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[Page 206]

Life Ends in the Forest

Winds announcing the arrival of autumn were blowing in the forest. Leaves were falling from the trees, and from time to time we felt wet drops, especially when the trees swayed from side to side and bowed down forcefully, as though they were praying and begging. On the left we saw a clear stripe, as though the sun wanted to show it was still there with all its strength. But it could not hold on for long. Darkness descended.

“This is what death looks like,” Shmuel thought to himself.

Chava arrived last night from the villages. She brought a few slices of bread and some potatoes with her. The Gentiles did not let her enter their homes. They were afraid. Kaminsky said the Germans were following him. Someone had told them he was helping the Jews. He asked that no one come to him for the time being. Chava was also at Nikodema's, the poor shoemaker. He told her he had heard they were planning to surround the forest and wipe out the remaining Jews. A few weeks had gone by since Sankeh went out to look for the partisans, and nothing had been heard from him. Perhaps they were all killed.

“We will wait a few more days and go out to those forests. Perhaps it is safer there. But where will we get food if we do not find the partisans?”

Shmuel was hungry lately. When there was not enough bread, he would leave some for Hene. No one wanted to finish the last piece of bread until it was totally dried out.

Chava walked alone in the villages all night long. She knocked on Gentile doors and asked for a piece of bread for Hene and Shmuel. She walked up to twenty kilometers a night. She never came back empty-handed, even when she needed to sneak into cowsheds and storehouses to find something.

Hene had no interest in food. She was thinking about her child all the time and praying Shmuel would stay alive. Her own life did not matter to her. She was ready to die at any moment for the sake of the girl and Shmuel.

In a little while the sun would come up. Chava and Hene slept in the deep earthen hut. Shmuel crawled out a little before morning and sat down, deep in his own thoughts.

Hene refused to move away from the forests. She wanted to be close to the girl. Shmuel remembered what happened that night. He did not know exactly how much time had passed. Hene wanted to see Goldaleh. Her thoughts were eating her up, worrying something had happened to the child. Everyone went out to the village and peeked through the window. They saw the girl undressing alone and lying down to go to sleep. Hene burst out crying bitterly until they heard her in the house. The Gentile woman went out and found them there. She scolded them for coming there. They might bring about a calamity for the child, and for her and her husband. The woman brought out bread and milk, and they went away, kissing the child from afar.

“If we go to more remote forests, we will not be able to see the child. If the partisans are alive and are not coming to help us, it means they are selfish and only concerned about themselves. I never imagined it would take so many weeks for Sankeh to bring the partisans here or that he would abandon his sisters. What will happen if what Chava says is right? That could happen any minute. Who knows if we will manage to escape? Where will we go…”

He looked towards the earthen hut where Chava and Hene, and also the couple from Lublin who had not yet finished their argument about Socialism and Zionism, were sleeping. A few hundred meters from there were more earthen huts. There were more than twenty Jews in this forest.

The darkness was growing. There would be a fierce rainstorm soon. What would happen if the earthen hut collapsed?

He stood among the trees and scanned the forest like a military officer who reviews the front. Let's say, he thought to himself, they are surveying the forest now. Which side will they come from? They might arrive from three sides, quietly, without firing any shots. If they find someone above ground, as I am now, they will know there are huts here, and if all the people are in the huts, they will stomp their feet and knock with their rifles until they discover the Jews lying alive beneath the ground. But perhaps everything will be alright. He approached and began to stomp his feet on the hut. It held up.

But perhaps one of the Gentiles who knows where the earthen huts are will bring them right here to receive the Jews' clothes.

Shmuel's head was dizzy from all his thoughts and schemes. He fell to the ground, exhausted and hungry, and fell asleep.

* * *

Pani Lisovsky was very annoyed and took out her anger on Antush. The girl had refused to eat for a few days. She found herself a small stool, sat in the corner, and watched what the couple did all day long. They put cooked potatoes next to her, but she did not touch them, or the sour cream. They tried to give her the most delicious dishes, but she did not put them in her mouth. Her little lips were only whispering all the time: “Mama, Mama, come to me. I want to go to Mama and Papa.” The woman's mood went sour. “Antush!” she called, “What did we need this catastrophe for?”

“What can we do?” Antush looked at her with fear and compassion. “If she doesn't eat, she will die…”

“You don't say!” called the woman. “What an idiot! Don't you know her mother's brothers are partisans, and they might set fire to the house while we are in it?”

On the third day, the girls face looked bad and pale, and she was worn out. They were both very frightened and thought about how to get her back to the forest.

“If you eat, I will bring you to your mother in the forest,” said the woman as she held out a spoon of food. The girl opened her mouth and ate. After eating, she let them wash her, and she lay down to sleep. In the morning, the girl got dressed by herself. Antush looked at her from a distance but did not approach her. He also looked at Stacha, wanting to catch her eye, but in vain. She thought this was her victory and was proud of herself.

“A miracle has happened,” he said to himself.

“Shut up!” she shouted at him.

“Ma'am,” the girl said to Pani Lisovsky. “I want to wash up and comb my hair, but when will we go to the forest to Mama?”

Pani Lisovsky patted her little head.

“Come, my girl,” she said.

She washed and combed her long golden hair which was smooth as silk.

Later they all sat near the table. Steam was rising from the potatoes, white steam that made you hungry. Antush looked at the girl when Stacha did not notice. She seemed to him like a little angel.

“It is a miracle, a real miracle,” he said to himself.

The girl did not know how to eat, and the woman understood this. She took a big potato, cut it with an old black fork, and put it into the girl's mouth. Since the food was very hot, the girl picked up pieces of the potato with her hands and ate by herself.

“When will we go to Mama?” the girl asked again.

Pani Lisovsky sent Antush outside and clasped the child to her. She looked straight in her eyes.

“Goldaleh, where is it better, in the forest sleeping on the cold ground and being hungry? It is warm here in the house, in a bed, with clean dresses, and warm milk, bread, and potatoes. In the forest you do not have all that.

“I want Mama…”

“Why Mama? She brought you here so you would be here. Here you will eat, sleep, and also help with the farm. You will herd the cows and be our child. You know the Germans are murdering all the people in the forest. If you go back to the forest, they might catch and kill you. Do you want to be dead, to lie in the forest where dogs can bite you? It is already starting to rain. In the forest hut you can suffocate. The ground there is a swamp now. If you are a good girl, you will call me Mama and Antush Papa. You will eat and do everything we tell you to do, and then we will not throw you to the Germans who will kill you, or to the dogs who will bite you. When Mama and Papa come from the forest, we will let them in. You promise, right? From now out your name is Genia and you are our child. You must forget that once you were called Goldaleh and that your parents are Jews. They might kill all of us because of that and set fire to the house and cowshed, to the horses and the pigs.”

Pani Lisovsky was a smart woman. She understood the situation and knew how to act with Goldaleh so she would be her daughter and take the name Genia. Who can know what the child was thinking then? Did she really see her father and mother lying in the cold in the forest, eating a stale piece of bread, if they had any bread at all? Suddenly she had a new mother with a warm bed and hot food. But one thing was for sure: Pani Lisovsky influenced the child to be her daughter and forget her past with the dogs and the Germans and sleeping on the wet swampy ground.

* **

Shmuel woke to the sound of a shot. There were shouts, but after the shot echoed through the forest, there was silence.

The sun had risen some time ago, but all the people were in the earthen huts. Even though he was exhausted and sleepy, he understood it had not been just any shot, and he also grasped the meaning of the shouting. There was no doubt those were shouts of a Jew who was caught by the murderers. But are they really coming to the forest?

Shmuel was thinking about all of this. He did not hesitate for long. He ran to the earthen hut and opened the latch.

“Get out! Get out immediately! Hene, Chava, all of you, get out right away, the police are coming!” he shouted with his last ounce of strength. His voice choked in the hut, because he thrust his head in deeply so they would not hear him above ground.

Chava went out first and helped Hene to crawl out. Then the couple from Lublin came out. Shmuel looked at them as though they were dead people emerging from under the ground.

They began to crawl more deeply into the forest without really knowing why they were going there. When they had gone about fifty meters, they heard shots and terrible shouts. Now they ran with their last bit of strength. Except for Chava, who was used to going out at night to look for food, none of them were used to walking. Because of that they fell occasionally, but they got up and kept on running until they needed to gather up strength and lie down for a while. They waited for them to come and kill them.

After they rested a little while, they decided to keep on walking. Their will to live was strong, but they could not run, so they walked slowly and moved a few kilometers away from the earthen hut. They went into a thick forest where there was almost total darkness. They lay down there without saying a word for many hours. They were thinking and napping. Now they had already lost everything. Their brothers no longer knew where they were. Indeed, they had missed their chance. If only they had taken us to them, they thought, but now it was over. They could no longer go back there. They would not see the girl again. No one said anything about a piece of bread. They lay down like that until the night. Only then did they decide to go out of the forest and see where they were. Hene said in any case they would not live until morning. “Let's go see the girl one last time,” she said. When they went to the road, they understood they were not far from the place where there had been shooting. They were wandering in the same forest. They had to go away from there.

On the way they met more Jews who had escaped who told them the Gentiles from the village had brought Germans with policemen and Ukrainians to surround the forest early in the morning. They wanted to get close to the earthen huts secretly and murder the Jews while they were lying in the huts. That way they would immediately be buried in the ground. But when they saw a Jew walking in the forest, they wanted to catch him. He ran away and they shot him. Panic broke out. Those who were hiding began to come out of the huts. Some of them ran away. Others fell in the forest. There were also some who had no time to get out and were killed in the huts. The Gentiles looted everything inside and disappeared.

My poor sisters did not know that the next night their brothers would come to take them. If only they had known that…

They turned towards the village where the girl was. Worn out, hungry, dirty, and exhausted, they plodded along like shadows. They could hardly lift their feet.

Now three remained. The couple from Lublin turned to another direction. They had also handed their daughter over to a Gentile, so they went to ask for help or to see their child one last time before their deaths.

Shmuel wanted with all his failing strength to convince Pan Lisovsky to agree to arrange a hiding place for them in his cowshed, so they could stay there during the winter. With Pani Lisovsky he did not try to talk. He knew she would refuse immediately. She squirmed around like a snake but was quiet. Shmuel explained to him that no one would know about it, and Chava would bring food from other Gentiles. They told him no one had taken an interest in the girl. She would stay with them. She could be called Genia Lisovsky, and when the brothers come, they would bring food and clothes.

The Gentile's pity overwhelmed him. He cooked a pot of potatoes. They washed up a bit and ate the potatoes. It was the first time they had eaten warm potatoes in six weeks. They washed their faces with a little clean water. They could look at the girl and see her sleeping in a warm bed. It was worth dying, even if only for this.

A bitter argument broke out between the Gentile man and woman. In the end it was decided they would keep them for a few days in the cowshed and later they would see. If it was quiet, they could stay. Otherwise they would have to go to the forest. Who could think at that moment what would be in a few more days? Perhaps the world would turn upside down together with the Germans. Perhaps death would come to the Germans and they would escape. Indeed at any minute something could happen, and whoever could live until that moment…

They did not expect that kind of happiness. They washed their faces, ate hot potatoes, and now Pan Lisovsky offered them a pile of straw to lie on.

He brought them up a ladder to a place where he would put the food for the animals, the hay and the straw. There were a few cows and a horse down below. The pigs lived on the other side of a straw divider. It had been six weeks since they had taken off their shoes and placed their broken bodies on soft straw. Before they began to think about how good it was, they fell asleep. The only one who did not sleep that night was Pani Lisovsky. She understood well what kind of catastrophe the Jews might bring upon her. They might shoot her and her husband, set fire to the house and cowshed. And what would happen tomorrow? Maybe one of the neighbors would come and notice something. She had already said that the girl had remained alone and was a daughter of relatives. The parents had gone to work in Germany. Everyone believes that this is a Christian child, Genia Lisovsky. But the neighbors would notice she is keeping Jews in the cowshed… She could not imagine what would happen then. “Staci, are you sleeping? Staci, how can you sleep? Only a fool who does not understand anything could sleep now.”

* **

Chava opened her eyes first. She lay down and looked at her sister Hene and at Shmuel, who were lying pale and exhausted in their dirty torn clothes. Before her eyes she saw the town of Kurów. If they had walked into the town like that, would anyone have recognized them? Could it still be possible to return to the town and tell everyone what had befallen them? A nice imaginary thing. She had dreamt something, but could not remember what. 'Who else from our family remains? The three of us, and perhaps the two brothers with the partisans. If they are alive, we will meet up one day. How happy we will be then.'

Why didn't we go to Siberia together with Frandel? And what is happening there in Poland with Chaya-Toibe and her family? How long will they keep us here? Another few days, until they concoct a story that they are looking for Jews in all the houses. They will pretend to be frightened and they will say: “Flee quickly to the forest, because the Germans are looking for Jews in the houses.” Where will we go now? That's what all the Gentiles who want to get rid of the Jews do …

She looked again at their faces. How much longer can we live if no miracle occurs? Papa died from all this. No doubt they shot him while he was running away. If he immediately fell and died, his situation was certainly better because what would he have done now? Where would he be rolling around and waiting for death?

They climbed up the ladder. Chava closed her eyes so they would think she was confused. She felt they were dragging piles of straw. No doubt this was Pan Lisovsky. He works early in the morning. Now she clearly hears them both in the cowshed, feeding the pigs. She remembers when she was a little girl and the whole family spent the summer in the country. Her brothers would imitate the pigs. They were in a forest of pine trees, and the trees gave off a sharp smell. The needles and pine cones fell on the ground, and the children played with them.

Why do the pigs squeal like that, especially the small ones? They want to eat. “Whooo, whooo!” He takes the horses out from the stable. We hear the voice of Pani Lisovsky: “Genia, more quickly, take the stick, take out the cows. Today you will come with me to herd the cows!” “OK, Mama,” says Genia.

Chava wanted to get up to see the girl take the cows out of the cowshed, but she closed her eyes tightly. She saw it all with her eyes closed.

There was silence, silence even deeper than in the forest. Light only appeared through the slits of the rafters. Now the entire cowshed looked nice. Why don't they let us live even in a cowshed like this? They live here as though there is no war, comfortably, calmly. All Jews wish they could live like them. If only one could turn into one of the animals in order to stay alive… look how they take care of each one of them, while they are looking for us to murder us …

She looked again at Hene and saw themselves no longer alive through blurry eyes. Shivers went through her whole body. A chill gripped her. If only they could be here all through the war, like this, lying down, without food, not getting up even for a minute, not seeing anyone, no Poles, no Ukrainians, no Germans, not even the surviving tortured Jews wandering hungry and barefoot in the forest. If only we could lie here like this with our eyes closed until they said we were free and entitled to live, or to lie like this with our eyes closed and to die for all eternity. No, not to be tortured anymore in the forests, no, no!…

“Oy, oy vez mir!” Hene moaned.

“What happened, Hene?”

“Oy vey iz mir, I had a dream…”

“What did you dream?”

“Oy, a bad dream.”

“Nu, so calm down now, don't moan. You know where we are. What dream could be bad now? They killed us? If so, we'll suffer less…”

“How do you know? What? Aren't we in the forest? Where are we, Chava?”

“Shush… be quiet, whisper…”

“Listen, Chava, in my dream I saw them catching us in the forest. They undressed us, tied us to a tree, and cocked their rifles to shoot us…”

Shmuel woke up to Hene's moaning.

Hene was covered with sweat and did not know where she was until Chava told her what had happened yesterday. Later the farmer brought boiled potatoes, a little milk and some slices of bread. They asked him to leave this for them to eat later. They asked if it was quiet without any Germans in the area. “Calm down,” he said, “it is always quiet here.”

They stayed there like that for a few days.

And this is how they parted until the end of their lives from the brothers who also parted from one another in those days.

* * *

“Shmuel, do you think she is speaking the truth?”

“Certainly not, but I knew she would not keep us for a long time. He would keep us. He has a good heart and feels sorry for us.”

“Did you tell him in which forest we would be?”

“Yes, he told me how to go.”

“Do you feel it? It is snowing.”

“Yes, winter is here.”

“I feel a strong wind at my back. Cover me up.”

“You know, I am fed up. ”

“What are you fed up with?”

“I am sick and tired of struggling for this horrible life. In the end, we will die of cold and hunger if they don't kill us soon.”

“It would be better if they killed us quickly so it wouldn't take a long time to die. Cover me up well. Maybe we will fall asleep like this.” Chava fell asleep.

January 1943

During the days before Christmas the Lisovsky couple worked hard. They cleaned the house, baked, and cooked. Little Genia was busy feeding the cows and pigs. Henrik would come sometimes before he fell to bring food and clothing that he would take from the police and Germans who had been killed.

Indeed food was not lacking. Since the girl had come, poverty had disappeared from their home. In the past, Pan Lisovsky would not allow himself to eat such a big portion of pork at one time as he did now. And when did he have such beautiful boots and genuine wool pants like these? When he got dressed on Sunday to walk to church, he imagined everyone looking at him and knowing he was keeping a Jewish girl and because of that partisans brought them the very finest things.

The worst day was Sunday. On the other hand, Pani Lisovsky was proud of the new clothes and fine food items. She kept repeating to herself that the child was her daughter until she began to really believe that Genia Lisovsky was her daughter.

* * *

“Tell me, Sankeh, it is so pleasant here. I am here such a long time in Kiev and during the few minutes I am sitting here I feel a special warmth. I am grateful to you for bringing me here.”

“It is a pity we did not meet sooner. Our home away from the hospital was here. We drank here, enjoyed ourselves, and talked so much, telling stories and arguing.”

Asana, the older daughter, was not at home. She was probably making a train trip, taking something and bringing something else in exchange. The other children were also not at home. Only the father was sitting there and looking at a book or prayer book. He sat on the bed, and we were alongside the table, and we told him about our life in Kiev. It seems that those of us who came from the west were very disappointed in everything we had seen here. For indeed we had thought there was no Jewish problem here as there had been in Poland. It turned out that anti-Semitism was actually blazing in the air here. Everywhere we walked or stood, among military people, partisans and civilians, it seemed everyone blamed the Jews for all their troubles and problems, those that had been caused by Stalin and by Hitler.

“Tell me, Valodya, can you forget all the insults you had here? Remember we are guests. We will find our way to the place where our brothers began to build a new life.”

“But Sankeh, I am only willing to go and build a socialistic country.”

“I never thought about what the regime would be be in our country. I only wanted, and hoped, it would be our country, our homeland. Do you see how they talk about their motherland? You were with the partisans for three years, and what did you hear?”

“Yes, Sankeh, I heard one thing: 'Our motherland, our brothers.”

“Who do they mean 'their motherland and their brothers?' They are looking at us as uninvited guests. And therefore, Valodya, we will stay here a few more days. Where will we go? We do not know.”

You know, Sankeh, my worst suffering occurred before I joined the organized partisans. It lasted for half a summer and half a winter, but it seems to me that it lasted ten or fifteen years, that indeed it was that many years. My life with the partisans and the battles with the Germans and Ukrainians and other murderers who were dancing to the tune of the Germans was really like a life of luxury. I can see myself lying at night in the forest, hungry, always hungry… and the fear, the terror, the fear of everyone, at the sight of a falling leaf… my ears and eyes were cocked both day and night. In the forest you can hear something from many kilometers away. I could see through the thick trees from a great distance, or to put it better, I could feel, really feel when danger was approaching. More than once a forest was surrounded only one hour after I had moved to another forest. I kept my distance from other Jews. Usually all of those who had escaped from the ghetto wanted to be together. The people stuck to one another, and when a group of survivors would come in, they would say, “Whatever will happen to everyone will also happen to me.” And that is exactly what the Germans wanted. The Jews should kindly enter. They will get along. And when almost all of those who had escaped had entered, they would surround them on one of the mornings and shoot all of them where they were. And again there would be silence in the forest. The Ukrainians would strip the victims. The dogs would do their part until someone would dig a pit and purify the Ukrainian forest.

“The worst suffering I experienced was caused by hunger and lice that tore my flesh to shreds.”

“Lonely, I was lonely by myself, but I did not speak at all and I even stopped thinking. Only my eyes and ears were working all the time. I would knock on the door of a Gentile, and they would throw out a slice of bread and set the dogs on me. Sometimes I would steal a shirt that was drying outside. They would shoot at me and I would fall on the ground. They thought I was insane. Every day I would go to different forests until I arrived at the forests of Belarus. Partisans found me frozen and turned me into a human being. I fought and took revenge and now I am here.”

“A day will come and no one will believe the things we say about everything we went through.”

“Tell me, Sankeh, how did you manage to get into Kovpak's unit? I did not know there were Jews there…”

“Valodya, let us drink l'chaim, to life! Let's raise a glass and make a toast, because now I can tell you how we, that is a group of Jewish partisans and I, met up with partisans from the unit of General Kovpak.”

* * *

It was the end of 1942. The first snow had fallen. On that day we fought against Cossacks in our Ukrainian forest.

The Germans were afraid to enter the forest. They, therefore, sent Ukrainian Cossacks. We pushed them back, but we could not stay there anymore. I remember the battle ended quickly. Towards evening, when it had begun to get dark, we took our weapons with us and turned towards the north. The Russians, who belonged to the saboteurs, walked first. We Jews walked after them. It was a clear night. A light snow fell, sparkling like pearls. Even though we were carrying a heavy load of weapons and ammunition, we did not feel any difficulty in walking on the somewhat frozen ground. Our tracks were immediately covered with fresh snow, and no one knew how we had disappeared at night. We walked in a straight line, one after another, on side roads. The closer we got to Belarus, the more the color white took over. Here the snow was deeper and the winter made more of an impact. When we knocked on the door of the first house and asked if there were Germans in the area, the farmer said that Germans were not yet there. We arranged ourselves in a few huts so we could sleep at night.

For the first time in a few months, since that same Yom Kippur when the Jews were murdered, I slept under a roof without fear because there were guards outside. I took off my boots and even washed my face and feet. I had a sawed-off rifle with ten bullets that I had received from my brother Henrik. I also had a hand grenade. I felt we were freed from the Germans that night. This could be seen on the faces of all the Jewish partisans who were with us. Their eyes asked, “So, where are all the young Jews who went to the pits? We have gone forty kilometers in a few hours and no German has come here. They do not come to the dense forests.”

I imagined their consciences bothered those who could have decided about accepting adolescents into the group.

I saw them when they wandered in the forests after the massacres, torn up, worn out, and hungry. All of them were whispering one word: “Partisans.”

I am lying in the warm hut. “Where is my family now? Chava, Hene and Shmuel? If they are still alive, they are surely dreaming about the partisans. It is hard to believe they are alive. Perhaps Henrik will help them? Yesterday he bid me farewell and went out to blow up a train. A few more comrades went with him. Tomorrow they will come, and they will not find us. If they encounter the police there, a catastrophe might occur. Who knows if I will see Henrik again? This is how fate separated us.” How much can one think after such a long trip on foot

I slept soundly and did not even go out to guard duty. There was light in the small peasant hut. People were collecting bricks, going to burn the lice. They were gathering potatoes and other food items and preparing food for everyone. You could feel the group organization. It was decided that we would stay here a full day and only go at night. We were also given a new order: The Russians who were with us had to leave. They had to go towards the West to carry out new orders from Moscow, and they took the best fighters with them. Later on my brother Henrik also joined that group.

We were left alone, the Jewish group, without the best fighters. The only one who stayed with us was one Ukrainian communist, Anton. Our forces were diminished but our spirits did not fall. Two of the heads of the organizers of the Jewish group stayed with us: Chaim Vochin and Grisha Rosenblatt. They were in charge of the group for the rest of the way.

Night fell and we kept walking towards the North. The further away we got, the more our self-confidence grew. The distance from one village to another was great. The forests gave us some security. After walking for a few days, we found ourselves in a small village that had a few houses. In the past it had been the border between the Polish and Russian Belarus.

* * *

We were all wearing our clean and laundered clothes. We ate to our satisfaction. It was decided we would clean and polish our weapons. We assumed we would continue on our way tomorrow. We took the machine gun apart. We cleaned the rifles with oil and kerosene.

Suddenly the guard entered and announced that Germans were coming. He saw the Germans in uniform on horses and sleighs with his own eyes. Grisha assembled the machine gun quickly and commanded everyone to take up positions and fight until the last drop of blood. We thought someone had informed the Germans we were there. We could not imagine what would happen when we might be left without any bullets after fighting for half an hour. We saw our survival in the hand grenades.

We could not think for very long because it only took a few minutes until the small village was full of Germans, horses, and sleighs. They sang Russian partisan songs and they had bottles of vodka and other food in their hands instead of weapons.

We were in shock and did not know what was happening. In the blink of an eye all the houses were full of them. They asked who we were. We said we were a group of partisans, Jewish partisans from the West. They drank, ate, and danced the “Kazatsky” until the late hours of the night, and we had to dance with them. We already saw what was happening here. They were real Russian partisans. They were all wearing German army uniforms. Later on we learned they belonged to a large Russian partisan unit named for General Kovpak which was sent from Russia to organize partisans to fight against the Germans. Their division camped fifty kilometers from the village. Now they were resting after some battles they had waged against the enemy. The group that had arrived now had carried out a mission. They belonged to the commando unit.

I was included with the partisan fighters who were given orders and carried them out, and so I did not know about the negotiations that took place at night between the people and their commanders.

The next morning I learned they were taking us into their unit, and we were already getting ready to go with them. The weather was pleasant. The sun was shining and shed light on the white snow-covered ground. My heart was happy. We were clean, and our bodies were warm.

We felt we had been liberated, liberated from fear. The Russian partisans traveled on sleighs and rode on horses. We walked on foot. We were not used to walking at such a quick pace, but they made it clear to us that this was the way we needed to walk with them. After every battle with the Germans, the withdrawal had to be conducted quickly so the Germans would not have any indication of where we had gone.

Suddenly we heard shots. The Germans waited until we were crossing a small bridge and shot at us. A battle broke out. It was the first battle we had conducted together with Kovpak's people. It did not take long and one of our people fell.

Now we knew what it meant to be in battle.

We got organized quickly and continued walking.

That day we went about sixty kilometers. That was a big effort for us, but we were happy we had not fallen behind on the way.

We arrived at a village at a late hour. It was hard for us to believe our eyes. At the edge of the village was a guard station fortified with a machine gun. When they let us pass and we entered the center of the village, we saw hundreds of partisans. They were walking around with and without weapons, freely singing Russian songs. In the houses there was light and a free atmosphere.

The was great joy. We felt that from now on, starting from that night, we had ceased to be people who were hungry, pursued, and worn out, whom anyone could kill. We were no longer outside the law. From now on we were soldiers and could fight honorably.

But deep in our hearts we felt sadness, two-fold and three-fold sadness. So many thousands of young people went to the pits in their prime. They could have come here to the Belorussian forests en masse. There were no Jewish leaders, Jewish organizations, to organize something. This was at the root of the Jewish tragedy in the year of 1942 in the Ukrainian and Belorussian forests.

The second tragedy caused us even greater heartache. Hundreds of men and women who could have fought wandered around, and they were butchered and murdered by Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians…

Why weren't they taken into the heart of Belarus? Jews who had energy and went to the forest with rusty weapons looked down on other helpless Jews who wandered about with no one to rescue them in the forests. They looked at them as victims whose destiny was to die, if not today then the next day, and they did not want to help them. The main thing was to save themselves. This was the tragic truth of that time.

“What is your name?” the commissar of the third battalion asked me. I still did not know Russian but I understood what he meant.

“Sankeh Rozenson,” I answered.

He burst out laughing. “You are a Western Jew?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“I see.” he said, “Our Jews already know to change their names,” and he wrote: “Sankeh Rozenson Davidovitch.”

Let it be, I said to myself.

The house was white and clean, as though they had just whitewashed it in our honor. We sat around the table, five men: two Jews – myself with the name Sankeh and Yosel Glass from Zofiovka, who was with me the whole time in the Jewish group – Volinatz and Ostapovitch, two young Belorussian guys who had joined the unit now, and Avdishuv, a Tartar. He was the unit commander.

The owner of the house placed a clay plate next to each of us and put potatoes and meat on it. There were slices of bread on the table, and you could eat as much bread as you wanted. It was difficult for us to believe our eyes.

Now Avdishuv told us that Glass and I belonged to the third battalion, and that there were many battalions spread out amongst a few villages. Our group had been divided, and from now on he would be our commander. He told us we should try to eat a lot, wash ourselves up and launder our clothes so we would be clean and full. We would stay here a few weeks because the unit was tired after the long way here and the battles it waged. The name of the village was Milosevich. We could be at ease because the Germans were not coming here. Soon we would receive rifles and learn to shoot and stand guard. In answer to my question when we would fight and kill Germans, he told me we did not need to be in a hurry to fight because we would fight so much, we would get tired of it.

I felt a deep sense of relief and was happy to belong to a fighting partisan group that fought against the German murderers.

* * *

The last few days in the hospital were sad and full of despondency. The enthusiasm about getting out of the forest, out of the war, out of the nights on guard and the days of walking in the swamps, in the snow and in the cold had faded away. The enthusiasm about returning to regular life, to life in a city with a sidewalk, roads, buses, and people who talk with you without having to hide from them, had vanished. The enthusiasm was gone after the Jewish partisans left, after the Jews in Kiev looked at a Jew from the West differently, in a different way I did not know how to define. They listened to my stories about the Land of Israel, about a Jewish country with Jewish builders and fighters, with absolute indifference. I wanted to put an end to everything that had happened until today and to go away without knowing where…

* * *

Mundek and the last Jews of the town perished in half an hour. One morning the houses of the rich leather manufacturers were surrounded. The Ukrainian murderers and Gestapo people ordered every family to dig its own grave in their yard. The Jews undressed and went into the family grave, even though each one had prepared a hiding place, but there was no time to think about that. There was also no way to think about escaping. The Germans carried it out quickly and quietly in the best German way. One after another, as naked as on the day they were born, they entered the graves and were shot. They also had no complaints, because they knew this might happen. They took this risk for a convenient and comfortable temporary life – could it be that it had been worth it

It was quiet in the town. Even the last Jew who had believed the German murderers and Ukrainian hangmen had vanished. Quiet… they were dividing up the property… Mundek, where are you? Was this really worth it?

* * *

December 1942

This was Henrik's first mission, which he was supposed to carry out together with the Russian saboteurs. Before he left he said goodbye to me and promised that we would go to look for our sisters and brother-in-law in the forests soon. How handsome he looked. I still see him before my eyes…

But the next morning we conducted the first battle with the Cossacks, and we left Ukraine and marched into the heart of Belarus. When Henrik returned with his comrades, he did not find us.

I understand what he was feeling and thinking. He had already lost his last brother. This meant he felt he could fight more without thinking about any dangers. And so it was. Henrik went out on the most difficult missions. He blew up trains with German murderers in them and took revenge on the Gentiles, on anti-Semites who killed Jews. He wreaked terror in the area. But just as all the heroes fall in battle, so too did Henrik fall that way. One day he withdrew with his comrades from a mission. They entered a house to rest and did not put a guard outside because they were sure there were no Germans there. A Polish Gentile saw this and brought Germans. A battle took place for a few hours there. The fighters were surrounded. When they ran out of bullets they blew themselves up with hand grenades and fell as heroes.

Henrik received the Order of Lenin for his heroism.

* * *

February 1943

Pani Lisovsky has been nervous for the last few days, but she is sleeping more quietly. She is relating to Genia more sternly. She thinks she has pampered her enough, and the time has come for her to work. Antush the idiot does not know what is going on, and as always, when he sees a change in his wife, he is afraid to ask and waits patiently until she tells him herself. On Sunday she prepared everything more nicely than for other vacation days, and she wore the finest clothes that Henrik had brought her. After they returned from church, she lit the oven and brought the borscht to the table. After they had both taken some samogon and washed it down with the piping hot borscht, their lives were lit up from so much heat. Pani Lisovsky hinted to Genia that she should go wash the pots and said to her husband:

“You are so stupid, you do not know anything. You could eat straw…”

“Good Lord, what happened?” he asked in a whiny voice, because he wanted her to take pity on him.

With her mouth full, and with great enjoyment from the borscht and the meat, and without stopping her enjoyable eating for even one minute, she said a few words. Out of curiosity, Antush stopped eating.

“They were found murdered in the woods …”

Antush ate a few more spoons fearfully and went to the cowshed. He went up to the place where they had slept for a few nights, curled up and hungry. He shoved his fists into the hay and said to himself, “The bitch did not want to let them stay here until the end of the war. She only wants the child to be hers so she can help her work. Such refined people. What a shame, a pity, we do not have such fine people among our people…”

He lay like that a few hours. At night in the warm bed she told him that in any case they were half frozen and worn out from hunger. It is not known whether Ukrainians or Poles did it. They even took off their torn clothes. All three of them were laying there dead next to one another.

“You know, Antush,” she added, “I think the brothers are also not alive because they have not come here for quite a while.” She bent towards him and whispered in his ear, “Antush, Genia is ours forever. ”

Antush shook like a fish and fell asleep.

Shmuel my brother-in-law and Goldaleh's father, your god betrayed you. You god was socialism, the new world, and human progress. You believed in them, and they murdered you because you are a Jew. Hene, my sister, Goldaleh's mother, I know that in the last moments of your life you remembered and thought only of your child. Does the world see a mother, a Jewish mother? Can the world understand this? The Germans, the Ukrainians, the Poles, the Lithuanians, they murdered you, all of them. Chava, my sister who did not know the flavor of life yet except for working and giving help, helping her brothers and sisters. They, the Gentile murderers, murdered you in such a cruel way. Are there other pure souls like this in the world who did not sin at all and were tortured in such a cruel way? Up to the last minute of their lives, they suffered hunger and cold, abandoned, sleeping on snow and under rain, running from one forest to another, fleeing in fear at the sight of a falling leaf and the slightest breeze. They wanted to live, they wanted to see the world after the war. But the Gentile murderers did not want that, and there was no one to defend them from the murderers. This is how you were murdered: worn out, hungry and frozen, with no strength to resist. I know your last moments, even though I was not with you. I hear your moans and shouts and your pleas to the murderers. I can still hear their murderous shouts. My eyes still see what happened on that cold morning in the Ukrainian-Polish forest, but I do not have the strength to be able to talk about it. I know you were so worn out from hunger and frozen from the cold that you did not feel how the murderer took your lives from you. They did not need to work hard or risk their lives to take your lives away.

* * *

One day I returned from guard duty and my friends told me that there was a group of partisans in the village and among them one's name was Henrik. He asked about me. This happened about a year after we had parted from each other. I understood the group passed through the village, and that they began to look for me when they saw Kovpak's partisans. I was on guard duty at the time, just a few kilometers from the village. I was happy when I learned he was alive and fighting, but I was very sorry we had not met. I was planning to bring him to me.

Year's end 1943. I participated in many battles. I returned from the Carpathian mountains and went out on new missions. Now we walked to Poland, our Poland, the place where we lived with our family. We were planning to strike the Germans and take revenge there.

We are passing through the same areas where we had organized ourselves in the past. We see the empty and sad towns, with no Jews…

One day, when we walked alongside a forest, shots were raining down on us. We were sure that nationalist Ukrainians were shooting at us. We immediately surrounded the forest and when we took the first prisoner, it turned out that partisans and their commander Alyosha were shooting at us. This was the group where my brother was supposed to be. Clearly I was happy.

The Jewish partisans of our group gathered together and decided to go look for their old friends.

I cleaned my weapons and myself, and we went out to look for them while we were riding on horses. You should see how partisans in Kovpak's unit look.

When we entered their camp we did not recognize the people. Almost all of them had been replaced.

My friend Grisha Rosenblatt, who was an organizer of the group together with my brother, saw I was approaching the commander. I noticed immediately that the expressions on their faces were not regular. We were greeted with serious and concerned looks.

“Yes,” the commander said, “You had a heroic brother. He fought like a lion. He took revenge and fought like a hero. He was recommended to receive the Order of Lenin.”

I went away sad and depressed. I had lost everything. I kept on fighting and was wounded.


[Page 224]

Return to Poland

Summer 1944

The last night in the Hospital for Partisans in Kiev was endless. I turned from side to side and decided in the middle of the night to go away in the morning. I was fed up with everything – the Ukrainians with their murderous and bloodthirsty anti-Semitism, the aimless sad life, the local Jews who believed in Communism after they were murdered and butchered by their neighbors. The borders were open but they remained among the Gentiles, alongside the graves of thousands of their brothers and sisters. Only a few of them left for the western countries.

I did not know where I would go.

I decided to go out on the first train traveling west to the last station that had been liberated by the Soviet army.

This was in July.

I am running to the train station. For some reason I feel relieved. I have been freed from carrying bundles, from dragging weapons. My heart is also lighter. I felt I was leaving behind a period of miserable Jewish life in the Diaspora, a persecuted and tortured life under the German regime, and the heroic life of the partisans. Everything had ended. I am going on a new and unknown path, but one full of hope. I am a hero because I wore out the murderer; I wore out the German, Ukrainian, and Polish murderers.

“Where is the train going?” I asked.

“To the west.”

I am sitting on my bundle in an open railway car. I see the sky, the beautiful sky.

Even when I stood alongside the pit I looked at the heavens. Now they were different. They let me look and see them to my heart's content.

The train was moving me from side to side because it was not going forward. I had not slept at night but I was not tired. I wanted to see everything: the sky, the villages, the Great Land…

Now I am leaving the Great Land and traveling to the small land, but my land. Our land. Here, on Russian land, everything is soaked with Jewish blood.

We are going by small and big stations. People of the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police, are checking papers and arresting soldiers and ordinary citizens they do not like.

Peasant women sit outside and sell milk, cheese, sour cream, and black bread. I jumped off the car at one of the stations and bought some food. I asked one of the people if there were any Jews there.

“No, before the war there were Jews, they were killed…”

I travel for a few hours and do not find a Jew at any station.

“Where am I?” I ask.

I am told this is Belarus. We continue on our way, getting closer to the west. They tell me that after a few more stations we will cross the former border of what had been Poland. The stations will be Sarny and Rokitno. I remember we fought in this region two years ago. We would meet Jews in the villages and forests who were hiding after they fled their villages. I thought Jews would still be living here, and that was the case. When the train entered the Rokitno station, I recognized Jewish faces of former partisans and of Jews who had hidden with peasants and in the forests. They told me I could remain here and get along. Then an interesting thing happened.

* * *

I wandered on the Rokitno streets. A young man leaning on two canes came towards me. It was Grisha from Zofiovka, the first organizer of the Jewish partisan group. He, Chaim Vochin, and my brother Chaim Rozenson were the ones who got organized and obtained weapons when all the Jews in the ghetto did not believe they would kill everyone, even women and children.

We approached one another. I remembered when he gave me a basket of bullets in the ghetto so I could take them out to the forest. He looked at me and I looked at his canes. I noticed he was limping on one foot. Indeed it was Grisha, whom I would see going out on missions with his long automatic rifle. He was walking upright, proud, showing no fear on his face. He encouraged everyone, consoled us that we would wipe out all the murderers. After we got to the Russian unit, we were separated. He was attached to the first battalion and I was sent to the third. He carried out important missions, especially in the organization of the Jewish group within the Russian unit to save a Jewish group from Galicia. Two years had passed since then. He was wounded and sent to the hospital, and after he was released, I was put in the hospital. Is there any greater and more natural happiness than a meeting of two fighters after so many years of fighting and wandering?

“Sankeh!” “Grisha!” We understood immediately from the moment we met up again that we would stay together.

We ate together; we slept in the same room and talked together, telling stories. He organized everything from the first day. We lived together. We were connected to each other not as family members, not as friends, but with a much stronger connection. Both of us had remained alive from the Jewish group. Both of us had been wounded. We were not two. We were one. He took me to Jewish families who remained alive and introduced me to them. This was in July of 1944 when the war was still going on. The Red Army pursued the Germans to Berlin, and we had already been liberated. Here for the first time I met Jewish young men and women in their prime. We got together and told each other stories about our experiences, and even laughed heartily. This meant Hitler had not destroyed all the Jews.

* * *

In September of 1944, after we had gotten organized and had a room, a table and a bed we had received from the local Jewish partisans, after we had met all the local Jews that had gathered together from the forests and the hiding places, we decided we could not go on sitting there. We made up our minds to go to Grisha's town, where my family had also lived after the extermination on Yom Kippur in 1942.

Thus we arrived at Kiwerce, which is situated near Zofiovka and other Jewish towns.

Here again something special happened.

I am walking on the street and I see the Pole, Pan Kaminsky, who took all the possessions from my family to save us and actually tricked us.

My legs and hands began shaking. I knew I was sinning when I let him keep on living, but I did not cause him any harm. I could not look at his face.

I do not remember if I told Grisha I saw him. The Gentile looked at me and disappeared.

We decided not to take revenge so as not to make trouble with the NKVD, something that might mess up our plans for the future.

Grisha found his future wife there. He took her to Rokitno later and married her there.

* * *

I decided my first mission was to take the daughter of my sister from the Gentile family if no harm had befallen her and she was still alive.

We had to travel by small villages in the forests. We were no longer partisans who could walk at night in the forests without fear. Now we were regular civilians and also Jews. Grisha had a pistol in his possession, but there were many nationalistic Ukrainians in the forests, and it was dangerous to wander alone. Nevertheless we decided to get to that village at any price, on farmers' carts and on foot. Grisha was the one who said we must take the child now. He thought this was an important mission.

It was very hard for me to imagine what the meeting with the child would be like after the time that had gone by.

All night long I tried to remember how the girl had looked on that evening when we left her with the farmer and how she would look now. Would she recognize me or not? After a whole day of wandering from one village to another, we arrived on foot at the small village.

The same way, the same trees, the same small huts, and the same groves. Nothing had changed.

The day ended and it began to get dark.

“Was this a dream?” I said to myself. Here by this window we stood different times at night: hungry, filthy, crawling with lice, tired, exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Through the window we would see Goldaleh with her long golden hair in the farmers' bed. Sometimes we would feel envy but also comforted that she would stay alive.

Now I am standing in the same place and waiting for Grisha who would wait a few more minutes before we would go in. Those were sacred moments.

When I was standing there I still did not know if the child and her parents and my sister Chava were alive. But ever since I knew Henrik (Chaim) had fallen, I understood that the child and my sisters and brother-in-law did not receive any help. I understood bad tidings were waiting for me here.

Suddenly…

At that moment a few cows were coming from the forest. Behind them walked a gaunt girl with golden hair cut in a messy style, neither short nor long. She was dirty, unwashed, wearing a torn dress and held a long stick in her hand.

This was Goldaleh, Genia Lisovsky, bringing the cows into the yard.

She did not see my friend Grisha and me looking at her. Grisha asked me if I recognized her, if that was my niece.

But I could not restrain myself. I ran to her, grabbed her arm, looked at her little face and asked:

“Goldaleh, do you recognize me?”

I looked at the dirty child, her bare feet covered with mud, the torn dress on her flesh. I wanted to cry.

 

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“Goldaleh, don't you recognize your uncle?”

The child was silent. She wanted to detach herself from my hand, but I held her strongly.

“Goldaleh, I am your uncle; we were together in the forest. I want to take you now. We will be together. We are free.”

She answered me now. “I am not going with you. If Papa and Mama are not alive, I am not coming with you. I have a Mama and Papa,” and she entered the house.

I was stunned, overcome by shock.

We considered the situation and decided to take the child at any price, even by force if we did not have another choice.

We sat on the stones and discussed the situation. We had two options: to enter the house and take her by force without asking her new parents, or letting her go to sleep and convincing Pani Lisovsky later on in the evening that she should bring the child to Rovna on the train. We would get money and clothes and give her everything we had.

We sat there until it was totally dark. No one came out of the house. The child did not tell her new mother anything. When I approached the window, I saw her lying in the bed. I stood there a long time looking at her. Two and a half years had gone by. This was the same girl, but she looked different. There were no more golden braids, but strips of hair cut in many directions, long here and short there, like in the jungle. Her arms were long and thin, black. Her face had also become long and pale. The child's face looked tired. She was sleeping. Pani Lisovsky was deep in her work and had no idea of what would take place in a little while.

We knocked quietly and carefully at the door.

“Good evening,” said Grisha in his Wolyn-accented Polish.

The woman asked who we were and what we wanted.

I did not say a word. I wanted her to recognize me. After a few minutes she understood what was going on.

She asked me if I am one of the brothers, if I stayed alive and how I stayed alive.

“Yes, Pani Lisovsky, I remained alive.” It is hard to believe, but this is a fact, I said to myself.

“Do you know why we have come?” I asked.

“Who is the man?” she asked.

“The man is a commander in the partisans,” I said. “Pani Lisovsky, I want to take my niece with me.”

“This is out of the question,” she said. “The child is mine. Her name is Genia Lisovsky. We have already changed her name and registered her officially as our daughter.”

My friend and I exchanged glances. We knew this was a serious problem. They decided not to return the child, and the little girl had grown accustomed to her life.

Night had already fallen. What would we do?

Grisha kept on talking to her and explained to her that I remained alone from the entire family. She must understand this and return the child. We would pay her for everything.

Her husband was not there and I did not ask where he was. Perhaps he was no longer alive and she could do as she pleased. The child was hers. She has no children and no family. She had grown used to the child. She cannot be alone, this is her child.

We were in a difficult situation. We understood it, but we could not give in. I spoke to her in a very few words. I could not speak because I was so emotional.

We left this child with you until after the war. We gave you addresses in America and Palestine so you could turn to them if we did not stay alive. And if I remained alive, how can I leave my niece with you? I will take her from you nicely or not nicely.”

Grisha prevented me from speaking harshly and we went outside. We stood like that deep in our thoughts in the darkness.

Not very far from us in a grove, the Polish army camped. We heard about this from the soldiers we encountered on our way. There were Jewish officers among them. We talked with one of them and told him about our problem.

These officers in the Polish army were Jews who had returned from Russia. They had not found their families who were murdered by the German murderers. When they heard that a Jewish girl was here, they became very emotional. (Later we learned that Pani Lisovsky had already taken advantage of this before and received food items and clothing from them). They advised me not to take the child by force and promised me they would take the child in a nice way.

It was a long time until Pani Lisovsky was convinced that she would have to hand over the girl, if not today then tomorrow, because the war was ending, the Germans were defeated, the world was getting back to normal, and all the children would be returned to the Jews.

We traveled to the next town. We obtained money and objects from the Jews who remained and prepared everything at the home of Jewish acquaintances in Rovna. Pani Lisovsky had to bring the child there the next day. That is what had been agreed because the child did not want to come with me. Therefore, she had to bring the child and leave her with the Jewish family whose name was Borak.

I waited impatiently. I was not sure this would actually happen. But it did happen.

Pani Lisovsky arrived with the child. She took everything she was given and disappeared. We saw that the woman parted from the child with a heavy heart. She did not say goodbye to her out loud so the child would not think she was leaving her for good. We could easily see what was happening in her heart, but there was no other way.

And now I had in my possession my niece, Goldaleh, dirty, barefoot, dressed in a long torn dress. I was no longer alone. I had someone from my family with me, meaning I had someone and something to live for.

There were young Jewish girls there who had survived, and they asked me to give them the child. I did not understand what they meant. After a few hours, they brought me Goldaleh, but she was not the same child. This affected me more than our first meeting. Now I saw the real Goldaleh. Her hair was cut; she was cleaned up and wore a short clean dress with shoes and socks on her feet.

Now we looked at one another. I hugged her to my heart. I cried and she let me hug and kiss her. Something woke up in the child's heart during the few hours she spent with the young women. All the Jewish families snatched her from me, and they all wanted to hold her, to wash and feed her. She got used to me and began to call me Uncle. I had quite serious conversations with her. She told me about her life there in the village and also about her parents who were murdered. I saw she knew and understood everything.

1944. Life in the town of Rokitno was very sad and boring. My friend Grisha had a room, and he was getting along nicely. He married a woman, Fanny, a very refined and good woman. She agreed that the child and I would live with them. We all lived together as one family.

The Ukrainian nationalists were attacking, so we armed ourselves with rifles. At night the rifles were hanging above our beds.

The Russians and the Poles drank a lot. That was their life, and beyond that, nothing interested them. The Jews who had been saved from the forests and those who had returned from Russia would gather together. Those people were just remnants of families. Only a few families remained whole. Matches were made between older men and young women. The rest wandered around alone and did not know what to do with themselves.

After a few months of this life the Jews began to see the light. They understood that it was impossible to live on land that was drenched with Jewish blood.

I was the first to travel to Lublin.

* * *

After five years of wandering, the ghetto, the pits, running away from Germans, Ukrainians, and murderous Poles, after years of partisan battles, hospitals and endless suffering, I am traveling on a train taking me to Lublin. In the car where I am sitting I hear a mix of languages: Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish. Peasant men, women and children are traveling. Everyone has baskets full of food. Everyone is well dressed and they all look good. The Russians are military people or bureaucrats who were sent by the Soviets to the liberated areas.

I am sitting deep in thought. Where are the Jewish mothers and children? They are rotting in the ground.

Not far from me a few Gentile women are sitting, Polish women. I hear them talking about Jews. One of them is saying that many Yids are still alive.

“It is a pity they did not kill them all,” another responds.

“In Lublin there are already more than enough of them in the streets,” said a third one.

When I heard things like this from the Russians in Kiev, I would answer immediately, but here in Poland I remained silent. I held my tongue out of anger. The Poles had also not changed. It is the Russians are settling among you now, I thought to myself.

The train blows its whistle. I jump over the step. I am standing in the Lublin train station. Poles, Russians, women, men, children – only Jews are not seen. I fled from here in 1939. I escaped from the Germans to be saved with my whole family, and now I have returned by myself. Indeed, I had a small treasure in my possession, there in Rokinto with my friend Grisha. Here we left a sister and brother-in-law and two small children, but at that moment it did not even occur to me to look for them and find out if they remained alive.

I am walking on the streets of Lublin, the former Jewish city, where there had been so many Jews, and businesses, factories, Jewish organizations: “The Jewish Labor Bund,” the Zionist “Betar,” the Revisionist organization “Brit Hachayal.” When had we came to hear Jabotinsky shortly before the war broke out?…

I turned towards Lubartowska Street. I saw Jews on the streets who looked like they came from the world to come. All of them were pale. Their faces were frightened, and they were poorly dressed. They stood on the sidewalk in twos and threes, talking together.

On the streets you could hear melodies from radio speakers. From time to time news was given, and then Russian songs would be played again.

I asked where there were more Jews and where I could find lodging.

I was sent to “Peretz House.” There I met many Jews from the neighboring towns and fellows who were with the partisans and in the forests. I felt there was Jewish activity here, but I did not know where it came from.

I lay down to sleep in a corner on the floor and quickly fell asleep, tired and hungry.

The next day I went for a walk in the streets again. I found acquaintances from the towns and from the Zionist Labor Organization whom I had known before the war.

We ate in a restaurant. I saw the Jews were beginning a new life without taking into consideration the number that remained.

I decided to return the next day to Rokitno and to pass on everything I had seen in Lublin to the local Jews. I supposed they might leave Rokitno and come here.

* * *

I saw a few hundred Jews in Lublin, but I felt lonesome, alone, and sad. Tomorrow I would go to Rokinto to my child and my friend. I could no longer stay without them.

When I was getting ready for the second night, I met one of the people from our town. He recognized me and asked me how I stayed alive and where I was planning to go. I told him I was going to sleep in the place where all the Jews lodged. He asked me why I was not sleeping at my sister's and if I had already been there.

“What?” I asked, “My sister is alive?”

He took my hand and said: “Come with me!”

It is easy to imagine what I was feeling in my heart. Was this true

He opened the door and my eyes saw… a large room… and in it – my sister's face… only my eyes saw because my brain could not grasp what was happening. Was this true? Was this real or a dream ?… In her hand she is holding a spoon and she is stirring something in a pot on the stove.

She shouts: “Sankeh, you are alive! What about the rest? Are they alive? Tell me Sankeh, where is everyone? You are alive. It is good you are alive! Where is everyone? Tell me! Come in. Sankeh is alive!”

The big room did not belong to them so they put me into their small room. I saw Hersh there and the two little girls. I recognized them and could see everything they had been through on their faces.

I did not utter a word. I waited for all of us to calm down, and then I told them that all I had left was our niece Goldaleh. That was the size of the family.

We sat until the late night hours. I heard their stories about everything that had happened to them. Whoever had seen how the Germans destroyed the Jews in the small town and how they survived could understand how much wisdom, energy and initiative were needed for that. I saw them as two real legendary heroes.

They belonged to a group of Jews who stayed alive in order to work after the town was destroyed. When they were surrounded so they would be exterminated, my sister Chaya took her two small girls. She gathered her courage, and with super-human energy, she removed the yellow star and walked by the Germans. She went out of the town. Hersh also went out. They went to Gentile acquaintances. After there were no more Jews in the town, they wandered from one Gentile to another. They left their possessions, which included a few different kinds of fabrics and other clothing materials with the priest and other Gentiles. They planned it so that something would always remain. If one Gentile betrayed them, a few possessions would stay with another Gentile. In every place where they stayed overnight or for a few days, they would pay from their possessions. Hersh was the person who ran around at night from one Gentile to another. So that no one would notice him, he had to see but not be seen. They struggled in this way until they found a place with a farmer in a village not far from the town. The poor farmer hid them and they paid him. He installed a hiding place under the floor for them, and four people lived there in the cellar. Every week Hersh had to go out to the town and bring fabrics to pay the farmer. There were many serious problems concerning the girls. They were nervous from lying all the time in the cellar in suffocating air, from the impossibility of seeing the world. More than once one of the girls would cry and scream. That frightened the farmer. He was nervous and suspicious of the neighbors. Then their father would take one of them out at night to the forest, to frighten her that if she did not sit quietly in the cellar, he would leave her in the forest and even hit her.Those were the most tragic moments. That was the main problem of the Jews in the ghetto: Did the men have to leave their wives and children and go to the forest, or did they need to stay with them so that if they had to die, they would all die together. The family fought here against the large German empire and also against the surrounding population. They had no weapons, but used entirely different means, by day and by night, every hour, and it went on like this for a few years. More than once Hersh was attacked by Germans or Polish partisans who wanted to murder him, but every time he got away from them. If a family like that remained complete after so much horror, they were heroes.

When I heard the stories, something changed within me. I decided to bring the child to them.

I was the first messenger who went out from Rokinto to the big wide world. When I returned and told them about what I found in Lublin, the word spread through the grapevine.

The Jews began to wander westward with the intention of immigrating to the Land of Israel.

* * *

The child was with me for more than half a year.

After I returned from Lublin, I told her she had an aunt, an uncle, and two cousins her age. When she goes there, she will have children to play with, and she will go to school and learn. She will have a house, a father and a mother. She was silent, and I know she understood she would never have her own parents again. Perhaps she understood this better than I, because she felt this more deeply than I did.

We packed her things and boarded a train. We arrived at the border. Goldaleh did not have papers, and the Russian police did not allow her to leave Russia to go to Poland. I was allowed to go out.

I stood with the child at the train station in the small village and could not continue on my way. I had already planned to go back, but I had an idea.

I told the train driver who the child was and where I was taking her. In the end we reached an agreement. I paid him, and he put her into the engine car. That is how we crossed the border and reached Lublin.

The child was black, covered with coal dust.

My surviving sister's family received another child, and my sister said, “Now I have three girls.”

I saw all three of the girls, well dressed, going to the cinema in Lublin.

And I went on my way, to organize the Jewish youth. Together with my friend Grisha I traveled to cross borders illegally so I could arrive in the Land of Israel as quickly as possible.

On long nights of guard duty, during the time when I served in the Israel Defense forces, I would press the rifle close to my body and say to myself: what a pity Vonka cannot see me here with the rifle in my land, on our small land – but it is our homeland!?

 

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Postcard sent by the sister of the author

 

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Postcard sent by the author follows the postcard from the sister

 

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Certificate of partisan service

 

Afterword

I have told this story to all the people who did not see all this with their own eyes and to all those doubtful people who do not believe all this actually happened.

But in the end I must also tell all the dead:

I saw you in your last hours when you stood on the edge of the pit and waited for the volley of bullets from the German enemy. I saw you and your pale faces, without expression, eaten up by despair. I remember your clothes, and even your hats and your shoes. I looked carefully into your eyes, I read your thoughts, because your thoughts were my thoughts, and my thoughts were your thoughts: Does the world know what they are doing to us? Why did all this become our destiny and the destiny of our sisters and children? Would more Jews remain in the world? And if so, would there be revenge?

You did not flee because you had despaired of the cultured world, because you already knew who the Germans, the Ukrainians, and the Poles were. You despaired of the world that was further away, from America and from our brothers across the ocean. You did not flee because you believed all our people were destroyed.

I came to give you an answer to your thoughts in the last hours and minutes of your lives. Despite all the pain in this, I must tell you: during all the years since the Holocaust and until this day I kept silent, but I researched and studied everything that concerns us.

I told us, and I always say: When they killed us, when they murdered us, when they robbed us, when they humiliated us -- because I am always with you, I see you day and night, on holidays and regular days, in happiness and sadness, and more than once I have fled in my sleep from the pit.

I have come to the conclusion that during all those years of being put down, of hatred and humiliation, of murder and destruction, there was the silence and the agreement of the nations of the world. We were without defense and without supervision. In the hours of despair we were left without a leader who could have guided us not to go on our last way without resisting and with such exemplary order.

Actually during those moments when you went down into the pit, red with your children's blood, ordinary life went on in those places you were thinking about. Your brothers in the United States and in the Land of Israel did not demonstrate and did not shout, whether they knew what was happening or not.

Indeed, no revenge came. And I must add to your pain: When the German army collapsed and your blood had not yet dried up and your flesh was still on your bones, many of your brothers and sisters settled, even those who were the sole survivors of their entire families, on German soil, so they could have a comfortable life and money. Do you remember how we stripped off and threw aside our clothes together with our money and our gold? And now, almost immediately after the murder, even though the Gentiles kept on spilling our blood, our brothers settled on their land -- not to take revenge, to destroy or set fire, not to return to themselves their own sense of self-respect, but rather for the sake of despicable pleasures.

Just as no one came to our help in those days, no one voiced a claim to bring your remains to the Land of Israel. You are scattered in the fields, in the forests, and even in the towns. You are covered with gardens, sidewalks and roads. Wheat is growing on your graves, and the murderers eat from that and enjoy themselves.

 

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