Translated by Ron Deutch and Eilat Gordin Levitan
The war started all of sudden and the way it begun was totally unexpected by us. Even though, shortly before the summer of 1941, the ambiance became very ominous and the preparations for a battle became obvious to all who recognized the hasty buttressing by the Soviets army (they occupied the area in September of 1939 after the partition of Poland). As the Germans attacked, pandemonium broke out. No one knew what to do and nobody even speculated that the Soviets' legendary Red Army would collapse in such a short time. The situation was particularly difficult for Dolhinov, since it was located near the old Russian border (the border between Poland and the Soviet Union prior to 1939). The border was immediately closed and our family had mixed feelings about what we should do. My oldest sister, Buske, was off at college in faraway Grodno. The family was reluctant to leave Dolhinov; we were hoping that she would get in touch with us. We were disinclined to leave and become refugees for many reasons. My mother Chana was married to Yaakov Forman. My father (her first husband), Chaim Katzovitz, was killed in 1924 while crossing the Russian border to sell items to the Communists. The memory of his murder added worry for us in crossing that border. Still, we had many discussions about what we should do. Some of us said that since old Leibe Forman (the father of our stepfather) had such a great and fast horse, we should join about half of the Jewish residents of the shtetl and cross the border with them. It turned out the attempt was futile; when they reached the border that night they were sent back. Many waited there for a few days. Sadly, only a few single people with no families were able to sneak across the border. The rest returned to Dolhinov.
The image of the first German unit entrance to Dolhinov is very prominent in my memory. Two or three tanks came to the town. We lived in the central market, in a location that had perfect view of the town's comings and goings. Hundreds of thrilled Christians from the town and the neighboring farming communities came to the marketplace to celebrate the liberation from the Communists. The women greeted the Germans with flower bouquets. Excluding me, there were no Jews visible outdoors; it seemed like I was the only Jewish person watching them.
The Germans immediately reorganized the local civil government. They put one of their men in charge. They organized a civil police unit to assist them. Some of the local Polish and Belarusian residents became part of that police. The entire Jewish population, with no exception, became outlawed. We lost all civil rights. A Judenrat was created to communicate between the Jews and the Germans, and financial rules that were set to harm the Jewish people were soon implemented. Jewish homes were all painted with the words "Juden" in huge letters. Jewish people who were found outdoors were kidnapped in order to perform hard labor. Some of them never returned; they were beaten and killed.
Dolhinov started to be crowded with Jewish refugees from nearby towns. As soon as the Germans entered towns in the area across the old border, places that were part of the Soviet Union for many years, the Germans killed their Jewish residents. Many Jews from Pleshntzitz escaped and relocated to Dolhinov; they were warned in time of the impending massacre in their town. The townspeople opened their homes to the refugees. Every Jewish home had guests; we had a few staying in our home. We had a young girl from the Galperin Family, and a youth from Pleshntzitz. Leibe Forman also moved in with us. All Jews were required to wear yellow Jewish stars both on the front and on the back. The order to wear yellow Jewish stars came on the Jewish day of fast of "Tisha Be'av", and every Jew in town fasted that day!
Every day came with new orders against us.
Fear and terror enveloped every Jewish home. It was very dangers to be seen outdoors. We forced ourselves to stay locked in our homes. We were very fearful since we (Jews) were not permitted to walk on the sidewalks. Instead we were required to walk in the center of the roads. Fearful of being seen, the backyards were now used to get from one place to another. All The Jewish inhabitants left one window in each house un-insulated during the winter in order that they could jump out and escape when needed. We also started selling most of our possessions to buy food.
I was very happy to be with my family, for better and for worse, as long as we were together. We knew that things were going to be bad, but in our worst nightmares we did not anticipate how bad things were to become. We expected that a set of rules would be implemented, and we would greatly suffer financially. But we could not imagine murders and organized annihilation of women, children and the elderly. As we gradually realized that every day there would be a new retribution and additional restriction imposed upon us, the indication that our end was near became harder to ignore. We knew that we must run and take cover; it would be the only means that we could save ourselves from undisputable death sentence. However, we had to acknowledge the bitter recognition that there was no route of escape for us. I will never forget my mother's constant worries and plans for each and every one of us. Mother went to one of her Christian friends and begged her: "Bushka does not look Jewish, could you please take her in? I will pay you". The answer was no; the woman did not want to take the risk. Harboring a Jew was punishable by death to the entire family.
I must make clear that the German policy was to isolate each Shtetl and prevent communication amongst the Jews so that each town would not learn what was happening elsewhere. Despite the prohibition on all communication, rumors began to circulate that Jews in the neighboring towns were being mutilated and exterminated. However, the facts were not clear. We did not know about the massacres in Molodechno, Vilejka, Miadel, and even in Kurenitz on the 14 of October in 1941 (during Simchat Torah). Walking or riding out of our town even a few kilometers away was most dangerous. A rumor spread in town that a few Jews left for the nearest town, and they were found, tortured and then executed.
My mother's brother, Abba Gitlitz, remembered that his house had a small basement that was years ago packed and shut. He secretly re-dug the entrance to the basement under his house and the family began sleeping there. We knew the techniques and the chronology of the massacres in the area. First the Germans would come at a late night hour and surround the towns from all directions, and early in the morning the massacre would start. It happened just like that in Dolhinov.
On March 28, 1942 the Germans surrounded the town. Abba told our family to immediately go to the basement. Mother, my two sisters, little Sara and Chaia, Abba's two older sons, and the Shaingart family- the neighbors from across the street--went inside the basement. Abba put a water container in front of the secret door to hide the place from view. Abba's wife would not enter since their little baby David was crying and she feared that the baby would give away the hiding place. She instead ran to a Christian woman and gave her a fur coat and promised to give her a gold watch if she would hide her and they would not be found. The woman refused to let her enter. Eventually she was found by the Germans and was killed with baby David. The Christian woman still requested the watch from Abba. When nighttime arrived, Abba, who hid outdoors, knocked on the door. He then opened it and called us to get out, since the Germans had left. We crawled out of the basement and felt emotionally broken when we realized that many people were killed. We knew that it was only the beginning. Winter was very cold that year and some who were hiding outdoors in the fields were severely frostbitten; if they had survived, their feet would have had to be amputated. Abba's toes were frozen. We discovered that the Germans had executed 700-800 of the Dolhinov Jews on that day.
In April, all the Jews received an order to move to a ghetto on a small part of Borisov Street. I still remember the parade of Jews being forced to walk with a few meager belongings to the ghetto.
Prior to moving, mother worked tirelessly to burn our belongings so that the Germans and their local collaborators would not obtain them. All the fireplaces in town worked overtime so that as many belongings as possible could be burned prior to the deadline to relocate. Families were crowded into a few homes in the ghetto area, with each room containing at least one family. Our entire family, together with the Riar family and a refugee from Lodge lived in one room. The Schreibman family, my mother's brother Shimon Gitlitz and his family, and Rachel Katz (Shimon's sister-in-law) with her baby, moved into another room. Two single people resided in the kitchen. The same kind of crowding was in all the homes in the ghetto. The ghetto was surrounded by a wooden fence with barbed wire around the fence. Outside the ghetto stood the local policemen. The Judenrat forced some of the ghetto Jews to watch us from the inside. While in this house we discovered that the little shed in the back of the house had a door which allowed passage to the to the area outside of the ghetto that the Germans did not know about. At least we all were assuming that they did not know about it. We decided to use it on a later day when we would need to escape. However, all of our family members who attempted to get out through the gate during the second massacre were killed, as I will tell you later.
On April 29, 1942, a communication was clandestinely spread in the ghetto that the Germans had surrounded the ghetto and many SS units and Gestapo units came to town. We scurried to a different hiding place, which was prepared by the Schreibman family and was used by them and their children during the first massacre. The hiding place was below a balcony roof, and we had to drop deep down from the ceiling to get 9 people into this spot. Mother, my two sisters and I, Gita Gitlitz, the wife of Shimon Gitlitz (mother's brother) with her two sons, and Gita's sister Feiga Shreibman with her daughter entered this site.
All the men did not go into the hiding place, but instead attempted to escape through the gate door, and some decided to hide in a pile of cut woods. In the morning of April 29th, the Germans entered the ghetto and commenced with their butchery. The Christian neighbors went from house to house to uncover our hiding spots for the Germans. When they would discover one type of hiding place they would look for the same kind in other homes. We heard screaming and pleas from the discovered Jews followed by gunshots, an explosion of grenades and then silence. We lay in our hiding place, frozen with fear, avoiding even a whisper. Time passed, and time and again we would hear cries and screams that ended with gunshots.
My mother whispered to us at one point:
" If we are to be caught, we should not cry my daughters; we should not beg them for our lives, since it does not help anyway; we should not expect mercy from them. We should die with our self respect and dignity knowing who we are."
Then she stopped talking, and we heard some of the local policemen entering our home. They went to the attic in the lower side of the house. The Schreibmans were a fairly wealthy family and many of their possessions were located there. The neighbors and the local police went there and began looting; they did not call the Germans. They were so busy looting that we were not discovered, and we survived that first day.
Resembling descending autumn leaves .
" What are you doing here, Brigade number Four?" and then
" It is our territory--we are Brigade Five get out of here".
The first group left and a bugle sounded shortly after, calling all the Germans to get together. We were safe again after the second day. We knew our lives were in danger and we should leave that night, as the Germans would come back with their axes the next day. We all came down and headed for the gate door but it was locked. We now knew that the men in our family were killed that day including my stepfather, Yakov Foreman, Aronchik and Nachman Gitlitz (the sons of Abba Gitlitz, the brother of our mother), mother's other brother Shimon Gitlitz, and Feiga's husband and son, Chaim and Chilik Shreibman. Later we found out that our Grandmother Feige (nee Deutsch) Gitlitz was killed. Aunt Chaia-sora, and her son Gadlya Eidelman were also killed. There was no time to mourn. We took with us a few loaves of bread and succeeded to leave the ghetto during the night.
After leaving the ghetto we decided to find the Christian farmer, Peter, in Yashkova. Our first cousins, Shimon Gitlitz's children, were hiding in his farm during the first massacre and we knew that we could trust him. It was getting late and dawn was coming up, so we hid in the bushes knowing that we could not be seen during daylight hours. We were all afraid of getting caught, as there was a young boy nearby tending sheep. Mother said while walking, "You see my daughters, there is so much hatred and carnage around us. If anyone stays alive, the only place for us to go is Eretz Israel." We thought of that statement as a commandment. In the dark that night we succeeded in finding Peter. Peter cried and hugged us all.
Peter hid us in a haystack barn, even though he knew he was risking his life. He allowed us to stay with him for a few days. We returned to town to find only 400 were left alive out of the 5000 (including refugees) Jewish inhabitants who lived there just a little more then a month before. There were also a smaller number of homes that they let us use. We learned that some single people ran away to the forest, and we decided to do the same.
Only Abba Gitlitz survived from all the men in my mother's family (he hid in the forests). We asked him to organize and lead us to the forest, since we now had only women and children amongst our group. He said that he had no strength or desire to live since he lost his wife and three sons, and he did not want to start again. We all felt sorry for him, not so much for not being able to convince him to come with us, but mostly for his lack of will to survive and the depths of his despair. We learned later that he was killed after a few weeks.
The women in our family were very terrified to go to the woods by themselves. Mother asked Shimon Katzovitz, the brother of our father (our father died when we were young children), to take our family out of the ghetto. He agreed to take only 2 of us with him. He took my sister Chaia and I (Bushke) along with his daughters Mindel and Shula. Reluctantly we left the ghetto and the others behind, and headed for the forest. A woodsman who knew our uncle helped us. We would hide in the forest during the daylight hours. We were very frightened all day long and were terrified that the sheep herdsmen would see us and report us to the Germans. At night we would cook on a fire with the help of the woodsman.
Stories circulated amongst the farmers about many Jews hiding in the forest and many bonfires lit by the Jewish townspeople who now lived outdoors. The woodsman was worried that the Germans would realize that the Jews were hiding in the forest, and they would discover us. He did not ask us to leave, but he seemed very uneasy. The woodsman was promised money if he would continue to communicate with us after we left the area. There were other Jews from Dolhinov near us; our relative Avram Eatcha (Dimenstein) was one of them. He joined us and now we were six people. We discussed what to do and decided that two people should return to the ghetto to bring some food, supplies and money for the woodsman so that he would permit us to stay a little longer. I (Bushke) was selected by the Jews in the forest to go to Neiki (originally a settlement of Jewish people who served in the czars army for many years) to see if the people who lived there could help us. They selected me since I did not appear Jewish.
I decided to go, and I put a "Farm Girl" scarf on my head. I crossed the train tracks and discovered that there were no Jews left in Neike, and we would not be able to stay there, so I immediately returned to our hideout. Several townspeople who met me suspected that I was Jewish. The townspeople searched around the train tracks for Jews and we knew that we must leave the area soon. One night a heavy rainstorm came, and we were drenched down to our bones. Our few possessions became wet as well, and there was no place to hide. The next morning while we dried ourselves in the sun, Avraham Yitcha began to worry that we would become sick. " Who would take care of us when we will get sick? A death sentence is hanging over our head. Let's go and die amongst the Jews".
It was one thing to talk about "a Jewish community" but another to find one. We knew that most of the shtetls in the area were at that point "Jewish Free"; the only place we did not know about was Kurenitz. Chaia decided to go with Avram Eatche to Dolhinov to get some money for the woodsman so he would be willing to check the surrounding communities to see if Jews survived in any. And we decided to remain there for now.
I arrived in Dolhinov and found my mother. I told her about our life in the woods; I told her how we felt like chased animals. We constantly had to hide and move from place to place, and there was no shelter from the elements; we were permanently outdoors.
Mother said, "Don't go back to the woods, the lifestyle there is too hard for you. Work for Germans in the Kanihinina camp. The people in that camp seem to be treated well, and so far they have not had any mass executions there". I listened to my mother, and registered with the Judenrat to be sent there. We left for the camp a few days later. My mother must have had a "vision".
A few days after I left, on May 21, 1942, the Germans came back to Dolhinov to liquidate the rest of the Jews in the ghetto. Only a few Jews were able to escape to the forest; all the rest were slaughtered. When I heard about the massacre, I became very worried for my mother and my little sister Sara for many days.
In the camp we were afforded showers once a week, received bread and cooked foods, and life there seemed a little more "privileged" by comparison to life in the forest. The winter was cold and rainy with the spring arriving late. Yitzhak Klorin used to say, "You know why G-d made it so rainy this year? It is because Jews are outdoors in the forests".
Avraham Feinsilber was the Jewish leader of the camp. He would decide where to send us to work. At the camp, the men would mostly put supplies on German trains, and the women mostly did the cleaning for the German officers. The camp consisted of one big building near the train station. The building was surrounded by barbed wire.
One day while I was working, a Christian woman came to the camp. When we met,
she reminded me that she was Liza, our former housekeeper. I asked her about
She said, " All the Christian inhabitants of Dolhinov became wealthy they confiscated the possessions that were left by the Jews."
After some weeks in the labor camp, I had a most strange encounter. A young, naïve looking man clandestinely appeared one night in our camp; he was dressed in Soviet uniform. His name was Yuzik Blacher. He had a distinct look; his eyes were burning with passion under a very high forehead. The people who were in the camp for many months told me amazing tales about him; he was an Estonian Jew, who came to our area with the Red Army at the end of the Soviet rule. With open mouths, we listen to his stories. He told us that many young Jews from Dolhinov and other shtetls in the area had joined the Partisans, and other former residents of Dolhinov with their families were hiding in the woods near the Partisans' camp. He told us about Timchuk who became the hero of Dolhinov. Although Timchuk was not a Jew, he did all that he could to save people. Prior to the German invasion, he employed many Jews in the Soviet collective farm "Serbitz" that he managed. He had now become a leader of the Partisans and helped many families in the forest. I learned from the Estonian that he met my mother and Sarah in the forest, and that my mother begged him to go to the camp and help me escape and join them.
All the people from Dolhinov decided to escape; the people from Krivichi decided to stay for now.
The Estonian helped us to escape from the camp and I joined my mother and my little sister. The Jews of Dolhinov who escaped the massacres were all living in the woods. We were very happy to be together but still very worried, since no one knew about Bushke. Here is what my mother told me about the last days of the ghetto in Dolhinov:
The Christians were watching the ghetto. Every night they lit bonfires in an attempt to light the area to disclose any escaping Jews. One night they could hear a grinding machine approaching the ghetto; rumors spread that it was a bone-grinding machine for the Jews who were to be killed. They knew that they must escape. Mother and Sara told Gita Gitlitz and her sons, and they escaped through the passage door. Before they left they urged Sara R. to join them; she refused saying; "Where am I to go? Who is to say how old I should be when I die? People could die in their forties; they don't have to wait for their sixties." She and her husband must have assumed that their son would be saved, since he was the only professional mechanic in the area
While Gita was leaving the gate, she could hear the father telling the Germans about the son's qualifications to no avail--the last thing she heard were the gunshots.
Once they got out of the gate, they were all confused in the dark, and they proceed in the fields in different directions. Gita and her sons ran in one direction, and Mother and Sara scurried in another. Mother and Sara found themselves in the Jewish cemetery. There they stumbled upon Zlata Dokshitzi and her daughter Chaia. They hid together in the fields for many weeks, eating only barley. They had to move to a different hiding place when the fields were mowed, so they proceeded to the forest. One night they saw shadows behind the bushes were they hid. It turned out to be other Jews from Dolhinov; amongst them was Israel Radoshkovitz. The four women joined them in their hideout in the forest. In the hideout they found Gitta and her sons, who ran in the other direction on the night of the third massacre. Gita told them that they hid in the fields for many days, and since she and her sons were starving, they headed back to Dolhinov to give themselves up. Leibe Radishkovitz, who was the nephew of Gita, ran into them near Dolhinov and brought them back to the forest. When Gita and my mother reunited in the forest they all felt rejuvenated to continue the fight to survive. (After the war Gita Gitlitz immigrated to Israel with her two sons. Her son Israel immediately joined the army. He was killed at the age of 19 during the 1948 War of Independence.)
One day while walking in a field on the outskirts of Kurenitz, a horse and buggy passed by me. Someone yelled my name. To my great surprise it was Abrasha Feinsilber from Dolhinov. He was sick and came to see a doctor in Kurenitz. He told me that Mother and my little sister were living in the woods and that Chaia escaped from the Kanihanina camp to the woods to join them. He suggested that all Dolhinovites who resided in Kurenitz should go with him to the Kanihinina camp that was run by the German army and not the Gestapo, and subsequently was not inspected vigilantly. He could arrange for a job for us since we could replace the Jews who worked for the Germans and had recently escaped from the camp. From there he said, it would be easier for us to escape to the woods.
One night we left Kurenitz and snuck into the camp.
Our situation improved in the camp. We knew that it was only temporary but every day we were sent to work in a different location. I mainly worked in the fields.
I kept hearing stories about the man from Estonia who was leading Jews to the woods from the camp and from some ghettos. Some of the young men in the camp wanted to join the Partisans. A few of them left with the Estonian in order to talk to leaders of the Partisans about the possibility of being accepted into their ranks. We were fearful in camp when they left that the Germans would realize that they were not there and would kill us all as a punishment. But they returned safely with good news. We received a "green light" to leave the camp.
We started planning our escape. The only Jews from Dolhinov who were with me in the camp were the ones who came with me from Kurenitz. From Krivichi there were the family W., Eliezar Showd, and others. Everyone planed to escape, but consequently something occurred that made us carry on the escape at an earlier time then we originally intended.
One day German troops came to the camp from Vileyka with the Gestapo. They left after a short time. We knew this was not a good sign. Some of the Germans who we worked for told us that they received orders to move and other troops would come to the camp. We knew that the signs were pointing to our impending annihilation. We decided to escape during that night. We escaped to the woods that night during a patrol changeover; we broke the wire fence and ran to the forest. We did not want to leave without Abrasha Feinsilber who we knew would be killed for letting us escape, so we waited for him in a nearby forest. We became very worried since he did not come for a long time. All of a sudden we saw a German officer running in our direction. We froze with fear. And then we realized . It was Abrasha Feinsilber!
He was held by the highest German officer and was not able to join us sooner. The German officer suspected that we would try to escape and held Abrasha since he assumed that he was our leader and we will not leave without him.
Abrasha was able to overpower the German officer when he went to the bathroom, and took his uniform and gun. Fearing the Germans and their dogs that were coming, we now separated and quickly ran to the area of the Partisans' camp before morning would come.
A few days later I learned of the tragic death of Abrasha who saved so many of us and facilitated our escape. He did not have time to change his clothes. He ran into a small unit of Partisans and since he was wearing the German uniform, the Partisans killed him even though he tried to explain that he was a Jew and had helped many Jews to escape. (Possibly a Partisan wanted his better gun?)
I clearly remember the dates of the massacre; however so many years later I don't remember how long I was in the woods with uncle Shimon Katzovitz, and when Chaia left us, or how long I was in Kurenitz, or when I met Abrasha and arrived and left the camp.
You would assume that arriving to the Partisans' camp would solve all our problems. It was not so at first. The Partisans did not allow us (non fighting Jews) to live with them, but being near them made us feel better protected from the Germans. There was no food for us at first, and I was almost starving. I had no strength to move. Finally a piece of meat was given to me, which helped. We did not have winter clothes and were living in the forest. Among us there was no consensus as to how to proceed. The Partisans decided to move us to an area past the Russian front. We walked 1000 kilometers during the nights, through fields and forests; we walked in one long line in total silence. I was always in anxiety, fearing that the person who was walking in front of me would become lost in the fog. We slept outdoors during the cold and rainy weather, lighting bonfires for warmth, even though the Partisans who led us outlawed it for fear that we would be discovered. We finally arrived in the Partisan-controlled area. During the nights, the local farmers were very helpful and took care of us and shared their little food with us. Early one morning, we met several Russian soldiers from the Red Army. The soldiers helped us to cross through the Front area. The soldiers were dressed in white, and could hardly be spotted through the snow. We could hear bombardment, and we finally arrived at a little house in the road on the Soviet side of the front. The Partisans left us, and the young Jewish men were taken for training to in order to afterward join the fight against the Germans. The women and children remained waiting.
One day it was our turn, and they took us to the train station. We sat in the various cars and the train moved forward. German planes continuously dropped bombs on the tracks. It was blind luck that no one was hurt during the train ride. Finally we arrived in a town across the border near the Russian Front. Once again they divided us among the local residents, and we stayed at their homes. There were relentless explosions through the night, but the house where we stayed was out of harms way.
As time passed, a committee of the leaders of the Partisan units in our area, together with the Russian command, decided to transfer the non-fighting forest inhabitants across the enemy lines deep into the Soviet Union. They determined that the young men would be trained in the Soviet Union and subsequently be included as soldiers in the combat effort. Others who could help in the war effort would replace workers who joined the battle. The rest of us would be transported deep into Russia. The day they decided on to start the lengthy expedition was the day the Germans attacked the inhabitants of the forest. German units arrived with enormous force and encircled the section of the woods in the vicinity of the Partisans' camp. They launched their bombardment and the Partisan units returned fire. The Partisans recognized that they were greatly outnumbered, and began an organized retreat. One unit would provide cover as another unit retreated. Previous to the commencement of the battle, we were already standing in an organized procession eager to leave for the long journey. Everyone ran in a disorganized fashion in fright as soon as we heard the explosions. Relentless fire came from all sides. Some Jews from Dolhinov were wounded, including our little sister Sara. A bullet entered her cheek. Another who was injured was Mordechai Hadash, who had a bullet in his leg. Also wounded was Briana Katz, who was at that time in her seventies. (Briana Katz went through all versions of hell until she arrived in Israel to her daughter Bella Levine in Kibbutz Daphne. She was fortunate to live many years into her nineties.) The beautiful Chaia Shulkin, who was a Partisan, was killed. She was extremely brave and the last link of the renowned family Shulkin. A Jewish woman from Minsk was killed along with her. The surprise attack by the enemy caused a delay in our departure. After two weeks, in the middle of August 1942, we finally left. The leader and head of the procession was the Partisan Kissolov. He was known to many of the survivors of our town. As a result of the wound, Mother and our little sister Sara were transferred to the care of Dr. Kottler in the medical unit. Obviously they didn't go with us. They left three weeks later.
Mordi Hadash, who was wounded, had to stay in the forest with his wife; they did not survive.
At this point I had to separate from Mother and Sara and proceed by myself. We also did not meet Bushke and we did not know what had happened to her. I left with other people of Dolhinov; we walked through forests and fields that were covered with snow. We walked for many nights and days a distance of over 1000 kilometers. We walked only at nighttime, from forest to forest, through small back roads far away from the main infrastructure that was patrolled by the Nazis. During daylight hours we hid in the forests and tried to catch some sleep. We had very limited amounts of food. All we ate were a few baked potatoes each day; usually with no salt, and sometimes we would just cook them in muddy water. The march continued for many weeks. Our shoes were totally torn from walking during the rain, via marshland and mud. Many walked barefoot in the frost and the snow. These were our circumstances for many days until we reached Vitbesk. When we arrived there, we learned that the Partisan Units controlled virtually the entire area. From here on we were guests of the local population. We slept in their homes and they shared their food with us. Ultimately we came to areas that were free from the Germans. Sometime in the beginning of 1943, we finally arrived to the town of Padochi, which was on the Russian front. Instead of crossing we decided to sleep there that night. We were separated into three groups. I was with the 3 rd unit and we arrived for the last night of rest and were the last to leave. That night was the night the Germans re-conquered the town. The first unit was lost and everyone was killed. The second unit and our unit had time to escape. Tragically, Jews who survived all the massacres in town and went on a long arduous journey passing through enemy territory found their death in Padochi on the day they were going to cross to the safety of the Soviet Union.
We knew we had to continue. We separated again. Many went far, far away, deep into Russia. Others found jobs closer to the border. Our entire procession separated into small units. I was by myself in Russia. I only found Mother and Sara during the summer of 1944. After the Nazis were expelled from the area of Dolhinov, I wrote to the town Mayor. Mother also wrote to the civil government there. As soon as I found out where they were, I immediately traveled to be with them. Bushke was not with us, and we did not know where she was. In 1946, in either Brichbach, or Lodge, we were re-united with her, and we proceeded to reach the place that Mother determined we should live in during the very dark days when we walked to Peter's house. We arrived in Eretz Israel.
I was born in Dolhinov in 1924. My father was Yosef Shinuk from Vilna. During World War I, Yosef was a "soldier of fortune"--he fought as an officer for the Austrian army and in 1917 was captured by the Russian and was able to escape and hide in the Muschcart family house in Dolhinov.
Yosef promised the parents that he would marry one of their three daughters, and he soon married their daughter Rosa Ester Rachel and had four children: Eidel was born in 1920, I (David) in 1924, Shmuel (Shmulik) in 1928, and Yakov (Yankale) in 1932. The two other Muschcart sisters moved away--Chaya Sora immigrated to the U.S, and Bizka moved to a small place next to Globoki (Zafka?).
During the Polish times (1921- 1939) my father, Yosef Shinuk, had a very popular coffee house. My father was a tall, very good looking man who spoke perfect Polish (Per Chaya Katzovitz whose mother (Chana) was first cousin of his wife Rosa Ester) All the Polish political leaders and officials would come to the coffee house and befriend him; however he was also very capable of kicking the "drunks" out the stairs.
In 1939 when the Russians and the Germans divided Poland and Dolhinov was to turn to Russia, the Polish official escaped and they made him the head of the police before they left. Yosef gathered some young people--amongst them his oldest son Eidel and Enshel Exelrod--and took tools and weapons from the fire department to defend the area from the villagers who wanted to rob others since the area was without rulers. When the Russians arrived, they kept him in the job. After a short time they sent him for training and he received the rank of a Major and became the second to the head of the Police for the entire district. Yosef moved away with the family to nearby Krivichi for the job.
Chaya (nee Katzovitz) remembered that one day Yosef's wife came to her mother and told her that Yosef was about to leave his job. The mother was wondering, "Why should he leave such an important job at a time when jobs and money are so difficult to come by?"
Rosa Shinuk said, "They want him to make a list of the well to do Polish people to be sent to Siberia. He made money from them for many years and he does not want to do it!"
Yosef was able to get another job as the head of the bakery and the main food supplier in Krivichi.
In June of 1941, the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, and all the official workers for the Soviets received an order to send their families deep in to Russia.
David said that his mother refused to go with the family to Russia, and arranged for her cousin Shimon Gitlitz to come with a horse and carriage to Krivichi and transfer the family to Dolhinov.
Yosef left with the Red Army and arrived in the Globoky-Zavka area; there he decided that he could not go across the border without his family, so he decided to return to Dolhinov. He grew a beard, wore a black beret and glasses, and made himself a fake I. D. as a political prisoner who was returning from the Soviet Union. He arrived by the river near Dolhinov and found that the Germans were patrolling the bridge. He had no choice but to cross in the water. He arrived all wet in the house of the Norman family. The Normans were afraid to keep him (It was punishable by death sentence to help escaped "Communists")
They ran to the Shinuks home and told them about Yosef's arrival.
Once again Shimon Gitlitz came to the rescue, and took Yosef to his house were he hid for a few weeks.
Eidel, the oldest son, was arrested by the Germans in July with a dozen other Jews, but was able to escape when some Russian tanks came to the area and the Germans ran away.
Yosef knew that he could not stay in Dolhinov. He first made an unsuccessful attempt to get to Vilejka; on the same day he left with Leibe Flant for Kurenitz.
Yosef and Leibe Flant were in Kurenitz for a few months, and then someone filed a complaint with the Dolhinov policeman who was working for the Germans; Masolovski that Y. Shinuk was walking freely in Kurenitz. Masolvski, who had a friendly relationship with some of the Jews and the Russian Partisans, went to Shimon Gitlitz and told him to let Y. Shinuk know that he must escape from Kurenitz at once. Jews were not allowed to leave their hometowns; if found on the roads they would be immediately killed. Rosa Shinuk dressed like a local Belarussian farmer, and walked 35 kilometers to Kurenitz to warn her husband. On the same day that Rosa arrived in Kurenitz as soon as they were told, Yosef Shinuk and Libel Flant went to Sole and Rosa returned to Dolhinov.
Yosef Shinuk became the head of the Jewish professional ghetto in Sole. Flant eventually left the ghetto, but Yosef Shinuk was there until the bitter end.
The local Belarussian and Polish population complained to the Germans about the Shinuk family being Communist. Also, the family left most of their possessions in Krivichi.
Eidel was sent to Vileyka, where he studied engineering in the Technion in Vilna before the war. He was now utilized for building a mansion for the German rulers in Vileyka.
David was left as the only person who could support the family. He worked in
the farm areas cleaning and cutting trees.
In the first massacre in Dolhinov on March 28, 1942, the Germans put all the Jews that they were able to capture in the market place and made a selection of some Jews who could be useful to be spared. David pretended to be his older brother and signed himself as a professional.
The local non-Jews who came to watch the killings kept telling the Germans that David was a son of a Communist officer, but they could not speak German, and the Germans did not understand them. The Germans took David with the professional people. The rest of the Jews who were captured that day were taken across the river and shot and burned.
Rosa Shinuk and the younger children were hiding and were not found out.
After the first "action", the family was moved to the Ghetto. Eidel,
who returned from Vileyka as his job was done, escaped to be with the
Partisans. During the time of Communist control (from September1939 to June
1941), Eidel worked with Timzok in the Sobkhos, and now that Timzok was a
leader of a Partisan brigade, he took Eidel and Avraham Fridman as well as
other young Jews from Dolhinov to be members of his fighting Partisans troop.
Eidel was used as a link between the Partisans of the "Mastitel
Brigade" and the policeman from Dolhinov, Maslovsky, who was working for
One night he came to Dolhinov to get some booths for the Partisans; unluckily for him it was the day the Germans had the second "action" in Dolhinov. Months before, Eidel and Yitzhak Norman built a hiding place in the house of the Gurevitz family, where the family now lived since they had to move to the ghetto. Rosa, the children, and the Eisenberg family hid there and they were not found out.
Eidel and David made an attempt to escape from the ghetto, but could not find a way out.
David hid with some Jewish refugees from Plashntzitz and begged them to let his brother into the hiding place, but they refused, saying that there was no air in the place for one more (it was true--David left the hiding place after a short time) Eidel hid under a pile of cut wood and was found by some locals and was killed on the spot. David found Eidel's hat and his head all splattered after he came out from hiding three days later; his body was not there. He was buried in the common grave.
Once again the Germans promised that there would be no more killings. David did not trust them, and a week later escaped with two young men from Plashntzitz. Before he escaped, his mother prepared a package for him to take on the road. For three days they walked in the woods in the Kriesk-Plashentzitz area. On the third night, the two men left David while he was asleep and took with them his package. David was very upset the next morning, but he decided that he must find the Partisans. David walked in the forests for another three days until he smelled some smoke. In his heart he felt that it was a Partisans camp. He walked in the direction of the smoke.
David kept walking and then he heard an order, "Stop!" The Partisans jumped down from the treetops and ordered him to lie on the ground facing the earth. They then covered his eyes and took him somewhere for investigation. After an hour of investigation they brought some Jewish Partisans from Dolhinov and they told them that David was fine.
David was too young to be a fighter, and they made him a cook.
David told me that in the same troop with him were the beautiful and brave sisters from Dolhinov, Chana and Ela Shulkin. The leaders of the Partisans were in love with them and were fighting over them. The sisters were used to spy in the villages.
Eventually there were to many Jewish refugees in the forest that the Russians decided to transfer them across the front to the Russian side, since they endangered the Partisans. (They numbered more then 200 and they needed food; also the Partisans were concerned that the Germans would come for them to the forest)
Amongst the people from Dolhinov were David's' cousins, Chana and her daughters
Chaya and Sara Katzovitz.
The oldest girl, Bushka, was at that point in the Kanahanina camp. After the war, when the survivors were reunited, she told David that after he left for the Partisans, his father arranged for his mother and the two younger boys to join him in the ghetto in Sole. He sent a farmer with a horse and buggy to bring them. They encountered some Germans on their way to Sole. They were shot at and little Yankale, who was about ten years old, was badly wounded and was found by a farmer who took him to the Ghetto in Krivichi. The Jews took care of him and he recovered, but a few months later he was killed with the rest of the Jews of Krivichi in the ghetto. David was not able to find out what had happened to the rest of his family.
The group from Dolhinov walked more then 1000 kilometers to reach the border with Russia. They walked only during the night to avoid being seen by the Germans (there were hundreds of people, including many children and old people divided to smaller units and led by Partisan). During the daytime they hid in the forests.
They were sometimes shot at, and little Sara Katovitz, who was under the guide of David, was wounded. After walking more then two weeks, they arrived in the area that was controlled by the Partisans. There they were able to walk more freely, and some were able to get horses and buggies. Finally, they reached the front sometime during the night, and the leader decided to rest here and cross the next day. When they finally crossed, the Germans surrounded them and many were killed but most ran across the border and were saved
We arrived in Paditzi; there we were attacked in the early morning hour, and ran in all directions. Later we organized and walked across the line until we reached the train. My group went all the way to Oppa, the capital of Shakeria. There they gave Partisan papers to Dishkovitz and me. From there, we continued on the train until we reached Sakolov, where we joined a technical school. We studied in the technical school, and after we were done, they decided that since I appeared strong and capable, I should be the supervisor of the people who just finished their training with me. Despite my appearance, I could not take control of the people. I realized that I would get into trouble, so together with Mordick, I joined the Red Army. Before I joined, I was sent for special training with the new Soviet secret weapon--the Katusha rockets. I was in a secret elite unit that performed dangerous tasks using the Katusha rockets. One day I was called to the headquarters. A high officer started screaming at me that I was a traitor. Later on I found out that they had confused me with my father, and they found out that during World War I he joined the Austrian Army, the enemy of the Russians. It was easy to prove that I was not born at that time, but still I was "damaged" by the connection, and an order was already given for my removal. I was now given two choices; either go to prison in the Soviet Union, or join the new Polish Army in exile. I decided to join the Polish Army. I was in the Army in Lodovov that was established by Vanda Vistalovski and Suimi in the Ukraine. I fought with the division all through Europe until we reached Berlin. Twice I was wounded. Once was from a grenade, and fragments hit my eye. The second time, a bullet hit my hand. When we reached the road Uddo Tanessa, the war ended and we heard an announcement that the Germans had surrendered. After a few weeks we were sent to Lubine, and we fought against the Polish Partisans who fought against the Soviets. We fought them for many, many months. I achieved a rank of Major. In 1946, I decided to leave the army. At that point, I was very distant from all that was Jewish. Since Polish soldiers and officers were my only comrades and I was much liked by the high command who were all anti-semites. They kept pointing out to me that the Jews were not true fighters. After being with them for many years, I accepted their observations, and I was ashamed of being Jewish. They convinced me to register as a Catholic man named Tradiosh. While vacationing in Staton, I unexpectedly met Ellie Meisel from Dolhinov, who convinced me to return to Judaism. I never returned to the army; in the town of Lodgz I entered a Kibbutz by the name of Galdonia for immigration to Israel. There I was sent for training with the Israeli Haganah. I trained the young people in how to use weapons at the Kibbutz. Later on I was a driver for Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe who secretly crossed borders in Europe in an attempt to get to Israel. (The British who ruled Palestine at that point gave very few visas for the Jewish survivors, so most took an illegal route to get to Palestine.) I would take Jews from Germany to Austria to Italy, illegally crossing borders. In 1948 there was an order to close the camp in Innsbruck Austria; together with the people of the camp, I was sent to Israel, which had just received its independence. We arrived in Camp Yonah; I was drafted to the IDF as soon as I arrived, and fought in the war of Independence.
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