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[Page 143]

Boris Ulman
Son of Leah and Zelig

Translated from the Hebrew by Eilat Gordin Levitan

 

Some individuals from our town 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's story. He succeeded in surviving despite all that he experienced, and today he lives with his family in the United States.

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

On the day the massacre of the Jews of Braslav began [June 3, 1942], I was at home. At a very early morning hour Hirsh Fridman burst into my house and screamed, “We must escape, they're killing everyone!” Once again I ran to Leib Sherman's 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 place with Nechamka Sherman [Leib's daughter]. We saw wagons filled with bodies of young women who only the day before had been sent to Slobodka [about 11 kilometers northeast of Braslav] to clean the army buildings. We also saw Moshe-Baruch being led by the policeman Kizlo.

We returned to the hiding spot. The next day we heard an announcement [in Yiddish] by a Jew from the town of Druya [about 34 kilometers northeast of Braslav] (his name might have been Ribash). Following the orders of the Germans, he ran between the houses and called for the people in hiding to come out. The day of the massacre was over --- so he said --- 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 Fridman family and others. Police hurried us along and ordered us to go to the Folkshul [the Yiddish school in Braslav] to register our names.

[Instead] Nechamka and I fled to the cemetery and hid there for a long time. Later, we set out in the direction of Opsa [18 kilometers southwest of Braslav]. 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 stayed in Opsa for a while, and from there we moved to Vidz [about 20 kilometers southwest of Opsa]. [In April 1943] along with many Jews from the Sventzion area [about 45 kilometers southwest of Vidz], we were all forced into the freight cars of a train. After some time, we learned 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 flee, entering the Vilna Ghetto.

[In the Vilna Ghetto] we started to organize an underground unit and were able to collect some weapons. Here I must write about the heroism and heart of Tevka [Tuvia] Biliak, a beloved young man of our town, who like me had fled from the train

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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 [Jewish] ghetto police. He was interrogated and they beat him severely, trying to get information about others in the unit. He refused to say a word! Even [Jacob] Gens, the Jewish head of the ghetto police, couldn't believe how brave he was. They beat him to death. [A description of Tevka Biliak, his bravery and death is given on pages 283-285 of this memorial book.]

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'd risk their life getting them. One day, we went to meet a Jew at an agreed-upon place to deliver a pistol. At the meeting, Jewish police fell on 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, and 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 located. [By this time, hidden camps had been set up in the forest for Jews who escaped from the Nazis.]

After some time, the partisan commanders arrived at the camp and took Motke [Mottel/Max] Vishkin and me as fighters in their unit. At the beginning our group had only seven people, but within a short time our number expanded to 120 fighters. We were able to take some revenge for the killings of our dear family members and friends. We blew up many German trains, and we took part 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.

I'd like to say something of Abrashke [Avraham] Ulman, a son of our town. He was able to escape from the Braslav Ghetto at the time of the massacre [on June 3-5, 1942]. On the way to Slobodka, he was caught by three policemen. He wrestled with them with all his might, and despite lacking a weapon he killed two of them. Only the third man succeeded in shooting and murdering him.

My wife Tonia was hidden for three months with a Polish family by the name of Nidzbeidski, despite the fact that one of their family members was a policeman in the Braslav Ghetto.

Immediately after the liberation of our area [in July-August 1944] and our meeting with the Red Army, Motke [Vishkin] and I traveled to Braslav. There we found others who had survived; among them Mendel Maron and Meishke [Moshe] Fisher.

I was appointed to guard German prisoners of war in the town of Postov [about 48 kilometers south of Braslav], but after two weeks I volunteered for the Red Army, in which I served until 1949.

 

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

[Page 145]

Moshe Vishkin
Son of Sara-Leah [née Reichel] and Tuvia

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

A few days before the war broke out [on June 22, 1941], rumors and events had already told us it was indeed about to start, but we didn't imagine it would happen so quickly or be as devouring and cruel as it was. At the time my sister Slova, age 20, worked at the meteorology station in the town of Braslav [Braslaw]. My brother Yosef, age 16, studied in a professional school for young people in the town of Opsa [18 kilometers southwest of Braslav]. I was 15 years old and lived with my parents, together with my sister Nechama, age 14, and my little brother, Chaim, age 12.

Life in our house was uneventful until the war broke out between Russia and Germany. The third day after the war started, we saw Russian tanks and tractors bearing artillery moving toward the Russian border [the pre-1939 border, to the east]. We understood that the Russian army was retreating. Fear began to grow. People worried about whether to stay or leave. On the fourth day, when we saw that all of the Russian families were leaving to follow the tanks, there was a great flow of young people and families out of the town. Our family too decided to leave. This was toward evening.

We harnessed our horse, loaded some movables --- not forgetting the cow --- and began to move out. Within a short time it became clear that the movables were slowing us down because of their heavy weight, so we stopped in one of the villages and sold most of them. Then we continued on our way until we came to Miory [about 40 kilometers east of Braslav]. There we stopped, and in the morning we continued toward the Russian border. When we arrived at Disna [Dzisna, about 72 kilometers east of Braslav], which was on the border, the German bombing began, and it became clear to us that we couldn't cross to the Russian side. We decided to return, but Slova announced she wasn't going back. Parting from her was hard. She crossed the border [into Russia] at a checkpoint that permitted single individuals. My mother said she had a feeling we'd never see her again.

Returning home, we found our house broken into and deserted. This was a Friday, the Sabbath, [June 27]. We began to organize ourselves with what remained. By this time, the Germans were already in Braslav. Most of the population remained in the town. Life became difficult; we saw that our situation was getting worse. Our right to live as free people was denied, and we were taken for forced labor with no possibility of appeal. One day [June 27, according to other accounts] they gathered all the residents of the town and took them to the swamp, and the Gentiles were allowed to do as they wished in our homes. Then

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the first two sacrifices took place: Shlomo [Zilber] the shochet [ritual slaughterer] and Chaim Milutin, of blessed memory. With my own eyes I saw how Chaim Milutin tried to run away to a field of standing wheat, but he didn't succeed.

The officer of the town was a Pole who was appointed by the Germans; Kovalski [Kowalski] was his name. He was accustomed to riding about on a horse and giving orders. Most of the orders were published on notices hung on a wall. The decrees degrading the Jews began: It was forbidden to walk on the sidewalk, only the middle of the road was permitted. Hats should be removed in the presence of every German. The hours when it was allowed to leave the house were limited. All radio receivers had to be turned in. It was forbidden to keep animals (cows, horses or goats), and everything we possessed had to be turned in to the Germans.

Immediately with the occupation, a Judenrat [Jewish Council] was organized. At its head stood Yitzchak Mindel, Eliezer Mazeh, Sasha Tempelman and others. A Jewish police force was also organized to keep order. The demands of the Germans were addressed to the Judenrat, which took care to fulfill them. The Germans demanded the immediate resumption of flax processing and rope braiding. They demanded that groups of Jews be sent daily to work as porters and strip bark from wood at the train station. They demanded Jews for the repair and maintenance of roads. Groups of [Jewish] women were kept busy knitting socks for the soldiers and working as servants in the quarters of the German officers. There were demands for silver, gold and copper items, including even candlesticks, doorknobs and dampers; these were sent to Germany for the military industry. After this, occasionally they demanded large sums of money. Along with the claims and demands that had to be fulfilled precisely on time and without appeal, there was always the accompanying threat --- slaughter.

The next 13 martyrs were Jews who worked cleaning logs and loading them on boxcars [at the train station]. Someone slandered them, saying that they were careless in their work, and as a result they were gathered, taken outside the station and killed. The place of their burial is unknown to this day.

When the decrees began, we wore a white ribbon on our arms. But because the local police also had to wear such a ribbon and this made it difficult to distinguish them from Jews, it was decreed that we had to wear a yellow patch on our front and one on our back, with the letter “J” on each patch.

Life in the ghetto was difficult. Even at the beginning, when the ghetto was established [formally on April 1, 1942] and it was open, it was hard to get food. But the will to live was stronger than everything else: In various ways we traded with the farmers of the area, and in exchange for some possessions that we had, or in payment for work we did for them, we got a bit of food to keep ourselves alive. Hunger became like a member of the family, even among the better off. With hunger came sickness. A typhoid epidemic broke out in the ghetto. First, the daughter of [Aharon-Zelig] Singalovski the shochet fell ill. The epidemic was kept secret; if it had been known, they would've killed all of us. We notified the Judenrat, and they made sure to send a doctor and medicine. Due to the attentive care, most of the patients recovered.

Because of my young age, I wasn't taken for labor. But one day, a shout woke us: “Jews! Save yourselves!” [Presumably this was June 3, 1942, when the massacre of the Braslav Ghetto began.] We left our house and saw the policeman Grivkov [Kriwko] (a notorious murderer of Jews) and other policemen about to surround us. At the last minute, we succeeded in fleeing and hid in the house of Chaim-Aizik [Maron],[1] where the Maron family also had gone. We hid in the basement of his house for three days.

While we were in the basement, I heard the noise of wagons coming and going. Afterward, I found out that the Germans had left people's possessions unguarded and the local residents had robbed our house and taken everything there in their wagons. We were afraid

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to leave the basement. We feared the anger of those who were collaborating with the Germans. While we were wondering what to do, a local resident discovered the entrance [to the basement] and shouted at us to come out. When we came out, I managed to flee and hid between the nearby stables. From there I saw how they killed Yoska [Yosef], my big brother, and Masha Maron's father [Chaim Maron]. A few meters away from them, I found my sister [Nechama] lying dead.

 

The Vishkin family

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With nightfall, it seemed to me that of the three families that had been in the basement [Mendel Maron's family; Masha Maron's family; and the family of Tuvia Vishkin, which included Moshe], only Masha Maron remained alive. I heard the voice of Ribash calling, “Jews! You can come out! The killing is finished.” I went out and found out that my mother [Sara-Leah] and my little brother [Chaim] had also survived the massacre. All of us gathered at the police station opposite our house. From there, they took us to the Folkshul [the Yiddish school]. I fled again. I went into the house of Chaim-Reuven [otherwise unidentified], and from there I returned to the previous hiding place in the basement.

After we were caught by the Germans, my mother said words I'll never forget: “My dear children: I gave you the best I could. Save yourselves.”

I felt it was now possible to move without getting hurt. I decided to find out if my father remained alive, but Moshe-Purka [or Moshe-Furka or Masha-Purka, the name is obscure], who I met during my search, told me they'd killed him next to the bathhouse. When night fell, I went up in the attic of Rivel Milutin, where many Jews were gathered. I met a Jew named Schiff, a wealthy man who'd fled from Dvinsk [42 kilometers northwest of Braslav] and sought a way to get out of Braslav. In talking to villagers in the area, he'd made an agreement with one of the Gentiles: If something bad happened, Schiff would go to the villager and the villager would hide him. The problem was that Schiff didn't know the way to the villager's house. The place where he'd met the Gentile was in Balshnitzuvka's cellar, which served as a storeroom for drying seeds. I knew the place. During the night we succeeded in reaching it, but the Gentile wasn't there. We waited an entire day, but he didn't come. Then I said, “There's only one thing to do --- let's go in the direction of Opsa [18 kilometers southwest of Braslav] and Vidz [Widze].” With no other choice, we started out toward evening. On the way I met a policeman with his bride, who I'd studied with at school. She knew me, but we didn't exchange a word. At midnight we arrived in Opsa without any problems. In the first house we saw a couple sitting and smoking a cigarette; we approached and asked them to take us to the ghetto. I knew that the police were located in the middle of Opsa and the ghetto was on the other side, but I didn't know the way there. The man we approached was a policeman, and he asked me for money in exchange for taking us there. We entered the ghetto using a back road. In the Opsa Ghetto, little by little, people from Braslav who'd survived began to gather.[2] That's how Sasha Tempelman arrived with his wife and son.

We decided not to stay in Opsa, but to move on to Vidz [22 kilometers southwest of Opsa]. One night we gathered, about 10 people, and started out toward Vidz. It began to rain, and we took the wrong road. All night we looked for the right road; we were soaked to our bones. We decided to wait until morning to see where we were; we'd check the road during the day and go at night. We discovered we were next to the holding of a landlord who Sasha Tempelman knew. This man gave us food. We waited for night to come. Suddenly, we saw a group of people. We learned they were Jews who'd come from the Vidz Ghetto to cut trees. In this way, we reached the Vidz Ghetto.[3] Leibka Tvoretzki went with me; he was a resident of Vidz and took me to his house. There was great joy when Leibka returned to the house alive. And so my life in the Vidz Ghetto began. The Judenrat there took care of people who arrived with nothing at all, and so I received food.

Bit by bit, people from Braslav arrived. I stayed in Vidz for a very short time. The decrees of the Germans, who demanded workers for Podbrodz [Pabrade, 72 kilometers southwest of Vidz and in Lithuania], arrived also in this ghetto. It was the end of the summer [1942]. Workers were demanded for labor at a sawmill. From 20 young men, all of them refugees from Braslav, there were six of us who knew each other: Moshe Milutin, Chaim Burat, Borka [Boris] Ulman, Mulka [Shmuel] Maron, Itzka [Yitzchak] Reichel and me.[4] The Judenrat gave us some money, and we went out to work. We decided that all of us would live as a commune. We found a work camp of Jews from Vilna [Podbrodz was about 45 kilometers northeast of Vilna]. The food was scarce, but they allowed us to go out on Sundays to the villages to ask for food. The one responsible for us to the Germans was a Jew named Margolis, and this

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was useful to us. From the Gentiles we received a slice of bread, a bit of meat, and so we didn't feel hunger.

Older Germans guarded us. They'd served during World War I and remembered the local towns. I can't say they were bad men. About them, it could still be said they treated us decently. They simply fulfilled their tasks.

From Podbrodz we were transferred to Duksht [Dukstas, about 75 kilometers to the northeast and in Lithuania], because the German who was responsible for us bought a sawmill for himself and he needed workers. Most of the labor was preparing ties for railroad tracks.

We lived in a Jewish house and there we were between 30-40 people, men and women, mostly young. Living here also was the family of a professional, an expert on wood from Sventzion, the Kobruski family.

Winter. At night, it was cold. I felt very bad and didn't go to work until they forced me to. They set a norm for us: the amount of wood that we had to saw by hand. My feet froze. I said to myself, “I won't continue to work, no matter what.” I approached the stove. A Jew, whose name I don't remember, said if I sat next to the stove my condition would get worse. Already I couldn't walk. With difficulty, I took off my boots and saw that my toes were white from the cold.

The next day I went to the doctor and asked for an acknowledgment that I was unable to work. The doctor said to me, “Do you want me to put my own head at risk for your sake?” He had a calendar in which he recorded the condition of health of everyone who was sick, whether he needed to rest or not.

When I stood up to leave, the doctor called me and wrote in his calendar that I was unable to work. I remained in the camp and of course I tried to carry out jobs, as far as I was able. In the house I rubbed coal on my feet, so they'd think my condition was worse than it was. All this I did after receiving information that my uncle, who'd been in the Vidz Ghetto, was now near Nementchin [in Lithuania] in the forest, and it was good there. This intrigued me, and I wanted very much to go to him. My uncle sent me a small amount of money and a letter. I understood he wanted me to come to him.

I was freed from the camp. I traveled from Duksht to the Sventzion Ghetto [about 50 kilometers to the south and in Lithuania], and from there I began to search for roads in the direction of Nementchin [about 60 kilometers southwest of Sventzion]. Two girls who worked in Podbrodz came to the place, with a note that allowed them to go out and return. One of them decided to stay there. I received her permission slip, and with it I succeeded in reaching Podbrodz. From there, on a market day, I went out and kept walking until I reached my uncle.

I came to him toward January [1943]. I arrived and found him in a lone house in the forest with a group of about 15 people, who were accustomed to go out every day to cut down trees. There was plenty of food, and life there was pretty normal (insofar as it was possible to call this kind of life normal). We weren't under surveillance, and there was one man who was responsible to the authorities. He told us where to go, but that was all. They took me into their group and thought that in the forest they'd be able to overcome all the problems. They also had freedom to visit the ghetto. The situation in the camp was so good that it even had tailors who sewed; they received money, which they shared. Part of it they gave to the supervisor and part they took for themselves. There were plenty of potatoes in the area, as well as bread.

To my great dismay, this situation didn't continue for long. In March 1943, an order was given to kill all the Jews who remained alive. This ended the delusion. Everyone who was able to flee ran away. The day before the tragedy, two Lithuanians arrived and told us that the Jews had been gathered in wagons and taken to Ponar [Ponary, on April 5, 1943]. I fled with Mendel Vishkin, not knowing where we were going. Surprisingly, I met my cousin Itzka Reichel, who'd fled from Duksht. I'd written a postcard to him in which I pointed out in Polish that the area and the people

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were good. But unfortunately I couldn't take him with me, since I myself was going with a man who was helping me. This was a tailor who knew how to sew furs. A Gentile told his friend that there was a man who knew how to sew, and so both of us sewed furs for the Gentile. In exchange, we received food and a place to sleep. But this too passed very quickly. The tailor left me, and I remained alone.

I'd like to tell of two dreams I had when I was with my cousin during the German occupation: I was sleeping in the attic of a bathhouse. I dreamed my mother came and said to me, “Get up! The ceiling's about to collapse!” Before I managed to jump from the attic, the ceiling indeed collapsed. The second dream: I was sleeping in a granary. My mother woke me: “Get up, run away! Germans are in the village.” Waking, I heard the shouting of Germans. In the darkness of night, I fled into the forest. And indeed, they'd come to search for Jews.

My Gentile became deathly afraid that they'd find me. When I told him what had happened to me, he crossed himself and said, “Your mother's watching over you, and you'll surely stay alive. I was certain they'd find you in the place where you were hiding.”

This was the period in which Jews began organizing with weapons, with the aim of self-defense. There was no link between them and the partisans. Among them was Itzka Shur, who was the fear of the Gentiles (he and his entire family remained alive).

Mendel [Vishkin?], who was with me, joined this group. He was killed in one of the attacks on them. Among the men of the group were Zuska, Shepska, Zamka Levin, Mendka Vishkin and Itzka Shur. I wasn't accepted into the group; I had no weapon. So I began to wander from Gentile to Gentile. I knew a farmer who allowed me to work for him, hard labor from dark to dark; I learned to plow, to harvest. The residents were surprised that a Jew knew how to plow and to harvest. I'd learned this when visiting my grandfather [Gershon Vishkin] in Dubina [16 kilometers northwest of Braslav]. The fact that I knew how to plow and harvest gave me happiness. This might be one of the reasons I remained alive.

Occasionally, the farmer I stayed with would send me away from his house, because he was afraid my presence would become known. The question always arose: Where to go? I knew another farmer, who kept me for one day and night, then sent me away. So I wandered from place to place.

One day a Jewish man came and told me that partisans had arrived and asked him for water. They said they'd come to organize a group of partisans, because they'd heard of a group of Jews who were interested in fighting the Germans. (This was the group that hadn't allowed me to join them.) I took them to the group's hiding place. But here, I made the biggest mistake of my life: I didn't join the partisans, because I felt an obligation toward the farmer who was keeping me. It was harvest time. The man, Bronislav Rymkievitz [Bronislaw Rymkiewicz] was his name, helped me so much; he put his life in danger and kept me --- how could I, at a time when I needed him so much, get up and leave? If he'd wanted to, this Gentile could have gotten several good kilograms of salt --- a commodity then in great demand --- in exchange for my head. In any case, the two groups met; and together they went to the partisans, to whom I also sent my cousin, Itzka Reichel.

I hoped that within two months I'd join them. But when I arrived at the place where they'd been (I knew the exact place), they told me if I wanted to join I had to bring a weapon. I had no weapon, nor any chance of getting one. Again I remained alone, with no opportunity of joining the partisans, so I returned to the Gentile. Unfortunately, I was unable to stay

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with him either, because then the Polish partisans[5] began to arrive, and they were worse than the Germans. The Gentile was afraid of them; I lost on both counts.

Several Jews organized themselves; we dug a pit in the forest and stayed there. One day, I fell ill and went to talk to the farmer. I'd begun to suffer from an ulcer; because of this, sometimes there were strong attacks of pain. The farmer's wife felt pity for me and gave me sour milk to drink. There was a doctor in the area; I went to him one night and told him I was a Jew and I was suffering from ulcer attacks. From him I received some bicarbonate of soda. I went back to the farmer's wife, and again she gave me sour milk and a bed to lie in. The farmer's family behaved decently to me, so did the children and even the neighbors. They knew I was a Jew. In that same village, there was another family of Gentiles who hid a Jew. I became friends with many of the residents and was accustomed to walking around freely during the daylight hours. More than once the Gentiles asked, “Why are you wandering around freely in the afternoon?” I'm convinced the reason they hid me wasn't out of pity but because I was a good worker and my work was done for free, without payment. In exchange they gave me only food and a place to sleep.

One day, I went to a Gentile woman when I was suffering from some pain. Suddenly, I heard an explosion. I fled back to the forest. I found a ditch, one where I'd used to hide with a woman and her 25-year-old son; the mother had looked like a typical Russian. Later I learned that one day the son had gone to the village to ask for food and met people he thought were partisans. They asked him, “Where are you from?” It became clear that they were Ukrainians who'd been sent by the Germans to search for Jews. [At some point, they must've followed the son back to his hiding place in the ditch.] They threw a grenade into the ditch, where, in addition to the mother and son, four other people were hiding [this was the explosion heard before]. One was killed; two were wounded. One little boy, age 6, remained alive. They took the 25-year-old to Podbrodz; the mother was wounded in her finger. Two other women were taken from the ditch. It was my luck that I'd been at the Gentile's house, and so I remained alive. A good friend of mine, Zalman from Plusa [Plusy, 21 kilometers north of Braslav], was also there.

After that, we organized ourselves, nine people. We dug another pit in the same area and organized a new life. The difficult problem of food arose. The [other] people were wounded, so the burden of finding food was placed on me and Zalman. There was no choice but to enter the [peasants'] pits for storing potatoes and steal some of them. In this place too, we didn't stay long. In the pit we spent the winter of 1943-44, a hard, hungry time. Once a day, we ate a potato and a slice of bread. We got through the winter despite the terrible cold. There were lice and indescribable crowding; we'd press close to each other to get warm. From time to time, I'd go to my Gentile and ask him to let us wash ourselves in his bathhouse. There I caught a skin disease; my entire body became covered with wounds, and I had no medicine. Fortunately for me, I once visited a Gentile family and they caught the disease from me. After the entire family was examined, they traveled to Vilna and brought back some medicine. With this, I was able to treat my own illness. And so, after some hard suffering, I recovered.

In the spring of 1944, when the snow began to melt and the first flowers were seen, Polish partisans attacked the nine of us and killed eight people; I was the only one who remained alive. They surrounded the pit and drove us out into an open field. I saw a fence and a nursery for plants on the other side. I hid behind a bush, jumped over the fence and passed through a plowed field. My clothing was thin, and my shoes weren't at all useful. I'd made shoes for myself out of wood. For some reason, that morning I hadn't wrapped my feet in rags (I had no socks), and so I ran with my wooden shoes, with a Pole chasing after me. Fortunately,

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it seems he didn't have enough bullets. The chase continued for two kilometers. I left the field and ran toward the forest, where there was a trench. I don't understand how I was able to jump over it. Then I entered the forest, not knowing where I was going.

Suddenly, I thought I was in the place where the Polish [partisan] headquarters were located. I had no choice but to turn back. Hearing the hoof-beats of a horse, I hid behind a tree. I saw the rider was a Gentile by the name of Shidlovski, one of the officers of the A.K. [Armia Krajowa] (the nationalist anti-Semites), who I'd met in the past through my uncle. I walked up to him, stopped him and said, “Mr. Shidlovski, look what they've done to us!” He asked if I knew which unit had blown up the pit where I'd been hiding, and said he couldn't give me much help. But he added, “There's a green roof over your head, the trees are blooming, the forest is the best place to hide.” He suggested I leave the area. I had nowhere to go. That night, I slept in the forest.

Toward morning I went back to the pit, to get some bread. I walked in the direction of the place where they'd chased us, and saw the dead: Among them were a boy and two young girls from Podbrodz, who lay there for a few days until the local priest asked that they be brought to burial. The cruelty of the Gentiles should be pointed out here. Without any embarrassment, they undressed the girls and took their clothes.

I kept walking. I entered a house I hadn't visited before and asked for some water. This house was next to the forest. In it was a Gentile woman with two small daughters who offered me a place to sit and served me water and food. She asked if I'd heard about the Jews who'd just been killed, and I told her I was one of the survivors. She'd identified me immediately as a Jew, it wasn't hard. At this time I'd begun to grow a beard, and when I saw myself in a mirror I grew alarmed. At this place, I received some shaving articles. The woman didn't ask me to leave, so I decided to stay, which I did until evening. In the evening, guests arrived. She set the table with food and drink and sat me down among the diners. I remained calm. I stayed there until dawn, and the woman offered me a bed to sleep in. The next day, after all the guests had left, I asked if I could work for her. I was sent to the granary to cut hay with a hand-operated machine and to chop wood. The woman told me her husband had been arrested by the Germans, but she didn't know the reason.

This Gentile woman hid me for close to a month. Her name was Lavusia. In her house there was a potato storage pit; there she placed a board and told me that if I felt danger approaching I should enter it and hide. She told me she had an elderly mother who'd been staying for a month in succession with her sister and then a month with her. During the month that the mother was at the sister's, I could stay with her. As fate would have it, the elderly mother passed away in the sister's house before the month was over. It seemed to me that the woman kept me out of pity. She also told me that four Jews were hiding at her sister's house. She went and told her sister that she too had a Jew hiding in her house, who was the only survivor of the group that had been killed in the [recent] chase and was known throughout the village.

Eventually the fact that I was in her house reached the ears of unwanted people. The good woman began to worry about her own life and mine, but she didn't know how to tell me we were in danger. She knew that if I left her, my situation would get worse. I understood her anxieties, and one night I left her house.

I knew there were Jews in the area; earlier they'd asked me to join them. These were Shachna Yavich, Elka Krol, Meir Nisan and Nitka Epshtein, who lived in a pit they'd made and hidden in; they'd also installed a stove for cooking and heating. I joined them and helped them obtain food, mainly

[Page 153]

potatoes, which I took from the [peasants'] storage pits.

One day, when we were all away, Polish partisans, who we feared as much as the Germans, “visited” us. This was apparently the result of a denunciation by one of the villagers. When we returned, a Gentile friend told us, “It's a miracle you weren't here” and advised us to leave. That same night, he took us to the other side of the river.

We couldn't all stay together, so we separated. Three of us went to acquaintances, while Meir Nisan, who was elderly, and I continued together, directionless. In the course of our wanderings Meir found a Gentile acquaintance, a poor but good man, and he promised to help us. In a certain place he prepared potatoes, half a loaf of bread and a pot of sour milk. We hid in the forest, and once a week we went to take the food that he prepared for us without any compensation.

One day, when we were preparing to go to take our weekly portion, we heard gunshots. The next day, gunshots again. We knew that in the forest there was a road on which heavy wagons passed, but we didn't know what had caused the shooting. For two or three days, we remained without any food. On the fifth day, I said to Meir Nisan, “Come, let's go. I'd rather die from a bullet than die of hunger.” At night, when we decided to go out, we heard the sound of an orchestra from the neighboring village. Meir Nisan said to me, “Look how organized the German army is. They go out to battle with music.” I recognized the tune, a well-known Russian song.

We continued past the swamp and reached the Gentile's house. Meir Nisan said to me, “You go in, I'm hard of hearing.” I said to him, “So be it, I'll enter. If we're to be killed, I'll be first.” Quietly I went inside. From the forest, one could hear the mooing of cows and the snoring of pigs; maybe the Gentiles were in the forest. A dog began to bark, and the woman of the house came out. I asked her, “Where are the Polish partisans?” and she replied, “They went to the dogs,” a Polish expression. I asked, “What's happening here? Where's the front?” “What are you talking about? It's already five days since liberation!!!” [The region was liberated around July 1944.]

I ran to tell my friend. Meir Nisan saw me running toward him, and he too started running. I couldn't say even a word. I reached him and told him we were free. It's hard to describe our joy. But then the questions began: Where's my family? Was anyone still alive? And Meir Nisan asked, “Where are my wife and children?”

When the sun came up, we lit a huge bonfire. We undressed and cleaned our clothes. Later, we set out on the road.

I went to the house of the Gentile where I'd hidden for a long time, and asked him to prepare a place where I could wash. I must mention what an emotional encounter this was, as if his family were members of my own. His woman cried and said it was hard for her to believe I was still alive. Several days had passed since liberation and she'd worried: How could it be that I'd survived and not returned to them? I told her all that had happened to me. I'd left a pair of underwear in their house, in case I survived.

After taking a shower, we continued on the road. We arrived in Podbrodz. It looked like the aftermath of destruction: deserted houses; there were no Jews. Meir Nisan entered his house and found a Gentile living there. I searched and met a group that I knew.

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I met Meir Nisan a number of times after that. He married for the second time, and he and this wife had a daughter. When he passed away in Russia, he commanded his daughter and wife to go on aliyah to the Land of Israel, and this they did.

I remained with the group that I'd met. I filed a request to be drafted into the police, but was rejected because of my young age. So I decided to join the NKVD,[6] but they said I should wait until they needed me. After that, I learned that my cousin Itzka Reichel was alive and in Sventzion. I traveled there and met groups of acquaintances from the partisans.

And so I joined those working for the NKVD in Sventzion. We worked in the prison, and from there they transferred us to Vilna [80 kilometers southwest of Sventzion], to another prison. There I stayed for nearly two years.

After the war, before moving to Vilna I traveled to Braslav [about 165 kilometers northeast of Vilna], and there I found destruction. There were a number of Jews there who'd survived [and returned]. They began to prepare lists of those who remained alive. In this regard I must mention Zusman Lubovitz, who kept an exact diary of everyone who remained alive.

In Braslav, I learned that my sister Slova had survived and was living in Russia. I received a letter from her. I also found a letter from my cousins Miriam and Asher Reichel.

I went to the graves [in Braslav] to pour out the bitterness of my heart. I returned to Sventzion but at every opportunity I returned to Braslav, to visit the graves of those who'd perished.

In 1946, I moved to Poland. There I met Moshe Bogomolski. I regret I wasn't able to keep a diary, I would've been able to describe things in more detail.

After liberation the desire of every Jew was to leave the land soaked with Jewish blood and go to the Land of Israel, and so I came to the Land on the ship of illegal immigration HaMapil HaAlmoni (The Unknown Immigrant).[7] Near its shores, the ship was seized by the British and we were sent to Cyprus [in 1947].

In Cyprus I met my wife [to be], Reizeleh and, together with her, in 1948 we arrived in the Land of Israel and set up our home there. I raised three children: Sara, Yaacov and Avia, and I even merited grandchildren.

In my mind, I feel the fear to this day. The sights and horrors will stay with me all my life.

 

Footnotes
  1. This refers to Chaim Maron (the father of Masha Maron), not to Chaim-Aizik Maron (the father of Mendel Maron). The account of Masha Maron and Mendel Maron, on pages 72-79 of this memorial book, touches on some of the events described here by Mr. Vishkin. Return
  2. So far as is known, there was a ghetto in Opsa until at least July 1942, containing some 300 people, according to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume, II-B (2012). Subsequently, in August or September 1942, some 50 of its inmates were transferred to the ghetto in Braslav, to repopulate that ghetto because its inmates had been slaughtered on June 3-5, 1942, as described in Mr. Vishkin's account.

    Because the members of the second, new ghetto in Braslav were from Opsa, the second Braslav Ghetto would also be called the “Opsa” Ghetto. It would be liquidated on March 19, 1943. Return

  3. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume, II-B, the Vidz Ghetto had been formed in early 1942. Jews from elsewhere were also brought into Vidz: from Drisviati (Dryswiaty), Druysk (Drujsk), Opsa, Dubina (Dubene), Kozian (Koziany), Ignalina (Ignalino) and Sventzion (Swieciany). Conditions in the ghetto were poor, and a number of the inmates, especially the elderly, died of weakness and disease. (The four women from Dubina whose accounts are on pages 369-388 and pages 390-392 of this memorial book were taken out of the Vidz Ghetto in 1942 to do forced labor elsewhere, and in this way, after suffering terrible privation, they survived the war.)

    Sometime around October 1942, most of the Jews in the Vidz Ghetto were transferred to the Sventzion Ghetto, about 45 kilometers southwest of Vidz and in Lithuania. Only about 80 Jews (craftsmen and their families) remained in Vidz at this time, but later they too were sent to Sventzion. As described on page 283 of this memorial book, the majority of the Jews in the Sventzion Ghetto were eventually taken to Ponar outside Vilna and murdered on April 5, 1943. Return

  4. The account of Moshe Milutin is on pages 227-233 of this memorial book, that of Chaim Burat is on pages 288-292, that of Boris Ulman is on pages 143-144, and that of Yitzchak Reichel is on pages 258-262. Return
  5. Later in Mr. Vishkin's account, it becomes clear that these were members of the anti-Communist Armia Krajowa (Polish Home Army), which had begun to enter the area from the west by 1943, if not earlier. Sources on wartime partisan activity in the region, such as Allan Levine's Fugitives of the Forest (1998) and Yitzhak Arad's memoir The Partisan (1979), mention skirmishes and bloodshed between the AK partisan groups and the Soviet and Jewish partisan groups, even as each of them individually battled the Nazis. In part, this was due to deteriorating relations between the Polish government in exile and the Soviets, who had broken off relations in April 1943. 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 also carried out mass deportations and mass extrajudicial executions and administered the gulag system of forced labor camps. Return
  7. This ship, with approximately 800 passengers, departed from southern France on February 3, 1947, bound for Palestine. On February 17 it was intercepted by British ships, captured after a struggle and towed to Cyprus. Return


[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:

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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

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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

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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.

[Page 162]

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

[Page 163]

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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