|Tzipora Tabak Burstein|
I was born in Sokoly in 1936. When I was five years old, I learned in the cheder of Mordechai Shmuel, who taught the beginners. Mordechai was our nearby neighbor, and he had two sons of my age.
I remember the entire family on my mother's side: my Grandfather, Yisrael the blacksmith, my uncles and aunts; every one of them is well-engraved on my memory. And so I remember my Uncle Rabbi Yaakov, in his unique dress.
In 1942, when I was still six years old, I well remember the wild cries of the Germans when they went past our house. From fear, I would hide under the bed. My mother would go to the forest to gather wood, so as to be able to cook a bit of food. My father, Manes, would travel every day at dawn to work in the railroad factories in Lapy, and he would return from work at a late hour of the night. Thus, I saw him only one day a week, on Sundays.
I remember that one day during that time, our house was under the sign of deathly terror. My mother informed us that we had to flee; otherwise the Germans would kill us. She packed some items that were necessary for our twin babies, who were then seven months old. My mother took one of the twin infants in her arms and our cousin Liba Goldberg, who at that time was living with us, took the second infant. My father took me and my brother Leibel and all of us hurried to flee to the forest. There, we met many Jews from Sokoly, among them my Aunt Sarache [Sarah] and my Uncle Pesach with their five children: Feigel, Toiba, Perl [Penina], Moshel [Moshe], and [another son,] the youngest of all of them. All of the members of our family stayed together, and the first night, a night in the winter, all of us slept in the forest under the black skies.
Then, our bitter struggle for our lives began. We started to wander deep into the forest. The twin babies lay at the sides of the paths under the trees, wrapped in pillows and blankets, and cried all the time. Thus, we walked from forest to forest, from one goy to the next, to ask for a bit of food. At the beginning, our mother didn't want to eat the food of the goyim, because she was very religious, and so she only ate kosher dairy foods.
The twin babies, a boy and a girl, didn't want to eat. They cried without stopping. They didn't want to drink cold milk, and it wasn't possible for our mother to warm it while we were wandering in the forests. For several days, the babies existed only from occasionally licking powdered sugar. One morning, Mother went walking with Aunt Sara, and when she came back, she cried a lot. After that, we found out that our mother had laid the two twin babies down and left them to the kindness of passers-by. An anonymous farmer took the twins in his wagon and took them home with him.
After that, we walked from village to village to ask for food and a place for our family to sleep, and so the time passed, until it began to rain. The goyim already did not allow us to cross the thresholds of their houses. They were afraid of the Germans and refused to give shelter to Jews. They gave us pieces of bread and ordered us to go away. During the day, we lit fires in the forest so as to roast potatoes and warm ourselves a bit from the cold. At night, we snuck into the barns to sleep.
Once, when we were sleeping in a barn, men came into the barn in the middle of the night with flashlights in their hands. We were very frightened and thought that they were Germans. Then we found out that they were Russian partisans, and we were very happy to see them. The next day, when the partisans were ready to leave the barn, they asked if the older girls would agree, with the permission of their mothers, to join them so that they would be protected. The partisans would give them shelter and supply everything they need. The parents agreed that Aunt Sara's oldest daughters would join the partisans, because they were in danger of death. In this manner, the number of members of our family was decreased, and we continued our wanderings onward.
|Photo - Wedding of my Parents, Leah and Manes Tabak|
Once, we entered a house not far from the forest to ask for bread. The goyim told us to wait a bit. Meanwhile, we sat down around the hot stove. Then, strangers began to come into the house where the owner had told us to wait. From moment to moment, the number of visiting strangers grew, until the entire house was full from one end to the other with guests, who sat and whispered among themselves.
My father understood that they were preparing a trap. We immediately ran out of there and fled to the forest. After that, we found out that the goyim wanted to turn us over to the Germans.
There also were good goyim who allowed us to stay in their houses for a few days and to sleep on the floor. We were at the house of one goy who had a lot of small children. His oldest daughter was the housekeeper, because the mother of the children had died at a young age. We were with them for two days. Our mother promised the girl to pay for our shelter and food with various possessions and clothing, and she gave her a note, [telling her] to go to a village near Sokoly, where she could get the clothing and possessions that were deposited with a certain man. The girl, our housekeeper, returned from that village and told us that she did not get the deposited items, and she drove us out of her house. As we later discovered, she did get all of the possessions, according to our mother's note, but she deceived us.
We continued to wander on in the forests, frozen with the cold. Once, we came to a certain village and slept at the house of a young farmwoman who had a small son. The farmwoman asked me if I want to stay with her. I answered negatively, but my mother tried to convince me to agree to stay with this woman. I absolutely refused to stay with her without my mother. So we wandered on, through the forests and fields.
Once, we sat down in the forest when snow was falling. We lit a bonfire to warm ourselves. Suddenly, we saw armed Russian partisans approaching us. We recognized the partisans who had taken Liba and Toiba with them. They sat with us for a while and went on their way. They had given us a bit of hope. We saw that there still were some people who were not afraid like we were. In our eyes, they appeared as heroes, who didn't know what fear is. We envied them, even though, in truth, they didn't have more than one broken rifle.
Thus, the weeks and months passed. We wandered day and night, suffering hardships, around the forests and isolated villages. Finally, we came to the village of Landowa. It was a night of snow, cold and stormy. The dogs barked without stopping, and in spite of everything, we knocked on the door of a house, not far from the forest.
An old farmwoman brought us into the house. She gave us permission to sleep next to the warm stove. I laid down on a small bench next to the burning stove and fell into a deep sleep. I slept until morning. When we woke up in the morning and prepared to go on our way, the old farmwoman asked our mother, would she agree to leave me with her? My mother agreed, and asked me if I also agree to stay there. I answered, Yes, I also agree to stay here. That day, our mother also stayed there and helped the old woman peel potatoes. The next day, my father, my mother and my oldest brother went to the forest, and I remained alone with the old farmwoman.
During the first few weeks, the old woman hid me from the eyes of the strange farmers who came to her house from time to time. When she heard the dog bark, she told me to quickly hide in the potato cellar. After that, the housewife stopped hiding me. When someone would ask about me, she said that I was a relative of hers from another village. Over time, it became known to all of them that I was not related to her family and that I didn't even know how to speak Polish. The farmwoman did not hesitate to admit that she had adopted me, a Jewish girl, as her daughter.
During the first few weeks I cried day and night, because my mother had not come to me for a long time, but little by little I became accustomed to my new situation, and I didn't care. The farmwoman began to teach me Christian prayers, and on Sundays I went with her to church. Three times a day, I had to recite the prayers: in the morning, at noon and at night.
I herded the cows to the pastures at four o'clock in the morning. Towards evening, I would bring the cows back home, and helped to feed the pigs. My benefactress was a widow. She only had one son, who was almost always as drunk as Lot. At night, she would sit and sing until she had finished churning the butter. From time to time, Jews would come to her and she gave them food and a place to sleep.
My mother had not visited me for a long time. Finally, she came to me with my oldest brother, without my father. Imma, where is Abba? I asked. He will come later, she answered. But my brother called me outside after that and told me that the murderers had caught and murdered Abba.
Two days later, the farmers related how the murderers had chased after Abba and caught him with his brother Pesach and two of Pesach's daughters, Feigel and Penina. Abba struggled with the murderers, but he could not win against them, and so my mother remained with only my brother. From that time on, she visited me almost every day.
A family from Bransk was in Landowa, the dentist Lerman and his wife, and their daughter Stella. My mother became friendly with the family from Bransk and they, together with a few other Jews, found a bunker in the forest not far from my farmwoman's house and hid there. After a short time, the goyim found the bunker and went to the Germans and told them about the Jews' hiding place. The Germans surrounded the forest and began to shoot. The goyim told us later that my mother and brother began to run during the search in the forest. My mother was badly wounded and fell, and my brother ran on. When my brother saw that Imma was not behind him, he ran back to look for her, and he found her lying dead next to another dead Jew. My brother sat down next to my mother and cried, and then a German approached him and shot him as well.
After the slaughter, they threw all of the dead Jews into a deep pit and covered the pit with a heavy stone. After three days, a goy came and opened the victims' grave, and took the gold teeth out of my mother's mouth.
I remained with the old farmwoman. I helped her with all of the household and farm work. I worked from early in the morning until a late hour of the evening.
Once, a Jewish girl came to us, who had jumped out of the window of a train transporting Jews from the Bialystok Ghetto to the death camp in Treblinka. My housewife gave the girl permission to sleep in the barn. During the night, the farmwoman's son came home with a friend. They went into the barn and shot the girl. The old woman, upon hearing the shot, got out of bed and went to the yard to see what was happening. When she came back into the house, she mumbled, I knew they would do that.
My life continued as usual, without any change. She taught me to recite prayers every day and would tell me various legends and stories about how the Jews kidnap Christian children and put them in barrels with nails, and suck out their blood to make matzot for Pesach. She told me other legends, tales, and defamations of the Jews. The stories that the woman told me influenced me so much that I began to be afraid of the Jews and to hate them.
One evening, we sat next to the warm stove and talked. Suddenly, a Jew came running into the house, cramped and bent over, trembling all over from the cold. The Jew grabbed a piece of cabbage from the table and fled. Apparently, his hunger was so great that he could bear it no longer, and he decided to take it without first asking the housewife.
I almost never went to the village and generally I felt safe, like all of the goyim. The goyim, residents of the village who knew I was Jewish, did not hand me over to the Germans. One goy did reveal to the Germans that somebody among the residents of the village was keeping a Jewish girl in his house, but the informer did not tell them the family name of the woman who was keeping the girl, but rather her nickname, and when the Germans came [to the house of my old woman], she answered them that she didn't know any woman by that name, and the Germans went away. Coincidentally, at that time I was playing in the village with the Christian girls, and when the goyim of the village told me that the Jews were guilty of killing the son of God, Jesus the Christian, I answered them, but the Jews in Sokoly didn't kill him.
From time to time, Germans would come to my old woman's house and ask me questions, in German. Even though I understood everything they were saying to me, I didn't answer anything. When the Germans would leave, I would tell my old woman what the Germans asked me and that I didn't want to answer them, even though I understood everything they were saying, and she greatly praised my behavior and warned me that I should act the same way in the future, that it was absolutely forbidden for me to answer the Germans' questions.
My benefactress also taught me to knit. I would knit every evening, and thus the entire winter passed. From time to time, there were celebrations in the village. Once, during such a celebration, when the farmers ate and drank until drunkenness, the drunk shkatzim opened a small door in the house and showed the young shiksas a naked Jew, dead and frozen, standing in the corner. The shiksas began to shout with joy and ran away, as if in fear. They were laughing loudly, and their shouts and cries of jubilation reached up to the heavens.
During the last few weeks of the War, a few Germans billeted with my farmwoman. They did not harm us, and occasionally they brought us gifts. Even so, the woman was always afraid of them. The woman's son would hide from the Germans, and so the two of us would have to manage the farm. One morning, we woke up to find the house empty. The Germans who had billeted with us for the last few weeks had fled, leaving us with weapons and ammunition. The woman did not let me touch anything. She warned me with terrible warnings and threats, that if I should find a watch or anything else that was nice and important, it was forbidden for me to pick it up off the ground, because the Germans put these nice things down with the especial intent that whoever would pick them up, would be killed on the spot.
The War was over, and the village changed. The farmers began to sow their fields. The son of my benefactress began to plant grain and potatoes. I helped to cut the sprouting potatoes and with other farm and household jobs. Life became nicer. Even the sun shone more beautifully than before. The forests, the fields and the pastures, and all of nature, took on a more beautiful appearance than they had previously, when I had seen from a distance the grave of my mother and brother in the forest, and I was afraid to come closer. I always ran away from there, and I saw in my imagination a black shadow hovering over the grave. This happened occasionally, when I went to pasture the cows. I sank into my thoughts and forgot, and suddenly, here, I looked around and I again was standing near the grave of my mother and brother, and I began to run to the pasture where the cows were. From a distance, I looked towards the grave with terrified eyes.
The time for me to be converted to Christianity in the local church had already passed. The priest had already come to my old farmwoman and invited me to come to the church for the conversion ceremony. But every time, my benefactress found another excuse and reason to delay the ceremony. Simply, she never had time.
After several months, when I was on my way to the pasture with the cows, she came to me and ordered me to go home to eat my meal. I finished eating and stood up to go back to the pasture, to the cows. I opened the door, and here, I saw two men with rucksacks on their shoulders, coming in the direction of our house. When the men came closer to the house, I recognized one of them. It was my Uncle Avrahamel (I remembered my Uncle Avrahamel very well, because when I was in Sokoly, he used to sometimes bring me candies and chocolates).
Uncle Avrahamel came to me and started to talk to me in Yiddish. By then, I had completely forgotten the Yiddish language and I was very afraid when I saw the Jews. I started to run away and scream in Polish, Jews are coming to kill me!
I turned around and I saw that they were chasing after me, and then I began to run much faster into the forest. When I reached the pasture, I tearfully told the farmwoman that Jews were chasing me. The goyim, who were cutting trees in the forest and heard my screams, came to see what happened. Uncle Avrahamel turned to my old farmwoman [for assistance] and she asked me if I recognized these Jews.
I know one of them, he is my Uncle Avrahamel, I said.
That evening, I was afraid to go to my room, but the good woman spoke to me and promised that I had nothing to fear, because they would not harm me. The next day, he was gone and I was happy that my Jewish uncle had left me. After some time, I completely forgot about that visit.
A few months passed, and Avrahamel and his brother, Chaim Yudel, came again to visit. This time, they brought me presents and good things, sweets, and delicacies that I had never tasted before. The next day, they went on their way, without informing us that they wanted to take me with them.
One night, after we had fallen asleep in our beds, the woman, her son, and I heard loud knocking on the door and window. We were very afraid, because at that time, there were gangs circulating in the villages who murdered, robbed, and committed other violence. The villagers also were afraid of them.
My old woman, hearing the noise, asked, Who is there?
A man's voice answered from behind the window, The police have come, please open the door!
The woman was afraid, and hesitated to open the door. The men outside did not wait very long. They broke the door open and came into the house. I immediately recognized my Uncle Avrahamel and I understood that he had come to take me away, accompanied by his men, his helpers. Among the group of men there were Russians, Poles, and armed Jews. My uncle brought this reinforcement in case there would be opposition from the villagers who supported my farmwoman.
Of course, the woman objected strenuously to my uncle's request and she didn't want to hear about any compromise. She argued that she had adopted me as a daughter during the most dangerous time for me, and for herself. She had hidden me, kept me, and raised me, and she guarded me from all dangers. My uncle tried to speak gently to her and promised her a significant sum of money and various possessions. He even dared to ask her to convince me to go with him, because he was the person closest to me, in body and soul. Avrahamel also suggested that my old benefactress could come with me, and he would take care of everything for her, but she insisted, No, no!!
My uncle had no choice, but to take me by force, because I also didn't want to leave the farmwoman. I cried all the time and clung to the good woman. Then the men separated us and a little bit later we were on our way to Sokoly. Before we entered the town, the police stopped us and checked who we were.
That day, an enormous tragedy happened to the Jews, the survivors of the War in Sokoly. A gang of Poles murdered seven Jews by shooting them. Among the victims was a little girl who had been returned only a few days before by a Christian family. We found the rest of the Jews in Sokoly in deep sorrow.
I looked at the surviving Jews, and in my eyes, they looked so very strange and foreign. I did not feel good and comfortable with them.
After two hours, we traveled on in the direction of Bialystok. A Jewish boy, who had been seriously wounded by the Polish gang, lay on the floor of the car; we were now bringing him to the Bialystok hospital. This was David Kusczevsky, the son of the hat maker. The whole time of the journey, he sighed and groaned terribly from his pain and suffering.
For a length of time, I cried, homesick for the farmwoman and the life in the village among my friends, the shiksas. But slowly, slowly, I became accustomed to my new life. I began to go to the school that was opened at that time for the children of the surviving Jews. My first teacher was Michael Maik.
After a short time, our cousin, Liba Warobel, came to us. During the War she had been among the partisans in the forest for a length of time, and after the War, she married my uncle, Chaim Yudel Goldberg.
We planned to travel to Waldenberg (a large German city in Lower Silesia, which, according to the treaty among the Allies, was given after the War, along with other cities in Lower Silesia, to Poland). My Uncle Avrahamel traveled there first with Moshe Maik, in order to scout the city and prepare an appropriate apartment for us to live in, as well as sources of income. After that, we all traveled to Waldenberg, where we found empty apartments with every comfort for all of the members of our family.
[We also found] a large store, selling radio receivers and electrical appliances left behind by Germans who had fled from Waldenberg. Moshe Maik, a certified, professional, radio technician enjoyed special privileges in the city council of the [now] Polish city of Waldenberg.
During the first few months after we arrived there, we did not find any Poles there, but only a few Jews, and life there was comparatively good. Over time, the number of Poles who settled in the city grew larger. A Polish school was also established there. I was registered to attend this school. The priest would enter the class to teach religion. The Jewish students would go out of the class, but I would always remain for the religion lessons. I felt like a Christian for my entire childhood, and no one could detect that I was a Jew.
After a short time, a Jewish Community Committee was established and they would occasionally distribute gifts to the Jewish children. Once, I went to the Jewish community to receive a gift. There, I saw one Jewish boy who learned with me at the Polish school. He followed me and found out that I am Jewish. The next day, when I came into the school, I immediately felt that this Jewish boy had told his Jewish friends, and after that, his Christian friends, the secret that I am Jewish. After the lesson, a few Christian girls came up to me and called me zheszhidowka (dirty Jew). They tore my string of coral beads off my neck. When the Christian teacher saw the Christian girls hurting me and heard them calling me zheszhidowka, she didn't believe it was true. The teacher questioned me and asked me to tell her the truth. For a while the children calmed down, but after that the Poles again started to provoke the Jews.
My family decided to leave Poland. My Uncle Chaim Yudel and his wife, Liba, decided to travel to Germany and take me with them. We arrived in Germany, at the Herzog Camp, where there were many Jews who had received support from UNRWA. A school for learning Hebrew was established there. We lived there in huts, two families to a hut. We dreamed about aliya to our Holy Land, to Eretz Yisrael. After a long time, our Uncle Avrahamel also arrived. He had married in Waldenberg.
I felt happy when the news arrived that we were going to travel to Eretz Yisrael. The children envied us. Thus, we started to wander from border to border, until we reached France. There, we lived in a large old villa that belonged to a Frenchman. The youths learned Hebrew there and sang Hebrew songs.
After a few weeks, we received the news that soon we would go up to Eretz Yisrael and the ship was already waiting for us. When the time arrived, we traveled to the port at night, and in the morning we boarded the ship, singing Hatikva [Israel national anthem]. We are already going up to our Holy Land! At that time, the British were still ruling over Eretz Yisrael and they weren't allowing Jews to come into the Holy Land. We had to sneak in and wander illegally in the waters around the Land. We sailed in the ship for two weeks, in storms and winds. We, especially the children, suffered greatly from the heavy storms at sea. Personally, I didn't suffer that much. When we drew near to Tel Aviv, we saw airplanes flying over our heads. We were ordered to hide and not to show ourselves.
|Photo - Tsipora Tabak, Soldier in Israeli Army|
|Photo - Tsipora with her Husband and Children|
A short time later, British battleships began to approach us. They called out to us on loudspeakers in a number of languages, that we should go back where we came from. These, of course, were worthless orders, and we closed our ears to their request. They then started to spray water on us from pipes, under high pressure. They also fired a tear gas bomb at us. We fought with them, with the mighty British Navy, throwing Molotov cocktails at them. They didn't deter from shooting at us, and there were a number of seriously and lightly wounded among us. It wasn't easy for them to overcome us. They burst into our ship and took over our people by force. After that, they tied our ship to theirs and towed us into Haifa Port.
There, they forced us to transfer to their ship and they brought us to Cyprus. We did not want to disembark from their ship in Cyprus, and we opposed them with the only weapon we had the song Hatikva. Finally, we were forced to disembark, without any of our possessions, because they had taken everything away from us.
After staying half a year in Cyprus, they began to allow us to go up to Eretz Yisrael. At the beginning, they took children without parents, and I was among them. It was a great happiness for me to fulfill my dream and reach Eretz Yisrael. I was sent to a kibbutz, where I lived for six whole years. At the age of 18, I was drafted into the Israeli Army, and fulfilled my duty, serving for two years.
Immediately upon the invasion of the Germans into our town, Sokoly, in 1939, they shot and killed four Jews and burned down half of the houses.
After a number of weeks, the Germans left the town. According to an agreement with the Soviets, the soldiers of the Red Army entered in their place. This was a period of comparative calm and quiet. Every one of us lived his ordinary life. But after a number of days, they obligated all of the young men to be drafted into the Red Army. I served in that Army until the War broke out between Russia and Germany, in June of 1941. At that time, I returned home, to Sokoly, which had been occupied again by Hitler's army.
The Germans, as was their custom, plotted against the Jews. They kidnapped people passing in the streets, rabbis among them, for labor and cruel treatment. One day, the Nazis hung [Dov] Berel Krushevsky, the father of three children. The mass murders began in the forests of Poland in November 1942.
The day before the Jews were expelled from Sokoly, the murderers ordered dozens of wagons and their owners, the [Polish] farmers, for the purpose of transporting the Jewish population like sheep to the slaughter. Many [Jews] succeeded in fleeing to the nearby forests, or temporarily returning to their homes, until the murderers caught [up to] them again and shot them to death.
My wife and I fled from the valley of death with a number of Jews. On the way, a gang of Poles attacked us and tried to steal our clothing and shoes. Coincidentally, another Pole passed by and the robbers apparently were terrified of him and they left us alone. We decided to change directions. To our joy, we met up with a number of our relatives on my wife's side of the family, and we stayed together with them for a month.
During that time, the Amstkommissar decreed that there would be certain improvements in the rights of those Jews who would voluntarily come back to the town from their hiding places in the forests, and that nothing bad would happen to them.
They gathered the Jews who returned to Sokoly from the forests in the new Beit Midrash building, and later they transferred them to the military barracks of the Tenth Division in Bialystok, and from there to Treblinka.
One day, while we were in a bunker in the forest, we found ourselves surrounded by many men. These were not Germans, as we first thought they were, but rather the Soltis of a village, accompanied by many of his residents. Two Poles stood near our bunker and the rest of them, about 70 or 80 men, dealt with their Jewish victims.
We asked them what they were going to do with us. They answered that we had to come with them to Sokoly and from there, the way would be open to us to flee.
My brother-in-law, Fishel Monkarsh, and I succeeded in escaping from the place and we reached the edge of another forest. There, we met Jews from Sokoly, barefoot and half naked, wrapped in worn-out rags and robbed of everything.
We worried about staying in that place and turned into the nearby forest. There, we chose a place where we could rest. More than anything else, my heart shuddered at such a cruel parting from my wife.
The next day, we reached the house of one farmer and tried to buy bread from him. We asked him to lend us a shovel to prepare a bunker for ourselves. The man refused. Not having a choice, we dug with a pole, and took out the earth with our hands. We gathered branches and succeeded in covering the bunker with them. Now, it remained for us to try to find our wives and bring them to us.
On the way, we met a Polish woman, from whom we learned that our wives, along with the rest of the Jews from the forest, had been sent to the Bialystok Ghetto. Embittered, we returned to our bunker.
One of the villagers with whom we were acquainted, told us that our brother-in-law, Itcze [Yitzhak] Rachelsky, was nearby with his two young daughters, Yehudit and Teivele. We searched for them for two days, and finally we met up with them. The meeting was dramatic. Each of us fell on the other's neck and we didn't stop crying. All of us went back to the forest and we expanded the bunker to accommodate the five people that we were.
One evening, we went out with one of the girls to the nearby village to wash. The farmwoman took pity on the girl when she saw what condition she was in, and she suggested that we leave her there in the house for a few days. We did not hurry to take her back, because we trusted the good woman and the little girl, Teivele, didn't look Jewish.
When our food was used up, we went to the village to ask for bread. While we were in one of the houses, a Polish man came in and told us we had to accompany him to the village elder, the Soltis.
We knew that we were in danger of death. Itcze fell on his knees and begged the Pole to have mercy on us, but in vain. On the way, Itcze freed himself from the man's arms and fled. Finally, the goy decided to be rid of me as well. Apparently he thought, what if the Jew who escaped would burn down his house, because such an incident had already occurred. The Pole warned me not to set foot again in the village, because my life depended on it.
We stayed in the bunker until after the harvest. One day, we met a young Jew. He told us that he had lived in the Bialystok Ghetto until the first expulsion of the Jews from there, in February of 1942. At that time, 100,000 Jews were transported by train to Treblinka in cattle cars, and he had succeeded in jumping out of a car and escaping. Since then, he was wandering and hiding, asking for bread at the homes of the farmers. They told him about us. After many searches, he had succeeded in meeting us.
With the coming of that boy, troubles began. He was walking, carrying with him a sack of potatoes, of which some fell out on the way. A nearby shepherd saw that his cows had stopped walking and were eating potatoes. The footprints took him to a bush that covered our bunker. And so the shepherd revealed our hiding place. At that time it was my turn to stand guard, and I saw the danger threatening us on the part of the shepherd. I immediately awoke my two brothers-in-law and the three of us talked to him, trying to convince him not to reveal what he had seen and not to endanger our lives. The shepherd promised us to keep silent. However, we were not calm and my brothers-in-law went to request mercy from the father of the boy, that he should influence his son to keep the secret, in exchange for a financial reward. This situation continued for four weeks.
One day, we saw that some bushes, which we had planted to camouflage the bunker, had been uprooted. Immediately we began to worry that they had revealed us and we were in danger. My brothers-in-law immediately went out to find a new place and I remained there with the little girl, Yehudit.
Suddenly, I heard footsteps nearby and a call in the Polish language, Itzko, come here, don't be afraid! I came out of hiding and saw the elder of the village, accompanied by the same man who had wanted to hand us over some time ago to the local authority. The village elder warned me that we must immediately leave the place; otherwise we were in danger of death. They would catch us and shoot us.
Towards evening the two brothers-in-law returned, and I told them about my meeting with the Poles. In their search, they had not found any place that was suitable for a bunker. Itcze specifically said that he wasn't prepared to move from that place, because it was loathsome to him and he didn't see anywhere better. With difficulty, we convinced him, and we all left the bunker.
Again, we moved to another forest. There, we met the same boy who had fled after the expulsion from the Bialystok Ghetto. We stayed there four days.
My brother-in-law, Fishel, and young Velvel decided to filter into a group of Jews who went from Bialystok every day to work in the Lapy train station. For this purpose, they put the yellow patch on their clothing and went out on their way.
At that time, we heard from a farmer that the Bialystok Ghetto was surrounded by the Gestapo. The Jews did not even go outside the ghetto walls for their ordinary work. We were very surprised, when Velvel returned to us after a few days and told us that he again had succeeded in escaping from a transport to Treblinka, jumping again from a train car. The youngster was wounded. We took care of him with the assistance of leaves from the trees, that we put on his wounds. After he recovered a bit, he left us and moved to a bunker in another forest.
The three of us: my brother-in-law, Itcze; his small daughter, Yehudit; and I remained, and we built ourselves a shelter. We needed tools, and for this purpose we went to the neighboring village. The farmer whom we turned to with a request to lend us some tools, warned us that they were plotting against our lives. And truly, as soon as we left his house, a Pole jumped in front of us. It was already dark outside and my brother-in-law was walking in front. The goy attacked him and hit him in the head with a metal pole. Itcze tried to flee from his murderer, but he received a hail of blows while he ran to one of the farms. Only then did the cruel one leave his victim. At that moment, I stumbled, and in great fear, I was unable to move. I was saved from death by miracles. After I somewhat recovered, I got up and approached to help my brother-in-law. He sighed heavily, and blurted out, Oy, Issur, for me the War is over!
I comforted him with the words I found at that moment. He dragged himself a few more steps after me, and in my arms. His last words were, Nu, Issur, I am still walking! I carried Itcze into the forest until I had no more strength. I laid him down on the ground, marked the place well and ran to find one of the Jews from the bunkers, who would help me to bring my brother-in-law into hiding.
It was Saturday night. The next day, Sunday, Itcze returned his pure soul to his Creator.
His five-year-old daughter, Yehudit, was so petrified that she didn't dare to ask what happened to her father and how he was hurt. We buried Itcze in the forest. May his blood be avenged!
It was a hard winter. To our misfortune, a new angel of death fell upon us. These were men of the Polish underground, A.K [Armia Kriowa], who had decided to destroy the remainder of the Jews who had hidden in the forests. Rumors had already reached my ears about the murder of five women and a man, in a bestial manner. Soon after that murder, they found a group of Jews in a farmer's house. They forced the farmer to kill the people he was sheltering, or they would kill him. The farmer was forced to carry out their scheme and killed the entire group.
After that despicable murder, the gang came across Yehudel Kalifowitz, who was carrying a loaf of bread under his arm that he had gotten at the house of one of the villagers. They killed him on the spot.
We found out that the son of Yosef Mendratzky, his wife and children had turned themselves over to the German gendarmerie in Sokoly, not being able to bear the suffering of life in the forests any longer.
My brother-in-law, Shmulke Nurzycz, jumped from a train car on the way to Treblinka and was seriously injured. Later, they took him to the cemetery in Sokoly and shot him. The doctor from Sokoly, Dr. Makowsky, was murdered in a similar way, and so was his housemaid, Chayche Yapak.
For an entire week, I didn't go out of the bunker. When I did go outside, I came to Velvel's hiding place. He told me that after he had been absent from his bunker for a number of hours, he returned to find a note written in Russian:
Dear Comrade! We didn't want to kill you, but to take you alive, so that you can tell us exactly where the rest of the Jews are hiding. We will wait for you until midnight in the Janow [Sokolka] Forest. You must come to the place that we drew exactly [as shown] on the back of this note. Signed, Stapienko.
The girl and I still remained in the bunker. I had hard feelings. I heard two notes of a birdsong and immediately the sound of footsteps coming closer. A shot split the air. In confusion, I grabbed the girl, who was half naked, and fled with her from the bunker. Outside, I heard Polish being spoken and another round of shots. The train track was not far away, and the German guard was walking alongside it. While the bullets were whistling through the air, the soldiers hid themselves and we snuck across the track. We succeeded in reaching another nearby forest, where we found a number of people from Sokoly. They told me that they had lost four people in the last few days.
After wandering, we returned to our bunker. Nearby we saw a dead woman named Renia, who was from the Warsaw area. I went inside the bunker to take out some of Yehudit's clothes, and there I met a young Jew who had fainted. With difficulty, I revived him. On our way through the forest, we came across another victim. This was a young woman from Bialystok named Bashke.
I obtained a spade from one villager, and I buried Bashke in her clothes, which were soaked in blood. That same day, I found out about a third victim from our group, a girl from Grodno named Frieda.
We stayed for a number of months among a group of Jews in a bunker that was wet from melting snow. At night we would draw out the water and take it a distance away so as not to leave footprints. Our only food was potatoes from the fields that we cooked at night.
Once, when we went out of the bunker, we heard a blessing in Polish, Good morning, friends! We were petrified. The Pole asked us if we had seen a man with two horses. Without waiting for an answer, the man went away.
Recently, we hear more and more noise from airplanes dropping bombs; even our bunker was damaged, but to our joy, without any victims.
I went into the bunker to find a sack to wrap my feet. I didn't find anything. From now on, we hid in the piles of crops in the fields. The shooting didn't stop and the earth was full of noise.
A new problem arose. There was a struggle among our group. Simply, they did not agree that the girl and I would join them. Begging and crying did not help. We had to hide in the fields among the piles of crops. At night, I came to a farmer's house with the girl. We sat all day behind the farm without eating anything. When they fed fodder to the animals, the girl asked me to tell the farmer to feed her. I hinted to her that it was dangerous now to go out and ask for food. At night, we entered the farmer's house. He was amazed and loudly called out, Are you still alive?'
The man fed us and told us that the Amstkommissar and the gendarmerie had left Sokoly and the front was coming closer. I asked him to take the girl into his house. The farmer avoided the matter, explaining that he would be in danger if they would find the girl with him. He advised me to remain in the village at some distance from his house and promised to supply us with food. We immediately were given some bread and permission to take some potatoes from the cellar.
The next day, a Soviet plane flew over the village and set fire to a number of houses. I sat with the girl in the cellar. After two days, the farmer told us that the Soviets had reached the Narew River (about 18 kilometers from the place where we were). The man advised us to be careful of robbers and reminded us that it would be only a few more days until the liberation by the Russians. Myself, I estimated that the matter was likely to continue for another two weeks or so, because the Germans had destroyed the bridges, which would not be quickly repaired.
I equipped myself with some bread and returned with the girl to my old place, to wait there until the liberation. Suddenly, three people appeared before us. I was very frightened, but they calmed me down and advised that we leave the place completely, because people who wouldn't hesitate to murder us all were likely to come there. We immediately moved to another place; actually, we changed places every day.
Once, I saw the movement of a man in our vicinity, and we immediately hid among the piles of grain. From there, I saw a Gestapo man coming closer; toward me I felt that I was lost. To my surprise, he only looked into the potato cellar and went away, so as to come back with a wagon and load it.
Another time, a German passed by close to us, leading three cows. One of the cows began to nibble at the pile [of grain] next to us, twisted the rope, and almost trampled us. Luckily, the German didn't see us.
We could not reach the village. A number of times, we went the wrong way. Once, I listened to a conversation between two women, whether it would be possible to go to church tomorrow and whether the region would be quiet. I also heard another conversation regarding the supply of food to the front. I was unable to know what was happening and what these conversations meant. We were tired and hungry after wandering for four days, without being able to come to a town during the hours of the night. I decided to go to a nearby village in broad daylight to find food; otherwise we would die of hunger. On our way, we passed a field of onions and we revived ourselves a bit. A farmer who passed by said to me that the Soviets would be in Sokoly on Wednesday. It was hard for me to believe what he said.
The next day was Tuesday. I decided to go to Sokoly, after wandering in the forests and between bunkers for 22 long months.
In the village, I heard the same thing about the coming of the Soviets, but in one of the houses they told me that the Germans had not yet departed. I received bread and we lay ourselves down on the ground behind the village to rest. We continued to wander until Wednesday, without knowing the true situation.
In Sokoly, I found my brother-in-law, Chaim Tuvia Litvak. We fell, crying, on each other's necks, in an embrace. We told each other about the hardships and sufferings of hell that we went through.
A Russian patrol stopped me in the street. Since I had no papers, I was brought to the Commandant. There, there was a man who knew me and I was immediately released.
Slowly, slowly, more Jewish survivors were seen in Sokoly, who had returned from the forests and the bunkers. All of them lived together in the ruins of Little Alterke's three-story house. Later, the people divided into groups and found themselves places to live. They also found jobs and all of them organized themselves more or less, until a new tragedy occurred that put an end to Jewish settlement in Sokoly.
The horrible incident occurred three days after the Soviet Kommandant left Sokoly. The Kommandant's offices had been located in Mordechai Surasky's house. After the Russians left, three families of surviving Jews took over the house. That week, on Saturday night, the Jews of Sokoly made a party in that house. Suddenly, Polish robbers broke into the house and murdered five of the celebrants on the spot: the young engineer David Zholty, who had hidden during the entire occupation together with his mother in the house of a Pole; David Koschevsky, who was transported to the death camp Treblinka and was rescued twice from death; Sheintza Olshak, a young woman from Kubelin, who was saved by dozens of miracles and had recently been married; Tulka, aged four, a relative of Sheintza; Basha Weinstein, a victim of a concentration camp, who was going to marry a boy from Sokoly. A number of Jews hid in a nearby room under the beds but were also killed by the shots of the murderers. Among these were Shammai, the son of Chaim Litvak, and his twelve-year-old brother Sheika [Yehoshua], who had just arrived at the place, straight into the arms of the murderers. A number of Jews escaped through the windows, and some of them were saved from death, because of the sudden malfunction of the guns.
The murdering robbers pulled the boots off the feet of their victims and emptied the closets of all of the clothing and possessions. During the confusion, the kerosene lamp was knocked over and the kerosene was spilled. A fire broke out, and then the Poles ran away. The next day, the Bialystok congregation found out about the murder and they sent representatives to bring the victims to Bialystok, where they conducted a funeral and buried them together in a single grave.
All the rest of Sokoly's Jews who remained alive left the town permanently and moved to Bialystok, where a Jewish community had meanwhile been reestablished.
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