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[Page 301]

THE ROAD OF SUFFERING

Wanderings And Hardships During The Holocaust

Haya Volkon (Pinchuk) (Haifa)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

When the Germans occupied Russia on 22 June 1941, I wrote my parents in Glinna to come to Rokitno so that we could go together to Russia. Since they did not reply, I went with my brother, Israel to Glinna to take our parents with us. They refused to leave saying that the war would not last long and the Germans would not reach us. When we parted, my father shed tears and said that he and my mother will be alone and abandoned in their old age. I could not watch them suffer and I decided to stay in Glinna. My brother was advised to escape since, according to all the rumors, the Germans abused men, especially those who had worked for the Soviets. My brother Israel parted from us and went on his way. However, he returned ten days later because all the roads were already blocked by the Germans.

It was quiet during the first three weeks under German occupation. Soon gangs of criminals from nearby villages were formed. They demanded from the Jews their belongings. One day, a Folksdeutch (German Pole) called Ratzlav, arrived from Rokitno. He was accompanied by twenty men from the glass factory (Huta). They were going from village to village inciting the Christian population against the Jews and they stole anything that came their way.

The situation worsened from day to day. We were afraid of attacks on our houses and we slept away from home every night. I remember one Shabbat eve when the table was set and the candles were lit. Suddenly we heard that in David-Horodok the peasants had killed Jewish men even before the Germans arrived. They were now going wild in the area and slaughtering Jews. We were shaken by the news and everyone went to the forest. We spent the night there.

Three frightening months passed. One day a peasant told us that all the Jews of Vitkovich were exterminated. At first, it seemed that they would be allowed to leave the village. However, they were soon chased and tortured. Their hands and feet were broken and they expired with terrible suffering. Now the criminals were preparing to come to Glinna to exterminate the Jews.

When our family heard this terrible news, we left for Rokitno. We went to live with Asher Schwartz. This is where we had stayed during the Soviet occupation. When the ghetto was formed and the yellow star had to be worn, we moved to Yudel Kleiman's house in the “new town”. The ghetto was divided into two sections and was spread over Pilsudsky Street in the “old town” and a few streets in the “new town”. We did very hard work. Some of the young women were employed in a cooperative located in the old synagogue. They knitted sweaters and did sewing for the Germans. We were taken to work from the “new town” to the “old town” in the middle of the road. We were not permitted to walk on the pavement. At times we even went to dig ditches and to bring lumber from the forests.

Life in the ghetto became more difficult and bitterer every day. Hunger plagued us especially those who had not hoarded food and who did not have clothes for bartering. It was possible to get food from the peasants in exchange for clothes. We had no choice but to eat weeds and wild flowers. All kinds of stems were cooked, especially poison ivy nettles. We were tormented by the hunger.

In the first roll call by the Germans we were gathered in the market square across from the new synagogue. We were led to the abattoir. The Poles watched us with a smile of pleasure spread on their faces. After this roll call, as well as the next one, we came back home. We were broken and dejected because we knew it was the end.

On August 26, 1942, the SS gave an order for us to present ourselves for a third roll call in the market square across from the synagogue in the “new town”. This time it was a comprehensive roll call. It included children, the elderly and the sick. At first we stood scattered. However, soon the order came to stand six abreast – men and women separated. My sisters and I stood near our mother. The Germans, including Sokolovsky, chief of police, were going back and forth in the square. At times the chief of the Ukrainian militia would appear, speak quietly to Sokolovsky, and then leave.

The members of the Judenrat mingled among us and calmed us by telling us we would soon be going home. However, troubling swings told us it was not time for optimism. Sima Zaks, who stood near us, asked for water for her children. It could not be done. We waited for a long time. We found out later that the reason for the delay was that the train taking us to Sarny had not arrived.

My mother, always full of confidence and hope, encouraged us saying that in two weeks we would be praying the Rosh Hashana service in the synagogue across the road. We must not lose hope because there is a great G-d up above and he delivers salvation quickly. However, suddenly we heard shots fired by the Ukrainian militia. We saw armed officers approaching us from a street next to the synagogue. When we saw the killers, terrible screams erupted and many of us began to run.

Sokolovsky pointed his pistol and yelled in Polish: “Don't run or I will shoot”. My mother held my hand in hers and said: “Come my daughter! Let us run away. The end is near!” That moment we were bombarded by a shower of bullets. I managed to run with my mother to Noah Rafalovich's house. Somehow, I dropped her hand. I threw a coat over my head and I ran without looking back. On the way I saw many wounded, but I did no stop. A powerful force was propelling me forward, through backyards and fields until I reached the forest. The escaping Jews, 600 or so, were running mainly on the street leading to the forest. Most of them were caught by the bloodthirsty police officers. Here and there, young children ran without mother or father, scared and exhausted. They fell on the road. I will never forget the image of a young boy, about four years old, who ran after us yelling: “I am Malka's child. Take me with you!” No one paid any attention to him. We ran like crazed people.

In the forest I met Haike Horman (She died a year later in the Osnitzek forest), Tzipah Wax and her family, Motel Kramer and his two children, and Feiga Brach. We sat down and listened to the screams echoing from town. When my head cleared and I understood what was happening, I could not forgive myself for abandoning my mother to certain death as I was saving myself. To this day, my heart is heavy with guilt.

We walked five kilometers away from Rokitno into the forest. Towards evening Motel Kramer, Tzipah Wax and her family and Feiga Brach decided to return to town. They hoped that those who remained alive would be allowed to live in the ghetto. This had happened in other towns. They did not think they could survive in the forest. Haike Horman and I and two Jews from Karpilovka went in the direction of Karpilovka. On the way I went to a peasant's house to ask for clothes to guard against the cold. At the door I met Hershel Gornstein's wife with her baby girl. She was begging to be allowed inside the house. I did not receive the clothing I was seeking and I continued to walk parallel to the narrow railroad tracks. We were depressed and frozen when we arrived in Karpilovka. We went to a peasant's house where we were given bread and hot potatoes. The peasant's daughter commiserated with us and cried about our bitter predicament. She brought Haike and me to the barn to sleep. At night she came and told us that Jews were hiding in the house. I was shocked to find my two brothers-in-law – Sender Golovey and Yechiel Trossman. With them were Issachar and Moshe who was wounded in the leg (he was wounded in the market square). Haike Horman, too, found her sister Sarah with her husband Pinhas Fuchsman.

We could not all stay there. Therefore, we continued on the road. We met other Jews and we entered the forest. On the first night we discovered how cold it could be and how difficult life was without any possessions. Danger lurked everywhere.
We began to search for partisans. When we were still in Rokitno we heard that, near Brezhne, ten days before the extermination, they had attacked partying Germans. They killed 30 of them. My brother-in-law, Yechiel, decided to go with his children, Issachar and Moshe, to look for his wife Ita and his daughter Miriam. Before the extermination they had agreed to meet at a certain peasant's house. He was hoping to find them there. He invited me to join them. I thought I would be a burden to them and I parted from him. I joined a group, which included my brother-in-law Sender. It was difficult to say good-bye. My heart told me we would not meet again.

Yechiel stayed with the children in the forest and I walked away from them. From time to time I turned my head and looked at them. Suddenly, the children shouted: “Wait for us. We don't want to part from you. Let us go together!” We continued in the direction of Brezhne, through the forest, any which way. Two days later we noticed footprints of spiked boots. We realized that partisans had walked there. We asked the peasants where they were and they said they were in the area. We decided to send a delegation of three men to look for the partisans. We were a group of 19 people waiting for their return. We anxiously waited for two days and feared for their well-being. One night we heard rustling in the forest and we soon saw our delegation of three together with the partisans. They wore Red Army uniforms and had a red star on their caps. We were unbelievably elated. Some of us hugged them. They urged us to start walking since there was a long road ahead of us. We had to reach camp before daybreak.

In the morning we reached the tents and we saw uniformed men and women. There were some Jews among them. Some were officers. I particularly remember an officer, a woman from Odessa called Sima. Most of the partisans had come from the forests of Briensk (the hub of partisan activity). They numbered about 100. We were well received. They gave us hot food and medical attention. Slowly our sense of confidence returned and we felt like human beings again. We were ready to fight the Nazi beast.

After we had a short rest, General Medvedev spoke to us. He promised to help us and to set up a special camp for us so that we could defend ourselves. For a while we were part of the larger camp. The elderly were assigned to do housekeeping chores and the younger ones were given arms. The women cooked. When we arrived we found a few young men from Brezhne that we knew from earlier days. We were 150 Jews including 13 children. One of the women was a kindergarten teacher. Haya Gitelman and her husband sewed children's shirts out of parachutes. We waited for an airplane that would take the children to Moscow. A temporary runway was prepared, but the plane sank in the mud and we could not get it out. The pilots took out the ammunition and the medicines and the plane was set on fire. Of course, it was no longer thinkable to get the children out.

Two weeks after the extermination, Moshe Golbey, Shoshana and Shlomo Grinshpan arrived in our camp. Shlomo told us he had seen my father, Avraham, and Hershel Shteinman in the forest. They were too old to join the partisans. Unfortunately, I was not able to see my father. He and Shteinman were caught near Osnitzek and killed. It was three weeks after the slaughter in Rokitno.

One evening, all the Jews in camp were gathered. General Medvedev appointed three Jewish officers to supervise us. We were given ammunition: 18 guns, two wagons harnessed to horses, and enough food to last for a few days so that we would not have to raid the villages and annoy the peasants.

As soon as we covered a distance of 15 kilometers from camp, the three Jewish officers disappeared. They did not believe that, burdened with the elderly, the young and the sick, we would be able to reach safety. The parachutists who had accompanied us went back to camp to seek advice as to how to proceed. We waited for them in a very dangerous area. We were close to the German stations and we had to be absolutely silent.

In our group we had a doctor from Brezhne with his wife, sister-in-law and his two children. One child cried constantly because of mosquito bites, lack of food and the cold. Some members of the group went over to the doctor and asked him to keep the child quiet because he was putting us all in danger. The doctor replied: “Take the child. I cannot keep him quiet. Do with him as you wish. Let us not all be lost!” The people bowed their heads and returned to their places.

When the advance people returned with the commander we were all assembled. We were warned, in case of capture, not to give any details to the enemy. The commander said they could not help us defend ourselves. We were to do it on our own. We could stay as a unit or we could disperse. Some of our group went off on their own. They were caught by the Germans and killed. About 40 of us remained. We decided to continue as an independent partisan unit. Our leaders were Yitzhak Shapiro, Yechiel Trossman and Yechiel Freger (still with us).

We continued to advance. A few days later, we were joined by three Jews from Koritz – Moshe Gendelman (Uncle Misha), his son Simcha and his nephew. Uncle Misha joined the command. In one of the forests near Rokitno we met Rachel Hammer who was all alone. We invited her to join us. However, she refused saying she was used to being there. We parted from her in great sorrow and we left her alone in the forest.

On the way we had to cross a bridge near Osnitzek. It was well guarded by the Germans. In those days, trains would pass through every twenty minutes. They were used to transport stolen Jewish property. We had to cross the bridge between trains. If we ran into guards, we had to eliminate them. We waited for two days in the forest. Our people surveyed the area to decide on the right moment to cross the bridge. Indeed, we were successful. When we had gone a few kilometers from the tracks we sat down to rest.

Early in the morning we saw a peasant arranging a pile of fodder. Some of us wanted to eliminate him so he would not tell the enemy about us. However, since we were Jews who had pity on him, we only warned him to say nothing. One should not feel pity for cruel people. The peasant informed on us.

From a distance of 200 m we suddenly heard shouts: “Stop! Stop!” A shower of bullets fell on us. We began to run. Some of us stayed in place to defend those who were retreating. The Germans and the Ukrainians did not dare come closer. They believed we had a larger force.

We were separated from the unit and we roamed the forest aimlessly. We did not know how to go back. When we retreated we had left our parcels. One contained a picture of the family of Yechiel Trossman. The Germans immediately posted, in Rokitno, a reward for the capture of Yechiel. We walked towards the villages of Blizhov and Glinna. The situation in the new area was even worse than in the partisan camp. We discovered that Uncle Misha remained independent with 15 men. We were forced to break up into small groups so that the peasants would not be suspicious. Also, if something happened, we would not all be caught.

I will never forget those days. They were extremely difficult – days of rain and cold. The peasants did not allow us to come near their house and tried to avoid us. When we approached a house to ask for bread, they would meet us with axes and send their dogs after us. One rainy night I went to the house of a peasant I knew, to find out if anyone in my family was still alive. I saw him on his knees praying devoutly. When he got out and saw me he began to shout at me for coming there. He said: “G-d ordained that you die. Go and give yourselves up to the Germans. You will not be able to escape from the verdict of G-d in heaven”.

From then on we began to wander aimlessly in the forest. As the cold weather worsened from day to day, we lay under the stars on a bed of wet leaves. One evening we reached a hamlet not far from the village of Toupik. Yechiel and Moshe went to the house to beg for food while I stayed outside with Issachar. Suddenly we heard rustling in the forest. I whispered to Issachar: “We are lost!” When those approaching heard my whisper, they began to run away. I understood they were Jews and I called to them: “Don't run away. We, too, are Jews!” When they came closer I saw my sister Rivka and Motel Shapiro. We called out each other's name in disbelief. I told her that Sender and Moshe were alive and in the area. Rivka had been told that I was killed in Sarny. I was told, by a peasant, two days earlier, that Rivka had been killed by Lithuanians with a group of Rokitno Jews. Rivka told me that Ita and Miriam were near Blizhov. We went to the place where my sister was staying and there we found Shimon Gendelman, Aharon Perlov and two brothers, Moshe and Mordechai Chechik from Toupik. That night Shimon Gendelman, Perlov and one of the brothers went out to search for food. The peasants caught Shimon Gendelman and the young man from Toupik and gave them over to the police. Perlov fought them off and fled. (The peasant who informed on Gendelman and the young man from Toupik, for 2 kg. of salt, was killed by Asher Binder when he was with the partisans).

The next day we parted again from Rivka. She stayed in place and we left to meet Sender and Moshe who were in the area. We continued to wander towards Blizhov because Yechiel hoped to meet his wife Ita, and his daughter, Miriam. We arrived at a hamlet near Blizhov and we spoke to a peasant. Rivka said that he had information about the Jews located near Glinna. We searched fruitlessly for a few days. We settled in the forest near the road from Glinna to Blizhov. We were successful in finding Ita, Miriam, Henya Kutz and her daughter. We were overjoyed. That night we decided to go back to Blizhov because the peasants were kinder there. Yechiel and I went over to a peasant in the Hmel hamlet to ask him to tell anyone who asked about us that we were in the Blizhov area. When we came in at dawn, the peasant told us that my brother, Israel was there. My grief was unspeakable when I saw Israel swollen with hunger. We went back to the forest intending to remain together without parting. However, the next day we found out that Yehoshua Olisker and his family from Glinna were caught and killed. For security reasons we had to separate. I remained with my brother Israel. Yechiel and his family with Henya Kutz and her daughter returned to the Blizhov area.
One night we crossed the Stviga River near Glinna. Israel carried me on his back because my shoes were torn. We sat on the other side of the river across from our house in Glinna, which had been taken over by the Ukrainian police. We were alone, hungry, shoeless, frozen and petrified. We watched our home, occupied by strangers, but we could not reach it.

One night, the woman in whose barn we were hiding came and told us that the Soviets had arrived and had conquered the area. I understood her to mean partisans. Israel also confirmed that the partisans took over the area and destroyed the police holdings. They spent three weeks there. However, when the German advance forces came they retreated after a bloody battle in the village of Gloshovitz.        
When the German forces appeared in the area, we were obliged to escape into the forest to a place called “Island of Wolves”. The Germans went through all the settlements killing and burning. They especially took revenge on all those who supported the partisans. We stayed in the forest. The cold was unbearable. We lay on snow under the stars. This cruel cold caused the death of my brother-in-law Sender. He became weaker and one night died in my sister Rivka's arms.

At that time, Rachel Shuster, who was blind, joined us. Her sister Ethel and three children were saved from the Berezov ghetto. When the Germans entered their home to take them out, Rachel jumped, with two children, out of the window and she escaped into the forest. The peasants saw the hand of G-d in this escape and helped her.

In March 1943, the German forces came again to the area. They stayed for 18 days. We were very careful not to be caught by them. When we were on the Island of Wolves, 3 Shtundist brothers from the Hmel hamlet fed us. They brought us information about the movement of the Germans. They endangered their lives many time to save ours.

A short time later the Germans left the area and were no longer to be seen. However, they still bombed the area. In the spring, life was a little easier and we went to live with one of the peasants from the Hmel hamlet. Partisans came into the area. Kovpek with his large army passed through on the way to the Carpathians. Local detachments were formed. The Kotovsky detachment provided propaganda material. We joined the Kotovsky partisan detachment of Sovorov. One of the outstanding members of this detachment was Zvi Olshansky, chief saboteur and right-hand man of the commander.

From time to time, the Germans bombarded us because the peasants told them where we were located. They were never successful in hitting us. At the end of 1943, the Nazis were losing the war. We felt our redemption was near.

Unfortunately, I had an infection in a wisdom tooth. My mouth was completely shut and I had high fever. There was no one who could pull the tooth. One of the peasants tried to pull it out with pliers, but was unsuccessful. I was near death for three weeks. My condition was very serious. It was suggested to have my throat cut open to install a pipe for breathing. I refused. After lengthy treatments I had surgery under the tooth. The pus was drained and I improved.

When the Soviets liberated the area, the partisans left. Israel joined them. We went back to Rokitno. We found an empty, destroyed town. Jewish voices were no longer heard. Every street, every house and every corner reminded us of our dear departed souls. The loneliness was oppressive. Our only hope was to find a way to leave the place. A while later we received a letter from my brother in Russia. He informed us that he had gone there in 1941 with the Red Army. In February 1945, on his way to the front, he visited us. The day after he left Rokitno, my brother-in-law Yechiel went out to battle the Banderovtzis in the village of Decht. He never returned. Two months later, on April 19, 1945 my brother Shalom died. Our only hope was to make aliyah and to join the remainder of the family. We left Rokitno for Poland. After much wandering, we arrived in Israel in 1948. I still managed to see my brother Baruch who was a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. He died defending his country in 1948, two weeks before the ceasefire.


[Page 308]

The Road Of Suffering

Bronia Lifshitz (Kogan) (Givatayim)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

On the eve of that fateful day, we knew that, the next morning, we had to go to the market square. My mother Sheindl had a bad feeling. Her heart told her the end was near. She prepared us for judgment day and told me and my sister Bella to save ourselves. We did not need to worry about her. Our neighbor, Fanya Klorfein, told my mother off for panicking everyone. There was no basis for it. She felt that since the first two roll calls ended well this one would also be like them. My mother was not convinced by these worthless consolations and she could not sleep. We did not sleep a wink all night and we prepared for judgment day. One cannot describe the suffering we went through that night. Jews have always consoled themselves with the saying: “Even when a sharp sword is placed on a person's neck, compassion is still possible”. However, the coming extermination was so certain that we could not console ourselves with this saying.

In the morning we put on our best clothes as if we were going on a festive outing. (It turned out that these clothes saved us because they kept us warm and also served as an exchange for food). I stood near my mother and my sister and near us stood my aunt, Esther Cherpichnik. When the police arrived, my mother began to sob and said: “Children, they are coming to kill us!” She pushed us and said: “Run, my children, run. Save yourselves!” To this day I feel the push on my back. My senses were blurred. I began to run frightened and lost my mother and sister. I later found out that my mother ran to a peasant called Claudia. She had stored some belongings there. I was told that the woman informed on my mother to the police and that they took her back to the market square. My sister with her two-year old son in her arms escaped to a peasant called Stankevich and hid in his garden. She, too, was taken back to the market square.

As I ran between the bullets, I was caught in an iron bar sticking out of the fence. I do not remember who freed me from this trap. I do remember that I continued to run with my last strength. I reached the forest where I met Aharon Lifshitz, the three Golubovitz brothers and a few others. We walked together. A troubling question filled my head: Where is my family? What was their fate? I felt guilty because I had saved myself. I very much wanted to return to Rokitno to die together with my mother and sister. However, the hope that in spite of everything, they had managed to escape from the market square, kept me from performing this desperate act.

We walked a whole day without any food or drink. Towards evening we found a well of dirty water. Felix Golubovitz took off his hat, filled it with water and gave us a drink. We heard that in the village of Budki-Borovski there were good peasants who hid Jews. We went there and we came to Liucik Zalevski. When I arrived I asked the good man to go with me to the village of Borovey. We had hidden goods there at the home of the priest's brother. We left at night. The road was very difficult. He was afraid to be caught by criminals who roamed the area. Zalevski went back and I stayed alone in Borovey. I was separated from my group. When I came to the priest's brother, he and his wife began to threaten me. They told me to leave immediately because they were in contact with Germans who visited them regularly. They were prepared to give back some of our belongings. However, they wanted me to leave immediately. I cried bitter tears and I begged them not to abandon me because I did not know how to reach a place where I could find Jews.
They told me that their farm hand would accompany me. I took two suits and some cloth and we were on our way. We came to his house and I stayed in the attic a whole day and half the night. At midnight the man came and told me the time was right to be on our way. Later on he stole the suits and cloth. I was suspicious from the beginning and when he reached the forest he stopped and said: “You are on your own from here on”. It was pitch black outside. With tears in my eyes I begged him not to leave me. I did not know the way. How could I walk in the dark? Wild beasts could attack me or the killers would find me. He answered stubbornly: “If you are not tired of your life- run now!” I was covered with a blanket to protect me from the cold. He took the blanket from me and in cruel voice repeated: “Run now!” I asked him to give me back the blanket because I could freeze in this extreme cold. When he heard my begging he took out an axe, put it to my forehead and said: “If you wish to stay alive, do not ask me for anything”. I was afraid that he would fulfill his threat and I escaped. I sat down in the thick of the forest and I wept silently. I resolved to wait for morning.

At daybreak I arose and began to walk. I did not know in which direction to go. I saw railroad tracks and I said to myself: If I cross them I may cross the border. I am already lost. I should go wherever my feet carry me. I suddenly discovered houses. I passed a few of them because my heart was beating hard. Eventually, I stopped at a house. An inner voice whispered to me: “Go inside and you will be safe”. I traversed the fence and I saw a huge scary dog. To my great surprise, he opened his eyes, looked at me, but he did not budge from his place and continued to doze. When I knocked on the door a petrified peasant came out. He was totally surprised. How did the dog remain silent and allow me to enter? It was something unusual. I was worthy of coming inside the house for that reason alone.

The peasant offered me a meal. I told him my story and he was in shock. He told me not to be afraid. He was a Shtundist and the Shtundists love Jews. He promised to accompany me at night to my destination. I lay all day hidden in the yard. At noon he came with a bible and read a few chapters to me. He saw me as a mysterious figure. His frightening dog only spared spirits and miracle workers. The fact that the dog did not bare his teeth proved that it was a sign from G-d that I should live.

While I was hiding in the yard the Ukrainian police conducted a thorough search in his house. This too was a sign from above because he originally had intended to hide me in his house. He only changed his mind at the last minute.

At night he went with me to Budki-Borovski and brought me to Yuzik Zalevski's house. He was renowned as a savior of Jews.

Zalevski accepted me willingly and arranged a hiding place for me in a potato cellar. He hid me in a crate that resembled a coffin. I shrunk myself into this living tomb. There was no air and no light and I thought I would faint. I called for help. Zalevski came immediately and found me unconscious. He took me out of the crate, rubbed my temples with snow until I came to. As soon as I felt better, he put me back in the crate because it was dangerous to be seen in daylight. At night I would come out for a breath of fresh air. I lay in this coffin for three months. I was certain that I would come out a cripple.

One day Yuzik came to me and said: “You can come out. The partisans came and they are accepting members into their ranks. Go to them and they will receive you well.” After three months of darkness I thought daylight was a miracle – something from a distant world. I felt as though, for the first time in my life, I was seeing this precious light. It bothered my eyes and I had difficulty adjusting. I was very happy because I was fortunate enough to see the sun again and to breathe fresh air. Great elation overcame me. In my heart there was hope that if I was fortunate enough to come out of this darkness into daylight, I would also be free again.

I joined a group of Jews hiding in the village and we went together to the partisans. However, they only wanted a few men. The women were not wanted. I had no choice but to return to Zalevski. The situation had worsened. Germans and Ukrainian militia had appeared in the village looking for partisans. He asked me to hide in the forest until the storm passed.

In the forest I met Avraham Eizenberg, the Burd brothers and Niuska Kokel. We were dirty and very weak. We could not stand up. We fell after walking a few steps. We wanted the end to come. Death seemed to us the redemption from unspeakable suffering. Avraham Eizenberg brought us potatoes and other food. We broke our fast and we slowly recuperated.

One day the happy news came. The Soviets were coming closer to our area. A few weeks later we were free. The enemy was defeated. Rokitno was liberated and we could return as free people. In January 1945 we returned to Rokitno. I looked at the terrible destruction and I saw what was left of our Rokitno where we had spent our best years.


[Page 311]

My Experiences In The Years 1942-45

Asher Rosenstein (America)

Translated by Ala and Larry Gamulka

The escape from the market square in Rokitno was in such confusion and so sudden that it is impossible to concentrate on details. I remember only that I was holding the hand of Godel, Pinie Fuchsman's younger son and we ran not knowing in which direction to go. Running out of Rokitno, we were three by the time we reached the forest. The older boy, Yakov, was also with us. Suddenly, a peasant came out from behind a tree holding a pitchfork and began to shout: “Jews! Jews!” We began to run again and he followed us yelling: “Where are you running cursed Jews? May the devil catch you!” We ran without stopping until we collapsed exhausted under a tree. Fear and hunger did not permit us to waste time thinking and we continued to run until sunset.

We wandered for two days and two nights until we reached Zolovey, the village from which both the Fuchsman boys and I came. Our hope was that our former neighbors would help us and feed us.

The Fuchsman children, who were very hungry, decided to go to a peasant called Trachim, with whom their parents had left their belongings for safekeeping.

Trachim did hide them, but he immediately went to the police to inform that he had hidden two Jewish children. It did not take long for the murderers to arrive and to shoot them on the spot. They also shot their uncle Modrik (the husband of Hava Modrik who is now in Israel with her children). This was the first chapter in the story of the Zolovey escapees who hoped to be rescued by their former neighbors whom they had known for many years.

I went to Evelyn, my close Polish friend. We had a child, Kalman, who was born shortly before the war began. Evelyn hid me in a barn filled with hay. Even though it was a safe place, I knew that Evelyn and her family would sacrifice their lives rather than give me away.

While I was hiding in the barn Evelyn brought me terrible news. My parents escaped the slaughter and came to Zolovey. The killers arrested my mother and my sister Haya and were holding them in the police station. They announced that they would wait until my father and I will be caught to decide our fate.

My father did not hesitate for a moment and he gave himself up to the killers. It must be understood that these killers were local boys who used to constantly eat and drink in our house. Their parents were life-long neighbors of our family. My mother and father begged them to allow them to escape into the forest.

What was the answer? The killers led them out of the village in the direction of Rokitno through the forest. All the way my father talked to them and asked them to, at least, spare my sister's life and allow her to live. He told them to shoot in the air, pretending to shoot at us.

The killers of Zolovey, Adam and Trachim Turgansky and Pavel Djukovsky were drunk from killing Jews and took pleasure in killing more. A few kilometers before Rokitno, a horrible tragedy befell my parents and my sister. My sister begged to be shot first so she would not see her dear parents killed. They were killed in a small forest. Their bodies were not buried, but were left for wolves to drag through the forest. (The fate of my parents was told to me by a local peasant who had been given all the details by the killers).

After liberation, I collected their bones and hid them hoping to give them a proper Jewish burial. Unfortunately, it was not possible to do it because I was drafted into the army.

After the slaughter of my family, the killers came to look for me. They knew that Evelyn would be the first to know where to find me. When they arrived, Evelyn went out to meet them. With guns in their hands, they asked her: “Where is your Asher?” Her answer was: “You can search for him”. You must understand that if I had been found, Evelyn and her entire family would have been burned to death.

Two of the killers took pitchforks in their hands and began to hack away in the hay to see if I was hiding there. They reached all the way to the wooden boards above me. I was lying there really without breathing. Suddenly, the pitchfork hit my hand. The pain was unbearable, but I managed not to cry out. The killers gave up the search when Evelyn begged them not to mess up the barn since her stepfather would kill her when he would see it. They shook off the hay from their bodies, took their rifles and went into the house.

When night fell, I crawled out from under the hay and I hid under a cross in a Christian cemetery. That night I escaped into the forest and eventually I was hidden by a local peasant on an outlying farm.

These were terrible times. The winter was hard and bitter in all respects. It was easier for me because Evelyn brought me food and clothing. I also knew what was happening in the area.

In spring, when the partisans began to show themselves, I joined them and stayed with them until I was drafted into the army. While I was in the forest and later with the partisans, I remained in contact, through Evelyn, with her uncles, especially Lavren. He was a Pole on whom I could depend. He also had some guns. I planned my revenge on the killers of my family and many other Jews from the area with his help.

I was informed that the killer Adam Turgansky would attend a party with some girls in a specific place in the village. Lavren, the other uncle and I planned to visit him at the party. We, the three men, disguised ourselves and with handguns we entered the house where the party was held. The hero, who took part in the Jewish tragedy, the pride of the Third Reich, hid himself under a bed. When the gun was pointed at him, he crawled out, pale with fear, and begged us to spare his life. We took him outside and shot him several times.

The locals gave him a fine funeral. They put into his grave everything he had taken from Jewish homes. The other two killers, when they heard of their leader's fate, became very cautious and seldom showed themselves in the village.

I tried to catch them in various ways, but I was not successful. On the other hand, they, with the help of the Germans, killed Evelyn's uncles who had helped me to kill Adam Turgansky.

Years later, Pavel Djukovsky was found living a financially secure quiet family life in Poland. He was arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison. The third one, a cold-blooded killer, disappeared off the face of the earth and could not be found. He used to boast that when he shoots a Jew, he jumps for joy.

The years spent with the partisans and in the army were full of bloody battles. I was twice wounded on the Byelorussian front. Our unit was one of the first to march into East Prussia and took part in the toughest and bloodiest campaigns. When I was wounded the second time by shrapnel, I lost consciousness and awoke in a hospital where I recuperated until the end of the war.

After the war, I found my Evelyn and my son and we left Poland for America where we sill reside.


[Page 314]

The Struggle With The Horrors Of Life

By Ita Trossman (Pinchuk) (Ramat Gan)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

When the Jews of Rokitno were assembled for the third counting, many deluded themselves with the hope that it would be similar to the previous two and that there would be a good ending. There was a refugee tailor in town that arrived from Warsaw during the Soviet occupation. He managed the tailors' artel. He came over to my husband Yechiel and whispered to him that the Germans had already packed all the cloths and materials and they were taking them out of town. This is how he surmised that the Germans had decided to liquidate us, since on the previous occasions the goods had been kept in place. I told my parents what the tailor had related. Nahum Katzenelson of the Judenrat shouted at me: “Don't create a panic! Nothing will happen and soon you will all return home!”

The Germans lined us up alphabetically. Since my name began with a “T”, I stood in the last few rows. A few minutes only after the soothing words of the Judenrat member, the Ukrainian killers from the Shutz-Politzei swarmed all over us and began to strafe us with machine guns.

A great panic arose and in this general confusion I took my three-year old daughter, Miriam, in my arms and I fled to the forest. I went into Zavienko's garden and there I found Dina, Nachman Blizhovsky's wife, her mother Sarah and her two daughters. A few steps further, I saw Haike Grinshpan lying dead with her head crushed. I climbed the fence and went into the forest. I was immediately captured by Stefan of the Ukrainian police. He aimed his rifle at me and was ready to shoot. I begged him: “Don't shoot! If you want me to return to town, I am ready to do it immediately.” The policeman turned his head and saw escaping Jews. He began to chase them and left us alone. He was certain that we would return to town. I used the situation to my advantage and I ran into the field where I lay down till evening. In the dark I went to see Prochtor, a non-Jew. He took my clothes with the yellow star and exchanged them for an old coat.

When I left him I hid in the bushes not far from the road, to hear what the locals were saying about the fate of the Jews of Rokitno. I heard one telling his friend that 80 Jews were killed in the market place and that the others were taken to Sarny. I understood that it would not make sense to return to Rokitno. In spite of this, Mordechai Kramer and his two sons, and Rachel Barman put on their yellow stars and returned to town. They thought the killings were over and that no more Jews would be killed. However, it was all in vain. The killers found them as they entered town.

Suddenly, I heard dogs barking in the forest. It was 3 a.m. I went in that direction and I met Henya Kutz and her daughter Hindel. Finding them encouraged me and from then on we wandered around together. We were 5 kilometers from Rokitno. We had to move every half-hour because the police were after us. The blueberries staved our hunger and we drank dew in the fields to slake our thirst. As we walked we heard the Rebbetzin Raykale begging: “Take me with you!”

In the morning we met Shimon Gendelman and Yentel Greenberg (Henya Kutz's sister) who joined us. On the way, we met Jews from Rokitno who were petrified. Near the outskirts (Hutor) of Ilova we found, in the bushes, Haim Turok and Shachnovski. We met Rachel Tochman, her husband and two daughters and we continued together.

Not far from the outskirts (Hutor) lived a local by the name of Michel Kanonich who was a family friend. When we were in the ghetto, he brought us food in exchange for clothes. He would tell us that in times of danger we should run to him and he would hide us. When I came to Ilova, I met Yakov Greenberg and his wife Zlate, his brother-in-law Shlomo Rekkes and his two daughters, and Yentel Potroch and her child.

I approached the house quietly and I called to him: “Michel”. He opened the door and took us in. He gave us a pitcher of milk and some bread. I asked about my husband Yechiel. He told me that the day before he had slept in Karpilovka at his uncle's house, but that now he did not know where he was. Michel hid us in a bush near his house. We hid there for 4 days and the good man gave us hot food daily. One night it was pouring and we had to find a new shelter. Michel took us to the threshing shack. The forest guard had warned Michel's children that if he found Jews there he would burn the whole village. To their credit it must be said that although they knew about us, they did not give us away.

However, we had to find a new hiding place because there was a hunt for Jews in the outskirts (Hutor). The forest guard chased us and overtook us. We threatened him that our husbands were partisans and that they would avenge us. He let us continue out of fear for himself.

We had to cross a river. We did it diligently. We reached the forest guard in Kovila. He gave us the bad news that on that day the two sons of Pinie Fuchsman had been killed. He took us into the threshing shack and in the morning he told us to follow the canal where we could meet other Jews.

That day there was a downpour and we could not leave the place. We spent two months alone in the forest - two women with two little girls. No one helped us because we were a burden to others. When there was no more food and we were near starvation, we left the girls alone in the forest, we crossed the river and we went to look for food.

The peasants had pity on us and they filled two sacks with bread and cabbage. We returned laden and tired, but we lost our way. We were certain that beasts had attacked our girls. We sat on the wet ground and we cried. We cursed our lot.
Suddenly, an old man appeared, as if from heaven and told us: “Don't cry. Come and I will show you where your girls are.” We found them and from then on we carried them on our backs, as if they part of our bodies. Our bodies protected them.

One of the miracles that I cannot explain was the conduct of the girls. Under ordinary circumstances, when a three-year old girl is left alone in the thick, scary forest, she would die of fear. This was not the case with these two girls. They were as mature as any adult and they understood well the dangerous situation in which they found themselves. They never cried. They were neither afraid of the dark nor of the forest animals. They became very close. One took care of the other. They were totally devoted to each other. What courage they displayed! When I discovered that my husband was alive, I went from one place to another to look for him. We were chased by some local peasants who told us to stop. My daughter said: “G-d for bid. If the killers overtake us we will throw ourselves into the river and we will not give ourselves up to them.” The girls developed an excellent sense of direction. As soon as they traveled on a road, it became a part of their memory and they always knew how to return. They never lost their way.

In our wanderings we reached a thick forest. The trees were tall and dense and they formed a natural defense wall. Nothing from the outside could penetrate them. Wolves howled and birds of prey flew over our heads. We were scared that we would be attacked by wolves. We did not sleep at night and we made sure the fire did not go out. We piled branches and we lay on top of them. Every rustle frightened us. One night we heard a hissing near our heads and I saw a snake lying near me. We fled with the girls.

Two months after we had come to this horrible place, Nachman Blizhovsky and Baruch Perlovich arrived to tell us that Shlomo Grinshpan had told them that my husband Yechiel and the children, my sister Chaya and Moshe Golovey were alive. We went to search for them and we found them between Blizhov and Glinna.

Yakov Wolfin, the brother of Henya Kutz, went into the village of Hrapon with his wife Dvoshke and his son Nachum. The peasants in Hrapon did not want to shelter them and told them to go to Berezov. There they were put to death.

Pessi, Henya Kutz's husband, managed to escape from the ghetto, but he was killed in Karpilovka with a group of 30 Jews. Her son, Aharon and her father Shaya, 83 years old, were killed in Sarny.

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