[Pages 49 - 52]
Translated by Rachel Karni When the Germans entered Shumsk 1 they immediately began to take Jews to forced labor. I don't remember why I looked like a butcher to them, but I was taken to work at the slaughterhouse in the Goralni buildings.
This work made me feel deeply apathetic. Life became something cheap. I pulled myself along without initiative through all the vicissitudes of the end of Shumsk, feeling that nothing I did would make any difference.
Because of this I don't have any clear memories from the period when the Germans were in Shumsk or from the Ghetto, except for a few details here and there. That is all.
But for some reason a few things were engraved in my memory, and I will try to relate them:
--When the Ghetto was established,2 moving into it was difficult for us. The owners of apartments included within the Ghetto boundary did not easily agree to allow additional tenants into their apartments. There were difficult days. The solidarity of the Jews of Shumsk was put to the test. But this lasted for only a few days. Our Jewish brethren passed the test and somehow everyone got settled.
--A short time before the establishment of the Ghetto all of the Jews with beards were ordered to remove them. The Germans and the Ukrainian policemen who collaborated with them began to attack the bearded elderly men of Shumsk. When I think of this now it seems to me that all of the power of the concept of sanctifying G-d's name, upon which generations of Jews had been educated, now disclosed itself in maintaining one's beard.
Later, when people spoke about this period they related something interesting. Idel Zak and Idel Bluwsztejn insisted on keeping their beards at first, but in the end relented and cut off their beards themselves. In contrast, Benyomin Shochet, Simcha Gravski, Yosil Cisin and the Konstantin Rabbi did not give in and kept their sidelocks and beards. All four of them died natural deaths before the establishment of the Ghetto and thus were privileged to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
--After the liquidation of the Ghetto3, I remained in our bunker for a few more days, hidden together with my wife and child, and no one succeeded in finding us. Who knows -- perhaps we would have all survived, but it was impossible to live without water, and that was our downfall. The Germans poisoned the nearest water well, which was near the Westrel (River). We had to go far to find water and we were discovered.
Other Jews were also found and all of us were separated from our families. From that moment none of us knew what was happening to our families. Later we learned that all the mothers and children had been killed immediately when we had been found.
--We were twenty-five people that first night who had been caught. They kept us that night in the police station. The next day we were brought to the Ghetto and we were told to clean the Jewish homes, to remove all things of value and to sort them, so that they could be taken to Germany.
Shlomo Szrajer and I were separated from the group and told to go to the home of Dudi Gorender, the famous trumpet player of Shumsk, and to dig a grave there. We finished digging the grave and we were ordered to bring Oda Wilskier, who had just given birth to a baby after having been childless for 12 years, out of the house. We brought her to the grave and in her arms she carried her dead baby who had died soon after his birth. The German who was supervising our work told us to move away.
From a distance we saw him aim his pistol, heard the echo of the shot and saw Oda fall into the grave that we had dug. Interestingly, the German returned the pistol to its holster and then bent down and threw a few handfuls of earth on the body. This humane act seemed so macabre among the mass murders. Then the German called us back and ordered us to fill the grave.
--This whole experience of Oda Wilskier shocked me deeply and shook me out of my indifference. I decided that I would escape no matter what.
That same night I slipped out of the Ghetto. I walked in the direction of Mizoc. Why Mizoc? Perhaps because I had family there.
I walked for three nights, without food or water, in the forests. During the day I hid in caves or in hiding places in the woods. Mizoc was without a Ghetto, although the Jews were closed in their homes, in the Jewish neighborhood, and their movement was restricted. But they were hoping for the best. My family received me with great warmth. The two weeks that I spent with them revived my spirits and restored in me the will to survive. But not for long. At the end of two weeks the liquidation of the Jews started in Mizoc and despair hit me again. I wanted, at all cost, to die in Shumsk, near my loved ones.
I bade farewell to my family in Mizoc and returned to Shumsk. Again forests, nights, fear, hunger and thirst.
In the Ghetto of Shumsk I found approximately twenty Jews, and they knew it had been decided to kill them too. I arrived exactly on the day before their massacre was to take place. They knew what would happen because Miller had come expressly for this from Kremenets. Among the twenty were Yaakov Geler, the father of Chaim Geler, Avraham Brajzblat (the son-in-law of Faivel) and his family, Sonya Ginzburg (who lives today in Shumsk), Hanaleh, the daughter of Zelig Duchowny, Moshe Grenoch, Shajke Kac, Shlomo Szrajer, Pichas Geldi and two little girls whose names it is difficult for me to remember. The names of the others have slipped from my memory, but I do know that most of them survived the war.
When I arrived they told me of the plans for their liquidation and their decision to escape. I left Shumsk with Grenoch and Sonya and we were saved.
--The push to escape was given to us, to all of us, by Velnik Boyarski, a shoemaker from Shumsk, who was a believer in the religion of the Shtundists.4 He didn't leave us alone, and personally tried to persuade each of us twenty people that it was G-d's will that we succeed in surviving. He mapped out an escape route for each of us and guided each one on his path to survival.
This was truly an act demanding great effort and courage, sanctifying G-d's name, that of humanity and his religion.
--In the meantime the winter had come upon us, a very harsh winter. We walked through the forests in the direction of Zlani-Dov, and there we found an abandoned forest lookout point, and we crowded into it.
In the evenings we would go out to the villages in the area where Shtundists lived, some of them our former clients. They gave us food and clothing, but were afraid to shelter us in their homes. In the lookout point the cold was unbearable and I was hit by despair once again.
--Among us was also Shmuel Wilskier. He had been with us for some time when suddenly he lost the will to live any more. He left his benefactor, the Shtundist who had taken care of all his needs, and without saying a word to him went out and gave himself up to the Germans. They were only too happy to have him and hanged him.
--We couldn't stand the freezing cold in the forest lookout point and decided to part ways and to look individually for shelter in the homes of these good Shtundist farmers. What we were lacking was a little warmth, actual warmth, to warm our tortured thin bodies.
Sonya Ginzburg and I were hidden for an entire year by a Shtundist. His name was Leon and his nickname was Leonke. He was one of the poorest farmers and yet he would go to town once a week and buy us some food.
--During this year there were raids by the Germans, who were looking for people who were hiding Jews. Punishment was death -- the same punishment as for the Jews themselves. There were also raids of the Banderovtze5 -- carried out for their own purposes.
Our benefactors became terribly frightened and we had to leave them. We left them on friendly terms; we didn't want to cause them trouble. Each of us received the address of another member of their religious group to whom we were to turn, so as not to fall into the hands of the Ukrainian Christians who were collaborating with the Germans.
Each one of us went his way. I went to Lanowic, where I found shelter with a Shtundist to whom Leonke, my benefactor, had sent me. For an entire year this man sheltered me in his isolated farm, far from any town or village.
Then rumors began to circulate about the German defeat. When these rumors grew more frequent I parted from the man in whose farm I was living and started out again for ... Shumsk.
I proceeded with great care. Gangs of Banderovtze were going wild on the roads and the danger was very great. I reached Shumsk at the end of 1944. I lived at the home of a Shtundist who lived near Avraham Buder's. He had been recommended to me by the previous person who had hidden me.
--The Russians reached Shumsk a few weeks later. I could have remained in Shumsk, but this time I didn't want to. I couldn't see, with my own eyes, how Poles had settled down in the Jewish homes of Shumsk and how Jewish property and possessions were now in the hands of others.
This time I left Shumsk forever.
The army convoys traveled to Rovno and from there to Lublin.
The way was long and arduous, and each day brought with it alternating moods -- to stay or to move on. There were days when I made a lot of money in Poland.
In 1949 I reached Israel.
[Pages 53 - 58]
Translated by Rachel Karni I was 9 years old when the Jews of Shumsk were ordered to move into the Ghetto.1 Before the establishment of the Ghetto Jews had been forbidden to look out of the windows of their home and on the shops there were signs saying, Sale to Jews Forbidden and Entrance to Jews Forbidden. Since I looked Aryan I went out to do the shopping for my family, and no one touched me. And so I kept my family alive.
When the order came to move into the Ghetto, my parents packed everything they would be able to take. Although one could take everything, my parents didn't take all their possessions. We were going to live in one room, in the home of my mother's sister.
In the course of time I fell ill with typhus and while I was still ill in bed a search was conducted by the Germans one night. This was one of the many searches we had been subjected to. My father and my elder brother went out of the house and from that moment disappeared and we never knew exactly what happened to them. But it is clear to me that they were killed together with the many hundreds who prepared their own common grave.
After this my mother lowered me into the bunker which my father had prepared and we were there for two weeks.
The size of the bunker was 1 meter by 1 meter.
I remember that nothing bothered us, not even death. The only thing that bothered us was the lack of water, even a drop of water.
The Ukrainian police roamed the emptied Ghetto looking for Jews who had hidden. They found us and ordered us to get out of our hiding place. When we came out we didn't ask for anything except water and they gave us some to drink.
The Jews who had been caught were classified into groups. As a child, I was placed in a row far from my mother and my brother. We were brought to the large synagogue, and there another group of children were standing, waiting to be taken to the pit to be killed.
The Ukrainian police guarded us all the time, to ensure that no one would run away.
I understood what was happening, and when the policeman looked in another direction I began to run. He shouted at me, Stop. Come back or I'll kill you. But for some reason or other he didn't shoot at me and I managed to get away. I returned to the Ghetto and hid in one of the attics.
By coincidence a Ukrainian man was there, having come to steal some Jewish property. When he saw me I explained to him that I was a Christian girl, also looking for things that I could take. He didn't believe me and said You're a Zidovka2 and he pulled me downstairs and brought me back to the synagogue. Since my escape only two hours had passed, but the children who had been there then were not there any more. They had been taken to be killed.
Suddenly my mother came out of someplace and noticed me. She almost fainted but she immediately gained control of herself and brought me a pair of shoes with high heels and a coat, so that I would appear taller. When the policeman turned around she grabbed me and brought me up to the attic of the synagogue and then disappeared. In the attic there were a few other children. From that time on she brought food for me. Where she got it I don't know to this day. This lasted for about two weeks, until my mother was also put to death.
When I saw that my mother had disappeared I left the attic to look for her, but in my heart I knew that I wasn't looking for her. I was planning how to escape
I roamed the corners of the empty Ghetto and gathered things. There weren't many things to be found there was no food. But the Ghetto was full of feathers, flying everywhere. Pela Munderer was together with me, and, following my advice she too prepared to escape from the Ghetto.
We were terribly hungry and every night slept in a different abandoned bed, two of us under one blanket. Luckily, it was summer and we didn't suffer from cold.
One day a Christian friend of our family, Pensuik, appeared in the Ghetto. He had come to look for and to save our family. When I told him that they all had disappeared he was angry and said, Didn't your father know that my house was open for him? Why didn't he escape to my house? He was my friend. I owe him a lot. From now on, you can come to me, and you don't have to worry.
He left me. I was supposed to come to him in the evening, under the cover of darkness. I didn't want to leave Pela. It was a nice Sunday, and I went with Pela to the fence, and we tried to leave through one of the holes in the fence. Suddenly we saw a policeman. We wanted to go back into the Ghetto, but he got angry and shouted, All day thieves and more thieves. He grabbed me and threw me out, thinking apparently, that I was a Christian girl. Pela remained inside the Ghetto.
At first I was very uncomfortable. I found myself among many people and I was certain that everyone was staring at me. But soon I composed myself. I had always looked like a non-Jew and now my clothing looked like a shikse.3 I began walking with some confidence and I walked about the town and reached our former home.
But I didn't go in.
I went in the direction of the village where Pensuik lived. The distance was 12 kilometers.
Towards evening I got to the village. I was afraid to enter the village during daylight. I sat behind a house, without knowing whose house it was.
Suddenly the owner of the house came out and asked me what I wanted. I told him, All I want is a piece of bread. He recognized who I was immediately, gave me a piece of bread and ordered me to leave at once. He said he didn't want to pay with his life because of me.
I walked on some more. In the next house they allowed me to stay the night on the condition that I leave in the morning.
I was afraid to ask about Pensuik. I was only a 10-year-old child, but I already understood that my asking about him might cause him harm.
The next day I continued on, but I didn't get to Pensuik's house. But I remembered another non-Jew from among our friends, whose name was Botensky .I knew his house and reached it. When I came into his house, he went white as a sheet, gave me some bread and a cup of milk and went out. After a few minutes he returned with a Ukrainian soldier, and a German, and he handed me over to them. The head of the village was also present and he reprimanded Botensky and said to him, Why did you call the police? You could have thrown her out and let it go at that. The German also lectured me. I was crying a lot with the thought of returning to the Ghetto. Then he showed me his belt on which were engraved the words, G-d is with us, and he said, G-d wants us, and you are against Him. You have to be annihilated, as He wishes.
They took me to Dederkaly, to the Ukrainian commander. He asked me my name. He knew us. He remembered the name of our family -- Gitelman -- and he was polite to me. I begged and pleaded with him, and told him, I can clean your floors and serve you. But just let me live. Don't kill me.
He replied, In the meantime I have to arrest you. Afterwards, we'll see.
I was thrown into prison, behind bars and heavy locks. Every day I was taken out one time, accompanied by a policeman, to eat lunch in their dining room. I tasted the food and almost threw up. It was too salty, and I couldn't put it in my mouth. I moved the food around on the plate, and they were standing around me and laughing. And so, each day for four or five days, I returned to my cell, hungry, with swollen legs and stiff movements, as they accompanied me jeering and asking, Why don't you eat? Doesn't our food taste good to you?
I asked to speak to the commander. He came to me and I asked him to have me killed but not to continue to be tortured. But if they were going to kill me I asked that they kill me near where my parents had been killed.
His reply was that today someone from Shumsk would be coming and they would decide the issue. That same day Dobrovolsky, a non-Jew from Voskovitz, arrived. He opened the door and asked me, Do you recognize me? I said, Yes. You are Dobrovolsky. He proudly turned to the people there and said, Do you see? All the Jews know me because I spilled so much of their blood.
I knew him as a murderer for pleasure's sake. He had killed my cousin Haya Gitelman in front of my eyes. I remember how she kissed his boots and begged for her life and how he kicked her and threw her into a pit.
He took me with him, put me on the wagon and we started moving. On the wagon, in addition to Dobrovolsky, were three other policemen. They brought me to Shumsk, not to the Ghetto but to the Police Headquarters. A policeman came out and offered me something to eat. I told him that if they wouldn't kill me I would eat, but if they were going to kill me I wouldn't eat. He promised not to kill me and so I ate.
When Dobrovolsky heard my conversation with the German policeman he said, Look at her. So small and she walked all those kilometers. And to me he said, Remember, if you try once more to run away I'll riddle your body with the bullets from my pistol.
The German policeman couldn't tolerate this. He interfered and said, Why are you frightening her? She's only a child really a baby. And Dobrovolsky kept quiet.
I was brought to the Ghetto.
Pela ran towards me Paulina Monderer. She was the only one of the children that I recognized. I didn't know any of the others. All of my friends had already been killed, apparently. We didn't speak about this, but afterwards I got to know Luba Golub4 and her sisters Sara and Leah there. The five of us held our heads above water together, and we were together all the time. This lasted for two weeks, until the complete extermination of the last Jew in the Shumsk Ghetto.
One night I heard that they were going to kill everyone left. We immediately went up to the roof of one of the houses in the Ghetto and pulled the ladder up after us. We saw how the last Jews were taken out and sent on their final journey. And Luba saw how her father was sent to his death, before her very eyes.
When the extermination was over there was absolute silence in the Ghetto. No policeman was to be seen. We thought about what we should do. Luba suggested that we go down, disguised as shikses, and leave the Ghetto. We tore up some slips and made kerchiefs from them, and when it got dark we went down. We left the Ghetto and hid in reeds along the side of the stream.I went into the home of a non-Jewish woman who my family knew. She was a Baptist and wouldn't hand Jews over. She fed each of us until we were full. Afterwards Luba said that we must not stay together, but each go out alone, otherwise we would be caught.
And so we separated. Each one went her own way. I went in the direction of Kordishiv. I passed near the common graves and went through the large meadow and walked in the direction of Pensuik's home.
I walked under the cover of darkness. At night I reached Borki. I sat down behind one house, peeled some unripe green plums, and waited for the sun to rise. Before dawn I started walking in the prickly wheat fields and my feet began to bleed. It was the harvest time. Non-Jews saw me and knew who I was, but they chose to turn away as if they didn't see me, so as not to endanger themselves or me.
The sun started to go down. I sat in the middle of a field and burst out crying bitterly. What should I do? Night was coming again, and again the fear of being handed over to the police. I remembered a Pole named Ludvick , one of the nicest people I knew. I decided to go to his house. On the way I saw someone chopping down a tree. I asked him if Ludvick lived in the house nearby., and he said that he did. I was surprised. I couldn't believe that in this simple hut the wealthy man Ludvick lived. But anyway I knocked at the door. A woman opened the door for me, and when she saw that it was a little child, she said, Come in, come in, my child. Don't be afraid. I started crying terribly when I heard these warm humane words, for the first time after such a long, long time.
She bathed me, dressed me, put me (in a nook) on top of the stove, hiding me in a warm place.
In the evening, when Ludvick returned, I told him that in my opinion, it was dangerous for them, as Poles, to keep me, and for their good I want to go to Pensuik's home. But they objected and they asked me to stay with them for some time, and then they would notify Pensuik.
I stayed with them for about three weeks. The whole family were truly saintly, righteous people. Their children took care of me as if I were a younger sister I was hidden on the roof of the hayloft. In the meantime I fell ill with some skin disease and my entire body itched painfully. Then Pensiuk came, took me to his house, and took care of me as he would take care of his own child. He washed me, took care of me, kissed and hugged me, brought me candies and tried to encourage me and give me hope. He was so sorry that my father had disappeared, and happy that he was helping me. Whether he was trying to pay a debt to my father or to humanity-this I'll never know.
Pensuik was a tall heavy man, hairy and frightening in appearance, but his heart was tender and humane.
In the evening he would take me out for a walk. He changed my name from Bella to Manya. That way it will be safer. I listened to him. To this day I have lovingly kept this name.
One day some neighbors discerned that he was hiding a Jewish child and they lectured him about this. His wife also made scandals and demanded, Get rid of her, damn it But he pleaded with her, How is it possible to throw her out? She is so small, weak, helpless? He wouldn't do it.
In the meantime my skin healed, thanks to the salves that he had obtained for me.
Pensuik couldn't argue any more with his wife and he was forced to transfer me to another place. He found me a safe trustworthy place, hid me in the wagon, and brought me to a new hiding place. I cried very much. It was hard for me to leave after five months of such care. I loved him like a father, but what could I do? He left me in the new place and promised to come to visit me every day. Later on I found out that his son had been deported for forced labor to Germany, and he was trying to assuage his pain by caring for me and for another Jew who was hidden at his place for a very long time.
After two or three weeks it became known that the Germans were going to raid the village, in order to find partisans, and the woman who was hiding me ordered me to run away. Since the people of the village were leaving the village, I decided to join them, putting on a kerchief to disguise myself.
Still, I was afraid to be with them in the middle of the night, and so at 12 o'clock I decided to escape and to go back to Ludvick. When he saw me he was very frightened, and he explained to me that it was very dangerous for him to keep me.
In spite of the danger, they kept me. His wife's idea was that I should get into bed, pretending that I was sick with typhus. When the Germans came to the house to conduct a search, she pointed to me and said that it was a case of typhus. The Germans were very afraid of this illness and left in a hurry.
And so I stayed with them until their Easter, a period of two or three months. During that time a non-Jewish woman from the Czech farms near Dubno happened to visit them and she suggested transferring me to her mother, who also lived in one of those farms. There I would be able to live and work openly. But I couldn't stand on my feet or walk, because I had been lying down for such a long time in the hiding place I had been in since the visit of the Germans. I had lost my sense of balance. It was decided first to teach me how to walk and then to move me to the new place. The Ludvick children held my hands and taught me how to walk again at night. When I was able to walk, the Czech woman took me and we set out on foot. I walked with her about 30 kilometers, from Shumsk to Dubno all on foot.
We walked an entire day and got to Dolgopola, some 12 kilometer from Dubno.
There I was called Maria Pavlok. I said that I was Ukrainian, that the Russians had killed my parents during their retreat, and that I had gotten lost. I stayed there about a year, until the Red Army arrived.
In this farm I worked very hard at all the farm work, just in exchange for food. The old woman was a bad person, and didn't do anything to make my life easier. My clothes were all torn and worn out. One day I told her that I wanted to go with some other girls to work outside the farm, in order to earn some money to buy a dress and a pair of shoes. She didn't want me to do this and she said that I should take a pair of her shoes. I was a 12-year-old girl and her shoes were 5 or 6 centimeters too large. I insisted that I wouldn't wear them, and she slapped me on the face two or three times. This was the first time that such a thing had happened.
Toward evening I slipped away and ran to Dubno.
Later on I found out that the old woman didn't know that I was Jewish. Her daughter hid this from her, knowing that if she knew she would have handed me over.
In spite of this I remember Dolgopola favorably, perhaps because there my fate gave me a chance to do good. As a Ukrainian I was able to roam around the small village freely, and once I discovered some Jews hiding there. My life took on special meaning. I was able to secretly bring them food and I told them the real reason I was doing so. My loneliness was assuaged a bit.
When I ran away to Dubno the Red Army was already in Dolgopola and I felt less burdened.
In Dubno I found a Jewish family who had also hidden in Dolgopola, and now had returned to their town. I stayed with them for a few days and then went to Kremenets. Why Kremenets? I order to get closer to Shumsk.
In Shumsk I went to the graves of our beloved ones and cried and cried. I found our house standing in good condition. I registered for the orphanage in Kremenets and returned there with Sara Golub.5
In Shumsk, I had a terrible disappointment. The surviving Jews cold-shouldered me. They knew who I was but they didn't try to help me.
Only Pensuik came to visit me at the orphanage when he heard that I was alive. He wanted to take me and adopt me as his daughter, in place of his son who had been killed, and to send me to school to study. You won't be a shepherdess, he said. But I explained to him that it was dangerous for me to be in the village. And so we parted with a kiss and real tears.
In 1947 I returned to Shumsk to get my house back. I was 17 years old and I conducted court cases to do so. In one of the instances I was awarded my grandmother's home. I wanted to sell it and I had a buyer for it, but one of the survivors in Shumsk , Rachel Brownsztejn, who served as an informer in the new regime, informed on me and said that I had obtained the house fraudulently. I lost the house and the money which I could have used to establish my family here.
One day I was called to the N.K.V.D. I went out and saw a wagon standing there. In the wagon I saw Dobrovolsky. I almost fainted, but I got control of myself and in the trial I testified against him with all my strength. I don't remember all the details of the trial, but I do remember how he ridiculed us and spoke insolently. We described him as a monster and he smiled and said,
Ask other people and they will tell you how good I was to these poor people in the last moments of their lives. That they were killed is their fault. We were all together seven people and they were hundreds. Why didn't they attack us? Why didn't they escape? In any case, I am not guilty.
Our testimony had its effect and he was sentenced to twenty- five years in prison with hard labor.
[Pages 59 - 65]
Translated by Rachel Karni
That very same day nine more people were killed. They were buried three days after their death, in a common grave inside the Ghetto. Permission was not given to bury them (in the Jewish cemetery outside the town). All this was done so as to prevent the Jews from seeing that that large burial pits were already being dug for them. But from the attic windows Jews could see masses of farmers coming with their shovels, and they understood.
In addition, on that same day the non-Jewish maid of the Prilucki's took Eli Prilucki out of the Ghetto and the residents of the Ghetto understood the import of this: That Eli Prilucki disappeared and that the maid did not visit the Ghetto any more was a bad omen.
When the Ghetto had been established a Jewish Council had been set up, and the composition of the Judenrat was: the chairman, Visler (from Katowitz); Yisroel Akerman; Grisha Akerman; the rabbi, Reb Yosele. In the Jewish police there were 15 to 20: N. Akerman, commander; the Stis brothers; the son of Leibowitz Halivrant; Zeidel, the brother-in-law of N. Akerman; Dovid German and others.
In the Ghetto we lived in a room in the home of Bracha Offengendler, who was 100 years old. She was swollen from starvation, and the police threw her into the pit first when the mass killing began.
On the 14th of August 1942 people were taken out of the Ghetto in groups of five, on the pretext that they were being taken to a safe place. Those who were taken out of the Ghetto were kept together near the large synagogue, and from there they marched, in groups of five, through the part of the town called the nei shtadt in the direction of the mass grave. This common grave was behind the Christian cemetery, which is past the Goralna, in the Krilitz hills. The pits had been dug two or three days earlier, as I already mentioned.
My father had previously procured 8 kilograms of wheat, and had gone secretly to a mill which was in the Ghetto, to have it ground, in order to prepare a supply of flour. It was a primitive mill, put up by one Jew, and had two millstones, turned by hand. We stood an entire day and ground the wheat. We kept the flour in the bunker, to be used as supplies for bad times, when we would have to leave the bunker.
When my family was taken to the bergelech (the area where the Jews were concentrated together to be taken to the pits), and from there to the area near the synagogue, the first thing I thought of was the flour. I took it with me and didn't let it out of my hands.
Near the synagogue was the only entrance into the Ghetto. My father came to us and said that he was going to escape because this was the last chance, and he ordered us to follow his example at the first opportunity -- and then he disappeared.
During these days Ukrainians came from all over to steal whatever Jewish property they could get their hands on. They came in wagons. I lay down and rolled under the wagons and the horses and began to slip away. I did manage to escape. We had left my little sister with my grandmother.
From there I ran to our bunker, which was in the Ghetto. I didn't find anyone from our family in the bunker. Other people had come into the bunker, and among them I suddenly found my father. The following day my Aunt Nehama, my father's sister, brought both of my sisters. My aunt also stayed with us in the bunker. We stayed there for nine days. I would slip out of the bunker from time to time to bring water. My father tried once to do this, but he was caught by a Ukrainian. Although the Ukrainian released my father in exchange for a fur which my father gave him, my father didn't try this again. I always had the feeling that I would neither be caught nor killed, and this gave me confidence.
The dimensions of the bunker were two meters square, and there were nine people in it. We sat crowded together. Above us lived Bracha Offengendler, the old woman aged 100, whose mind was already clouded. It was imperative that she not know about the bunker under her house. My father had dug the bunker alone, by hand, night after night, and had taken out the earth in paper bags and spread the soil around the area of the house.
We were very concerned about the bunker and the tension was very high. In part of the bunker there was not any air. My father had a bottle of spirits and every one would smell it in turn. My father had dug a pit to serve as a latrine, and each evening we removed the feces, each time another person doing this job. We also didn't have anything to eat, and we subsisted on the remains of the ground wheat.
After nine days the Germans brought 100 Jewish workers, who were to live in the synagogue. These Jews innocently believed that it was permissible to walk about freely, and they called out to all the Jews who had been hiding that they could come out. I left the bunker to see if this was true. I returned and told my father that I did see Jewish adults walking about. So then my father went out and returned with pieces of moldy bread, some salt and water. He didn't allow us to eat all the bread. He felt that we would need it in the days to come.
After this I would also go out of the bunker. In the morning I would leave and mix among people, and at night I would return to the bunker. My father in the meantime had set up a coal cooking stove, and so I would cook food outside the bunker for my little sisters. We lived this way for a month.
From among the Jews, whose number had increased in the meanwhile, the Germans regularly took out groups of people who did not return any more. Thus the number of Jews grew smaller and smaller. At this point Pela Munderer, a little girl aged 8 or 9, joined us. She was very quiet and barely spoke and we couldn't get her to tell us about her parents or their fate.
Fortunately our bunker was never discovered. But one Shabbat all the Jews of the Ghetto were brought together in the square. My father felt something was amiss and said that we would not go out to the roll call. He said this to my Aunt Rachel Winer, who was with us, with her two daughters, but my aunt didn't listen to my father. She went out. When he ran out to bring her back and save her, he was caught and never came back. The truth was that Rachel Winer didn't want to live any more after her two sons had been killed, and so my dear father paid with his life because of her.
My two sisters and I remained, orphaned, in the bunker. We were very hungry. I knew that the Jews had prepared a chulent 1 for Shabbat. I went out to bring us some food from the chulent. I returned with a big pot, from which all four of us girls ate. When I went to get the chulent I noticed that all the 100 Jews were no longer there. Only about 15 of them remained, and I have no idea what happened to these people in the end.
On Sunday morning, after the roll call was over, I left the bunker with the girls, in order to escape. I met a rabbi, Reb Pinele, and I wanted to know whether it would be possible to join him. I asked him where he was going with his wife and three children and he told us that he was going to the river for kiddush hashem.2 Afterwards we heard from some non-Jews that they went into the river and drowned.
We continued walking until we got to the home of a non-Jew who lived near the post office, named Filrat Bonderchuk. We had lived in his house many years ago. I asked him if he were ready to help us. I told him that in the bunker we had many valuable things and that I was prepared to pay him with valuables. His answer was that he was ready to help us, but first we had to bring him these objects, and then he would help us. I risked my life to do this. In the middle of the day we returned to the bunker, walking through the fields, and we brought a sack of valuable objects back with us. We left these with him; and then he told us to leave immediately, chasing us away and threatening to call the Germans.
We ran away from him. We went into an empty house near the Prilucki's house and huddled together there for a few days. We were terrible hungry and the hunger got worse. We wanted to eat, and in the fields there were carrots and other vegetables. I would go out and pick them and feed the little children I had with me. It was already the height of autumn and the crops were getting scarcer, but somehow we managed to subsist on them.
Then I had an idea -- to visit my Polish friend Danka Dolinska, who came to us for many years during Passover, to eat the special Passover food that she liked very much.
She received me warmly, and now she stole food from her parents, putting it in a pre-arranged place, and I would come in the evening and take it. This continued until her parents began to suspect something, and she had to stop. She was afraid to tell them what she had been doing.
I stopped going to her house, but once I was very hungry and I decided to try my fate once more. I came near her house and saw that it was lit up, probably for a party. I went into the entranceway and saw some jars and clothing. I took two jars and a pair of galoshes and ran away as fast as I could.
I never returned to her house again.
It turned out that the jars were bottles of honey, and so we subsisted on the honey. It gave us heartburn, and we didn't have water to quench our thirst, but we had no choice but to eat it.
We lived in the house near the Prilucki house for two weeks, moving about the town as inconspicuously as possible, until we felt that someone had detected our presence. We decided to move to the nei shtadt part of the town. We crowded together in a house there and the family of Avromchik Bluwsztein joined us: the husband, wife and their three daughters. We all sat together in a cellar. This couple had food, but their children didn't even want to taste anything. Their mother would try to force them to eat, and her shouting could be heard far and wide. Her husband's warnings didn't help -- she just continued shouting at the girls. In the next house lived a Christian who had made a living by acting as a Shabbes goy3 in the town. Now he had appropriated a nice Jewish house. When he heard her shouting he went to bring the Ukrainian police, and we were caught.
This happened towards evening. They ordered us to get undressed. I decided that they wouldn't kill me so easily. I was always ready to escape. In front of the Ukrainian police I told my little sisters to run after me. My sister Leah was afraid and didn't obey me, and she remained there, to my sorrow. But I jumped through the window and my little sister jumped after me. I ran -- concerned all the while that they would shoot at us. All around there were non-Jews but they didn't try to stop us.
In one yard I saw a small stable. There was nowhere else to go, and there the son of Pulchaha , who was a Shtundist,4 lived. He was raising a pig in a corner pen in the stable area. The pig was very large. We hid in the pigpen, lying down and hiding there with the animal. (Pela Munderer in the meantime had left us. She was hiding in a cellar with Manya Kesel.)
We felt that they were looking for us. We continued lying there next to the pig until it was completely quiet all around. Then the owner of the house came out to feed his pig and he found us. He was very frightened and said that in spite of his desire to help us he was forced to make us leave because of the danger to himself.
We left and we found the cellar where Pela and Manya were and we remained with them. There, there were other Jews, but in a separate group.
The next day we went out to look for food. When we returned to the cellar we found it already empty. Tifilin and tallises5 were on the floor, and we understood that the Jews who were here had been killed. There was no possibility that we could continue hiding in Shumsk. Winter was fast approaching and we had to find a place to stay and food for the severe cold weather.
Manya, who had been born in a village, parted from us and went to people whom she knew in that village. My sister and I stayed together with Pela.
We also went to a village, but we walked in the opposite direction from the grave pits, walking in the direction of Vaskovitch. Pela, being a single child, immediately found shelter with a Shtundist, but I couldn't be separated from my sister and it was more difficult for us, being two, to find shelter. We roamed through the fields during the day and stole into yards at night to look for food. We suffered from fear at night, and from the barking of the dogs and dog bites.
In the meantime I remembered that once I heard that the people in Kuty were nicer. I told my tiny sister that I was planning for us to go to Kuty, showed her the general direction and said that if I were caught she should continue without me to Kuty, where she would find shelter.
We didn't even manage to leave Vaskovitch -- before we left, we were caught. We went into a house to ask for some food and we were told to wait and the people went and brought an armed forester. He took us and brought us in the direction of Shumsk. We both started to run away -- each of us in a different direction, and we were separated and lost each other. This is what we had planned to do in such circumstances, so perhaps one of us would remain alive. And yet, my heart was broken.
I came, by myself, to a hamlet near Kuty. I went into the home of one family and asked to be allowed to stay, and they asked me if I knew how to knit.
I said that I definitely did, although I only knew the little knitting that I had learned at my grandmother's.
And so I stayed there to knit. It turned out that they were good people. They knew explicitly who I was, and yet they hid me and allowed me to live with them. They too were Shtundists. It was good for me to be with them, but I couldn't rest without knowing the fate of my little sister. I said I would go to look for her, but they wouldn't allow me to do so. One day the husband of the family came and told us that in the forest he had met a little girl who had asked him the way to Kuty. I immediately understood that this was my sister. I wanted to go to look for her, but they didn't let me. He said that he had shown her the direction to Kuty and she was there already.
After one day, as I was sitting and knitting, his wife came in and told me to hide, because a little girl had come in, asking for bread, and one could never know who she was and what her intentions were. Instead of hiding I ran outside, saying to the woman, I am sure this is my sister. They didn't believe me but I told them that my sister had a scar on her right leg, like the one I had on my left. After they were convinced that I was not mistaken, they let her come in, and so I had the good fortune to be with my sister again.
We were together for a few days, and this was a really special joy. But suddenly the family told us that we had to leave, because the fact that we were there had become known in the village.
It was Christmas Eve and frost and snow were everywhere. We left the family to go into the forest. A forester saw this, grabbed us and brought us back to them, in order to take us to Shumsk. In my terrible despair I began to curse him with a torrent of curses. Finally I said to him, I see that you have many children. May you lose all of them, and I continued with some more curses. In the meantime, his wife, who was heavily bejeweled with jewelry and gold watches they had taken from Jewish people, became frightened at my curses and allowed us to run away.
We wanted to run to Krilitz but we got to Shumsk. I didn't know the way to Krilitz through the villages, and so I tried to go there through Shumsk.
In the town we passed by our house. It had been completely destroyed, down to the foundations. My little sister found our cat sitting on the plot where our house had stood, and she began to run after it so as to catch it and take it with us. I hadn't managed to warn her. The non-Jewish children of the neighborhood recognized us and began to chase after us. We managed to escape to an area near the Goralna. I fell into a pit covered with deep snow and my sister went into the house of Kresitzki, who at one time had been the head of the Ukrainian police and was a good man who wanted very much to help Jews. We disappeared from the sight of the children who had run after us, but neither my sister nor I knew where the other one was. I decided not to stay there, and when I left the pit I continued to walk to Krilitz, alone, to a non-Jew whom people who had helped me previously said I could turn.
My sister, who knew where she should be going, told Kresitzki, and he brought her to me in the evening. He didn't come into the house, but when my sister, in her innocence, said that Kresitzki had brought her, the non-Jews, in whose house we were, became very agitated and told us that we had to leave their house.
The night was bitter cold, a winter storm was blowing, snow was falling and we were outside, roaming about. After that night there was another terrible day, and this continued for some more days, until one day, when we were frozen, terribly hungry and dirty, we heard a winter wagon passing. We didn't have the strength or willpower to run away. The wagon driver was shocked to see two little girls wandering about like ghosts on the wind-swept landscape with darkness approaching. When he recovered from his surprise he asked us who we were. We told him the truth and said that he could take us wherever he wished -- it didn't matter to us any more.
He lifted us onto the wagon and brought us to his home in a hamlet in Michilovski. His wife bathed us, fed us and cared for us with special warmth. Afterwards, she took her elderly father down from his bed (in a nook) above the hot stove, and put us to bed in his place.
We stayed with them for a few days, and then they decided to bring my sister to their sister in Serge. It was too difficult to hide two children. I stayed with these people. In the course of time I learned that their name was Zadereh, and nearby was a Shtundist family named Karatchun, where Haim Cisin was hiding. They also knew that I was Jewish, and in spite of this I was free, and perhaps, because of the fact that they knew the truth, we were partners in the danger.
I stayed with the Zaderehs until the Russians entered the area..
Even after the Russians had entered this family didn't let me leave, but rather kept me for three more months in fear lest the Germans return. We parted only when they were certain of the German defeat
I returned to Shumsk with the Russians, to see my town -- just to see it, and I stayed there an entire year.
During that year I began to study printing in Kremenets. When I finished my studies I returned to Shumsk where a Ukrainian newspaper had been established. I worked during the day and studied in the evening at school to finish my school requirements. I excelled in Ukrainian language and literature.
Once I was sent, together with a Russian girl who worked with me, to Chortkov, to bring letters for the printing press. The roads were dangerous. Adults were afraid to travel the roads for fear of the Banderovtze6 who ran riot in the forests. We arrived in Chortkav, took what we were told to bring back and returned to Kremenets. There we found a non-Jewish woman, whose son was imprisoned because he belonged to the Banderovtze.
She had been told to bring us to Shumsk in her wagon. She was transporting bottles of vinegar that she had purchased in Kremenets. In the middle of the trip I saw many soldiers. I said to the girl who was traveling with me that it looked like the army was hunting for Banderovtze and we would be able to get home to Shumsk safely.
In the meantime a man on horseback, in Russian army uniform, approached us and asked us where we were going. I said that we were traveling to Shumsk, but as soon as I said these words, I was sorry. From under his jacket I could just barely see the embroidered collar telling me that I had fallen into the hands of Banderovtze. The Russians never wore an embroidered collar. I tried to explain and said that actually we were going on after Shumsk, to a very distant place. He thought that there was vodka in the bottles and didn't believe us when we said they were bottles of vinegar. All he wanted was to get to what he thought was the vodka. He immediately understood that I was Jewish, the woman driving the wagon, Ukrainian, and the girl with me Lachovka, that is, Polish, but this didn't matter to him now. He was transfixed by the bottles of vodka. He ordered us to turn back to a village which was well known as being a center of these robbers. He accompanied us, together with a few more of his men. On the way we saw a truck which was stuck, having run out of gas. The Banderovtze understood at once that this was a Russian truck, and attacked it. A bloody battle between the Russians and the Banderovtze developed. We used the opportunity to escape.
When we got to Shumsk we immediately notified the N.K.V.D. about what had happened and they sent reinforcements. The truck was found in flames, but they managed to surround it and to capture the Banderovtze soldiers. We identified them, and in light of our testimony they were executed.
Then I knew that I had to leave Shumsk. During this year there were with us in Shumsk Shifra Szrayer , Shlomo Szrayer , Malka and Yaakov Bursztejn, Beni Michael, the blacksmith, , Herzl (the cousin of Moni Fuks ), who was later killed at the hands of the Banderovtze, and one other person who still remains in Shumsk.
In Shumsk there was also Eli Prilucki, who remained in Shumsk with the woman who saved him, and a few others.
My sister stayed with the family who had been taking care of her a few months longer. They didn't want to let her go, out of concern for her welfare. This was a family with no children and they wanted to adopt her. When I came to take her they tried to convince me to stay with them too. I couldn't argue with them after all the kindness they had shown my sister, but I wanted to save her from remaining with them, and I kept looking for a way. During that time a Soviet army officer was staying at the Prilucki home, and I told him about my sister. The story touched his heart, and he said that since they traveled from time to time to Serge, I would go with him and he would help me. A few days later they took me with them to Serge and I found my sister in the yard. The owners of the house were not there, and I took her with me to Shumsk.
The woman came afterwards to visit us, but she didn't dare take my sister, in spite of saying that she had the right to do so. I brought my sister to a children's home in Kremenets. We were there a few months, but with the Gleivitz repatriation7 we went to Poland and from there we came to Israel.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Szumsk, Ukraine Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2016 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 17 Feb 2011 by MGH