(a recorded conversation)
Fanya Bas née Rosenfeld
Translation by Rachel Zetland
Donated by Jay Snider
In 1939 war broke out between the Germans and the Poles. Many refugees from the area of Poland began coming to the western Ukraine (to Zapadna Ukraina!). The Russians made an agreement with the Germans that western Ukraine and all of eastern Europe would remain in Russian hands while the rest of Poland would be German.
The Russians reached us in 1939 and took control of our area. We lived under their rule for two years. They confiscated our house when they first came to the town. It was an especially large house for the town and they turned it into the town council. We moved in with grandpa Yaakov (of blessed memory), who took us in and gave us a room, and that's how we came to live with grandpa's family.
One bright morning during the summer of 1941 we heard airplanes overhead. We saw German planes crossing the border and starting to bomb USSR territory. We knew that war between these two nations had begun. Two months later the Germans arrived, but before they came the Soviets left and the locals, the Ukrainians, began robbing us. They stole our property. There were Ukrainians who hit Jews and tore babies out of their mothers' arms and threw them around. We waited for the Germans to come, thinking we would be better off, that there would be some order.
The Germans finally arrived.
First they demanded ransoms, five gold rubles a person. We had to give it to them or they would punish us all. The rush for gold began. We collected from everyone. We went to the goyim to take gold until we collected the sum they demanded. Then they asked for coffee and fur coats. They called this a 'contribution'.
Once a month they would gather us in an empty lot and count to make sure no Jews were missing.
Four months later they moved us to the ghetto 12 kilometers away. One street was designated for all the Jews of the area. It was a ghetto. We had no food. We had no clothes. We suffered greatly. Our only salvation was that every week they sent a group of Jews out to hard labor. Some went to work on the bridge over the Styr River, others were sent to the forests. I was among those sent to work in the forest the last week before the ghetto was liquidated.
One day we heard that they were digging pits. The goyim came and told us that they are going to execute all the Jews and liquidate the ghetto. We didn't believe it but that is exactly what happened.
The group working in the forest somehow got away. A Ukrainian policeman who guarded us knew my family and me from home. He told me, Tell everyone to run away and hide and I'll make as if I don't see anything. I won't do anything to them.
Hide because they're about to execute you. We ran in every direction, each one taking a different path. I went back to the same house where Yaakov of blessed memory was living [in Old Rafalovka, R.Z.]. He was not in the ghetto [in New Rafalovka, R.Z.] because he worked as a pharmacist. We hid under the floor: Yaakov of blessed memory, his son David of blessed memory, and his daughter Rifka, may she live a long life. They had a kind of bunker there. We lay there for 3 days. On the 4th day we heard goyim sitting on our porch talking about how the Jews had been executed and that there must still be someone hiding here in this place. We heard them saying they would start persecuting us. That night we somehow got out of the bunker and scattered in the woods. Then the hardships in the forest began.
We stayed in bunkers in the forest for two years with no food and no clothes. A bunker in the forest was a simple trench. We dug a trench and around it we put wooden poles and that's what we slept on. We couldn't cook. We lit a fire inside the bunker and the smoke would burn our eyes but we had no choice. We couldn't light a fire outside because they would discover us.
The forest partisan movement began and my future husband, Yaakov, of blessed memory, your grandfather, decided to go to the partisans with his son and daughter. I stayed with the goyim. In order to save myself I joined a Baptist sect. This sect, which believed that Jesus is the messiah, openly declared that they must help the People of Israel. With their help I could help others in the forest.
One day I am walking in the forest and see a package under a tree. I come closer and see it's a girl, maybe 5 years old. That was Masha. She was half frozen. I ask her, Who are you? and she says My name is Masha and my father went to bring food. He didn't come back. The Germans caught him, so I took her in with me and she was with me until the end of the war. I got another girl from her parents who went to join the partisans. The partisans didn't want to accept a family with children. Not having where to leave her they gave her to me.
I also took in another girl whose father was killed and there was no room with her mother. And that's how I took care of these three girls. I arranged for them to stay with goyim and would visit them every so often. I kept in touch with them. I was also in touch with many other Jews who were not partisans.
Question: How did you manage to get in touch with Yaakov?
Grandma Fanya: We were in touch all the time. We left the bunker together. I spent about a month alone. Then I met them in the forest and began walking with them, with grandpa and Rifka and David. There was also an Appelboim with us, Shlomo Appelboim, of blessed memory, and his son Sender. And when Yaakov went to the partisans he would come often to see where I was. I moved from goy to goy, changing places, but we were always in touch.
One night I heard a dog barking. That meant someone was approaching. I thought maybe it was the Germans who had come to get me because many goyim knew I was staying with this goy. I was with the Baptists.
When I heard the dog barking I quickly hid. I had a kind of hiding place at the edge of the hot stove. I went up on the stove and hid. Suddenly I heard someone knocking at the window and calling out for me, Fanya, Feodosia. The goyim called me Feodosia. I came down and whom do I see but grandpa Yaakov and Rifka and David. Yaakov Weissman and his daughter Shifra and his son were with them. I don't remember the son's name. He was killed in the war. I felt better when I saw them. They goy and his wife came down immediately and put some wood in the stove. First they prepared them food, potatoes, because they hadn't eaten all day. They had wandered the roads for the entire day. They had hid in the forest until they got to us. When they finished eating the potatoes the goy brought hay into the room, put it on the floor, and everyone lay down to sleep.
Question: Is he still alive?
Grandma Fanya: His sons are alive. He's already gone. His name was Philip. He was a good man, a truly righteous gentile.
The next morning I thought, 'What should I do, where will I put them all up?' Since I had influence with the goyim, they called me Saint Feodosia because for them I was a Jew who believed in Jesus, but of course that was only in order to stay alive. So I went to the goyim, the Baptists, my acquaintances, and we put them all up in different places. Grandpa decided to go to the partisans this time as well and indeed he went to the partisans with Rifka and David. Being a pharmacist he became a surgeon with the partisans.
And I stayed in the same place. From time to time they came to visit, until the war was over.
Question: There was no other doctor?
Grandma Fanya: No, there was no other doctor. He also performed operations. After he operated on a person they would send him to Moscow for convalescence.
The war ended in 1944. Our region was liberated and then Grandpa Yaakov went back to the town and got back his pharmacy. I stayed in the village because I couldn't desert my children, the girls I had with me.
One day Yaakov sent a messenger to call me and I said, I'm coming, but only with the children. I won't leave them here, I won't desert them. When he heard my reply he said come, come with the kids. So I came. I took Masha and Hannaleh and Shulamit and we came to grandpa's house. That day Hannaleh's mother came to look for her but she didn't want to go with her mother, she wanted to stay with me. They took her away from me at night while she was sleeping.
Question: Were you aware of it?
Grandma Fanya: I wanted her mother to take her. These were her parents. Today this Hannele is in Lod with her parents.
He was a barber. They came to Israel and they live in Lod. I once met them. Shulamit lives in Ramat Aviv. She married and has children. She has a grandson by now. Masha lives in Haifa. She also married and has a son and daughter, both married. That's it. We came to Eretz Israel in 1947.
After we came back to Rafalovka with my three girls we began looking through the books in the pharmacy. In one of the books we found a note from Rifka and David's mother, our grandfather's first wife before he later married me. They said goodbye to us when they were taken to the pits and this is what they wrote in Yiddish, here's the translation: My dear ones, my beloved ones, we are strong. Our heads are held high. We have not yet lost hope. We hope for God to the last moment. I kiss you my dear ones. Be strong. Come what may, may God help you. Your devoted Zelda, whatever happens. Zelda.
The Yiddish note had something else written on it. Whatever happens to you stay together, all of you. Regards. Father, David, Rifka, Fanya. We are strong. Farewell. The son Nathan wrote these words. We were very moved by this note and decided to stay together.
Question: Did they send you to a concentration camp from the ghetto you were sent to?
Grandma Fanya: No, they didn't send people to concentration camps. But they demanded the Judenrat give them young skilled men so 15 boys came forward declaring they were tradesmen. They were 17 and 18 years old and the Germans took them.
The Judenrat is the ghetto council, Jews who ran the ghetto. They were in charge of sending the workers. The workers changed every week.
Question: Did the Germans give the Judenrat some authority?
Grandma Fanya: Authority? They were just in charge of running the ghetto. They carried out the Germans' orders. If the Germans demanded a contribution, the Judenrat had to see that it was done, but they were not bad to the Jews, they were with us, they were also Jews. We all shared the same fate. They also lived in the ghetto, in the same conditions, an entire family living in one room. If it was a six-room apartment there were six families living there.
Question: What happened to the boys the Germans took?
Grandma Fanya: After some time we heard they were executed and their graves were never found. We don't know where they disappeared. They were all killed. It was just a scheme. They wanted to kill the young boys.
Question: Were some of them your friends?
Grandma Fanya: Yes, sure! They were all my friends. We all knew each other. We were together. We studied together and were together in the Movement.
Question: Did all your family perish?
Grandma Fanya: Yes.
Question: Except for Malka?
Grandma Fanie: Yes, Malka, and Aunt Rifka, my mother's sister, also survived. They dressed as goyim, took tools and walked out of the ghetto. Nobody identified them as Jews.
Aunt Rifka, her daughter Esther and another three sons left the ghetto. My aunt carried Israel, her son, a 6-month-old baby, like the goyim hold babies, on her back wrapped in a rag, and that's how they went to the forest.
They didn't walk together. The boys walked alone. A sheigetz harassed Aunt Rifka's son Sender along the way. He began to say, Zhidok. Zhidok. Zhidok168, 'kike kike kike, where are you going, go to the Germans.' So Aunt Rifka said Leave him alone, what do you want from him? The sheigetz thought she was a goy and that's how Sender got out and they all survived. They are still alive. One of Aunt Rifka's sons was enlisted and he was killed in the war.
Question: Was all your family killed in the killing pits?
Grandma Fanya: Yes, all in the pits.
Question: Do you know how they were killed?
Grandma Fanya: They were told to undress and they shot a bullet through every one of them. They did not die immediately. Afterwards, when the pits were covered over they suffocated. Goyim said that after this killing the pits moved like they were breathing. People were alive in there. One man, one of the last ones to be shot, climbed out of the pit with only his leg injured. He got away and survived.
My family was wealthy. My father was a teacher when he was young. When he got married he opened a business. We had a big wholesale store for clothes and food and we sold to all the other shops.
168 Jew in Ukrainian. In Polish 'Zydek'. It is not clear from the original text what language the sheigetz spoke.
I was the third in my family. There were two older sisters and two younger brothers. The youngest was a girl, Feigale. We lived quite well in Poland until 1939. Then the Second World War broke out and our suffering began. We were a rich family and we had a two story house, the only two-story building in the town, Rafalovka. When the Russians came into Rafalovka they confiscated it immediately for the city council and its offices, as I told you before.
They didn't want to take my father to work for them because he was rich and a candidate for sending to Siberia. They were supposed to send the whole family to Siberia and we waited for this to happen. We were persecuted already from the time of the Russians. They stayed until 1941 and then the Germans came.
Question: Did you want to go to Siberia?
Grandma Fanya: We didn't want to go to Siberia because we didn't know what it was. We knew it was cold and thought we might freeze to death there. But we had no choice. We couldn't resist.
In September the war began between Russia and Germany. The Germans occupied our town and we stayed there.
Malka, my oldest sister, who was married, went to Russia. She ran away to Russia with two small children because her husband Pinhas Schwartzblat (Hagin) was drafted into the Red Army. She was afraid that if she stayed she would never see him again. She made it to Russia and we stayed put.
When the Germans came the local Ukrainians continued to rob us. They stole everything in the house, pillows, housewares, everything we had. We couldn't stay in the house at night because that's when they would rob us and we didn't know how to get out, what to do in order to survive. We were afraid the local Ukrainians would kill us.
A month later the Germans came to our town. The Gestapo arrived and immediately started making order. First the thievery stopped but every Jew had to register. They kept a list of everyone in order to know how many Jews there were in the town. At that point they chose the Judenrat, the Jewish leadership, to run Jewish affairs. The Germans would come often with a different demand. Once they asked for 5 gold rubles for each Jew and threatened to kill all the Jews if they didn't get the money. Of course, we looked under the ground, found the money and gave it to them. A few months later they asked for furs, coffee, cocoa, all sorts of things to drive the Jews mad. At a certain point the Germans decided to put us in the ghetto. Question: What was that? Grandma Fanya: The ghetto was 12 kilometers away from our town and there were about 2000 people there. It consisted of one long street with few houses. One family, regardless of whether it was a large or small family occupied only one room in every house. They all shared the kitchen. We lived four families in a four-room house. Question: They took all the Jews when you left Rafalovka? Grandma Fanya: They took everyone to the ghetto. Only your grandfather remained outside, in his home in the pharmacy. They didn't have a pharmacist and they wanted the pharmacy to continue operating. He was the only Jew in Rafalovka. His whole family, his wife, two sons and his daughter, went to the ghetto. Every week he would come to the ghetto to visit his family and on Sunday he would go back to the pharmacy.
Question: Who lived in your homes in Rafalovka?
Grandma Fanya: Goyim, Ukrainians took over our homes.
Question: What happened in the ghetto during the war?
Grandma Fanya: The ghetto existed for almost a year. Every week before the ghetto was liquidated they would gather us in a big lot and count us to see that no Jew was missing.
We didn't have enough to eat. They would give each of us 200 grams of bread a day. Every week they sent a group of workers to carry out hard labor in the forest or to build bridges. Every week a group of 15 to 20 people would leave for work. I remember there were big fights about who would go out. Everybody wanted to go because those who did could smuggle food into the ghetto in their pockets or pants. They'd smuggle in bread or wheat or some other edible thing. We'd gather food from the yards, like the mallow plant, the thin bread. We would eat that.
We heard they were liquidating ghettos and Jews would often run away from there to our ghetto.
I remember a woman once came to us with a small child. She had run away from the ghetto of Kovel, a nearby city. On the way the boy wanted to drink but they didn't have water. The mother gave him urine to drink. The ghetto Jews were afraid to bring her into their homes, saying they would kill all the Jews because of her.
We had faith in the Germans when they promised they wouldn't harm us. They said we were 'good Jews,' Gutte Juden, and we believed them.
Question: How did you run away from the ghetto?
Grandma Fanya: I was sent with the last work group.
Question: Before the ghetto was liquidated?
Grandma Fanya: Before then. We didn't know about the ghetto being liquidated. They sent me in the last group and my mother said to go because we had nothing to eat. I could smuggle in some food when I came back from work a week later. My young brother Israel was with me. He was 14 years old.
Question: How old were you?
Grandma Fanya: I was 16 and he was 14. On Sunday he was supposed to go back to the ghetto because he had left a week before me. I told him, Wait, don't go today. Stay with me and we'll go back on Tuesday together. But he insisted and said, No, I miss mom and dad, I haven't seen them for a week already and I want to see them. I said Wait, we'll go back home together and bring more food. My brother Israel refused to stay. I asked him, Are you going Israel? I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye and he left. To this day I feel terrible when I think of it. I should have insisted and have him stay with me and that way I might have been able to save him. I mean, he was with me.
The Germans and the Ukrainians surrounded the ghetto and didn't let people out.
We were in the forest at work. I told you the goy who guarded us happened to be a good policeman. He said Run away, they're going to liquidate your ghetto and I won't prevent you from escaping. Hide wherever you can. So we did.
I went back to the town to grandpa because I didn't know whether they knew the Jews were about to be killed. Before entering the house I saw Shmuel Appelboim standing outside the house. He was a childhood friend of mine. He was in great distress. I asked him What happened? Are you hungry. Don't ask, he said, They're bringing back all the Jews who had been working outside the ghetto and are digging pits and are about to kill everyone. We have to hide. Those who stay alive may have a chance to see something of life.
And then I went into grandfather Yaakov's house.
Question: Your friend Shmuel, is he still alive?
Grandma Fanya: Yes, he's in Israel.
We decided to go under the floor where there was an empty space. We hid there until night. We needed to get out of there but didn't know how since the foundation of the house was made of hard stones and bricks. We started breaking the bricks and waited for the moment when the goy shepherds gathered their flocks and brought them back from the fields. We knew that would be a good time to leave because we wouldn't be heard. The house was surrounded by a garden with tall plants. We could go out through the garden unnoticed because we could jump straight into the tall vegetation.
I don't know how I managed to move a few stones. We climbed up, opened the window and jumped down. There were goyim sitting on the porch but they didn't hear us. We decided to disperse, but where to run? We didn't know. Yaakov your grandfather, David and Rifka, and another man decided to go on their own. I also decided to move alone because I thought it would be easier for them if I wasn't with them. The fewer the better.
There was the Styr River. Near the river stood a shack of a very poor man, a Baptist, and I got to him.
He put me in the cellar where they keep potatoes and I stayed there until Saturday. On Saturday they heard that the ghetto had been liquidated, that everyone had been brought to the pits and killed. The Baptist came down into the cellar and said to me, An order has been issued that if they find one Jew in a Ukrainian house the whole family will be killed. He was afraid to keep me, he was sorry but I couldn't stay with him. His girls and their friends had seen me. He came back and said, Early in the morning we will take you across the river and you'll go to the forest. The hardship began. The Baptist gave me clothes of a goy woman so I wouldn't be recognized and he took my clothes. He tied straw shoes on my feet, the kind they made themselves.
I started roaming the forest. At night I would sneak into grain storehouses and sleep in the attic.
In the evenings I would go out to look for something to eat and that's how I went from village to village. There were villages in the forest. I would come to a village and hide in the garden, and that's how I moved from village to village.
Once I sat in a garden and suddenly heard a noise. I didn't know who was there. I got up and saw another girl like me, from our town. Her name was Bella. When she saw me she asked if she could come with me.
Bella wore thin torn clothes. Autumn came and it got cold. I had a big shawl, a souvenir from my mother. I gave her the shawl and was left with only the clothes the goy had given me.
That's how we walked in the forest. We collected berries and grains and dug trenches to sleep in, covering them with branches.
Once we ran into a group of gentile women who were walking from one village to another and they had also been in our town. One recognized me and said, Fanya, do you know, no one is left from your family, and your friend Nathan was killed. No one is left. She told Bella that all her family had fled and should be here in the forest. I burst out crying. I didn't know what to do: to continue walking or to go back to the ghetto so they would kill me. I said, What's the point of my life when I have no one? I'm on my own. What will I do alone? Then the woman said to me, Come with me, my family will be your family and you'll help me. At that moment I thought, oh well, if I've survived maybe it's in order to help others. I decided this would be my purpose in life, to help others. So we began looking for other Jews. We found out that there were Jews in the forest, in bunkers in a Polish village not far from the river. We started to look for them. They told me that your grandfather Yaakov was also in the forest. Before we found the Jews in the bunkers we got to another place, a village called 'Kolodya'. In the Kolodya forest we found a bunker with a family, a father, a woman, and a small child. There were another three youngsters with them. We joined them and slept one night in that bunker. The boy was a year and a half old and he cried constantly. He was hungry. Mamciu amciu, cried the child but there was no food to give him. Question: What do these words mean? Grandma Fanya: Mamma, to eat. Mamciu is mother, Amciu is to eat. He wanted to eat. He still couldn't talk. I told Bella we couldn't stay here, that because of the baby the goyim would bring the Germans. The next day the Germans came there, goyim brought them for a kilo of salt. Only the woman and the child were in the bunker because the others had gone to look for food. The Germans took the woman and her son. The husband survived because he wasn't in the bunker. Today he is alone in Israel. The other three youth also survived. They're in the United States today.
So we started walking again. In order to find Bella's family we had to cross the river. We were afraid the goyim would see us. We were afraid to ask one of them to take us across the river. We reached the bank of the river, where we found a very shaky boat half full of water. I thought to myself, if we have survived thus far we'll surely not drown. Come Bella, let's get in the boat.
We got in. I paddled with my hands. Bella was afraid the whole time. We crossed the river and went into the forest and continued till we reached a Polish village. We walked into the first house and found a Polish doctor. I asked him if there are Jews in the area. The doctor replied that there is one pharmacist with his two children and he is supposed to come to him in the evening because he had prepared him food.
I waited till the evening and he indeed came. It was the pharmacist, Yaakov Bas, who later became your grandfather. I went with him to his bunker.
And what happened to Bella?
Bella's parent's bunker was not far from Yaakov's. I came with Bella to her parents' bunker. Bella's father said to her, What did you bring her for? She has no place with us. Bella decided to stay with her parents and I went to Yaakov's bunker.
He shared a bunker with Shlomo Appelboim, Sender Appelboim, Yaakov Weissman with his son and daughter, and of course myself. I started making sure they had food, because I looked like a goy and the goyim didn't recognize me as a Jew. When I came to ask for food I would say that my house had burned down and we had nothing to eat and I needed food for my family.
Once I came to the village of Mulchitsy and there was a Baptist there as well. His house was full of children, maybe ten of them. This Baptist knew me from home because he would buy in our store. He said to me, Stay with us. I have many children. You'll be one more. I stayed, thinking I could help more Jews in the forest. I brought food not only to Yaakov's bunker but to others as well.
One night I dreamt I was holding a Bible in my hand and reading from the book of Isaiah. I don't remember which chapter. I remember it said there that I had to go to people and warn them to turn from their evil ways and that if they did not they would be destroyed. The next morning I got up and saw that indeed there was a Bible on the table, but in Russian. I searched and found the place I had seen in my dream. That moment the goy walked in and asked What are you looking for? I told him my dream and he said, In this dream God came to you and told you to tell the goyim to stop their evil ways or else This was on a Sunday. He said, We're having a meeting today, come along. We're gathering to pray. He dressed me up in his daughter's nice clothes and I went with him. When I got there and saw the group in the house, I don't know what moved me to take the book and start reading from it.
Question: The Bible?
Grandma Fanya: The Bible. I read different verses that implied that people should be good. I said God is waiting for them to come back to the right way. The goyim went into ecstasy, began praying and talking in a different language, and said, Father. Ojcze. Father. Ojcze. Father. Ojcze, talking to God. After that I began going from village to village, talking to them and reading to them from the Bible. I would go to each such meeting with the Baptists. I joined their sect. And then they would give me clothes and food I could bring to the Jews in the forest.
Question: What did they think of you? Who did they think you were?
Grandma Fanya: They knew I was a Jew. When I went to the goyim and talked to them and read verses from the Bible, they thought I was a saint. They called me 'Feodosia, Feodosia the Saint.' They believed that if I prayed for a sick man he would get well. There was one case where a woman became very ill. She was lying in bed. I didn't know what her disease was. There were no doctors. She asked to call 'Feodosia the Saint' to pray for her. I came. The whole family gathered and I prayed to God to help her get well quickly.
Question: You prayed from the goyim's book?
Grandma Fanya: No, not from a book, from my heart. Whatever came to me. And then the woman got up and walked, well again. This became known throughout the area and when someone would feel ill they would call 'Feodosia the Saint.' Whatever I said was holy.
I had contact with the Jews in the bunkers. I would come every week and bring them a sack of food I carried on my back.
One day I got food and they gave me butter as well. This was an extraordinary event. On the way to the bunkers in the forest I had to cross a stream. I put my foot on the ice and heard 'click click' like it was about to crack. I said to myself, No, if I'm going to do this the ice will surely not break. I'll be able to cross. And I did.
That was in the morning. I went into the forest, heard shots and spotted some Germans at a distance. The trees in this forest were arranged in rows and if you stood at the head of the row you could see what was happening at the other end of it.
I didn't lose my head. I thought, If I start running they'll shoot me in the back because they'll know I'm a Jew. I started walking back slowly. I got to a Polish village and walked into the first house and asked, What's happening here? The Polish told me, Go away. The Germans have caught the Jews here. They found the bunker. Here's what happened: The day before, shepherds came to the bunker, not our bunker, and said to the Jews, Don't go out tomorrow. We'll bring you food tomorrow morning. The Jews believed them but instead of food they brought Germans, for a kilo of salt.
It was difficult to get salt in those days so they sold the Jews for a kilo of salt. The Germans tied the Jews to horses and dragged them 24 kilometers to the county seat and there they did away with them, they killed them. My friend Shifra and Hinka Shirman's father and brother were among them.
Before nightfall I went back to the goyim I was with, thinking to myself, They're all dead. What should I do now? I told the goyim, I'll go look for them at night. Maybe someone survived.
At night I went out on my own to look for them. I don't know why but I wasn't afraid. I crossed the river again. The ice is stronger at night. I got to the bunker and saw a dying fire, clothes scattered around. I called out but nobody answered. All I could hear was the echo of my voice.
Why did I go to the forest? Because I was told the survivors were tied to trees and I thought maybe we could save someone. I searched and found no one. I returned to the goyim.
We went back to Rafalovka the Station in 1944. What did I do there in our town after the liberation?
After we were liberated, children with no families, no parents, came out of the forest hungry and naked, with no clothes or only torn clothes. I would suddenly disappear. People would look for me and couldn't find me. And where was I? I had gone to other villages to schnor food and clothes for them, and I managed to round up something for everybody. The people in the other village didn't know I was Jewish.
Question: You couldn't get food after you were liberated?
Grandma Fanya: Some people had nothing to eat. Food was available but they had nothing to exchange for it, no money, nothing. They couldn't even heat the house.
I went to another village, to Olizarka, four kilometers away through the forest. I came to the Baptist gathering. They gave me clothes and food and I returned in the evening with bundles. I wasn't afraid even though there were nationalist thieves in the forest. I said to myself, nothing can happen to me. If I'm on my way to do a good deed, to help other people, nothing will happen to me. I believed in that.
And indeed, nothing happened to me. I survived. All those I helped are alive and well and I am in touch with them. One lives in Petah Tikva, her name is Jenya. She had a hard time.
Grandma Fanya: She had typhus and no food. She needed sugar so I would bring her sugar and butter and bread. It was cold and I went to the Russian officers to ask for wood to fuel the stoves.
Question: When you were liberated how did you come here?
Grandma Fanya: How did I make aliyah?
We were in Russia until 1944. We moved to the big city, to Rovno. A group of Zionists was organizing there to emigrate to Eretz Israel. We joined this group. There were people smuggling Jews to Rumania. They said from Rumania we could go to Eretz Israel. It was a long way to Rumania. We had to cross Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, and only then did we get to Rumania. We made this entire way with only a pack of clothes on our backs .
Question: By foot?
Grandma Fanya: We got from place to place by sneaking onto freight trains, and walking. When we needed to cross borders we sneaked across on foot. But there were always people who acted as go-betweens, paying something to the soldiers at the border. Question: Did you cross the border as Yaakov and Fanya Bas? Grandma Fanya: We changed our names. We took Greek names, pretending to be going back to Greece. We didn't know a word of Greek. We spoke Hebrew or Yiddish and added 'os' to the end of the word, always 'os'. One time there were Russians near the border looking for watches, tshasiki. They wanted watches and if you gave them one they let you across the border. We came to this place where there was a Russian soldier and he also asked, Tshasiki? Tshasiki? We pretended like we didn't understand him. The soldier said, Only the devil understands these people. They don't known any language. They don't know how to speak. They don't know Russian. Question: Is that because you were supposedly Greek? Grandma Fanya: Yes. We knew what he was saying but we couldn't let him know. We reached Rumania walking through the mountains. In Rumania we were told that Jews are being sent to Eretz Israel from the Rumanian port city of Constanza. Question: The State of Israel did not yet exist? Grandma Fanya: There still wasn't a state, it was Palestine. The English were still here. We didn't want to stay in Europe. We wanted to emigrate to Eretz Israel so we would have a state of our own. We got letters from America, from grandpa's brothers, inviting us to come to America. But we said, No, we're not going to America, we're through with the galut, we want to go to Eretz Israel.
We stayed in Rumania for three months, until 1945. The war ended on May 5th.
Only children and pregnant women were sent to Eretz Israel from Constanza. Our Masha and Rifka were among these children. They reached Eretz Israel before us. We traveled from Rumania through Hungary and Austria to Italy. We sat in Italy for two years till we could get to Eretz Israel. In Italy I had odd jobs. I worked for the Joint to help refugees.
Question: What's the Joint?
Grandma Fanya: The Joint was a Jewish American organization that helped Jews. They would send packages of food and we would distribute them among the refugees. Your grandfather worked in the UNWRA clothing warehouse. UNWRA is an international organization that came to help refugees and give them clothes. We stayed there for two years. In the meantime I married your grandfather and we had a child, Jonathan, your father.
We asked ourselves how we would get to Eretz Israel. They arranged for us to have documents stating we were returning to Eretz Israel. These documents carried the name of someone who had lived in Eretz Israel and was going back.
We were one of four families put on a small ship, an old Greek cargo ship. We had no choice. We had to sail on it.
Question: What was the name of the ship?
Grandma Fanya: I don't remember its name.
Question: Was it an illegal immigrant boat?
Grandma Fanya: No, this Greek cargo ship carried Jews who were supposedly returning to the country. One night in the middle of the sea we heard an alarm. The ship was in danger. A hole had formed and water was coming in. We could drown at any moment. We thought, we had been through so much, suffered so much, only to drown at sea and not reach Eretz Israel. I don't know how the miracle happened but they managed to fix the boat and we made it to Eretz Israel.
I remember the moment I saw the shore of Haifa. How moved I was, how I cried. We wept with joy.
Question: How did you settle in Eretz Israel?
Grandma Fanya: We were first sent to a hotel for a few days. This was before the War of Independence. Our hotel was right across from the British headquarters. The next morning we heard an explosion, at six in the morning. What had happened? The Stern Gang had thrown a barrel of explosives at the police building and it exploded. All the windows of our hotel shattered and a few Englishmen and other people around were killed. We clearly could not stay there.
Somebody, I don't know who, came from the Jewish Agency. They took us to Hadera to the immigrant center and gave us a tent. I remember that tent was a palace for me. I was thrilled to have a tent. We were three at the time, Yaakov, Jonathan and myself. Jonathan was in a children's house and the adults were in tents. Every night a different mother would guard the children in the children's house. I waited for the moment I could sleep there because it was warmer.
Our father, my husband, went to look for work and I often stayed alone in the tent. And many times there were storms and wind blew the tent down and I was left under the stars. I ran to the neighbors to sleep in their tent, but I was happy. I didn't look for something better, I was happy to be in Eretz Israel and to have such a place, to have something over my head.
Translation by Rachel Zetland
Donated by Jay Snider
When the Russians entered Rafalovka I was studying in a school where the primary language was Yiddish and a few subjects were taught in Ukrainian. The next year I studied at the Ukrainian school.
Things changed at home. Our store closed and my mother, Reitze Pinchuck, née Tennenboim, began working as a manager in the food department of a government office where my father, Meir Pinchuck, worked as an accounting clerk.
I studied at the Ukrainian school until the summer of 1941. Some Rafalovka Jews decided to move to Russia, which was not so simple. When the Soviets retreated, a few tens of Jews sneaked into Russia and most of them survived the war.
Riots broke out when the Russians withdrew from Rafalovka. That night murderers broke into Jewish homes and, as I recall, it was the Panasjuks and the Sabats. They broke into some homes and killed Joseph Meniuk and his wife and Dichter Riezel. They stole and looted. They also came to my uncle, David Tennenboim, who lived across from us. My uncle ran away. They ran after him, searched in his coat, but he got away. It was a long difficult night. We sat in the dark in utter terror the entire night.
When the Germans entered the town we were still in our homes. Half a year later the Germans ordered the Jews to move to the ghetto, which was located on Pillsodesky Street, a street that included the synagogue and our house, the school, and the government health center. We were also told to wear the yellow star. The Judenrat, which was established when the Germans entered Rafalovka, had to supply Jews for forced labor. We loaded wood and bales of straw onto trains and other work of that sort in the area of Rafalovka and Chartoriysk. The Germans would check the list of those going out to work every day and from time to time demand ransom, which we paid in gold and silver, valuables and furs. We also had to sew wool hats, gloves and socks. One time about 60 young Rafalovkans went to work in Chartoriysk. That day they killed the Jews of Chartoriysk, and the Rafalovka workers were killed with them, Eli Meniuk among them. The next day the Rafalovka Jews did not go out to work. Talks were held between the Judenrat and the local Ukrainian authorities and it was said that what had happened in Chartoriysk was a local incident and would not happen in Rafalovka. After this disaster it was my turn to go out and work. My mother showed up in my place and offered to go instead of me, but they wouldn't accept her. I will never forget how my uncle, who barely managed to get a permit to exit the ghetto to meet me on my way home from work, said there was a big treat waiting for me at home, strawberries and cream. Life in the ghetto was hard and bitter. We still had a full supply of goods and fabrics that we could use as barter for food. I would carry out the sales at Dr. Popov's. We stayed in our house in the ghetto, and were joined by families from Stara Rafalovka which numbered about fourteen people.
A year later the ghetto was surrounded by the Ukrainian police and we were not allowed to leave. This took a few days leading up to the Sabbath. We were told that Leah Fuks dressed up like a Ukrainian with a basket on her back and managed to slip out of the ghetto. My mother decided we should also try that. One day Pesel Brat visited us. The three of us dressed up like gentile women and tried to get through the roadblock, but they recognized us, took the watch off one of us, and took us back to the ghetto.
One night before the ghetto was liquidated my uncle said that one of the Ukrainian policemen who lived nearby was ready to smuggle me out of the ghetto and into the forest at midnight, in exchange for all our property, since anyway they were going to kill us and take all our property. My mother and uncle agreed to the deal, but we heard about girls who were offered the same and then raped and killed in the forest, and I refused to go. I said, Your fate is my fate, whatever happens to you will happen to me as well.
When the ghetto was completely surrounded on all sides by the Ukrainian Gendermaria, we all knew what to expect.
A few days before the ghetto was liquidated my father, of blessed memory, looked for a way to save my mother and me and he spotted a box in my uncle's yard. It was a big box that stood among the trashcans and was half full of animal dung. At night my father of blessed memory would dig a hole beneath the box. On the day of the aktzia [liquidation, R.Z.], he hid both of us in that hole.
On Saturday, my uncle and his kids went into the courtyard of our Christian neighbor without his knowing. They hid in the ditch the neighbor had dug to protect his household from the aerial bombarding.
My father, Meir Pinchuck of blessed memory, closed the trash cans but didn't manage to escape and was taken with the rest of the Rafalovka Jews to the killing area. My aunt, Reizel Tennenboim, did not manage to hide either. She was caught and shot by one of the local Ukrainian government authorities.
We sat in the hole until evening, not knowing what had happened to the Jews of the ghetto. We had to get out in the middle of the night because we couldn't stand sitting that way any longer. When we got out of the hole we saw my uncle on the side of the courtyard. He was looking in our direction. He and his three children decided to escape to the forest.
We walked three kilometers, maybe more, in the dark. We got to the forest and lay down to rest. We were exhausted, hungry and thirsty. A shepherd noticed us in the morning and invited us to his home, gave us food and brought us to his barn so we could rest. We stayed in the barn all day and night as well. We fell asleep. To our horror we realized our host had set us up. He turned us over to the Ukrainian police.
A rifle butt was shoved into my back and woke me up. I opened my eyes and saw Ukrainian policemen. We were ordered to get up and come with them. We were taken to Vladimirets, to the police station.
Walking with the policemen, we knew these were our last moments. We walked in a line, me and my mother, my uncle and his children. The policemen hurried us along, kicking us and hitting us with their rifle butts.
I don't know whether it was the survival instinct and the human will to live, or the horror stories I had heard about the cruelty of the Ukrainians that prompted me to say: I'm running. I wouldn't want the last thing I see to be blood spraying out of you, my mother whispered. I told my mother she would see my blood even if I stay - I chose to die running and spare myself torture and cruelty.
After a brief hug and kiss on her cheek I started running towards the forest. The policemen began running and shooting after me. Bullets penetrated the school uniform I had put on that day. I didn't want to lose a single minute so I didn't look back to see my persecutors.
I continued to run, jumped over a fence, fell into a wheat field, and lost the policemen. They went back to my mother, uncle and the children. They all continued on to Vladimirets.
I got up and continued running to the forest.
I lost my shoes.
I sat in the forest. Although I was spoiled and a scardy cat, I was relieved. I rested for a few hours near a tree. I knew it was close to dawn and I would need to find some place to hide. I started walking, even though I didn't know where I was and where I was going. After an hour I got on a trail that led to a single house in the middle of the forest. I was thirsty and decided to go into the house. Through the window I could see people sleeping on benches.
I knocked on the door but no one opened. I thought the people in the house must know that the person standing on the other side of the door was a survivor asking for refuge. I thought they must not be opening because they were afraid.
I did not give up until the door opened and there was an old peasant woman. I asked for water. The peasant brought me a cup of water and a piece of bread.
I offered my clothes to the peasant. In my pocket I had sewing thread, a rarity in those times. I asked for peasant clothes and bark sandals (postoles). The goy woman agreed.
I asked the old woman for the shortest way to the nearest settlement. She explained and pointed in the direction I should take.
Again I was walking in the forest for a few hours until I reached a few houses. From up close I saw a little bridge with a single house on one side, and two houses on the other side. I contemplated where I should turn and decided to knock on the door of the single house.
The door was opened by a frightened man who asked me, How did you decide to knock on my door of all doors?
I answered that my senses directed me to do so, and I couldn't explain why. The man responded that my senses have saved me since over the bridge lives a Ukrainian policeman.
The peasant hurried me into the barn because he didn't want his wife to know he was hiding survivors. He brought food and told me to go up to the loft where the hay was. Climbing up there I was startled by the rustle of a person. I saw it was Feigale from Stara Rafalovka, who had already been there for a week.
In the evening I asked the man if he knew a man named Boris, a friend of our family. To my surprise, he replied he knew him. I asked him to take me to the man. He asked me whether I was sure about this and when I said I was he agreed to take me there and show me the way. After walking for a few hours he pointed to the house and said he would wait for me a little ways away for an hour. If Boris could not take me in he would take me back to his house and together we would figure out what to do. But, if I did not come out, that would be a sign that Boris had agreed to give me shelter in his home and he would go back alone. That is how I bade farewell to this man whose name I did not know.
Who was Boris?
A few days before the murder of the town's Jews, when we already knew what was to befall us, my father called a goy named Boris Sevchuk and gave him our cow and a sack full of our possessions. Boris, and to a lesser degree his brother Ivan, were frequent guests in our home for many years. They used to run errands and assist us over the years. When the property of the town's Jews was going to be appropriated by the masses, my father preferred that the little we had fall into Boris' hands.
Boris was a Communist during the Polish rule and had sat in jail.
He agreed to take me in. I stayed there for 10 days, but I knew that I could not stay there for long without his neighbors noticing. Most of his neighbors were collaborating with the German. I decided to leave his house and go to the forests.
Boris told me about a group of Jews who had fled the ghetto on the day of the killing and were roaming around the forests. He arranged a meeting with them.
One evening I met a few of Pesel Brat's uncles, and the Lisak family, and the son of the shohet from Olizarka and his sister Sarah. I joined them. Sarah and I were the youngest in the group, and there was a nine-year-old child. In the evening someone would go to the peasants and ask for food. The group already knew which farmers they could go to, but I didn't know and they didn't want to take me and show me the way to these peasants because then they would have to share the food they got with me. The only one who let me in was Sarah. Before the Christian new year, during a harsh winter of snow and storms, I found myself without the bark sandals and nearly barefoot. I begged Sarah to go with me to Boris and ask him for sandals. After much pleading she agreed and we planned to come back by dawn.
There was a storm and the snow was so thick we lost our way. We barely made it to Olizarka by morning. We reached a Shtundist and asked him to let us stay at his place until dark. He was afraid. We promised him that if we hear the Germans coming we will leave and go into an empty Jewish house. He agreed. Before dark his wife came in and told us that she heard shooting in the forest from the direction we had come. We distracted her from this matter because we were afraid to be driven away.
We stayed another night at that peasant's house. He gave us bark sandals and food and at dawn we set out back to the group. When we neared the place we sensed something was wrong. There was no fire and no noise. We came close to the spot where the group was supposed to be and Sarah yelled that I was stepping on a person. I looked down and saw that it was one of Pesel Brat's uncles. Five other frozen corpses were laying at his side. The rest of the group had been taken to the police in Vladimirets. We immediately returned to Olizarka. We were told that the little boy in the group told the police that there were two other girls and they were looking for us. We hid for quite a long time in Olizarka with Shtundist peasants, alternating between their homes. These peasants had connections with the partisans.
After a while they told us where the partisans were. We went there and asked them to let us join them. We were first admitted into a small partisan company where we heard that Pesel Brat was already in the high command. We could not get to the high command ourselves so we sent a message through someone saying where we were and that we want to meet her at a certain place in the forest. She arrived riding a horse and we spent a few minutes together. I didn't stay in that unit for very long. I worked in the kitchen. When the partisan company named after Fyodorov was formed I joined it and worked in the kitchen and did guard duty after being trained to use weapons. Partisan strike forces set out from this unit to attack the Germans. In the forest we had a hospital in a big tent with a staff of doctors and nurses who came from Russia, and we had a store of medicine. I developed boils from the conditions I was working in and went to the hospital tent and asked for medicine. They laid me on a surgery table, two nurses held me down, and a doctor opened up the sores and drained the puss. It was terribly painful.
I stayed there until the Red Army liberated the area. The partisans were decent to me. When the area was liberated I was taken to a place close to a train, I think it was near Manevichi. They put me on the train and I arrived in liberated Rafalovka at night.
I got off the train and didn't know where to go. Instinctively, I walked to our house. It was empty and locked, and I was told that the Russian command was located in the building. I went back to the main street and saw light in one of the houses. I knocked on the door and a Jewish women I did not recognize opened it. I asked her if Rafalovka Jews had already returned to town. She told me that Simha Brat and some of his family were living in their home. I went straight there and they were very glad to see me and take me in. I lived there for a few months and then I moved to Rovno. I was a dealer and was once caught but somehow got out of it. I decided to move to Poland. I continued the same kind of livelihood there as well.
At the end of 1945 I moved to Vienna through Prague with the Berihah and arrived at the Rothschild Hospital where there were a few hundred Jews.
From there I moved to Bindermichl Zidlong!, the Joint DP (displaced persons) camp.
One day we were told we were going to be addressed by soldiers from the Jewish Brigade. We all gathered to see Jewish soldiers. The place was packed. The soldiers stood on tables and gave speeches. With great difficulty I made my way up to them and asked them if they could let my brother who was a soldier in the Brigade know that I am in Austria. When I said my name the soldier said my brother was his commander. A few days later I met my brother.
The meeting was very moving. I could not stop crying. I couldn't speak. The pain, the loss of dear ones, the agony and loneliness shook me to the core and I clung to him like a small child feeling lucky that I had survived the war with someone I could count on.
One Saturday in June I arrived in Eretz Israel aboard the Biriya.
The trip to Rafalovka in 1990
I set out to Rafalovka with mixed feelings, having fled the place some 50 years earlier. Two events left a deep impression on me.
When I was in Rafalovka I decided to meet with Boris. I heard he was living in Kiev. I went to visit him at his home.
One of the reasons for visiting him was my desire to identify and locate the peasant who had taken me to Boris that evening after fleeing the Ukrainian policemen. At the time I had left the man without knowing his name or identity. I assumed that over the years Boris must have come to know who the man was. Unfortunately Boris did not know who I was talking about, the two not having met that evening.
Boris was now 80 years old and retired. In a moving conversation we reconstructed the events of those days. With much pride Boris showed me the metals and the letters of gratitude he had received from the Soviet authorities for what he had done during the war.
Meeting Boris closed a chapter in my life.
It is a pity I was unable to locate the unknown peasant.
The bus that drove us around stopped at the square in front of the train station. I looked around and did not recognize the place. If not for the sign at the station that read Rafalovka, I wouldn't have believed this was the place where fifty years earlier all the Jews of the ghetto had been gathered, the eldrely, the women and the children, to be taken to their death.
I was of course curious to see our house from before the war. But the first thing we went looking for was a big wooden box that had stood in my uncle's yard up against the fence of the Christian neighbor's yard. I was astonished to find the box, in place. I examined it over and over again. I stood there for hours for it was thanks to that simple wooden box that I survived.
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