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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.

[Page 94]

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.

[Page 95]

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

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