jews from succeeding in fleeing eastward. In western Volhyn it did not exceed 3%. The government evacuation system that went into operation after 22 June was able to evacuate only a portion of the Soviet workers. Not only were several thousand Jews killed with an unknown number wounded as a result of the invasion, in the fighting many Jewish homes and farm buildings were destroyed.
By 19 July Volhyn was under military rule headed by the district commander who was stationed in Lutsk who was subject to the department of the home guard civil governor of the southern regiment. With the help of Ukrainian nationalists, under the supervision of the Einstatzgruppen Ukrainian auxiliary, police units were set up in every urban area and village council. Very quickly the military government circulated its first orders concerning Jews. They included the obligation to report for forced labor, requirement to wear some identifying sign a white band on the sleeve or a blue Star of David, the establishment of a Judenrat and a restriction on movement of Jews.
In the first days of occupation there were pogroms and 'actions' [Aktzia] in Volhyn including most of the areas where Jews lived. The pogroms, perpetrated by local Ukrainians, took place during the period of Ukrainian rule that was established immediately after the withdrawal of the Soviet government and during the first days of German occupation. These incidents were incited and encouraged by Einsatzkommando 4a that was posted together with headquarters of the 6th German army. Pogroms took place in twenty-seven towns and twelve villages. A great deal of looting of property occurred and some five hundred people lost their lives. The most brutal pogrom took place in Kremenets carried out in the name of 'revenge' for the deaths of Ukrainian nationalist prisoners who were executed by the Soviet security police when they retreated eastward. In Volhyn's northern frontier cities groups of young Jews attempted to protect local Jews following in the tradition of self-defense used in the period of pogroms during the civil war. These attempts at self-defense took place in Lubieszow (Lyubeshov), Rokitno (Rokitnoye), Serniki (Sernik), Troyanowka and Zofjowka.
During this time Einsatzkommando 4a carried out Aktzias [pogroms]. The first were directed against Soviet workers and in this framework hundreds of Jews were murdered; in some places only a few lost their lives while in cities dozens and even hundreds died. The numbers of those who lost their lives for a few locations: Ludmir 350; Lutsk 300; Ratno 450 and Torczyn 240. Local Ukrainians aided the Germans in the preparation of these lists and locating the victims. At times Jews who were not connected in any way with the Soviet administration such as rabbis, communal workers or intellectuals were included. The Aktzias were carried out by Einsatzkommando 4a under various guises and pretexts such as 'revenge,' mentioned above, or 'cleansing' the area of straggling Soviet units. Thousands were murdered in the larger cities such as Dubno, Lutsk and Ostrog. Some 15,000 died in this stage of the bloodshed.
On 1 September 1941 the civilian government, the Reichskommissariat [Reichs Territory Commissioner] under the direction of Erich Koch was established. It located its capital in Rovno. The areas of Kamenets Podolsk and southern Polesie (the districts of Brisk, Kobryn and Pinsk) creating General-Batzirk [?] Volhyn-Podolia whose capital was at first in Brisk and from June 1942 in Lutsk. Koch's friend, Heinrich Schoene was appointed Commissar-General. Volhyn was divided into twelve zones that in turn were divided into sub-districts. In Kovel, Lutsk and Rovno the Ukrainian mayors became subordinate German city commissars. In the rest of the communities, the Ukrainian mayors were subservient to the German governors.
In the middle of September 1941 the regional commissars [Gebietskommissars] were issued orders to change the Jewish identification symbol to two yellow patches eight centimeters in diameter. One was to be worn on the left chest and the second on the middle of the back. A fine, euphemistically called a contribution, was levied on the Jews to be paid in cash, silver, gold, jewelry, articles and commodities. In addition, the confiscation of Jewish property by German and Ukrainian authorities continued unabated. The responsibility for carrying out confiscations and collecting fines was placed on the Judenrat. The heads of the various Judenrats were for the most part held as hostages to make sure that the demands were carried out. The value of these payments in gold and silver alone came to about one hundred million rubles, or 2,500 rubles per family. This would have been equivalent to the annual salary of the head of the family if he were paid a wage for the forced labor that he was required to perform.
Craftsmen and professionals such as physicians and pharmacists continued working in their occupations, as the number of skilled non-Jews in those fields was practically zero. All the rest of the Jews, males from the age of fifteen through sixty, were required to fix and build roads and bridges, cut trees in the forests or work as porters at railroad stations or in factories. Others were put to work on farms. Girls and young women worked providing services. The working day lasted ten hours and those who worked far from where they lived had to add on the additional time it took them to get to and from their workplace. They went to their places of work under the guard of Ukrainian police. At their workplace they were guarded by German or local overseers. These generally abused the Jewish workers, beating and injuring them. From sunset to sunrise Jews were under curfew and house arrest.
Food available to Jews was greatly reduced, both in quality and quantity. Eating meat was prohibited and if butchers and shohtim were caught violating this ruling they were publicly hanged. Cattle and goats kept by Jews in their households were confiscated at the very beginning of the occupation, thus preventing Jews from getting milk and procuring dairy products. Even the hours when Jews were permitted to purchase food were severely limited and in addition farmers demanded excessive payment in goods and clothing. The official basic food was bread that was also paid for by performing various kinds of work. The bread ration for Jews was half of that provided for the general population. A working Jew received between 200-300 grams of bread a day while those who did not work received between 100-150 grams. These amounts were cut almost in half when Jews were imprisoned in ghettos. Wages of the forced laborers were paid to the Judenrat that used them to pay for the food allotments, which they then distributed to the Jews. The Judenrat attempted to increase the portions of food either by purchasing additional items secretly or by setting up soup kitchens for the needy. In the beginning, some help to increase the small amounts of food was provided by foodstuffs stored in basements and private warehouses. An additional source was food received by Jewish young men in exchange for work they did in villages or that which was gotten by bartering with farmers.
In the period between September and the beginning of November 1941 a new series of massive Aktzias took place. The largest of all of them was in Rovno on 5-6 November where some 21,000 people, nearly 80% of the Jewish population, were taken to a pine forest on the outskirts of the city and murdered next to previously prepared open pits. In Ostrog about 2,500 perished in the Aktzia in the beginning of September and in Kostopol some 1,400 died early in October. By the middle of November 1941 approximately 20% of Volhyn's Jews had lost their lives.
The Germans began confining Jews to ghettos in the beginning of October 1941. This campaign continued to the end of summer of 1942. In a number of smaller towns the ghettos were not walled and in villages most of the local Jews remained in their own homes. They were transferred to nearby ghettos only close to the time of liquidation. Ghettos set up in the cities were surrounded by walls of wooden planks, two to two and a half meters high topped with a half a meter of barbed wire. Jewish police guarded the gates inside the ghetto while the guards on the outside were German police but for the most part they were Ukrainian. The Ukrainians would usually torment those who entered while searching for smuggled food. Anyone caught smuggling food into the ghetto was beaten, sometimes arrested and even executed. When the ghettos were set up, the poorest neighborhoods or areas were chosen for their location. At times, wells for water were found outside the fence and the Jews were permitted to draw water only for a short time during the day. Living conditions in the ghetto were very crowded with ten to twenty people housed in a room that often did not exceed twenty square meters. Sometimes, the amount of time the Germans gave Jews to move into the ghettos was very short, only a matter of hours and the Jews were unable to transfer all their possessions. On occasion the German and Ukrainian police robbed people at the ghetto gates. In some locations, the 'useful' Jews, those having needed skills, were separated from the others and housed in a gated compound inside the ghetto or in a separate ghetto further away. There were places where members of the Judenrat, the Jewish police and their families were allowed to live outside of but in close proximity to the ghetto. Crowded living conditions and poor nutrition resulted in many deaths from infectious diseases, especially among the elderly and young children who suffered from malnutrition. Except for a few communities where for a short period of time small study groups were conducted, the grim conditions prevented the organization of educational and cultural activities.
As was stated, the Germans appointed a Judenrat in each locality whose responsibility was to head the Jewish community, represent it before the government and carry out its orders. Along with the Judenrat there was a Jewish police force charged with keeping order. In the cities, the Judenrat appointed twelve people, in larger towns the number of Jewish police ranged between five and nine and in small towns two. Most of the Judenrat members held positions of community leadership before September 1939. Some had served as members of city councils, while others were involved in fraternal or professional organizations. Intellectuals from among the refugees who were fluent in German sometimes joined them. In some communities the Germans replaced the heads of the Judenrat because their predecessors committed suicide or were executed for refusing to carry out German orders.
In contrast to the community leadership that concerned itself with religious and social matters, the Judenrat was forced to deal with things that were usually the responsibility of the city administration such as sanitation, drainage, health, housing, keeping order, nutrition, collecting fees and supplying forced laborers. The most atrocious task for them was to provide the Germans with young people who were murdered after completing their work. This is what happened to young people sent to Kiev or Vinnitsa to construct the Fuehrer's headquarters. The actual responsibility for carrying out orders was placed on the Jewish police, who for the most part were recruited from among the area's young people but also from among the refugees. Most of the Judenrats, as stated, were made up of elderly community activists who had a great deal of experience working for the general welfare and received positive evaluations after the war from survivors. This was not so regarding the Jewish police whose job was to enforce German orders and whose members for the most part had no experience. For this reason about half were looked upon favorably concerning their behavior and actions.
Forced labor camps in Volhyn were small and were mostly located on farms or in rural areas. These camps were meant to supply seasonal agricultural workers. At the end of the season, the camps were dismantled and the Jews were returned to the ghettos. Some of the camps were near major factories such as sawmills. There was a camp like that in Kostopol, for example. The work camps were under the jurisdiction of the labor branch of the territorial commissioners [Gebeitskommissariat]. We know of another such camp in Lutsk that had 500 youngsters that was set up by the initiative of the SS in Lublin whose head was Globocnik. The regimen in the camps was brutal with long hours of work and extremely minimal food. In the end of January, this camp was transferred to the territorial commissioner and conditions in the camp and the attitude to the Jewish prisoners improved.
The annihilation of the Jews of Volhyn began in July 1942 and continued until the middle of October of that year. The murder project was conducted by the head office of Security and Security Police (SDCPU)[?] of Volhyn-Podolia in full cooperation with the German civilian government. It was carried out by special units of SDCPU[?] recruited from district offices [Gebiete]. They were assisted by the tracking and mobile units of the German police and Ukrainian auxiliary police in hunting down Jews and the sealing the ghettos. Officials of the regional commissars [Gebietskommissare] coordinated the preparations, provided transportation where necessary and participated in listing the valuables confiscated from the Jews. They also collected the clothing and possessions of those murdered, took care of sorting it, sending a portion to Germany and distributing the rest among local residents. When the number of security forces assigned to them was not adequate for the job the SDA was given home-front army units to help. It was the members of the SDCPU[?] who shot and murdered Jews at the death pits. The various security forces shot stragglers, those dragged from their hiding places and those who fled. The number of these alone came to many thousands.
Following are the dates of the liquidation of the ghettos of Volhyn; the number under the month indicates the date.
10 Kamien Koszyrski
26 Dombrovitz (Dabrowica), Kostopol, Rokitno (Rokitnoye)
28 Lubieszow (Lyubeshov), Rafalowka, Wlodimierzec
1-15 Ustila (Uscilug), Ludomir (Vladimir Volynskiy/Wlodimierz Wolynski)
23 Aleksandria, Tuczyn
265 (sic) Korzec (Korets/Koretz)
26 Ludwipol, Miedzyrzecz Korecki (Mezerich Korets)
1-7 Luboml[Note: The following list does not appear in the Hebrew original. It is an alphabetical listing of the ghettos liquidated between July and October 1942 as noted above. Aleksandria, Beresteczko, Berezne, Boremel (Michalowka), Demidowka, Derazno, Dombrovitz (Dabrowica), Dubno, Horochow, Kamien Koszyrski, Korzec (Korets/Koretz), Kostopol, Kovel, Kremenets, Lanowce,Lubieszow (Lyubeshov), Luboml, Ludomir (Vladimir Volynskiy/Wlodimierz Wolynski), Ludwipol, Lutsk, Maniewicze, Miedzyrzecz Korecki (Mezerich Korets), Mizoch, Mlynow, Olyka, Opalin, Ostrog, Ostrozec, Poczajow, Radziwilow, Rafalowka, Rokitno (Rokitnoye), Rovno, Sarny, Shumsk, Stepan, Torczyn, Trubitz (Targowica, Tuczyn, Ustila (Uscilug), Wisniowiec, Wlodimierzec, Wysock and Zdolbunow.]
5 Dubno, Ostrog
8 Boremel (Michalowka), Demidowka
9 Mlynow, Ostrozec, Trubitz (Targowica)
13 Mizoch, Zdolbunow
Between July and October 1942, approximately 150,000 Jews comprising about 80% of those confined in ghettos perished. Several thousand vital workers were kept alive temporarily. Of them, about 2,000 were murdered in November-December 1942 and 1,500 in the first half of 1943. Thus, the end came to Jewish life in Volhyn. The only survivors were those in the forests and those in hiding.
The response of Volhyn's Jews to the liquidation Aktzias was varied and most was spontaneous. In the majority of cases, knowledge of the pending annihilations came very close to the actual scheduled date. The information was provided by farmers or prisoners of war who dug the death pits. The most common reaction to this news was to hide or flee. But it was hard to find a suitable hiding place in one story wooden houses and there was not enough time to prepare appropriate 'bunkers.' It was also hard to find refuge among the Christians, since the majority of the Ukrainians were hostile to Jews and at best demonstrated complete indifference. Only a few individuals from among them, such as members of the Baptist church who most certainly should be singled out [for praise] were willing to risk their lives for the persecuted Jews. In some cases Jews found hiding places with Polish villagers until they were forced to relocate to urban settlements in the spring of 1943 because of murderous raids by Ukrainian nationalists. Czech villagers also hid Jews. There were even some Germans who were willing to help. The most well known among these was the engineer Herman Friedrich Graebe, who lived in Zdolbunow where he headed a German building firm that repaired and constructed buildings for the railway administration in the Ukrainian Reichskommissariat [Reichs Territory Commissioner].
About 15,000 Jews were in hiding and it is thought that approximately 27,000 were involved in the mass flights. Of the mass escapes the largest numbers who fled came from Sarny 3,500; Tuczyn 2,000; Lutsk 2,000; Warkowicze 1,600; Dombrovitz 1,500 and Ostrozec 1,330. The number of survivors among those who escaped and those who were in hiding was small, in spite of the fact that in several places, especially northern Volhyn, the geographic conditions were favorable. Climactic conditions and hunger along with the hostile and malevolent attitude of the Ukrainian population made escape difficult and lessened the chances of survival. Another contributing factor was that the Aktzias and annihilation took place in the months before Soviet partisans began their operations in Volhyn. In contrast, there were some various Ukrainian bands already roaming the forests. Several of these later became UPA units nationalist Ukrainian partisans who saw Jews as supporters of Bolshevism and hunted them relentlessly.
Another response was individual examples of resistance. Most if not all of these were spontaneous. This included passive resistance, statements of rebellion and calls for revenge while on the edges of the death pits, attacking their murderers with their bare hands, items made of metal or guns, setting houses in the ghetto on fire and jumping into the flames committing suicide and other forms of opposition. We only know of a few of these desperate efforts; for most of them, no witnesses remained alive.
The forms of Jewish resistance that stand out most were ghetto rebellions and the organization of groups to escape to the forests to fight. The Volhyn ghetto rebellions took place at least eight to ten months prior to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. For the most part, these revolts were improvised and organized within a short time. Physical conditions in the ghetto determined the type of revolt, that generally included setting the houses of the ghetto on fire, engaging their persecutors in a battle for a short time and fleeing to the nearby forests that is a two pronged operation of fighting and fleeing. The most well known among these revolts took place in Tuczyn on 24-25 September 1942. Under cover of fire and smoke some 2,000 Jews escaped to the Postomat forests near the city. However, few survived until the day of liberation. We know very little about the rebellion in Mizoch on 14 October 1942. It is known that houses were set ablaze and that groups of young people were involved in a battle using improvised weapons made of steel. About half the Jews of the ghetto, some 800, fled to the forests. Even less is known about the fight in Kremnitz on 10 August 1942. Young people set the ghetto houses on fire and battled for two days, using weapons found in a cache of the Polish underground that was included by chance within the ghetto limits. Slightly more is known about what took place in the forced labor camp in Lutsk where there were 500 workers. When they found out that they were going to be murdered the next day, the men quickly organized, arming themselves with improvised steel weapons and distributing the few firearms in their possession. On 12 December 1942 the Germans surrounded the camp and a battle ensued that lasted until the afternoon hours. Almost all the Jews fell fighting. We know that there were plans for revolts in other locations but because of various circumstances they did not take place. Preparations took place in Dombrovitz, Horochow, Ludwipol, Ostrog, Sarny, Uscilung (Ostila), Wlodimierz, Wysock and other locations.
Similar to the rebellions, there were locally initiated fighting groups that were formed independently of any kind of roof organization. Most of them organized on the eve of the ghetto liquidations and were therefore spur-of-the-moment and improvised. Their goal was to survive in the surrounding forests with weapons in their hands. As mentioned above, in the summer of 1942 the Soviet partisan resistance in Volhyn was in its very beginning stages. There were a few very small groups operating in the region at that time such as the unit of Medvedev who at first disregarded the local people since he saw his primary task as that of intelligence gathering. Attempts by the Jewish groups to connect with the Soviet partisan movement were not successful. Thus, when they first entered the forests they had only themselves to depend on. The lack of connections, the hostility of the local population, the very limited amount of weapons and other factors resulted in the Jews remaining in the ghettos until very close to their liquidation.
There were already problems and doubts in the organizational stage. Young people knew that they had to abandon their families, leaving them with no means of support and indeed as hostages in the hands of the Germans. Many Judenrats opposed the organization of they young people claiming that if the Germans would find out they would murder the Jews of the ghetto without hesitation.
The estimate is that between thirty-five and forty armed groups organized to go to the forests. Each of these groups had between ten to a few dozen members. Their weapons were poor both in quality and number. They were generally purchased from Poles, in whom they had greater trust and they were paid for in gold or in goods and commodities such as furs, boots, cloth and others. Conditions in the ghetto obviously made it difficult to check if the weapons worked properly. Certain types of weapons such as pistols and short-barreled rifles were inappropriate for fighting in the forest. The amount of ammunition was limited. For example, the Gildenman group had only five bullets for the one pistol in its possession. Weapons' training was also limited because of ghetto conditions and the lack of qualified instructors. Training for partisan fighting was non-existent. From the information we have about thirteen groups numbering about 240 fighters at the time they left the ghetto had eighteen rifles some of which were short barrel, ten pistols and a small number of hand grenades. Because of this, part of the group was unable to hold its ground and in the first encounter with the enemy they were all killed. Groups that managed to reach the forests and arm themselves with weapons captured during skirmishes, mostly with Ukrainian police, were able to hold out until the end of 1942, at which time it was possible to join with the Soviet partisan units.
Three underground and three partisan movements operated in Volhyn. Two of them The Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Polish Armia Krajowa (AK) [Home Army] were outwardly nationalistic and Jews could not join them. The most hostile were the Ukrainians who fought against the Soviets and saw Jews as an element that supported their enemy. The Polish underground had a few Jewish members who passed as Poles. The Soviet underground was small as were the number of Jews in it.
In the second half of 1942 units of the nationalist Ukrainian movement, the UPA (the Ukrainian Insurgent Army) and the Soviet partisans appeared in the forests. Later, in the middle of 1943 when the Ukrainian attacks on Poles increased, units of the Armia Krajowa (AK) came into the picture. There were some Jews in the ranks of the UPA serving on the medical staff and a few with special expertise such as tailors, shoemakers, needle workers and others. The vast majority of them were murdered on the eve of the liberation of the area. The Jews in the Polish Armia Krajowa generally served in Self Defense units that operated in several villages Huta Stepanska (Sarny District), Pashberzha (Lutsk District), Panska Dalina and Kordivan (Dubno District). In March 1944 recruitment of AK units began for Operation Tempest (Burza), which concentrated the 27th Division of the AK in the square of territory extending between Kovel Dorohusk - Bug River Ludmir-Torczyn. In the framework of Infantry Division Number 23 there was a unit of Jewish craftsmen who were refugees from Ludmir and the surrounding area. In the first company of that division, commanded by Waldyslaw Cieslinski (The Little Piotrus), there was a small group of Jewish fighters. Units of the anti-Semitic NSZ, who were apparently responsible for the murder of 120 Jews in the village of Worczyn in the Ludmir District, joined the 27th Division of the AK.
From all that is stated above, it is clear that Jews could only be integrated into the Soviet partisan movement once it began to establish itself towards the end of 1942. The first one to initiate the effort to incorporate the small local Jewish units to the division was Colonel Anton Brinski who was sent by the division's commander Linkov from southeast Byelorussia. The brigade was established in the middle of December 1942 and included the units of Anishchenko, Kartukhin, Kruk, Max, Misyura, Piluk and Sazonov. Vasily Begma, the former secretary of the Communist party in Rovno arrived in Volhyn in the beginning of 1943. He began organizing the Rovno Units on the basis of the company he received from the Saburov Company and part of the Brinski Unit. Alexei Fyodorov arrived in north-central Volhyn in June 1943 with his unit and established himself there as the Volhyn Unit. In the framework of the district units, district and underground party committees were formed. After the struggle for their independent existence that continued for a few months, the Jewish groups were permitted to join with the various units of the Soviet partisans.
The region, in which the Jewish partisan units operated, the northern part of Volhyn, was an ideal area for partisan activity since it had thick forests. The best sections from this standpoint were the east, northeast and north central parts that were the closest to the large partisan bases. The units of Medvedev already began operating in the eastern and northeastern sections in the summer of 1942. After the liquidation Aktzia in Koretz, Moshe Gildenman arrived with several Jewish groups. They did not permit them to remain in the division and they were sent northeast in the direction of Byelorussia. In the area of the Olevsk-Sarny railroad line they met up with the remnants of a group of one hundred Jews who were sent to that area on the orders of Medvedev. Some of them joined Gildenman, who continued northward to the same rail line where they based themselves. Thanks to several battle engagements, some of them very daring, Gildenman was able to equip all twenty of his fighters with weapons. He conducted anti-Nazi propaganda, destroyed German warehouses and punished collaborators from among the local residents. In the end of January 1943 he met the Saburov unit. Most of his men joined that unit while he and his son Simcha received authorization to establish a Jewish unit within the company. With time the number of non-Jews in the unit increased. Gildenman's unit (Diadia Misha) mostly operated in the northern part of the Zhitomir district. Two small groups, whose members came from Alinsk, Berezne and Tuczyn, were active in the area of the Slucz River until most of them were admitted into the Medvedev unit.
North of the Ulbesk-Sarny railroad line a group organized that was made up of Jews from Dombrovitz (Dabrowica), Sarnik and Wlodimierzec. Leading the group was the Ukrainian Maxim Misyura. In December 1942 they joined the Brinski group as a unit. Along side of this unit was a Jewish civilian camp.
In the north central region two units were set up under the leadership of Jozef Sobiesiak (Max) and Mikola Konishchuk (Kruk) based on Jewish groups from Kamien Koszyrski, Lishniovka, Manievicze, Poworsk and others. In the beginning of 1943 they joined the Brinski group. Along side of them was a civilian camp with hundreds of Jews. The Zofiyevka group was located in the same area. After operating independently in the Klopochin forests in the vicinity of the town and because of the pressure of being hunted by the Germans, it was decided to move northeastward to search for Soviet units. On the way people from the Kolki group joined them. They arrived in the area of Kovpak group and its members joined the 3rd division within the framework of this group. During the group's march to the Carpathians in the summer of 1943, some of the young men of the Zofiyevka group served as officers for a group of young Jews from Skalat who were liberated from a German work camp. Another group that left the town of Zofiyevka and was organized on the initiative of two young refugees was wiped out in one of the German manhunts in the winter of 1942/43. Only two of its officers and another young member survived. Another group was organized in the Jewish agricultural colony of Osova. At its head was a native of the colony who served in the Red Army. He was captured by the Germans but managed to escape and he returned to his village. When the village's Jews were liquidated, many of them fled. Later when they met in the forest they joined the civilian camp that was established near the settlement. However, in the first German hunt for Jews, most of the non-combatants perished. In 1943 the group joined Death to Fascism that was in the framework of the First Rovno Division.
The Soviet partisans only began operations in the area of the northwest in the middle of 1943. It consolidated with the Volhyn group of Alexei Fyodorov. Jews from the village of Datyn, Szack, Lubomyl and individuals from other ghettos joined with it. Several groups operated in Kovel its members, who worked in the warehouse of captured Soviet armaments, stole weapons and even smuggled them to the forests. It seems that they had contact with the Soviet unit of Nasyekin who was a vehement anti-Semite. When the first group arrived their weapons were taken from them and they were murdered. In all likelihood this appears to have caused reluctance on the part of members of other groups and they remained in the ghetto where they perished at the time when the ghetto was liquidated.
Conditions for the groups in central and southern Volhyn were especially difficult. There were no thick forests in this region, which was more densely settled and was ruled in part by bands of the UPA. Soviet partisan groups were not based in this area. These difficulties were experienced in the flesh by the Olyka group that numbered fifty-three fighters and operated southeast of the town. In a German manhunt that took place on 9 January 1943, most of its members fell. Those who survived hid for the duration of the winter until 16 April 1943 when they reestablished their unit. On 26 December 1943 members of the group joined forces with a unit from the Kovpak group against the UPA. In the last weeks of the Nazi conquest, when the Germans were retreating through the forests, they eliminated lone German straggling soldiers. West of Olyka a group of seven men who left the Torczyn ghetto were active. They later joined the Brinski group.
Groups operating in the south suffered heavy losses. This is what happened to the Mizoch group that numbered twenty-eight men. They were hit hard by a unit of the UPA in April 1943 and its remnants joined self-defense units that operated in the Czech villages Budrazh and Borshchovka. The mixed group of Jews and Poles of Yitzhak Wasserman that was active in the area of Mizoch, was wiped out in a battle with the Germans in the spring of 1943 and its commander fell. Also the Dubno group that went to the forest in October 1942 and was better armed than other groups, lost many of its members. Of its forty combatants, only sixteen were still living at the time of liberation. For seventeen months this group had to fight alone.
The group furthest south organized in Radziwilow. Jews from Brody and Russian prisoners of war joined them in the Leshniyov forests until they numbered one hundred fighters. In the massive German search carried out in September 1943 most of the unit's members lost their lives and of the Jewish fighters only one remained alive.
In addition to the groups recorded here there are allusions and ambiguous reports of other groups that were wiped out as soon as they left the ghetto. Several groups from the Ludmir ghetto fit into this category. Besides this, from the beginning of 1943 and onwards when the Soviet partisan units began to establish themselves more and more Jews joined them as individual fighters.
It is hard to estimate the number of Jews who participated in the Soviet partisan movement in Volhyn, as the status of units was not static. They grew in size from companies, to platoons, to divisions and over time split up again according to circumstances. The numbers we have relate to the end of 1943 or the beginning of 1944 that is close in time to when the area was liberated by the Red Army. In the beginning, the number of Jews in partisan units was larger, but with time many fell in battle and others did not replace them. Another difficulty in arriving at a figure is the fact that some of the Soviet Jews who arrived here either with the units or as escaped prisoners of war concealed their Jewish origin. The assessment is that the number of Jews involved in the Soviet partisan units in Volhyn was between 1,500 to 1,600. To this number we must add an additional 200 to 300 who operated independently in southern Volhyn. At the end of 1943 Jews made up about 14%, a rather high percentage. They composed 38% of the Satanowskii unit, 34% of the Kruk unit, 20% of the Yazyura unit. The Rovno unit had the largest number of Jews more than 400 fighters.
In the main, Soviet Jews some of whom concealed their Jewish origin filled senior positions of command. The first of these was Commander Stefan Kaplun who originally led a unit and then a brigade. A Jew who did not conceal that fact and later came on Aliya and died in Israel was Aleksander Abugov who at first was a reconnaissance officer in the unit of Misyura. Towards the end of the war he commanded about 100 horsemen in the Rovno division reconnaissance units. An additional Jew, senior commander Bazikin, was in charge of a unit in the Brinski group until he fell in battle. Among the local Jews, it is appropriate to mention Robert Satanowski who commanded a Polish-Soviet group that later became a unit; Moshe Gildenman who was already referred to above, who commanded a unit of the Saburov group; Jozef Karpus of Lubomyl who as a Pole organized Polish forest groups and afterwards was one of the officers of the Pinsk supply unit. In positions of secondary command of companies and units, the following are numbered: Dov Lorber "Malinka" in the Kruk group; Ayzik Firt in the Koncha group; Zushiah Chaichok, Gad Rosenblatt, Yoel Shcherbato and Hayim Vatchin in the Kovpak group; Moshe Bernstein who commanded the sabotage unit in the Pronza brigade; Efraim Bakalchuk who was the commander of the Kruk camp and many more. A large number of Jews served as medical officers of units: Dr. Benjamin Cesarski in the Medvedev unit; Dr. Dina Majewska in the Kovpak unit and Dr. Ehrlich in the Rovno unit.
On occasion additional groups of Jews not able to fight, such as the elderly, women and children escaped to the forest and congregated around the fighting units. When the Jewish units joined the Soviet units, these people became part of the civilian camps. The first civilian camps were set up adjacent to the divisions of Kruk, Max and Misyura. Later such camps were established next to other units. The fighting units protected these camps and the civilians provided various services to the fighters. As the Soviet partisan movement grew and expanded so did the civilian camps grow in importance as logistic bases; their members worked in maintenance, cared for the wounded, prepared meals for the fighters, served as guards and helped in other ways. These camps eventually became an inseparable part of the Soviet partisan infrastructure in Volhyn.
Living conditions in the civilian camps whose occupants were women, the elderly and children was harsh. It was especially difficult when the Germans conducted their search and destroy campaigns when camp residents had to escape quickly under enemy fire. It is hard to estimate the number of Jews who were in the Volhyn partisan camps. At its height it appears to have numbered some 2,500 people. While not all of them were alive by liberation day, it is thought that about 1,500 did survive.
On 3 January 1944, the Red Army captured the Snovidovich railroad station on the Olvisk-Sarny rail line and thus began the liberation of Volhyn. Infantry and cavalry divisions, aided by partisan units advanced quickly in the northern part of Volhyn to the mouth of the Stuhod River in the west. From there, partisan units moved south, attacking from behind while Red Army forces attacked on the front. On 5 February 1944 they captured Rovno and Lutsk. By the end of March 1944, two thirds of Volhyn had been liberated. Since the Volhyn bulge endangered the flanks of the Soviet forces in the north and south, the Soviet army halted its advance until the beginning of July. On 12 July 1944 the last town, Shatsk (Szack), was captured thus completing the liberation of Volhyn.
After liberation those Jews who remained alive began to leave their hiding places, the forests and the demobilized partisan units. The survivors found before them burned cities. In addition nationalist Ukrainian partisan groups continued their fight against the Soviet regime and in doing so, murdered Jews. The war was not yet over and German bombing continued.
As for the number of survivors, we only have approximations. One estimate places the number at about 3,500; that is, 1.5% of the number of Jews who lived in pre-war Volhyn. About 1,200 survivors gathered together in Rovno and in the beginning of March 1944 they began to organize. With the permission of the Soviet government, they organized the community, opened a synagogue and established a public kitchen. Attention was paid to the integration of those who came from the forests and those who returned from the Soviet Union. In addition other activities were carried out secretly. They included exempting men from induction into the army, removing Jewish children from general orphanages and handing them over to Jewish families, encouraging witnesses to come forward to testify against Ukrainian war criminals, fencing off mass graves and most importantly, trying to find ways to leave the Soviet Union via Romania and from there to get to Eretz Yisrael. The difficulty of continuing to live in a land sown with graves, the problems of rehabilitation and the danger from remaining units of the UPA impelled survivors to leave. When repatriation to Poland began in the end of 1944, nearly all the Volhyn Jews registered and from Poland most of them continued on the Briha trails leading to illegal immigration to Eretz Yisrael.
Pages 6 and 7 - Map of Volhyn between showing railroad lines, roads, towns and rivers.Translated by Shalom Bronstein, Jerusalem, Shevat, 5768/January 2008
Page 8 - picture of Rabbi Dov-Baer the Maggid of Mezerich taken from the Rovno Yizkor Book.
Page 14 - picture of mastheads of Jewish newspapers of Volhyn.
Page 15 - the founders of Hashomer Hatzair in Rovno, 1923 taken from the Rovno Yizkor Book.
Page 21 - German report on the flight of masses of Jews at the time of the liquidation Aktzias, from the Yad Vashem Archives.
Page 23 - photographs of the partisan commanders Moshe Gildenman on the right and Aleksander Abugov on the left, from the Yad Vashem Archives.
I want to especially thank my cousins Linda Greene Friedberg and Beverly Greene Schwartz, whose grandmother Celia Dimmerman Greene (Ostrog 1894 - Philadelphia 1949) was my grandmother's sister. At my request, they read the first draft of the translation. I incorporated many of their suggestions, which I believe have helped to assure the readability and clarity of the Introduction to Pinkas Hakehillot Poland Volume V Volhynia and Polesie.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities, Poland (Volume V) Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 20 Jul 2008 by LA