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[Pages 96-102]

My Front Line Battles

(The Memorial Service for the Martyrs of Shumsk Held in Germany)

By Mordechai Gervitz

Translated by Rachel Karni

Edited by Lynne Tolman

 

Translator's Note: Mordechai Gervitz was born in Shumsk to Josef Fischel Gerwic and Hana (Roichman). He was a grandson of Dov and Golda Gerwic. Mordechai Gervitz lost his entire family in the Holocaust except for his sister Zahava, who had emigrated to Palestine in 1936. Mordechai's first wife and their 3-year-old daughter, Shifra, were killed. His brother and sister Eliezer and Rachel perished with his parents in Shumsk. His brother Yitzchak, who served as an officer in the Russian army during World War II, was declared missing in action by military authorities. His married sister, Chaya Rosenberg, and her daughter were killed in Lanowitz. Mordechai Gervitz wrote two other chapters in this Yizkor Book and served as the secretary of the Shumsk Organization in Israel. He passed away in December 1986.

It was a Friday morning, the first of September 1939. The Polish radio announced the outbreak of war between Germany and Poland. Fear and trepidation fell on the Jewish population, who still bore memories of the World War of 1914.

A few days later a stream of Polish soldiers fleeing the battlefields testified to the defeat of the Polish army and the victory of Nazi Germany.

An unforgettable impression was made by the stream of refugees, on foot or in vehicles, going in the direction of the Russian border, hoping that there they would find rest for some time at least. (Some of them went toward the border with Romania.)

On the roadsides one could see cars that had been abandoned by their owners due to the shortage of gasoline. The carcasses of horses and cattle that had been injured and were left unburied were the pitiful, shocking sights of war.

On September 17, 1939, an order was given to the Russian army to cross the border and to advance into the depths of Poland. And so the division of Poland was reinstituted and our town was again under Russian-Soviet rule.

*

The Jewish population felt that the air was charged with explosives and that something terrible was going to occur… Rumors abounded, especially after young men born in certain age groups were drafted and were shipped off -- some to Russia and others to the regions of the new borders.

From the areas which were under the control of the Germans horrific rumors of the terrible things being done to the Jews reached us, rumors of concentration camps and degradation …

During these days the “traditional” hatred of the Ukrainian population toward us increased -- and this depressed us very much, because we hadn't forgotten the horrors of Petlura's[1] people and their gangs.

*

June 22, 1941, marked the outbreak of war between Russia and Germany. Already on the first day of the war one saw masses of refugees moving, on foot or in vehicles, their faces toward Russia. German bombers flew in the sky over Shumsk, on their way to bombing the cities of Russia, and on their way showering a hail of bullets at the refugees and the owners of cars to the east of Shumsk.

During these very days the Soviet authorities increased their draft efforts and I too was drafted.

One day I found myself with other draftees, all Ukrainians, on the way to Lanovits. This page is not sufficient to contain the expressions of joy of these draftees. They were completely unafraid to express their deepest wishes as to the outcome of this war. …

I felt like a prisoner among people who hated me. I heard them “prophesying” what would happen in the following days, days which would determine the fate of both the Jews and the Communists.

In the railroad station in Lanovits I saw, with my own eyes, the results of war -- the Red Cross train carriages were overflowing with the wounded who had been brought back from the killing fields.

*

The way from Lanovits to Chortkov[2] took a number of days. The ceaseless bombardments on our train caused us losses -- both wounded and killed. Every once in a while the train stopped and we jumped off the train into a grain field at the side of the railroad. As I was laying there the sight of my quiet, modest town of Shumsk before the outbreak of war, with her people, streets and paths, passed before my eyes -- but someone broke my reverie and urged me to hurry back to the train for the continuation of our journey.

*

On September 29, 1939,[3] we reached our destination. The station was dark; on the paved area in front of the station and inside on the floor wounded people were lying, and the air bore the smell of medicine.

In the eyes of the Jews of Chortkov one could see fear, depression and worry about the future. …

In the army unit in which I was placed I found many Jews, most of them from Galicia -- I was overjoyed to have found them. We stayed close to them and did not leave them.

The following day I received my military equipment and I was sent to the front -- on the way I remembered the words of my father, blessed be his memory. The last time that I saw him was in Lanovits, in the home of my sister, Chaya, of blessed memory. When we parted from each other he said, “I was a soldier for five years and from my experience I learned that one must be cautious and keep calm. May G-d keep you from all evil.”

After two days we were ordered to retreat. I am unable to describe the sight of the retreat -- the roads were full of people, vehicles, tanks, cannons of different kinds abandoned at the sides of the roads -- and at the sides of the roads and on dirt paths -- temporary airfields alongside wheat which no one had managed to harvest -- all being shot at by light machine guns from airplanes which were marked with the black German swastika.

The news that reached us from refugees and from the radio told every once in a while of the capture of additional cities by the Germans -- and all this served to depress us very much. …

*

On a dark night and in pouring rain we found ourselves not for from the city Husiatin.[4] Wet to the core, I found shelter behind a barn in a field -- but German firebombs made me run to an open field. For a number of hours -- until dawn -- I didn't recover from this bombardment. (I remembered the book of Remarque, “All Quiet on the Western Front.”)

That same night the bridge over the Zbruch River[5] was destroyed in a bombardment. We were supposed to have crossed this river -- piles of dead bodies now lined its banks. (My Jewish comrades in arms scattered and I didn't find them again until I reached the area of Proskurov.)

*

With my gun on one shoulder and a pair of shoes on the other I marched barefoot in the area of the original Soviet Russia until I reached the region of Proskurov.[6] There I was shocked to hear from Ukrainians that it would be worth my while to go home. The propaganda, which different sources spread, was that the Germans were not planning to do anything bad to the Jews[7] -- and truly, the next morning, many soldiers did go home, among them, to my sorrow, many Jewish soldiers.

After one or two days I passed through a town called Yarmolints. (This was on a Friday night.) Small houses, candlelight shining glowing through the darkness and women sitting in the doorway of their homes. (How come Jews had remained here? Why didn't they flee?) This sight returned me to Shumsk and the synagogue named Yarmolints where I prayed, as did my father and grandfather.

*

After I crossed the Dnieper our unit was stationed for some time in the town Zolotonosha. (There I met Pinchas Pomeranc, a barber and son of Rafael.[8]) But Hitler's hordes advanced in our footsteps, their unceasing bombardments unsettling our nerves, and so we retreated to Kharkov. There we were stationed in one of the beautiful spots in the region named Bananoa.[9] Around us were pine groves and fresh air -- but while one's appetite grew, the food was rationed.

*

From one of the Jewish refugees who had been on the road I learned that Yom Kippur was on a certain day. I passed the information along to all of the Jews who were in our unit (some 30 people). With sundown we gathered and in a low voice each of us whispered the prayer of Kol Nidrei from memory, as the sickle of the moon looked down on us from among the treetops. Before we finished our prayers, in which each of us beseeched to remain alive and to be privileged to see the defeat of the Nazis, the order “ready” was heard, and we continued marching all night until sunrise, at the same time fasting.

I will never forget this Kol Nidrei service.

I saw heartbreaking scenes in the train stations along the way, when draftees parted from their families and the feeling of all of us was that this might be their final parting. … And maybe this was our fate too.

*

Days filled with many experiences were my lot until I reached the banks of the Don River and again we caught up with long lines of refugees, many of them Jews, lost children (I remember one picture: A wagon hitched to two horses on which there was a dead woman clutching a baby who was alive), abandoned horses and cattle, all wandering on the roads.

Near the city of Tsimlyansk my Jewish friends and I were in a grove of trees, one square kilometer large, that had been completely bombarded. Part of the bridge across the Don had been destroyed from an aerial bombardment, and to my sorrow I didn't know how to swim. How would I cross the Don river? My friend Aryeh Field, of blessed memory (from Lutzk), decided to remain with me and to cross the river together with me, taking me on his back. Fortunately the damage to the bridge was repaired and we crossed the river on it.

*

One night, dead tired, we were wending our way when a vehicle suddenly stopped and picked us up -- but after barely an hour we were attacked from the air. A bullet penetrated the motor of the car and again we were forced to continue on foot -- and while walking I passed by many rural Cossacks, the kind who are mentioned in the book by Sholochov “And Quiet Flows the Don.”

In these villages we Jews were asked, “What does a Jew look like? Is there any truth to it that the Jews have started this war? Is it true that in Poland people are harnessed to plows to plow the fields?”

At every village in which we stopped we helped the elderly parents and the wives of draftees with their farm work.

On our way to the Volga we passed through the plains of the Kalmyk, a people whose occupation is raising sheep and whose favorite drink is tea with milk mixed with animal fat.

We were not able to cross the Volga immediately due to the unceasing bombardments by the Germans. At night we were able to discern signals from the ground to the pilots of the Messerschmitt planes indicating the places of concentrations of soldiers and also the places of ships carrying fuels. These were bombed and caught fire, and the smoke covered the area of the Volga for a distance of many kilometers. (There I saw how great the destruction of Russia and the suffering of her population were.)

*

The preparation of the military forces on the other side of the Volga near Stalingrad progressed quickly. Again, a group of Jews from different countries banded together and we helped each other, especially with food supplies, which we procured from civilians and shared equally. (The flow of supplies to the front was often hindered by bombardments.)

During this time the Polish Brigade was being formed and a large number of our soldiers were Polish citizens and were transferred back behind the lines for this purpose. (I remained in the Russian Brigade and was not taken out.)

One morning, when on a reconnaissance, I noticed a soldier whom I recognized as the younger brother of Yaakov, a son of Shmuel Sztejnberg, who is here with us in Israel. He had been lightly wounded and had been transferred away from the front lines to recover. It is hard to describe the experience of meeting someone from my hometown in the volcano called Stalingrad. For many days and nights the memory of this meeting remained with me and yet it lasted just a few minutes.

*

The incessant aerial bombardments by the Germans, the heavy artillery shelling, the propaganda leaflets in an enormous number of languages dropped by the Nazis in which there were horrible false statements against the Jewish people, as well as propaganda suggesting that there was little chance for the Great Powers to open a second front and an attempt to disprove the existence of Marshal Zhukov,[10] all these united the Jewish soldiers in their resolve to fight unto the last drop of blood, and not to bring shame on the Jewish people in its struggle against the Nazi tyrant. On days when we would be depressed, my friend Aryeh, of blessed memory, would encourage us, saying, “Hold on, friends. We will live to see the defeat of the Nazis.”

*

With the encirclement of Stalingrad and the army of Paulus[11] by the Red Army, our unit advanced towards the Don River in unbearably bitter cold days. -- We spent the spring months in military outposts in the area of Rostov on the Don.

Conditions do not permit me to describe the siege on the city if Taganrog and the defense lines of the Germans -- a kind of small Maginot line. When the line was broken I was amazed to see the underground fortifications that were there.

*

With the fall of Taganrog we advanced towards the Crimean peninsula and again we had a period of a few months of preparations. It was there that I received the medal for the defense of Stalingrad. When I was in the area of the Chernogorsk Bridge, I inquired of the inhabitants of the area what was the fate of the Jewish colonies that had been established by AJDC in the area. I was told that these villages had been wiped off the face of the earth.[12]

*

------- We were lodged in private homes. In one of these homes three of us lived, I , my friend Aryeh, of blessed memory, and, may he have a long life, my friend Dubman. In a conversation with the elderly owner of this home I learned that her birthplace was Radzivilov.[13] This acquaintance brought us much good. The old woman helped us to procure food to the extent of her ability to do so. After I left her home she continued to send me one of her grandchildren, who came bearing bread, potatoes and dried fish. May she be blessed for this.

*

After the fall of Sevastopol and the liberation of Crimea from the hands of the Germans, military activities in this area were over and we were transferred by a special train to the White Russian front. The train ride was a period of vacation. We, a very small group of almost all of the Jews on the train, gathered in one carriage and each of us told about his home in a Polish town, how he had spent the Shabbat and holidays, about specific foods he had eaten. A few broke out in cantorial selections, special poems from the liturgy (piyutim), or ordinary songs. We promised ourselves that if we survived and were privileged to see the defeat of the Nazis we would devote ourselves to reviving that past.

At the siege of Minsk I received word of the word about the fate of my parents and my family.…

Minsk had been completely destroyed, together with all of her inhabitants. When we took her we found the city ruined and empty.

*

Extra caution was demanded of us when we set foot on former Polish lands (the Globoka region).[14] While our knowledge of the Polish language did help us Jews to establish contact with the local population, we were very offended by the inimical attitude of the Lithuanians to us. Even now they did not hesitate to say terrible things about Jews straight to our faces.

With the liberation of Kovno I met partisans who had survived the war for the first time. We were told that one of the survivors was a woman.

In Kovno I saw the temple, which remained standing, like a memorial to the Jewish inhabitants of the town.

I also saw the fortresses in which our Jewish brethren had perished and the ruined town of Slobodka.

*

At the end of the war our brigade was stationed in the area of Kovno, and there I witnessed the discharge of the first non-Jewish soldiers and their great joy and happiness to return home. The discharge of our brethren, the Jewish soldiers, was completely different. When we were asked by our commanders where we lived, we remained speechless, unable to give an answer.

In the year 1946 I left Kovno and reached Rovno with friends who had served with me in the army. We somehow lived together -- seven people in a very small room.
During the period that I was in Rovno, I got to Kremenets and saw her destruction. One night I slept in a hostel in Vishnivits and met a farmer from the village of Bikovets, who described to me the torture and horror that the Jews of Shumsk experienced.

*

In March 1946 I reached the town of Bytom, which was is in Poland, and I went to live in a kibbutz of discharged soldiers. During the demonstrations of May 1, I heard the well known slogan “Down with the Jews.”

The pogrom in Kielce[15] and the attitude of the Polish authorities to survivors of the Holocaust hastened my departure from Poland.

At the Oder-Neisse border a group of us were detained by the border guards. A few of us were sent back to Poland, but I argued that I was a German citizen, having been born in Emden. (Why did I say Emden? Because I remembered that my father had a prayer book complied by Rabbi Yaakov Emden) and luckily the guards saw that there was a town with this name and allowed me to continue into Germany.

Our group, including myself, was brought to an UNNRA[16] camp called Herzog near Eschwege.

When I arrived at the camp I found a local governing committee and different institutions. I was made a member of the cultural committee, and after a short time a “Tarbut” school and kindergarten[17] were established. In the course of time these expanded with the arrival of refugees from all the corners of Europe. Once again the voice of Jewish children speaking Hebrew could be heard. We reached an agreement with a local printing press that, in exchange for foodstuff, they would print notebooks with the Hebrew letters on the covers.

The Ministry of Education took care of the spiritual needs of the refugees in the camp. A drama society was established, Chanukah and Purim parties were held, and Jewish holidays were celebrated lavishly.

When I was in Western Germany on August 17, 1947, we held the first Memorial Service for the Martyrs of Shumsk in the town of Wetzlar.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Symon Petlura (1879-1926) was a Ukrainian socialist politician and statesman, one of the leaders of Ukraine's unsuccessful fight for independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917. During this period his troops carried out terrible pogroms against the Jews in the Ukraine, including those in the town of Shumsk. He was briefly the president of Ukraine during the Russian Civil War (1918-1922). Petlura was assassinated in Paris in 1926. Return
  2. Chortkov, today Chortkiv, is some 50 miles south of Lanovits. Return
  3. Certainly a mistaken date. The year is certainly 1941 and from the succeeding paragraphs we understand that the date is the last days of June or the first days of July. Chortkov fell to the Germans on July 6, 1941. Return
  4. Husiatin is a town on a bank of the Zbruch River, in the area of Ternipol. Return
  5. The Zbruch River flows from north to south in the western Ukraine and constituted the border between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire prior to World War I. It was the border between Poland and the Soviet Union in the years 1920-1939. Return
  6. Proskurov, today Khmelnystskyi, Ukraine, is a large city in the Kaminets Podolsk area, much farther east. Return
  7. The same rumor was spread in other parts of the Soviet Union, including the area close Shumsk, and is mentioned in other chapters of the Shumsk Yizkor Book. Return
  8. Pinchas Pomeranc, the son of Rafael and Meita Pomeranc, survived the war. His father and his sisters Tzipa, who was married and was a seamstress, Sonya, who worked as a cashier, and Chayka, who was a student, all perished in Shumsk. Return
  9. Bananoa: The translator has been unable to confirm this place name. Many beautiful pine forests and parks were planted in this area, starting in 1803, including one in ravines near the Donets River. Return
  10. Marshal Georgy Zhukov was a Red Army commander whose military successes included the defense of Stalingrad in 1942-43. Return
  11. The German advance on Stalingrad was led by General Friedrich Paulus' 6th Army. Return
  12. The Soviet Union and the American Joint Distribution Committee established Jewish agricultural colonies in Crimea beginning in 1924. There were more than 100 of these colonies by the mid-1930s, when the establishment of new colonies was discontinued. All of the Jews in these colonies were massacred by Einsatzgruppe D in July 1941, with the advance of the German army. Return
  13. Radzivilov, today named Chervonoarmisk, is a town about 60 kilometers west of Return
  14. Globoka region: The translator has been unable to confirm this place name. Apparently the author is referring to an area of Lithuania that had been part of Poland between World War I and World War II and now was part of the Soviet Union. Return
  15. An outbreak of violence targeting the Jewish community of Kielce, Poland, on July 4, 1946. Mobs attacked Jews after false rumors spread that Jews had abducted a Christian child whom they intended to kill for ritual purposes. The rioters killed at least 42 Jews and wounded approximately 50 more. The pogrom in Kielce was one of the factors that led to a mass westward migration of hundreds of thousands of Jews who had survived the Holocaust. Return
  16. United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Return
  17. “Tarbut” was a Jewish school network in Europe in which the language of instruction for many of the subjects was Hebrew. The meaning of the Hebrew word “tarbut” is “culture.” Return


[Pages 103 - 109]

After the Holocaust

Related by Shalom Krakowiak,
a grandson of Leib Shimon

Translated by Rachel Karni

Edited by Lynne Tolman

 

Translator's Note: Shalom Krakowiak was the only survivor of a large Shumsk family numbering 18 people. Those who perished in Shumsk were his maternal grandmother, Shepke (Rojchman) Rosenberg, his paternal grandfather, Aryeh Leib Shimon Krakowiak, and his paternal grandmother, Pesya; his father, Yaakov Krakowiak (born in 1896), and his mother, Breindel (Rosenberg) Krakowiak (born in 1900); his brothers David and Mendel (born in 1933); his uncle Benyamin (Buzi) Krakowiak (born in 1902), with Buzi's wife, Mika, who was the daughter of Efraim and Kraisi Goldenberg, and their children Reuven (born in 1928), Tzvia (born in 1930), and Tzipporah (born in 1933); his unmarried aunts and uncles Feival Krakowiak, Chaya Eti Krakowiak, Chana Krakowiak, and Rivka and Bela Rosenberg. After Shalom Krakowiak immigrated to Israel, he settled in Afula and was active in the Shumsk organization. He passed away in 1994.

At the end of [June] [1] 1941 I fled from Shumsk. At the time I was just 17 and a half years old. I fled alone, with no relatives, not even a brother, just with a few friends. Our parents didn't want to leave their parents and their close relatives. We were some friends who decided to escape a number of months after the Russians had already left Shumsk.

In two days we walked 120 km, on foot. We hid and walked alternately. On the way we joined up with other groups of wandering Jews who were from Kremenets and also from Shumsk. There was: Itzik Cap [2], Yitzchak Spector [3], Azriel “Dundik” Berger [4], Avraham Krejmer and others. We walked until we reached a train station in the district of Kamenets-Podolsk. On the way we stayed close to groups of Russian citizens who, together with us, were trying to escape from the approaching Germans.

In fact this was the second time that I had escaped. The first time was on June 28, [5] 1941, a week after the beginning of the war between the Russians and the Germans. Then many young men and women fled Shumsk along with me. Among them I remember Aryeh Mordish [6] and his sister with her husband, and the Domb family, [7] and Herzl and Tzvi Misaznik. [8] There were many others and I am sorry I do not remember their names. We all got to the town of Chudak on the Shumsk border but the Russians would not allow us to cross the border. They still viewed this as their border. After many requests and much pleading they turned a blind eye and allowed us to cross the border.

We reached Lachovets, and slept there one night [9] but when we awoke we heard a rumor, which, even today, I do not know who was interested in spreading. In any case, it was not the Russians who spread this rumor. The rumor was that the Russians had pushed the Germans back all the way to Brody, and our entire area was liberated. There was no end to our joy and some of us returned to Shumsk. But when we reached Shumsk we learned that this was a false rumor, and we decided to flee again.[10]

[On our second escape] we reached the train station [in the district of Kamenets Podolsk and] we found that the trains had already stopped working and we were forced to continue on foot to another station.

And so we finally got on a freight train and reached Dneiprotrovska -- after a week of hardship and hunger. Our good fortune was that the train we got on traveled so slowly and made so many stops because of the German bombardments that we managed to get off the train, pick potatoes in the nearby fields, cook them and continue on our nighttime train journey. In effect this was the only food that we ate all week.

We reached Dneiprotrovska with no money and no chance of finding work. The Russians said that as for giving us jobs -- they had many grown-ups and they didn't need us. Some of us really looked younger than we were, and were stunted in growth.

The army didn't want to draft us for the same reason. They gave us papers and allowed us to continue on in their land.

And so, after two weeks, we reached the area of Stalingrad. When we got there I immediately found a job in the M.T.S. (a station to repair tractors).

After a few months my older friends were drafted and I too went to the draft office and asked to be drafted.

At the end of 1941, as per my request, I was taken into the Red Army.

When the war was over I returned to Shumsk, having been wounded three times, disabled, with no money or clothing. The sight of my destroyed town -- which had been wiped off the face of the earth -- filled me with such feelings of trepidation and shock that I fled that very day to Kremenets.

When I had come into Shumsk, I came in on the road that went through the part of the town called the “new town.” [11] I knew where the town began. But when I was within the town boundaries and tried to look for houses that I knew -- I didn't find any. Half the houses had been destroyed, with only a chimney and a pile of bricks testifying to a house that had stood there and was no more.

The weeds and the wild undergrowth that sprouted between the ruins reminded one of the “wild weeds” mentioned in the Bible and of life that would never return. The area from the old market to the Great Synagogue and to the Braver [12] on one side and from the Synagogue to the home of the police commander, which was on the way to the Rajch [13] mill, was empty of buildings. There was no indication that any buildings had ever been here.

In the area which I was told had been the area of ghetto in the period of the Germans, the only buildings that remained were the Great Synagogue, Idel Zak's house, [14] and the home of Yochanan Ingerleib. [15] The entire area was desolate, with no sign of a street.

This place, which had been so full of thriving life, on which I was so used to roaming in my childhood, was now an empty area with no memory of life. It was only the remnants of the ruins of the buildings that gave testimony to the existence of houses that had been so dear to me and had been the streets of my childhood and youth.

On the street of the Braver the only houses remaining were those of Zejda Cisin, [16] Yaakov Linski [17] and my grandfather. [18] These were three new houses which the Germans had converted into storage places and thus were not vandalized.

The Wejcmans' house, which had been included in the area of the ghetto, was also standing. The house had not been completed but when the Russians arrived it was finished and served as a part of a hospital which they put up there. [19]

Yanekovski's house and the old post office also remained standing.

When I entered Shumsk I met Velvel Brik, the cousin of Mony who is here with us, Liova Veber, Chusyd's cousin Lusi Ginzburg, Moshe Rojchman and Shifra Szrajer. [20]

I went to all of the places that are sacred to us and to the mass grave in the Krilitz hills. My heart could not hold up; tears covered my eyes. I slept there one or two nights and fled to Kremenets.

This was a most difficult journey. The forests were teeming with Banderovtze, [21] impossible to safely traverse either on foot or by vehicle. The only way to travel was to attach oneself to a military convoy, and in this way I reached Kremenets after hours of traveling.

From the two years when I had studied at the ORT school in Kremenets I knew the town well. My impression is that Kremenets had not suffered destruction as severely as Shumsk. Except for the center of the town, which had served as the ghetto area and was completely destroyed, most of the town was not destroyed. The streets named Shumsk, Vishnevets and Dubno were almost entirely intact.

I began to work in Kremenets as a government clerk and stayed there until 1947. I got married and was looking for an apartment. In the mean time the region had calmed down and there was regular public transportation. I decided to move to Shumsk, to the apartment belonging to my grandmother, near the home of Shimon Krakowiak. The Russians recognized my rights as a grandchild and thus legal heir, and I moved into my home.

I didn't find Baruch in Shumsk anymore. He had been killed along with his friend the blacksmith, by Banderovtze when they had been sent to Chudak together with two Russians for something connected with their work. There the Banderovtze killed them and the two other Russians.

But other than that there were all those whom I had met previously. They helped me to find work. This was not difficult since there was a shortage of manpower. To my good fortune I found my Russian acquaintance from Tolin who had been the manager of the cooperative until 1941 and he knew of my origin. And so I continued until 1952.

In the meantime the number of Shumskers who returned grew. Boris Kessel, [22] Shmuel Shafir and Moshe Roizman (who have remained until today in Shumsk). For some time Rachel Burstein [23] from the small village Lipisivka, Liova Wilskier, [24] Azriel Dundik, Shaike Yakira and others were there. Rachel and Liova returned to Russia and Azriel died in the hospital from an unknown disease.

We were one family. We met every evening and at every opportunity that there was. Our loneliness united us. The past was the chief topic of our meetings -- and the way to escape from this place as soon as possible.

To our sorrow we could not leave Shumsk. The border to Poland had been closed and we remained. But in 1957, when Gomulka [25] came to power in Poland and the border opened, we didn't wait for long and we left for Poland and from there to Israel.

During the time I was in Shumsk I met with Ukrainians that I knew who worked with us, and with former neighbors.

The told us a great deal about the beginning of the ghetto and about what happened to our dear and martyred families.

In our conversations they were all good, but on different occasions they told the truth about each other. We checked these things out and were often amazed. Ukrainians whom we had thought were haters of Jews and potential murderers exhibited a measure of humanity and offered help to every Jew who asked for it. On the other hand, those from whom we expected human kindness and decency turned out to be actual murderers or at best indifferent to the fate of the massacred.

Two striking examples: Our neighbors the Poles, the Rafael Yankovskys, who, in the period of the Polish government, were known to be anti-Semitic, now helped Jews a great deal. They helped Shifra Szrajer, Lusik Ginzburg and many others. In contrast, our good neighbor Roman Metropchuk, who had been so helpful and generous, had not able to withstand the lure of money. He had broken into my grandfather's house to look for valuables and when he found my grandfather and my uncles and aunts in the bunker he didn't hesitate to reveal their hiding place to the Germans, who arrived and liquidated them. Who knows, if not for him, they might have survived.

From many, both Jews and non-Jews, I heard of good people and of beasts during the period of the ghetto. Since I am not certain if this information has been related, I will allow myself to relate it. If there is anyone who can correct the following from more firsthand knowledge, I will be happy to accept any corrections.

Grandma Shipke [26] (the midwife):

When speaking of the ghetto one speaks of a place of suffering for healthy people, but there were also sick people in the ghetto, who, in spite of being ill, wanted to survive. We ask ourselves, who cared for the sick? Who cured them? What was available for the care of the ill? How did they live?

Survivors spoke about this a lot, but memories of Shipke were especially prominent. Mottel Chazen [27] was recalled warmly by all for his help and the fact that he placed all of his knowledge at the disposal of the ill. But Shipke was spoken of as one who had been sent as a gift from heaven.

I remembered Shipke Rosenberg-Roichman , the midwife of Shumsk, from my childhood, when I was 5 years old. What I remember most is that she would address each person in Shumsk, from young to old, as if she were speaking with her own grandchildren. I knew then that she was a relic of a bygone era. She still believed in primitive medications. She always used vegetables and cooked herbs, which both she and her patients believed were more effective than ordinary medicine.

In the ghetto Shipke worked tirelessly. She was the right person at the right time. There were no medications and no doctors. Shipke would gather different herbs, prepare hot bitter drinks from them, and infuse health and hope in the hearts of the Jews in the ghetto

More than one person who recovered believed that he was alive due to Shipke's ministrations, and more than one who passed away died with gratitude to her for the motherly care she bestowed on him when he was bereft of all.

Masha:

In order not to cause her harm I have changed her name a bit, but everyone will understand about whom we are speaking.

Before the Holocaust there were very few Jews living in Andrewshivka. They were so few that there was not even a minyan on Shabbat. But Moshe [28] grew up there since he was an orphan and his only sister lived in this village.

From childhood he was busy supporting himself. He would purchase what one could purchase and resell it. In this way he finally became a well-known fruit merchant, buying and selling the fruit from all of the gardens -- and ready to loan money to all those in need.

Every non-Jew in Andrewshivka knew Moshe as a generous person, ready to help anyone in need. Everyone owed him money and they all worked hard to return the loans they had taken from him.

One of these needy people was Masha. She lived alone, working her late husband's farm and hiring herself out to supplement her income.

Moshe succeeded in escaping from the ghetto just before the last group of Jews in the ghetto was to be massacred and he fled to Misocz. He knew all of the paths in the forests and reached Misocz without too much difficulty. But since the ghetto had already been liquidated in Misocz, he returned to the forest, wandering and hiding there, sleeping on the treetops. But when hunger overtook him he decided to go to Andrewshivka and to ask for food, even though he knew that they would hand him over to the Germans.

In the village people did a great deal now to repay his kindness to them in the past, but no one wanted to allow him to remain in his home at night, because of the danger involved. For months in the mornings Moshe would steal into the homes of his good friends, refresh himself and then escape back to the forest at night, until the bitter cold months of the winter took their toll on his health.

On one night in December 1942 Moshe pulled himself along, by chance reaching a brightly lit home. He knocked on a frozen windowpane and the door was immediately opened by lonely woman dressed in rags. She invited him to remain in her home to recover from his illness.

This woman was Masha.

This was the first time that Moshe was not told that he must leave the house after eating. For weeks and months Masha endangered her life to hide Moshe in her house and for years she went out to work in order to earn enough money for food for both of them.

German police came to the village a number of times during this period with the clear goal of searching for Jews, survivors who must be killed. In each of these cases Moshe and Masha shared the moments of fear and evasion of the Germans. Masha was in fear of neighbors who might inform on her and of the terrible punishments given to those who hid a Jew, and Moshe was in fear of being killed on the spot.

Once there was an informing, since in this village, besides Moshe, a number of other Jews were being hidden.

The police arrived with reinforcements and settled down in the village for an extended period in order to find and kill all the Jews who were being hidden. It was said that they killed almost every one of them, but Masha withstood this hard test. Once she saw the Germans actually approaching her house. Moshe saw them coming too but his feet did not obey him and he remained standing near the window, his eyes stuck on the police moving closer, house after house. A few minutes before they reached Masha's house, Masha wrapped him in a heavy sweater of hers and told him to go out to the small church at the edge of the village and there to wait for her.

Moshe was short and the sweater enveloped him from top to bottom. The Germans didn't see in him anything untoward, especially as he actually passed quite close to them.

Moshe was saved, but Masha's home was now suspect, and she decided to dig Moshe a hiding place under the trough in the sheep pen, and there she hid him for two years until the danger passed.

Moshe was hidden for two years in this dugout, in which he was only able to lie down, in the terrible cold and in the stifling heat. During these two years it was Masha who took care of his needs, traveling many kilometers to work or to gather edibles in the forest.

In the forest she established contact with Jewish partisans and told them her secret. They viewed her as a bosom pal and slept at her home more than once when they were on their way to an attack on a German military installation or on their way to one of their routine patrols.

I met a few of these partisans and learned that for them Masha was a living legend. Who knows if many others will ever be able to emulate her humanity.

One summer day in 1947 in Shumsk, Lusik Ginzburg approached me, his face red with anger, and told me, “Today there is a fair in town and Davravolsky is here. Do you know who Davravolsky is? This is the great murderer of our area. Hundreds of Jewish victims were felled by his hands. He desecrated our daughters and his cruelty to our fellow townspeople is widely known. Let's go and kill him in front of everyone.”

I knew that Lusik had suffered personally at his hands, just as all of the Jews of Shumsk had suffered from his cruelty and sadism, but how was it possible to kill a man without a trial? I tried to contain Lusik and persuaded him to avoid rash action, and he listened to me. But he remained overwrought, and together we brought the matter to the Russian court. At the trial Manya (Gittelman) Kessel, who was then with Shifra Szrajer and the above-mentioned Moshe, testified. In the meantime the murderer hid, but the Russians found him in Ostrog and he was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor. What a shame it was that in 1957, after 15 years of imprisonment, Khruschov announced a general pardon and he was released. I myself saw him in September of that year, a few days after his return to Shumsk.

In the village of Andrewshivka there was a Jewish family named Burdman. The father was named Herzl, and his two sons were Sonya, the older one, and Buzia. When information reached them about the Nazi plans the two sons joined the Soviet partisans. Janya Kopit, who is now in Stettin, Poland, was also with them.

When I visited Andrewshivka people didn't stop talking about the bravery of the two Burdman brothers, who put fear in the hearts of the Banderovtze and revenged the blood of our families. Sonya, the elder brother, especially excelled. According to the tales, and the facts, he was a hero in the full meaning of this word. He took upon himself the most dangerous tasks and completed them successfully. He would enter Nazi military encampments in order to scout them out, but when he saw an opportunity to do so, he would set explosives in the encampment and arouse panic among the Germans, who feared the mention of his name.

I was told that in Horvis the unit of these two brothers caught Fitchka, the annihilator of the Shumsk ghetto, and they killed him with their own hands.

Sonya joined the Red Army after this, was awarded the medal of bravery, and fell in the war.

Buzia found his father and both of them emigrated to France and are living there today.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The original text in Hebrew says “the end of 1941,” but other accounts of people fleeing Shumsk, returning, and quickly leaving again place the events at the end of June. Shalom Krakowiak, who gave this account orally to someone else who wrote it down, later says that at the end of 1941 he was taken into the Red Army. Return
  2. Itzik Cap, a son of David and Haya Cap, was born in 1920 in Shumsk. He did not survive the war. His father, his married sister, Sarah Stis, and his brother Baruch perished in Shumsk. Return
  3. Yitzchak Spector,a son of Chaim and Hayke Spector, was born in Shumsk in 1922. He did not survive the war. His parents, his sister Rivka Yocheved, and his brother Nachum Zelik perished in Shumsk. Return
  4. Azriel Berger, nicknamed Dundik, survived the war and returned to Shumsk, but died there shortly afterward. Additional mentions of Azriel “Dundik” Berger appear in chapters of this book written by Avraham Krejmer (pages 80-86) and M. Fuks (pages 110-116). Return
  5. Aryeh Mordosh, on page 164 of this book, gives the date as June 26, 1941. Return
  6. Aryeh Mordosh survived the war, as did his sister, Leah. He immigrated to Israel, where he served as head of the Shumsk organization. His account of this escape begins on page 164. Return
  7. Six members of the Domb family of Shumsk perished in the Holocaust. The father, Kiva, was a barber. Return
  8. Herzl (born in 1924) and Tzvi (born in 1928) were the sons of Usher and Malka Misaznik and the grandchildren of Mordechai and Edel Misaznik. The family had a business producing shoe lasts. During the period of the ghetto, Herzl served on the Judenrat, a Jewish council. Tzvi was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair, a worldwide movement, founded in Odessa in the first decade of the 20th century, of young people who were preparing for pioneering immigration to Palestine and later the state of Israel and were planning to settle the land. Their younger brother Ozer (born in 1931) was killed in Suraz. The entire family, including their sister, Yehudit (born in 1934), perished. Return
  9. See “Between Regimes in Shumsk” by Feivke Weisman (pages 16-20) for an account of this stay in Lachovets. Return
  10. This rumor is alluded to by others in this book. The disastrous consequences of returning to Shumsk for many who did not succeed in escaping again weighed heavily on the survivors. Return
  11. Neishtedt Return
  12. The Braver was a large, old building once used as a beer brewery and later as a place where plays were presented by the theater group. Return
  13. The Rajch family owned mills that produced electricity in Shumsk and Kremenets. Return
  14. Idel Yehuda Zak, born 1875, and married to Golda, was a wealthy merchant dealing in iron for construction. Idel's son David and David's wife, Keila Shtul, and their two children; Idel's son Shmuel, married to Manya, and their daughter Goldeleh; and Idel's daughter Chantzi Zaltzman all perished in the war. Chantzi's husband, Avraham Zaltzman, survived the war. Return
  15. Yochanan Ingerleib was married to the dentist of Shumsk. He himself was a merchant and also the owner of a dental laboratory. Return
  16. Zejda Cisin was a well-to-do merchant in Shumsk. Return
  17. Yaakov “Yankel” Linski had a shop where he sold cloth material. He was married to Miriam, the daughter of Yossel Gindinburg, who owned a butcher shop, and they had three children, Yoseph, Rachel and Batya, all of whom studied at the Tarbut school in Shumsk. Their home, which was in the midst of construction, was located near the post office. They all perished. Return
  18. Aryeh Leib Shimon Krakowiak Return
  19. Alter (Dov) Wejcman, a son of Avraham and Sara, was born in Bilozerka in 1887. He was married to Gitel, a daughter of Yaakov and Miriam Geilichen of Shumsk, and Alter and his wife lived in Shumsk. They and their daughter, Sara, perished. Their sons Aharon and Elkana survived the war. Return
  20. Additional details about Shifra Szrajer are in other chapters of this book: “The Last Days of Shumsk” by Ruth Sztejnman Halperin (pages 29-48) and “Ghetto Experience” by Luba Szpak-Golub (pages 59-65). Return
  21. Banderovtze were militant groups of Ukrainian nationalists who terrorized the local population, especially people of Russian, Polish or Jewish origin. Return
  22. Boris Kessel subsequently immigrated to Israel. Return
  23. The surname is misspelled. The author is referring to Rachel Brownsztejn. Return
  24. Aryeh Liova Vilsker, son of Haim and Yocheved Wilskier and brother of Baruch, was drafted into the Russian army in 1939. Other than one aunt, Sara, who had emigrated to Palestine in the 1930s, his entire extended family perished in the Holocaust. After the war Aryeh Liova Vilsker studied in the Semitic Department of the University of Leningrad, receiving a doctorate in 1970. He was a senior librarian in the Hebrew and Yiddish section of the municipal library of Leningrad. Among the numerous manuscripts housed there he discovered hitherto unpublished poems by Yehuda Halevi, which he wrote about in the journal Sovietisha Heimland, thus ensuring their publication in the West. He died in 1988 in Leningrad. Return
  25. Wladyslaw Gomulka (1905-1982) headed the Polish United Workers' Party, the ruling communist party of Poland, from 1956 to 1970. Return
  26. Shipke (Roichman) Rosenberg was the maternal grandmother of the author. Return
  27. Mendel Chazen was a pharmacist and in the 1930s the head of the Shumsk Jewish community. Return
  28. Moshe Roizman. This is not the same person as Moshe Rojchman. Both are mentioned earlier in this chapter. Return

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