Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov
(Yiddish translated by Aaron Krishtalka)
Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch
While gathering material for this memoir, I [an editor of the memorial book, not identified here] met with MunyaReiza (formerly Vishkin) of Dubina. When she heard about my project, she said: Oh Shneiur Munitz! He's a relative of my family from the village of Yaisi. He's here in Israel and can talk to you about it.
He agreed to talk, although not without hesitation and puzzlement. Speaking in Yiddish, he said, S'iz shoyn azoy feel yorn fun dan, un der zikorn iz nisht azoy gut, un ikh bin shoyn nisht azoy yung. [So many years have passed since then, my memory's weak, and I'm not as young as I used to be.] Out of curiosity I asked his age and he replied, Ich bin shoyn ariber di zibetziker. [I'm already past my seventies.] He gave me permission to translate into Hebrew what he said in Yiddish.
The speaker was Shneiur Munitz, from the Jewish agricultural village of Yaisi [seven kilometers east of Braslav]. A few years before the war, he moved to Braslav with his family, where he had a house and a shop. This is what he said:
With the German invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941 there was an immediate general conscription of men into the Red Army. From Braslav and its surroundings 2,000 men were called up, and I was one of them. We boarded a train, from where we were supposed to go to Molodechno [about 150 kilometers to the south] to be enlisted, divided into units and of course sent to the front to fight the Germans. We got as far as the intermediate station of Krolevshchitzna [Krolewszczyzna, about 60 kilometers southeast of Braslav, between Glubokoye and Dokshytsy]. There I saw more trains with inductees like me waiting around. Alongside one of the freight cars stood groups of men talking and arguing about the war. Naturally they were saying, They (the Germans) will very quickly break their heads against us (the Russians). We're not Poland or Czechoslovakia. While they were talking, a large squadron of German aircraft suddenly appeared and began bombing the area of the station. The tracks were damaged, along with everything standing on them: locomotives, freight cars loaded with war material, and passenger cars with people inside. The panic was great: Dead and wounded were lying about, people were running this way and that looking for cover. For the first time in our lives, I and many others saw the damage that could be inflicted by airplanes.
The Germans' applied pressure along the entire front, preventing the Russians from organizing. We, who had to advance, received a notice from our commanding officer: Since I'm unable to contact our command post and we're likely to be surrounded,
I hereby release you. You may return to your homes or go further into Russia. I immediately found myself a partner, and together we set out on the road home. Near Gleboki [Glubokoye, about 70 kilometers southeast of Braslav], we endured another bombing from German aircraft. We slept next to the Jewish cemetery that night, and at dawn we went on our way. Fortunately, a Jew who was driving a horse and wagon happened to pass by and gave us a ride, saving us a walk of about 20 kilometers. On the road we met a large Russian army that was retreating ahead of the German advance. On Thursday the fifth day of the war I arrived home, tired but glad. There were happiness and kisses, but with sad hearts this was war.
On Friday [June 27], the Germans entered Braslav. A large German army continued eastward, leaving behind a small garrison. Russian aircraft tried to obstruct the advance of the Germans with bombing raids over Braslav. The damage caused to the enemy is hard to say, but there were some deaths and injuries among the local population. With the entry of the Germans, fear and worry increased.
As I mentioned, we'd moved to Braslav from Yaisi, where some of our family remained. Yaisi was a Jewish village with about 20 families, most of whom earned their living from agriculture. Braslav was seven kilometers away. Because the situation was unclear, my wife, Sara, suggested that we return temporarily to Yaisi to mother [whether her mother or his isn't clear here, though it could be Sara's mother, since she's mentioned below]. This was a good idea. About two days later, we got to the village together with my cousin Velvel Grinshpan and his family, who joined us. In the village, rumors had reached us that abandoned homes in Braslav were being robbed by the Gentiles. I decided to check; Velvel came with me. We visited Velvel's home [in Braslav] and others as well. There had indeed been incidents of robbery, but my property was undamaged. A few people supported our move to the village, saying that maybe the Germans wouldn't reach us there. This was on Friday [July 4] almost two weeks into the war. We returned home early and were at home [in Yaisi] preparing for the Sabbath.
The time after the Sabbath had begun. Those living at a distance from the synagogue hadn't yet arrived home. I was among them. I was walking along peacefully, my head full of casual thoughts. I heard a shout: Halt! I turned my head and received a heavy blow from a German. Around me I heard shouting and the sound of windows being pounded: Raus! [Out!] The Germans collected 15 Jews and took us away. At the exit from the village were more Germans waiting for us, together with a Gentile villager with a horse and wagon. In the wagon were some shovels. The Germans began beating us with the butts of their rifles, heavy and painful blows all over our bodies. They hit my face, and some of my teeth were uprooted. Before we could even understand what was happening or why, the order was shouted to take the shovels from the wagon and start digging two pits. We were divided into two groups. The digging proceeded rapidly, hurried along by shouts of Schneller! Schneller! [Faster! Faster!]. I was covered in sweat, from fear and exhaustion. In the next pit, they began to shoot people. I shouted Hear, O Israel …. and jumped from the pit: If there's a Gd in heaven help me! … With my last bit of strength, I began to run through a field of rye. They shot at me, but missed. I was saved.
The shooting at the pits stopped. I dug myself into the rye, tensely expecting that they'd come to search for me. I lay there with my head spinning; I was stunned. In a while it'll be dawn and I, Shneiur Munitz, will return home (so I hoped). How can I tell my family what just happened? How can I explain it will anyone believe me? Can there be so many funerals in Yaisi in one day!? Later, acquaintances told me that they attributed the shooting to a platoon of German soldiers who'd passed near the village. People said that these men had been taken for work somewhere. I approached my home slowly, crawling on the ground. Outside, next to the house, I noticed my wife, Sara, searching worriedly for me.
A lot of people arrived and gathered together. I was talking and crying … and everyone was crying with me …
This had happened on the Sabbath. The next day, a group of people went out and brought back the corpses. Because of the beatings and shootings, it was impossible to identify the bodies. They were buried in a mass grave. I still remember some of them: There was Nachum Tzipin and his three sons, Paltiel (nicknamed Pailke), Arieh (Leibke) and ChaimShmerel; my cousin Velvel Grinshpan, who'd fled from Braslav with me and had a hard life; YisroelYitzchak and ChaimReuven, father and son [no surname given]; ShayaBeinish Tarshish; and my brother Levik. After the incident, I went to Braslav to tell people what'd happened and warn them of the situation. The remaining Jews from Yaisi were later sent to the ghetto in Braslav, but not before all their possessions had been confiscated.
The command to enclose in a ghetto the Jews of Braslav, and other Jews who were there, was given on Passover Eve 1942 [April 1, 1942]. Our house was located on a street that was part of the ghetto. Additional residents were quartered in our house. We were ordered to wear a yellow patch, and people were taken for forced labor. There was a serious lack of food; fear and worry over our very existence were our daily lot in the months to come.
One night, I had a dream that my teeth were falling out. Such a dream was a bad sign; someone in the family was going to die. That night, I didn't shut my eyes. I went through the house checking everyone: Sara, here's Sara; here's her mother. Here are my beloved children, sevenyearold AvrahamYankeleh and my little daughter threeyearold ChayaRacheleh. Strange thoughts worried me. We'd already heard of the destruction of ghettos in the vicinity, and I could still visualize the slaughter that had taken place in Yaisi. I didn't know it then, but this night was the last time I saw my family. Toward morning [June 3, 1942], the ghetto was encircled by gendarmes, local police and other collaborators. Shooting started, knocking on doors, the breaking of windows and doors, and shouting that everyone had to come outside. I leapt from my bed. There was a large Russian stove in our house that was used to bake bread for the whole week, challot [braided loaves of bread] for the Sabbath and cholent [traditional Jewish stew]. Beneath the stove was a small opening, narrow at first but gradually widening out. I crawled into the opening. No one knew where I'd gone. Sara quickly dressed the children, and they all went outside. My brother Velvel lived in the house opposite. Sara hurried there to look for me. My brother was surprised to see her and advised her to go down to the hiding place. Sara never saw her children or her mother again. They were driven out, together with everyone else, and murdered near the train station [this refers to the roundup and massacre of Jews in Braslav on June 35, 1942]. At that most terrible moment, our little children found themselves without their father and mother. As the day went on, a German leading a large dog came into the house to search for anyone who was hiding, and I could see his shiny boots through the opening. He grabbed a mattress from the bed opposite and blocked up the entrance to my hiding place. For the second time, I was saved. I heard they caught Sara, together with other Jews who were hiding, and killed her.
The few who remained after the slaughter began looking for more secure hiding places. I thought to myself: I'm a tailor by trade, after all I'll go out to the villages and offer my services in exchange for food and a safe place to hide. And so it happened. From the end of summer 1942 through the winter of 1943, I worked for the villagers and wanted for nothing. My situation worsened significantly when a Jew hiding in a nearby village was captured, without even the farmers knowing he'd been hiding there. After relentless torture, he eventually broke and told the Germans the name of the village. They killed him, of course, but they also executed 38 villagers for not checking carefully enough to prevent Jews from hiding in their village. So I was forced to leave the farmers. In a yard in Butzvitz [Buczwicz?] I found a barn full of straw in the courtyard of property owned by Duke Svinski, who'd been exiled to Siberia by the Russians and had his property confiscated. In this straw, I found refuge for eight months.
Partisans had begun operating in the area. After making many requests
and proving that I was a veteran with experience, I was accepted into one of the partisan units. After the Germans were driven out and Braslav was returned to Soviet control, I was mobilized into the Red Army until the war's end.
It was May 9, 1945. The Germans were defeated, the war was over. The reserve soldiers were demobilized. Everyone was happy, they returned to their homes and families. I wasn't happy. I'd no family and no home, where and to whom should I return? To what destination should I buy a ticket? My entire family had lived in Braslav and its surroundings. I decided I'd return there, maybe I'd discover someone?! A former resident of Dubina, Zlata, returned from the German camps to Braslav. We got to know each other and got married. We decided to leave Braslav and build our home and future in the Land of Israel. One daughter was born to us in Germany, and another daughter in Israel. We had a good life. In 1967, Zlata became ill and died. What's left for me to do at my age? I spend my time visiting my daughters and my five grandchildren.
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