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Chapter 8

Survivors

[Pages 239-241]

List of survivors


Nearly 4500 Jews were in our town and the surrounding area on the eve of the explosion of WWII. Most were annihilated. A few became war volunteers and they were mobilized into the Red Army. Others escaped to the forests and joined the partisans. Some escaped to Pruzhany and other places, and they were later sent to extermination fields, such as Auschwitz. Some escaped or were sent deep into the Soviet Union, and in spite of all their sufferings they survived. The following is a list of survivors (in the pages of this book there is the description of some of the survivors)


Surname And Name Comments
Abramovitz, Eliezer From Sporova (village). Partisan
Bagan, Binyamin Z"L Emigrated to Israel and died there. Hidden by Christian
Bekler, David From Seltz, lives in Kiryat Bialik. Partisan
Biltzik, Yehuda Emigrated to Israel, lives in Kiryat Motzkin. Survivor of camps
Boreisho, Shalom Lives in Russia. Fought in Russian or Pole armies
Bukshtein, Simcha Z"L Son of Osher, lived in the street Baviera, died in Bereza in 1950 . Partisan
Chomsky, Yosef Z"L Emigrated to Israel and died there. Hidden by Christian
Elishiv (Shtuker) Masha Emigrated to Israel. Partisan
Epelboim, Abraham Z"L Died in the village Watzechitz, close to Bereza in 1990. Partisan
Epshtein, David Emigrated to Israel. Lives in Bethlehem. Fought in Russian or Pole armies
Falantowsky, Noach Emigrated to Israel, lives in Haifa
Frydman, Joseph Son of David, lived in the street May 3. Lives in US. Partisan
Frydman, Shabshay Son of David, of the street May 3rd. Lives in US
Frydman, Zambel Son of Nachman, of the street Bet Chaim. lives in Pruzhany. Fought in Russian or Pole armies
Fus, Israel Rav Z"L Emigrated to Israel and died there
Guershgorn, Eidel Daughter of Moshe, lives in Russia. Hidden by Christian
Guershgorn, Moshe Z"L Emigrated to Israel, and died there. Hidden by Christian
Helman, Shlomo Emigrated to Israel, lives in Even Yehuda. Hidden by Christian
Kabran, Yacov Emigrated to Israel, lives in Kiryat Ata. Hidden by Christian
Kaplan, Ita Daughter of Ye"hoshua. Their house was near the post office, lives in Russia
Kaplan, Leibe Z"L Husband of Tzipi, died in Russia
Kavon, Heshel Son of Binyomin, lived in the market near Niselboim. Fought in Russian or Pole armies
Krinsky, Zlatka Lives in Russia
Kubtchik, Kalman Fought as soldier in Polish army. Emigrate to Israel. Lives in Petach Tikva. Partisan
Minkovitz, Abraham Z"L Emigrated to Israel and died there. Hidden by Christian
Muzikansky, Ierachmiel Z"L Died in 1992 in Canada. Hidden by Christian
Pomeranitz, Chana Daughter of Leibe, lived near the bridge. Lives in US. Survivor of camps
Potak, Abraham Emigrated to Israel. lives in Israel and US. Fought in Russian or Pole armies
Runshtein, Zelig Died in Russia
Subinsky, Itzchak Son of Tzila, Emigrate to Isreal, lives in Cholon. Hidden by Christian
Subinsky, Tzila Mother of Itzchak and Rina, died in Israel. Hidden by Christian
Tuchman, Itzchak Z"L Emigrated to Israel and died there. Hidden by Christian
Tuchman, Moshe Fought as soldier in Polish army and in Russian army. Emigrate to Israel. Lives in Tel Aviv. Partisan
Tuchman, Reizel Hidden by Christian
Vainsthein, Rivka Z"L Wife of Vove, died in Canada. Hidden by Christian
Vainsthein, Vove Lives in Montreal (Canada). Hidden by Christian
Yahalom, Eliezer Z"L Emigrated to Israel and died there. Hidden by Christian
Zachanowsky, Zeev Emigrated to Israel, Lives in Haifa. Survivor of camps
Zilbershein, Elizabeta (Lea) Emigrated to Israel lives in Arad. Hidden by Christian
Zubinsky, Rina Daughter of Tzila. Emigrate to Israel, lives in Raanana. Hidden by Christian
Zvilowitz, Biniamin Son of Ye"hoshua. Lives in US. Hidden by Christian

 

[Pages 242-246]

Kartuz Bereza 1939 - 1941

Elie Mote Bockshtein


At the end of August 1939 when the Polish government declared a general mobilization, many young Jews of Kartuz Bereza presented themselves to the Office of Mobilization in Brest, but they were returned to our town due to lack of ammunition and clothes. Their town became a "stand by" point for many refugees who escaped from Western Poland to the East, near the border with Soviet Union. The route from Warsaw to Moscow, which crosses the town, was disturbed by the movement of cars and pedestrians. When German troops came closer, it was also clear to the local inhabitants that they should go toward the East.

On September 10, 1939 four families organized themselves: Leizer Reznik, Moshe Kaplan, Ephraim Seletzky and my family. We left mounting on three cars heading for the border with the Soviet Union. When we arrived at the second bridge, some soldiers stopped us saying that they had received the order to set the bridge on fire.

We were heading to Chomsk and Pinsk, and we arrived at Sparawe because the Reznik family had relatives there. There we found other Jews of Bereza who had arrived in cars and on foot. They also escaped from Bereza before the coming of the Germans. From Sparawe we continued to the town of Telchan and from there to the border of Soviet Union. We arrived at small villages and we stayed until September 17, 1939. We listened to the radio and heard that according to the agreement with Germany, the Red Army was coming to liberate Belarus from the Polish yoke. We decided to return to Bereza.

When we were in the village of Kadiz, peasants assaulted us and they stole from us all the goods. By some miracle we were alive. Aching and wounded, we arrived in Bereza, the day the Red Army arrived. Meanwhile, the local Christian population organized a local council. Jews who returned to Bereza went to the Soviet commandant, and requested to designate a civic committee among workers at the meeting that took place in the living room of Macabi. A committee consisting of three Jews and two Christian was chosen. The Jews were: Itzel Pomerantz, Chaim German and Nienmash (as head accountant). Herschel GALPERIN was designated as commandant of the militia. He was liberated from the prison where he had been jailed for the crime of communist activities.

Businesses were reopened, peasants began to buy, and merchants went to Brisk and Bialystok where still there were wholesale businesses and factories. The merchants reached the conclusion that the price of the merchandise was high compared with the prices that they sold to their clients in their town. In the course of almost one month, all private trade closed down. For the merchandise that was confiscated from the merchants, they received a symbolic compensation.

Elie Motie Bokshtein, Shloimke Vainsthein and Alexander Levkovitz were responsible for organizing the cooperatives. They went to Pruzhany, Brisk and Baranovitz in order to get groceries. All that they could get was salt, candles and chicory. We began to feel the lack of gasoline and groceries. The authorities tried to bring to the town some gasoline, salt and flour. Long lines formed in front of the bakeries. The peasants came to the town to buy bread.

This situation continued until the year 1940. That year Bereza including eight villages was declared a central district separate from Pruzhany. Veteran communists arrived from Soviet Union to stay in front of different offices. They opened up a bank, a net of cooperatives, committees of the Communist party, and the NKVD police. Local communists and leaders, who before had occupied important positions, were designated as auxiliary communists to those who arrived from Moscow. Schools opened up including a Yiddish one, and communists were designated as directors. They organized cooperatives of tailors and shoemakers. Houses of rich Jews were taken and they were forced to abandon their houses, and to inhabit houses in common with other neighbors. The houses that were taken became offices, and the communists arriving from Moscow inhabited them.

A restaurant opened up in the "Bet Hachomá" of Lichatzsky in market square. Cooperatives were beside the routes. Trees that surrounded the market square were destroyed. In the market square was installed a public square were trees were planted. In the middle of the square two monuments were erected: one for Lenin and another for Stalin, and other monuments commemorating the red soldiers who fell in 1920. Near the new Catholic Church, a dancing hall was installed. Every Sunday an orchestra played melodies and youth danced. The passports now were Soviet. The former merchants received passports with a special paragraph that differentiated them negatively from the rest of the inhabitants. Each person tried to work in offices, in train stations, but it was not easy to get work, because all looked for easy work. Certainly, everyone did not have a responsible job. Henach Liskovsky and Meir Buchalter, for example, went out to look for trees because they could not find other work.

Past Polish officials and landowners, were expelled to Siberia. They also wanted to expel Jews that had big businesses in the past, but the Jewish communists implored them and achieved the annulment of this cruel ordinance by claiming that they now were poor and not rich people, and their debts had grown very large. At that moment it was a victory, but then they were also murdered by the Germans. Contrarily, Jewish residents in the nearby villages were expelled to Siberia and many young Jewish girls married officials of the Red Army but they were not very happy.

There was no Saturday or Sunday. Neither was there any community life. The only problem was work, how to get work, how to continue and exist.

Apathy dominated everything. At the entrance of every business long lines formed and all that arrived was snatched up. Winter garments were bought in summer; summer clothes were bought in winter. Intentionally, residents dressed in old clothes so that no one would suspect that they were rich. Many former merchants dreamt of the day when the Russians would abandon their town.

Itzel Pomerantz and Tuvia Aizenberg from Blodnia were taken into jail for the crime of belonging to the Trotsky group and were in jail until the German invasion. This fact created a difficult situation among leftist groups, since they had many hopes for the Soviets; they saw the Messiah in the Red Army. This caused many Jews to stay in Bereza.

In June of 1941 the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, and like 1939, many escaped fearing the Germans. The situation continued this way until June 1941. At the beginning of June, the Red Army was concentrated near Brest; the Russians declared that they would carry out common military maneuvers. On June 18 they stopped some former Polish officials and two Jewish families, Tubinsky and Shabnorowitz, who were accused of making combined maneuvers with the Poles and were expelled to Siberia. Tubinsky returned to Bereza when the Germans arrived. He worked as a translator, and afterwards he was murdered. His wife and children were transferred far from Bereza and later they returned. They are now in Israel.

On Sunday, June 21 in the morning, the Germans began to bombard the new airport of Rybnik near Bereza. Wounded workers were transferred to the town and they rested in the Bet Medresh. After a short time Germans returned to bombard it. At 11:45 AM we heard on the radio that Nazi Germany had attacked the Soviet Union. At 2:30 PM about 30 German airplanes flew over Bereza and they bombarded military camps and the airport.

A great fear came over the people of the town and a great tumult happened. From Brest and Kobryn many cars and trucks arrived with Russian civil and military officials and their families. They were ordered to abandon the city. First to leave were bank officials accompanied by Itche Averbuch from Pruzhany. Their wives and children stayed there. Next to leave were Treasury officials accompanied by Vove Vainshtein, but without their wives and children. Zelik Zakheim, Leizer Reznik, and Sepshel Liberman asked me what to do. I told them that I will be leaving the city together with my children, and suggested they should do the same. They went to ask other people and they didn't return. I never saw them again.

At 9 PM workers from the cooperatives left in four cars. My daughter and I rode two bicycles, and the two smallest children made it in a car. My wife was not with us. At that time she was visiting her sister in Leningrad. During the morning, Germans bombarded cars.

The route Bereza-Slutz-Minsk was used by many people. To those who escaped were added those liberated from work fields near Kartuz Bereza. German airplanes flew low and with their weapons sowed death. During the day we hid in the forest and at night we traveled. In our car were killed the wife and the two children of a Soviet official. On July 26 we arrived in Minsk. The city was in flames due to the bombs hurtled by German airplanes.

We left the city and arrived to Moguilev. Here we found people who were well-known in Bereza: Chaim German, Moishe Frydman, Fishke Maleivishky from Mavitz and Fishel ben Eliezer Gois. In the road we also found Ema Kaplan and her husband who escaped from Baranovitz. Chaim German and Moishe Frydman were mobilized into the Red Army. We said goodbye to them and traveled by train deep inside Russia. Many refugees went toward there.

The Germans also bombarded trains. Only in the District of Tambow were there no bombings. Here we got off the boxcars and they sent us to the "kolchoz" to help with the crop of wheat. These were the days of harvest and in "exchange" for our work we received food. But most of the men were mobilized into the army.

In the meantime the Germans came closer. Winter was coming and we decided to escape, still with summer clothes. We decided to go to warmer areas in Central Russia. We said goodbye to young people who enrolled in the Red Army, and we traveled to Tashkent together with Leizer Alas from Blodnia and with the husband of Ema Kaplan (who had been mobilized in the Red Army, but was displaced for being a non pleasing element, a category of people from "West" coming from areas that were under Polish rule). We continued toward Tashkent. The hard trip lasted almost one month. Russia is an enormous country and has long distances. Every train station was replete with refugees. In some stations some groceries were distributed, but most of the time we were hungry. Here and there, we ate cucumbers and radishes that we picked up from the field.

We arrived to Samarkand, because they didn't allow us to go to Tashkent. The city was full of refugees. The first days we got some work and food. Then it became crowded because they had liberated many of those escaped from Siberia who were concentrated in this area. Food disappeared. Some worked in the kolkhoz in exchange for 200 daily grams of flour. We were tormented and hungry. A typhus epidemic happened, but the hospitals were full. Thousands of refugees died from hunger and those that could leave, most had extreme weakness.

Men enrolled in the army. Instead of going to the battle field they sent us to an ammunition factory in the Urals and to Siberia, as part of work groups. They sent me to a tank factory in Tzeliabinsk. I worked there until the end of the war. We received 800 grams of bread and soup twice a day. Those who had the privilege of being received into these groups survived.

In 1945 I arrived at Tshiliabinsk with my wife and my youngest son. My older son, when he was 17, enrolled as a volunteer in the Red Army, and he fell in the battlefield near Warsaw. In 1946 I returned to Poland with my wife and my son and thousand of refugees. I visited Kartuz Bereza, but I will write about this separately.

The Polish population received us with hate: "Do you still live?" they asked. They also asked "If they beheaded all, to all…?" We were very sad. We arrived in liberated Poland to listen to this? We left Poland and finally we arrived to Eretz Israel. Here we found our homeland.

 

[Pages 247-248]

After Liberation

Tzipora Brener


My dad arrived from Tshiliabinsk to visit us for a few weeks. He had also traveled to Bereza and sent us our belongings that were kept there. He returned from Bereza totally destroyed. I realized that his hair was completely gray. He was going around having sunk into a deep melancholy. He didn't speak and refused to describe to us what he saw in Bereza. Little by little he began to open his heart and to tell us. Half of the town was set on fire, and the houses on one side of the route and in the market disappeared. After the Germans set on fire the wonderful Beth Ha'medresh of the Chevra Kadisha, fire extended to the whole town and it caught all the wooden small houses. Nothing at all was left of Ghetto A, which was a number of streets sectioned off for the "useful" Jews, nor of Ghetto B for the "non useful" Jews. Under the green small trees of Bereza there were no longer any " Mosiheles " or "Shloimeles". No longer was there a single word in Yiddish nor any Jewish prayer in the Beth Medresh or in the cemetery…

My father heard of the terrible cemetery of the forest of Brona Gura. It is the forest to which we used to come out with our friends from school, to go for a walk and to enjoy, to be in contact with nature during "Lag Baomer". Now silent trees observe the collective sepulcher of the Jews of Bereza. Grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, youths in their tender days, loving children, all them the Nazi murdered here in October of 1942, after torturing them one year in the Ghettos of the city.

Dad was going around the ruins of the place in which he was born, grew, married, formed a family, and maintained with great effort a worthy life. All that was left of our house was the base of the terrace, a gray stain of cement, like a dead stone…

From the mouth of a former partisan, my friend, Moshe Tuchman, I learned more details of the annihilation of the Jews of Bereza,. He had escaped from the Ghetto, became a refugee and fought against the Germans as a partisan in the forests of Polisie. Jewish partisans together with Russians and White Russians, derailed German boxcars off the tracks of trains and they killed Nazi gendarmes in all places that they could. Partisans suffered, and they tolerated ice, rains, mud, snow, hunger and illnesses.

Moshe told me that in Brona Gura, Jews of Bereza were transported to the train. Nazis made them enter in the boxcars on one side and they threw them outside on the other side, directly into the pits that were already prepared. Then the Nazis shot them and killed them. The empty boxcars with the clothes of the martyrs, returned to Blodna, the station of Bereza. Only some were able to survive and to leave the pits. A woman with her baby in her arms, who was not reached by the shots, left among the fires of the night. Before the definitive liquidation of the Ghetto, a lot of people committed suicide, without waiting for the Germans to kill them. Hertzen hung his children and then himself. The teacher Rachel Shapira poisoned with cyanide her daughter, her husband and herself.

There were also rebellions against the Germans. Jews dug a tunnel to leave the Ghetto in the event of emergency, but without success. People suffocated due the smoke when fire annihilated Bereza. Some traveled to Pruzhany, which had been annexed by the Third Reich, in the false hope of being in their service.

Beside the ruins of the monastery of Kartuz Bereza, Germans shot Poles who gave refuge to Jews. In the house of the pharmacist of the town took refuge Leitshe Kazirsky, one of the most beautiful girls of the town. They also killed those that studied Torah, and those that gave refuge to Taibele Kaplan and to all the Jewish women whose lives they tried to save.

Some Jewish youths of Bereza were able to escape to the forests. Some escaped to Russia, and they were able to save themselves. Among those favored were my family, although we also paid a very dear price: my brother Berele fell in the war against the Nazis.

My parents had the luck to die in Israel when they were in their 80's. They died with the clear idea of not having been a burden to anyone. They worked until the last minute in business together with my brother Leizer and my son Benny. They rest in peace under a double "matzeva". My father's and my mother's remains are in Kiryat Shaul in Tel Aviv.

We, the Jewish survivors of Bereza in Israel and elsewhere, have erected some years ago a monument to remember our town in the cemetery in Cholon.

(From the book by Fanny Bund "The first half of my life", Ed. Y. L. Peretz, Tel Aviv, 1989, Pages 132/137)

 

[Pages 249-250]

Survival

Moishe Bernshtein


One morning in the summer of 1941, the airplanes of the Nazi murderers sowed death and destruction in Poland and its towns. I ran afraid in panic, and was hurt by the splinters of a bomb that fell near my house in Byalistock where we lived at that time. In 1939 Byalistock was a cultural and spiritual center. The fragments of the bomb ripped my clothes. My eyes and my face were filled with blood. I had the feeling that I had come close to the end of my life, and that fell the curtain of gold that was embroidered during many years of my life of dreams and yearnings. I fell bloodstained together with the destiny of the Jewish people. Germans with their system of "blitzkrieg" began to organize a Ghetto for Jews, with rude aktions against them. They prepared a list of people and looked for all the refugees. The Jewish population was prey to fear and disillusion. I felt a deep pain and a strong necessity of being with my family, and looked for a way to escape from this place that seemed like hell.

One night I was beside the train station. I saw trains full of weapons, and Germans running from here toward there, and toward all parts. I went into one of the boxcars that I thought was headed for Russia.

Today I cannot understand where I got the power and courage. I hid myself in a boxcar filled with machine guns and drawers of ammunition. The anxiety of arriving in Bereza was so strong that I didn't understand the danger I was in, and from what innocent infantile sensation I had acted. I couldn't imagine which events were waiting for me, and what would be my destiny.

The train moved, the noise was too deafening. Suddenly, I was traveling to a place that I didn't know, or if I would arrive alive anywhere. I was hungry, tired, depressed, and I dozed.

Strong explosions woke me up. I tried to look through one of the cracks and my eyes discovered dead bodies and people hurt on all sides. Screams and sighs without help. I still tremble remembering this vision. A bomb reached the train. The boxcar in which I was, along with other boxcars, flew into the air and its remains were spread all over. The screams of the wounded on all sides, and the noise of the explosion of the bombs, were deafening. Hundreds of people ran and they fell, they fell and they crawled, and I was among them. I listened to voices in German and in Russian. I did not know where I was and was afraid of speaking with anyone.

The need to survive directs my eyes toward a plentiful tree a little bit far from this tumult. I arrived at the tree by running and some crawling. I leaned back on a thick trunk. My soul was not with me.

During the evening, when there was some silence and with my last strength, I began to walk directly toward the tracks of the train. I was only acting by instincts, which pushed me to walk along the path parallel to the tracks. All that I felt was that I wanted to escape, to escape, to escape.

I am sorry to say that I didn't lose any detail of the mental and physical pains that attacked me and they didn't abandon me. Maybe one day I will be able to tell everything in more detail. After a long night, the instinct to escape took hold of me until I saw a parked train with its boxcars loaded with cows. With my last bit of strength, I crawled toward one of them, and slept.

I woke up when the train began to move. Even today I do not know how much it had traveled when it stopped. I listened to voices in Russian. I jumped off the boxcar and discovered that it had arrived at a great "kolhoz" deep inside Russia, Novi-Borsi, where they already had many Jewish refugees. A new link began to accompany me in my life, and with a lot of fear I faced an unknown future.

I had different jobs, and I lived in the house of a peasant whom I helped with his tasks. Little by little I adjusted to my new situation, and to the routine of life in the "kolhoz". One day I decided to travel to the city of the district, called Saratov. I walked all over the city without any objective, and without knowing which would be my destination from now on. Suddenly I heard in the street that Soviet forces had abandoned Kartuz Bereza after fierce combats. I lost conscious and I fell dismayed in the street. When I recovered, I was in a store. People began to ask me who I am, where I came from and where I go. There was a Jew who took me to a house there that served as center for refugees from Poland.

In that city I lived until 1945, when the war ended. Alone, without any information, I registered as many Polish Jews to return to Poland in the hope of returning to my house in Bereza.

We were informed that there was no possibility to visit Bereza in Polish Russia. We arrived by train in Krakov after many movements. There, in the train station, were some young Jewish boys who mobilized youth for a Kibbutz, which was the way to emigrate to Israel. I was taken to a "achshará" (preparation place for the entrance to a Kibbutz) of the "Dror" movement, which was located in a big house in Krakow. We were there until it was time to go. We avoided migratory controls through the snowy Alps, Italy, Germany until we arrived at the immigrant ship called "Hatikvá".

On the trip to Israel, the British stopped us and they sent us to Cyprus. We were there a year and half until finally we arrived to Israel. I joined the Israeli army, and I began to reconstruct my life.

I won't begin to describe all my difficulties of adapting to life in Israel. Maybe someday I will also relate this in detail

 

[Pages 251-256]

About my Family, Kartuz Bereza and its Jews,
and my Suffering During Second World War

Shlomo Helman


I was born during 1920 in Chomsk, a small town without a train station, without electricity, without running water and 20 Km. from the nearest train station. Our house was in the village called Zabar, about 5 Kms. from Chomsk.

Our parents were Schmuel and Tzipora Helman, who had four sons and two daughters. The oldest was Chaim, the second Yaacov, then came Zahava (Zlatke), Itzchak, and me Shlomo, and lastly the small Muche Rochel.

I was 8 or 9 years old when my father, who was in charge of land sale and fish trade, died of tuberculosis. Mom became the head of the family and worked hard to maintain it. Meanwhile the family began to split. Yaacov was sent to Argentina to prepare our emigration. Chaim, the oldest, emigrated to Israel with a certificate as member of the "Hechalutz" movement. My sister Zahava (Zlatke) emigrated before him. We later had another misfortune: my smaller sister, Mushe Rochel died. Meanwhile my brother Itzchak was drafted into the Polish army. He studied in a "Yeshiva" and for this reason he did not show up, and was considered a deserter. Finally he emigrated to Israel. I was left alone at home with mom, but she got sick from all her hard work, and the doctors forbade her to continue working.

Through a "shadchen" (matchmaker) she met a rich widower, a friend of the family whose name was Asher Bokshtein, and whose nickname was "Osher the butcher". He lived in Kartuz Bereza. They married. Mom's new husband had six children. Three of them (the son Simcha, and the daughters Sorke and Ester Reizel) were living at home. Mom and her husband decided that I would also live with them. I want to point out that my mom and her family always had a relationship of fraternity and respect. When mom married we left Chomsk, and here begins the chapter of my life in Kartuz Bereza.

I remember that we arrived to Kartuz Bereza before May 3, during a Polish patriotic celebration. On this day a military parade was in the streets, headed by the firemen orchestra who were mainly Jewish. This and the general aspect of the city made a very strong impression on me.

What impressed me a lot were the military camps of the town, the uniforms of the soldiers and especially those of the marine. On the lake near the city was a bridge. We called it in Yiddish "the second bridge". I remember that youths came to this place in the summer, we took baths in the lake and we rowed on kayaks. There were fields nearby and we played soccer.

When I was thirteen years old, my mother and her husband decided I had to study carpentry. For 50 zlotes a month, Leibel the carpenter trained me in this craft that was considered as a demanded occupation. Mom and her husband wanted me to know carpentry before my "alya" (emigration) to Israel. They expressed it this way: "Having a craft is like having a kingdom." After a year I was a carpenter's apprentice, and then I worked on my own. .

I remember that, in those days, the military camp was used as the jail and was known as "Lager". In the "Lager" we watched such movies as "The Dibuk" and "The Agreement" ("Tkiat kaf"). I also remember the pond of natural water that was in the center of the town (we called it "Pustvanik"). It served as a water deposit for firemen, and in the cold days of winter, when the pond froze, it became a place to ice-skate. As firemen were very astute, they charged us money to enter the place.

When the Nazis rose to power in Germany, signs of anti-Semitism began to be seen in the town. There were several posters. One of them is very engraved in my memory. It showed a big potato, cut in half. The potato symbolized Poland. A part of the potato - that symbolized the Jews - was rotten and moldy, and the other half that symbolized Poles was pretty and complete.

Waves of anti-Semitism came and went, but the situation worsened over time. I remember that they placed "turkeys" in front of Jewish business and they influenced people not to buy in those places.

After the Molotov-Ribentrop agreement for the partition of Poland, Germany invaded one part of Poland and Russia invaded the other. When the Germans attacked Poland they said that they would "not give them neither a button" but they gave them all the "clothes". <<ed: help – the preceding doesn't sound right >> There was total darkness at night, and the Jews feared that Christians would assault them and rob them. My neighbor Mordechai, the butcher's son, and I were the guards. The climate was depressing.

Suddenly the assistant mayor of the city arrives, and take us someplace but we didn't know where. We went down the road together with other three or four groups of guards. We arrived in a place and were taken to the jail. At that moment Poles were already riding on their bicycles to Brest. They made us enter a big room that had a plate with many keys. Each key had the number of the cell that it belonged to. They told us that we should liberate the prisoners. We were astonished. We look around, we saw suits for prisoners and handcuffs. We went out to see if there were policemen in this place. We discovered that they weren't. There were only prisoners. We entered the bakery jail bakery and we found a lot of baked bread on the shelves. In the food storeroom, there was a lot of sugar, flour, potatoes – everything of the best. From there we went to the infirmary, and we saw people left on the floor, some wounded, and other sick persons. The wounded had received policemen's strong blows.

Then we entered the police barracks. All the clothes were perfectly in order. There were clothes and special boots for policemen. The police left everything and they escaped heading for Brest.

In another part I found three army officers typewriting. We went to the storerooms where the personal objects of the prisoners were kept. They removed them – clothes, clocks, glasses – and everything was well ordered. On each package was the identifying number of the prisoner. In the middle of the room, in a wallet and in small bags, were the objects of value of the prisoner's, such as rings and money, also here in astonishing order.

We saw that according to the quantity of food, clothes and personal objects, there should have been great quantity of prisoners. We were afraid that they could make a progrom in the town when they were freed. We waited until the following morning. We found the prisoners and in the morning we began to liberate them. The first ones leaving made a lot of noise, they hit chains, doors, and all that came by their hands. They took off the numbers that they had on the shirts and they tramped them. Among them were rabbis, ritual butchers, doctors and priests. All they were in prison without any trial.

The liberated prisoners rushed to their houses, and there were some that didn't bothered to remove the numbers off their clothes. They were in a hurry to escape. The townfolk gave drinks and groceries to the liberated people, providing that they left the town. Immediately Christians from the surroundings came to the prison, and pillage began. Firemen rushed to prevent them.

Jews of the town thought that with the arrival of Russian they will survive and their situation would improve, but they realized that "instead of a paradise it was a hell". Russians began to buy everything, the merchants hid the merchandise and they sold only a small part. Long lines were formed, a person with accordion was put in various places, and they watched movies on the communist revolution as propaganda. Then they met and sent a delegation to request to be annexed to Russia like Russian citizens.

During 1941, they began to mobilize us for the red army. It happened to all that were born during years 1917 to 1919. I was mobilized in spite of the fact that I was born in 1920, because my documents said that I was born in 1919. They didn't mobilize me immediately, because my vision was weak. The Russian army didn't accept those that used glasses, and therefore I was deferred almost until one month before Hitler's army attacked Russia. I remember that there was a total darkness, and great quantity of army caravans traveled at night heading toward the Russian-German frontier .

I was called up to army, and for this reason, I said goodbye to mom. The farewell was very hard. Mom was very close to me, and me to her. From then on I didn't see her again, nor did I receive letters from her, although I sent many. Mom, uncle, and other relatives were murdered by the Germans. Christian residents told me that my relatives, as well as all other Jews, were robbed of their clothes, shot, and buried in a common grave in Brona Gura, be their memory blessed!

Men of my unit were loaded onto cattle boxcars for almost two weeks. We arrived at an air force base called "Tambur", that was an aviation school. The regime there was very severe, and maneuvers were very hard. At night they woke up us with an alarm, and we had to have clothes on in a certain order. Two weeks lager Hitler attacked Russia. We got ready immediately for emergency works. We painted the buildings where the airplanes were white. After several weeks they took us for maneuvers near the "Arul" border. They told us that they would send us to the battlefront. For that reason maneuvers were held day and night, and they were very hard and exhausting. We received little food because there wasn't enough to prepare big quantities. I remember that we arrived at the dining room, but since there were a lot of people, they sent us again for maneuvers.

Then, Russia decided that all person who comes from the area of White Russia and Ukraine that belonged to Poland should be incorporated to the "Stroy Battalion" which means "forced works". They carried us to boxcars without identity documents. These boxcars were more appropriate for cattle transport than for people. We traveled towards the Ural Mountains. On the way, they made us depart from the boxcars near a forest, and we built an airport there. We didn't have appropriate equipment. We flattened the land and we dragged the waste very far, with a lot of effort. We didn't have protection when it rained. We worked this way under terrible conditions until winter.

During winter we received hats to be protected from cold and they loaded us on boxcars bound for "Nidzinitagir", in the Urals. It was terribly cold, nearly 40 degrees below zero centigrade [ed. note: coincidentally, -40 degrees centigrade equals -40 degrees Fahrenheit], and sometimes less. It was impossible to work when it was so cold; people froze and they fell, as if turning into pieces of ice.

In "Nidzinitagir" there was heavy industrial factories and companies, but this work was forbidden for us. We could only do the hard work of lifting which was the basis for industries. Houses were barracks, with a roof on top and the raw earth below. Certainly it was freezing. Under these conditions slept some 150 people pressed as sardines, on dug to freeze trunks. <<help, what does "on dug to freeze trunks" mean?>> We stayed close to one another to keep warm. There were only three small firewood ovens to heat everything. Unfortunately they didn't always give us wood to make a fire, and when they did it was too wet to burn.

We worked in the companies dismantling boxcars, and we carried things from one place to another. There was a single entrance door to the barrack to the side of a window. Those that worked with tractors were privileged, since they slept near the door. They used to bring an element to kindle the fire, because the wood was not very dry. Once they hurtled gasoline by mistake, and set part of the barrack on fire. Men that were close to fire were lightly burned and some suffocated from the smoke. This passed in silence and nobody was interested in causes and consequences.

Work was abundant and food was scarce and poor. Life conditions were very hard: a lot of dirt, lice in abundance and nits that penetrated in the body, besides the terrible cold that we endured. We went to the showers at night so as not lose time from work. They sometimes woke us up at night to dismantle boxcars, and a lot of young people that could not tolerate these conditions died. Our clothes and footwear were not well suited to these conditions. We could not protest because, according to the regulation, we were of the unit of punishment, the "Stroy Battalion". From there they took us to build a steel company. The Director established a food system and he distributed to each person the necessary quantity to be able to work. Each worker received 800 grams of bread per day – 200 grams in the morning, 400 in the afternoon, and another 200 in the evening.

We worked in this place for nearly a year, and a few of us died. When we finished this work, they took us to a small town that had been the prison of rich nobility in czarist time, expelled by the regime, and were in prisoners' condition. Each one had one earth parcel, were in charge of forests, cut trees and threw them to the river. <<meaning of last two sentences is not clear>>

Our conditions were terrible. We had to climb the mountain, pick up trees, take out the branches and build our rough beds with the trunks. It was winter and we walked in the snow. The dining room was far from the work place, sanitary services were bad and there was a lot of dirt. Lice and nits penetrated our body. There were all kinds of illnesses and many died. Sometimes, as part of the work, we lit bonfires to warm. Then the lice began to go for a walk our body. We took out our shirts, we heated them and we took out the lice that bothered us so much.

I swelled for lack of food and for working so much. Due to the axe, my hands inflamed. I had a lot of fever. I went to the doctor and received an illness license. I was sick in bed in the barrack just when sugar coupons were distributed. These coupons were distributed very infrequently. I received soup and another worker received sugar. We exchanged them. The amount of sugar was half a kilo. I ate it and this strengthened me. I was alone that day.

The Director saw me and asked me if I had permission not to work. I showed him the certificate. He was a Russian sent from a "kolhoz" to control us. His wife abandoned him, and this poor man was hungry because didn't receive the package of food from his house. I gave him some sugar and we were friends. He ordered me to bring water for the engineer. I went.

The engineer's wife saw me. I told her that they sent me to bring water for them. She doubted if I could load it, because she saw how weak I was. She told me that for three days they didn't have water. I went down the hill and saw that water flowed; I brought it to her. She made me enter a room in the house, put before me a big plate with meat, noodles, soup, bread and said to me: eat!

During the week when I brought her water, she made me enter a room and gave me food. At one time she asked me in a broken Yiddish "a Jewish boy?" I said "Yes." I asked "How did you arrive here? She answered me they were mobilized in the red army, and were sent to work from White Russia to the "Stroy Battalion". She decided to keep me in their house to be their assistant. They had two girls and her husband was the Engineer. Then I found out that he was also a Jew. I was in their house and received a payment for my work until the German army departed from the surroundings of Moscow. Then she had to return to Moscow.

They took me with them until Sverdlovsk. Then, instead of the this engineer, came another one. He ordered me to fetch his wife. I traveled with a lot of money, and fetched his wife. He was Christian and a good person, but his wife was not very good.

Another job was to dig wells with an air compressor. Then we inserted dynamite and we exploded the rock until the appropriate depth. A great explosion was heard and gave the impression that we did a lot of work. For that reason we were considered specialized workers, and we received many benefits.

We worked in this company until we traveled to Poland. Then German prisoners were brought in our place. I didn't see them because we left before they came. During 1946 we were transferred to boxcars, and traveled for three weeks until reaching the Polish border.

By chance, the train we were on passed through Kartuz Bereza. When we arrived near the iron bridge, the train stopped. I jumped and walked towards Bereza. I arrived at the first bridge and looked toward the hill. There were no signs of the town. Everything was destroyed. I stopped, immobilized, and tears fell from my eyes. I shook and began to walk. I went to where our house was, and from there to the market. I saw a Christian picking up stones from the house of the family Kabran. It was a family of shoemakers. I recognized him but did not speak to him.

I was walking around the market, and saw that there were some construction remains. I continued and found a "Yeke" (German) of name Fritz. He recognized me at once: "Buskshtein?" he asked. "How could you survive?" He told me that my brother Simcha was alive in Bereza and he showed me where. I ran to his place but he was not there. A Christian woman told me that he had gone to Brest, and from time to time he came to the train station to ask if any of the family, or any Jews in general, were alive.

One day my brother Simcha found my friend Mordechai Katzke from Bragenia, who told him that I had jumped off the train. Immediately Simcha ran to look for me at our house. We got together, we hugged each other and we cried. I felt him as a brother although he was my mother husband's son. During the war he was a partisan and was hurt in the knee. I asked him to leave Bereza, and travel together with me, and let whatever happens, happen. Simcha refused and remained there. I had a pair of shoes that I received while I worked, and I gave them to him as a gift. I said goodbye. I traveled and then I learned that his health worsened and he died from pain. Be blessed his memory!

I continued on my train trip. In Brest we passed the border control and arrived in Poland. From there, they sent us to Dulnishlonsk where formerly lived German to whom Poles tossed when war concluded. <<what does previous sentence mean?>> On the way we found some young Jews who recruited survivors and prepared them for the life in the "kibutzim". I joined them, because I wanted to abandon Poland as quickly as possible . I remained there for about two months. From there we crossed the border secretly, and we entered Czechoslovakia. The train arrived at the station and we ran to look for water. I do not why I track of the time, and the train left with all my belongings. I somehow continued until Bratislava, but there they stopped me for not having documents. People of the Jewish Agency liberated me, and put me up for two weeks in a hotel. Meanwhile another train arrived with Jews from Poland, and among them I found a very pleasant girl, which after some time became my wife.

From Czechoslovakia we passed into Germany. We arrived to Regenheim near Munich where there was a place for orphans of the "shoa". I was there almost a year and a half, working in the kitchen. I got in communication with my brother and sisters in Eretz Israel. They sent me immediately a certificate as if I were an Israel citizen whose return they claimed.

I arrived in Israel January 1 1948. The British were still in command. I joined the army in the "Golani" service. I felt myself a proud Jew and a free citizen in my happy homeland, because I was witness of the proclamation of the independence of the Jewish State.

When I left the army, I found my friend Shoshana Maves again, we married and we had three children. My older son has my father's name, Shmuel. And my daughter my mother's name, Tzipora. We live in the "Moshav" called Even Yehuda.

 

[Page 257]

Jews from Kartuz Bereza that I Found Over There

Elizabeta Zilbershtein (Lea Berkovitz)


I cannot describe with words what happened. One of those pictures is always present at my eyes: the train station of Lodna and the moment: October 1940. Mom and my two siblings, Danielka and Hillelka, arrived at the station to say goodbye to me and my husband, as we were leaving for Lita. We traveled to Lita and we were there one year.

We were in Lita when Germans invaded Soviet Union. I was pregnant then. We decided to escape to East Russia. My daughter was born in 1941. In 1944 I returned to Kartuz Bereza. I looked for Jews but I didn't find any. All were annihilated in the forest of Brona Gura. From Kartuz Bereza I traveled to Brest, where I worked and studied. There I found Zlatke Krinsky (she got married and traveled with her husband to Gorki in the Soviet Union). I also found David Ekshtein, Niome Kogan, and also Berman who played the violin in Kartuz Bereza.

Those were the last Jews of Kartuz Bereza that I found. Luck smiled on me and I lived. A few other Jews of the town passed the war and they survived. The rest were murdered by the Nazis.

Be blessed their memory!


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