by Baruch Shepsenbul
Translated by Elisabeth Ruderman
At 3:00 a.m. on September 18, 1939, the inhabitants of Radoshkowitz were awakened by the noise of heavy vehicles. The houses, windows and doors shook like an earthquake, and frightened, the people jumped out of bed to look out the window and see what was going on. They were surprised to see a long column of heavy tanks advancing through the narrow streets of the town. They did not understand what they were doing there, six hundred kilometers from the front. When they opened the windows, they saw that after the tanks came heavy armored cars and behind them, trucks carrying soldiers. Then, they recognized the stars on the soldiers' hats and realized that the Red Army had crossed into Poland. Some of the people welcomed this event, and some were concerned at what might follow.
The Red Army's advance into Radoshkowitz lasted five days. During those days a sea of soldiers, war machines and horses went through town. The Jewish residents were puzzled and felt like in a dream, asking themselves, What will tomorrow bring, and what will life be like in the future? Everyone realized that a big change was about to occur, but the question was what kind. Some were hopeful that the future would bring happiness, but others, merchants and wealthier people, were concerned and worried.
Behind the Red Army came the first clerks of the Soviet civil administration. Belarus was declared a part of Soviet Russia, and life in town took on a different character. The Jewish residents adjusted their way of life to suit the new authorities. The first to do so were the young people, who picked up productive jobs and soon forgot the ways of the past. Some of them were appointed to clerical jobs in the new government institutions. Others continued working in their fields their situation was not bad.
But it was rough on the older people who had been shopkeepers. When
the Red Army took over, they liquidated their businesses but had no experience
with a more productive way of life. The Soviet authorities were suspicious
of former shopkeepers and gave them only menial jobs. Many such people
took these jobs out of necessity, but some gave up working altogether and
lived off their savings or the earnings of the young members of their families.
Those who found it hard to adjust to the new regime hoped that the situation
was only temporary and would soon change.
The Soviet regime lasted for twenty-one months, and most of the Jewish population were content. Life was safe; there was no worry about the future. Suddenly the events of the 22nd of June, 1941 struck and deeply shocked them. On that day the German Army attacked Soviet Russia, and things began to change rapidly.
The German Army occupied Radoshkowitz three days later, the 25th of June, 1941, and the next day Russian planes bombarded it and destroyed sixty percent of its houses. Among the casualties were five Jews. The fear of war was upon the Jewish population. People tried to hide as news of the German mistreatment of the Jews reached them.
On the first days of the occupation the Germans did not distinguish between Jews and gentiles; they treated everybody cruelly. Then came the first department of military administration, Numbers 50 and 55, and with them, the Jews felt the full brunt of German rule. All Jews, young and old, were ordered to register. Fifteen of them were selected as representatives of the community, and the following orders were issued:
The first thing they did was make a list of so-called Jewish collaborators with the Soviet authorities, and they were to be executed first. On the list were seventy people who were to be shot. When the news of this list reached the Jewish community, some looked for places to hide, and the leaders looked for ways to reverse the decision. They handed out money and gold watches to those who promised to help, and finally, after a few days of fear and spending a great deal of money, the list was cancelled and the Jews saved for a while.
One day the German construction company, Todd, came to town. They needed workers and planned on employing Jewish labor. Every able-bodied man and woman was ordered to show up at the market every day at sunrise. They were sent to do different, hard jobs, like smoothing stones, digging holes, etc. The only people exempt from this kind of work were mothers of children under the age of two. People who showed up late or failed to carry out the exact orders were severely beaten. One wrong move was punished this way. Every day people returned from work beaten up. No one was spared. Workers had to show up for work the next day in spite of their wounds and bandages.
And so, the people from Todd, and all others in positions of authority, began to abuse the Jews with other demands, at their whim. They demanded gold watches and gold coins, or cloth, leather for shoes, or fur coats. Those who refused were threatened with being shot to death. The Jewish committee of fifteen was used as the go-between. The German officers would get their loot, fill their pockets and move on. They would be replaced, and the new men would come up with new demands. And so the Jews were abused. The Germans and their cohorts carried away everything, furniture, bed linens, kitchenware, etc. Nothing was spared.
At the same time the German higher authorities (Radoshkowitz was part of Vilaiky County) insisted on collecting contributions and fines. The first contribution was in cash equivalence thousands of meters of cloth and women's fur coats. The next one was of 200,000 Russian rubles in cash. Once this was paid they asked for 1,000 rubles in gold. The Jews lowered their heads and paid, hoping these payments would save their lives. A group of them went from house to house convincing people to pay the Germans and thus save lives. The group was headed by Dvorah Gordon, who gave away everything she owned. The poor Jews did not understand at that point that all these afflictions the contributions, the hard labor and the beatings were only a way to break their backs and spirits before the final annihilation.
At that point they first heard of the extermination of a large number of Jews in neighboring towns. In October, 1941, the Jews of Velodeshna were destroyed, and the following December, the Jews of Rakov were savagely killed. The Jews of Radoshkowitz could not believe these rumors. They could not conceive of killing a whole community the old, the women and the children. They tried to blame it on the Jews, themselves. Maybe they were not loyal to the German authorities, or disobeyed their orders. As a result they bowed down even more, deluding themselves that it would save their lives. They could not conceive that it was all part of a premeditated plan to kill all the Jews, sooner or later.
The condition of the Jewish community got worse. Their possessions had
all gone to the contributions and other payoffs and they were not paid
for their labor. Those whose houses were destroyed in the Russian air raids
were forced to seek shelter in the homes of friends and relatives. In some
cases they were ten to fifteen people in one room. Soon they fell victim
to hunger and sickness. Those who were better off tried to help the poor,
but even their means were extremely limited. In order to buy food, people
sold the little they had. In some cases fine clothes were exchanged for
a few loaves of bread, and gold watches, for a few potatoes. And so these
grim conditions eroded people's spirit and resistance. They became indifferent
to everything, and when the Germans became aware of it, they precipitated
At 6:00 a.m. on March 11, 1942, Radoshkowitz was surrounded by a thick chain of 500 people, among them S.D. men from the local police, gendarmes and men from other departments. A group of Germans broke into the homes of the Jews and ordered them to the market square to register. The Jews realized that they were in great danger, so many sought refuge in hiding places or tried to escape from town, while some followed the order and went to the market square. The chain of guards and the thick snow prevented any attempt to escape town; those who tried were shot and killed. The same fate awaited those who tried to hide in the stables or barns of their gentile neighbors.
At the same time over 900 Jews men, women and children were gathered at the market square. Those who were too sick to walk were killed in their beds by the Germans. From the market square the whole group was ordered to walk, under heavy guard, to the edge of town, to the street which led to the village of Odranka. There they were made to march, four abreast before the German authority, who chose 120 Jews with useful skills and locked them up in a special place. The other 800 were beaten with clubs as they marched to a different location. They were made to undress, then taken into a barn four at a time and machine gunned.
Thus, the Jews of Radoshkowitz were taken on their last trip, row after row, young and old, big and small, their heads low, and their hearts full of despair and hate for all humanity. Mothers carried their babies, children clung to the hands of their sick mothers. Among them was Yehuda, son of Nateke, from Aldranka, with his eight small children, all under ten years of age. Also, the old rabbi, Haim Shmuel Lappidot, with his white beard, and his eyes staring to the sky as though expecting a miracle. The orthodox Jews were reciting Tehilin, with a spark of hope for salvation in their hearts. But the miracle did not happen, and they were all slaughtered.
Their bodies were arranged in rows of four, and after they were doused
with gasoline, they were set afire. The fires burned for three days and
three nights. In addition, there were fifty more people killed those
who tried to escape. They were buried in a common grave near the cemetery.
And so, on March 11, 1942, eight hundred-fifty of the Jewish community
of Radoshkowitz were killed, just the first act in this bloody play.
Beside those 120 Jews whose lives were spared, another group of over 200 people survived that day by hiding in Jewish homes. More than 350 people were kept in twelve houses surrounded by barbed wire, in a section they named, ghetto. And so started the second act of this tragedy.
These Jews were forced to live in horribly crowded conditions, twenty-five to thirty people per house, most of them torn from their families widowers who had lost their wives and children, widows and children who lost their parents. These wretched people had to continue living, with no future, expecting death at any moment. They were left to the complete control of the Todd and its commander, a man with no conscience, called Sneider. In his hands were their life and death and his decisions were made on a whim.
The movements of these Jews were very limited. The only time they were allowed to leave the ghetto was to go to work. They were permitted to move within the confines of the ghetto until 6:00 p.m. Violators would be shot. Everyone between the ages of twelve and sixty had to show up for work, and in return received 250 grams (about 8?frac12; oz.) of bread a day. The workers had to accept this, because confined to the ghetto, they could no longer trade their belongings for bread and potatoes. Moreover, they had to share their meager portion with about one hundred old people and children, also in the ghetto
For four days less than a year, these poor Jews were confined to the ghetto, hungry, desperate and suffering, forgotten by the whole world. The nights and days were filled with fear and danger a real nightmare. Once, a drunk soldier burst into the ghetto and shot a young Jewish man to death. Once, a ten year old boy peeked out of the ghetto; a policeman saw him and killed him on the spot. A Jewish woman entered a gentile's house and a German noticed it. The following night the woman was found, shot to death. One of the Jewish workers did not satisfy his German supervisor. He was also shot to death. The residents of the ghetto had to bear all this in silence, hoping that one day these murderers would be defeated.
Accidents and murders were daily occurrences. Six young Jewish women,
ages fifteen through eighteen, fell off the wagon they were riding home
from work and were crushed to death by its heavy wheels. The Germans did
not allow the Jews to participate in their funerals, so they were buried
in a common grave in the cemetery. When another Jewish girl criticized
the Germans' behavior, this was conveyed to the authorities by a gentile
woman, and the girl was immediately shot. In November, 1942, ten surviving
Jews from the neighboring town of Gorodok were brought to the Radoshkowitz
ghetto, but a few days later, on a winter night, they were taken out and
In the second half of 1942, the Germans began to suffer increasingly from the resistance forces. These fighters were roaming the forests in the area. Hundreds of Germans fell victim to the partisans' bullets. But as the partisans' resistance mounted, so did the cruelty of the Germans to the Jews in the ghettos. As soon as a shot was heard outside town, the Germans, fully armed, would encircle the ghetto, as if this was the source of the danger. This became almost a daily event. The Jews in the ghetto lived in constant fear of death and wouldn't even bother to undress for the night. In daytime they would look forward to the night and at night, look forward to the next morning. After such a night on Erev Yom Kippur, 1943, a few shots were heard outside town, which resulted in German soldiers and police encircling the ghetto and shooting at it for over two hours. The Jews hid as best they could, afraid to move, sure that this was the end. They stayed this way till 6:00 a.m. when they were kicked out their homes, shook up and frightened, and driven to the market square. There they stood while the Germans counted them over and over until they realized that no one was missing. Then every one was given a number to wear on his chest at all times. At that point these living people were reduced to abstract numbers.
The old and the weak among the ghetto population lost all hope of ever
getting out alive; they became apathetic. But the younger and stronger
Jews did not give up hope and were willing to fight if necessary. They
began to organize and collect arms and hoped they could escape and join
the partisans and together fight the enemy. Thus, the ghetto residents
were divided. In the meantime, the Germans warned them that if anyone was
missing, they would all be executed. Therefore, the older people and those
with families children or parents and those who were afraid of starving
to death in the forests, decided to stay and tried to talk the young people
into staying, so as not to endanger the entire community. At the same time,
the young tried to convince the older people into joining the partisans
with them and escape the wrath of the Germans. These discussions continued
for a few months, until the 7th of March, 1943, the second day
of calamity for the Jews of Radoshkowitz.
On that day two young men escaped from the ghetto; they couldn't stand life there any longer. When the residents learned about it they went into panic, not knowing what to do. Some ran out of town, and some tried to hide in the cellars of the ghetto. The Germans sensed immediately that something unusual had happened. They surrounded the ghetto and made all the Jews come out. After counting them, they realized that a few were missing. They alerted the C.D. people, and two hours later all the residents of the ghetto were shot. On that day, March 7, 1943, all the residents of the ghetto 290 men, women and children were murdered in a barn, and their bodies were burned. Thirty-five people men and women did make it to the forest. Apart from them, the Germans spared the lives of twenty-two Jews, those they needed most for their work. They locked them up in two houses in the ghetto, allowing them out only for work.
After these events, the Germans issued an order that, except for the twenty-two Jews, no other Jew was allowed in Radoshkowitz, and any such person would be shot on sight. So, on the next day, March 8, 1943, those few Jews who had tried to hide in the cellars, were also executed. In one of the cellars they found three women and four children, ages six through ten. When they were marched to the execution grounds, they tried to resist and put up a fight, so they were shot on the way, and their small bodies hung on the barbed wire which divided the ghetto.
Two weeks later, five of the twenty-two survivors were killed, so now seventeen remained, fifteen men and two women. These were the sole survivors of the 1,200 Jews of Radoshkowitz who were murdered by the Germans, and these seventeen swore to avenge their community. They took some arms from the German warehouses, and one spring night left their houses in the ghetto and made it to the forest. They were aided by Eliyahu Zukovsky, one of the first to join the partisans, and together joined the fight against the murderers. Eventually, they joined the other Jews from Radoshkowitz who had escaped earlier. Altogether they were thirty-five men and women. They participated in all the battles with the Germans, they blew up many German vehicles and tanks, and many soldiers fell victim to their bullets. They did not repay the murderers very much but did avenge their brothers' blood as much as they could. The partisans took care of women and children and fed them until liberation day, July 1, 1944, when the Red Army came to Radoshkowitz.
Altogether fifty people men, women and children escaped from town, and forty of them came back. The other ten died as heroes fighting the enemy. Today there are forty-five to fifty Jews living in Radoshkowitz, most of them employees of the state. Just a few work in other areas. Their living conditions are not bad.
Many might ask why didn't the Jews leave Radoshkowitz before it was
occupied by the Germans. This is easy to explain. The town was near the
Russian-Polish border, which continued to exist even after the Russian
occupation of 1939, and it was patrolled by armed guards. A special permit
was required to cross into Russia, and for some reason no such permits
were issued. Therefore, the Jews were unable to flee into Russia when the
war between Russia and Germany broke out on June 22, 1941. Three days later
Radoshkowitz was captured by the Germans and the Jews were trapped by death
(In memory of my father and teacher, Shalom Bumstein)
by Pessia Parzov-Bumstein
Translated by Elisabeth Ruderman
May, 1943. The blood of our brothers, the Jews, is crying from the depth of the earth. Hundreds of our town's residents were cruelly killed by butchers. Twice the sword came down on us the second slaughter, with all its dread and fear.
There were about fifteen Jews left in the ghetto. We decided to escape the killers at any cost. We wouldn't follow those who had already perished. As long as we could breathe we would live and avenge!
A night in May. A spring night. The moon is casting its light. On a night like this, in normal times, the young of Radoshkowitz would have a good time, get lost in dreams, innocent dreams of youth. But everything fell apart, like a house of cards. Everything vanished, came to an end. Fifteen shadows are moving secretly, afraid of being noticed, to the forests of Citcivich to find refuge. The partisans are there, and a few survivors of Radoshkowitz are among them. There is a partisan camp named, The Avenger. Some of the gentiles there were from the local population, which we knew. They had they kept in touch with us and told us where to find the partisans. They knew we were about to leave the ghetto, and we agreed on a meeting place near the forest.
After a night of wading through mud, on rough terrain, and after crossing the river by boat, we arrived exhausted at the Citcivich forests. The partisans greeted us warmly. This friendly encounter was like a ray of light in our dark existence. Our Jewish friends among the partisans didn't leave us for a minute. We were speechless; only our tears expressed the feelings in our hearts.
We spent the first days building huts from tree bark. The young and able among us joined the ranks of the fighters. The old and weak took care of basic menial tasks, like the [biblical] woodchoppers and water carriers.
My father was also in this camp. He was not satisfied with simple tasks, so thanks to his efficiency, he built something which was needed and was enjoyed by the partisans and the farmers in the area.
In one of the abandoned estates he found machine parts which had been used to produce alcohol and vodka. The Germans had damaged them so they couldn't be used again, but my father collected these parts and built a steam mill. Its operation was a boost to our economic situation, especially at that time of total chaos for the partisans and farmers. From then on the partisans could be the benefactors of the farmers, instead of always asking for handouts. My father was very proud of his accomplishment, and my younger brother, Ari, and I were glad to see our father somewhat distracted from his deep sorrow.
Winter, 1944. The Germans, who at first did not pay much attention to movements of the partisans and thought that their victory over the Soviet Union would mean the end of the partisans, realized that they had made a big mistake. The partisans grew stronger from within, and their many attacks on the Germans became a serious menace to their rear. The partisans attacked the Germans wherever they could, every day or night, until the Germans decided to retaliate. When the news reached us, we prepared to face the enemy.
We decided to move all the equipment, animals, etc. to the forests of Palshechnich, across the Brezina River, because the area was known for its marshes and lakes, and we supposed that the Germans would stay away from there. The woodchoppers and water carriers were assigned the task of moving everything and were told to stay there.
I had to join them, since my father was sick, and I had to take care of him. My father was very weak and needed special care. My brother, Ari, in spite of his young age, refused to stay behind. He went with the partisans. The tension and the separation from his young, beloved son took their toll on my father, and he died in February, 1944.
My father did not live to see the defeat of the monsters. When he was in the depth of sorrow, he would say, What is this suffering? Shalom from Rogovy is still alive, and this is my revenge against the Germans.
Blessed be his memory!
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