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[Page 327]

On Martyrdom

By Eliezer Shod

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

Note: the author describes the events, his thoughts and emotion in a splendidly detailed manner using poetic language and passages from literary sources. Because of difficulty in translating this type of writing, the translation has been abridged .

Eliezer Shod is the son of Israel Shod, and was born in 1916 in Krivichi.

The Slaughter

The twenty eighth of April, 1942 - the day that all of natives of our town, Krivichi, wherever they are will remember until their dying day. It was Tuesday, a gray and routine Tuesday. I woke up early and walked to the drudgery of a job that the Judenrat gave me by order of the Nazi rulers. I left my father and sister at home not having any inkling that something horrible was about to occur.

At seven in the morning I got to the house of the Judenrat, on the other side of town, and from there I walked together with Hillel Steingold and Shmuel Katzovitz—may god avenge their spilled blood. As ordered, we worked in the train station of Krivichi. When we were just a few steps from the station we felt that there was some unexplained tension in the air. Quickly, rumors spread that they were capturing Jews in order to send them to the front for certain jobs. For a minute we stood in shock, not knowing where to go. From somewhere my aunt came running. She urged us to run as fast as we could and to hide from the Nazis and the collaborators from the local population and any other non-Jews in the town who were helping them.

We quickly jumped into the cellar of the building next to us. This building was emptied of all of its residents already from the days the Soviets ruled in 1939. The owners and the tenants were sent far into Russian-Asia as traitors to the Soviet Union. We knew this would be a good hiding place, but a few young local men saw us and immediately ran off. We knew they were going to tell the local police of our hiding place. We quickly left. I ran to an attic of one of the homes and hid there. I found other Jews here among them: Jacob Shod, Mordechai Schulman, and one or two others that I no longer remember.

When I looked back, I realized that my friends Hillel and Shmuel weren't with me. I never saw them again. I will never know where they had gone.

I settled in my new hiding place with much apprehension. Obviously we were all shaking from dread and in great panic. We huddled together. We wanted to be as small as we could so no one would notice us. We kept quiet. We even tried to slow our breathing, even trying to stop altogether for fear that our own breath would betray us to our captors. So like this we sat silently. The silence was choking us… All of a sudden…

Crack. Crack. Crack. Three shots from a rifle echoed in the deathly silence. It seemed like they were shooting very near us. I looked through a hole in the wall and I could see a local policeman, Kazimir Savitczki running back and forth. He was shooting in the air. Our fear became even greater.

Outside it seemed that the panic was everywhere. All of the people who hadn't yet found hiding places ran in circles looking for ones. After a few minutes I could see the armed SS men, bearing the skull emblem on their heads, and their left arms through the cracks. I saw my relative Meyer Shod running swiftly into the barn and hiding behind the wall as if he was trying to get inside of it. The SS men saw him. They ran behind him and executed him on the spot. They also shot his grandson, Zalman.

During those minutes I saw with my own eyes the son of Meyer, the father of the child who was just shot, pulled out by the local collaborators. Later I found out the pursuer found him in the attic of that house and brought him down. I saw the same sort of sight with Hillel the tailor, a resident of the house where we were hiding. He was a hard working Jew who labored daily to provide for his family, his wife and his four children, one of whom was only a few weeks old. The SS people took the wife with the baby in her arms. The mother was crying and pleading for the baby's soul. While they were pulled the SS men took the baby from its mother's arms and threw him with all his might against the wall of the house as if it was nothing. They continued walking…

I saw Shalom and his mother Faiga Botvinik taken, but I couldn't see where. I was too fearful and couldn't stand up. I thought of how Shalom returned to Krivichi from his long journey. He traveled to many countries and even arrived in the land of Israel, but now he came back to a world of no return….

Ben Zion was mute and very weak and didn't understand at all what was occurring, he barely pulled himself along with a blank look on his face. All of a sudden he stopped walking and leaned against the wall of the house by the entrance. The policeman Adamovich who was one of the collaborating police became furious with him. He began hitting him with the butt of his rifle with all his might on his head and his body with no pity until Ben Zion started shaking violently and blood engulfed him in the place that he stood. I saw Gershon Tauger and his wife Rivka Rachel nee Schulman pulled by the Nazis and also Shoshka, Shimshon and Schmuel Kacovic. It seemed like Shmuel wanted to join his family. He came voluntarily out of the place where we were hiding and turned himself over to the police. May god revenge the blood of all the ones that I saw and mentioned and all the ones I didn't see and didn't mention. I only found out the details of the last walk some days later when I left the hiding place.

We sat there without moving any of our limbs and without saying a word for many, many hours, nerve-racking hours that seemed to last an eternity. It nearly drove us crazy. We lost all sense of time. We were oblivious to the days going by. We didn't even notice if the sun was coming up or going down. It was as if our brains had undergone a radical transformation to block out reality and protect us from insanity.

All of a sudden darkness was engulfed by crimson shadows. This was very sudden and it pierced our mind and senses. The sky filled with illuminated crimson flames and plumes of smoke. We didn't dare look into each other's eyes. It was as if our hearts beat together. We felt that something extremely cruel was occurring all around us, but we still refused to understand that our dear ones and townspeople are no more. They perished in the fire and smoke…

One after the other cringed; as if we were afraid of our own shadows we left our hiding place. Once again we huddled together.

We left town as quickly as we could and fled into the forest. We walked into the thickest part of the forest. There was deathly silence around us. It was if we were the sole survivors in a world of deceased spirits. The huge bonfire that could be seen from everywhere under the red skies filled us with a sense of a surreal apocalypse. Could it be? We asked ourselves. Is everyone gone? But we didn't expect an answer. It was as if a power greater than ourselves pushed us forward into the forest and away from the torturous creatures chasing us.

We spent two days and nights in the forest. Finally the will to survive took over. We were hungry and thirsty, and filled with a longing for those who were dear to us. We had no energy. We left the forest and found ourselves near the labor camp of Knihinin in the train station Nyaka. W e felt apathetic toward all that would happen to us. We decided not to run anymore. We sat to rest near the forest and didn't even try to hide ourselves. We lost all regard to our survival.

After a short time the German Reichswehr guards found us and took inside the camp. It was there, behind the barbed wire, that we found the bitter truth of what had occurred from other survivors who had escaped and come here. Not only did Jews tell us the story, but also a few pure-hearted Christian people who saw the torture but could do nothing. All the Jews and their families, including babies and the elderly, who were found in their homes were taken by the SS killers and their collaborators, policemen and other locals. They were taken family by family to a central location, the garden of the Catholic Church at the edge of town. When they got there they were ordered to sit quietly and obey all orders.

They sat there for hours not knowing their fate. Babies in the arms of their mothers cried from hunger, thirst, fear, and torture. Women, children, and old men were kept from food and water. They were parched. Young men and women, teenagers, who just now became self-aware, found themselves at the edge of nothingness and all the doors of their future were lost and their dreams crushed. Men who were the heads of households sat with their minds going crazy with the pain of being helpless in the protection of their loved ones. It was as if they were in a huge desert filled with man-eating wolves closing in on them. Like this, they waited for their death penalty at the hand of their German captors. Their sentence soon arrived and they were executed in a hard and pitiless way. There was nothing that could save them. The killers got those that were still hiding, and felt that the number was sufficient. They started with a satanic ritual. The overture arrived, the last chapter of these diabolic rites. The collaborators walked among the crowded yard and announced, “All the people present that have gold, silver, or other valuables must give them to us. If you inform us of your possession and hand them to us willingly we will not harm you. You can return home with your families safely.”

Those sons-of-bitches did their evil deed with dedication and devilish cleverness. They wanted to satisfy their German masters. But it could be that some of them wanted the gold and silver for themselves before the SS arrived in full force. Most of the Jews did not listen to them. They had no illusions. They knew that the end was near and that no one would leave the scene alive. So how could a few hours change the inevitable? But a few of them were still holding onto this promise, like Shalom and his mother Faiga Botvinik, Mendel Shulman from Peskovyzcyna and others whom I don't remember.

Mendel had a very precious diamond and before he went for his last walk he put it in an intimate part of his body. He was under the illusion it would save his life. As soon as he gave them the diamond they pulled him away from the crown and beat him to see if he had more diamonds. From there he was pulled to the place of slaughter where he was killed.

However, the story of his fate and his mother's has a few versions. Some say that they brought with them much gold and jewelry to the garden. As soon as the collaborators realized that, they took it from them and killed them outside the churchyard. The other version says Shalom told the SS men that he had a lot of gold hidden in his house. So he was taken with armed guards to his house where they took everything from him and there they brutally killed him. The third version is that after they went to the house and took all of his treasures Shalom was told to dig a hole and there the killers buried them alive.

What is the true version, no one knows. One thing we know is that they were cruelly killed. Eventually when they realized that no one else was going to give them treasures, they started searching them. They beat them cruelly and the cries of pain hung heavy in the air. It seemed that by then that the killers didn't care about gold anymore, they became very enthralled with the relentless beating the Jewish townspeople with their sickles. The screams of the young women pierced the air. The young girls were pulled forcefully and their clothes tore…

The policemen and some of the local population started raping them in front of their mothers, fathers, and brothers. Mothers were raped in front of husbands and daughters. Then there were orders by the SS to stand in lines. From here started the last road of the sad parade that marched into oblivion. A long journey, we walked slowly despite their order to hurry. Like this marched the Jews of my town. Men, women with babies, small children, teenagers, and the elderly all took their last walk.

On the other side of the road stood the Christians of the town. Many of the villagers came to plunder. They did that and clapped their hands and threw rocks at those of us walking. Particularly cruel was a woman named Stasonya Badoyaha. She killed, with an ax, Gutka, the daughter of Henya Razer. She took part in the killing of mothers and children. She stood with the crowd laughing and said, “Where is your God you filthy Jews? You say you are the chosen people so where is your God and why isn't he saving you from this undeniable kaput?” While she was talking she drew her finger across her throat to signify death. The crowd laughed when she yelled.

The Jews that were taken on their last walk continued on their way, forgotten by both God and Man. The first row of the moving line already seemed to be sinking into the ground of the Vyhan ready to be swallowed up. The middle and the end of the line were still walking through the street of the town.

The front of the line was then ordered to stop by a deserted building at the edge of a trail that took one nowhere. This wooden building was dilapidated and stood at a distance of 100 meters from the Potlianka, a nearly dried-up stream that had more junk and filth on its course than water. This became the destination for all whom the Nazis captured. And what should be done there? This question was not left in the air for long. Soon, the answers came…

The end of the line still hadn't arrived at that spot, and already the Germans started barking orders to give them gold and silver and anything valuable…

Not one person answered the call. Not only that, anyone who had any money of any denomination, zloti, zarbonci, rubles, started tearing it into small pieces, throwing it to the wind. Coins were thrown into the mud so that the Germans and their local henchmen could not profit by them. The murderers became enraged and jumped on the helpless Jews, beating them … Immediately after that, they started barking, “Take your clothes off! Disrobe! Fold your clothes in an orderly manner!”

They started using the butts of the rifles, their clubs, sticks, whips, and any tool that they could find, to mercilessly beat us without regards to women, children, and old. Group by group, the armed guards pushed Jews into the dilapidated old house while beating them mercilessly. At the same time, there were rows of people who kept coming there, and received similar treatment. The screams of the tortured pierced the air. You could hardly describe them. It seemed as if their screams would travel all the way to Budslav, and their echoes would be heard as far away as Dolhinov.

The tortured disrobed while the Germans continued to beat them. Men, young and old, were left standing in their underclothes. Women and young girls, mothers and daughters of Israel, how were they to disrobe to the eyes of all? How could they be made to disrobe while the eyes of the lead-colored sky glanced on indifferently, not caring about these outrages? The beasts did not give them a moment to hesitate or to be modest. With a murderous anger, they attacked them and tore their clothes with wild screams…

The helplessness of the hundreds of the captured, the smell of the beaten bodies and the sight of the spilled blood, and especially the fresh whiteness of the young women and girls that could be seen through their torn clothes awakened the most ghastly urges that a human being could experience. Though they suffered most torturous rapes, no one called out, “Enough!” In the clear eyes of the sun, these evils occurred in a space that was filled with the shouts of the tortured, shouts for help and for a savior, and screams of crazy, mocking laughter that was delighted to see the torture.

Amongst the young girls that were raped and tortured to death with satanic cruelty were Simka, Masha, Raisel, SK, D K…

Many said D. K became insane and started dancing wildly around a bonfire that some of the murderers had started. She danced naked, deliriously and shaking uncontrollably until even her torturers became fearful of her. One of the collaborators of the town, a man by the name of Adamovich, jumped on her and started hitting her with the butt of his rifle. He struck her many times until she finally fell to the ground, and then he hit her more. She was still twitching and breathing when he picked her up, threw her in the air and into the dilapidated building, on top of the Jews who were still alive…

All of a sudden, some high-ranking SS officers arrived. As soon as they arrived, people knew that they must quickly finish and that this could not continue in a disorderly manner anymore, so they hurriedly pushed the people while shooting them. So when the last of them crowded that place, the Germans and their commanders started nailing the windows and doors shut.

The local police and other volunteers brought containers of kerosene and poured them on the outer walls of the building. Shortly, they lit the wooden building and huge flames came from all sides. Horrible, tortured screams emanated from inside, and like this burned and turned to dust the Jews of Krivichi. Fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts… Earth, don't cover their blood. We will remember and we will not forget the Amalek of the 20th century.

While the flames devoured our dear martyrs, the beasts, the Germans and their collaborators, already drunk from the blood and glutted with carnage had a wild feast. They carried on as if it were a festive occasion, but while doing that, they guarded every window and door of the building and shot at anyone who attempted to break out.

The cruelest of cruel. More cruel than the most wicked of the Roman emperors. Even they would offer a pardon to gladiators and prisoners who had survived a most horrible trial by ordeal. But our killers had pity for no one.

But all of a sudden, there was a great shock. From inside the flames of the building came somebody completely engulfed by fire like a human torch. He forcefully took from one of the SS men a machinegun and killed him. He started shooting everywhere while yelling, “Even the tenth generation will avenge our blood! And with my soul will die my enemies! Shma Israel!”

While he was shooting, they shot at him and he fell.

This testament is from Shalom Ziskind.

This is the tragic conclusion of all that occurred in that day of slaughter. 370 souls perished in all sorts of ways that day, but most were torched on the ground of the Vihan, and as I said, not one of the people who were caught survived. Later on I found out that Itzha the smith, and Gitlitz (a family member), were caught but were not taken to the place of the massacre on account of their professions, which were needed by the Germans. The same was true of Shalom Ziskind the barber, who wasn't even taken, but was left in the police station.

From many I heard that all this occurred while the Zunderkommandant was not around. On that day he wasn't in town. Some people say that if he had been there, the cruelty of these murders would not have been as awful, but I don't believe it even a bit. I think that he was not there on purpose. Maybe he even received instructions to leave the area in order to later claim that the massacre had not been ordered by the German high command.

I heard many tales about what occurred the next day. Some said there were plans to make a common grave in the ground of the Vihan, where they would collect all the bodies of people who were killed in their homes, and in their yards and in the street.

 

The Labor Camp in Kiniahinina

As I told you before, we stayed in the camp and didn't return to Krivichi. We had to survive somehow, so at that point we had to do what our German masters ordered us to do. We carried on feeling the deepest humiliation and not an ounce of self-respect. Every moment of the day passed through darkness and depression, and nights were filled with terror and nightmares. In the depths of disillusion, sometimes we felt that we were the living dead. We walked both in and outside the realm of the living.

Every day, when the dim light began to pale the veil of night, we had to get up and go to work. We were supposed to do whatever our masters desired. We cut trees in the forest and processed them into useful lumber. We dug all sorts of ditches, tunnels, and trenches.

This camp was under the supervision of the German Army. The murderers of the SS were not supposed to set foot in there, and this worked in our favor. They treated the Jews and all others who worked here in a much more humane way. There were no extraordinary tortures or molestation.

A few older soldiers were put in charge of some of the Jewish manual laborers. Corporal Willy treated us in a very respectful, human way and understood our pain. Everyday, early in the morning and again when evening came, we stood for inspection by him and to be counted and to receive instructions from him. He would never scream or curse or humiliate us as was more common with SS troops. No pushing, no hitting. Almost daily he would secretly give us some food, like a few pieces of bread and leftover cooked food from the kitchen and other things.

He also communicated with us and even suggested and urged us to try to escape as fast as we could, since he had heard rumors that this camp was going to be under the control of the SS command in Minsk, which was headed by the most infamous General Kuba. He said that he had no doubt that our situation would become very horrible, so he said that if we wanted to save ourselves we must escape to the forest.

Only a few days passed and we realized that Willy knew what he was talking about. He was telling the truth. Visits of officers from the SS headquarters in Vileyka became frequent. They would walk around the camp trying to observe our activities. There was one incident where they started bothering the Jews. If I'm not mistaken, it was a Friedman from Dolhinov who received some beatings from a sickle on his back and neck. So now it became very clear that we were in grave danger and that we must escape, in spite of all the advantages and the relative comfort that this place seemed to present, as we later found out it was only an illusion. Still, we didn't do anything active to escape because we had become accustomed to having this shelter.

At just about that time, we started hearing about some activities of the partisans in the forest far and near. A few Jews from Dolhinov who had escaped the German action in their town and came to Kianihina a few weeks before us told stories about a group of young Jews from their town who went to the forest and joined the partisans. Since April of 1942 they had been fighting the Germans and the collaborators. They were under the leadership of Ivan Timczok and Vlodia Kavilkin, a Soviet officer who had been captured by the Germans early in the war and then was helped by a Jew from Ilya to escape from the POW camp.

Today I don't remember exactly who were the Dolhinovers in the camp, but as far as I remember, there was a Friedman who I mentioned before, and also a young man by the name of Yehuda Bruch, and one named Poliskin who was from Budslav, and a relative of a Dolhinover and others. Anyway, the last two I mentioned were murdered later. We were also told that the Dolhinover partisans returned to their town and attacked the police station there and captured a lot of German weapons. But all these stories seemed like fairy tales to us. The villagers also said some stories about partisans' fights between the Germans, and also about the partisans punishing collaborators. The more we heard the stories, the more we wanted to do something. We started fantasizing about walking armed in the forest.

About three weeks before Rosh Hashanah, we heard a story about the partisans near Hatsentsitz by Ilya. They had attacked a factory there, for meat products. Also, some German troops came there to collect money from the local people, so the partisans waited for them. As soon as the Germans received the supplies, the partisans shot from all directions. This took place in the middle of the day and of the 38 German soldiers, 16 were killed and others were taken prisoner. Only a few escaped, but without their weapons. This left a huge impression on us…

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In the camp they constantly spoke about it. Not just the Jews, but even the villagers did. The bravery and the concept that this was done in daytime hours made a huge impression. The rumors that the head of the police in Ilya, a man who was from Polish and Folkdeutsche background, was now a prisoner of the partisans spread everywhere. Soon, the partisans paraded him through one village after another. They introduced him as someone who willingly came with them, and they did it knowing that the Germans would take revenge upon his family members. And his family members took part in the killing of Jews of Ilya, Viyazin and Nyaka.

Now we all started thinking of escape, but thinking and doing are two entirely different things. We were not the first to plan an escape from the camp. There were other attempts that did not work out. In some, people were killed while attempting to escape. Amongst them was Poliskin and two other people from Dolhinov who were caught and killed. A more successful attempt was carried out by Shlomo Blocher, the sisters Chaia and Masha Zuckerman, Gabriel Gitlitz, and Rafael Veisenholtz. I was told that the two last names I mentioned, for some reason returned to Krivichi, where they were caught and killed on the day they returned. I have no information as to why they went there, or how they were caught and killed.

 

The Escape to the Forest

We escaped with the knowledge and the advice of Corporal Willy, who was our guard. In our group there were 12 people, and I do not remember all their names anymore. It was on Yom Kippur of 1942, in the evening. That night, a partisan troop from a town nearby arrived in the village Paskovishzina and took livestock and burned the granaries. We could see the flames all the way in the camp. They lit up the entire area. We saw the German gendarmes running around very nervously and checking the area. We knew that in no time they would do something to the people in the camp as revenge, and we must immediately escape. That night, we decided that we should all be ready.

When Willy arrived with a very civil look on his face, he announced, “It's time.” From his expression we understood that tomorrow would be too late. We would be kaput. He said something about how early in the morning, the SS people would arrive. We stood for the evening inspection, pretending it was the usual. While he was inspecting us, he gave each of us two grenades and then locked us in a shack (?) and left us. He was sure we would do what was expected of us.

Locked in the barracks, we sat, waiting for the zero hour. Near midnight, when there was total darkness, we broke the door of the barracks. We ran outside. We had with us some wire cutters which we use to break the barbed wire. Soon we were outside of the prison camp. We started running toward the forest, to the depths of the forest. We were the first to run that night. Even today, I don't know if we were followed by the rest of the Jews of the camp.

 

With the Partisans in the Forest

Three days and nights passed and we were still walking through the forest. We had not yet reached our destination since we could only walk during night hours. On the fourth day, we found out some horrible news. Today I don't remember who gave us the news, but sometime in the evening, we found out about the last remnants of the Krivichi community. Whoever was left from the day of slaughter and the two other massacres, people who the Germans selected to work for them, were annihilated. They lived in two homes. The German killers and their assistants threw grenades into the homes and burned them. No one survived. But we had no time to mourn. It seemed that our hearts turned to stone. Numb to all the anguish. They beat to one rhythm. Go ahead. But still, deep down in our souls, we cried. Would we attain the cessation of this journey of terror?

We continued until early morning and then we jumped in the bushes as soon as light came. But to our great fear, a shepherd saw us. Our hearts filled with panic that after this long journey, we would be found by the Germans and their assistants. So with determination, we got up and surrounded him and didn't let him go on his way. We did not let him leave until nighttime came. Then we released him without hurting him. We knew that now, even if he would inform the authorities, we would be far away.

Immediately we left. Another two nights passed and then on the fifth day, we stood in the village Kaminanya, which was near the river that we aimed to get to. We knew that on the other side of the river there was an area filled with lakes and swamps that were controlled by the partisans. Although we were exhausted by the long walk, we didn't want to rest. We still wanted to get to the other side of the river, but we had to wait for the contact man of the partisans to arrive. We entered one of the farms where they served us some bread and potatoes. We rested a while, and a few of us even fell asleep. After some hours, a partisan came by and took us across the river in a boat. Some went in a boat and the ones who could swim swam across. From there they showed us a trail in the forest that we should take to arrive to the front guard of the partisan unit. We marched through the forest with our hearts filled with mixed feelings. We were sad that we were so few who reached that point, and yet excited that we almost reached our destiny. And now we had the opportunity to fight the enemy and avenge the murders of our dear ones.

After only about half an hour, we heard an order, “Stop! Who's there?”

We answered, “Friends, Jews who escaped from the Kahanihinina prison.”

“Stand here and don't move!” they barked at us. “We will come and see who you are. Do you have any weapons?”

We didn't even have a chance to answer. Two armed guards came to us. We told them all that we had experienced in the last day and expressed our strong desire to join them and fight our killers. Once again they asked if we had weapons. All we had were grenades. They asked us to give them the grenades.

To tell the truth, when we gave the grenades, we did so very reluctantly and fearfully. We heard stories of Jews who were murdered in the forest by the partisans after they gave up their weapons. During the conversation, two other partisans arrived. One of them was the head of the guard unit. When we asked who we should talk to about joining their unit, they said that we shouldn't worry and that they would immediately take us to the appropriate place. Since the grenades that we had brought seemed to them to be of good quality, it was one good thing in our favor, and maybe we could even be good fighters.

We worked with them in the deepest of the woods for about an hour, and then we arrived to a big village, Lasniki. That was where this particular unit's headquarters was located. This was the only unit located in this area. To us it seemed like they were planning a big military operation here.

As we arrived, the head of the unit started interrogating us. It was a very detailed investigation about the roads we took, how we escaped, and about the German camp and their movements in the area. When the investigation ended, we were ordered to stay and rest until they could decide how and where we would be enlisted. Our hearts filled with excitement. We saw it as being accepted as partisans.

They brought us digging tools and we started preparing zimlanki (underground places to live). When night came, we all gathered around a bonfire to warm ourselves from the cold October evening, and also to prepare some baked potatoes. Every person who was there, with no difference to how they arrived, were now citizens of the forest, and this became our commonality.

If you look at the social fabric of the partisan troops, they were all individuals without a common past or social connections who somehow arrived here. Most of them didn't know one another. Some were escaped POWs who ran away from forced labor camps. Others were villagers who suffered some torture at the hands of the Germans and their collaborators. There were other Jews who came before and after us, and each and every one of them were refugees filled with endless, burning hate, the likes of which the world had never seen before. The one commonality that we all had was the desire to fight and get revenge against the most awful enemy.

It seemed that when they warmed themselves near the bonfires, they all put their yearnings and dreams and hopes for a better tomorrow into songs and declarations of loyalty to all that was left behind. Affected by them, our hearts lit up with urges, the few Jews who arrived here just a few hours ago who joined other Jews who came earlier, escaping the annihilation in Ilya, Kurenitz, Nyaka, Vileyka, Myadel, and a few other places.

At first glance, we were part of a larger group, but at the same time we felt very lonely and isolated sitting at the table of strangers. Many, many of us were the sole survivors of families. We had no one remaining who we could love or declare our loyalty to.

We stayed there for four weeks, in an unclear situation. Were we really part of the group? Meanwhile, we were used for routine sorts of jobs as guards, helpers in the kitchen, in the yard, and also we went through basic training with weapons, cleaning weapons, oiling them, and such activities. Finally, on the third week of November of 1942, we realized that there was a lot of activity and preparation for a huge operation. Part of the troop went in one direction, near the German base in the Belarussian front. If I am not mistaken, it was a large operation in the area of Parafinov, Karlovishina, Dokshitz, and Globoki. Another part of the unit that included 20 people, amongst them myself, was left in the area to wait for instructions. We were ordered to find weapons any way we could. Without weapons, what would our future be with the partisans?

Since the villagers were always taking advantage of confused political and military times to store some weapons that had been abandoned, we attempted to buy from them. But they wanted huge amounts of money, and we could not collect such amounts. So we had no choice but to go to the old Red Army camps, which was now abandoned. This was our only chance. Everyday we would send people to look for weapons in those abandoned camps. We even went far away from where we sat.

Finally, one day, a miracle occurred. For us it was as if we'd found a great treasure. Some of our people found partially burned weapons. When we checked the weapons, we found many rifles, among them some that were of good quality. These weapons had been thrown away during the retreat. We found some Russian automatic weapons and German Schmeizers (?) and all sorts of other weapons and some ammunition and grenades. We even found knives, bombs, bullets, and artillery shells. So now we had to select the ones which were of good quality. We cleaned the useful weapons, oiled them, and we dried the gunpowder and cleared the junk out. Now we felt completely ready for battle. We got in contact with the headquarters and informed them of the artillery that we had found.

At last we heard the order to go ahead. If I am not mistaken, it took place somewhere between the 30th of November to the 2nd of December of 1942. We left the camp in Lasinki as active members of the brigade named for Mikhail Kalinin. The head of this brigade was Major Karavkov. The entire brigade settled near the railroad tracks between Vilna and Minsk in the area of Pleshensitz Bougamin, not far from Palik Swamps, the ones that reach all the way to Borisov and Polochek.

We were somewhere between 18 and 20 Jews. Amongst them, somewhere between 10 and 11 guys and girls from our town. Others were from neighboring towns, and two came from far away. One came from Lodz. His name was Moshe Kohalchikov, and I remember him very well for something which I cared, which I will tell you later. The second one was Edel Oyehudah, I think. I only remember his first name. After some time he was transferred to another brigade of fighting partisans.

Today I cannot clearly remember who amongst the Jews of Krivichi were with me in Lasniki, and who was in that brigade earlier, but I do remember that with me were B.A. and his sister S.T. [They must have stayed in the Soviet Union, and that is why he doesn't use full names for them.] With me was also Mikhail Katzovitz, Mordechai Schulman, Yakov Shod, and G.W. who came at the same time as me, and Shlomo Bleicher who I think came there long before us. Later on, he left this brigade and joined the brigade named for Otkin. I think that Chana Meltzer from Krivich was in another unit of the same brigade. Also with us was Koppel Shulman. The most experienced amongst us Comrade B.A. He had three jobs: he was the demolitions man, he was in charge of the weapons, and also he was responsible for supplies. His specialty was in dynamite and other explosives. He was very knowledgeable and prepared all the needed explosives and weapons for the different missions, whether it was small units or a huge operation.

Our troop had duties of scouting, setting ambushes, and conducting raids on the enemy base. We also had to “catch tongues”, which meant to capture Germans or collaborators in order to find out about the movements of the enemy. Our friend B.A. took part in every mission. After he made sure that we all had the appropriate supplies for the mission, he would check each and every one of us before we left the base. His extreme knowledge in all that had to do with weapons gave him great value in the mission. There was not one other person among us who knew as much about putting explosives in every conceivable targets as he did. We took part in many missions, and clearly some of them were more successful than others. Can I really count and tell all the different missions after so many years have passed? Even if I wrote some of you, the story would be too long, so I will just tell a few.

In the beginning of December 1942, two companies from our brigade and one from another brigade took part in the attack on the town of Myadel. Our particular unit didn't take part in that one since it was still being organized. This particular mission left a huge impression on the villagers in the area. At the orders of Vlodia Kavilkin and Timczok, they attacked the guards of the ghetto in Myadel. After they killed them, they broke the gates and told the Jews to run to the forest. A few of them joined the partisans. Others ran to the area of the swamps of Nivyeri and Domo Slovya and joined the family camps there.

If I remember correctly, some of them came to the base in Lasniki, the base for the Brigade of the Revenger, sometime later.

 

The Mission in Parafinova

At the beginning of April of 1943, our unit containing 8 fighters headed by B.A. was sent on a sabotage mission to put explosives on the railroad and to blow up a train that was carrying military personnel and supplies on the way to the front. Parafinova was an important crossroad where a major train line passed by. Amongst us were six guys and two girls. If I'm not mistaken, the girls were Rashka who I don't remember her last name, and S.D., the sister of B.A. Other than myself and B.A, who I mentioned before, there was also Mikhail Katzovitz, Koppel Shulman, and others whose names I don't remember.

Everything was planned earlier. During late night hours we left the base and approached the area where we were supposed to set the explosives. There was some sort of mistake that was made, so we arrived in Parafinova at an early morning hour, around 5 in the morning, which was a very late time to set explosives. Since the area started to get light, there was a bigger risk of getting seen by the Germans. The regular German Army, helped by the local collaborators, guarded the railroad in this area. The tracks were surrounded by electric barbed wire, and if you touched it even lightly, constant sounds would be heard echoing long distances and would alert all the guard stations. So we arrived very carefully at that fence from another side, and since there was some mistake in the instructions that we received, the guards noticed us and opened fire on us. But we were determined to continue with our mission. We answered with automatic weapons, and we threw some grenades at the guard station. Finally, we were able to silence them.

So now we went on with our mission, and as soon as we arrived, it seemed that in a miraculous way, B.A. was able to put explosives instantaneously, without any effort. As soon as he got there, he found the place where the tracks connected. He hardly needed to dig. He put the explosives down and immediately whispered to us to leave. We didn't wait to see the results. We started retreating, trying to not leave any signs that we were there. As we retreated, fire was opened from other guard stations. At one point, more guards were sent and also special shooting units and attack dogs that came to look for us. We didn't want to return fire so they would not discover our location.

All of a sudden, the entire area shook and we fell to the ground. There was a huge explosion that could be heard from far away. There was a huge cloud of dust in the air, and the sky lit up and was filled with red flames. You could hear shouts and cries for help from people who sounded like they were gravely wounded. We could hear yells and orders and curses, and constant explosions of bullets and bombs that must have filled these burning train cars.

During this pandemonium they stopped chasing us and we ran off. We were happy that our mission ended without any loss of weapons or lives. Only one girl, Rashka, was slightly wounded. We dressed her wounds and carried her a distance of three hundred meters until we arrived to the forest, where we waited for the rest of the group, and once we counted, we realized that we had all returned safely, and we happily went back to the base.

 

A Sad Occurrence in the Heart of the Forest

As far as I remember, this took place at the end of April or the beginning of May of 1943. At dusk our unit rested at the heart of a thick forest not far from the road between Pleshensitz and Minsk. All the soldiers who did not have guard duty sat in the dugouts, resting. The guards stood at their stations, watching. The forest was very quiet. No one had any inkling that something was about to occur. Even today I can't really explain how this occurred, but all of a sudden, the peacefulness was shattered by shots and calls for help.

We immediately ran towards the area where we heard the shots and we found out that there were three or four Germans who had disguised themselves as Russian-speaking partisans. Maybe they had some local connections. Anyway, they came right by the guards. One of them was Moshe Kuharsikov from Lodz. After a short battle, he was wounded. While his blood was pouring, he started calling for help. They were able to pull him with them. The other guards started opening fire too late. Immediately, we started chasing the kidnappers, but the darkness of the night worked against us. They seemed to have disappeared without a trace.

Only weeks later did we find out through some contacts amongst the local villagers the awful fate of our friend Moshe. They took him to the headquarters of the Germans and he was immediately put to a torturous interrogation in which they used the most awful tortures. They beat him with every conceivable weapon. They demanded that he tell them about the movements of the partisans, the amount of weapons we had, and other things. He was extremely brave and withstood all the tortures and did not say one word. His torturers took his eyes out with an iron torch and cut his limbs, but he was unbreakable. With these tortures his soul parted and his pure, heroic blood was gone (?).

We walked in shock. Each Jew stood in his loneliness and our lips whispered, “Honor to his memory.” Every inch of our bodies filled with hatred towards these cannibals (savages?). We demanded revenge, but continued with our routine jobs, waiting for the hour of retribution.

After a few weeks, we received our mission. We were twenty guys. Amongst them, 8 Jews from Krivichi to take part in a mission against a German division that had arrived in the village near Bugomil. It might have been the village Rovka, but I am not sure. They came in order to receive some potatoes and a share of the harvest from the villagers, and also to get contributions from them. So this was a chance to attack the enemy, to kill him and to take revenge for our friend Moshe, may God avenge his blood.

I'm sorry to say that we didn't accomplish our mission. As soon as we arrived in the area, the Germans were able to detect us and they started shooting. There was a terrible battle from every side. It was a miracle that no one was hurt, but we had to retreat. We were ordered to do so, and our mission failed but we were happy that we didn't lose anyone.

As we returned to the base in the afternoon, the sun started going down, but still there was a lot of light. We sat down to rest after the mission and to eat our meal. Each one of us felt deep disappointment, and we whispered to each other that despite the disappointments, we had to be more patient and wait for the next mission that would soon come, and at this point we should continue with our regular duties to take care of the weapons and to guard the camp. The guards started readying themselves to go for guarding missions, and I put my long coat on and took my rifle and ammunition and ran to my guard post. The others went to wash up, so I stood sentry, about five- to six-hundred meters from the headquarters, until I was replaced by T.S.—she was also from Krivichi—who me that I could go and wash myself, and she would replace me. I thanked her and went on my way, and told her that she must watch everything diligently.

I was in the middle of the wash, which was very pleasurable in this severe deprivation in the forest, when all of a sudden I heard shots. Three shots answered by constant fire from automatic guns. I also heard sounds of people running. Immediately I dried myself and dressed and took my rifle in one hand and my jacket in the other, and I ran to join T.S. in her guard post. While running, I completed dressing. When I arrived there I found great pandemonium. People were shooting everywhere. Partisans were running in no clear direction, and villagers left their workplaces, running in panic.

Meanwhile, no partisans came from other units to help. Everyone was sure that there had been a surprise attack by the enemy, and there were shots everywhere, and rockets. No one knew what had caused all this.

Later we found out that T.S. hid behind a tree, and from far away, she noticed shadows that were coming toward our base. She wanted to warn everyone in our camp, and that was why she fired three shots in the air. At first her explanation didn't make sense. I thought that maybe she fell asleep and had a nightmare, but still, in the back of my mind I remembered the fate of my friend Moshe, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt. But shortly after, I found out that her fear was correct. The other guards notified us that somewhere between 12 and 15 Germans were coming toward our base. Shortly they arrived, each one carrying a rifle or an automatic weapon, and also personal weapons. In their hands they carried some red materials. What can I tell you? Everyone was very confused and the shooting started, but strangely, the Germans didn't seem to get affected. They didn't shoot at us even once. They continued walking toward us without drawing their weapons. Finally they all fell on the ground and they shouted at us in Russian that they wanted to see our commander. They said that they didn't want to fight us anymore, and that they were coming to us willingly to give themselves up and to join the partisans and to fight the common enemy that conquered countries that belonged to them. So now he was also their enemy.

The headquarters immediately got in contact with a higher headquarters, and after a short time, the head of the bigger headquarters came to us. I, together with four other Jews and one Russian, was responsible for details of the agreement with these troops. We collected their weapons and wrote the details of the information. We informed them that only the main headquarters could make the final decision, and we took them to the village where the main headquarters was situated and immediately as they arrived, they started investigating them and gave them food. They were all stubbornly insisting that they would never again fight against us. This was not their war, and if they would get weapons again, they would fight against the Germans and their collaborators.

At the end of the investigation, they were taken to the village Voloki for a final decision. They were declared Prisoners of War and they gave us much information about the movements of the German Army. Later they were separated and sent to different units to join in missions, but under guard until they could prove that they were telling the truth.

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