One June 22, 1941, early in the morning, we awoke to the thunder of German artillery fire. We quickly ran out into the open fields where we saw the retreating Russian troops machine-gunned by German fighter planes. We sought shelter in the trenches dug by the roadside.
After the attack subsided we returned to town where we found the hoards of invading Nazi troops plundering and looting our homes, threatening to shoot anyone who attempted to show any sign of resistance.
Later in the day came the S.S. units covering the area systematically, taking with them all Jewish males for compulsory labor. That was our first day under Nazi occupation.
From then on, during the first seven months of Nazi rule it became a daily routine to round up all able-bodied Jews to do the most menial and difficult work for the Germans. Then came the order to build the Ghetto walls around a very restricted area of the town, where all the Jews were to be crowded. There was to be no exit or entrance, except by special permission. So began the life of misery, fear and horror of our first year in the Ghetto. We already experienced cold, hunger and constant terror but there was yet no sign of mass extermination. Reports from other Ghettos of evacuation and mass murder reached us and we had a feeling that one of these days it would also be our turn. One day we were told that the Germans in our vicinity were mobilizing over a hundred vehicles for the transfer of Jews. We now assumed that this was meant for our town and everybody in the Ghetto nearly went mad for fear of his life and the lives of his dear ones. Some among us made up their minds to run for safety before the fatal day of liquidation.
One evening I took my mother and sister, also my sister-in-law and her two boys, to the farmhouse of a friendly Polish family, while the men folks still remained at home. Late that night, my sister-in-law with her two boys returned home saying that she cannot bear the separation from her family, come what may.
That night no one in the Ghetto could sleep. Everybody was making plans to escape; only the older folks and little children had to stay behind. At two o'clock in the morning we left the Ghetto and stopped at a barn. We tried to find a safer place at the house of neighboring Christians, but none of them were ready to take us in.
Returning to the barn we could hear the lorries of the S.S. units nearing the Ghetto and their shooting. My younger brother came out of the barn but not the older one. I was told that he went into the Ghetto to try and rescue his family. The three of us ran out into the fields, while the shooting was still going on. After running about two kilometers from town, I told one of my older brothers to go back to the farmhouse we were in the night before and bring our mother and two sisters. The plan was to bring them to the house of another farmer who once promised to let us in, while Zechariah and I went over to our friend Chapke. He accepted us cordially, but I could not relish his friendship, being much worried about what was happening to our fellow Jews who escaped the besieged Ghetto. From the window at which I was standing, I could see the fields covered with scattered groups of old Jews, mothers and their children, running aimlessly in all directions. I came out to ask them what was happening and I was told that the Germans and their subordinates, the Ukrainians, were robbing and murdering Jews, and that many of those who tried to escape were shot to death. Hearing these reports we thought it would be better for us, too, if we left the friendly house and keep on running. So we asked our host to tell our brothers, and those of our family that were with him, that we were going to wait for them at the farm of another Polish acquaintance about 3 kilometers down the road.
When, however, we came to this farmer Michael he didn't even let us into the house. So we had to go on. We only asked him to tell anyone asking about us that we were on our way, not knowing exactly where we would be.
We ran like rabbits in the field, now separated from family and friends. We came to another farmhouse about 4 kilometers from the former place and asked for the owner. His wife told us that he was drafted with his horse and wagon to take Jews out of the Ghetto, and she refused to let us in. We didn't even ask her for some food. Utterly exhausted we decided to climb up the attic and hide there even without the woman's permission. We were fast asleep when I heard the owner calling me by name. When my brother and I came down, we were surprised to see the table set for us and we didn't stand on ceremonies. We assumed that the farmer would now let us stay on, but he explained to us that it would be impossible to keep us, as all his neighbors around were plain murders and our lives would be in danger. We begged him to have consideration but he insisted that we leave at once, admonishing us not to return. We couldn't even finish our breakfast and left at once.
It was a dark, rainy night and we had no other place to go. Yet we knew that one must not lose hope even at such a dark moment. We thought that now it would be best to find some hideout in the fields for the whole family. So we came back to our old farmer Michael, who first did not let us into his house, to inquire about the other members of our family. He was even less friendly than yesterday and told us that our brothers and others came by his house yesterday, but he didn't know where they went. Our renewed request for shelter was answered with a flat, no!
The hour was late and we were afraid to remain in the open fields, so we went to the nearby village of Kotchere; There we crept into a hayloft and tried to have some sleep. In the early hours of the morning we heard someone open the door and people creeping into the loft. We thought that these were German patrols in search of Jews.
It turned out that these were Jews who also stole into the place. We thought we heard them whisper in Yiddish but we were not sure. Then we heard them more clearly and recognized the voices of our neighbors. They too were frightened but were happy to see us. These were two families. One of the couples was absolutely heartbroken because their baby was left back in the ghetto. They were originally from a town named Wishkow and ran from there to our town, because they thought that in our Ghetto, being part of the Bialistok region, would be safer. The other family was the Ledermans, the father, Shlomo, the mother, Ethel and their sons Mendel, Froiehe and Pessach and a girl, Ilka. Ancher son Avrumche, remained in the Ghetto, and they considered him lost.
We asked them if they got permission from the owner, and they said that he had agreed after much begging. So we begged them not to tell him about us. The whole day we were worried about our mother and the others of our family. I had a feeling that they were now exposed to danger for we could hear constant shooting all around and we thought that they were shooting at our family.
In the evening, I told the people in the barn that I was going back to look for the rest of the family. They asked me where I was going to bring them, and I replied that I was going to bring them here to the barn. They said they couldn't agree to have so many of us here, for it would he dangerous. They even tried to dissuade me from going out at all, arguing that the chances for two are better than for the whole family.
I didn't listen to them for I felt that we would rather perish together than be rescued alone... So I went out into the dark, determined to find my family and bring them back to the barn.
Again we went to see our old friend Chapke. In his house we found some Jews in hiding, but just then we heard some shooting and Chapke told us to run into the woods. There we found some other Jews in hiding. I asked what they planned to do, and they replied that they could see no other way but putting themselves at the mercy of the Germans.
There was a young mother with two babies, one three years old and another six months old. She had nothing to feed them with and she was crying bitterly. It was horrible. I passed by another farm and inquired about my family. I was told that they were there a while ago, asking for bread. The same report I got from another farmer. So I went into the woods to look for them. I saw some human figures running away from us and I had a feeling that they were Jews. I caught up to them and indeed they were of my family. They thought the Germans were after them and were scared stiff. They were so frightened that they could not hear my calls in Yiddish.
Now we were together again and could retell in detail what happened during the past two days. We began to go back to our hideout in the barn but we had to walk slowly on account of mother. As we were nearing the village we overheard someone speaking German so we ran back to the woods. Again we lost each other on the run. I was with my two sisters, while mother was with my brothers.
We hid behind some bushes waiting to hear if someone was really after us. We were also hoping to see our mother that was left behind. So we remained till daybreak and went back to our hideout. We waited all day thinking of mother and the brothers. Then, as soon as it got dark again I went out alone to look for them. The first house I came into to ask for bread, I found my brother Gershon, who also came to buy bread.
Gershon told me the horrible story of the family Karshenstein, who were hiding in the nearby forest. It appears that a Pole observed them and reported their hideout to the German patrol. They were found and shot on the spot. But the mother with the youngest son, were only wounded. They fell down with the others and when the Germans went away tried to get up and escape. The same Pole, who reported them before, now took them over to the Germans, who this time finally killed them.
Only two sons of this family survived the slaughter because they weren't with the family at the moment. (18 months later, a week after the Red Army recaptured Bialistok, the oldest son Kesil, avenged the blood of his murdered family, shooting the treacherous Pole's entire family).
Together with my older brother I went to our last hiding place to bring all our family to the barn where my sisters were. It was a cold winter night and we were not dressed warmly. On the following morning we again went to our old acquaintance Chapke begging him to let us stay on his farm, we were ready to pay with some valuables we still rescued from our house. This time he agreed after much supplication, and it appeared that he had about twenty other Jews hiding in his barns.
Our bunker was just under the floor of the main farmhouse. It was so narrow that we had no room to sit there. We had to lie quietly for fear of being discovered. One day, we heard Lazar Resnik who came with other Jews of our town, and asked our master to give them shelter. They were refused and had to go away. Half an hour later our master told us that those seven Jews were shot by a German patrol.
We learned later that this group of Jews arranged a small bunker in the woods, about 300 meters from where we were hiding. One of them, Lazer Resnik asked our host for shelter. With him were two brothers and a sister of Golzeker family, two fellows who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto and another boy. They were just about to fix their hideout when they were noticed by a Pole who reported them to the Germans. They came right out and were brutally murdered. Five of them, a girl and a boy, succeeded to escape, but a mounted S.S. man chased after them and murdered them. also.
We were now twenty persons in our hideout; six of our family, six of the Drogetsky family, the family Perzak and a couple named Gail. After a few days we were notified by the owner that the place was suspected by the Germans and we had to leave for less conspicuous places in the fields.
We went back to the bunker where we were hiding before, but the families we left there were not there. After a few days we returned to Chapke. He agreed to let us in provided that we find our own food.
So we had no choice but to go out and look for provisions. Roaming about the countryside we heard of the many tragic stories of extermination, such as the tragic story of Selig and and his son who jumped the death train to Treblinka and was shot by the Germans, also the death of Yankel Kristol and of two families killed in the village of Pitkevich.
Once on the way back to our new hideout we saw a young fellow who jumped the train to Treblinka and we asked him if he had seen there our oldest brother Noah. He said no and suggested that our brother might still be hiding in the Ghetto. This assumption was verified by another report the next day, that our brother was still in hiding in the cellar of our house in town.
In the evening, we set out to rescue our brother, Noah, but we couldn't go into the heavily guarded Ghetto. So we went to the man who spoke to him the other day when he came to buy bread. He was a farmer we knew, who received us rather cordially and verified the report about our brother who came to see him recently.
Just as we were talking, there was a knocking on the door and we ran into the other room. Two Polish policemen who came to search for Jews entered the house. One of them opened he door to the room we were in. He asked why we ran away from the Ghetto and not waiting for a reply began to beat my brother, who immediately punched him in the face. The other policeman was at the door ready to jump at us. My brother pushed him off and ran out into the street now chased by the others of the patrol who fired revolver shots at him. I jumped out of the window and at that moment didn't even feel the deep cut on my forehead when I broke the glass of the windowpane. Only after I ran about 3 kilometers, I felt that my face was hot and blood was gushing from the cut.
A friendly peasant took me into his house, let me wash the blood and gave me some bread. I was going back to where our family was hiding, but didn't know how to tell them about my brother Gershon, whom I thought already dead. I decided to pass by the house of our patron and how happy I was to find there my brother, who luckily escaped a certain death.
A few days later we discovered three of our cousins who escaped from the Ghetto. From them we got the sad news about friends and relatives killed, in and outside the town. We heard how Aaron Liberman, Hershl Shenintzer, Yoel Litman, and Simcha Bloomstein were killed, as they were trying to escape. We were also told how Polish peasants cooperated with the Nazi murderers, reporting all Jews who came within their sight.
We were especially moved by the tragic story of a young couple: Baruch Drogishinsky, and his young bride-to-be, Haya Semiatisky, who were hiding in the cellars of the church for three days without any food and just as they were coming out in search of some bread they were shot by German officers.
Two weeks passed since our first unsuccessful attempt to get in touch with our brother Noah, who remained at home within the Ghetto. I felt we ought to do something to save him but didn't know how. Then one night another fellow and myself decided to go back and find out from Christian friends who lived nearby what was happening. We didn't dare attempt to enter the Ghetto after our first failure, so we went to certain houses on the outskirts of the town.
Just as I was about to enter a house, I saw one of the Polish neighbors accompanied by a German, approaching the place. I made a dash for a safe hiding and again returned without results. Later that evening the fellow who went with me returned from town. He brought us the detailed report of my brother's tragic death. He thought that we already knew.
We were struck as if by thunder. We mourned for our dear brother, but knew there was nothing that could be done now. We even knew the name of the murdererone named Krubel. This man took over our house, after the Germans plundered all Jewish belongings and after discovering my brother in the cellar delivered him to the Nazi authorities. We were told that he was taken out into the open and made to put on a talit and tephilin, then shot and buried just 3 meters from our door. His full name was Noah Velvel, his wife and two boys were taken away to the Treblinka extermination center.
We were now in bitter grief and mourning over the death of our brother. Yet we had no choice but go on with our daily struggle for existence. We had to go out in search of bread from day to day.
One day at the house of a Polish peasant from whom we got some bread we met the Bloch family. After so many months of seclusion and hiding we were very happy to see fellow Jews. We promised to assist them in getting out some of their belongings from the ghetto. But when we came back to see them two days later we were told that they were already dead. They were murdered by a German patrol, when they were about to change their hideout from one farm to another.
On that same day the Germans killed many other Jews who were hiding in the nearby groves. It was reported that after the Germans killed these Jews, the Poles would take off their clothes and hurry them on the same spot.
Wet were also told the story of mother Liebson and her daughter, who were chased out of the house where they were hiding and caught by the Germans, who killed and buried them immediately. The owner of the farm dug up their grave, took off their clothes and shoes and buried them a second time.
Returning to our hideout, I was hesitating whether I should tell about all these tragic events around us; But my family recognized immediately how horrified and despondent I was - so I had to tell them all I knew Needless to say that they were also terrified, sensing the haplessness of our struggle for survival.
A few weeks later our host told us point blank that he could not keep us any longer, unless we would pay him. Since we had no money, we had to go.
We separated from our cousins, became a group of 9 persons no one would consider giving shelter. So we again went into the open fields in search of a new hideout. Towards night we crept into a hayloft, but in the morning the owner came to fetch some hay and ordered us to leave. We sat there on the bare frozen ground, so that people would not notice us. Later in the day the same Polish farmer came out to tell us that he would let my mother, sister and our youngest brother stay but the older brothers should go elsewhere. At first we had no reason to suspect any evil intentions on his part so we accepted his proposal to leave part of the family on his farm. Only a little later, as we were already sitting in a nearby house I heard my sister's cry for help. She was half-naked, barefoot and horror stricken. It appeared that just as they came back to the barn the owner entered and forced them to take their shoes and overcoats off, threatening to kill them if they refused. Then he chased them out into the open fields. We ran out to find them and brought them into the warm house where we covered their feet with rags. But this place was only temporary. We had to leave and didn't know where. I left the family in another barn and went in search of a new shelter with some benevolent farmer. The one we found now agreed to let us stay only for a few days. He even prepared a warm bath for us.
One day as I was out in search of provisions I heard again of murder and death. This time it was about the family Pentzak, the Ledermans, and our own kin, the cousins who were hiding with us only a few weeks ago. They were discovered and brutally murdered by two policemen, a Polish one named Wrotkovsky and a German named Frank. Golde, Mordechai and Hannah were shot, while their parents Gershon and Motel Lev, found their death in Treblinka.
We were now six people huddled in a narrow underground hole about 2 meters long. We could hardly stretch out, but there was nothing we could do there except wait for the night to come. Yet we felt that it was better than being exposed to the dangers in open fields.
It was already early spring, before Passover, and being observant Jews we even made plans how to manage not to eat chometz (unleavened bread) during the eight days of the holiday. In this regard we were helped by a friendly Catholic farmer named Senchina, who gave us all we needed for a Seder meal except Matzot. Thus we celebrated the traditional Seder in the dark underground cell, chanting the traditional prayer of Jewish hope: "Leshana Habbah Biyerushalayim."
During the following weeks many of our fellow Jews perished in and around our place of hiding. In the village of Boyake, the Jews hiding there, were delivered to the German Gendarmerie. On a nearby farm the brothers Goldwasser actually suffocated in their underground bunker. A similar fate befell also the Blumstein family who were discovered and killed after they left their two children with a peasant family. Also the Klepatsky family with their eight young children were all shot to death. The Silbermans and the Zukermans who managed to hide in the woods for some time, later perished at the hands of Poles and Germans. There was not a day without some casualty.
So we went on from day to day, for weeks and months. There were days of sorrow and hopelessness, as we saw our numbers dwindling. Then there were rare days of hope, when the Germans began to get their blows and first real setbacks on the Russian front.
We learned from bitter experience to prepare our next hideout, just in case the present one became suspect. We learned to live with fear. On Thursday nights we would get our provisions for Sabbath.
Once on such a Thursday night when my brother Gershon and I came out to do our usual "shopping", we saw a suspicious figure at a distance. We had a hunch that he was watching us and we tried to avoid him.
Further down the road we saw two human figures who seemed to run away from us as we were approaching, probably because they thought we were Germans chasing them. We tried to call them in Yiddish and they finally understood that we too were Jews. They stopped to wait for us. They were of our town: Ethel Lederman and her daughter Itka, whose husband and father together with his two sons, were shot only a few weeks ago. They told us of their plight, having no regular hiding place. We didn't ask them where they were hiding now, for in those days, no Jew would tell another one where he was staying, because when the Germans caught a Jew they would make him tell all he knew about Jews around.
When we came back to our family and reported whom we saw we were all rather disturbed about our own safety. Early next morning we heard the heavy gait of military boots overhead and the horribly German command: "Raus, Verfluchte Juden!" (Get out damned Jews). Through a slit in the wooden floor we could see the German patrol dragging Ethel and Itka from their hideout, which was right near us. Then we heard two shots and saw how they fell down. The Germans ordered he Poles to bury them while they continued to search for more Jews. Now it turned out that the Germans got the report of the other hideouts and although they went on with their search they did not discover us.
We had a narrow escape his time but could not bear the thought of remaining at the same place, near the fresh grave. So we moved to another bunker which we had already prepared at a farm of a woman named Savitzka, but without her knowledge.
The new hideout was even smaller and narrower than the previous one. We actually had to creep into it. Then we camouflaged the entrance with stones. This one too was under a granary and we could hear the heavy gait of the farm-workers over our heads all day long. At night no one was around and we had a chance to go elsewhere, but we didn't dare move.
In the morning a dog smelled us out and began to bark. The owner came by, but didn't find us. Only in the evening a woman came by and called us to go out. We didn't reply. Later she came again and ordered us to leave or else she would call the German police. As we were going out she met us with curses and insults. It was most discouraging to hear such words from a woman who only recently used to do business with us. But we were already used to such insults and could not be hurt any more.
That night we again spent in the open fields, soaked to the bone by heavy rain. When it began to dawn we were near an open cellar full of potatoes, cabbages and carrots. So we walked in, thinking to spend the day there until the next evening. We realized that we were exposed to danger, for we were trespassing private property, without permission.
At noon another peasant woman noticed us but said nothing. An hour later the owner himself came. He was another acquaintance of ours whose name was Kasik Koshinsky. A1though he appeared to be friendly he was rather afraid of his own life, if he'd let us- stay. So he brought us water and food but asked us imploringly to leave his premises and hide in the nearby brushwood on the rim of a cornfield.
We had no alternative but do as he told us, and remained that day and the following night in the open fields. We were now envious of the farm animals grazing freely in the sunny pastures, while we humans, had to hide for fear of being spotted by other human beings like us only of another race. We, then, bowed our heads in shame of being members of the human species!
We were again roaming the fields, hiding in ditches by day, trying to find food during the night. Once at the house of a farmer who was willing to sell us some bread I met a Jew who told us he was hiding in a nearby forest. He told us some more horror stories of families we knew recently murdered, either by Germans or by their Polish neighbors.
From him I heard of an old couple: David and Maya Kristol, who escaped from that Ghetto after the evacuation. Although they were already past seventy they didn't want to end their lives in the gas chambers. I recall having once met them in the woods dragging their old bare feet in the snow, clinging to each other. It was a miserable sight, but all I could do was to offer them the loaf of bread I was carrying for my own family, and listen to their woes for over two hours. Then I didn't hear about them any more, until this man told me that they, finally, gave up their struggle and delivered themselves to the Germans, who killed them without any scruples.
That night I heard other stories of rape and murder by Poles who sheltered Jews, as long as they could pay their "rent" but chased them out, or handed them over to the Germans, when they had no more money or belongings to pay with.
During the next few weeks we were hiding in the rye fields of a farmer named Kochinsky and then in fields of another farmer, Kaleshevsky, who were both good to us, but afraid of the Germans who now began to punish severely all Poles reported giving shelter or food to Jews.
About that time there began to appear groups of Jewish partisans active in the nearby forests. They saved some Jews from death and hunger and punished those peasants who were known as collaborators with the Germans. In one such case a group of partisans saved the lives of two Jews who took part in the Treblinka uprising and after that escaped and reached our vicinity.
It was already midsummer and the fields were ripe for harvest. For us it meant that we could not remain in the open fields much longer and had to look again for an underground shelter somewhere in the proximity of a farm. We decided to go back to the places we were in five months ago on the assumption that no one would again suspect the place after a long interval.
I went down to see one such place together with my brother Gershon and found the old bunker in good shape; but since we left, the hay-loft on top was removed and the entrance was exposed to everybody who passed by. We, therefore, decided to dig another shelter just near the old one.
The entrance to the new place was to be from a wall of the old hideout but covered with straw so that from the outside no one could see anything but a straw-padded wall. We dug the place some 30 cms. lower than the first and it was well covered and camouflaged.
We worked on this new hideout by night, for we had to carry away the fresh dug out earth some considerable distance from the spot. We had to work in shifts, and as we advanced our younger brother could also continue working inside through the day. Then our sisters also gave a hand carrying the sacks of dug-out earth, spreading it thin over the fields. Since we were working through the night eve had less time to gather enough food for the next day, so we had to manage on less food during he two months that we were preparing our new "residence". Luckily the field crops and vegetables were still in great abundance and we could easily procure such edibles as onions radishes, beets, carrots and potatoes, left over by the farmers.
Sometimes, during these night promenades we would meet fellow Jews in the woods. These were, usually the "well to do" who still had money left to pay the farmers for letting them hide in their barns and cellars. We were of the poorer folk who had to beg or steal our bread and other provisions.
Finally the hideout was ready for use. The entrance was about 75 cms. long and 40 cms. wide. But to enter it one had to crawl on the belly. We finished the job about an hour before dawn so that we had little time left for food gathering, just enough for the next day only.
Returning home I found my brothers and sisters fast asleep. They were exhausted. I had a chance to see their emaciated figures lying there on the bare, wet ground. Only our mother was awake and her first question was whether I managed to bring something to eat. She was now nearing sixty and as I looked at her I felt great pity for her, who at her age had to go through so much together with us.
The peasants were already working in the fields and we could hear them talking about us Jews. We heard one of them declare that it was in the interest of Poland to have all Jews annihilated. It made our blood cuddle. They didn't know, of course, that we overheard them.
After ten months of such precarious existence at the mercy of friendly Christian, we now felt that even our friends were not as kind and merciful as before. At times one could see on their faces that they were getting impatient with us, especially since we had nothing to pay them for bread and potatoes.
So I decided to try again to visit one of our Polish friends in town, with whom we left some of our belongings, before leaving the Ghetto. The visit was to be on a dark night and it was carefully planned.
As I was approaching the house I took care to examine the surrounding area and also to listen carefully if there were any strangers in the house. Suddenly I noticed, about 20 meters in front of me, two people with a flashlight. I bent down low and hid behind a door. Now I could hear distinctly one of them talking in German. After they walked away, I waited another half hour before I entered the house. Just as I opened the door I saw one German in the company of a Belloruss civilian, drinking vodka. The civilian now pointed at me and the German drew his pistol; but then I was already outside, running as fast as I could. I hid behind the bushes and could hear the German reproaching and cursing is companion for acting so slow when he saw me. They chased after me but I was already far away.
Before I returned to our hideout I managed to gather some vegetables from a garden on the outskirts of the town. I told my family of the narrow escape, but spared some of the details, for I did not want to grieve them.
Although we camouflaged our new hideout as best we could, we couldn't stay there very long. After a few days we heard steps outside and voices overhead. Someone must have noticed us and began to search for the entrance. They saw the old hideout was empty but then one of them noticed the small opening we left for airing and began to search for the entrance. We could hear them talking to each other about reporting to the special police.
We opened the secret door and came out into the open. We saw the owner who was an old acquaintance of ours. At first they calmed us and suggested that we go back into the hideout for they thought we were richer Jews... But we were suspicious and decided to leave the place.
We separated into two smaller groups and went out again into the open fields. After a while we stopped to rest under a tree, but heard someone running after us. It was a Polish boy, the son of a friend of ours who came to us with bread and some cooked food. That boy was Yanek Senchina whose father helped us out on several other occasions and even provided us with food for the Seder night. He saw us on the run, so he sent his boy after us with provisions. We were deeply touched by this example of human kindness.
It was now the end of the harvest season and we could find shelter under the heaps of cut grain. One morning a farmer came to load some sheaves and found us in the heap. At first he was really scared, but calmed down. Understanding our situation he let us remain hidden until the evening.
The next day we found another heap that was wet from the rains. Since it could not be taken in before it dried we could feel safe there for the next few days.
We now felt that we must prepare at least two new hideouts in the fields. These we planned to dig on the premises of the farmer Senchine without getting his permission.
Again we met with true friendship and human kindness. One morning returning from our digging the young son of a farmer gave us bread and milk and even offered his good advise where to find a hideout. He didn't know that his suggestions were almost identical with the places where we began our dig. But these were but rare cases of real human interest in those dark days.
During the last weeks of summer we had to change our secret lodging several times, because the Germans were on the hunt again. Once we were almost caught, but just by mere luck we didn't return to the hideout we prepared the day before.
A few days we spent on a farm near the village Shenievitz, under the floor of a barn packed with old ploughs and agricultural machinery. There we could have some rest until we were noticed by the owner, who ordered us to leave. We moved to another barn nearby, owned by a certain Piotrokovsky, who also told us to leave but finally agreed to let us stay if we were "careful". We did our best to be careful, but couldn't help going out at night to secure some food.
Finally we had o leave his place too, and decided to settle down in a safer shelter on the farm of an old man named Kochere. We figured that the chances to remain there were much better because the old man was stone deaf.
It was already after the harvest season and the cold days and nights was approaching. We had to think and plan for a second winter of misery and frosts. We also had to store up some edibles while the going was good, so we found a place to store up a pile of potatoes hoping to survive until the end of the war. We also found some beets and carrots enough to last us for some time. Charkovsky was old and deaf and our choice was well made this time.
About a week after we settled down on the secret bunker at Carkovsky's farm, when two of my brothers and two sisters went down to do some laundry by a stream they noticed a group of people in the field. They bent down to listen what language they were talking and though they heard Yiddish. They were not quite sure but it was already too late to run away. So they waited. It was really a group of armed Jewish partisans who were now active in the nearby forests. Most of them were from our own town: Simcha Warshawsky, Ekuthiel Karshenstein, Velvel Wishna and others with them.
They were after some acts of avenging the blood of their relatives, killed or delivered to be killed, by some Poles. They also held up some rich farmers and used the money to help out needy Jews in hiding. This was only one of a few groups of Jewish partisans. There were other such bands active in the vicinity. It was from such a group, whose leaders were: Pessach Katz of Semiatich. Shlomo Grude, Kalman Goldwasser and his cousin from Kadzin, that we later got a good sum of money with which to rent a "legal" bunker, whose owner also provided us with some food.
Some weeks later we too enjoyed the benefit of the Parisans' influence to get a safe place with a young farmer, Vladek Rimarchik. (The same fellow whose uncle once robbed my mother and sister of their shoes and overcoats). We made a deal with this farmer to let us dig a hole under his pigsty, well-camouflaged and covered. Although we had to get used to the stench of dung and urine of the animals and the ground was always wet we were glad to have this place of relative safety.
We brought our family into our new lodging and after eleven months of near starvation at last enjoyed regularly cooked meals, prepared for us by the farmer and his wife. Here we also enjoyed the regular visits of Shlomo Grude and his Partisan comrades, who came to cheer our spirits and bring us comfort. They also brought us the glad news that the Russians are advancing and that soon we shall be delivered from fear of execution. The same tidings we also heard from our hosts. Meanwhile, the German hunters and their dogs were after Jews in hiding and we too were daily exposed to death. One night the Germans surprised our farmer but didn't find our secret place. They did take away other Jews nearby.
By midwinter 1944, after two months at Rimchik's farm, we had to look for a new place, because our host was now in fear of being spotted. Fortunately, another friendly farmer was willing to let us in. It turned out afterwards that this fellow, Leonard, was so willing to help us because he knew Jews held him responsible for the murder of a Jewish woman and the active underground was planning to kill him. He now wanted to prove his benevolence to Jews.
We moved into the new bunker but couldn't stay there very long because we were discovered by a neighbor who was none other than the old Rimarchik. He could have easily reported us to the Germans, as he did many other Jews before. But he didn't.
We again went in the direction of the Sadowa forest where we found an underground bunker deep in the woods, near the forester's house. We came there without the forester's permission. Once we even felt that someone was after us, but we remained quietly without being discovered. We decided to return to the old hideout which we abandoned a few months earlier.
At that time, early in 1944, the Germans already suffered many setbacks on the Eastern front and were on the retreat from Russian territories. Sensing the approach of our deliverance, after fourteen months of fear, hunger and humiliation we felt the great desire to live and see the final collapse of our enemies.
Early one evening my brother and I went out to procure food for the family. Passing by Senchine's farm we noticed a full vat of boiled potatoes. We took as much as we could carry to bring back to our hungry family. We also overheard a conversation in the house, between the owner and a Jew who begged him to allow his stay in one of the barns, which Senshine calmly refused because the Germans now had an eye on his farm. We waited outside until the man came out of the house for we were curious to know who he was. He was a native of the nearby town of Semiatich and he also had with him Avreml Blockstein one of our town; from them we heard of other Jews hiding in a nearby Boyake; also of the many activities of armed Jewish partisans who began to avenge the death of their families by treacherous Polish and Belloruss peasants. They also showed us an article in the German Nazi newspaper "Volkisher Beobachter", reporting the "atrocities" of Jewish Partisan bands in Poland.
We, personally, also felt the effects of such Partisan activities, after which our Polish "friends" began to be more considerate with us. One of them even offered to give us shelter without any remuneration for over a month.
Besides these organized acts of vengeance, there were at this time several individual performances of resistance and bravery by young Jews who fought back when attacked. Such a one was Yekutiel Kashenstein...
At that time we heard from someone that our venerable Rabbi of Drochichin was still alive and we were naturally anxious to find him, but there was no trace of him. Later we heard that for some time the Rabbi was in hiding at the farm of Michael Chapke who later killed him. This report was never verified. What we did find out for certain was that this Chapke's brother kept many Jews who could pay good money for their shelters, but none who could not pay. We, too, were driven out of his barn when our money was finished.
The advancing Russian armies came nearer and nearer, but the countryside was still full of retreating Germans who were as hostile as ever to Jews who came across their paths. Russian and American bombers were now overhead and the front was already between Bialistok and Brisk.
Russian Partisans were now regular visitors in our vicinity and in some places they were already in full control although the Germans were still armed. Some young Jews were already walking around and even appeared working in the fields with their neighboring farmers, although it was still dangerous to do so. One such brave fellow was Froiche (Shlomo Lederman, the shoemaker's, son) who had no more patience to wait for the day of liberation and went out in the open as if to demonstrate his defiance of the enemy.
With the retreating German units there were also soldiers of the other nationalities and our brother Gershon actually carried on a long conversation with a Hungarian soldier who took him for a Polish farm worker.
It was already June. Fighting was still raging around our village. Now it was even more dangerous than ever to go out at night in search of food, for the whole countryside was heavily patrolled.
Finally, we lived to see the end of Nazi German rule. But before the end came, we were yet to experience many a fearful hour. One night there was a German unit in the barn over our heads, and we had to keep our breath and remain absolutely motionless, not to be discovered. There were also Ukrainian and Russian units who fought on the side of the Germans. One had to be careful not to mistake them for the Red army men. These traitors were rabid and ferocious, even more than the Germans. him to offer options on military affairs suggested that a decisive battle was now taking place right where we were. Again we could hear Russian spoken over our hideout, but we could not be sure whether these were already Red army men or Russians Ukrainians fighting on the side of the Germans. We didn't dare leave our bunker for three days.
Then it was all-quiet. We couldn't stand our thirst and hunger any longer, so one night we decided to risk a breakthrough in search of bread and water. We were so exhausted that we could hardly move, but managed to reach Pogerzetzk's house. We knocked on his window begging for bread. He wondered why we were still going to beg bread so late at night since the Russians were already there for three days. He gave us a big loaf of bread and a jug of water, but admonished us to be careful on our return, because of strict curfew regulations by the Russians, whose patrols might also shoot at straying civilians.
This was the hour we prayed for ever since the beginning of the war, and we ran to tell the glad tidings to our family in hiding.
At first mother and the girls would not believe it. But we finally convinced them that it was true.
The next morning we left our last bunker, but we couldn't get used to the daylight, after more than twenty months of living in the dark. Our mother was now bent with age and suffering. She couldn't straighten out. It was June, 1944.
On the way we met a Russian patrol. Gershon walked over to the first soldier and kissed him, for we all regarded them as angels of deliverance.
Gershon's analysis was correct, for only 15 kms. from where we were, near Sokolov, a great battle was waged and a great many casualties, on both sides, were now reported.
A week after liberation we returned to Drohichin. Our home was now occupied by a certain road worker named Scribon; It was he who reported my brother Noah to the Germans, after he found him hiding in our cellar, as described before. We appealed to the authorities for the right to get back our property, but it took some time before the man who was responsible for our brother's death could be made to move out. For some time we had to suffer him as our neighbor in the house.
When we finally took over the house, our home became the center of the surviving remnant of our community. Also Jews from the nearby town gathered here and all were received generously and with open heart.
This was the final chapter in the chronicle of pain and suffering of Drohichin's community.
These pages recording the years of endurance and suffering are dedicated to the sainted memory of those who perished, whose names are in the hearts of all families descending from our community now scattered all over the world.
May this also be a living testimony of the entire community that is no more the wonderful Jewish community of Rabbis and men of learning, pious, and G-d fearing Jews, leaders of benevolent organization, of whom only a remnant now lives.
It is for us the saved and living to continue and cherish their memory but also to go on building a new Jewish life . . .
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