(No. 4/2004 - January 2004)
Editor: Fran Bock
Revisiting Belarus in Quest of the Late Pnina Modlin's Family Roots
by Kelly Modlin
I undertook this trip with the hope of solving the outstanding problems of the late Pnina's identity. At the outset, I decided or should I say, came to the conclusion that the trip would be the culmination of over thirty years of searching for Pnina's identity, years of ups and downs, years in which we experienced success as well as disappointment. Where hadn't we been? Poland, Hungary, Czech and Slovakian Republics, not forgetting the Ukraine, Moldovia, Russian Republic and obviously Belarus. After careful planning and knowing exactly where and what had to be researched, I set out. I was fully aware that whatever the outcome would be, for good or bad, I would have come to the end of the road and unwillingly put a stop to my continual searching.
The main aim of my journey was to try and solve the problem of six major outstanding objectives, which till this very day remain unsolved. From the outset I knew that the possibility existed that I might come away with a partial success or completely empty handed. The six objectives are as follows:
1. The Maiden name of Pnina's mother, Chana Lejbovna.
2. Her father Isaak Mojshe Avramovich's place of birth and fate.
3. Finding her brother Avram's Birth Certificate.
4. The place of birth and fate of her brother Boris, who was her father's son from a previous marriage.
5. The Marriage Certificate of Boris and his wife Manya, whom we recently found living in the town of Bat Yam in Israel.
6. Their parent's Marriage Certificate.
Where to Look?
Obviously all this requires rather a good bit of traveling. Going through the listings of the various Central, Regional and Zonal Archives of Belarus, I had marked those which I thought might contain important information in order to solve some of my problems. To be more specific:
BREST - State Archives of the Brest Region.
1. Genealogical Records for Polesye Voevodstvo (whole Territory 1920-1939). These records contain Identity Cards, Certificates of Birth, Marriage and Death. Besides the name of Records, the Date, Fond/Inventory and File Numbers are given. As Khoyniki was part of Polesye, possibly they may contain Avram's Birth and Parents Marriage Certificates.
2. The fond of the Brest School Okrug Board of Guardians contains names of students in the school okrug, which in 1921 - 1939 covered the Polesye voevodstvo. During these years, the elder brother Boris attended school.
3. The Fonds of the Polesye Orthodox Ecclesiastical Consistory. These Fonds also contain information concerning the Judaic Religious Communities.
MINSK- National Historical Archives
Contain Documents pertaining to the Khoyniki Jewish Community of Minsk Province till 1919. The question was whether this includes Zabolotye Birth Records for the year 1908, the year in which Pnina's mother was born. This would have been a problematic search, as we do not know her maiden name. Therefore such a search of the 1908 Birth Registrations could only be done personally, as it would require checking the lists according to her given and father's name. Only in this way could we discover her family (maiden) name.
MINSK - National Archives
Contains information only from 1917, which doesn' t include births, marriages and deaths.
1. Fonds of Education: The People' s Commissariat of Education - Ministry of Education. Here the possibility existed of finding information regarding Boris.
2. Fonds of trade Unions: As their Father was a Shoemaker, he worked in an Artel (Co-Op) in Khoyniki.
3. Fonds of the Soviet Union Army Units Relating to WWII: Gomel Peoples Volunteer Regiment fond 4524, 25 items 1941. Lists of the battalion's personnel, company and platoon leaders. Possibly the father might have belonged to this Unit.
MINSK - Military Archives
When visiting the Archives during previous visit we didn't possess documents regarding the father's conscription into the Army. It might be worthwhile rechecking.
Archives dealing with N. K. V. D. personnel. I read somewhere that such an institute exists but just couldn't remember exactly where. The brother Boris served in the N. K. V. D. Just before the outbreak of War he was transferred to the Mordovskya SSR.
GOMEL REGION ZAGS.
Marriage Certificates of the Father/Mother and Boris/Manya. Avram's Birth Certificate.
MOZYR - Zonal State Archives - Polesye Region 1938-1954.
Educational Files. Boris School.
1. Parents, and Boris/Manya Marriage Certificates.
2. Avram's Birth Certificate.
KHOYNIKI - ZAGS.
1. Marriage Certificate - Boris/Manya.
2. Birth Certificate - Manya.
KHOYNIKI - Municipality.
1. List of Residents, House Owners.
2. Trade Unions - father.
1. Mother (sickly person) could have been a patient.
2. Perhaps Avram and Pnina were born in the Hospital.
Old people with memories could remember the mother or other members of the family.
Father and Boris arrived in Zabolotye in 1934 and most probably were registered there on their arrival.
Information concerning the departure of trains which evacuated the civil population to the East and safety.
Priorities: How to Divide My Time?
The question was how to divide up the time at my disposal, what with Saturday and Sunday in the middle? For example, is one day sufficient for traveling to Brest, spending time at the Archives and returning to Minsk?
On arrival at the Minsk Airport, I was met by Inna Markova, who was to be my guide and translator during my stay in Belarus. I was most lucky having her at my side as she speaks, reads and writes English perfectly, and, most important, is very efficient. It had been pre-arranged for me to stay in a private home while in Minsk. This suited me fine as the idea of looking for new lodgings each time we returned from a journey to the outlying districts would be problematic. In addition to this, financially it was a very good arrangement and what's more, not being able to speak Russian. I could converse with my landlady, Adel, in Yiddish.
Kelly, with Adel at her 71st birthday party
As planned, the day after my arrival (Wednesday, July 23) was spent visiting the various Minsk Archives. Descending the stairs and reaching the sidewalk I was struck by a magnificent structure on the opposite side of the street. Being very impressed with the beauty of the structure, Inna informed me that it was the KGB Headquarters. Adel's apartment building is situated on Frantsisk Skorina Ave., one of the main thoroughfares of Minsk and directly opposite the KGB's Headquarters. Instinctively my response was "Just the place to start."
KGB Headquarters in Minsk
So, crossing the intersection, we entered the building and made our way to the enquiry desk. Who knows, perhaps we could get onto the footsteps of Boris, the elder brother, who joined their ranks before the outbreak of WWII. The officer on duty was most obliging and helpful. After explaining the purpose of our visit we submitted a formal request pertaining to Boris's service in their organization. In addition to this, she gave us the address of the KGB Archives in Moscow and advised us to write them, in order to make additional enquiries: Bolsheiya Lublanka 1/3 URAF FSB Russia. We were also given an address of the KGB Office in the capital city of the Mordovskaya Republic: Saransk Mordofskaya CCR USFB.
After his marriage to Manya and prior to the German invasion of Russia, Boris was transferred to some unknown post in the Republic of Mordovia. His intention was to send for her after settling down and finding a place to stay. Obviously this was not to be, due to the German invasion of Belarus. Manya together with Pnina, Avram and their mother, was evacuated to the Orenburg District in the Ural Mountains. On returning to Khoyniki after the war she was informed by the authorities that the whereabouts of Boris were unknown and that he was missing. So off we went to the Central Post Office of Minsk, in itself a magnificent structure, in order to write and dispatch the relevant letters to Moscow and Saransk, capital of the Mordovian Republic.
From the KGB Building, we made our way to 43 Kirova Street, a walk of some five to ten minutes. Our objective this time was the National Archives of Belarus. Inna and I were once again warmly received by the Archivists, who gave us their full attention. We spent a few hours discussing each and every relevant problem of my research, even if not directly connected to matters dealt with by the NARB. Galina, the Archivist who dealt with us, was very thorough and made a concise list of each and every point discussed. Obviously, all this required research and it was decided that we would return the following Thursday in order to receive a full report on her findings. We departed with the very good feeling that even if no solutions would be found to our problems, at least a comprehensive report would await us the following week. I had learned from our meeting with Galina that speculation and deductions aren't acceptable to the Archivists. They only go by historical, geographical facts and documents. I anxiously awaited our next meeting with Galina.
After a pre-arranged appointment made by Inna with Sergei Aleksandrovich, the Archivist on duty, we made our way to the National Historic Archives of the Republic of Belarus. It was not necessary to explain ourselves, as Sergei had previously dealt with my letter requesting information regarding Pnina's family. At the outset, it was quite obvious that the chance of finding any information was very scant, as they only keep documents from the beginning of the 19th century to 1917. This period was relevant to her mother, whom we know was born in 1908. However, her maiden name is unknown to us. The same applies to her father and brother Boris, since their place of birth is also a mystery. We came away without any definite results but feeling satisfied that the professionals are prepared to listen, give advice and help. How should I say - "Wherever I went I left my footsteps behind me and who knows that somewhere along the line something will POP UP and we shall be remembered".
According to my original planning, on Thursday and Friday (July 24, 25) we were due to travel to Brest in order to visit the State Archives of the Brest Region, which, as mentioned previously, contain the Identity cards, Certificates of Birth, marriage and Death for the Polesye Voevodstvo whole territory, 1920 - 1939. They also contain the fond of the Brest School Okrug Board of Guardians, dealing with students for the period 1921 - 1939 in the Polesye Voevodstvo. In the USSR Census of 1939 the name of the Oblast in which Khoyniki appears is POLESYE (according to Modechai Altshuler's book "Distribution of the Jewish Population of the USSR, 1939"). When dealing with my visit to Khoyniki Regional Voyenkomat (Military Committee), I learned that Pnina's father, after being conscripted, had to report to the representative of the Polesye Oblast Voyenkomat, one Comrade KARAPUZOV. I had great hopes of solving the following problems:
1. Finding Avram's Birth Certificate
2. The Father and Mother's Marriage Certificate.
3. Boris's School Records.
Before setting out for Brest, however, we decided to inquire whether the Archives at Brest had any information regarding Khoyniki. Although Khoyniki was situated in the Polesye District prior to the War Years, we were informed that the Brest Archives never held any documents concerning the town. What a disappointment. The same applied to the Archives of Mozyr. We could only hope that on Monday and Tuesday (July 28, 29) we would have better luck at the Archives of Khoyniki and Gomel.
The question now was what does one do with four days, two being Saturday and Sunday, before setting out to Zabolotye, Khoyniki and Gomel. Thursday the 24th was spent writing letters and checking with various Archives, such as the main Military Archives in Minsk regarding the Father's service in the Soviet Army. Inna noticed that the name MISHURES was misspelled in certain letters, (translated into Russian) which previously I had written to the Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense in Podolsk and the Russian State Military Archives in Moscow. What appeared in the letters was MICHURES instead of MISHURES. The replies received obviously stated that there was no information in their files concerning a soldier by the name of MICHURES, Isaak Mojshe. We requested that they recheck their files. Who knows, perhaps one day in the not too distant future they shall surprise us with good news.
Khatyn Memorial Statue of Josef Kaminski
On Friday morning (July 25) we headed north to Khatyn, a distance of some 60 km on the main Minsk- Vitebsk Highway. Khatyn was a Village or Hamlet where once 149 people, including 75 children, lived. All in all, 26 households, simple people going about their daily chores, practically completely cut off from the outside World. (This is not to be mistaken for the Khatyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia, where in 1939/40 some 4000 Polish officers were massacred by the NKVD.) On March 22, 1943, these 26 houses, with their inhabitants, were burned by the Nazis. The Memorial is also in memory of another 618 Villages where the inhabitants were burned alive, with their homes, by the Germans.
Each house, 26 in all, are symbolically marked on the path leading up to them, and 26 brick chimneys each contain a bell at the top and plaques with the names and ages of those who lived there at the bottom. Every minute a bell in a different chimney rings, constantly reminding us about the horrible crimes of which human nature is capable. This constant ringing is also a reminder never to forget. The sculpture at the head of the Memorial is that of Josef Kaminski, the only living survivor. He was away when the disaster befell the village. He is seen holding the burned and charred body of his son. Kaminski remained in Khatyn for the rest of his life.
Shabbat and Sunday were obviously two days that had to be dealt with outside the sphere of genealogical searching before our departure towards Zabolot' ye and Khoyniki, Pnina's place of birth. Adel's apartment is within walking distance of Dauman Street, where the Orthodox Shul is situated. So, on Shabbat morning I took a nice long stroll along the banks of the Svisloch River, where parts of it form a lake, and past the Temple-Monument in memory of the Russian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Here, a constant stream of newlyweds, together with the close relatives, congregate at the Monument in order to pay homage to the fallen by placing bouquets of flowers at its base and take photographs.
After lunch and a short rest I took myself off once again, obviously by foot, to the Old Ghetto of Minsk. I remembered it from our previous visit to Belarus and had no problem finding my way. As I drew near, all that was required to guide me was the smell of fresh bread being baked in the ovens of the bakery situated in what was once the Ghetto of Minsk. In the immediate vicinity of the bakery is a yard in which the Jewish inhabitants of the Ghetto and of Minsk were murdered by the Nazis. They went to their death with the smell of fresh bread in their nostrils. Next I turned to the building on the corner of Rakovskaya Street, where once a Mezzuza was embedded in the doorpost of a house, the only remaining indication in all of Minsk of what was once a Jewish household. What a bitter disappointment to find that the doorframe has been replaced by a new one. From the Ghetto I made my way to the corners of Melnikaite and Zaslavskaya Streets, the Memorial to Hitler Genocide Victims. The memorial had just been desecrated and defaced with the painting of swastikas. Towards evening I returned to my lodgings, after a long day saddened by what I had seen.
Come Sunday afternoon (July 27), we traveled some 37 km northwest on the Minsk - Vilna Highway to the town of Rakov. Prior to 1939 the town was situated on the border dividing western and eastern Belarus. The west was under Polish rule and the east was dominated by Russia. In 1939, with the German invasion and partitioning of Poland, Belarus was integrated into the Soviet Union and became one of the Republics in the greater USSR. All this is past history, as the Soviet Union no longer exists and Belarus is now an independent country.
The actual reason for our traveling to Rakov was to visit the Old Jewish Cemetery, which remained unscathed by the war. We had no problem identifying the place, as the outer perimeter of the cemetery is encompassed by a built up stonewall in the front and a padlocked wrought iron gate embossed with a Magen David. The rest of the area has a wrought iron fence around it. In order to get in and out I had to climb over the fence. Due to the condition of some of the headstones it is obvious that the Cemetery has been visited in the not too distant past. Some of the headstones have had their inscriptions renewed or painted, making them more readable. One example is the grave of a certain Rabbi Rubinstein. Before departing the cemetery, I photographed some of the graves where the inscriptions were readable. Below is a list of the names appearing on the headstones. Anybody interested in any of the photos can contact me personally and I would gladly send them copies. The names appearing on the headstones are as follows:
DARSKI, Zusman bar Chaim Levi
BUTVINIK, Ari (Arie) Leib ben Moshe Yehuda
BUTVINIK, Chana bat Moshe
RUBINSTEIN, Harav Moshe Arieh bar Yehoshua
As I made my way through the cemetery, I felt very uncomfortable. It was a very moving experience and I came away feeling very sad at seeing a world that had been, but never to return. All those untended graves, tombstones, with no evidence as to who lies below them. Some of the headstones are in an upright position while others are tilting over and, of course, there are so many unmarked graves. As you make your way through all the weeds and undergrowth, you are aware that there are graves underfoot, and as much as you endeavor, it is virtually impossible not to tramp on some of them. I had the feeling that I was treading on the past. Judging by the condition of some headstones (those that still exist), a lot covered with moss, the way of engraving and the shapes of the stones, I should imagine that Jews lived there from way back. Unlike the cemetery in Khoyniki, about which I shall write later on in this narration, there were no signs of vandalism.
On Monday, July 28, we traveled south via Babrujsk, Kalinkavicy to Zabolot'ye and Khoyniki. Our first stop was at the Khoyniki ZAGS (Archives dealing with Birth, Marriage, Divorce and Death). This time, unlike my previous visit with the late Pnina, we informed the Archivist of our intending visit. The Archivist was very helpful and even allowed me to photograph the underside of Pnina's Birth Certificate, a most moving experience - this requires an explanation. The underside of the original Birth Certificate has additional information beyond the usual formalities such as names, religion, dates and place of birth etc. The new information, which previously was unknown to us, includes:
Father: MISHURES, Isaak Mojshe Avramovich.
Born: 1894. Place not mentioned.
Arrived: Zabolot'ye 1934.
Occupation: Shoemaker, worked in an Artel (Co-operative).
Mother: MISHURES, Chana Lejbovna.
Maiden Name: Not given.
Place of Birth: Zabolot'ye
Occupation: Housewife, supported by her Husband.
Signed: in Yiddish
Khoyniki ZAGS - Inna, Archivist and Registration Book open at Pnina's Birth Certificate
We endeavored to follow up on the information appearing in the birth certificate, however with very little if any conclusive results. Although the name of the Artel that employed the father is known, unfortunately there are no records to be found. The same applies to lists of householders during that period. With regards to the registration and issuing of Internal Passports, I was led to understand that the situation in the outlying districts was different from that in the bigger centers and towns. On arrival it was not necessary or people simply didn't report to the Police (NKVD) in order to have their passports altered. Thus, it was not possible to discover from whence the father and Boris arrived.
It was suggested that we speak to an old Jewish lady from Zabolot' ye who might have remembered the Mishures family, or the mother, as she was born in the village. The old woman lives in an apartment building just down the road. We were told it wouldn't be a problem finding her, as she always sits on the bench in front of the building. Unfortunately, she could not help us, as at the time she was still too young to remember.
The ZAGS Archivist directed us to the Educational Department of the city in the hope of finding some information regarding the brother, Boris. Here, archivist Ludmilla Vadimirovna went out of her way to help us. Apparently, until our arrival at her office she had never been approached by anybody seeking information regarding a student from the 1930s. The best she could do was to give us the name and phone number of the Headmistress of the No. 2 School in Khoyniki, where all the Jewish children studied. I should image that Boris studied there as well. Ludmilla Vadimirovna impressed us as being one of our tribe.
At this point, an old acquaintance from our previous visit to Khoyniki, Iakov Yefimovich Volfson, joined us. It was wonderful seeing and speaking to him again. Again, he was most helpful in aiding us to navigate from place to place. First, we revisited the local Voyenkomat, the office dealing with all military matters, including the conscription of soldiers into the Army. On our previous visit we received a document dealing with the conscription of Pnina's father. (See "Pnina and Avram: The Story Continues (December 2002). Due to all the excitement on receiving the document and being pressed for time, we never thought of asking if there was any other information in connection with his military call-up. The answer wasn't long in coming. The Archivist, with Inna's help, came up with the following information appearing on page 33 of a registration book:
"Personal name List of those conscripted to the Khoiniki Regional Voyenkomat and directed to the town of Dobrush to (report) the command of the Representative of the Polyesya Oblast Voyenkomat, comrad Karapuzov, July 7, 1941.
#45 - MISHURIS Isak Mojshe Abramovich 1894."
The team of 49 people was put under the command of an unknown person (the signature was unreadable). Apparently it was the signature of the last person in the list. In other words, Pnina's father, together with 48 other men were conscripted in the town of Khoiniki and sent on the same day to the town of Dobrush. Their orders were to report to a certain comrade Karapuzov who represented the Voyenkomat of the Polesye District . Checking a map, one will notice that Dobrush is 60 km east of Khoiniki, 20 km east of Gomel, and 20 km west of the Russian border. Dobrush is situated on the main Gomel - Bransk Highway. The question is, how were they supposed to make their way to Dobrush? I'll deal with this later on in my narration. Obviously we decided to visit the Dobrush Voyenkomat.
While waiting for Volfson to arrive, Inna tried unsuccessfully to contact the Headmistress of the Khoyniki school. So after completing our search at the Voyenkomat, and once again with the aid of Iakov Yefimovich we made our way to the No. 2 School of Khoiniki, where the Jewish children spent their early school years. The honest truth is that the building had seen better days. To our disappointment we were to learn that during the war it had burned down together with all its lists of past students.
Khoyniki No. 2 School where Jewish children studied
Our next stop was Zabolot'ye, Pnina's birthplace. At Skolyna ul.(today Melezha Street), where most Jews of the village resided, we met a Jewish couple related to Volfson who were busy working in their "Agurot" (vegetable garden), spreading their onion crop out to dry. They led us to understand that today there isn't a single soul alive with information regarding those who once walked the streets of the village. Again, we had reached a dead end. The same applies to the Hospital, a thing of the past and, like the school, rebuilt since the war. All we could do was take a few snap shots of Volfson, the street whose name had been changed and the houses, some of which had been renovated and painted. What had been, had been, all of the past, never to return.
Kelly (left) with Volfson, corner of Skolyna Street
Before departing Khoiniki and saying farewell to Iakkov Yefimovich, we made our way to one of the residential areas of the town in order to visit the Old Jewish Cemetery. We had been there during our previous visit and my objective was to view a desecrated tombstone erected in the memory of all those who had been butchered by the Nazis and their local henchmen. Besides not finding the headstone with the inscription commemorating the death of the Jewish population, what we did find was sheer devastation, chaos and vandalism. The few tombstones which still stood up proudly on our previous visit, amidst all the rubble, empty beer bottles and litter, were literally torn out of the ground, dragged and scattered all over the cemetery. I came away shocked and depressed.
Memorial Headstone (photographed on previous visit)
The Inscription is as Follows:"Under this stone, in the field of eternity, over here, in the Valley of Woe your earth has been drenched with the eternal tears of Sons and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters and the entire community of Israel. Murdered by the Hitlerites in the town Khoyniki in the year 1942. May their souls repose in the Treasury of Souls. May G-d revenge their blood, the Holy Martyrs." .
This Gravestone no longer stands erect. It has been torn from its place and dragged across the Cemetery
Khoiniki Cemetery - Devastated Graves
Summing up my return visit to Zabolot'ye and Khoiniki: I must honestly admit, that except for the progress made regarding Pnina's father and photographing the second part of her Birth Certificate, I came to a dead end. However, there was some comfort in my meeting with Volfson, walking down the street were Pnina's mother's family had lived for who knows how many generations. It's a pity that my original plan of bringing Pnina's brother Avram with me just didn't work out. Who knows what the outcome might have been? He might have remembered the house that they lived in, etc.
After our visit to the Cemetery, with the sun well in the western sky, we headed east. Our goal was Gomel, where we were to spend the night. Galina Swartz had booked us in advance into one of the better hotels in the town. When the time arrived to pay the bill we learned that booking ahead isn't such a good idea. For some reason or other by booking rooms in advance the price is double. On the other hand, if you don't book in advance, on arriving you might find yourself without anywhere to sleep. The room was well furnished and comfortable, however, it lacked air conditioning. Although the summer temperatures for one coming from the Bet Shean Valley weren' t very high, the humidity was very uncomfortable.
Come morning we found ourselves once again traveling East towards the Russian Border, our objective being the Voyenkomat at Dobrush. As usual Inna informed the Archives of our impending visit and on our arrival we were received very warmly. The Archivist was very willing to help. All that she could show us was a ledger containing the names of soldiers who had fallen in battle and the name Isaak Mojshe Avramovich MISHURES wasn't included. This was very strange, as in Khoiniki we were given to understand that there should have been information regarding the 49 recruits who, on arrival at the Voyenkomat, were to report to comrade Karapuzov, the Representative of the Polyes'ye Oblast Voyenkomat. The question is: what became of the 49 recruits on arriving at Dobrush, if at all? Secondly, what significance was there to the command "Report to the representative of the Polyes'ye Oblast Voyenkomat comrad Karapuzov" (and where does the answer lie)?
Go back for a moment to Wednesday July 23, and our impending visit to the State Archives of the Brest Region where the Genealogical Records (Identity Cards, Certificates of Births, Marriages and Deaths) are held for the Poles'ye Voevodstvo (whole territory), 1920 - 1939. Prior to our departure, we phoned the Archives and were informed that they didn't have any information regarding Khoiniki. Could it have been that the area of Belarus known as Poles'ye was divided between Poland and Russia, with Khoiniki, being in the East, belonging to Russia? If so, which Archive holds the files with the information pertaining to the conscripts who were sent to Dobrush?
Disappinted, we departed Dobrush on our way back to Minsk. In order to do so, we had to pass through Gomel. At the outskirts of the town we decided to spend some time at the State Archives of the Gomel Region. Among their holdings, they have information on government bodies such as state administration, economical, educational and various other institutions for the period 1917 - 1992. From 1917, Dobrush has been included in the territory of the State Archives of the Gomel Region. Actually our intention was making enquiries as to whether they had any information on Co-operatives. The head of the department, Maria Adolfovma, received us very warmly and during our meeting with her our visit to Dobrush was mentioned. She was surprised to learn from us that the only information existing at the Dobrush Voyenkomat regarding recruits from the Khoiniki Voyenkomat was a thin ledger with the names of soldiers who had fallen in battle. After a brief consultation with the head of the Archives, a book was produced showing very clearly that in 1964 a book of 401 pages containing the names of conscripts had been sent to the Voyenkomat at Dobrush.
Kelly and Inna at Dobrush Voyenkomat
It appears that the Archivist at Dobrush was rather new at the job and very embarrassed, as she had no information appertaining to the registration book. The only answer that she could give was that she would look into the matter and get back to us at Gomel. How long this would take was questionable, so instead of waiting for a reply, we make an about face and revisited the Dobrush Voyenkomat. We had traveled so far, and covered so many kilometers, another 40 kms wouldn't make any difference. Besides, who knows what might await us at the end of the road. On arriving at the Voyenkomat, we were informed by the Archivist that her predecessor had lent the book to certain historian named Peter Isaakovich STREEBOEK. Obviously, it had not yet been returned. Finding Peter Isaakovich was not a problem. Just down the road in an old school building, he was busy organizing the establishment of a Historical Museum, of which he was the curator. After introducing ourselves and explaining the reason for our visit, the sought after Roster containing the 401 pages was produced.
Peter Isaakovich Streeboek
Inna set about scanning the Roster page by page seeking the list of the 49 recruits from Khoiniki, especially that of Pnina's father, Isaak Mojshe MISHURES (or any other soldier by the name of MISHURES). This was a tedious undertaking which required a great deal of patience. The results unfortunately where negative and we were rather disappointed. Included in the book were notes regarding individuals who were released from service for various reasons such as illness. We could only speculate as to the negative results and in Peter's opinion, the following are some possibilities that could have happened:
1. 49 recruits were sent under the command of the last recruit on the list (very possibly by foot, certainly not by bus or even by train) 60 km to Dobrush. On the way were many forests. Perhaps there were those who decided "This War isn't for ME" and disappeared into the forests.
2. According to Peter, there was a very large stockpile of ammunition at Dobrush, strategically located only 20 km from the Russian border on the main Gomel - Byransk Highway . On arrival, perhaps the soldiers weren't even registered but put straight to work to aid in the removal of this valuable commodity for use at a later stage.
3. Small local units were deployed in the area in order to delay the enemy's swift advance while the main Russian forces retreated. On August 23, 1941 the Germans occupied Khoiniki and by January 1942 all the Jews who were not evacuated were killed.
4. We had learned at the Khoiniki Voyenkomat that on July 7, 1941, directly after being conscripted, Pnina's father and the other 48 recruits were to proceed to the Voyenkomat at Dobrush in order to "Report to comrad Karapuzov, the representative of the Polyes'ye Oblast Voyenkomat." The question is, Why? Was the Polyes'ye Oblast Voyenkomat situated in some other town to which they had to be transferred? Is this the reason the list with their names was not include in the book? Was there a Unit comprised solely of soldiers from the Polyes'ye Oblast and if so where is the documentation of this Unit held today? This and many more questions could be asked regarding this dilemma.
5. Perhaps, besides the book with the 401 pages, there were additional books containing the names of men called up in order to serve in the Soviet Army.
After returning home and giving this matter further thought, I was reminded of something regarding their evacuation which Manya told us on one of our visits. I cannot vouch for its truth. On the day that Avram, Pnina and Manya and their mother boarded the train which was to transport them to safety in the hinterland of Russia, their father was there in order to help them settle down comfortably. This was not an easy task since the mother was a sick and handicapped person. Manya also told us that this train wasn't anything like the luxury Moscow - Saint Petersburg midnight trains of today. It was made up of boxcars, possibly bedded down with straw, and jammed to capacity with human cargo.
According to a Testimony given at Yad Veshem, four trains, each containing about 25 wagons, were allocated for the purpose of evacuating the Jewish population. Parts of the fourth train were strafed by German fighter planes. Apparently it wasn't possible to supply any more trains or wagons in order to evacuate the entire Jewish population.
If this is correct and Manya's memory still serves us well , then what was the father doing at the railway station on August 2, the day of the evacuation, if he had been called up on July 7 and dispatched the same day to Dobrush? Was he stationed in the nearby vicinity or was he given special leave in order to assist them? The questions are many and the answer is lacking and who knows if we shall ever receive one. My only hope is that Peter Isaakovich, who promised to follow up the matter may come across additional information. Before departing I wrote a few lines of thanks and signed his guest book.
Rather disappointed that we had not been able to solve what I thought we had in the palm of our hands, we headed west towards Gomel and the main highway via Bobruysk to Minsk. After a journey of some five hours we arrived tired but safe in Minsk. Now all that remained was our meeting at the National Archives of Belarus with Galina, who prepared a report on all that we had discussed during our visit the previous week. The meeting was set for the following day, Wednesday, July 30.
As promised, Galina presented me with a very concise report dealing with all the points and questions put to her at our previous meeting. From the outset, I was aware that without knowing the birthplace of both father and Boris, and the maiden name of the mother, the possibility of receiving information was very scant. However, what she did disclose was the names and addresses of seven Khoiniki and Zabolot'ye residents who in 1964 gave evidence against Nazi collaborators responsible for the death of many Jews and Partisans.
Galina, National Archives of Belarus
The Testimony given at Yad Vashem, which I referred to earlier, goes on to say that very few of those who were not evacuated or managed to escape survived the war. The extermination of the Jews was carried out by the Germans with the help of more than a few members of the local Police Force. The Jews were herded into a building that was used as a shop and were beaten with steel chains by a citizen of Khoyniki named of Adam Garlitz. He then threaded nails through the soles of his boots and trampled over their live bodies. There were those who could not bear the torture and committed suicide. Only one little girl, Genia Labovskaya, miraculously survived. It was she, the sole survivor, who after the war told the outside world what had become of those who were murdered by the Germans and their collaborators. The local residents and people from the surrounding villages went about looting the property and possessions of the Jews.
From the National Archives, Inna and I once again made our way to the Central Post Office where we set about writing letters to all the seven people who had given evidence against the local collaborators. With the exception of one witness the rest are more or less of the same age as Boris. The possibility exits that among the remaining six, there might be one or more people who knew him personally.
Central Post Office in Minsk, writing letters
Summing this up, I must honestly say that I didn' t achieve very much and certainly didn't solve any of the six objectives I set out to probe. However, wherever I went and at all the Archives I visited I left my footsteps. No matter how well one plans a trip and bases his research on computerized information set down by official Archival authorities, it doesn't mean that the information is relevant.
For example, although the State Archives of the Brest Region, in Brest, contain the Identity cards, Certificates of Birth, marriage and Death for the Polesye Voevodstvo whole territory 1920 - 1939, as well as the fond of the Brest School Okrug Board of Guardians, dealing with students for the period 1921 - 1939 in the Polesye Voevodstvo, and prior to the war, Khoyniki was in the Polesye district, we were told they never held any documents concerning the town.
While in Belarus, all this seemed very strange. On one hand, Khoyniki was situated in Polesye and on the other hand, at Brest there was no information regarding Khoyniki. Apparently the answer lies in the fact that until 1939, Polesye, like the rest of Belarus, was divided up between Poland and Russia, with Brest belonging to Poland and Khoyniki to Russia. The question is, where are the holdings of Eastern Poleyse till 1939 kept? Also, where is the information regarding the fate of the Khoyniki conscripts, including Pnina's father? Could the answer be found in the Podolsk Archives?
This needs looking into and, obviously, any information on the subject would be most welcome.
Copyright © 2004 Belarus SIG and Kelly Modlin
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