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[Page 67]

The Fate of Jewish Children during the
Years of Occupation in the Territory of Belorussia

Translated by Judith Springer

Brest

In the Soviet Union, during the entire postwar period, the topic “Children and the Holocaust” was replaced by the topic “Children and the War”[1]. The first books relating the fate of Jewish children during the war period appeared only in the early 1990s[2]. The West and Israel began to pay attention to this topic much earlier[3], although examples with respect to Belorussia are absent even from the most recent literature[4]. In Belorussia, which, among other former USSR republics, suffered the most during the war years, the history of the Nazi genocide has been studied in sufficient detail[5]. At the same time, however, it was not customary to talk about victims among the Jewish population. Today Belorussian historiography continues to perpetuate the previous methodological error, insisting that the tragedy of Belorussian Jews was an integral part of the tragedy of the Belorussian people, whereas the Nazis never killed Belorussians on the basis of ethnicity.

Documents on the Holocaust in Belorussia contain little information devoted to children. There are hardly any descriptions of their conduct in the ghetto, attitude toward the world, and relations with adults and children of the same age, as well as with Jews and non-Jews. German authorities forbade them to go to school and the few children's institutions that existed were in the nature of temporary shelters struggling to survive. Most testimonies were received after the war, when children grew up and embarked on independent life. All those years, they preserved their tragic experience and sought explanations for what had happened. Contemporary Holocaust literature has accumulated sufficient personal stories, histories, and reminiscences concerning children, including of preschool and young school age. It is difficult to overestimate their importance. This is almost the only source that gives an idea of what had happened from the point of view of child psychology. It is known that human memory is selective and biased in the perception of the past. Many stories are replete with details and particulars, which are impossible to verify decades later.

The lack of reliable statistics is the least studied aspect of the problem, which will cause great difficulties for researchers in the future. Only general numbers are known. Children made up almost 1.5 million of the 6 million victims of the Holocaust of East European Jewry. How many among them were from Belorussia? The losses of the Jewish population in the republic were catastrophic. In the beginning of June 1941, including Jewish refugees from Poland, there were almost 1 million Jews in the BSSR, but in 1959, 15 years after its liberation, there were only 150,000. The Nazis did not keep a special record of children. They were interested in adult prisoners as a free labor force and skilled specialists. They had a special attitude toward former Soviet and party workers, activists, and potential opponents of the regime, who were subject to immediate liquidation. Children were not part of this scheme. However, they played an important role and had great influence in the world of adults. The most acute pain of ghetto inhabitants and their greatest hope revolved around children. The special feature of children's perception lies in comprehending the most complex concepts in the simplest way -- even in terms of a concrete object. They divide the world into the “bad” and the “good,” the “kind” and the “cruel”. Therefore, “Children and the Holocaust” remains one of the most labor-intensive topics. It is so tangible that it leaves almost no one indifferent, is within the reach of mass perception, and, consequently, is subjective. There are few documents, but many emotions. Answers to questions can be found by generalizing and comparing the vast database accumulated during all the postwar years.

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Beginning of the War

During the period of the swift attack by German forces, only a few children could be transported deep into the country. The BSSR territory was occupied at the beginning of September 1941, but only 10 percent of the republic's Jewish population managed to evacuate[6]. Considering that the adult able-bodied male population was drafted into the Red Army, it can be assumed that children made up no less than one-third of those transported to the eastern regions of the USSR. At the outset of the war, hundreds of Jewish children were vacationing in summer camps, kindergartens, and nurseries. Basya Tsukerman's children were vacationing in the dacha settlement of Zhdanovichi, not far from Minsk. Her enterprise was evacuated to Saratov and Basya tried to take Zhanna and Rita with her, but the thoroughfare in this direction was closed. Basya was not allowed to go to Zhdanovichi. She was promised that her children would be evacuated separately. However, everything turned out differently. After some time, Zhanna and Rita, with their uncle Ayzik Tsukerman, found themselves in the Minsk ghetto. All the children perished -- only Ayzik survived. He escaped into the forest and fought in the Parkhomenko Partisan Detachment of the Chapayev Brigade[7]. The son and daughter of poet Moisey Kul'bak -- Il'ya and Raya -- together with the kindergarten, were vacationing in Ratomka, and their three cousins -- the girls Inna and Matusya (Matil'da) and the boy Elya (Il'ya) Kul'bak -- in a pioneer camp in Tal'k near Minsk. When the city began to be bombed, Taisiya (Tonya), Moisey Kul'bak's sister, went to Ratomka to take Raya away, but the kindergarten had already been evacuated. The Kul'baks remained in the small town of Lapichi, where they perished in August 1941-April 1942[8]. On June 25, 1941, the head of the Medvezhino pioneer camp, to which Volik Rubezhin's parents had brought him right before the war, told Volik that there were no cars and one had to get to Minsk on one's own. When he arrived at his home on Stepyanskaya Street, the boy learned that his mother and younger brother Marik had fled and that his father was in the army. A note was attached to the doors, from which he realized that, in the morning, his mother was in the camp and they missed each other. Volik lived in his apartment for about a month, selling and exchanging things on the Komarovskiy Market in order to sustain himself, but in August, like tens of thousands of other Jews, he found himself in the ghetto[9].

Survival depended on the ability to orient oneself in a complex environment, to keep one's head, and to find a way out of a seemingly hopeless situation. The opening of a pioneer camp on Lake Naroch for 500 children was planned for June 22, 1941. Almost the entire organizational work was entrusted to the older detachment -- 15- to 16-year old teenagers. Early in the morning, the sky buzzed with the roar of low-flying airplanes with black crosses on their wings, which were headed for Minsk. Service personnel did not come to work. There was no one to feed the children. Lev Fayshlevich, head of the camp, together with pioneer leaders Riva Berman and Lena Lagatskaya, broke into a food warehouse. Pioneer leaders Mikhail Burshteyn and Leva Maron went to the Kobyl'niki station to look for an evacuation train. From the military commandant of Molodechno, they were able to get four railroad cars for the pioneer camp. At the last moment, three parents came from Vilnius by bus and took their children away. An hour later, German saboteurs stopped the bus and executed the passengers. Only Dima Lyubavin survived. Local residents picked up the seriously wounded man and hid him in a cellar for more than half a year[10].

At the outset of the war, many were evacuated to rural areas, where there was no danger of artillery fire, or bombardments. Some Jewish children remained there among Belorussian and Russian children of the same age. In the spring of 1943, on one of the sovkhozes in Minsk Oblast, the Nazis spotted a whole hut with children, who were left to fend for themselves. Peasants brought them handouts, seven-year olds looked after three-year olds, and many had already died of hunger, diseases, and cold. The Germans tried to find out the children's national affiliation and sent all of them to the railroad station in Minsk, where they held them for two days without food or drink. Three older children tried to run away, but were shot. Then the Germans began selling the children, starting at 35 marks per child. Mariya Gotovtseva related that they urged passers-by to come and bargained with them. When they sold most of the children, they lowered the price to 10 marks. The children cried, held out their hands, and begged: “Buy us, or they will kill us!” Marfa Orlova and Fenya Lepeshko from Minsk confirmed this information[11].

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Children in the Ghetto

There is no information on the number of children imprisoned in the ghetto, but it is well known that there were many of them and they continued to appear every month. In the Minsk ghetto by November 1942, there were 2,127 children, or 22.5 percent of all the residents. A total of 102,132 residents, including 44,892 children under the age of 18 (44 percent), lived in the city itself outside the ghetto[12]. Children did not come in much contact with each other. Even those who, previously, were not noted for their reserve, now did not try to communicate with others. Everyone matured quickly -- childhood ended with the arrival of the Germans. There were no books or games in homes, there was no lighting, and children went to sleep early. Boys and girls, regardless of their age, were preoccupied with the problem of survival. Most of them thought about what to do tomorrow. The general mood was one of depression. People walked, talked, and pondered over what to do and how to live. They were interested in what was going on in the world and used any information and rumors.

In some ghettos, small bazaars were permitted several times a week. Crowds of people used to gather there, everyone offering something. One knew whom to ask for what. People sold things for money or exchanged them for other goods -- less often for valuables. They traded in clothes. Experienced tailors altered coats, jackets, and trousers by turning them inside out, and sewed quilted jackets. Flour and fat were considered to be the most valuable products one could get in exchange for clothes. However, people could get them only outside the ghetto boundaries, where they were categorically forbidden to go. Getting over the wire barrier, many children and teenagers packaged the flour into small bags, tied them to their bodies, and brought them into the ghetto territory in the evening together with the work columns. They sold the flour, or exchanged it with bakers for bread. They cut the bread into small portions and sold it by the piece. There were no animals, poultry, dogs, or cats in the ghetto. No one ate meat or fruits. Sometimes carrots, potatoes, or cabbage were available. Most people cooked a vegetable soup. They used the waste of restaurants. Children gathered boiled bones after they had been disjointed in the kitchens of German military units, or took them out of garbage cans. They rendered the fat from them and prepared a jellied broth, which they used in their food, or sold.

The ghetto was continuously taxed, which often was the main topic of discussion. The Germans constantly gave orders to supply them with specific quantities of different things: so many blankets, so much linen and footwear, and then other things. However, the majority had nothing to hand over to them[13]. Jewish police was organized in some ghettos. The prisoners disliked the Jewish police just as they did the Belorussian police, which stood outside the ghetto gate. Jewish policemen were no less strict and cruel. Some of them had a criminal past and tried to ingratiate themselves. They spoke Yiddish, Russian, Belorussian, and Polish. Instead of weapons, Jewish policemen had clubs and sticks. They rarely made rounds to homes. Since they had lists of the prisoners, they knew where everyone lived.

Among the Jewish police, there were different types: Those who helped people to save themselves and those who betrayed them. In the Minsk ghetto, Jewish policemen walked together with gendarmes and sometimes gave invaluable service to prisoners, warning them in Yiddish: “Geit nit... Antloift... Tsit op fun danen!” (“Don't walk, run, get away from here!”). When the danger passed, they again informed them: “Yidn, geit arois. Der pogrom schoin geendikt” (“Jews, go out. The pogrom is already
over”)[14]. In the Plissa ghetto, Yakov, a Jewish policeman, pointed out places where some Jews hid to members of punitive squads. In the Glubokoye ghetto, these policemen had rubber clubs. They taunted prisoners no less than the Germans did[15]. However, the end was the same for all, although people who served in the Jewish police did not want to believe that the Nazis would not even give Jews, who were complicitors in their crimes, the chance to survive. This was also a phenomenon of the Holocaust -- the Nazis gave this chance to every other nationality. In Baranovichi, the Judenrat consisted of 26 people. Attorney Ovsey Girshevich Izykson was appointed its chairman and Naim Pinevich Val'tman, a police assistant. Policemen and gendarmes carried out raids in the ghetto, which ended in beatings and executions. In March 1942, Judenrat members were sent to fill in a pit grave near the Zelenyy [Green] Bridge, where there were wounded prisoners. When they refused, Ovsey Izykson, David Morin, and translator Menova were undressed and forced to dance near the open grave to the accompaniment of a harmonica and then were shot[16].

Most of the ghettos lasted until the spring of 1942. Among their inhabitants, despite the common fate in store for them, a differentiation depending on their previous social status was observed. There was a certain distance between well to do Jews, who before 1939 had their own businesses (a sawmill, a flourmill, a store, a pharmacy, a workshop, or a factory), and poor ones (handicraftsmen, day laborers, workers, and artisans). It was even manifested when discrimination by the Nazis made everyone equal. The “Westerners” hated the “Easterners,” who on the eve of the war had expropriated their property.

Many adults were able to survive in the ghetto precisely owing to children. In Slutsk, Gomel', Vileyka, Bobruysk, and other places, children and teenagers used to crawl under the wire and go outside to exchange products, despite the fact that the ghetto was guarded. In Minsk, children used to run to the railroad to gather coal scattered along tracks and thus survived the cold winter of 1941-1942. In Brest, Boris Pikus and Roman Levin, following the example of Polish teenagers, became shoeshine boys. They used to go to the railroad station, hospitals, and soldiers' clubs and offer German passers-by: “Bitte Herr, Stiefel putzen” [“Please, Mister, can I shine your boots?”] Others gathered butts of “Juno rund” cigarettes, shook out the tobacco remnants, and sold them on the market. This had to be done with great caution owing to the constant roundups. Brothers Samuil and Aleksandr Margolin from Uzda worked in a German shoe repair shop, where they sewed new and repaired old footwear from the front. One could be executed for taking boots out of the shop. However, high-quality boots were very valuable and hungry prisoners had little to lose. Jews were checked only at the entrance. Samuil and Aleksandr came to work in slippers, after work changed into boots, and left the shop. In this way, they stole a few dozen pairs of boots. They sent some shoes to partisans in the forest and sold some on the black market in the ghetto[17].

In the fight for survival, children engaged in speculation and stole. The entire criminal atmosphere of the occupation regime forced them to do this. In the Minsk ghetto, children and teenagers bought food products on the Surazhskiy Bazaar from peasants who came from neighboring villages and resold them to wounded Germans at the railroad station. Soldiers gladly bought butter, milk, eggs, and cheese. At times, Jewish children and teenagers took risky steps fraught with danger to their lives. In order to increase the weight of butter, they put a piece of metal or a stone inside it. They waited till the Germans went with their mess tins to the railroad station for a hot lunch and then got into the railroad car. Ignoring the fact that seriously wounded people were lying in some compartments, they walked through the corridor and stole anything they could lay their hands on: watches, clothes, cigarette lighters, knives, and even eyeglasses. After some time, they sold these things on the market. At freight stations at night, children got into railroad cars, which carried boxes of food. Then they took apart these boxes at open platforms.

Misha Stolyar used to go with other boys to Minsk-passazhirskiy [passenger] and Minsk-tovarnyy [freight] stations where, uniting into groups and gangs, they stole, exchanged, and wheedled things out of people. Everyone had a nickname. Misha's was Chert [Devil]. A 16-year old teenager nicknamed Kapitalist protected him. Stolyar had to give him one-half of what he collected and, for this, he received protection. These daring “raids” cost some children their lives. The Germans organized roundups and let dogs loose on them. They often let Russian boys go, but put Jewish boys on trucks. They shot them at the Jewish cemetery. Misha Stolyar passed for a Russian -- he was let go twice. But Misha Tayts was taken to the cemetery in a truck. While the truck was moving, he jumped off. The guard fired a shot, but it misfired. During a roundup in the winter of 1941, the guards seized more than 10 Jewish boys. They were beaten with butts, shoved into the back of the truck, driven to the Jewish cemetery on Sukhaya Street, and shot at the gate. One, Yankel' Kuper, escaped. The next day, after the tragedy, he said that he survived because he was able to take advantage of the Germans' confusion. The soldiers who captured Kuper, seeing to what extent he was infested with lice, were taken aback for a while and hesitated to come close to him.

In other cases, the illegal search for food products outside the ghetto became life saving. From August until November 1941, Yasha Mogil'nitskiy from the Shumilino ghetto used to go to the countryside in search of food. He exchanged some things there, returning with food products for his mother and sister. Whereas earlier Yasha's mother was afraid of these outings, later, sensing a quick end to the ghetto, she herself sent her son to the countryside. In November 1941, Yakov was absent for two days. At that time, members of punitive squads carried out an Aktion in Shumilino. In Beshenkovichi, where the boy went, there were not yet mass executions and no one wanted to hear his stories about what had happened in Shumilino. On the contrary, they screamed that he was a provocateur[18].

The Nazis tried to avoid surprises when carrying out their Aktionen. At first they killed healthy adult men and then women, children, the sick, and the elderly. In Vitebsk Oblast in the fall of 1941, a group of Jews from Chashniki was sent to peat mines. Had they wanted it, they could have easily left the labor camp, because at the beginning they were not even checked. However, no one left. The Germans claimed that Moscow had been taken and the war had ended. Moreover, if one escaped, his family was executed. In the Borisov ghetto in 1941, pharmacist Abram Zalmanzon poisoned himself, his wife, and two small children[19]. As a result of depression, Sima Levina from the Brest ghetto wanted to commit suicide. She asked Chichenova, her neighbor, to bring poison from the pharmacy in order to kill her children and herself. Tamara, her older daughter, tried to be always by her side. In the yard, there was a small shed and the children were afraid that their mother would hang herself there. Neighbors told her that this was not the end and that “ours would return,” but she believed no one. In October 1943, Mordukh and Roza Margolin from the Minsk ghetto were spotted in a secret place (“malina”). They were debilitated and broken spiritually and physically. When the policeman who led them to execution offered them the chance to run away, Mordukh fled, but Roza refused: “Shoot, my sons will avenge me”[20]. A Jewish girl from the small town of Gorodok tried to persuade her mother to run away from the ghetto -- they had many acquaintances in neighboring villages. However, after her son's execution, the woman became indifferent to everything. In Yanovichi, when the Germans came to take groups of Jews to execution, some parents did not even want to hide and their children literally forced them to leave. Hunger pursued the prisoners. In the Liozno ghetto, children used to tell their parents: “It is better that they kill us, we have no more strength to suffer -- we are so hungry!”[21].

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Children's Rescuers

In Minsk, people passed Gena and Fajvel Kolotovker, who were brother and sister, from hand to hand, thus helping them to survive. After the liquidation of the ghetto, they were hidden under the floor on Tolstyy and Vokzalnaya streets for several months. Tamara Gershakovich was afraid to leave her six-year old daughter at home. When she went to work in the morning, she carried her in a bag through the ghetto gate to a Russian friend and, when she returned in the evening, she took her back. Many children looked for shelters in the Aryan part of Minsk. The children of physician Levin, artist Sladek, physician Lipets, and soldier Al'ter, as well as some others, were rescued in this way[22]. Antonina Bykovskaya rescued the very young sisters Manya and Lena Neyman. Parfen and Yevdokiya Kudin rescued Izya Shmulik and Yelena Frolova adopted six-month old Roza Rubinchi[23]. Khone-Yankel' Sosnovnik was born in August 1941 in the Germanovichi ghetto (the Sharkovshchina region), where he was circumcised. After the liquidation of the ghetto, Manya Kazachenok, a Belorussian girl (village of Velikoye Selo), who became a maid in the home of Soltas (Starosta) Romeyko, took the child. The boy was given a new name, Yanek, and was passed from one home to another. Nikolayenok, Krivko, and Nema families hid him and the boy survived. In 1941 Arkadiy Goldberg lost all his relatives during the execution of Jews in Yanushkovichi, Logoysk Rayon, and he himself was sent to the Minsk ghetto. Olga Fedorova adopted him, hiding him in a cellar. When neighbors threatened to denounce her, she took the birth certificate of her son Boris and went to the village of Studenki, Nesvizh Rayon, where she left Arkadiy with a peasant acquaintance. The boy survived[24]. However, not everyone was lucky. After the Aktion of November 20, 1941, the Kublin family gave shelter to Tsilya Botvinnik and her newborn baby. When the baby was 6 weeks old, friends helped Tsilya to hand him over to a Russian woman. She received news about the baby through an acquaintance in the ghetto, who knew that woman well. That acquaintance died in the pogrom of July 1942 and Botvinnik lost the ability to find her child, parting with him forever[25].

Of special interest is the fate of those who were connected with shelters for orphans. Parents left their children there, hoping that, by fortunate coincidence, they would survive. Many realized that, with small children, they would not last long in the forest and that a partisan detachment would not accept them. After the death of the parents, friends, acquaintances, and neighbors raised the children. According to Sof'ya Disner's testimony, in 1942, among the 60 inmates of Children's Home No. 2 in Minsk, there were 31 Jewish children. In Children's Home No. 3, among more than 100 children, there were 11 Jews. In Children's Home No. 7, there were eight Jews and one Negro boy, Jim, whom the teachers saved together with the Jews.[26] In Borisov, Konstantin Skovorodka, head of the Children's Home, hid -- under other people's names -- Lyusya Beynenson, Roza Davidson, Khana Lipkind, Lena Neyman, and others. According to the data of former city administration worker V. Parfenyuk, of the 2,000 children kept in Minsk shelters, 500 were Jewish. A. Shevruk, inspector at the Minsk City Administration, named an even higher number -- 600[27].

One could not count on the help of the occupation authorities to provide for children's institutions. According to the testimony of Vasiliy Orlov, who worked in the Department of Children's Homes of the Minsk City Commissariat, the children were hungry and half-clothed. Clothes were not given out and it was very difficult to find food products. Bread was often baked with sawdust. Even this bread -- 100 grams per child a day -- was not received regularly. Every now and then the Germans allotted trimmed horse bones, kitchen waste, or meat infected with trichinosis. There were frequent cases of food poisoning. Children's institutions were not supplied with fuel and children froze[28]. In Pinsk, in the children's home on Dominikanskaya Street, 60 grams of cereal, 25 grams of soap, and 20 grams of salt were allotted for daily maintenance per child. A total of 15 grams of sugar, 25 grams of fat, and 20 grams of fish were considered luxuries. Only owing to voluntary donations was it possible to make both ends meet[29]. Some children were handed over to local residents to be raised by them. For every such child, a document certifying his non-Jewish origin was issued. For example, on March 27, 1942, Pelageya Gushcha received a document certifying that the three-year old girl Lyusya from Minsk Nurseries No. 1 was not Jewish[30]. Nanny Anna Velichko recalled that, when the Germans appeared, Jewish children were crammed into storerooms and vegetable storage sheds and, in summer, into the tops of potato plants and that their hair was dyed. Virtually all of them were baptized and registered in parish books. They also wore crosses. This gave them the right to receive a food card. Church attendance and participation in prayers and church singing were mandatory[31].

The Nazis guessed that during checks not all the children were shown to them and often came at night. They looked over the sleeping children with flashlights, selecting those whose appearance was suspicious, wrote down their personal numbers, and in the morning had them brought over for a check. The identified Jewish children were sent to the ghetto. Together with them, they took away children with physical anomalies and handicaps. Racial purges were organized periodically. The identification of a child on the basis of nationality is always difficult. Signs of circumcision in boys were the only indisputable evidence. All the rest -- hair, nose configuration, color of the eyes, speech defects, specific accent, and anthropological data -- were relative. Sometimes the examiners were mistaken. Dora and Sara Zlatkin, Boris Ozerskiy, and brothers Semen and Roman Kaplans were declared to be “non-Jews”, whereas Valya Klyashtornaya (Belorussian), owing to her curly hair, a “Jew”. Teacher Zinaida Yakubovskaya managed with difficulty to defend her, stating that she was the daughter of parents repressed by Bolsheviks[32].

In Minsk, Rebiger and Kemp, SD [Security Service] officials, headed the anthropological commission of experts. Directors of children's institutions attended their meetings without fail. Teachers told the children how to conduct themselves and what they could and could not say. When the ghetto in Polotsk was being destroyed, several children escaped during the shooting and found shelter in the local children's home. Dmitriy Petrovskiy, burgomaster of Polotsk, and translator Fridrikh Bezer (both perished in the autumn of 1942) warned Mikhail Forinko, director of the children's home, about the selection. Jewish children were distributed well in advance among local residents and later were sent to the partisan zone --none of them perished. According to the testimony of Mariya Babich, director of Orphans' Home No. 2 in Minsk, and Nadezhda Trubenok, head of the Children's Reception and Distribution Center, Aleksandr Shevruk, inspector of the Minsk City Administration, warned them that Jewish children would be taken away and they managed to prepare themselves. On April 16, 1942, the occupation authorities issued an order stating that directors of children's homes would be personally responsible for singling out all “Jewish children” and transferring them to the ghetto hospital. However, in the entire Minsk district, only two Jews were found in the Trostenets Children's Home, although there were many more. Children were so cautious that even a month and a half after the liberation of Minsk in 1944, when asked by strangers “who are you and what is your name,” they answered with a tremor in their voice: “Verka Ivanova,” or “Sashka Petrov.” Early in July 1944, Il'ya Erenburg, accompanied by a major in the Soviet Army, visited Rakov. Dora Sheyvekhman, whom the writer questioned, hesitated to tell him her true name and nationality, insisting that she was Dasha Nesterenko, a Belorussian[33].

Ilya (Rakhel) Aronova, born in 1938, called herself “Lil'ka Petrova.” On June 22, 1941, she lay in the infectious ward of the Minsk hospital on Kropotkina Street with a diagnosis of scarlet fever. Doctors did not hand the girl over to her parents, Izrail and Khava Aronov, on the grounds that the war would end any day now and there was no need to discharge a sick child. Soon the children were evacuated and Ilya was lost. A few months later, she, together with a group of children of the same age, found herself in the small town of Il'ya, Molodechno Oblast, 75 km from Minsk, where she spent the entire war. The children had typhus and scabies and were treated by improvised means: They were smeared from head to toe with tar. Anna Kazimirovna Veremey helped Ilya -- she fed her and brought her clothes. During checks, the girl with a characteristic Jewish appearance was hidden. In the summer of 1942, Ilya Aronova and her friend Polina Vizenfeld witnessed the liquidation of the local ghetto. After the liberation of Belorussia, Rakhel restored her first and last name in the hope of finding relatives, but her search was futile. All those years, Izrail and Khava Aronov looked for their daughter in children's homes in Central Asia, Siberia, and the Urals, to where children had been evacuated, not assuming that the girl survived in the occupied territory of Western Belorussia. During all the postwar years, Rakhel, Khava, and Izrail Aronov lived in Minsk, never suspecting the existence of each other. In 1991 Rakhel and her family were repatriated to Israel and in 1992 her parents, to the United States. In 1996, the circle was closed -- again in a hospital, but this time in Shaarey Tsedek in Jerusalem, where the children of Rakhel and of her cousin Mark Tayts -- Svetlana and Ella -- worked. Having found out that their parents had fled from Minsk in 1941, they established their kinship 55 years after the war[34].

The daughter of underground worker Asya Pruslina was handed over to a “Russian” children's home. The girl's traces vanished and her mother looked for her unsuccessfully. As soon as the war ended, Pruslina managed to get permission to go to Germany in search of her daughter, but could not find the girl in any occupation zone. Pruslina spoke on the All-Union Radio, demanding the return of Soviet children to the homeland. Her daughter, Zina, who had been evacuated to Kuybyshev, heard this speech by accident.

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Anti-Semitism and Children

During the war years, Jewish children personally felt the full extent of anti-Semitism. They could not rationally explain its nature. The abrupt change in the conduct of part of the population was even more incomprehensible. Some of their former acquaintances and friends agreed to collaborate with the occupiers. Others displayed passivity and indifference. By no means was everyone ready to take a risk in order to help the fugitives: To hide them for the night, to feed them, to keep them warm, and to show them the way to go in a safe direction. It was very dangerous to hide someone in a home[35].

In the autumn of 1941, forest ranger Iosif Babetskiy from the village of Karbovshchina, Pleshchennitskiy Rayon, Minsk Oblast, handed over eight Jews, including two children, from the small town of Khatayevichi to the Germans. So that the informant might not be recognized, policemen transported Babetskiy secretly, hiding him in a cart under cover. For his denunciation, the forest ranger received 2,400 rubles and a horse. A woman physician from Vetreno came to her relatives in the village of Bykovshchina and told them that Jews were being hidden in the local children's home. After that, two Jewish families were executed. One family had four children and the other, three, including a baby. At the last moment, only Mendel Belen'kiy, Gera Nadel', and Nina, Roza, and Yankel' Melamed were hidden in a Belorussian children's home. In Brest Rayon in the autumn of 1941, the Nazis took 15 Jewish children out of the children's shelter in Domanichevo. Only one managed to escape. In January 1942, Petukhovskaya, director of Children's Home and Nurseries No. 1 in Minsk, sent 12 children to the ghetto and a year later handed over 30 more children[36].

After the pogrom of November 20, 1941, the daughter of Etta Mayzels came to the ghetto and took away her younger brother, Vova, who was placed in a children's home in Minsk as a Russian. The head of the shelter handed him, among 35 other Jewish children, over to the Gestapo. In March 1942, the Germans took 183 children out of Minsk to Kletsk Rayon, where blood was taken from them and so forth[37]. What were the motives of some local residents when they handed children over to the Germans: Mercenary? Anti-Semitism? To ingratiate themselves with the new authorities? To take possession of Jewish property? To move into Jewish homes? To eliminate witnesses and to settle old scores with the children's parents? To receive the financial reward for handing over Jews, which the Nazis promised? Or the fear of punishment by the occupation authorities for concealing escapees from the ghetto? This issue awaits a special study.

Children's consciousness is not independent in its nature -- it reflects the world of adults. Jewish children realized that their origin could become the cause of their death. Children of non-Jews, witnessing national persecution, displayed their negative attitude in certain situations. In the summer of 1942, Tolya Rubin (12 years old) found his way out of the Minsk ghetto. There were many Russian teenagers on the street. When they saw him, they began shouting: “Jew, Jew, come here! Give us gold, or we will kill you!” Another time they demanded that the boy recite the tongue twister “large grapes grow on Mount Ararat” and that he take off his pants[38]. In 1942 Khaya Rubenchik (nine years old) recited the following: “Jews, Jews, devils, it would be good if you died.” When Khaya's mother asked her who taught her this, the girl answered that Belorussian boys sang it on the other side of the wire. Sora Shofman (S.N. Rusakova) recalls that when the Germans arrived in Gorodok, Vitebsk Oblast, teenagers were running on the town's streets, shouting: “Guys, take a rod and chase the Jew to Palestine”[39].

Sometimes children wanted to assert themselves at the expense of the weak and frightened the “Yids”. In the children's home in Vitebsk, children called Vera Gil'man from Kublich a “Jewish Eve.” This had a terrible effect on the girl, who had a pronounced Semitic appearance and accent, despite the fact that, according to documents, she was listed as Vera Kharashkevich. The girl witnessed how three Jewish children were killed. They were taken out to the garden and executed. Among them was a four-year old child who begged: “Sir, I want to live, why are you killing me?!” Each time the Germans appeared, it seemed to Vera that they came for her. Lilya Grodays (according to documents, Maya Zhuk) was afraid of accidentally cutting her finger, or breaking her knee, because then everyone would realize that she was Jewish: Children in the neighborhood said that Jews had black blood[40].

Sometimes competition for earnings led to such actions. Their consequences could be unexpected. Roman Levin from Brest related that he shined the boots of a German soldier when a towheaded bootblack, a little older than him, approached them and said: “He is a Soviet and a Jew!” Roman froze, but the German beckoned to the competitor, called him an informer, grabbed his nose, kicked him with his leg below his back, and chased him away. Then he cut a piece of bread, put margarine and marmalade on it, and offered it to Roman. Whether the soldier recognized that he was a Jew or not remained unclear[41].

A thirst for life, which is especially heightened in childhood, helped children to mobilize their strength and to look for a way out of a desperate situation. In the Minsk ghetto during a pogrom, Frida Reyzman was hidden in a toy factory. Not far from her, a dead woman with a cut-off nose lay and rats were running about. Frida trembled with fear, but did not scream. During the massacre of sleeping children in the children's home in the ghetto, Mayya Radoshkovskaya hid in a metal stove. During a pogrom, Mayya Krapina hid in her neighbors' attic under a thick mattress. The searchers pierced all suspicious objects with bayonets. They thrust them into the mattress. The girl was left with a scar on her back, but she endured the pain and did not scream. All three survived. Frida Vol'fovna Reyzman became a textile engineer, Maya Isaakovna Krapina, an acrobatic artist, and Mayya Arkad'yevna Radoshkovskaya, an economic engineer[42]. In Klimovichi during an Aktion, a Jewish girl approached a “tall” German and said that she was a Belorussian. He grabbed her by the chin and began to look at her closely. She endured his gaze and did not drop her eyes. The other Jews stopped praying and waited to see how all this would end. “Go,” the German said, and none of the Jews gave her away. During the liquidation of the ghetto in Zembin, Rema Asinovskaya-Khodasevich told the translator that her father was Russian. At first, local residents and later, David Egof, chief of police in Zembin, confirmed this. Egof was a German from the Volga Area, who before the war had worked as a German language schoolteacher. The Germans let Rema and her four-year old brother go, but killed her mother and all her relatives[43]. Asya Tseytlina (born in 1929) from Shklov, after the execution of her parents, remained alone. For a long time, she hid in various villages, sleeping in haylofts, and during the day wandered, begging for food. Since people were afraid to give her shelter, in the village of Staroobryashchino she posed as an orphan from Minsk and became a maid for a policeman's family[44].

In other cases, Belorussian and Russian children initiated the rescue. They did this either out of a keen sense of compassion, or in an attempt to help their acquaintances, neighbors, and classmates. Before the war, Misha Stolyar studied in Minsk in a class with a backward boy whose last name was Bat. The Bat family was dysfunctional -- the father drank. Stolyar helped Bat and they became friends. Before the war, the children were not especially interested in each other's nationality. Bat did not know that Misha was a Jew and the latter, that his friend was a German. When in 1942 Stolyar secretly entered Minsk's “Russian” district, a gang of teenage hooligans surrounded him and began to demand gold and then started to beat him. Suddenly a threatening order was heard: “Break it up right away!” This was Bat, the leader of the entire gang[45].

In Borisov on the eve of an Aktsion, 10-year old Galya Zakharevich took three-year old Yura -- her nephew on her father's side -- out of the ghetto. In the winter of 1942, nine-year old Mayya Smel'kinson from the Minsk ghetto came begging to a home on Borisovskiy Pereulok [Lane]. She was in rags, emaciated, with boils on her body, and her hands and legs were frostbitten. Her appearance shocked Katya and Vanya Bovt, who begged their parents to keep the girl under the pretext that she was their cousin. However, out of fear of their neighbors, they rejected this idea. Mayya was forced to return to the ghetto, but from time to time Vanya secretly climbed over the ghetto wire and brought her food. On March 2, 1942, the Nazis liquidated the Jewish children's home in the Minsk ghetto on Zaslavskaya Street. They took healthy children away in mobile gas chambers and killed 67 sick children right in their beds. Mayya hid in a stove and was the only child who was fortunate enough to survive. After some time, she came to the Bovts. For two months, Vanya, without telling his parents, hid Mayya in a hole in the garden, brought her food, and later helped her to get out of the city. After the liberation, Mayya again came to the Bovts who settled her in Children's Home No. 4 in Minsk. In addition to Mayya Smel'kinson, the Bovt family rescued two other Jewish girls -- Mila and Liza Tsoglin[46].

Before the war, Nina Tseytlina and Inna Lipovich attended the 11th grade in a Russian school in Minsk together with Raya Semashko, a Belorussian girl. For two years, Raya's parents hid the girls in their cellar during pogroms. A month before the final liquidation of the ghetto in September 1943, Kirill Nikitovich, Raya's father, arranged, through the Minsk City Administration, for the transfer of Inna Lipovich to Russian Children's Home No. 7 on Krasivyy Pereulok. He took Nina Tseytlina, whose Jewish appearance was beyond any doubt, to the partisans. A schoolmate of Raya Shcherbakov from Sirotino took her to the partisan detachment in Kazyany, where they spent the entire war[47].

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