In the villages, in the forests and in battle
Translation by Rachel Zetland
Donated by Jay Snider
I want to live.
The sun is shining for me.
I want to be,
Even if it is setting,
Walking on the road.
A ray of light is piercing,
A. Schwartzblat Sarid
by Sara Amas
Translated by Gabriella Schwartzshtein
Amongst the forests of Wolyn there existed a small, Jewish village. Each of the houses in this village - were surrounded by green gardens and fruit trees each emanating their own unique fragrances.
Jewish children, who came from traditional homes, were educated and raised with an emphasis on the Jewish traditions passed down through generations.
It was the Mother's role, within the family, to make certain that her child would be brought up with a strong attachment to the traditions. Thus, children were sent to Jewish day schools, lest they mingle with the Christian children.
Friday night was a sacred event in the child's week. They would see the table set carefully, with a white cloth, and see the Shabbat candles being lit. And after the candles were lit, the Mother would tell affectionate stories about the homeland stories which would incite within the child a love for Eretz Yisrael and a longing for its' distant shores located across the vast sea.
On one quiet morning, all seemed as usual, until suddenly a thunderous sound was heard: war had broken out. In a child's innocent mind the word war could not be understood as it had no real implications and seemed to be happening somewhere else, far away.
But when our village was captured by the Nazis (yemach she'mam) I understood the meaning of war and all of her proceedings. I especially came to terms with how the war impacted us Jews; our valuables were stolen, and our school Tarbut was shut down.
It was in that school that we cultivated a love for our homeland; starting from the learning of the Hebrew alef-bet. I loved my school, and at the cessation of my studies there I saw it as rudimentary to knit, as a gift to the school, a blue and white flag.
When I heard the word war, I desperately wanted to return that flag to my home; that blue and white flag; the national symbol that was so precious.
With great precision, and in the blink of an eye, the Jews were herded into the Ghetto; our house remained in the Ghetto. In it we housed our entire family, including our old and frail grandparents. Our situation was difficult, and yet in spite of this our Jewish heart would not relent and we were able to overcome our despair and to invigorate our propensity towards life.
Even in the difficult Ghetto conditions, Mothers continued to facilitate their children's education. I was sent to continue my studies with a private teacher.
Once, upon returning from one of my lessons, I overheard the news that the task of the digging of the pits had been completed with the intention that now the Jews would be annihilated.
There were cries and howls of young children, these were heard amongst the chaos, and yet there was not one Jew who could find refuge. I did not find a place to go. The German planes flew above us and we decided that, despite my young age, I would have to attempt to run away.
My grandmother approached, and proceeded to disguise me as a Christian. She plaited my hair into two braids, gave me her apron to wear, as well as a colourful floral shirt; and around my neck she placed a pearl necklace. And at the exit to my home she bid me to kiss the Mezuzah on the doorpost as a talisman for my success on my upcoming journey. She said to me: You may travel far and wide, to distant and strange lands, where you will be faced with foreign languages that you will need to acquire but in your heart never forget the Hebrew alef-bet that I taught you.
I took the journey upon myself and escaped as far away as I could with the main aim not to be led to the German slaughtering pit. Behind me, I left my parents; my warm and loving home; and everything that was precious to me.
And in the immediate days which followed, I became aware of the truth in my Grandmother's words to me. It was in fact true, I had drifted to strange lands; I had used foreign languages; but in my heart, I always remembered, that I am a Jew(ess)
by Sender Appelboim
Translated by Esther Snyder
Ghetto Vladimertz was destroyed on Friday, 15 Elul, 5702 (28-8-42). Many of the Jews of Vladimertz escaped from the assembly point. My father, mother, sister and I were among those who fled. The Germans and Ukranians shot at us continuously. Many were killed and wounded during the escape. My mother was killed; my father, sister and I managed to escape. I was wounded in my leg. Later the Ukrainians handed over my sister to the Germans. They killed her.
Hundreds of Jews from Vladimertz succeeded in reaching the forest. There were some Jews who left the ghetto several days before its liquidation. Hundreds escaped but only tens remained alive. Many died from cold, hunger and disease. Some were caught and handed over to the Germans, some were killed by nationalistic Ukrainians and others died as heroes fighting with the Partisans and the Red Army.
The few who survived were saved not just due to good luck, but also because of their courage and resourcefulness. They continued to struggle even under the most difficult conditions; they didn't give up hope and didn't surrender. Some of them remained alive, mainly thanks to the good people who helped them in their time of terrible distress. I will discuss later those good people of Raflovka and its environs who lent a hand and helped the Jews during those difficult times throughout the years 1942 1944.
After the escape from the ghetto, I wandered alone in the forest for a month. I ate blueberries that grew in the forest and food that I stole from the farmers' vegetable gardens. I had a small prayer book (siddur) in my pocket and prayed every day saying kaddish and reading from the book of Psalms (Tehillim) in memory of my lost family.
I was 15 years old. I wasn't afraid of the animals in the forest I was afraid of people. It was not a baseless fear. Once, Ukrainian shepherds caught me and wanted to hand me over to the Germans. I saved myself by giving them my coat and shoes and threatening them that the Partisans would take revenge on them and their families.
One night I entered a tomato garden, ate my full and prepared to take some with me to eat on the road. I was very tired, my wounded leg was swollen and very painful. I wasn't able to continue walking and had no choice but to stay in the field where I fell asleep. Early in the morning, the Polish woman who owned the garden arrived; she was the wife of Dzarzinski from Widmer.
She knew my family and decided to hide me, take care of me and save my life. The Dzarzinski couple dug a hole in their barn and made a safe hiding place for me. That same day she traveled to Vladimertz and brought back medicines to heal my wound. After a month, my father learned that I was hiding with the Dzarzinski family and he came to see me. Our meeting was very emotional. Dzarzinski and his wife told us that they had planned to keep me hidden until the end of the war but some people saw my father enter their home at night and therefore we must leave. In the village, there were two murderous policemen, Kapitola and Kuzoritz. If they found out, they would kill not only me and my father but also the Dzarzinski couple and would burn down their house.
We decided to go to Hota Sofachovska because we heard the Partisans were there. On the way we reached Hotor, where Mifioda lived. He was a student. He received us warmly and hid us in his barn bringing us food every day. The Germans announced that anyone hiding a Jew would be shot. Despite the danger to him and his family, Mifioda decided to save as many Jews as he could. After a few weeks, my father and I decided to leave and not further endanger Mifioda although he asked us to remain with him. Later, when we were in Hota Sofachovska, we heard of the bitter end that came to this dear person, Mifioda. Two Ukrainians from Dolgobola, Marko Sazan and Kalim Chachko, informed the authorities who then searched Mifioda's home, found Jews and executed all of them. The murderers asked Mifioda why he gave refuge to the Jews. He answered: You can take my body but not my soul. He withstood the investigation with courage and was killed by the murderers.
In this area, there were other righteous Gentiles who helped Jews and saved them. Ivan Shamay from Vladimertz hid Jews, gave them food and led them into the forest. The Polish priest from Vladimertz endangered himself by saving Jews. In church, he told his congregants that it was their duty to save Jews, to hide them, give them food and offer help. Some of his people followed his direction.
Zavdaski and his wife from Androya gave refuge to any Jew who came to them. Rodnitzki from Prova and Olinchik gave shelter to my father and to the Brill family from Vladimertz.
In the forest near Hota Sofachovska we found tens of bodkes and zimlankes belonging to Jews. These were shacks on the ground and bunkers under the ground. We lived with another eight Jews in a bodka that we built in the forest.
At night, we would go to the villages in the area to steal potatoes from the skopches and clothes that were hanging from the laundry lines.
We tried not to ask for food from the villagers because we knew that Jews who did ask were turned over to the Germans and executed. The Germans tortured them before their murder in order to get information about hiding places of Partisans and Jews. We requested food only from those we could trust. In the Polish town of Hota Sofachovska, we received bread, groats and tools to build hiding places in the forest.
We, the youth and the children, apparently didn't realize how great was the danger. We sat in the bodke near the fire and sang songs in Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian.
Jewish partisans from Raflovka, Vladimertz and the surrounding villages endangered their lives by confiscating clothes taken from the Jews and also foodstuffs all of which they brought to us in the forest. They would often arrive wearing four or five pairs of trousers and many shirts that they took off and distributed among us.
I remember well the people who lived with us in the forest near Hota Sofachovska and other places. My leg was injured and I suffered great pain. At this time, Sania Morik, from Raflovka took my turn in guarding so I could rest. He was a diligent, refined and generous person. He helped many Jews in the forest. If he found food, he shared it with the others. In 1942, when many were desperate and hopeless, he was optimistic and believed that the Red Army would soon arrive and free us. Unfortunately, he didn't live to see that day.
Yehoshua Kuzyul from Raflovka an industrious, good-hearted person. Helped those who were in need, always tried to improve our living conditions, fixed every leaky roof.
Yehuda Feishter from Rozishatz during the nights we would go out to steal potatoes and other food. Yehuda walked at the head of the group. He was only 15 years old yet already showed leadership qualities and wisdom. He was familiar with every path in the forest. We were careful to steal late at night and always returned safely.
Sheindl Sosel from Dolgobola (today Yaffa Fishman) made an excellent potato soup for all those in the bunker and took care of those who were alone as a mother would have.
Yaakov Bass was a pharmacist in old Raflovka. While we were in the forest, he managed to get medicines. As there was no doctor in the forest, he acted as our doctor. He treated the sick and the wounded. He knew the farmers in the area and had friends among them. He knew from whom to be careful and whom one could trust. Yaakov Bass joined the Partisan unit from Kunzia, who were friendly toward the Jews. While in that unit, he was able to help the Jews who were not in the fighting unit. He was responsible for the medical service of the whole unit.
On 31.12.42, Hota Sofachovska was surrounded by large forces of Germans, Ukrainian police and soldiers from Velsov. This was the big ovlava (hunt). We heard gunshots from all directions and fled into the forest, because the enemy didn't dare go there.
Arye Yerushlivi from old Raflovka told me: after the Germans and Ukrainians left the area, Arye and some other Jews decided to return to the area and check if any Jews were left alive. They found the bodies of Yehoshua Dekelboim and Yehiel Melamed from old Raflovka lying near a talit (prayer shawl). They buried them together with the talit near Hazimlenka. Yehoshua Dekelboim and Yehiel Melamed were killed while trying to escape.
Yitzhak Shirman and another three Jews from old Raflovka were caught alive, brought to Vladimertz, tortured and killed.
After the big ovlava (hunt), we scattered in different directions. We moved from place to place, sleeping somewhere different every night. The Ukrainian people didn't want to help us. In the village of Molchitz, we met Fania Rozenfeld, today Fania Bass. Fania succeeded in establishing excellent relations with the shtundistim and their leaders. She taught them the Bible and won their admiration. My father and I reached the village with frozen feet and shaking from the cold. I was suffering from a serious infection that had developed in my wounded leg because of a lack of cleanliness and proper treatment. We searched for food and a place to hide. Good farmers gave us food but feared to hide us. The Germans announced in all the villages that anyone hiding a Jew would be killed together with his family and his house burnt down. Despite the great danger, there were sobotnikim and baptistim who helped the Jews and gave them refuge. There were cases where they paid for this with their lives. Fania Rozenfeld learned that two Jews, a father and son were wandering around the village. She searched and found us.
I saw before me a young, blonde, pretty woman dressed as a Ukrainian farmer. Amazingly, she spoke Yiddish and told us that she was the daughter of Yonah Rozenfeld from the old Raflovka. She saw I was shaking from the cold, removed her coat and gave it to me. I didn't want to take it from her but she said she could get another one from friendly farmers, something I couldn't do. Fania found us a hiding place with Philip the Shtundist. We washed ourselves in hot water, received clean clothes, ate our full and Philip started to treat my wounded foot. He put on the wound various home made ointments. I began to feel better.
We stayed in Molchitz for about two months. Fania often came to visit. She had a special status among the Shtundistim group, therefore, she was able to help many Jews. She often received clothes and food from the farmers; dressed as a farmer woman she carried the package on her back and brought it to the Jews in the forest.
The children whom Fania helped and saved were:
Shulamit Morik, Bella Rabin, Rivka and David Bass from Raflovka, Masha Valseftal-Dreitzin,Yehuda Feishter, Hanna-leh daughter of Zilbershtein the barber, a refugee from Poland.Yehuda Feishter today lives in Petah Tikva, a pensioner from the Israel Police; Shulamit Morik-Maksi - lives in Naot Afeka in Tel-Aviv; Bella Rabin lives in Canada, Rivka Bass in Rehovot, David Bass died in the War of Independence, Masha Valseftal-Dreitzin in Haifa, Hanna-leh Zilbershtein in Lod.
Fania helped many others whose names I don't remember.
When we felt that it was no longer safe to stay in Molchitz, we went to the forest near the village of Tikovitz.
Rachel and Yaakov Ber Zaltzman, a sister and brother, who lived in Tikovitz and were familiar with the surroundings, brought my father and me to a very thickly grown forest where the trees were so thick that the rain didn't come through. The place was surrounded by swamps that were difficult to traverse and no person ever reached it. We built a budka there. Rachel and Yaakov Ber endangered themselves by bringing us food and clothes and also good news. They told us of the Russian victories at the front. Rachel and Yaakov Ber gave help to other Jews who came to the village.
Later, others joined us in the budka in the swamps near Tikovitz: the brothers Yaakov and Eliezer Dik, and Asher Guz from from Vladimertz. Gedalia Bekelchuk and his wife Adela refugees from Poland, Sheindel
Sosel from Dolgobola and others whose names I don't remember.
Yaakov Ber Zaltzman joined the Partisans in their elite unit whose name was Death to the Fascists. He fought heroically in many battles. One of his tasks in the unit was to gather weapons that the Russian dropped into the forest and to distribute them among the fighting units. He was also able to help the Jews. He was wounded en route to the conquest of the city of Rovno and hospitalized in the hospital of the Russian Army in the city of Sereni. He died of his injuries. In the Military Cemetary, in Sereni, there is a gravestone that reads Yaakov Ber Zaltzman, Outstanding Partisan. Fought against the conqueringGermans. Everlasting glory to those who died in the battles for the Soviet homeland.
The Partisan units started organizing in the forests in 1942. It was very difficult for Jews to be accepted to these units. Jews who were able to join the partisans endangered their lives not only in actions against the Germans. Certain units were run by anti-Semites. Some Jews participated in actions with the Russian and Ukrainian partisans and didn't return. The Partisans claimed that the Jews were killed in battle. Later, the truth was revealed they were killed by the anti-Semites in their unit.
During the two months that we were in the forest near Tikovitz, we had enough food, not only potatoes but also bread, groats, salt, mushrooms and even eggs. Here is one story:
Yaakov Dik from Vladimertz reminded my father, Shlomo Apelboim, that his sister, Hannah Appleboim, had asked a farmer to safeguard her expensive fur coat. Eliezer Dik and Asher Guz decided to approach the farmer and ask him to return the coat or give them salt in compensation. Holding a letter written by my father, they went to the farmer. The farmer, who was a friend of my father, was rich and had great amounts of salt. He didn't say much and gave to Eliezer and Asher as many bags of salt that they could carry. He also added food for the road.
Gedalia Bakelchuk, a lawyer, was an arbitrator and decisor in any controversy or argument. His decision was immediately accepted. Bakelchuk decided that half of the salt belonged to Eliezer Dik and Asher Guz who had endangered their lives to bring it back. The second half belonged to my father. Salt was a rare and expensive commodity also used in bartering. From time to time, we went to the neighboring villages with some salt that was traded for foodstuffs. We distributed the food to all the people who lived with us in the budka. Sheindel Sosel (in Israel, Yaffa Fishman) prepared delicious dishes for us. We sat together, a small group of Jews in one isolated shack in the midst of the forest and for a while, no one was hungry.
In 1943, after the victory in Stalingrad, the Soviet army quickly advanced toward our area. Russian paratroopers reached the forests, imposed order on the Partisan units and took charge of the anti-Semites. The Ukrainians were now afraid to hand over Jews to the Germans and it was easier for Jews to join the fighting units of the Partisans.
From our hiding place near Tikovitz, we heard that a unit of the Partisans in Benigovitz near Pinsk, named after Vanda Vasilivska, was accepting Jewish members. Our small group of Jews went out in search of them. We traveled tens of kilometers and after days and nights of walking we reached the Partisan camp. We were given food from their kitchen, a place to sleep in the granary and received a rifle ! Words cannot describe my joy and elation on the day I first held a rifle and learned how to use it. For so long I had wanted to take revenge on the Germans. Finally, I have a weapon and my dream of revenge will be realized. But, to my dismay, they didn't give me combat duty. Tens of Jews were in the unit and our task was to guard the camp. Later, this unit was disbanded.
On Rosh Hashana, 1943, in the city of Benigovitz, hundreds of Jews gathered, both combat and non-combat.
Yitzhak Figelshtein, called Yitzhak der duber, knew how to lead the prayers. He prayed with great emotion and often burst into bitter tears.
Many of us cried with him. He mentioned our loved ones who died for Kiddush HaShem martyrdom, and also those who fought against the Germans and were killed. He said: We swear an oath today, on this holy day, to leave this cursed land and never to return. We will do everything in order to reach Eretz Yisrael.
In the beginning of 1944 the Red Army arrived in Raflovka. We were still in the area that was under German control. We got organized and started out. Our goal was to reach the place where the Red Army was in control. At that time, there was a typhus epidemic and some of our people were ill. We decided to take the sick ones with us. The healthy ones supported the ill and helped them. Mordechai Slivkin and I put Haim Slivkin on a snow sled to which we tied a rope and dragged him the whole way. We traveled tens of kilometers. This area was controlled by the Germans and the Bolbubatzim. Therefore, we had to walk through forests and travel only during the night. We passed close to the front and heard gunfire and the explosion of shells.
We entered Stanzia Raflovka together with the Partisans and their families and met up with the Red Army. We stayed in Raflovka for a few weeks and moved on to Vladimertz. We, the boys aged 16 18, joined the Istrabitlani Battalion. Our task in the unit was to catch those who cooperated with the Germans. They were judged and exiled to Siberia. The situation had reversed. Earlier, the collaborators lived in the city and searched for us in the forests. Now, we looked for them. In a way, we were able to take revenge on them.
It was very difficult to remain in Vladimertz. Every house, every street and road reminded us of relatives and friends who had been killed by the murderers.
We remembered our oath taken on Rosh Hashana in the forest of Benigovitz and at the first opportunity we left the cursed land that was saturated with the blood of our brothers and sisters.
Calvana Gellershtein, Rivka Bass and I came to Eretz Yisrael in October 1945. We were among the first Jews from Raflovka, Vladimertz and their environs to reach Eretz Yisrael after the Second World War.
by Shmuel Efrat (Appelboim)
Translated by Esther Snyder
In the beginning of April, 1942, the sword of Damocles hung over the heads of the Jews of Stara Raflovka, a small community in the region of Vahlen, which numbered about eighty families. Almost nine months had passed since the Nazis had conquered the western Ukraine. Fortunately, we still continued living with our family in our homes, with the meager possessions left to us. We barely subsisted but so far had no loss of life as had occurred in other places.
Theoretically, the situation was tolerable. However, the question that hung in the air what would be our fate if the threat of establishing a ghetto was realized. There were rumors that in New Raflovka, which was twelve kilometers from us, a ghetto would be made for all the Jews in the area. We would be forced to leave the town where we lived and move to another area, without any economic assets. We would have to manage on a meager allotment that we might receive from the authorities for the hard work we'd be forced to do. It was clear that if were taken from our natural surroundings where there were farmers who were ready to supply us with a minimal amount of food on which to subsist, we could expect death from starvation and no one would be able to save us.
As to the rumor that circulated that the Germans would in reality kill all the Jews, we simply refused to believe it. We believed that the Jews of our town wouldn't be hurt at least until the end of the war since they worked at cutting down trees in the surrounding forest that were used by the German army. And afterward it was unimaginable that the Germans would continue to kill Jews
That was the trend of thought and those were the illusions we held onto in those days. However, the intentions of the Germans to move us to the ghetto clearly caused us to feel that bitter reality would shatter our dreams and hopes.
What can be done to avoid this bitter fate? Many asked: how can we prevent the transfer to the ghetto?
I was a young man about twenty years old, who by chance was working in the Forest Administration that was established in Stara Raflovka by the Germans authorities. The Administration was headed by a Polish citizen who came, with his family, from afar to our area. I worked in his office and dealt mainly with translating documents into two official languages that were then in use German and Ukrainian.
Despite the waves of violence that erupted against Jews in many places, my relations with the Polish manager were quite good. One day I dared to ask him what would happen to the Jews of the town, most of whom worked in the forests under his supervision, if they were moved to a ghetto in another place. His answer was that he didn't know. However, several days later he called me to his office and told me that he had checked into the matter and the rumor was true. Later, he told me about a plan he had prepared how to prevent the transfer of the Jews of Stara Raflovka. Since he knew the commander of the German Army Engineering Company that was stationed in Tcherturisk, he would ask him to speak with the GabitsKommisar in Sereni to permit the Jews to remain in Raflovka so they could continue to work. The reason he gave was so not to give up the Jewish workers who supply wood to rebuild the bridge on the Stir River near Tcherturisk, As is known, the bridge was destroyed at the beginning of the war. Now, it was essential for the railroad tracks leading to the city of Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, and even further to the banks of the Volga, where nearby the German battle front was located, in the center of Russia.
At the end of our conversation, he suggested that I ask the members of the Jewish community to provide him with a sum of money that he would use to strengthen his relations with the German officers who could help bring his plan to fruition.
I told the whole matter to Mr. Y.V., who was then the head of the Jewish community in Stara Raflovka. He was of the opinion that the sum was not very large and the matter was worth the risk. Therefore, in view of the rumors that setting up the ghetto was about to happen, Y.V. consulted with two members of the committee and quickly gave me the requested sum of money and wished me luck.
I asked that he keep the whole matter extremely secret.
When spring arrived, after the melting of the ice and snow, the Stir River, which flows nearby, rises over its banks and floods the wide pastures that spread out for many kilometers. My friend, the Polish manager, and I took a boat to a neighboring village and from there by land to the train station in Tcherturisk. When we reached land, the boat was sent back home together with the two farmers who brought us there so they would not be able to follow us. We continued on our way by wagon and, as the sun set, we neared the German Engineer Corps in Tcherturisk.
The sentry who was standing at the gate apparently knew we were coming and allowed us into the military headquarters without any unnecessary waiting. He also didn't pay much attention to the yellow badge attached to my lapel.
This was my first face-to-face meeting with a German soldier. Stara Raflovka, where I was born and where my family lived, was distant from the main road where Hitler's armies marched when they invaded Soviet Russia. Our region belonged to Poland and according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, it was transferred to Russian control. Now, the government was transferred by the German invaders to the representatives of the Ukrainian people. A local committee was established with an accompanying police force that was drafted from the people of the town and surrounding villages. Thus there weren't any German soldiers near us. Therefore, when I stood before a German soldier for the first time in my life, I suffered extreme fear that was not easily overcome.
When I entered the headquarters, I was introduced to a German officer with the rank of Captain (Hauftman), an older man aged about fifty who spoke fairly politely to me. He suggested that I spend the night in the Jewish neighborhood, past the railroad tracks and to return at midnight, at exactly twelve o'clock.
I was familiar with the town of Tcherturisk before the war, that is in the period before September 1939. About forty Jewish families lived there including Jewish youths of my age. My friends and I from Raflovka had befriended them and we would visit each other. Now, I came to them after not seeing them for a long time.
It should be noted that at that time, although the Jews were not forced into a ghetto, they were prohibited from leaving and going to another area. Any movement outside their place of residence not for purposes of work, was very dangerous and Jews apprehended were shot to death.
I came to the home of M.R. who had been married for two years to the older sister of my childhood friend in Stara Raflovka. There was almost complete darkness in the house and the surrounding area. Rays of dim light came from oil lamps that were kept covered. M.R. was happy to see me, someone from the outside world.
Neighbors and acquaintances came over to see me. In our long conversations, they bemoaned the bitter fate of the Jews, while many mentioned that their economic situation was reasonable. That was due to German military unit that treated them satisfactorily. What especially worried them was the uncertainty of our continued existence in the future. This gave them no peace and created a depressive atmosphere.
Who knows what else awaits us? The question and the uncertainty were repeated by all those who spoke with me.
To M.R. and his wife, Esther, I told about their family in Stara Raflovka, that they all were alive and I saw them often.
The hours passed during which I described to all who came the troubles and hardships of the Jews in Stara Raflovka since the German invasion. In the beginning, there were cases of destruction of property, robberies and looting accompanied by beatings and there were even rape, as gangs of Ukrainians attacked the Jews every night. We ran to find hiding places after nightfall and after pogroms there was a new German arrangement with harsh decrees forced labor, yellow badges, curfew, life lived in constant fear and very difficult economic distress. As midnight approached, I bade farewell to my friends with tears flowing from my eyes.
Will I ever see these people again? I thought to myself. And in reality, I never did. Almost all were killed in the Holocaust. Two weeks before the disaster in our town, they were killed in cold blood and their bodies thrown into pits. Only very few of the Jews of Tcherturisk survived, among them a lad about seventeen years old whose name was Isaac Firt*. Later, he was known as one of the best fighters of the Partisans in the Vahlen region. I was privileged to serve with him in the Partisan unit that was active in the area of Raflovka, which was under the command of the Division of Aleksei Fyodorov (the rubinai).
However, at that time, when I left my friends in Tcherturisk, we weren't aware of the Holocaust awaiting us. We did everything, we thought then, to continue to exist and live with our families as a complete Jewish kibbutz. All efforts were directed to this purpose.
I returned to the German headquarters at twelve o'clock at night, as I was ordered. Through the partially opened door to the dark waiting room, I could see into the next room that was well-lit. The German Captain sat at the head of the table where I had met him earlier that night and next to him sat my friend, the Polish manager.
Around them sat a group of about ten junior officers. They were having a very jolly party bordering on boisterousness. From time to time one of the officers raised his cup of wine while the others shouted loudly and screamed in song. Three Jewish girls served the officers giving them food and drink. As they passed through the waiting room where I stood, on their way to the kitchen, they described to me their work in the kitchen and in cleaning of the German headquarters.
This work took many hours during the day and night. In remuneration, they received generous amounts of food and therefore could help their families in their daily subsistence. They also expressed their deep concern about what could happen to the Jews similar to what I heard at the home where I spent the earlier hours. The party came to an end, the German captain was the first to rise and leave the room, followed by my friend the Polish manager both of them drunk. When the captain noticed me, he said to me in German: You are the translator you will come with us.
I had no idea where we were going or what was their plan. Things soon became clear. Some officers knocked on the doors of a few farmers who lived at the edge of the town and demanded that they harness their horses and go to the narrow train that led into the depths of the forest.
However, the night trip started off badly. Right at the start the horses started to gallop wildly and caused the cars to overturn. Luckily, we fell on mossy, damp ground and were not hurt.
Meanwhile, the Germans ordered that other horses, those used to this kind of hauling, be harnessed to the train cars, while they threatened and cursed the two drivers that almost caused a serious accident. Thus our trip into the forest was renewed. From the conversation between the officers, I understood that our destination was a hidden place in the forest where there were to be found rare songbirds like the singing thrush, that produce a lovely melody, and perhaps to seize them.
On the way, we stopped near a large bonfire that was lighted especially to mark the place where the cars would stop. I was told to stay with the farmer who guarded the fire and to wait for the return of the officers, who walked an hour away.
At sunrise, the strange group returned to the place where I waited, in very high spirits. Here, we returned to the cars and they brought us back to the edge of the forest near Tcherturisk. There my friend the Polish manager jovially took leave from his German hosts and they answered him politely. On our way home to Stara Raflovka the manager told me that the party was a success and soon there would be another meeting. Most importantly he received a clear promise form the German captain to take care of our matter and he hopes for the best.
These are the events that happened later. Around the fifteenth of May 1942, all the Jews of Stara Raflovka were ordered to abandon their homes and the town where they and their fathers had lived for 350 years and move to the ghetto that was set up in new Raflovka. They were allowed to take only a few possessions and put them on a small number of wagons provided by the Ukrainian Committee. Then the Jews walked behind the carts on dusty roads to the ghetto, a distance of twelve kilometers.
Now began a new chapter of troubles and hardship that led us in a relatively short time, about three and one half months, to annihilation and destruction
It should be noted that, to my great surprise, about two weeks after we arrived at the ghetto, I was notified by Mr. B., who was the head of the Judenrat of new Raflovka, that the Gabitskommisar in Sereni allowed the continued employment of about fifty Jewish workers from Stara Raflovka in the forests where they had worked before they moved to the ghetto. However, he absolutely prohibited to employ any Jewish worker in the regional office of the administration of forests and specifically not the Jude Samuel Apelboim. My friend, the Polish manager took a great risk when he decided to ignore this explicit directive he had received from the German government and he continued to employ me in his office together with my good friend Pesach Bindes, zl, who was killed later while serving with the Partisans.
The only change in our situation there was that we were moved into a side room that overlooked the yard and we were asked to be careful not to be seen by outsiders who came to the office.
It should be added that according to the request of the Ukrainian Committee in Stara Raflovka, a special approval for remaining in the town was given to the pharmacist, Yaakov Bass, so that he could continue to maintain a pharmacy and clinic in his home that would serve the area's population.
On Shabbat, 16 Elul, 5702 (29.8.1942) the evil force struck - most of the Jews of Stara Raflovka were killed, together with other Jews in the area, totaling about two thousand five hundred people. Nevertheless, most of the Jews who worked in the forest, which was twenty kilometers from the ghetto, managed to escape the murderers. About forty of them remained alive and would see the downfall of the Nazi enemy and a few years later the revival of the Jewish people in their land.
* Isaac Firt also fought on the Berlin front, as an officer with the rank of lieutenant. He continued to serve in the Red Army after the war and left the army with the rank of Polkovnik. Today he lives with his family in Moscow.
Shmuel Efrat (Apelboim)
Translated by Esther Snyder
At the outbreak of war between Germany and the USSR at the end of June 1941, I was staying with my aunt in Dombrovitz, where I completed my studies at the Pedagogic Institute and received my teaching certificate. Then, I decided to move to Russia and leave the region where I was born in order to flee from the German government.
Before I traveled eastward, I hastened to my parents' home in Stara Raflovka to receive a parting blessing from my family and friends with whom I had grown up.
Because the Sereni-Kobel railroad tracks had been totally destroyed by the numerous bombings of the Luftwaffe, I was forced to make my way home by walking a distance of tens of kilometers.
During the nights, I had to pass through villages whose residents were known as robbers who attacked passersby. I walked past them on tiptoe and only barking dogs accompanied me. In the daylight, I pretended to be a Ukrainian teacher returning to his family. When I saw unfriendly people, I didn't speak with them so they wouldn't recognize my foreign accent.
I reached the town of Vladimertz that was located twenty-four kilometers from the place I was born, which was a pleasant looking place with the largest Jewish community in the area. When I met the local people, I heard that life was very chaotic. The Soviet governmental institutions in the whole area were vacated and the area was left open to German invaders. My friends, who knew me for many years, were happy to see me and warned me not to stay there but to join them the next day when they planned to leave the town.
That night my feet became swollen and covered in blisters. I suffered terrible pains and wasn't able to join them. I searched for a place to stay and found relatives who welcomed me warmly. In the morning, I continued to walk until noontime when I reached home, in Stara Raflovka.
The frightened people I met in the town told me that all the roads leading east were blocked off by the enemy. Groups of young Jews who tried to escape were caught on the road or were forced to return along dusty back roads. Truthfully, when I saw my family up close, I said to myself that I couldn't leave them and my fate would be the same as theirs.
Meanwhile, things worsened from day to day. Gangs of bandits spread out over our town and all the Jewish settlements in the area. Even before the war, looting was frequent in these places but now the robberies knew no bounds.
Hundreds of armed bullies from the area of Mulchich, some with old weapons and some with modern weapons stolen from the withdrawing Red Army, organized into gangs and joined by local delinquents, violently attacked the Jewish population.
In those days we remembered the poem of Haim Nahman Bialik, Heavens, ask mercy for me, - that was everyone's prayer. All around there were robberies and beatings; several times a day gangs went from house to house throwing possessions into carts waiting outside, looting everything, breaking and destroying furniture, windows and doors, beating men and women, old and young. The rioters were always drunk and there were even cases of rape done in broad daylight.
At nights, there was fear of murder. We would abandon our homes and run to hide with the farmers. Although some of them helped us, even they didn't dare to physically resist the hooligans. This happened day after day and the homes of the Jews were emptied of all their possessions. They took from us our clothes, home furnishings, food and merchandise, that were hidden deep in the ground. Searching for gold and silver the robbers destroyed the walls of the houses.
When the thugs left, we returned to our ruined homes to gather whatever remnants of clothes and food that were left over.
Three weeks passed in this way. We were left with nothing. The work of many years and even generations was completely lost. Luckily, no one was killed.
After the front was moved hundreds of kilometers from us, the agents of the German government and the Ukrainians who cooperated with them, came to set up their institutions in our area. They found us defenseless and completely humiliated.
Violence against the Jews was prohibited and it was publicized that anyone attacking the Jews would be severely punished.
Thus, a new order was established, that was arranged by the Germans with the help of the local police, and quickly we began to become familiar with it. One day a decree was handed down declaring that every Jew must wear yellow badges on the lapel and the back of his clothes. We felt deeply humiliated. From now on, it was possible to distinguish a Jew from a non-Jew even at a distance.
After a short time, troubles started again. We were forced to pay a ransom (contribution) in gold coins based on the number of Jews. After that ransom was paid, the amount was doubled and even tripled and was mercilessly collected from us.
The condition worsened when a curfew was placed on us that lasted from six o'clock in the evening until six in the morning. At sunrise, we had to start doing hard labor.
Men and women, aged 14 to 50 all had to work and no one was exempt. In compensation, we received a small portion of bread and a tiny, practically valueless, payment.
During this time, amazingly we felt secure, thinking that all the troubles were behind us. Many returned to believing in G-d. We continued to live while overcoming the difficulties and we believed that with every new day maybe a miracle will occur and we'll see the defeat of Evil enemy.
In the spring of 1942, another difficult decree befell us. About the fifteenth of May, the Jews from all the surrounding areas were ordered to move to the ghetto that had been established in New Raflovka, a distance of twelve kilometers from us. There, only three streets were assigned to us where two thousand five persons had to find a living space. In a house where one family used to live, there now lived four or five families. Every room was very crowded. We were prohibited from leaving the ghetto and anyone who was caught doing so was sentenced to death.
Every morning, groups of Jews went go out to work arranged in military file, and were accompanied by armed Ukrainian police and aided by Jewish police who were unarmed. These wretched Jews, wearing old, faded clothes, marched toward the forests in the area of Sofachov, to the sawmills there and to the bridge near Tchertorisk, which they were ordered to rebuild after it had been destroyed at the start of the war.
The supplies in the ghetto were decreasing. In the beginning, there was still some contact with the outside population through friends and acquaintances who succeeded in passing over small amounts of food. There was barter trading and the black market flourished. Now, the economic blockade was tightened and there were families who suffered from starvation and needed to be helped in their distress.
However, even in these difficult conditions we believed we would survive. We didn't know, and maybe we didn't want to know that the Germans had a plan to annihilate us and wipe us off the face of the earth. There was no contact between us and the other settlements in the region and no information reached us about what was happening in other places.
At any rate, no one wanted to believe that annihilation was near. We thought, then, that the Germans weren't interested in killing us since our hard work was helping them and their war effort. Now, we weren't blood sucking parasites as the Jews had been called in the Nazi poisonous propaganda. We were just working prisoners who received a salary of seven rubles (karbobenzim Ukrainian coins) per day that were worth exactly one loaf of bread. We are not rebelling nor rioting. We are quiet people. Why should they want to kill us? we asked ourselves.
We comforted ourselves that although we would continue to live as slaves, if we don't fall into depression and keep calm, we can survive until the end of the war. Afterwards, some solution will certainly be found for us. Even Hitler himself once announced that Madagascar was a place where the Jews of Europe could live. We will live in Madagascar or some other forsaken place in the world as long as we survive the war. This was whispered among the Jews of the ghetto at night before going to bed.
After several weeks, the anxiety increased in the ghetto. The first signs appeared that our bitter destiny had already been decided. Three Jews were shot and killed when they left the line marching to work in order to get food from a passing farmer. A refugee who managed to reach us from the Stefan ghetto told us that all the Jews there were killed and cruel murders occurred in other settlements across Vahlen. Then, the end came to the small Jewish community in Tchertorisk, which numbered two hundred people and was quite close to us, only six kilometers away. In that same action, sixty Jews from Raflovka who were working at the nearby bridge, were cruelly killed.
In the last week of the existence of the ghetto, I was at my place of employment in Stara Raflovka. There, we heard that large pits were dug near the village of Socobela, near the forest leading to the ghetto. At first, rumors said that the Germans wanted to store potatoes there for the winter.
Shortly afterward, we learned that the pits were meant to be used for killing Jews. At the same time, we were told that the German SS together with the Ukrainian police surrounded the ghetto and imprisoned all the Jews within. The workers in the forest were ordered to return immediately to the ghetto and not to remain in the forest until the end of the week as had been done previously.
The pharmacist, Yaakov Bass, who was in our town at that time, was able to bribe the postal clerk who allowed him to get in touch with the Judenrat in the ghetto. At the other end of the line was Yaakov Weisman, who broke down in tears, but Bass managed to give the following message: Jews, read Tehillim (Psalms), save yourselves.
Then, I decided to flee to the forest together with a small group of five Jews who worked as blacksmiths.
While on our way, we were arrested by Ukrainian police and were being brought to the police station for imprisonment. Instinctively, I ran as fast as I could toward the side paths and vegetable gardens at the edge of the town. Two policemen ran after me, one of them shooting but missing me. After running as far as I could, I jumped into a field of corn and despite the search efforts of my pursuers, they didn't find me and left the place.
A few days later, after I managed to find shelter with a Ukrainian family where I hid in the hayloft. The housewife told me what she saw with her own eyes:
I was in New Raflovka that day and I saw how a long line of Jews from the ghetto marched down the street headed by the old Rabbi with a white beard. They were surrounded by guards with weapons pointed at them on their way to death. And, she added, They shot and killed all of them near huge ditches that had been dug in the hills of Socobela.
I remained alone after hearing the horrific news, tears choking my throat. I felt a terrible feeling of doom. All hope of being saved was gone and what point was there in staying alive.
I felt a bitter anguish that stayed with me and didn't leave for a long time.
Suddenly, and I don't know how it happened, a mysterious need awoke in me, sort of a strong urge to continue my search for another hiding place far from this murderous town, and not to give in to the anguish.
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