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[Page 93]

Memories of running away from the ghetto

Haim Ziskin Brat

Translation by Rachel Zetland

Donated by Jay Snider

It was the second Sunday of the month of Elul. The word reached town that something was about to happen, they didn't know exactly what. They believed there would be a “counting” of the Jews and they said that they were enlisting Ukrainian goyim from the area with carts. Another rumor said the Germans gave an instruction to collect tools. We were very sensitive to these kinds of rumors because a lot of towns in the area had already been liquidated. We learned this from the stories of the survivors who reached us. Only a few managed to run away and find refuge in Rafalovka. Despite severe restrictions by the authorities and the crowded conditions, the refugees hid among the local Jews. We gave them a place to sleep, clothes and even some food of the little we had. We believed our day was far away, and that perhaps somehow we would survive, if we could only stay alive.

But Sunday brought bad news. The town's people waited for the worst. Every family planned how to act when the liquidation order would arrive. We thought about what would we do? Where would we run? Maybe to some goy? Maybe to another town that was still in tact? Or maybe to the forest? That Monday went by and more rumors came… On Tuesday morning Ukrainian police forces started to circle the town and it became clear that it would soon be impossible to run to the forest. I was 13 years old and my cousin Meir was the same age. We were told to run barefoot to the forest near “Smolerna,” the tar factory where a group of Jews were doing forced labor. It must be said that thanks to forced labor the Jews were able to keep in touch with the goyim and smuggle food into the ghetto, something that was vital to us all. These labor groups managed to sustain many families and were able to distribute what they had collected outside the ghetto to most of the town's people.

My father was part of a group that worked in a factory removing roots. We were sent to tell them what was going on and to urge them to leave the area immediately lest the police bring them back to town. We found them and told them what was happening. They immediately began discussing what to do. They decided that the group should disperse and that us children should go back to town and tell our family and the families of the other people in the group to escape to the forest.

We were to meet in the forest, about three kilometers away from where they were working. We approached the town and as we were about to leave the forest we ran into two goyim who recognized us and knew what was going on in the town. They began begging us, “Kids, don't go in there because you won't be able to come out. If you want to stay alive run into the forest! Maybe a kind person will take you in you and you'll manage to stay alive.” We left them and came closer to the town. We saw the policemen surrounding the town and decided not to go there. We decided to go back to the meeting point in the forest.

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We brought the news and the whole group dispersed in every direction. We all went in different directions hoping the rest of our families would succeed in escaping, and with the help of the goyim we would meet up and hide and live in the forests. In the evening the three of us, my father, my cousin Meir and I reached the house of a goy, an acquaintance from the village of Sukhovolya. We persuaded him to go to town and convey a message to the family, or maybe even bring them dressed as peasants. This goy was an old friend of my father. He took his cart and horses but came back with the calamitous news: they are about to exterminate the town, which was surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of policemen, and a big escape was underway. Many were managing to escape with the help of goyim. My mother, of blessed memory, wrote: 'Stay away and as far as you can. During the coming nights we are hoping to escape to the towns of Oziritz and Sarhov[1], 50-60 kilometers away from Rafalovka, and we will get to you. Don't wait for us here, leave the area quickly.'

That same night we started walking. My father knew the area well. We used difficult paths because we were terrified… The goy helped us and gave us clothes and food and wished us luck staying alive. This is when our wanderings began. Father was used to walking but we barely dragged behind. After about 20 kilometers our feet swelled but the will to live was so strong that we continued, though slowly. We reached the town of Oziritz only a day or two later. We met a goy there and he let us into his stable and gave us shelter. We immediately asked him to go to the town and bring us some news. He was also a friend of father and he responded to our urgent request. He took his horses and departed. He returned with the following news: my two elder sisters, Miriam and Pnina, somehow managed to get out and are here in the area. But my mother and our older sister Rachel were slaughtered with the town's people. The dayan[2] Nudel, tzadik[3] of blessed memory, went first.

He brought all this information from our friend in Sukhovolya. We heard the terrible stories of the mass killing that had taken place on shabbat in three or four pits in the forest near Sukhovolya. The Ukrainian policemen carried out most of this work. The only part the Nazis took care of was the shooting near the pits themselves. No need to say this horrendous account terrified us and greatly multiplied our fear. We began hesitating and weighing the situation, is it of any use to run away? Where will we be? Where will we hide? How can we live? And again, the will to live was so great we had to overcome all of this and survive. We started looking for our sisters and found them at goyim in the area. They were hiding separately, dressed in Ukrainian clothes, real “shikses.”

We cried and mourned together for what we had heard had happened to our town. But this lasted only a few hours. Our will to survive compelled us to discuss how we could get by in this situation. We were terrified of being recognized, identified. My father, who had let his famous beard grow for many years, cut it short and wore Ukrainian clothes. In that way father came to look like one of the local peasants.

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We made a wise decision: each of us should somehow stay in the house of a goy in Hotor159, an isolated house with no people or neighbors around. This way maybe we had a chance of surviving. It wasn't easy. How do you find these goyim? The sisters stayed with the same goyim on the condition they would move around from time to time to another goy with the help of local goyim. They were to work for the goyim, anything, the most important thing was that they would keep them. We decided to set out and look for good goyim who would agree to take us in. We were successful. Each of us stayed at the home of a different goy. We worked with them in all their labors and somehow managed to survive. In the meantime a miracle happened and the area became an area of Russian and Jewish partisans. The area became a freer place for us, it became safer, and we felt there was some protection, especially with Jews bearing arms. Naturally, the goyim who gave us shelter also became more confident. We were able to live in this way for twenty-two months until the liberation of these territories by the Red Army. A new reality faced us - going home! Where??? To what kind of a house, one that is completely destroyed… to the big graves??? And indeed we returned!


  1. סרחוב Return
  2. Judge in a religious court Return
  3. Righteous, God-fearing, saintly. Also means Hassidic Rabbi. Return

We didn't find a survivor

by Meir Goldverin

Translation by Sara Mages

It is very difficult to write about your hometown, especially when you know that your loved ones would never come back to you.

I was born in a small town named Olizarka. I will never forget the kind faces of the residents of my town who were always happy with their lot. They never feared that someone would hurt them because there was no reason for it. The people worked in agriculture, construction and various other professions. They lived in peace with the entire environment, and this without fear.

Our town excelled in values of Torah and labor. Until 1937 I studied at the “Heder” with the teacher Asher Viner z”l, and later at the Hebrew School “Tarbut” in Rafalovka. In 1937 my mother passed away and I was nine years old then. Small children remained at our home. My uncle, Mr. Simcha Brat, took me to him to Rafalovka and I was brought up at his home. To this day I'm not sure why he chose me from among my brothers. Sometimes I think that it was it was my destiny. My uncle, Simcha z”l, had a son my age, Chaim Ziskin z”l. Both of us studied at the Hebrew School “Tarbut” until 1939.

The Russians occupied our area. Some of Rafalovka's Jews were deported to the interior of Russia. The people of Rafalovka pitied the Jews who were deported to Russia, but they never imagined what would happen to those who remained in Rafalovka in a period of about three years.

The war between Russia and Germany began. The Germans captured the entire area, including our town Rafalovka. During the interim, when the Russians left Rafalovka and the Germans had not yet arrived, the Ukrainians took the power in their hands. They started

[Page 96]

to rob the Jews of Rafalovka, took whatever came to their hands and slowly began to carry out a pogrom.

I remember the case of a tall Ukrainian thug who took a suit and a hat from a Jew. He wore the suit and the hat, but ran barefooted because he couldn't find shoes his size. A large mob of Ukrainians came to a Jew's house to steal. There was no passage to the house due to the large number of Ukrainians who crowded there. An oil lamp stood on the windowsill. The thug smashed the window panes from the outside and took the lamp. A Jew approached him and asked: “Mikita, what are you doing, are not you ashamed of your actions?” The Ukrainian replied - “shut up dirty Jew.”

Even though he knew the Jew, after all they were neighbors, he told him that it was a mitzvah to rob and scorn the Jews.

Meanwhile, the Germans arrived to us and a “Judenrat” has been established.

From time to time the Germans imposed new decrees on Rafalovka's Jews. Once, they demanded gold. The Jews collected it among themselves and handed all of it to the Germans. Gold, furs and also boots were sent to the German army. There was nothing left to give to the Germans.

The Germans started to concentrate the Jews of Rafalovka in one street. Those who lived in two or three rooms were moved to one room. They closed around, fenced off the street, it was tightly closed, a ghetto.

The Germans issued a new decree. All Jews had to wear a yellow badges, front and back. Some of Rafalovka's Jews worked in the “Smalernia” [distillery] near Suchowola. I especially linger on Suchowola because I will come back to this place in the course of the events. I will always remember this place.

The Smalernia wasn't far from Suchowola. Coal and resin were produced there from pine logs. Apparently, the Germans used these substances for military purposes. My uncle, Simcha Brat z”l, preferred to work in the Smalernia even though it was a difficult and arduous work. The Smalernia was outside the town of Rafalovka and in this way my uncle thought to save the Jews who were outside the ghetto. He had a feeling that something awful might happen in our town, Rafalovka.

Rumors arrived from towns in the area that the Germans kill Jews for no reason. On a clear day, in the morning, my uncle woke me up, took me to his place of work and said: “Meir, come with me to the Smalernia, you will see our work place.” I went there out of curiosity. My uncle showed me the place. I marked the road marks so I would be able to get there alone without my uncle's help. I was afraid that I might get confused in the forest. I returned home. A few weeks have passed and one morning we heard that the Ukrainians and the Germans dig pits near Suchowola. Various rumors had spread in our town. Jews gathered near the synagogue. They didn't imagine that the pits were intended for the extermination of the Jews of Rafalovka and the surrounding area. Still, the Jews began to flee. Most of them didn't believe that it could happen and remained. My aunt, Chaya z”l, told me and my cousin Chaim: “you children, try to get out of the ghetto. You children, maybe you will survive, at least you will stay alive.”

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We went to the Smalernia, the place where our townspeople, among them my uncle Simcha, worked. We told them that there are rumors that the Ukrainians and the Germans are plotting something against the Jews of Rafalovka and the surrounding area. My uncle Simcha told me and my cousin Chaim to go back to Rafalovka, to try to reach our home and tell everyone on the way to escape from our town to the forests in the area, maybe they would survive.

We returned and on the way we met a Ukrainian plowing his land. We asked him, what is the meaning of the shots that we hear, and he said: they are killing the Jews of Rafalovka. We returned to my uncle Simcha, to the Smalernia in the forest. We told the Jews that were there about the magnitude of the disaster that happened to the people of Rafalovka. Everyone burst out in a bitter cry, everyone stood together and some wanted to return to Rafalovka to be killed together with their families. My uncle managed to influence them not to return. We couldn't remain in a group of ten to twelve people for fear that the Germans will discover us. We split and each one searched for a place of refuge. My uncle Simcha, my cousin Chaim and I decided to escape from the place of slaughter. My uncle knew the farms in the area because he had trade relations with many of their residents. We walked all night and the following day, we didn't look back, we were afraid that we were being chased. At one point we raised our head, my uncle and I, and realized that my cousin Chaim wasn't with us. We decided to go back to look for him, and after we walked a distance we saw that he was laying on the ground sleeping, probably from the exhaustion caused by the long walk. We woke him, continued to walk, and with our remaining strength approached the Styr River. Somehow we crossed the river, by using planks, and arrived to the village of Molchitz, to the home of one of my uncle's Ukrainian acquaintances. He gave us food. He also gave us a change of clothes so that we wouldn't be recognized as Jews.

From there we wandered in the direction of the village of Ozaritchi. We didn't reach the center of the village but to a corner in the forest, to a “Hotor” [isolated house] where a Ukrainian named Cirilo lived. We stayed in his pigpen and in the attic. Every evening he brought us food, I remember an incident. The gentile brought us food an hour after sunset. We didn't eat that day, and also the following day, because it was the night of “Kol Nidrei.” My uncle z”l was a religious man and he said that it was forbidden to eat. In fact, we fasted for two days even though our uncle asked us to eat since we were still children.

I will always remember that day. I've never fasted intentionally and as easily as then.

We stayed with Cirilo for about three weeks. The Germans started to search for fleeing Jews in the area. Occasionally the gentile told us that Jews were killed in the area and hinted us to leave the place. Therefore, for lack of choice, we left the place.

Later, we learned that he wasn't one of the righteous among the nations. He even killed, with his own hands, many Jews in the town of Manevichi. He was friends with my uncle Simcha, showed mercy to him and didn't kill us.

From there we wandered to the village of Sarachov. We arrived to a gentile woman who was called Matrona. Her husband was sick, their situation was difficult and the woman shared her last piece of bread with us. We arranged a kennel for us, like for dogs, in a haystack. At night she brought us potatoes, or a slice of bread, to satiate our hunger.

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We found out later that the Ukrainians informed on her that she was helping Jews. The Germans burnt her family and her house. Even good Ukrainians, who wanted to help, were afraid of the Germans. That someone would denounce them and their fate will be like the fate of Matrona.

During our stay in the forests the partisans began to organize in the Ozaritchi area, not far from where we were staying. In the partisans' ranks were Jews who managed to escape from the Germans, and Russians who escaped from the Russian army and weren't so fond of Jews. These Russians joined the partisans because they heard that the Russians attacked the Germans and they have success. When the Russians returned and captured the Ukraine, they parachuted Russian commanders to the partisan units. There were times when the Germans were afraid to take a risk and didn't enter the partisans' areas.

My cousin and I didn't join the partisans because, as children, we weren't able to be proper fighters. My uncle Simcha was old and wasn't accepted to the partisans. Therefore, each of us found shelter with one of the “Baptists” in the village of Ozaritchi. A Baptist name Samson gave me a job. Although there were partisans in the area and the Germans rarely came, there was danger to the Jews from the “Bandérivtis,” Ukrainian Nationalists who murdered Jews. Therefore, I had to adapt and live like a Ukrainian in the full sense of the word.

I stayed with the missionary Samson until the Russians returned and also captured Western Ukraine.

We returned to our town, Rafalovka, hoping that someone was left from our families. However, we haven't found a survivor.

We decided to leave the place of slaughter and look for a quick way to get to Israel. After a lot of hardships we managed to arrive to Land of Israel.

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