Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan and Ona Kondrotas
Dora Trebnik was born in 1920 to the Eyges family of Globoki. She is the sister of Miriam Tokorski. In 1960, she immigrated to Israel.In the year 1940, I came to Minsk to visit my sister Miriam from what used to be Poland (the Wilna region). [The Wilna region was part of Poland until 1939,when the Soviets occupied It.] I found a job and stayed; there was something new and different about living under the Soviet rule. The Jews of Minsk received us the refugees from Poland happily. They were pleased to meet Jews who came from across the border. They would often say to us, after you get acquainted with our situation here, you will see the difference between your old life and our life under the socialist rule. At first, I didn't really pay attention to what they were saying, but after living in a commune together with Byelorussians it became very clear to me what they meant.
At the time of publication, she lives in Holon. She was interviewed for this story by David Cohen.
In 1941, I was living in Une when the war between Russia and Germany broke out. It seemed that instantly the Anti-Semitic feelings rooted deep inside the society started to surface. As the first bombs fell, people who only yesterday had been our friends made us feel that we were 'Jews' and turned their backs to us. As the shelling worsened, a mass evacuation began. My mother, my sister, her little baby and I escaped. We did not succeed in traveling further into the Soviet Union due to German interception on the roads. Against our will but without a choice, we returned to Minsk.
On September first (1941), all Minsk Jews were ordered into a ghetto. The area of the ghetto, which was fenced in by barbed wire, included Republic Street, Nimiga, and Jubieli Street. Immediately, the massacres began. Day and night, people were murdered. The rest of us were taken often from the ghetto for forced labor; teenagers and the elderly were tortured continuously. Germans, as well as Ukrainians and Belarussians, murdered Jews in the ghetto indiscriminately. It was surprising that so many Belarussian civilians took part in this voluntary murder. People who had been lowly townspeople yesterday became Nazis today, despite the fact that they grew up, studied, and worked with Jews.
The first mass raid of the ghetto started on the night of the 6th of November, the eve of the Revolution. Around forty of us hid in a wooden barn. Amongst us was a woman who was about to give birth. It was so crowded that you could only stand on one foot. The gate of the yard where the barn stood was locked. Early in the morning, we heard voices of Belarussian women, who had come with the Nazi killers. We heard them say, they hid here, and they hid there, and here you can see a hand and there a baby's leg. Here, there is a mother hiding with her children
This kind of collaboration with the enemies started as soon as the Germans entered. Some of the local population received them with bread, salt, and flower bouquets. The Germans published pamphlets with caricatures of Jews with long beards, crooked noses, and dirty faces, asking the local population to report of any Jews who had money, jewelry, or leather goods. The Nazis said that all those who would inform them of this and bring them the Jews would receive a reward.
During the initial siege, about half of the homes in Minsk were destroyed. The Jews were given a Until September first to evacuate all those Jewish homes and property that had been left intact and go to the ghetto. Thus, we entered the ghetto practically empty-handed. On our way to the ghetto, some of the gentile children threw rocks at us. In the ghetto, ten people lived in a room, there was no running water, and no plumbing. Even the water wells that used to be in the yard had been purposely broken. Every morning, we were taken to work, guarded by armed men. The workers received lunch soup with potato peels and some rotten vegetables. While we stood in the line to receive this food, we were beaten with sticks and encouraged to fight and squabble amongst ourselves.
At first, I worked removing the debris of the destroyed city. Later, when winter came, I worked as a snow sweeper on the streets. We worked on Shabbat as well as the other working days. The Germans said, a day of rest on Shabbat!? What are you thinking, you kikes? But on Sunday we worked for only half the day. During the Fall, when rain and snow came, we worked barefoot and practically naked. After the events of November 7th (a raid on the ghetto), the ghetto area was decreased in size and homes taken from the Jews were given to Belarussians; we were forbidden to ever return there. At these houses we left the last of our clothing.
The children in the ghetto received no food from the authorities. Since many of them were orphaned, they dug for themselves holes in the ground to hide from the Germans and some of them froze to death in these holes. After a while, living in such horrible conditions starving and dirty the children became sick with spreading diseases. The Germans then came into the ghetto and started killing them. There was only one hospital in the ghetto, run by some Jewish doctors. One of them Dr. Lipschitz later escaped and joined the partisans. Medicine was in very short supply and receiving any medical help was very difficult because there were so few doctors but so many patients.
People who did not work received no food, so every time we received soup in our work place we tried to save a little to bring to the people who were left in the ghetto the mothers, the old people, and the little children., swollen from starvation and cold. The small children became beggars, knocking on the ghetto doors with little broken metal cans, asking for food. They were a heart-wrenching sight
The Germans had a tricky way to get people to come out from their hideouts. They said they needed them for work. When people came, they would separate the old people to work at one job and the young to another job, and all of a sudden, trucks would arrive and the Nazis would start killing them. They would push people into the trucks and take them outside of town, to a killing field where the Germans had already dug graves for them.
All the people who lived in apartments, five or six families to each room, had to be registered and receive a household number that served as identification. If any one of these people escaped, the entire household would be killed. We slept on wooden slabs that served as bunks, one on top of another, like soldiers in a barrack. To warm ourselves, we broke the fences around the houses and collected papers for firewood. Also, we used to obtain water to drink and wash ourselves with by melting the snow. Since we had no clothes, we slept in the same rags we went to work in. We would practically fall on the bunk beds from weakness and exhaustion.
Judenrat was established in Minsk, serving as the go-between of the Jews and Germans. The members of the Judenrat were ordered to collect different possessions of the Jews and hand them over to the Nazis. The chief of the first Judenrat was Eliyahu Mushkin. He was a decent and good man he would often announce to the Jews ahead of time rumors of raids about to occur. He collected medicine and clothing, transferring it secretly to the Resistance that later took form in the forests. Every day, the Germans arrived demanding various supplies, like silver, gold, jackets, medicine, or soap, giving us a certain amount of time to provide these materials. When the Jews were not able to meet the deadline, the Nazis would, as punishment, execute somewhere between one hundred and two hundred people. Some Ukrainians, when they saw that a Jew had a gold tooth, would extract if right from the man's mouth. If they saw that someone had a gold ring, they would pull it off the finger forcefully. At one point, the Ukrainians, digging for wood in order to warm themselves, found that Jews who had lived in those houses before them had hid their possessions there. As soon as the Germans found out about this, they began demanding more from the Jews. Every time we left for work, we had to pass a barbed wire gate. The Überstormführer diligently recorded each person leaving the ghetto.
By 1942, there were practically no Jewish children left alive in the ghetto. One day, at work, there was a mother who had taken her little child with her. An SS man came to her and pulled the child out of her hands, placed the child on the nearby train tracks, and with his foot, wearing Stiefel-boots, he stomped on the child's throat until the child died. We who worked in lines were not even allowed to stop and look, but the Christians who watched through the windows started screaming and crying in horror. The Germans would come into the ghetto during the night and would kill people they encountered. It was like an open field for crazed looting, assaulting, and killing. Whenever the Germans demanded something, they would follow the order saying , if you do not supply us with what we ask for, you will be murdered. We will kill you.
Some of the Jewish young men were forced to take part in the Jewish Police; they were made to wear a special uniform, which included a hat with a yellow rim. In Shiroka street, a camp was established for those trained in some profession. Their situation was a little better: in addition to the daily soup, they received a piece of bread and coffee. With the Jews worked some prisoners of War from the Red Army, but they felt themselves to be superior to the Jews. Sometimes, to prove to the Germans that they were diligent workers, they beat the Jews. If they found Jews hiding a piece of soap or a toothbrush., they would jump them, screaming, You hagglers! Once a Jew, always a Jew - always trying to profit, to get something for nothing. In the end, however, their fate was much like the Jews'. The Soviet POWs were shot by the Germans. Those few that were kept alive escaped with the Germans after their defeat, since they were fearful that they would fall at Soviet hands as German collaborators.
As the Germans killed the heads of the Judenrat when they didn't comply with demands, the members of the Judenrat kept changing and the Germans kept appointing new people. Some of them were of truly low character. There was one Jewish policeman, serving in the Judenrat, who was originally from Poland his name was N. Epstein. He lived very differently than the rest of us. Dressed in beautiful clothing, married to a woman in the ghetto by the name of Rosa, he was very devout to the Germans. He acted like a simpering puppy toward them. Through his cruelty toward the Jews he hoped to save his own skin, but his end was much like the rest of the Jews'.
The Germans demanded that the Judenrat assist them in their raids. During each raid, the Germans took roll of the Jews in the ghetto and recounted them again later if any had died. If they found any missing from their homes, they would immediately kill all the residents of that household [editor's note: each person had the number of their apartment on their clothes, making them easily identifiable as household members.] The Jewish police guarded the gates of the ghetto, and were supposed to fulfill any orders given to them. The Belarussian police had much more leeway. They were allowed to enter the ghetto at any time they wanted and do whatever they wished rob, kill, or torture.
The relationships between the Jews who came from the area that was Poland in 1939 and the Jews who had lived in Soviet Minsk their entire lives were usually friendly. Next to the Minsk sector that contained Jews of Russian and Polish origin, there was a different ghetto, totally separate, that was created for the Jews who were transferred from Western Europe. No communication was allowed between the two, and there was a fence between them. The Jews from Western Europe were better off than we. According to rumor, they received coffee and bread twice a day. In actuality, the Germans tricked them, allowing them to bring with them much of their possessions, and promising that they eventually would be settled somewhere far from Minsk. On one occasion, they were taken by officers, supposedly to that destination. In reality they arrived at an area near Minsk where graves were ready for them and they were shot and killed and all their belongings confiscated.
There were incidents in which Belarussians helped Jews, giving them food. Some of these people were of mixed marriages, and would sneak across the fence lots of bread and potatoes. Eventually, they stopped doing this, since the Germans punished severely anyone who helped Jews. Some of the Russian women helped the Germans; they would receive clothing or valuables in exchange for information about the resistance movement or giving up a Jew who was hiding with them.
Once in a while, at work we would encounter Jews from Germany. I met a woman from Minsk by the name of Lisa Perlmutter (PANES) who worked together with a Jewish woman from Frankfurt, named Elsa. The German officer who was at the head of this working operation was originally from Vienna. His name was Willi (Villi) Schultz. He was forty years old, and fell in love with young Elsa. At this point, Stalingrad returned to Russian hands, and he realized that the Germans were about to lose the war, so he asked her whether she could find some contact with the resistance. This occurred in the March of 1943. Elsa told Lisa about it, who was not sure whether to believe the story or whether it was a trap, since up to this point Commander Schultz behaved just like the other Germans. He mercilessly beat anyone who walked slowly. Still, after consulting some friends in the ghetto, Lisa decided to take the risk. So, they promised Schultz that they would bring him to the partisans, and, in return, Schultz said he would arrange escape for some of the Jews of the ghetto, getting them some ammunition. Thus Schultz announced to the Judenrat that he needed a certain amount of Jews to carry some building materials for work he was supervising.
Every time the Jews would leave the ghetto to work, the guards would sign a paper confirming which German officer had left with how many Jews. When they returned, the guards would write again how many had returned. In March 30, 1943, early in the morning, we were taken in a truck and registered at the gate. Our destination was officially recorded as Dakar, a town in the environ of Minsk that had a brick factory. Supposedly, we were to carry bricks to help build the airport of Minsk. With us in the truck was Elsa, her nine-year old sister and a smith, a Jew from Minsk who had made from scratch, during the past year, a rifle. Schultz sat in the driver's seat with another driver. On the road, we encountered some Gestapo guards. When they saw the Übersturmführer, they let the truck pass. We were still fearful that this was all a trick and Schultz was really taking us to the Gestapo. As we continued on the road, we met with the Belarussian police, and Schultz informed them that he was on his way to get some butter and eggs, but the dogs who could smell us in the back kept barking, wanting to jump on the truck. Nevertheless, the truck continued on its way. The road was very wet and the truck became logged in the mud. Schultz ordered us, Jews, get out! and we put some wood under the truck and were able to get it out again.
Finally, we arrived at the shore of the river Svitzlots, and found that the bridge to get to the other side had been destroyed. A few days before, during a battle between the partisans and the Germans on the bridge, it had been destroyed. The Partisans were on the other side of the river, which we had to cross in order to get in touch with them. With us was a Jew from Minsk who had been in the navy. He swam across the river. The local population, seeing a German truck filled with Jews, ran away in fear. Some of the local children were able to reach the resistance and tell them of our coming. When Tokorvsky, the ex-navy-officer, arrived at the village on the other side, the partisans gave him a small boat to bring back the waiting German and Jews. The first to be taken in the boat were Schultz and the German driver who had come with him. When the driver realized that they were being taken to the Partisans he wanted to leave. He and Schultz began to fight; the driver said he had not seen his family for two years, it was his turn to go on vacation, and that Schultz instead had brought him to the Partisans. Schultz said that as a lowly officer, the driver was obliged to obey orders of his commander, Schultz. Meanwhile, the resistance had arrived, so Schultz gave them his weapon and said, I am with you. They took the weapon off the German driver, too, and then they were all taken across the river. Later, the rest of us were taken across as well. Before leaving, we burned the truck. As we passed to the other side, Gestapo officers arrived riding on horses. But we were already on the other side and out of their reach.
Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan
Yochevet Eiberman, an offspring of the Rovenchik family, was born in Minsk in 1926.I was born in Minsk in 1926, as the oldest of 7 children. We were raised in a home filled with Yiddish culture. We spoke Yiddish, we studied Yiddish, and the whole alley where we lived was populated by Jewish families. When I reached school age I was sent to the Yiddish School #30. There we studied all subjects in Yiddish. My teacher was Fanya Kaplan. During the 30s, the economic situation in the area was very bad, and many times we received a meal in school. After three years, the Yiddish school was closed, and all the kids moved to Russian Public School #12. This transfer was a great shock to me. I was accustomed to the Jewish environs and the more confined Yiddish culture, and all of a sudden, I found myself in a school where all the subjects were taught in Russian, and where the students were of divers nationalities.
She immigrated to Israel in 1968 and lives in Petach Tivka. This is from an interview by David Cohen.
Like this we continued until 1939. As the war started, my father was conscripted to the Soviet army and our mother stayed alone with the seven children, and I, as the oldest, had to contribute to our financial situations, so I bought and sold textiles and received some money for doing that.
We knew little about the political situation of the Jews in the world. We only knew that we were unique among the many nationalities of the Soviet people. In 1939, Jewish refugees started coming from Poland. From them we heard about the Anti-Semitism in Poland. The unfavorable treatment came from both , the German occupiers and the Polish population. We in the Soviet Union couldn't imagine that such a thing could occur.
On the 22nd of June, 1941, Germany attacked Russia. Immediately there were explosions and some German scouts parachuted in Minsk. Evacuations started. The first to run away was the police , followed by the military, followed by the Soviet authorities. Each group blamed the other for treason. There was total pandemonium. There were even some anti-Soviet citizens who waited impatiently to be saved by the Germans, but most of the population found themselves helpless, with no assistance or instructions from the authorities. We all wanted to escape, but we didn't know where to go. On the 27th of June, 1941, the German Army entered Minsk, and immediately they started confiscating things and pillaging the place. The Soviet citizens started bringing carriages filled with food supplies and other goods from the storage areas of the Soviet authorities.
At first the Jews stood away and looked, but eventually the Jews started getting food from the storage buildings and hid it in their homes. Soon after, the procession of the Red Army POWs began to pass through the town. They were in tattered uniforms, exhausted and depressed. They were made to march for many kilometers. The local population wanted to give them water or bread, but the Germans would open fire with their automatic weapons on any POWs who begged for food. The road littered with their bodies. They were taken to a camp outside the town. This camp was used as a summer camp for the Belarussian Soviet authorities before the war. It was situated next to the river in a large yard surrounded by barbed wire. The Germans built tall watchtowers and guarded the POWs who lay under the open sky. After some days, the Germans ordered all the male residents of Minsk (age 15-55) to come to the area. People sat there, crouching. If anyone stood up, the Germans opened fire. They didn't give them any food or water. This was during the summer, and the sun was very hot. When people tried to crawl and reach the river to quench their thirst, the Germans would shoot at them. It seemed like you heard more shots here than during the entire time when the town was conquered.
A short time after all the men arrived, the Germans announced that all the Folksdeutsche among the men should separate. They were mostly Germans from the Volga, and Germans who had settled in Belarus. Their eyes lit up with happiness. They waited many years for such a day. The Jews were also told to go to one area, and here on this occasion you could see the unkind spirit of many of the non- Jews. The same POWs that the Jews gave water to without regard for whether they were Jews or Christians, now tried to take away from the Jews their shoes or their clothes, or the little food that they received from their families. Soon the rest of the population realized they could get away with doing anything to the Jews.
All the Jewish men were transferred to the prison in town. On the way there were some Jews who tried to escape, and they were immediately shot. After a few days, the prisoners were released and sent to a ghetto. There were some Belarussian neighbors that pressed the Jews to enter the ghetto. They said, You are a Jew and your place is in the ghetto.
There were even some Christian men who married Jewish women who told their wives to go to the ghetto. There were such incidents with Tatars and Belarussians. Sometimes the children would cry and say, Where are you sending mother? And the Christian mother-in-law would explain, This is the way it should be. But still there were cases of Christians who hid their Jewish wives.
There were some incidents of torture, and the Jews started walking around without a glint of hope. They were all put in the ghetto. In each apartment, about 20 to 30 souls. People slept on pieces of wood, one on top of the other. There was very little water and it was extremely filthy. The Germans would take us to work outside of the ghetto, and we all started thinking that we should escape, but where? Who could we make contact with? Who would help us? We started exchanging clothes and other possessions for food with the Christians. Eventually there was a transfer of Jews from Germany, and they were put in a special ghetto that was named the Hamburg Ghetto, since the first to arrive were from Hamburg. Eventually their situation became very bad, and they began to starve, so they asked us Jews from Russia if we could exchange their possessions for food. They didn't speak Russian and could not communicate with the Christian population. So now we became the go-betweens, and in exchange for our services, they gave us some of the food.
The murders started in the home of my uncle. Some Germans broke in at night and killed 13 souls. They broke the windows and entered. My aunt was feeding the children when the Germans arrived. Her oldest daughter, Chaia, who was 23, was standing there with her baby in her arms. As soon as they arrived, the Germans pulled the baby out of her arms and gave it to the grandmother. They pulled Chaia to the other room, from where she screamed, Daddy! Daddy! But the father stood helplessly, surrounded by Germans with drawn weapons. The other Germans raped her and cut her breasts off, then shot her. They did the same to the second sister. A brother tried to escape, and they shot him in his back, and he was left stuck in the window, half inside, half outside. My uncle tried to block one of the Germans, and they shot him. Hinda, who was 9 years old, stood next to him. He caught her and fell on her, protecting her with his body. His blood spilled all over both of them on the floor, and like this they stayed. He was dead and she was alive. Hinda's mother was holding both her own baby and her granddaughter, the child of Chaia, when they shot her and killed both of the children. Her younger daughter, Deena, who was 12, was very brave. She started yelling to the Germans, Murderers! as she threw everything she could gather, plates and pots and pans, but they also tortured her and killed her.
After the Germans left, Hinda gave some water to her wounded brother, but the water that she gave him spilled out from his stomach together with his blood. He had been hit by nine bullets.
When we entered the apartment the next morning, it was the most torturous sight. I can hardly describe it. We cleaned the bodies and brought them to the Jewish cemetery. One of the rebbetzim (rabbi's wife) put locks on the coffins, and took the keys with her to symbolize that death would not reign anymore. But before this ceremony was over, the Germans and their Russian collaborators started shooting, and people said to the rebbetzin, What stories are you telling us about help from God? It's all fairy tales. Our blood is free for all.
Like this they continued killing entire families in the ghetto. One day the Germans took 16 young women who thought that they were going to work and brought them to the ghetto, where they were shot in the back. 16 beautiful girls fell in one line. Germans entered the home of the Koversky family in Novo Krasne Street, near the Anniversary Square. They ordered the two young girls to dance naked. One was ordered to dance on the table, the other to dance under the table. The mother was lying there, shot in her neck. On the floor were two brothers, one 7 and one 12. Like this the murders continued. There were also some general mass killings, and some were only a few dozen. After each mass killing, the Germans would gather all the surviving Jews with the help of the Judenrat, and announce that from now on, there would be no more killings. Like this they tried to fool the Jews who so wanted to believe them.
What else should I talk about? How a German slapped me, and his dog started biting the skin on my back for his pleasure? How another German kicked me with his shoes that had nails and I lay there, curled up and dripping with blood until my mother held to his legs and did not let go until people came and took me away? He shot at me, but instead he killed my friend. Should I tell you how another German beat me with a piece of wood until the wood broke? How a Christian man would catch me and beat me for no particular reason?
Big and spread out is the land of Belarus, but it seemed that there was not one bush, one tree, one rock or one hole in the ground that gave us shelter. We were like pariahs, like excrement on the ground. I worked in the brick factory, by the ovens. There was a German by the name Vas Fritz (?). He thought that I was clever and decided to do business with me. He stole a large silk curtain from the theater and cut it into small pieces. We sold the material for dresses, and we divided the money between us. One day he was caught by the partisans and I never saw him again. After him came another German. I, together with a much older woman, would carry in a stretcher two sacks of cement weighing about 100 kg, and when we returned, we would carry the bricks from the oven. This was a true hard labor, and we worked very slowly. The German who guarded us didn't like our pace, so he pushed me in my back while I was carrying the stretcher that was filled with bricks. I fell forward, and the woman who was carrying it in front fell with all the bricks on top of her. Both of us were badly wounded. I stood up and took my shoe off and started hitting the German mercilessly, and I immediately ran away.
I hid in the home of a Christian woman. Meanwhile, the German announced to the other people that I could return to work and he would not punish me. So I did, and he kept his word.
On the 28th of June, 1942, I went to work in the brick factory with my young brother. My father and my older brother also went to their place of work. At home stayed my mother with four children. Just a few days before, we were able to collect some potato skins from the Germans' garbage, and mother was busy making latkes for the children. It was about 10 in the morning. All of a sudden, the guards came to take all the Jews who were left in the ghetto to the Judenrat building, claiming that they must exchange their yellow tags with new tags. Mother took the six-month-old baby in her arms and ran to our old apartment, where we had a hideout. She ran ahead, and behind her ran the other children. But the Germans caught the children, and took them to the Judenrat. Mother didn't see it. She waited for the children, but they didn't arrive.
Soon the Jews realized that it was a mass action, and everyone started to run to their hideouts. No one agreed to take the baby to any hideout, fearing that she would cry and betray their hiding place. My grandmother was there with a two-and-a-half-year-old child by the name of Grunia, and other cousins of mine and relatives. There was very little water and Grunia kept telling Grandmother, I want to drink, I want to drink. When she kept insisting, they gave her urine, but the child said, No, this is salty, it's no good.
There was a rebbetzin there and she said, According to the Torah, you cannot sacrifice many for one young child. So they put a pillow on the child's face until she expired. Five days they stayed in this hideout. Mother was out of the hideout and her baby was killed. The only thing that was left of her was the scarf she was covered with that became saturated with her blood.
Grandmother came out of the hideout spiritually broken. Everyone thought that she had lost her mind from grief, but she really didn't lose her mind. She just lay in her bed and refused to eat. During that day, we were taken to the ghetto and we were sure that they would kill us. I said to my young brother Hirsheleh, Jump out of the truck and go tell mother where we were killed. You must run and survive. But he refused to go without me, so I pushed him with my foot off the truck. From that day I never saw him again.
When we arrived to the ghetto, the pogrom was still going on. The windows of our house were broken and the containers of pillows were in the air. The German guards near the gate asked our guards, Who are these people?
He said, They are workers.
And they said, Well, if they are workers then we won't kill them. You must take them to sleep in Kenser Kaverna (Panser Kaverna?).
Even the German guard who took us was shaking from fear. Just to talk to the SS people made him very nervous. He took us on out of the way roads. We went around the cemeteries and we saw a deep ditch, two meters wide and eight meters long. Next to it stood soldiers in Lithuanian uniforms, next to machine guns. The ditch was already filled with bodies, and the Lithuanians waited for the next group. When we got to the Kenser Kaverna (army barrack), we were put outside by the dumpster. We collected the leftovers of the Germans and ate the bones that the Germans threw to the trash. Like this we were held for five days without any food.
In the morning we went to work, and in the evening we went back to the barracks. On the fifth day that they took us to work via Republic Street, to the cemetery. Rain was falling and the blood of people was running in the gutters. Together with us in the factory there was a Russian worker by the name of Natasha, and she said to me, Why are you returning to the ghetto? Don't you see that they are killing you there?
When I returned to the ghetto I said to my surviving family members, Let's run. Even if they kill us on the road, at least we will have made an attempt to escape. What else is there for us to wait for? The children are killed, do we have to wait for us to be killed?
Father said, Anyway, where ever we go, they will kill us wherever we go, so where should we run? Who is going to help us? Why do we have to look for death in far away places if it will arrive to us in the ghetto?
Father refused to leave the ghetto and my mother listened to him. But I couldn't rest. I was determined to escape, to run away and to fight for my life. I left a few times and returned until one day I convinced my friend Fannie to join me. I had to trick her. I told her that her boyfriend was unfaithful. I was able to convince her and she agreed to join me. We left on the 2nd of March, 1943. We walked through the snow, in the direction of Storyo Selo. I had never been on this road before. On the way, we encountered some Germans, but they didn't stop us. They couldn't imagine that we were Jews.
When we reached the village, we knocked on the door of a relative of Natasha's and told her that Natasha had sent us. She answered us very angrily, Why did you come here with you Jewish faces? She kicked us out, she was scared of the Christian neighbors and the Germans who were crawling all over the place. We sat by the river near the station and cried over our bitter fate. Why were we born Jewish? Why are we so inferior to all other people on earth? We tried to look for a shelter, but no one wanted to take us in.
Darkness came. We heard steps and the sound of a weapon. We didn't know who was coming, a German or Belarussian policeman, or a partisan. We talked amongst ourselves, and I decided to lie on the ground. Fannie, who spoke Russian with no accent, should call out to that person. When he came near, if he was a German I would catch him by his leg, and she would catch his weapon. When the man came near us and greeted us, Fannie told him that we were refugees and that we came to exchange clothes for food. He said, No, you are Jews. But she insisted that we were Russian and asked him, Who are you?
He said, I am a Red Partisan.
If that is the case, then please take us with you. You are right, we are Jewish and we have nothing to lose. And we will not let you go, and if you refuse to take us, kill us on this spot. There is no place for us to go.
He was an older man from Storyo Selo. He let us enter his home and he fed us. We quenched our thirst, and later at night he promised to take us to the partisans.
He did bring us to Tzvisorzina, where there were partisan camps. But women were not accepted into the partisans. The assistant of the commander of the partisan unit said that if Fannie would agree to be the wife of the commander, they would accept us, but Fannie refused and we were not accepted.
The original partisan who brought us tried to console us and said, Girls, don't worry. I will find a way to save you. But he couldn't find any Jews, and the Christian wife at first refused to let us stay. So we left. I suggested to Fannie to take the scarf that was covered with the blood of my little sister, and hang it to a tree branch where we would both hang ourselves. But she refused to commit suicide. She wanted to return to the ghetto and bring back her boyfriend. But I refused to go to the ghetto, and she refused to commit suicide. So we kept arguing. Finally I said, Let's try to ask the Christian woman to let us stay there for another night. The Christian woman agreed and we lay down by the furnace and slept. Actually, at night we didn't sleep, and in the daytime we pretended to sleep so she would not kick us out.
Finally, that evening, two young Jewish men came by on a carriage. One of them, Lapidot, was the commander of a unit, and Fannie knew him since he was a friend of her brother. Before he saw us he was whispering to the Christian woman who thought he was Christian, Where are those Jews that I heard were hiding here?
Fannie came off the furnace and started hugging and kissing him. We were filthy and our eyes were red and puffy from crying, Lapidot said, Go wash yourself first and then kiss me.
We ate something, got in his carriage, and left. He took us to the partisans. The commander of this partisan unit was Nachum Feldman. As we found out, the Christian partisans got in touch with Feldman and told him about us, and Feldman sent two men to bring us to him. They prepared a table filled with food. With cries we told them all that happened in the ghetto, and they cried with us. From there we transferred to the everglade of Belovyet. Feldman was not allowed to include women in his partisan unit, so they put us in a carriage and covered us with hay, and like this they brought us through the last guards before the base of the Stalin Brigade.
Guarding that line was a Jewish guy by the name of Shepsel Shpringer, from Horodok. Feldman told him about our situation but he did not want to help us. The head of this brigade passed by and Feldman suggested that we tell him our situation. When he heard us he said that we were accepted into the partisans.
In the ghetto there was a Jewish girl by the name of Yeha. She had a Belgian boyfriend who was a collaborator with the Germans. He would bring her food. I was very upset with her for befriending a German collaborator, but she said that her German collaborator was not like the others, and that he promised to run away with her to the partisans. So now I came to the commander of the brigade and asked for permission to return to the ghetto. I told him about the German collaborator who wants to escape to the partisans and bring weapons. The truth was that I really wanted to save my parents, my brother and my cousin and other Jews. Finally I got permission, and together with Fanie we returned to the ghetto.
Originally we went with a group of partisans to Storyoselo for provisions and there we went on our way. On the way we met with Zorin, He asked us, Where are you going, Jewish girls?
We didn't know this was Zorin. We arrived to Minsk, and when it became dark, we crossed the fence of the ghetto. The Germans shot at us but didn't get us. Our home was next to the fence. As soon as my mother arrived, I said, We are going to the partisans. Go and tell Yeha to inform her German that tomorrow we are leaving for the partisans.
As it turned out, Yeha refused to tell her man. She said he would never agree. When I realized that Yeha lied to me, I said to mother, Go and get Yeha and her mother to come with me to the head of the brigade, and they should explain to him the situation. Why should I be shot for her lies?
I took my mother and my brother and my cousin and Yeha and her mother and a few other Jews. Fanie took her sister and we went through the fence. I was the leader and walked ahead. Mother refused to walk , but I forced her to go. I took them through small trails so as to not encounter German guards, and I brought them all the way to Storyoselo. One of the residents of the village agreed to let us sleep there, and in the morning, the partisans arrived to take us to the camp.
As it turned out, my mother told everyone she encountered that day that her daughter Yohevet had returned from the partisans, and they were now accepting Jews. So when we arrived to the camp, there were about a hundred people who had come to Storyoselo. When the commissar heard about it, he became very mad. How could it be that you brought women and children? Where is the German and the weapons?
I said, Let the girl who dated him and her mother tell you about it. The women and the children wanted to survive and I couldn't leave my mother in the ghetto when I am here.
They let the women and the children go, and they put me next to the wall. The commissar with his gun drawn started counting my crimes. He said that I lied, that I had told the ghetto people the road to the partisans and other things. The head of my unit, a Christian man, defended me and said he'd take me to the base and he would further investigate the incident. So that was what he did. My brother was accepted into the partisans, and with him a few more men who came. Mother was left behind. I told her to follow us, and we returned to our base.
When we returned to the base, I volunteered for all the most dangerous missions. I took part in reconnaissance, explosives, and railroad demolition. They said I deserved a reward and I said the best present for me would be to return to the ghetto and bring back doctors and other people.
I returned to the ghetto with the address of the Kastelanitz family, and through them I was to get in touch with other people. There was a doctor and a pharmacist and a woman by the name of Sofia Sodovskaya whose husband was the editor of a newspaper. I had to bring them first. My father was already with the partisans at that point.
I came to the Kastelanitz family. They told me that I must be careful in the ghetto and I hid with them for four days. Even the Judenrat people guarded me since they wanted to come with me to the partisans. On the fifth day, the families arrived. One of the people that came had some papers that said he was allowed to take people to work. So I put a yellow tag on my clothes and we left. The policemen didn't stop us when we left, supposedly to work, from the gate of the ghetto.
Soon after we got out, I took the yellow tag off. I carried a typewriter in one hand, and somewhere I had a small gun hidden. I decided that if someone should catch me for being a Jew, I would not fall alive into their hands. I would kill myself.
The people who walked behind me wore the yellow tags with the number on their clothes. Until we reached the point where we were allowed to walk. Upon reaching that point, everyone took off the yellow tags and continued. I walked at the head, all made up and in my hand held a blonde child, the child of Kodovsky. We pretended to be Polish and when we encountered people, I said some Polish words. The Jews with me were very scared. I calmed them down and we left Minsk through some train station. When we arrived there, a German from the train station came to me and asked where I was going. I said that we were going to get some food in exchange for supplies. I could see in his face that he was not the killer type. As time passed, we developed that sense.
I was 16 years old, and he was friendly. It seemed like he was looking for a chance to spend some time with a young girl. He walked with me and we were able to pass through the different guards. The people who walked behind thought I had been caught, so I quickly said to Sodovsky's child in Russian to let them know that this was an okay German. I hinted to the people to go ahead of me, and I walked slowly with the German. He smiled and cracked jokes and flirted with me, and his hand started touching my breast, where I hid weapon. I knew that I was taking a great chance so I said, No, my dear. My mother doesn't allow me to spend time with Germans like this. If you want, I can bring you from Poland some pork and eggs. Here is my mother's address. Please come visit us, and if mother will agree, I will be your lover, but not right now.
I was lucky that he wasn't too disturbed and he let me go. We were about 10 km from Minsk, and the day darkened. Two partisans came on horses. The Jews became fearful and ran to the fields, and the partisans ran behind them. After I gave them the code word, they said to me it is four days that we waited for your return. We arrived to Katitz, and there we had some heart wrenching meetings between husbands and wives, fathers and sons, etc. From there we brought them to the forest to join the partisans. They all became members with various jobs. Some fell in battle, but most survived.
I returned to my job of laying mines and explosives. Whenever they asked where we should go, I said, Where ever there is a place with a large concentration of Germans, so I can kill as many as possible.
I would go ahead and behind me walked large men. The Christians said to my mother, How did you raise such a child? She is like the devil. She pulls us through fire and water.
But I walked through all these dangerous places not for any glory. I only wanted revenge. I wanted to see the Germans' blood spilled.
One time, we caught some German cars. I pulled a German soldier out to the forest, and on the way I beat him with a rifle. He asked me, Why are you so evil? You are so young.
I answered him, I am a Jew, and continued beating him.
Once again he asked, Why are you so mean? There is no way for me to escape.
I started cursing him and said, I am a Jew.
If you are a Jew, so what?
So I responded, You killed my brothers, you raped my sisters. If I could I would break your veins and drink your blood. I am coming after you monsters.
One day, we blew up 21 train cars that were filled with ammunition. For six hours, the train continued burning and exploding. The head car also exploded. We had to continue and put explosives in another place. The Russian members of the unit said, It's enough that we did that. We have finished our jobs.
I told them, You can return, but I am not returning until I set the next explosives.
Like this I continued until the liberation. I returned to Minsk many times and took out people and weapons to the partisans. I must say that most of the Russians, the Latvians and the Belarussians did not like the Jews. There were only small numbers that helped. Even the Communist Jews in the underground and in the partisans did not encourage a mass escape from the ghetto.
The Jews that I saved from the ghetto returned there and brought others out to the camp. I was very young then and my heart cries that I could not do more, and that I didn't start doing anything until a later date. My father, who was then 40 years old, did not understand his conditions. The Germans had already murdered five of his seven children, and he sat and waited in the ghetto. For what? For his sure death? But the Jews in the underground knew what was to be the fate of the ghetto Jews. Why were they quiet? Why didn't they awaken the masses who were taken to be slaughtered by yelling to them, Run away! Save your souls! Fight! Many would fall, but some would survive .
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Minsk Memorial Anthology Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 13 Oct 2008 by LA