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[Page 108]

Tuvia Fisher

Son of Beila-Zelda [née Katz] and Baruch

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

A.

Our survival after the destruction, which I, my wife [Chana, née Fisher], my brother Mottel [Mottel-Hirsh Fisher] and my brother-in-law Mottel [Fisher] experienced first-hand, is a miracle. Otherwise, it can't be understood: our flight from death at the time the ghettos in Braslav [Braslaw] were liquidated; the wandering from one Christian to another, begging for a place to sleep and a slice of bread; the running from place to place in the forest for weeks and months --- a place where we stayed during the day and moved at night. Entering, at great risk to our lives, the farmers' storehouses at night to warm up a bit and maybe get a piece of bread, because the hunger was great; and eating, more than once, food that was meant for cattle. We were pursued by the murderers day and night. Death lay in wait for us at each moment, and every careless movement endangered our lives.[1]

Yet despite everything, we survived. How? It shouldn't be assumed that our remaining alive was the result of bravery or wisdom granted to us or to others. In our family we were four brothers and three sisters. Until the war broke out, I was a yeshiva student. I lived modestly in the atmosphere of the yeshiva, cut off from everything else around me. I didn't strive for the good life. My existence was for my parents and for helping the community, “days” in the Ivia [Ivye] Yeshiva, the kitchen in the Slonim Yeshiva, and chaluka[2] money in the Mir Yeshiva. My brothers Zalman-Volf and Avraham differed from me completely. They were courageous activists fighting for a better life. Likewise, my sisters: Guta, Zlata and Rivka, young and full of life, striving for comfortable lives. All of them were lost in the storm of the Nazi destruction and I, the weak one, remained. How did it happen? I've thought about it for many years and have no answer except this: A higher power warned me at crucial moments and helped me through all my troubles. Religious feeling and faith assisted me during the fateful moments.

 

 

B.

When the Germans came to Braslav [in late June 1941], they took many Jews for labor on the railroad. We were about 200 Jews, who worked at stripping the bark from large logs. We did this in groups. Sometimes the Germans took out from among us groups of 10-12 men for so-called other work, and shot them. They also

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took Jews from my group, but passed over me. Once, after the railroad work, I was visiting the home of my father-in-law, Zalman-Yaacov Fisher. Because of the great heat, I left the house for a few minutes without my coat, on which was sewn the yellow Magen David [Shield of David]. As fate would have it, at that moment a Nazi supervisor passed by and asked me for my Jude-schein [labor permit]. As he did this, I saw his hand move to his pistol; it was clear to me that my life was in danger. The blood froze in my veins. Suddenly, I felt as if a hand pushed me backward and a voice called to me: “Flee!” I began running with all my strength, and the German ran after me. I ran a long way, until I came to an outhouse and rushed into it. For some reason, the German didn't see this and he lost me. My life was saved.

After four months of wandering from place to place [outside Braslav], in the cold and wet, thirsty and hungry, we who had survived the liquidation of the [Braslav] ghetto [on June 3-5, 1942] learned from a farmer that a second ghetto was being established in Braslav.[3] The Jews from Opsa were already in this ghetto. We decided to enter the ghetto despite the German prohibition. We were four people: me, my wife Chana [née Fisher], my brother Mottel [Mottel-Hirsh Fisher] and my brother-in-law Mottel [Fisher]. Torn and worn out, tired and hungry, the men among us with beards, we set out on the road to Braslav. The danger of being caught was great. Nevertheless, we entered the ghetto without being noticed by the murderers. For a time, we were invisible.

In the ghetto [the second ghetto in Braslav, also called the “Opsa” Ghetto], I got the idea of digging under the floor of the house. I disposed of the dug-out material by taking it up into the attic. A certain power pushed me to start the job immediately, even though by nature I wasn't a man of action. I devoted every minute to the work. Before the bunker was finished, my brother-in-law Mottel came, frightened and said the Germans were intending to liquidate the second ghetto. They surrounded the ghetto [around March 19, 1943]. The unfinished bunker saved our lives in these moments. When it became dark, we escaped from the place. We went into the house of Hertz Skopitz, which stood on the hill [of Braslav] next to the great cross. A Christian woman with her two daughters had already moved into the house, and my wife Chana knew them. We hid in this house, but after we'd been there two days the Germans turned it into a police station for locals who cooperated with them. Our situation grew very dangerous. At any moment, we could be discovered. To leave the house, we had to cross a high fence, hidden from the policemen who guarded it. They'd certainly start firing if they saw us, and it was unlikely that any of us would survive that. But here too, we escaped without injury. Many times, I felt guilty to have survived; I should have gone together with all my dear ones and loved ones. Only the faith that my life depended not on me, but on a higher power that watched over me, calmed me.

 

C.

[This paragraph jumps back in time, discussing the first Braslav Ghetto before it was massacred on June 3-5, 1942.] It's terrible to see the suffering of your daughter without being able to help her. I consider the binding of Yitzchak to be the cruelest test in the history of mankind, when Our Father, Abraham, took his only son to be bound at the command of the Creator. Many of us were tested by a similar fate, not through a command of G-d but by the German oppressor. With our own eyes we saw the suffering of our daughter [Chasia], who was just an infant in the ghetto [before June 3-5, 1942]. My father-in-law, Zalman-Yaacov [Fisher], would sometimes put his life in danger by going out in search of a drop of milk to keep her alive, but sometimes he couldn't find any. It was hard to see her suffering; we looked for different ways to help her. We knew the day would come when the Germans liquidated the ghetto, but we didn't know when it would happen. We wanted to take the child out of the ghetto. In discussion with Rabbi Avraham-Abba Zahorie,

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we said we'd put her in a Christian orphanage that was managed by a woman who was an acquaintance of Dr. Baretzki [Barecki]. We thought that when the war finally ended, we'd be able to remove her from there with the help of an identifying mark on her body. We made all the arrangements to transfer her to the orphanage. We also transferred there the few possessions she had, but parting from her was very hard and was put off from day to day. She was the only ray of light for us in those dark days. Things were put off one day and then another day . . . until it was too late. Zalman-Yaacov carried her in his arms when the Jews of Braslav were marched to the pits [on June 3-5, 1942], led by the German beasts in human disguise.[4] Our daughter was among the million innocent Jewish children who were killed by the Nazis.

 

D.

At the time the Dvinsk Ghetto in Latvia was liquidated [sic] in 1941, some Jews who'd succeeded in escaping arrived in Braslav.[5] With these Jews came Rabbi Israel-Alter Fuchs, a learned man, great in Torah and knowledge of the world. Rabbi Fuchs, who was from Vienna in Austria, had become the rabbi of Dvinsk after the passing of the [Hasidic] rabbi of Rogatchov, the Gaon Rabbi Yosef Rosen [1858-1936]. Together with Rabbi Fuchs, the daughter of the Gaon, Mrs. [Rachel] Citron, now arrived in Braslav. She'd come to Dvinsk from the Land of Israel, from Jerusalem, to her father's grave.[6] The war had trapped her in Dvinsk. Both of them stayed in our house, which was a religious home. Our father was connected to all matters of religion and the congregation in Braslav. He was active in the yeshiva, a gabbai [caretaker] in the Old Synagogue and active in all the charitable matters in the town. When they [Rabbi Fuchs and Mrs. Citron] were in our house, we shared our meager food and made sure they had everything. Food was scarce and barely enough to sustain the soul. My mother, in poor health, took care of everyone. She'd get up early to prepare food for Rav [Rabbi] Fuchs, which was mostly potatoes. The Rav ate only one meal toward morning and would fast all day. He was sunk in Torah until late at night. Both of them, Rav Fuchs and Mrs. Citron, were with us until the ghetto in Braslav was liquidated on June 3, 1942 (18 Sivan 5702). They met their death on that day, together with [most of] the Jews of Braslav.

Footnotes

  1. Tuvia Fisher and his wife, Chana Fisher (whose photo appears above his on this page), were second cousins. Tuvia was the son of Baruch Fisher and Beila-Zelda Katz, grandson of Zelik Fisher and Guta, and great-grandson of Morduch Fisher. Chana was the daughter of Zalman-Yaacov Fisher and Chasia, granddaughter of Naftal Fisher and Lana, and great-granddaughter of Morduch Fisher. Their Fisher families had lived in Braslav since at least the time of Morduch, born ca. 1800.
    Both of the men named Mottel Fisher who are mentioned in Tuvia Fisher's account survived the war: Tuvia's brother Mottel-Hirsh (whose account is on pages 90-95 of this memorial book) and Mottel the brother of Tuvia's wife, Chana Fisher. Return
  2. Before World War II, charity funds collected from Jews throughout the world for Jewish residents in Palestine. Ivia and Slonim were about 205 kilometers and 305 kilometers southwest of Braslav, respectively, and Mir was about 230 kilometers south of Braslav. Return
  3. In August or early September 1942, some 50 Jews in Opsa were transferred to the ghetto in Braslav, to repopulate this ghetto after its inmates had been slaughtered on June 3-5, 1942. Because the members of this second, new ghetto in Braslav were from Opsa, the ghetto was also called the “Opsa” Ghetto. It would be liquidated on March 19, 1943. At the beginning of this account, when Mr. Fisher refers to “the time the ghettos in Braslav were liquidated,” it's these two liquidations to which he's referring. Return
  4. Rabbi Zahorie was also killed in the massacre on June 3-5, 1942, thus it's clear that in this paragraph Mr. Fisher is discussing events before June 1942. Return
  5. Dvinsk, in Latvia, was 42 kilometers northwest of Braslav. Today it's called Daugavpils. Return
  6. Rachel Citron, a widow, had come to Dvinsk from Palestine around 1936 to help compile and safeguard her late father's writings. Working in Dvinsk with Rabbi Fuchs, a devoted student of her father and his successor, she was able to publish several volumes of her father's writings and send copies of his notes and correspondence to New York City before fleeing to Braslav with Rabbi Fuchs after the German invasion on June 22, 1941. In accounts in this memorial book she's described as being from Jerusalem, but other sources say that she was from Petah Tikva.

    According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, Volume II-A (2012), the Dvinsk Ghetto was formed in July 1941 and the Jews of Dvinsk suffered large-scale massacres in July-August 1941 (with 5,400 to 7,600 killed) and November 1941 (with 3,000 to 6,000 killed). The ghetto wasn't liquidated in 1941 but continued to function, suffering a further massacre in May 1942. In October 1943 the ghetto was cleared, and the remaining ghetto inmates were transferred to concentration camps in Kaiserwald and Stutthof. Return


[Page 111]

Henka (Chana) Fisher
Daughter of Rachel and Leib Gurevitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

A short time before the war broke out, our father, Leib, passed away after a continuous illness. We remained: my mother, Rachel; three daughters, Henka, Rivka and Chaya; and one brother, Idel-Meir. I was the oldest child in the family and also its only supporter, working as a seamstress. I was 20 years old when the war broke out [in June 1941]. We supported ourselves with great difficulty.

Our troubles began with the outbreak of war. The Germans, with the help of the local residents who were drafted to help them, drove us out of our house, took us behind the town and made us enter the large and boggy swamp. On the way, two of the Jews of the city were shot and killed.[1] They kept us in the swamp all night. The next day we were freed, and when we returned home we found the Gentiles had stolen all of our possessions. We had no place to lay our heads.

After a short while, the Germans established the ghetto [on April 1, 1942]. It was located on [the former] Pilsudski Street. There they gathered the Jews from all the other streets and closed its entrances with barbed wire. With its establishment, the decrees began: Jews were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks and were ordered to attach yellow patches with the word “Jude” on their clothing. At night Germans or local police would come and arrest Jews to frighten them, releasing them the next day.

Two days before the destruction of the ghetto [on June 3-5, 1942], representatives of the Judenrat [Jewish Council], the teacher Mr. [Eliezer] Mazeh and Levi-Yitzchak Veinshtein, came to our house and told us that according to an order from the Germans they had to transfer a large group of young girls to Slobodka [about 11 kilometers northeast of Braslav] to clean an army barracks. We couldn't object to this; we also had no idea of what would happen. Our sister Chaya parted from us and set out; we never saw her again. We tried to investigate and find out, but we never learned anything. And so we also never found where she was buried. She was killed together with the entire group of girls.

Our brother Idel-Meir, who was 16 years old, and his friend Falka [Rafael] Kharat understood that it was dangerous to remain hidden [in Braslav]. They decided to leave the place and go to the town of Glubok [Glubokoye, about 70 kilometers southeast of Braslav], where two of our aunts lived. They thought, for some reason, that the situation would be better there, but in fact it wasn't so. The end was tragic; our brother was killed in the Glubok Ghetto.[2]

Hiding with us [in Braslav] were refugees from Kovno [about 230 kilometers southwest of Braslav]; a woman named Etel Vorin

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and Hirsheleh, her three-year-old son. The boy was hungry and thirsty and cried without stopping. The mother understood that her child's crying could reveal all the residents of the shelter to the Germans, and she asked that one of us strangle him. No one was prepared to do this. With her own hands, the mother strangled her son.

When the Jews of Yod [Jod, 25 kilometers southeast of Braslav] were massacred [on December 17, 1941], the Tzipin family, Chaim-Leizer and Chava, relatives and good acquaintances of ours, fled and came to us [in Braslav]. But pain and suffering were their lot. When the Jews of Yod were massacred, their three lovely daughters [Mina, Dvera and Tziva] had been caught and killed; they went to their deaths holding each other's hands.

When they began to discuss the coming destruction of the Braslav Ghetto, Chaim-Leizer suggested installing a hiding place in the cellar. They said it and did it: A number of neighbors got together, dug and built the hiding place. The dirt was spread between the garden beds of the vegetable garden behind the house. When the destruction began [June 3-5, 1942], 15 of us hid in the shelter. Because time was short, we were unable to prepare food beforehand. At night mother would go out, with her head wrapped so no one would recognize her, and bring drinking water from the well in the yard. This is how we lived.

Chaim-Leizer and Chava found no rest from their suffering and blamed themselves constantly for not doing enough to rescue their girls. They said that without them their lives weren't worth living, and they decided to leave the shelter and meet their deaths. One night, in complete darkness, they left the shelter carefully, so that no one would see where they'd come from, and disappeared.

My uncle Nachman-Chaim [Gurevitz] had a different end. First he had to pay for the poison, so to speak, before receiving it. Nachman-Chaim was a blacksmith, and this profession made him one of those who were necessary to the Germans. On the day when the destruction of the [Braslav] ghetto began [June 3-5, 1942], a gendarme came to his house early in the morning, woke him from his sleep and called him to shoe his horse. Nachman-Chaim got up, went to his smithy and faithfully did his work. When he finished shoeing the horse, the German said, “Now I'll pay you,” pulled out his pistol and shot him to death.

In our hiding place, we'd hear people going around the house, breaking things and looking for Jews who were in hiding. We concluded that they'd find us before too much longer, so we decided to leave the shelter and flee, each going his own way to his own fate. We had nowhere to go, because we had no Christian acquaintances in the villages.

One very rainy night, we left the shelter and spread out, with each heading in a different direction. Very frightened, my mother, my sister and I snuck out of the town, and continued to walk along the shore of the lake. In this way, we arrived at the village of Krasnosletzi [Krasnosielce, about four kilometers west of Braslav]. In the darkness we saw a bathhouse; we went inside and took off our wet clothes. We were very tired and hungry, and we fell asleep. The next morning, we sat there and took care so that nobody saw us, but there was no reason to stay there; we knew that in the end people would find us. After midnight, when we were very hungry, we left the bathhouse and walked along the road leading to Dvinsk [42 kilometers northwest of Braslav and now called Daugavpils]. Once in a while, when a car appeared, we went down off the road so that no one would see us. And so we walked until we reached the village of Urban [Urbany, 11 kilometers northwest of Braslav]. Next to the road stood a house with small windows, from which a weak light was shining. Trembling from cold and fear, we knocked on the door and waited. The door opened and an elderly woman, a Christian, asked, “What do you want?” We told her that we'd come from Braslav and were very hungry, and we asked for a bit of bread. She took us into her house and gave each of us a slice of bread. When we stood up to leave, she said to us, “Where will you go on such a rainy night?” She took pity on us and gave us a place to sleep on the warm stove.[3] We felt like we were in the Garden of Eden. When we woke in the morning, we saw that the woman wasn't

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there and we were alone in the closed house. We grew very frightened with worry that she'd gone to the police to tell them that Jewish women were hiding in her house. We waited for what would happen. Suddenly, we heard her opening the door and coming in. She looked at us and said, “I understand your situation; if you go out of the house they'll catch you and kill you. So please stay in the house, and with G-d's assistance I'll help you as much as I can.” She told us she was very poor, life was hard but her food was just enough for her. She was religious, a nun, and was always crossing herself and praying.

That same morning that she shut us in her house, it became clear to us that she'd gone to the village priest and told him she'd taken us into her house out of pity, but she didn't know what to do next. The priest, a good-hearted man, listened to her and said, “You've done nothing bad. On the contrary, hide them if you're able, and I'll help you as much as I can. When you come to confession, if they're still with you just say in Polish 'They're here,' and I'll know they're with you.” The woman returned home, satisfied that the priest didn't object to what she'd done and had even promised to help her. In the house, she raised a number of boards in the ceiling and told us to go up in the attic and sit there quietly. She warned us not to talk among ourselves and not to cough, Heaven forbid, so that no one would know we were up there. She brought a few rags and gave them to us to cover ourselves. Once a day, she brought up a slice of bread and some water. We knew she was sharing the little she had with us, and without the priest's help she too would face starvation. We couldn't pay her a thing, since we had nothing; we'd escaped with only our souls.

The name of this good woman was Josefa Savitzkia [Sewickaja]. Since she was religious, she'd bring us Christian holy books and ask that we read them and learn the prayers by heart. She hoped that if we remained alive we'd convert to her faith, and perhaps I and my sister would marry Christian boys. She said she had two nephews who we could marry; G-d would certainly forgive us and we'd be as if born again.

She listened to news from the villagers and told us how Jews from Braslav and other places were seized and killed, and also how the Germans executed Christian families for hiding Jews in their houses. She knew that her life too was in great danger.

In the attic there was a small opening, through which we could see everyone who passed by or traveled on the road. We saw a large German army: tanks, artillery and machine guns going to the front. We saw the local police, who sometimes were more terrible than the Germans. We dreamed of a day when the war would end, though sometimes we lost sight of that hope.

Then winter arrived. Strong winds, with falling snow piling up on the roof and in the village. It turned cold. It was difficult to stay strong in these conditions. When she saw us frozen with cold, Josefa darkened her two small windows and took us down into the house at night, but this continued only for a short time. One night, her nephew knocked on the door. We were very frightened. She gave him what he wanted and he left without seeing us, thanks to the dark. But from then on, she was afraid to let us stay in the house. Under the floor there was a pit dug for storing potatoes in the winter, so we went down there. It was warmer there than in the attic under the roof; this was a small consolation.

Our problem was my little sister, Rivka. She was 12 years old. The hunger bothered her very much and made her cry. Usually we were very hungry and wanted to leave the pit and eat bread

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until we were full. We'd look at each other and see how very thin we were getting, growing weak from our troubles and hunger. It was a long time since we'd washed in a bathhouse, and the lack of personal hygiene was a great burden.

More than once we asked ourselves, why is fate so cruel to us? What was our sin? We hadn't stolen, we hadn't killed. Our lives had only just begun, why did we have to struggle with death? Why didn't we lose hope that G-d would hear the cries from our hearts and the day would come when we too would be free like all the nations of the world? Sometimes we'd hear the playing of a harmonica, the singing and dancing of the villagers; our eyes would tear up and we'd lose heart.

I remember we were in great danger when the Germans conducted a hunt for the partisans. A large army took part in the sweep, and German soldiers were billeted in the villagers' houses. Our Christian woman came running and ordered us down into the pit, covering the opening with a rug. Six Germans slept on the floor of the house for three nights, while we sat below in the pit, hungry and frightened. Then they left the house and went away from the village.

Fierce battles took place in our region when the Germans withdrew, after unceasing pressure from the Red Army. Shells whistled above us, and houses in the village were burned. We were afraid that our house too would be burned. We went out with the Christian woman and lay in a ditch. Suddenly three German soldiers appeared and asked us, in German, if we'd seen any Russian soldiers in the area. We told them in Polish that we didn't understand. When they saw we were only women, they left us and went away.

After fierce battles, the Germans withdrew and the Russian Army arrived [around July 1944]. Out of fear, we continued to sit in our hiding place. The Christian woman came and said to us, “Now you don't need to be afraid, you're free. The Russians are here. The Germans left and they won't return.” We hugged her and all of us burst into tears of joy. I never kept a diary, but I remember very well all the trials and tribulations we experienced from the beginning of the war. How could I not remember this wonderful woman, Josefa Savitzkia, who shared her poor bread and humble house with us and put her own life in danger for our sake? We said goodbye to Josefa; we resolved to stay in touch with her and invited her to visit us in Braslav. Then we set out on the road. The problem was how to get to Braslav. We went out to freedom after two years and two months, during which we'd been hidden by the Christian woman. Because we'd been sitting in one place for such a long time, it was hard to walk. We moved step by step, arm in arm so as not to fall. Whoever saw us would stop and rub his eyes, because we looked like living skeletons, only skin and bones and stumbling feet; our feet could hardly carry us. We sat on the side of the road for a short rest. We saw a car approaching; it stopped nearby and there were Russian soldiers inside. They looked at us and couldn't believe their eyes, they'd never seen people as thin as we were. They asked where we came from and where we wanted to go. Then they helped us get into the car and made a place for us to sit. They dropped us off at the entrance to Braslav. We walked looking in all directions, maybe we'd see someone we knew. Near the flour mill, we met the first Jew we'd seen since leaving the house. This was Elchik [Eliahu] Shmidt. We were happy to see him and cried from excitement. He took us to the house of Falka Katz, where we found Chaim Kagan, Yankel-Velvel Shapira and his brother Shlomo, Chalvina Pinchov[4] and others, who like us had come out from their hiding places and reached the town. Elchik gave us food, but we were afraid to eat lest it harm us, since we'd eaten so little for so long.

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After a week had passed, a man came from the town government and asked that everyone who owned a house go to live there, to prevent others from taking possession of it. We went to our house and there we found destruction. The windows and doors were broken; the walls were destroyed; the roof leaked, and rain was coming inside. The rooms were empty and deserted --- no beds, tables, chairs, bedding or clothing --- and hadn't we left an orderly house filled with good things? A few men came to help us, and somehow we organized the house. At night we were afraid to stay in it, because rumors were being spread about gangs of murderers, mainly men who'd served in the German police. Therefore, we asked Shlomo Shapira and his wife to sleep at our house. Elchik visited us frequently and tried to help as much as he could.

Large-scale fighting was still going on not far from us. Institutions hadn't yet organized themselves to provide food to the population. Bread was passed out only according to ration slips and sometimes there weren't even any potatoes, but we were glad that we were free.

I began to work as a seamstress. Rivka started working as a telephone operator at the post office. While working for the villagers I also received food from them: milk, eggs, butter and cheese. Sometimes we'd gather together and go to “the pits” --- the place where the Germans and their collaborators had killed our dear ones: thousands of Jews from the town and the surrounding area. They were taken like sheep to be slaughtered: we'd had no weapons to protect ourselves and weren't prepared spiritually to do so. One's heart broke at seeing the large pits where those pure, innocent souls were buried. These visits would end with the prayer “El Malei Rachamim”[5] [“G-d, Full of Mercy”] and the Kaddish. My request, my wish and my prayer are that our children and all the children of Israel --- wherever they are --- will never know and never experience the things that happened to us.

We continued to stay in touch with Josefa; she was like a dear mother to us. Despite the scarcity, we shared our few possessions with her. She'd visit us frequently and never went home with empty hands. We also visited her and brought her things she needed. When guests came to us, we'd travel with them to her village to show them the little attic and the potato pit under the floor where we'd hidden.

The miracle that happened to us was one of the rarest things in the world. Equally rare was to find a woman, a nun, religious and faithful like Josefa. She saved our lives.

One day toward morning, when it was still dark outside, we heard knocks on the door. We were frightened. In fear, we approached the door and asked, “Who's there?” “It's me, Josefa,” came the answer. We were very happy she'd come. She entered, frozen and wet from the rain, looking tense. “What happened?” we asked, and she told us in a choked voice that the priest had been arrested. During the night men of the NKVD[6] had come, taken him from his house and imprisoned him in Braslav. We calmed her down and promised to do everything we could to free him. We gave her clothes to change into and ate breakfast together. Afterward, I went to the house of the police [NKVD] officer and was received nicely. I knew his Jewish wife; I'd sewn all her clothes. I told them the purpose of my visit and asked for their help in freeing the priest. I pointed out that thanks to him we'd been saved from the clutches of the Germans, and he'd helped the partisans a great deal. The officer promised to help and invited me to return in the evening. Before going off to work, he told me he'd received an order to arrest all the priests, because it was known they'd cooperated with the Germans and now they were acting against the Soviet government. I remained sitting with his wife, and again I asked for her help. It seemed to me they were convinced this priest was a decent man

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and we had enough reasons to testify to his goodness.

Toward evening, I returned to the police officer's house. He told me the priest was well and suggested that the three of us --- me, my mother and my sister --- write and sign a statement that the priest had rescued us and thanks to him we remained alive, and also that he'd helped the partisans.

We went to the NKVD and signed such a document, with two of the partisans. The next day, the priest was freed from prison. Josefa hadn't returned to her house, because she didn't believe he'd be freed. Suddenly the door opened and the priest walked in. The joy in the house was tremendous. He knew we'd worked on his behalf and said he'd never forget our help. We replied that we'd never forget his help in saving us. We made a nice reception for the priest and the Christian woman; we accompanied them to the bus and parted from them there. Sometime later, in 1958, the priest received permission to emigrate to Poland. Before his journey, he came to say goodbye. He gave us his address in the city of Gdansk [about 580 kilometers southwest of Braslav] and asked that we visit him if we came to Poland.

Until we left Braslav, we helped Josefa Savitzkia with everything. After we made aliyah to Israel in 1960, we managed to send her two packages. In 1961, we received a letter that Josefa had passed away. We will always remember her and what she did for us.

One day, representatives from the town institutions [in Braslav] visited us and asked if we could host a few soldiers in our house for a number of days. These soldiers came to gather potatoes for their units. Of course, we agreed. Among those who came was a Jewish officer who was a lieutenant, in his civilian life an engineer. While he was with us, he fell in love with my sister Rivka, and a short time later they were married and settled in the city of Sverdlovsk [now Yekaterinburg, some 2,200 kilometers east of Braslav].

I was lucky too. Zalka Fisher from Yod, who I knew from the years of my childhood, was released from his service in the Red Army after the war and returned to Yod, but he didn't find anyone from his family. He moved to Braslav, and within a short time we were married.

In 1960, we made aliyah to Israel: I and my husband, my sister and her husband, and our dear mother. We have a son, a daughter and four grandchildren.

Footnotes

  1. The two were the ritual slaughterer, Shlomo Zilber, and Chaim Milutin. Their killings are said to have taken place on June 27, 1941, shortly after the Germans entered Braslav (Braslaw). Return
  2. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II-B (2012), a ghetto had been established in Glubokoye in October-November 1941; Jews from nearby towns were also brought there, raising the ghetto population to 6,000. On June 19, 1942, a massacre of some 2,200-2,500 of them was carried out, but unlike the Braslav Ghetto a large population was also kept alive to work.

    Later the Germans decided to raise the population of the Glubokoye Ghetto, as a way to attract the Jews who were scattered among the region's forests. Eventually the ghetto population rose again, to 7,000. By 1943 Glubokoye was serving as a temporary refuge for Jews in western Belorussia who weren't in the forests. As partisan activity in the region increased, the Germans finally decided to liquidate the ghetto, announcing a deportation on August 20, 1943. When the ghetto responded with armed resistance, the Germans set fire to it, killing some 5,000 inmates. Some Jews managed to break out and join the partisans; it's estimated that about 60-100 ghetto inmates survived the war. Return

  3. In Russia, Belorussia and the Ukraine, ovens were traditionally made of brick masonry that retained heat for long periods of time, and their outer surface was safe to touch. People could sleep on top of the oven to keep warm. Return
  4. The account of Chalvina Pinchov is on pages 393-396 of this memorial book. The Hebrew in this memorial book gives his first name as Chalvina; a more common variant of the name is Chlovna. Return
  5. A Jewish prayer for the soul of the deceased, usually recited at the graveside. Return
  6. Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs): The Soviet law enforcement and intelligence agency that existed from 1934 to 1946, after which it evolved into the KGB. To enforce state security, the NKVD carried out mass deportations and mass extrajudicial executions and administered the gulag system of forced labor camps. Return
[Page 117]

Yetta (Yentka) Vishkin[1]
Daughter of Fania and Rafael Fisher

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

Our family in Braslav [Braslaw] was eight souls: my parents, Rafael and Fania; my two brothers, Yankel and Naftali; and my three sisters: Esther, Rivka and a baby girl named Chasia, who was born in [January] 1943 in the second ghetto[2]; I never saw her. I was the oldest girl and the only survivor of all my family.

My father dealt in the meat trade, and our economic situation was quite good. My parents planned to immigrate to the United States; the documents were already prepared, but the war that broke out disrupted our plans. Conditions changed for the worse, life became difficult. Many people were exiled to Siberia. Private commerce was forbidden, and it became hard to obtain food. But nobody thought that even worse times lay ahead.

In the summer of 1941 [June], the Germans entered our town. A few days later, they gathered all the Jews of the town and took us to the swamps. On the way, they killed Shlomo [Zilber] the shochet [ritual slaughterer] and the young man Chaim Milutin. They kept us in the swamps all night while allowing the Christian residents to rob our houses. The next morning, they allowed us to go home.

The Germans demanded that the Jews work for them. The women were drafted to clean their lodgings, and the men were kept busy loading logs at the train station for shipping to Germany and doing other jobs.

Life became very difficult. It was hard to obtain food and wood for heating. Opposite us were Fisher's storerooms for flax, and we'd take the refuse from there for heating.

Rumors reached us of the destruction of Jewish communities in the nearby towns, and the shipment of Jews to the death camps. Many fled from the massacres and arrived in Braslav. We accepted them and shared with them the little we had. My mother's cousins Leib, Gitta and Ida Gravitz fled from the city of Dvinsk[3] in Latvia, and crowded in with us. Ida's husband and her two children were killed in Dvinsk. The Gravitzes knew a Christian family named Shcherbinski [Szczerbinski] who bought in the market in Braslav. This family had a farm near the village of Ikaznia [Ikazn, 14 kilometers east of Braslav], and they agreed to hide the Gravitz family.

My father decided to build a hiding place in the basement of our house. With my cousin Mottel Fisher, the two of them installed double walls in the basement.[4] The entrance

[Page 118]

was through a clothes closet in our house. My father, who was a member of the Judenrat [Jewish Council], tried to request that the Germans ease up a bit on the living conditions in the ghetto --- but without success.

On June 3, 1942, the Germans surrounded the [Braslav] ghetto and took the Jews out to be slaughtered. Collaborators from the local Christian population helped them. All of us entered our hiding place, and together with us came some of our relatives: Chana and [her husband] Tuvia Fisher, Chona and [his wife] Sonia Fisher and their sons Avrameleh and Berka, my cousin Mottel Fisher and his wife Liuba and their daughters Sonia and Racheleh; my cousin Chaya-Merka [Fisher] and a couple from the town of Yod [Jod, 25 kilometers southeast of Braslav].[5]

From the hiding place, we heard the Germans entering and taking our grandmother Lana [Fisher] and her two sons, Zalman-Yaacov and Yehoshua. My grandmother was a lovely woman, a nice, elderly lady. She was killed by the Nazis. I remember more, that when we were sitting in the hiding place we suddenly heard footsteps and a man's voice: “Fisher, if someone's hiding here, come out --- the Germans promise they won't kill anyone else. This is Ribash speaking to you.” I don't know who this Ribash was, but I'll never forget his voice. The Germans took him to all the houses to look for Jews who were hiding. They forced him to do this.

My father signaled to us with his hand to be quiet. At that moment, Sonia Fisher's boy began to cry [which one, Avrameleh or Berka, isn't stated]. Avraham, from Yod, closed the boy's mouth with his hand and quieted him. When the Germans and Ribash left, it became clear the boy had suffocated from lack of air. He was buried behind our house.

We stayed in the hiding place for two nights. On the third night, we went outside and left Braslav. I don't know where the rest of the people went. My father sent me and my brother Naftali to the Shcherbinski family, where the Gravitz family was hiding. My father divided us among different places, with the idea that family members shouldn't all be in one place during the searches. My mother, and with her the rest of the children, hid at a farmer's house in the village of Matseshe [Maciesze, 13 kilometers southeast of Braslav]. My father went to look for a hiding place for himself, and stayed for a length of time with the Christian Matulka. When my brother and I arrived at the place, they took us into the storehouse, where there was a hidden pit covered with straw.

The Shcherbinskis were wonderful people. The head of the family, Danat, and his wife, Josefa, had two small daughters and a nephew, whose name was Vladek [Wladek]. They brought us food every day. Partisans or Jews who'd succeeded in fleeing came to their house more than once, and they helped and fed each one. Once, during the night, partisans came to Shcherbinski's farm and demanded weapons from him. He told them he didn't have any. They didn't believe him and threatened to kill him. Having no choice, he told them that Jews from Dvinsk and Braslav were hiding in his house. One of the partisans said he was from Braslav and wanted to see the hidden people, to make sure. After Shcherbinski revealed the hiding place to them, the partisans left him alone. The partisan from Braslav was Chaim Burat.

I don't have the words to describe the big hearts of these people. Unfortunately there weren't many like them. They lived always in fear and put their lives in danger. Even their small children didn't know we were there. But their maid began to suspect that her masters were hiding Jews; she told the village head she'd seen Josefa entering the storehouse with a pail of food. The head of the village was a friend of the Shcherbinskis, and he told them of the defamation. After that, he invited the family and the maid to come see him. When Josefa heard the accusation, she demanded that a search of their house be made, and if the maid's accusation proved false and there were no Jews, she asked the village head to put the maid in prison and even have her shot. The maid was terrified and apologized for everything. She said she'd invented the story and begged for forgiveness.

[Page 119]

At the beginning of 1943, we learned that a second ghetto had been established in Braslav for the Jews who had nowhere to go and had returned to the town. We also found out that our parents were there. We wanted to see them, and we decided that Naftali would go to them. Vladek Shcherbinski drove him to the approaches to the town, and my brother arrived in the ghetto on his own. After a few days, my parents sent him from there to return to me. He left the ghetto, went out of the town and was supposed to meet Vladek on the way and return with him to us. Unfortunately, Germans and local police who knew him encountered him on the way. They shot him and buried him right there. At the war's end, I transferred his body to the pits, to the place of the [Braslav] massacre, and buried him there.

I wrote to my parents and asked them to flee. Vladek, who traveled to Braslav, took the letters and smuggled them into the ghetto. My father also wrote several letters to me. Then, in March 1943, we heard that the Germans had liquidated the second ghetto.

In the summer of 1944 we already knew the Germans were losing the war, and they were burning the villages as they withdrew. We learned that a German unit was located nearby, in Ikaznia, and was sweeping through the neighboring villages. We were forced to leave the storehouse because of the risk of fire. In the yard of our house there was a giant tree, with a thick, hollow trunk and an entrance that allowed hiding inside it. The four of us went inside the tree. The owners piled furniture and other items in front of the opening, as if to rescue their property from a fire. The Germans arrived and stayed in the yard for two days. We stood, squeezed together, inside the tree without moving. When we finally came out, we were swollen, exhausted and broken.

The Germans fled, and the Russians entered and freed the region. A few days later, my cousin Mottel Fisher, who'd been hiding with some villagers with his sister Chana and her husband Tuvia [Fisher] and Masha and Mendel Maron, came to the Shcherbinskis' house. Mottel told me about the destruction of the second ghetto in Braslav, and brought me the sad news of the death of my parents and my little sister Chasia, who hadn't yet reached a year of her life, as well as the rest of the members of the family. It became horribly clear that I was the only survivor of all my family. I went to live with my cousins in the city of Dvinsk. The Shcherbinski family left the village of Kamionka [13 kilometers northeast of Braslav]; the head of the family, Danat, passed away. His wife Josefa, her daughters and Vladek left Russia, moved to Poland and they live in the city of Konin [this might refer to a city of that name in central Poland].

At the end of the war, I immigrated to the United States. From there, I traveled to visit them [the Shcherbinski family]. I'll never forget them. They put their lives and the lives of their children in danger to save Jews.

Footnotes

  1. A prewar photo of Yetta as a child, with her father, Rafael Fisher, and her mother, Fania (née Kremer), appears on page 36 of this memorial book. They're standing in the old Jewish cemetery in Braslav next to the gravestone of Fania's mother, Esther. Return
  2. “Second ghetto” refers to the second Braslav Ghetto, which contained some 50 Jews from Opsa who'd been transferred to Braslav in August or early September 1942 to repopulate it, after the inmates of the first Braslav Ghetto had been slaughtered on June 3-5, 1942. The second ghetto was also known as the “Opsa” Ghetto, since it contained residents of Opsa. This second Braslav Ghetto would be liquidated on March 19, 1943. Return
  3. Dvinsk, now called Daugavpils, was 42 kilometers northwest of Braslav. Return
  4. Yetta Fisher was the daughter of Rafael Fisher and Fania Kremer, granddaughter of Naftal Fisher and Lana, and great-granddaughter of Morduch Fisher. Naftal and Lana Fisher were also the grandparents (through their son Zalman-Yaacov) of Mottel Fisher and his sister Chana, making Mottel and Chana first cousins of Yetta.

    Chana Fisher was married to her second cousin, Tuvia Fisher, and Yetta was also a second cousin of Tuvia's. Tuvia Fisher's account appears on pages 108-110 of this memorial book. The account of Mottel-Hirsh Fisher, a brother of Tuvia's, appears on pages 90-95. The account of Eliezer Fisher, their first cousin, appears on pages 155-158. (The Chana Fisher married to Tuvia differs from the Henka/Chana Fisher who was the daughter of Leib Gurevitz and whose account appears on pages 111-116.) Return

  5. Chana Fisher and Tuvia Fisher, as mentioned in the earlier footnote, were Yetta's married cousins. Chona/Chonon Fisher, a brother of Chana Fisher and Mottel Fisher, was married to Sonia. Mottel Fisher, the brother of Chana and Chona, was married to Liuba. Chaya-Merka was a sister of Chana, Chona and Mottel.

    Of this group, the survivors were Chana and Tuvia Fisher, and Mottel Fisher. The identity of the couple from the town of Yod isn't known for certain. Return


[Page 120]

Like Arrows in the Hands of a Warrior
Are the Children of One's Youth…
[1]

Translated from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

The young people …

Like a pink crystal palace; dreams and hopes, hopes for the future, enchantment and magic. All of these were wiped out and trampled under the cruel, barbaric hooves of the Nazi beast.

In terrible conditions, in hunger, oppression, and degradation, in the shadow of torture and death, the Jewish young people in the ghetto found the force of will and a ray of bright light in meetings and incidental discussions. They didn't lose hope, the faintest hope, for a better tomorrow. We see testimony to this in the “memento” albums they wrote to each other, to their male or female friends, in the darkness of oppression.

Here are some of these mementos written in Hebrew, Polish, Russian and Lithuanian by young people from Braslav [Braslaw] and other places, in the album of Yenta [Yetta] Fisher.[2]

It's important to note that these mementos are from the end of 1941 until June 1944, just before liberation, through all the tribulations of hell --- slaughter, torture, hunger and utter want.

A free translation of the mementos has been made, although the content has been strictly preserved.

A Memento!!!

Oh! Do not tell of the depth of your suffering
Do not say that you are desperate and lost
That the cruel world has frozen your heart.
Oh! Think only: I will find calm.

As the pain in your heart grows
Even if your spirit often falls
The ground will support you even more strongly
And your soul will absorb more calmness and quiet.

So on with the journey!
In the battle for truth you will suffer for your relatives,
Raise up your desire for happiness for your fellow Jews
And pay no heed if you are met with revulsion.

--- Written to you by your friend: G. S. (Skopitz)

A Memento!!!

Hey, to you with a Jewish heart and the soul of an angel
Love your fate with suffering and storms
Do not lower year head in the face of disaster
Hey, comfort to broken hearts …

--- Written by your friend: H. S. in Braslav, October 20, 1941

[Page 121]

To the honorable Vladislav [Wladyslaw] on his birthday!
We, your friends, bring you flowers from our land
And wish you perpetual happiness
We will never forget you
For your good feelings and ties
We will thank you without bounds
We will love you and wish you happiness
Until the wedding and after
Enjoy good life with love, friendship and peace.
Be blessed by G-d
As you deserve,
In wealth, good luck, and praise
With diamonds in a golden frame.

--- Your friend, June 27, 1944

This refers to the nephew of Danat and Josefa Shcherbinski [Szczerbinski], who hid and saved several families. [The nephew was Wladyslaw, nicknamed Wladek; Danat and Josefa also hid and saved people.]

A Memento!!

There are many more drops in the cup of your fate
That you must suffer, and drink slowly to the end …

--- Written by H. S., October 20, 1941
The writer was Hirsh Skopitz.

A Memento!!!

We do not find our friends through conversation
It is possible to identify them only in hard times
When hardship overtakes them and they shed tears
This is your friend, the ones who weeps with you.

--- Writer: Ida, October 15, 1943
Written by Ida Gurevitz while she was hidden by the farmer Shcherbinski.

[Page 122]

A Memento!

Do not be sad, my friend, that is not for you,
All your life is still ahead of you
You shed many tears
And you do not know
When you will return home.
Everything is so sad and cruel,
Everything happened suddenly
However, the time will come
When we take revenge against the enemy
Therefore, gird yourself, my friend, with patience
The day of liberation will arrive
And we will go up on the shining path
And you will be able to rest from all the tribulations.
Then we will remember and exalt the friendly people
Who saved us.
We will spread throughout the world the names of the saviors
And to vex our enemies, the saviors will receive their due
As we wish them ---
Much happiness, health, praise
And diamonds in gold frames.

--- Written by Ida: September 25, 1943

The sun is shining, spring has arrived
The flowers are blooming, nature has risen to life
Why am I so sad and heavy of heart?
Why am I waiting, for whom do I have pity?

No! I am not waiting for anything from G-d, But I am sorry over the past,
I am searching for freedom and peace
I want to forget and fall asleep
So that I can wake up and take revenge on the enemy executioners
For the innocent blood that they spilled
May the murderous executioners not remain alive,
May the truth be perpetuated
In a place where hatred reigned,
May the blood of the murderers be spilled as rain from the sky
And their leader be destroyed along with them.

Written by Ida: May 10, 1943

[Page 123]

I am prepared to kill the enemy
And to destroy the executioner
May they receive their due
He murdered many people
And he must be wiped from the face of the earth
Guess, who killed him?

--- Written by A. N., October 10, 1943
Apparently the words refer to a collaborator who was taken out to be killed.

When these difficult times pass,
When the deep tragedies and tribulations pass
And you find yourself in a different world,
Before you a new era opens.
You will live and enjoy
Love and rejoice,
And then ---

Do not forget all that happened
Try to help
All the unfortunate and oppressed
All those alone, childless, and degraded
All who are lost and depressed …

--- The signature of the writer can't be deciphered. November 10, 1943

A Memento!!!

It was good that we knew each other
It was good to live together
But it is difficult for us to part
When we must
Say the word “Shalom.”

--- From your friend R. Tzirlin, October 19-21, 1941

Footnotes

  1. Psalm 127:4. Return
  2. Her account of her experiences during the war is on pages 117-119 of this memorial book. Return

 

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