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[Pages 143-144]

How I Survived

By Boris Ulman, Son of Leah and Zelig

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

 

Some individuals from our city have already recounted the story of the murders of Zelig Ulman and the members of his family at the hands of the Nazis. Zelig's son Boris was saved by chance, since he wasn't home at the time of the killings.

This is Boris' story.

While my family was murdered, the Germans searched for me. They did not find me since I was hidden at Leib Sherman' house. Many people were afraid to give us a place to hide because the police had informed the community that anyone who would dare to give us a shelter would be killed along with his entire family.

On the day they massacred the Jews of Braslav, I was at home. At a very early morning hour Hirsh Fridman came running to my house and screamed, “We must escape, they are killing everyone!” Once again I ran to Leib Shermans' house and hid in the basement hideout that Leib had made for his family. After some time passed, we checked outside; I came out of the hiding with Nehamka Sherman. We saw wagons filled with bodies of young women who only the day before had been sent to Slobodaka to clean the army buildings. We also saw Moshe-Baruch being led by the police officer Kizlo. We returned to the hiding spot. The next day we heard an announcement in Yiddish by a Jew from the city of Druya (his name might have been Reiboish). Following the orders of the Germans, he ran between the houses and called out for the people in hiding to come out. The day of the massacre was over and the Germans had promised that they wouldn't kill any more people.

We went outside. I met with Leib Zeif with his two children, the Friedman family and others. Police hurried us along and ordered us to go to the Folk Shul to register our names. Nehamka and I feared the registration. We ran away to the cemetery and we hid there for a long time. Afterwards we left in the direction of Opsa. On the way we encountered some local farmers. They were afraid to give us shelter, but they gave us food and told us that in Opsa there were still some Jews. We were in Opsa some time, and from there we moved to Vidz. Along with many Jews from the Svencian area, we were all forced on to a train. After some time we found out that the train was headed for Ponar (We knew by then that it was the killing field for most Jews from the Vilna area).

When the train arrived in Vilna on the way to Ponar, a few of us were able to jump off and run away. We had no choice but to hide in the Vilna ghetto. In the ghetto we started to organize an underground unit and were able to collect some weapons.

Here I must write some words about the heroics and bravery of Tevka Bilak, a beloved young man of our town, who like me had run from the train that would have led us to the killing field of Ponar. Together we arrived at the Vilna ghetto and I was near him on the day he attempted to smuggle a weapon into the ghetto and was caught by the ghetto police. He was interrogated and they beat him violently trying to get information about others in the unit. He refused to say a word! Even Ganes, the leader of the ghetto, could not believe how brave he was. They beat him to death.

Since we had no money to buy weapons, we (together with the Fogel brothers) decided to make a business out of smuggling weapons and the like to the ghetto. Many Jews wanted weapons and paid good money to those who would risk their life getting them. One day we were to meet in a hidden place with a Jew and deliver a pistol to him. At the meeting, Jewish police descended upon us. I succeeded in escaping but the two brothers were caught and sent to jail. After some days our unit was able to escape from the ghetto into the forests. On the way to the area where the partisans had a camp, we had to find food. We had no choice but to show our weapons to farmers in the area and order them to give us food. They went to the Germans and told them about us. We had to split into two groups and flee.

Eventually our unit encountered a Russian partisan unit, but they confiscated our weapons and sent us to a family camp in the woods where other Jews were also placed. (Hidden camps were set up in the forest for Jews who escaped from the Nazis)

After some time the partisan commanders arrived at the camp and took Motka Vishkin and I as fighters in their unit. At the beginning, our group had only seven people but within a short time our numbers expanded to 120 fighters. We were able to take some revenge for the killings of our dear family and friends. We blew up many German trains and we participated in many actions against the collaborators. We excelled in these missions and we were recognized for our bravery and received many medals and awards. We also helped Jewish families who were hiding in the family camps in the forests.

It is my desire to say something of Abrashka Ulman, a son of our city. He was able to escape from the ghetto of Braslav on the day of the massacre. On the way to Slobodoka he was caught by three police officers. He wrestled with them with all his force and without a weapon he killed two of them and only the third succeeded in shooting and killing him.

My wife Tonya was hidden for three months with a Polish family by the name of Nidobiddeski, despite the fact that one of their family members was a police officer in the ghetto of Braslav. The liberation of the area by the Red Army took place in the summer of 1944. As soon as we met the Red Army, Motka and I traveled to Braslav. We found others who had survived; amongst them were Mendel Maron and Mishka Fisher.

My order was to guard the German POWs in the shtetl of Postov, but after two weeks I volunteered for the Red Army and I served there until 1949.

Family members who perished;

Matle Ulman was born to Zelik and Liza Leah
Manya Ulman was born to Zelik and Liza Leah

 

Boris Ulman (first on the right) with a group of partisans

 

Translator note

I received an email from the family of Boris asking me to translate the chapter.

Here is some of what they said; “Hello my name is Jeremy Schulman and Boris was my wife's grandfather. He passed away last year….”

“Thank you very much for translating this. I am actually sitting next to his wife (Boris's widow Tonya) and she appreciates your help. Your work shall be rewarded as someone who will never forget what they did to our people….”

Boris Ulman was born in Braslav on 2 May 1924

He passed away in Atlanta on 18 Feb 2006


[Page 155]

Eliezer Fisher
Son of Chaya and Feivush

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

“They have chased me like a bird

They are my enemies without cause.

They have cut off my life in the pit

And have cast stones upon me.”

--- Lamentations [Eicha] 3:52-53

 

Braslav [Braslaw] . . .

A small town where I was born to my parents, Feivush and Chaya [née Deitch][1]. The town was surrounded by lakes, with a mountain[2] at its center. Everything was very beautiful and good. Everyone was friendly, and the people were good to each other.

All of a sudden --- the oppressor came to us. He destroyed our home, murdered our relations and friends. They were scattered in every direction; only a few remained alive . . . I too was among the survivors.

I wish to tell how I survived, now that I live in the Land of Israel.

It isn't easy to recall everything that took place many years ago, but I'll never forget all that happened to me. This will be a monument to us and those who come after us.

When the Germans entered our town, they immediately took Jews out for forced labor. They chose young men and young women and took them under guard to the small train station [in Braslav], and promised they'd be well paid. These young people didn't return. The Germans did this several times --- they took people away and didn't bring them back . . .

A great fear took hold of everyone. Each day brought with it new troubles. We sent some people to find out what was happening; then the Germans ordered us to choose a Judenrat [Jewish Council] to handle all matters. We chose Yitzchak Mindel, Gershon Klioner, Levi-Yitzchak Veinshtein, Rafael Fisher [a first cousin of Feivush] and others. After that, they announced the decree imposing the yellow patch, which had to measure 10 x 10 centimeters. It was forbidden to walk on the sidewalk, it could only be the middle of the road. We had to take our furniture outside (next to the houses) and give it to the authorities --- whoever didn't do this would be shot. After this, they ordered us to organize a ghetto [around April 1, 1942] and to concentrate all the Jews on the main street --- Pilsudski Street, several families in a single house. The crowding and the fear that came over the Jews can't be described. Each day the situation got worse:

[Page 156]

They ordered us to give them our money, gold and watches --- everything in our possession. And then --- they said --- they'd supply us with work and food, and if we didn't obey --- they'd kill everyone.

We wept bitterly, but it didn't help. We were forced to hand over everything --- who didn't want to remain alive? When we gave everything to the Germans --- nothing remained in our hands --- neither money nor food . . . our men in the Judenrat went to request something for the hungry, small children. The Germans brought a crate of loaves of bread and said they'd come again to pass it out. We were forbidden to touch the bread.

We waited a long time. The crying of the small children increased, but nobody came. Finally my uncle, Baruch Fisher [a brother of Feivush], said he'd take one loaf of bread and divide it among the children. As soon as he touched the bread, policemen came immediately and threatened to kill him. But this wasn't enough for the Germans. They frequently invented additional ways to break us. One day we learned the Germans were planning to murder us all. When my father heard this, he became confused and ran to hide in the attic. When he looked out from there to see what was happening in the street --- they shot and killed him. Their plan to destroy us was this: The Gentiles, without our knowledge, dug killing pits that were intended for us. None of us had a chance of being rescued, we were weak like children from the lack of food.

[When the massacre began on June 3, 1942] the German soldiers came at 3-4 o'clock in the morning, ordered everyone out of the houses, and we were taken to the pits in groups. There, they ordered everyone to undress to their underwear and sit on the ground, and not to lift their heads. Whoever lifted his head was shot immediately.

This is how they killed our group within a few minutes. The small children they threw into one pit. They left us lying there and didn't cover us with dirt. There were some who shuddered and collapsed with severe wounds. The pits were located near the forest. Toward evening, when it began to get dark --- I was lying in the pit and heard a buzzing, like bees, flying around me. I tried to raise my hand, my foot, and realized I wasn't dead. I was lying in a puddle of the blood of my dear ones, on a heap of the bodies of children. I gathered a bit of strength, lifted myself up, and entered the nearby forest. There I stayed until night. I wandered the forest for three days, naked and hungry, covered in blood. I wanted to stay alive so that I'd be able to tell of the tortures we'd gone through and all of our sorrows.

I wandered in the forest until I came to a storehouse. With the last of my strength I entered, climbed into a pile of fodder and hid there. I waited to see what would happen. Toward morning, a farmer came with a large wicker basket to get food for his animals. I looked out to see if I knew him. “He senses there's someone's here in the storehouse,” I thought. “I've got nothing to lose. Either way, I'll die.” So I went out and stood before him. At first, he was terrified. A naked man had suddenly appeared to him, dirty and covered in blood --- but then he recognized me and shouted, “Leizerke, is it you? Lie down, lie down, and I'll bring you some food right away.”

This was a farmer who'd frequently come to us to buy meat in our butcher shop. Many times I'd given him meat without charge because I knew he was poor.

I thought he'd gone to bring the police, who'd kill me, and I lay down in great fear. Finally, I saw him approaching with a military tunic and a pot of cooked potatoes. I felt like I was beginning to return to life once more.

This farmer was very poor and had eight children, but he hadn't forgotten what we'd done for him. Once he'd brought his wife to us; she was very ill and needed an urgent operation, but he didn't have enough money to pay for it. We'd given him the amount he needed, and in this way his wife was saved

[Page 157]

and recovered. They remembered this and repaid good for good. There were times when they brought me into their house to get warm; their house was isolated in the forest, far from the villages. I stayed with them for two years [sic]. The man was Josef Orlovski [Orlowski] from the village of Zwirbli [Zwirble], near the Belmont estate.[3]

In the neighboring forests, the Germans conducted frequent searches, in case they found some Jew wandering free. A neighbor came to my benefactor, said it was rumored that Josef was hiding a Jew, and advised him to drive him out or hand him over to the police. Afterward, Josef said to me: “Listen, Leizerke, I want you to stay alive. Until I find you a new hiding place, I'll dig you a pit in the pigpen. There you'll lie down and I'll bring you food.” His devotion gladdened me. And so it happened --- I lay in the pit for eight months.

One day the Germans came, took the entire family outside, stood him, his wife and their eight children in a row as if they were about to shoot them, and ordered them to admit they were hiding a Jew. The farmer's wife fell to the ground; weeping, she said to them, “You think the life of one Jewish pig is more precious to me than the lives of my eight children?! If we had a Jew here, we'd hand him over to you immediately.” The Germans left them alone; they took some tobacco and went away.

After this, Josef came to me, took me out of the hiding place, brought me into his house to warm up, and said to me, “Tell me, what should we do now?” I replied that whatever he decided was the right thing to do, he should do . . . I'd obey.

Josef harnessed his horse and traveled to the forest to gather wood. He hoped that in the forest he'd meet some Jew or maybe some partisans (it was rumored they were in the forest, but it wasn't known where). Reaching the forest, he saw a man armed with a rifle. The man stopped him and wouldn't allow him to travel further. The partisans forbade entry to the forests, so that no one would know their location.

Josef approached the man and said to him, “Listen, an unfortunate Jew is wandering in our village. He has nowhere to hide. Maybe I can bring him to you. Will you accept him?”

The partisan gave him permission to gather wood and said they didn't usually let people unknown to them into the forest. “But since you've told me about the Jew, you can bring him. Tell no one else, otherwise we'll come and set fire to your house and all that belongs to you. Bring him here to the forest clearing, and I'll wait for him.”

Josef thanked him and returned home. He told me the story and asked me if I was willing to go see the partisan. I agreed. The next day Josef again harnessed his horse, filled the wagon with fodder, put the bench on top of it, and laid me down under the bench. In this way he brought me to the forest clearing, the appointed place. I said goodbye to Josef, and he returned to his house while I remained alone in the clearing. I stood there waiting, not knowing what fate G-d had in store for me. While standing there thinking, I heard footsteps approaching and a man appeared, armed with a rifle. Suddenly he moved toward me with a cry of surprise: “Leizerke, is it you??!!” This was a son of my town, a relative --- Yerachmiel Biliak. We kissed one another and wept, remembering all that had happened to us. He took me with him, fed me and gave me something to drink. We came to his unit, the partisan unit of Antonov.[4] Conditions in the forest weren't bad in comparison with the earlier places.

The Germans were carrying out periodic sweeps and searches for Jews. At such times we'd flee in all directions, hiding among the trees and bushes, enduring a number of days without food or drink. The Germans were afraid to go deep into the forest; they moved only along the railroad tracks and roads. This kind of search would last for several days, and then we'd re-form and hit back

[Page 158]

in revenge. This is how we lived. We'd attack the routes used by the Germans and their collaborators, hoping to bring a rapid end to Nazi rule.

The partisans gathered food from the farmers of the nearby villages. I was responsible for distributing the food.

Time passed. One day we received an order to leave the forest --- the war was over --- the Russians had liberated us [in July 1944]. We came out and met them with joy and thanks.

[Afterward] I always helped Josef Orlovski and his family as much as I could, with clothing and food. I found his daughter a job in Vilna. I lost touch with him after I made aliyah to Israel.[5]

 

Footnotes
  1. Feivush Fisher was a son of Zelik Fisher and Guta, and a grandson of Morduch Fisher; this Fisher family had lived in Braslav since at least the time of Morduch, born ca. 1800. Return
  2. This location in Braslav, Castle Hill, was also called Castle Mountain, even though it stood only 15 meters or so above the town. Return
  3. Belmont was about seven kilometers southeast of Braslav. Zwirbli was five kilometers south of Belmont. Return
  4. Presumably this refers to the Antonov detachment of the Shirokov Brigade, which operated in the region to the south of Braslav. Return
  5. Mr. Fisher lost his first wife and their children in the massacre in Braslav that began on June 3, 1942. Later he remarried, and in Israel he and his second wife raised a family. Return

 


[Page 159]

Tzipora (Faiga-Tzipka) Toker

Daughter of Gisia and Chontza [Chona] Biliak

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

For me, life out of the ordinary began in the year 1939. The hardest thing for me, an eight-year-old, was the death of my mother, Gisia. There were two other children in the house, younger than me: Tuvia, who was six, and Sara-Gitka, who was three. We had a very strong, close relationship with the family of my father's brother, Yerachmiel [Biliak], his wife Keila-Malka and their six children: Noachke [Nuchke], Gitka [Gita], Chaim-Leib, Leizer-Itza, Sara-Esther and Chana-Feiga.

Events became clearer in memory after the war broke out between Germany and Russia [1941]. There was fear in the town: The Russians began to withdraw back toward their old [pre-1939] border [which was to the east of Braslav], and with them went some of the Jewish population. My uncle had a truck, and there was talk of our two families moving to the Soviet Union, but my aunt refused to part from her house and possessions. We didn't know what would happen, but we were very afraid of the Germans. Relatives and neighbors gathered in our house, with much talk of the war and making of plans.

It seems to me that most of the decrees came to us on Fridays. One Friday, they gathered all of us into a large, fenced-in courtyard next to the Pravoslavic [Eastern Orthodox] church, near the lake. They arranged us in the shape of a U, with women, children, and men separated from each other. It was forbidden to move; we stood there and listened. A German stood in the middle of the yard with a staff in his hand, and shouted that they'd shoot us and drown us all in the water. We didn't understand why we deserved this; we stood there in fear. When he finished speaking, he ordered us to run home, saying, “I don't want to see a Jew in the street.”

Another Friday --- a new decree: The Jews must bring them money and jewelry. We were waiting for the next decree. We began to understand the meaning of the word “Germans.” After that, another Friday came; they told us to gather ourselves on the road that left Braslav [Braslaw], next to the mountain [Castle Hill, a.k.a. Castle Mountain].[1] The Germans came armed, riding on motorcycles. They ordered the men to take off their boots and put them in a certain place. My father didn't remove his boots; I began to worry what would happen to him. Again they separated the women from the men. They said they'd take us to the swamps, pour kerosene over us, and burn us alive.

We stood there in shock. Two men, Shlomo [Zilber] the shochet [ritual slaughterer] and Chaim Milutin,

[Page 160]

started to run away. I saw how the Germans shot them. Then they took us to the swamp. Along the way we wanted to hide in a storehouse, but we were afraid something worse would happen if we did so, and so we continued to walk with everyone, my brother and my sisters next to me. We were hungry. It had been forbidden to take anything with us; we walked with empty hands. The men walked barefoot. My father's boots frightened me, I was afraid I'd be shot. We arrived at the swamp: I very much wanted to stay near my father, but the Germans didn't allow it. Despite this, I picked up a number of branches and put them under father's head --- so he wouldn't have to lie down in the mud. I lay among everyone. The Germans told us they were waiting for an order to shoot us. They had machine guns. This is how we passed the day and the night. In the morning, they told us to go home. When we got back, we found all of our possessions packed into sacks. The Gentiles had robbed us, they'd stolen but not managed to take away their booty.

After this, more decrees came, such as the decree about the yellow patch.

I found some suitable material and with my own hands sewed patches for everyone, one for their chest and one for their back. It was forbidden to walk on the sidewalks. Other girls my age were taken to knit hats, gloves and scarves for the Germans. My father didn't let me go to work; he was afraid for me. They took my father to work at the train station and to shovel snow from the streets.

One decree followed another. Now it was necessary to uproot ourselves and go to the ghetto [April 1, 1942]. We moved to the house of the Gebelman family. This was a brick house that had a hiding place. They took toast, water as well as family pictures down there. In part of the house they hadn't yet finished building the floor, and there was a lot of sand. Next to the entrance to the hiding place stood a bookcase with holy books. We felt something was about to happen; again we gathered and talked. I heard that the Germans were killing Jews in the nearby forests. Then on June 3, 1942, a Wednesday, toward morning, it began. Outside there was a big uproar. They were shouting that everyone must come out of the houses and go to the left of our house. I went outside and walked with the stream of people. My father ran after me, grabbed my hand and took me back into the house. My father, I, my sister Sara-Gitka and Nechama Gebelman went down into the hiding place. My brother hid under the big stove. Nechama's old grandfather, a man with one leg, refused to go down. He hid the entrance to the hiding place with sand and sat himself next to the bookcase and read the Torah. When the Germans entered the house to see if anyone remained inside, they saw him and shot him on the spot. He fell over the entrance to the hiding place. My father made openings in the hiding place, and this allowed us to distinguish between day and night. Hearing shouts and shooting, we stayed inside for a number of days.

On Wednesday, when the destruction began, before entering the hiding place, I'd seen how the Germans were crushing the heads of infants and children on an electric pole. I'd seen how a village wagon was passing and gathering bodies. After the massacre, there were a few days of calm, and then they gathered in the Folkshul the few Jews who remained. My brother came out of hiding and went there. He soon returned, and with emotion he shouted to father that if we had any silver and gold, we had to give it to the Germans and in this way it'd be possible to save the Jews. Inside the house, in the ground, was hidden a red box --- a savings box of PKO, the Polish national bank[2], and in it was gold. My father took out the gold to give it to the Germans. After delivering it, my brother returned . . .

During these days of calm, my father decided that we'd go to hide with Gentile acquaintances outside the town. We went down to the lake

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and ran along the shore in the direction of the Dubki [Dubkes] forest. We saw we were being followed. On the shore of the lake, in the natural pasture, horses were grazing; their feet were tied as they ate the green grass. It was hot, and we ran barefoot in light clothing. My father told us to hide behind the horses, and he said if anyone got hurt we shouldn't make any noise but go forward toward the forest. The police didn't see us and returned where they came from. We waited for them to move far away and then we entered the forest, reaching the house of our acquaintance Vincent Kolkovski [Kolkowski]. From him we heard that my uncle Yerachmiel [Biliak, brother of Chontza], with three of his children, had passed by earlier. Yerachmiel had told him he thought we'd suffocated in our hiding place, and had asked Kolkovski to travel to Braslav to bury us. When he heard this, father burst into bitter tears. He gave me soap and explained to me that the Gentile had bought himself a great good deed and asked me to give him the soap, so I could “buy” the good deed from him, so to speak.

We continued with wanderings and troubles [apparently they didn't stay long with Kolkovski at this time]. We had no place to hide, no clothes and no food. Each time we hid in the bathhouse of a different farmer. For a loaf of bread, my father gave a gold pin, a remembrance from my mother. Another time, for a bit of bread, he gave gold teaspoons that we'd used on the Passover holiday. One of the bathhouses where we stayed belonged to Metzatznikov. We stayed there 10 days, lying on the floor and stools. We washed ourselves and passed our clothes through fire to burn off the lice.

The winter of 1942-43 was very difficult; we were on the verge of despair. My uncle Yerachmiel found himself a hiding place with a farmer. My father and my little sister [Sara-Gitka] joined him, without the Gentile knowing it. With no choice, having nowhere to go and with father's agreement, both of us --- me and my brother Tuvia --- on Hanukkah, we entered the second ghetto in Braslav.[3] This ghetto was established in a number of alleyways in a small section of the town, and it was fenced in. Here they put some of the Jews from Opsa who remained after the destruction there, and to them they added the few Jews who survived in Braslav.

I don't remember how my brother entered the ghetto. I snuck in by way of a well; I had to break a board and go inside. Apparently some police saw this and began to look for me, but they failed to catch me. My relative Leizer Biliak hid me in some house in a little room under a bed. The police entered the house, saw in the living room a woman sitting with a boy, and killed them. During this period, I visited a family from Opsa many times. The head of the family was a blacksmith. When I knitted a hat or gloves, they'd give me a bit of food. Once they gave me uncooked rice, which I took to the blacksmith. During the first days in the ghetto, I slept with Nechama Gebelman on a table. I'd meet my brother going around among the houses. People would take pity on us and give us something to eat. After that, I found my father's uncle in the ghetto --- Natan Biliak. He'd sleep on the big stove in the matzoh [unleavened bread] factory in the Bogomolski family's house. He'd leave the door open for me, and when everyone was asleep I'd sneak in quietly, go up on a small ladder to the stove and spend the night in the uncle's arms, behind large woven baskets in which the matzoh was packed for delivery. Sometimes I slept inside a basket. On this stove with us there was a woman from Opsa whose mind was unbalanced. They called her Sara-Gitka the meshuggene [crazy one]. Sometimes she'd break out in screams, which put all of us in danger. The uncle sometimes succeeded in calming her. Early in the morning, I'd get down quietly and flee, because I wasn't registered as a resident of the ghetto and it was forbidden for me to be found in the house. In some houses the people asked me not to come into them. They were afraid they'd be murdered because of me, so I wandered around outside.

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It was winter; it was cold and a lot of snow fell.

One Sunday, when Vincent Kolkovski traveled to Braslav to go to church, my father gave him a note to pass to us. Kolkovski approached the ghetto fence and threw the note over it. Somebody picked it up and gave it to my brother. In the note, father asked to see us; we should come to Kolkovski's house. My brother refused. After a week, we received another note in which father asked, in fact begged, to see us. Since I missed him very much, I decided to go and see him. My brother didn't want to leave the ghetto this time either, but said to me, “Go to father, I want to die [here].” My eight-year-old brother . . . Somebody gave me boots from among some rags, and I found a light purple scarf that had been my mother's. I put on the shabby boots, wrapped myself in the scarf, put a book under my arm so that it looked like a prayer book, and without anyone seeing me I walked out of the ghetto. I was sick and had a temperature. I passed Pilsudski Street, where our house had stood, the house where I'd been born and grown up. A policeman passed by, who I recognized, but fortunately he didn't see me.

I left the town. Outside, there was snow; the Gentiles were preparing to return to their villages after prayers in church. I approached one of them and asked him to take me. He suggested I get into his sleigh and wanted to cover me with a blanket, because it was very cold. Then he asked me where I was going. I didn't answer specifically but said, “Today's Sunday and I'm traveling to visit my aunt.” I explained to him that I wasn't cold and didn't have far to go. To be safer, I didn't get into the sleigh; I only stood behind it on the step. When I saw the chimney of Kolkovski's house, I asked to get off. I thanked him and began to go in the deep snow toward the house. A dog began to bark. I knocked on the door of the house and immediately was given permission to enter. When I asked to see my father, the lady of the house said he wasn't there. I burst into tears. When she saw this, she moved a small curtain aside and told me he was on the stove. I found him unwell, a bit unbalanced in his mind. He was suffering from feelings of guilt that he hadn't been able to help us and had allowed two children to enter the ghetto alone. He wanted to save us, but this was beyond his power. I climbed up on the stove; we embraced and wept. I asked him, “Why did you ask for me?” Father replied, “I want us to be together.” I refused, explaining that in the ghetto the conditions were a little better, and if it was my fate to die then I preferred to die in the ghetto. Both of us wept. During the night, he woke me and said we'd go to see Yerachmiel with his children and my little sister. I loved my father and couldn't refuse him. He wept the whole time. The Gentile went out to see if there was a guard on the bridge. We thanked him and parted from him. We found Yerachmiel with only two children, the third was no longer alive. We stayed with them.

On the day before Purim, 1943, they killed the rest of the Jews in the ghetto [March 19, 1943]. I, my sister and my father were in a hiding place with Yerachmiel [outside the ghetto]. My brother was at that time in the house of the Bogomolski family, which was within the ghetto. In this house, when the enemy came for them, the Jews attacked aggressively. At their head stood my cousin, Leizer Biliak, who'd served in the Polish army. With a pistol he killed a German and a local policeman, and wounded an additional policeman. Then the gendarmes threw grenades into the house, and it began to burn. Fleeing, Leizer, jumped a fence and took a bullet in his hand that held the pistol. Wounded, tired and barefoot, he reached Yerachmiel's hiding place. The others in the house, and with them my brother, Tuvia, were burned

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alive.

This is how we became tenants of my uncle Yerachmiel, without the agreement of the Gentile. The pit was very crowded: Yerachmiel and his two children, my father, me and my sister Tova, and now also Leizer.

[One day] My father and Leizer left to find a hiding place for us. When the days passed and they didn't come back, Yerachmiel went out to look for them. He learned from a farmer that the two had been grabbed by Gentiles and handed over to the Germans, who'd killed them.

Mourning the loss, Yerachmiel returned to us, discouraged and perplexed, and in a choked voice he told us of the tragedy. We wept quietly at the loss of our dear father.

Our good uncle promised to help us with everything, but his means were limited. All of us were in constant fear, hungry and dirty. When the Gentile heard what had happened to my father and Leizer, he became frightened and told Yerachmiel he was afraid to keep us any longer. He, his family and his possessions were in danger of annihilation, he said, and he asked us to leave the pit. He advised Yerachmiel to find a way to reach the partisans.

What happened afterward, from this point until the end of the war, is told in Yerachmiel's testimony [on pages 96-107 of this memorial book].

. . . the war ended. Yerachmiel begged us to stay with him, but we were very young. I felt an obligation to learn and make up for the education I'd lost during the years of the war, and so did my sister. With Yerachmiel's knowledge, but not so much with his agreement, we moved to an orphanage in Vilna [about 165 kilometers southwest of Braslav]. The place suited us, we felt good there. We studied and took care of ourselves. After two years, in 1946, Yerachmiel decided to move from Russia to Poland, and he got us to go with him. In Poland we joined a kibbutz of children of the Dror movement; its general orientation was Zionist-Pioneerist and its purpose was aliyah to the Land of Israel. We continued with this kibbutz to Germany, and when our turn came for aliyah, they put us on the ship Exodus, which was intercepted by British warships and forced to return to the shores of Europe.[4] Again in Germany, we met with Yerachmiel and he asked us to join him and go with him to Canada, but we were already “brainwashed” about the Land of Israel and refused his suggestion.

We returned and came on aliyah to Israel in 1948, this time after the state had been established. I joined the youth society in Kibbutz Afek [in northern Israel near Haifa] and my sister Tova the children's society at Givat HaShlosha [a kibbutz in central Israel near Petah Tivka]. We matured, grew up and established families.

Now both of us are grandmothers. We live happily in the present, but we'll never forget the past.

 

Footnotes
  1. Accounts differ on when the Jews of Braslav were taken to the swamp. Other accounts say it was June 27, and that this happened on the same day the Jews were gathered in the church courtyard. Return
  2. This might refer to Powszechna Kasa Oszczednosci Bank Polski (PKO Bank Polski), a major bank network, established in 1919. Return
  3. In August or early September 1942, some 50 Jews in Opsa (about 18 kilometers southwest of Braslav) were transferred to the former ghetto in Braslav, to repopulate it after the original 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. Return
  4. This was a large passenger ship that sailed from France in July 1947, carrying some 4,500 Jewish immigrants as part of Aliyah Bet (“Immigration B” or “second immigration”) attempts to enter Palestine in contravention of British restrictions. The ship was intercepted by the British and forced to return with its passengers to Europe, to displaced-persons camps in Germany. The incident deepened international sympathy for the postwar plight of Holocaust survivors and reinforced support for the establishment of Israel. Return

 

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