Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch
My name is Chana Lubovitz, of the Munitz family, the daughter of Rafael-Yaacov and Sheitel. There were eight children: four sons and four daughters. The family was very close; our home emphasized brotherhood, peace and respect.
During World War I, when the army of the German Kaiser approached our country, we moved deep into Russia, arriving as refugees in the city of Kerch, on the Crimean peninsula. I was then five years old. Economically our situation was good, until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, which didn't bring us a blessing. Apart from material shortages [in the Crimea], many hardships and troubles passed over us: pogroms, bombardment and the like.
My father, who was learned and erudite, taught Hebrew and prepared young people for aliyah to the Land of Israel. We, the children, studied at a Russian school. Our older brothers and sisters worked and helped to support the family. In 1921 we received permission to return to Poland, but my oldest sister and my big brother remained in Russia, because he was called to serve in the Red Army, together with my sister's husband.
The trip home from the Crimea took more than half a year, due to bureaucratic procedures. At that time, our town was already under Polish rule. First the authorities put us in Minsk [about 195 kilometers south of Braslav/Braslaw], in Belorussia, settling us in a deserted building that had been a synagogue. The conditions were uncomfortable; we suffered from cold and hunger. Father was teaching in the cheder [Hebrew primary school], and our situation was difficult.
In the spring of 1922, we received permission to return home [to Braslav]. Fortunately we found relatives of my mother there, who helped us with arrangements. Father opened a small store, and we began a new life. After some time, a Yavneh school was established in the town and father received a position there as a teacher of the Tanach [Hebrew Bible] and Jewish studies.
Our mother passed away in 1929 after a serious illness, and the responsibility of maintaining and managing the household fell on me. My brother Chaim and my sister Matla, the young ones, studied in Vilna in the Yiddish Teachers' Seminary. Later, our youngest brother Boris (Baruch) also traveled there to learn locksmithing.
In 1932, I married Zusman Lubovitz. We opened our own business and lived
in my father's house. In 1936 our oldest son, Arieh, was born, and in 1939 our second son Moshe was born. My brother and sister finished their studies as teachers, returned to Braslav, and began to teach in the popular Yiddish school. After a number of years, my brother Chaim traveled to Vilna and was received as an aspirant at the YIVO (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut --- The Yiddish Scientific Institute), where he worked until World War II broke out.
When the war broke out [in September 1939], our brother Baruch was drafted into the army. After that, we don't know what happened to him. In [September] 1939, the Russians entered the town. Our situation grew worse. Our business was confiscated. The Soviet authorities didn't permit ownership of private businesses, and we remained without a source of income. Studies of Judaism and the Hebrew language were forbidden, and father was denied the right to teach at school. This hurt him greatly. He also worried about being exiled to Siberia, because he was known to be an enthusiastic lover of Zion. All these things influenced father's physical and spiritual condition. One day in April 1940, he had a heart attack and passed away.
For us, this was a hard blow. Our father was also our teacher, counselor and friend. When he passed away, our world grew dark.
But life went on. We had to overcome the difficulties and contend with the problems. My brother Chaim, who'd returned from Vilna with his wife, and my sister Matla continued to teach in the school [in Braslav]. Zusman, my husband, received a job with the Soviets and our economic situation improved.
On Sunday, June 22, 1941, we heard on the radio that the Nazi oppressor had started a war against Russia. We wondered what kind of treatment we could expect from the Nazi soldiers.
By the day after the German invasion, the Soviet army had already begun to withdraw. Full of despair and lacking sound advice about what to do, we watched them leave and waited fearfully for what would come. Many Jews also left with the army. We were taking care of small children, so we remained where we were.
After three days, the Germans entered the town. We already knew that they'd passed through Latvia and destroyed [sic] the Jews of Riga and Dvinsk. On Friday [June 27], we received an order to gather at the center of town and leave our homes open. We thought our end had come. We gathered with the entire Jewish population in the town center, with the children at our sides. They arranged us in rows, men alone, women and children alone, and brought us under heavy guard to the Dubki [Dubkes] forest. On the way, the first sacrifices fell: the shochet [ritual slaughterer] Shlomo [Zilber], my sister's brother-in-law, and a young lad, Chaim Milutin. The Germans shot them on the excuse that they tried to flee. Tired, dejected and hungry, we arrived at a place of deep swamps in the forest. They ordered us to sit and not move. We were surrounded by Germans, with their weapons aimed at us. We were sure they'd kill us.
We sat all night, together with the children. Not a single one cried; it was as if we'd turned to stone. At dawn, they ordered us to get up and go home. We ran home and found total chaos: Everything was broken and turned upside down. The Germans had given permission to the Christian population to rob and steal our possessions. But we weren't especially embittered: The robbery and looting were unimportant in comparison with our remaining alive.
And then the decrees began. First, they ordered us to choose a Judenrat [Jewish Council] of 12 men, who would represent us. We chose this committee from the town's dignitaries. At its head stood Mr. [Yitzchak] Mindel. My brother Chaim was appointed secretary, and the members
of the Judenrat who were chosen that I remember were [Gershon] Klioner, the teacher [Eliezer] Mazeh, [Hirsh] Fridman and others.
We were asked to pay a bribe of gold. Everyone gave his possessions. Likewise, we had to hand over fur coats and many valuables and expensive items. We were taken to various jobs, women and men alike. At this time, we still lived in our house and were free to move around. We had connections with the local population, and we could get food in exchange for possessions and clothing.
My husband, Zusman, was registered as a carpenter and worked in carpentry. A large group of men worked at the train station loading logs onto freight cars. One day, 13 men didn't return from the train station. The Germans killed them because a Pole denounced them, saying they were careless in their work. Among those murdered was my brother-in-law, Yitzchak Blacher. My sister [Batia], now a widow, and her two children moved in to live with us.
At that time, it was decreed that we had to wear the yellow patch, and we were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks. Ten months after entering the town, the Germans established the ghetto [formally, on April 1, 1942].
The ghetto was located on the main street, Pilsudski Street, and Jews from nearby towns were also put there. The crowding was terrible. And so in our three-room apartment, which was inside the ghetto, four families crowded together. We, my sister Batia with her two children, my brother Chaim, his wife and their baby, and relatives of the family from Druysk [about 19 kilometers northeast of Braslav], Rachel and Michael Tzipuk and their two daughters, who were sent to our ghetto. My youngest sister, Matla, and her family moved to live in the hotel where our aunts lived, which also was populated by many Jewish families. It was very hard to bear all this, but 70 times worse was the disconnection from the outside world, because it was forbidden for us to go out and obtain food.
We began to think about escaping, self-defense and ways to fight the Germans. Zusman and a few of his friends tried to obtain weapons. When the Judenrat found out, they objected and argued that this would harm everyone. At the time, we already knew that many settlements and towns had been destroyed by the Nazis. Judging that each day was bringing us closer to our end, we decided to prepare hiding places, to hide the families at a time of calamity.
In the yard of my grandfather, Avraham-Hirsh Bik, there was a granary. It was built on foundations of stone. We took out several stones, dug very deep and built a large bunker that could serve us when the time came.
As mentioned, the crowding in the ghetto was terrible. Several families were forced to live in an apartment or even in one room. Despite this, we tried as much as possible to live an ordinary life, to keep clean, bathe frequently and so on. In this way, illnesses and epidemics were prevented. But cultural activities weren't possible at all.
In the ghetto, in accordance with German directives, a Jewish police force was organized to keep order, prevent people from leaving the ghetto, and ensure that all the German commands were carried out exactly. In general, the Jewish police behaved tolerably and tried to help as best they could, but there were those who thought it would be better for them if they treated us strictly.
Occasionally Germans would come to our house, to order crates for packages that they would then send to their country. Sometimes we received a bit of food in payment. I don't remember much about our life in the ghetto; it all became foggy over time and was forgotten. But the ghetto's bitter end will never be erased from my memory.
Several days [sic] before the massacre, we learned that the Miory Ghetto had been destroyed [on June 2]. We knew our end was near, because no
ghettos remained [nearby], except for the ghettos of Gleboki [Glubokoye, about 70 kilometers southeast of Braslav] and Druya [about 34 kilometers northeast of Braslav]. Toward evening [of June 2], before the destruction of our ghetto, various rumors spread. A feeling of despair, helplessness and fear surrounded us all. We began to prepare to save ourselves.
That day, I baked bread. Every family began to quietly enter the hiding place that had been prepared. Zusman's father came to say goodbye, and even though Zusman asked him to enter the hiding place with us, he refused, saying he no longer wished to live and couldn't bear to see us suffer. He kissed us all and quietly left the house. His last words were that we should try to stay alive and take revenge on the oppressor. He returned to his house and waited for the Germans to come for him.
By nightfall, all of us were in the hiding place. Many acquaintances and neighbors also joined us. We were about 70 people. We heard what was being done outside [starting early on June 3]. Every so often, we heard shooting and the shouts of people and the German soldiers. It was very hard to calm the children, but we did everything so that their voices wouldn't be heard.
During the second night, several men went out to get water. The amount of water that I'd prepared wasn't enough, and we hadn't managed to bring the bread that I baked down into the hiding place. In my grandfather's cellar, there was ice; we used that instead of water.
We stayed in the hiding place for five days, until the Germans found us. [By this time] we knew that of all the Jews in the town. only about 500 people remained alive. They and we were found, apparently, because of slander or because people's voices were heard coming from the hiding place. The Germans approached the entrance and told us that if we didn't come out willingly they'd throw grenades inside. There was no choice left for us. We came out exhausted, broken and indifferent to our fate. My brother Chaim emerged with no strength, troubled and in pain, leaving behind his little son Rafulik [Rafael], who had died. My husband, Zusman, tried to encourage us and said that we shouldn't lose hope. They gathered us all in the Judenrat building and kept us under heavy guard. We lay on the floor. Our hearts were torn inside us when we saw our young children suffering. We received almost no food. Some of the men were taken for various kinds of labor.
Our relatives from the Tzipuk family, who'd been moved to the ghetto [from Druysk], divided their possessions among villagers they knew, advising us to try to escape and reach one of the villagers. All of the villagers promised to help in time of need. But they set conditions: that we all not go out together and that we leave the small children. I objected to leaving without my small son. My sister Batia, whose husband [Yitzchak Blacher] had already been killed, said that there was no reason for her to live and she'd stay there with her small daughter. She asked only that we take her son, Shaul, with us.
My younger sister [Matla] was in the ninth month of her pregnancy, and she didn't agree to escape. My brother Chaim also refused, saying there was no longer a reason for him to live. With a heavy heart and with fear about the fate of those who were staying, Zusman and I decided to leave together, and with us our son Arieh; my sister's son, Shaul; my aunt's daughter; her husband and their daughters. About 10 more people joined us. When this became known to the others who were being held with us in the room, they told us they wouldn't allow us to leave. They were worried that the Germans would kill them if we escaped. Their reasoning didn't convince us, because the Germans didn't know the exact number of people who were there. Besides, we thought that if we stayed there we'd die, even though some Jews believed the Germans would keep them alive because they were needed for work. Our son Arieh, who was six years old, said, Father, come, let's escape from here, I don't want the Germans to kill us.
The next night we tried once more to go out, and this time, with the help of a bribe to the guards, we succeeded [in escaping the Judenrat building and Braslav]. I left with
a broken heart and without hope; I'd left behind my little son Moshele there, and a large part of my family.
My sister Batia told me to leave and save my son and hers and, if we succeeded, we should come back to rescue them. They'd try to do everything to be saved, and if not --- at least we'd remain alive. We thought we'd be able to rescue them; the villager [outside Braslav] who we reached promised to travel to Braslav and try to bring them back. Toward morning, we heard shooting from the direction of the town. This told us that our dear ones were no more. All day we stayed in the villager's attic and cried. Shaul, who was eight years old, wept bitterly when he learned what had happened.
Of all the eight children [of my parents], only I remained alive. Sometimes the thought gnaws at me: Why did I alone, of all my family, merit life? My sister who remained in Russia after World War I was killed in the Crimea. My oldest brother [who also remained in Russia] managed to flee with his family to Kazakhstan [when the war broke out] and died there a few years later. This we learned after the liberation [in 1944], when we returned to Braslav.
After the flight from Braslav, a period began of wandering from place to place. The first village we reached was very small; its name was Kropishki [probably Kropiszki, about 16 kilometers northeast of Braslav]. It included only a few houses, distant from each other. This helped us, because there were few people and the farmer's neighbors didn't know a thing about us. Ten people arrived at the farmer's house: the four of us; four of our relatives [presumably the Tzipuk family]; Yisrael Kort, the husband of my sister Matla; and his sister's husband from Warsaw, a teacher by profession.
The name of the farmer where we were guests was Benedikt Shakiel. He lived here with his adult son and daughter. The son became a faithful friend to us, and he had a large part in our rescue. Thanks to him, apparently, we remained alive. Benedikt himself was a hard, unpleasant man. He sheltered us only because of the money our relatives paid him. But he was an honest man, and we could rely on him.
After staying with him for several days, my brother-in-law Yisrael Kort left us. He was sure he'd find a hiding place with other farmers in the vicinity, who he'd traded with before the war. He left us, and we didn't see him again. Later we learned that he'd been caught and killed.
We stayed with Benedikt for two months. Despite the scarce food and difficult living conditions, we were satisfied; we had a place to stay. But after two months, Benedikt told us a rumor was circulating in the area that he was hiding Jews, and he said we had to look for another place.
Our relatives had a lot of property, which they divided among farmers in the area. They found another acquaintance who agreed to hide us for a limited time. We lived alternately in the attic, the granary and the pigpen. In this way, we changed places and wandered from village to village. Once we --- 17 people --- stayed with a farmer; it was good for us there, but we couldn't stay for long. If they'd found us, they would've killed him too.
We went out toward evening, not knowing where to turn. Snow began to fall, and with difficulty we arrived at a large forest. We stayed there for an entire day, and in the evening we went out on the road again, looking for a place to stay. We parted from the other people and our relatives again took us to an acquaintance, who hid us without much willingness. He prepared a hiding place for us under the stable, small and narrow, where we lay close to each other. This farmer was very hard. He told us frankly that it wasn't worth it for us to exert ourselves; sooner or later, we'd be killed. After arguing about the payment, he agreed to hide us for just a very short time, in return for merchandise
that our relatives gave him: skins for boots and various other products.
Some time later, we parted from our relatives. The situation had become difficult; there was now nothing to pay the farmers. We didn't know where to turn to or to whom, and we returned again to Benedikt in the hope that he'd shelter receive us. He refused. Even the pleas of his son Stanislav didn't help. We had no choice; we went out in the field and lay down under the bushes, covered with rags. Stanislav, who knew where we were, would bring us a bit of food and tell us what was happening at the front. He was a wonderful lad; he wanted very much to help us, but his father didn't allow it.
We searched for other places. Once we found shelter with a farmer we didn't know. He was a good man, a Starovery (Old Believer). But we had to leave him after a few days; somebody had noticed us. It was a holiday, Sunday, and all the Gentiles in the vicinity were celebrating.
The farmer told us that in a little while the enemy would come to take us, and Zusman suggested that meanwhile we eat the bread and cereal that the Gentile cooked for us. I looked at him as if he were crazy. In a little while they'll take us away to kill us, and he thinks about food! It began to get dark, but nobody came. The farmer took us out and went with us through fields and bushes; we kept walking, without knowing the destination. We reached a field of tall wheat, with many ditches in it, laid down in the tall wheat. At night, Zusman would go out to search for food. Sometimes the children accompanied him, and when they returned, with a bit of vegetables such as peas and radishes, for them it was a celebration. They'd also go to Stanislav, and he sometimes gave them a bit of bread or some potatoes. It was difficult to obtain drinking water. Sometimes we remained without water for days.
The children didn't complain even once. They'd lie there quietly and talk to one another. Sometimes it would rain, and we'd be wet through to our bones. We became dry again only when the sun came out. For nearly half a year, we lay there in the hiding place in the channels between the bushes. We became skin and bones. It was a miracle that we didn't fall ill and weren't discovered.
One day, a small boy found us. He was chasing a cow. He saw us and grew very frightened, but recovered and approached us. He knew who we were. We asked him not to tell anyone about us. But he ran home and brought his father. We were afraid; we didn't know who the man was, but we felt he wouldn't harm us.
Zusman promised to pay him, but by this time we had nothing. The farmer replied that he didn't want anything from us, but he suggested that we leave; our situation was very dangerous now that his son had seen us.
That night, Zusman went to consult with Stanislav. He advised us to hide in a nearby destroyed building that was full of hay. There, he said, people came only very infrequently to take hay for their animals. At this time, we learned the teacher Greenberg was no longer alive. He'd hidden for some time with Stanislav, but someone had denounced him and he'd fled and hidden in the same destroyed building. There, the Germans had found him and murdered him. We entered the building, we had no choice. We dug into the hay and laid down in it.
This was our last shelter before we joined the partisans. Our only connection was
with Stanislav. He told us there were partisans not far from the place, and he said he'd try to find out how to contact them.
Winter arrived [in late 1942], but it was warm for us inside the piles of hay. We were dirty and fleas swarmed on our bodies; we hadn't bathed for half a year or more. With a yellow beard and swollen feet wrapped in rags, Zusman looked like a man from another world. No one who met him identified him as a Jew, and he used his appearance to search for food for us.
By this time, we had no strength left. More than once, I wanted to die. I couldn't stand to watch the children suffer. Zusman, in contrast, didn't lose hope, and he encouraged us and strengthened my spirit, saying that eventually we'd be able to immigrate to the Land of Israel.
One day we heard someone enter the building to take some hay, and this scared us. Fortunately the man didn't sense we were there; he loaded the hay on a wagon and left. But we lived in fear that next time, when he came to get hay, he'd find us. And in fact a week later the man returned and began to load hay. We heard him talking to himself, cursing and wondering why it was so warm inside. This was during the cold, snowy days of December, and here, when he took out the hay, it felt warm.
We decided to come out of our hiding place, and we stood opposite him. He was more surprised and frightened than we were; he thought that maybe he was seeing some ghosts. After he calmed down and understood who we were, Zusman told him we intended to go to the forest, to the partisans, and that we had contacts with them.
At this time all the farmers in the area knew about the partisans, and everyone was afraid of them. The man promised not to harm us and said we could stay there until he took out all the hay. He left, but we were afraid to remain. We knew we couldn't stay there any longer, and we decided to go, once and for all, to search for the partisan camps. We told this to Stanislav, and Zusman asked him to watch us while he, Zusman, went to look for the partisans.
I remember how Zusman went out. This was the end of 1942, for the Christians the night of the Christmas holiday. We remained alone, in fear and uncertainty. The second night, Stanislav took us into his house. Before that, he brought us to the bathhouse and left us to wash and clean ourselves of all the dirt that we'd accumulated. Now and then he'd return to see if everything was all right, because he knew we were exhausted and was worried that we'd faint from the heat in the bathhouse. After we bathed he took us into his house, fed us, and didn't allow us to return to the destroyed building. He put us in the attic and said we should wait there until Zusman came back. Of course, our happiness knew no bounds.
The next day, our cousin arrived at Stanislav's house to ask for food for his family. They were located somewhere else, and the female cousin [his wife] was no longer alive. She'd died of tuberculosis and was buried somewhere in the forest. The man was broken and completely discouraged. He remained alive, along with his two daughters, and was trying to save them.
That night, Zusman returned. Of course, our happiness and joy can be imagined. He also brought the happy news that he'd succeeded in contacting the partisans, and that in their camp he'd met several people from Braslav, among them Yerachmiel Milutin. After eating at the camp, he'd come back to get us. He arranged with the partisans that they'd wait for us somewhere with a horse-drawn wagon, and he hurried to us to bring us the news. It's impossible to describe the scale of his disappointment and fear when he couldn't find us in the destroyed building. Thinking the Germans had discovered and killed us, he'd hurried to Stanislav to find out what had happened, and
to his joy he'd found us.
We decided to leave that night. It was January 1, 1943. I'll never forget it. A strong and cold wind was blowing, and we were dressed in rags. A snowstorm was raging outside. Stanislav took us in a sled to a clearing in the forest, and gave us a loaf of bread and a bit of salt. We parted from our cousin, who remained, and Zusman promised him: If we arrived safely and were accepted into the camp, we'd come to get him and his daughters. We parted from Stanislav with kisses and tears; with emotion and excitement, he wished us success.
We began to walk into the heart of the forest. The storm became stronger. Zusman took Arieh on his shoulders and I carried Shaul in my arms. That's how we walked all night. We weren't afraid of wild animals, but of meeting human ones. Toward morning, we arrived at a small village near Slobodka [about 11 kilometers northeast of Braslav]; we were frozen from the cold. We knocked at the first house. An old woman opened the door and without asking any questions, she brought us inside and immediately lit the stove, cooked some potatoes, fed us, and gave the children wool socks and gloves. She kissed them and cried when she saw their terrible suffering. We rested there for several hours, but we couldn't stay. The woman was afraid, even though her house wasn't far from the partisan camp. We thanked her for the compassionate things she'd done for us, and we went on our way. Already it was morning, but we weren't afraid to keep going, because the region was under partisan control and the Germans didn't dare to wander about. We walked all day, with short pauses to rest. Toward evening, we arrived at the intended location. There partisans we didn't know were waiting for us, they'd known we were coming. They brought us to a large house full of people. All our strength was gone. They immediately served us a meal. Afterward we washed ourselves and laid down to sleep on the floor. Around us partisans sat and sang songs. I couldn't believe we were in a place where we no longer needed to be afraid, in warm, human surroundings among good people. One song that the partisans sang reminded me of my brother Chaim. He'd loved to sing it, and I broke into bitter tears at the memory.
The next day, Zusman awoke early and traveled to meet Yerachmiel. The meeting was very emotional. Zusman returned and took us to a village next to the forest. Again, they received us very nicely; they gave us some clothes, and after a day we went back [to the partisan camp].
At the entrance to the forest, a heavy guard had been stationed. We kept going and arrived at the cabins of the forest dwellers. The partisan unit we'd reached was called by the name of the officer Sazykin [part of the Belorussian brigade]. They took us into the cabin of the Pinchov family. They received us with great joy, prepared for us a meal fit for kings, and took us to the bathhouse, where we stayed all night, because there was no room for us in the cabin.
But the Russian partisans weren't so satisfied. First of all, we'd arrived without any weapons. In addition, they didn't willingly accept families with children. Zusman told them that he was a carpenter and volunteered to make butts for the rifles. In addition, all the Jews who were in the camp recommended that they accept us, and in the end the partisans consented.
A few days later, they began to build a zemlyanka for us --- a cabin, most of which is in the ground --- and they installed a large oven for baking bread. After some time, the family of Shmuel Deitch, Masha and her sister Yenta, joined the camp. They lived together with us, and later my cousin Liuba [Shmidt] and her brother-in-law Eliahu came also. Liuba served the partisans as a nurse, and she was very
celebrated among them. Since there were no medical teams, she carried out the work of both doctor and nurse. There were many wounded among the partisans from fighting against the Germans. Zusman didn't take part in the fighting, but he'd travel with the partisans to the villages to get food and clothing. We had plenty of food. I would cook varied foods in large pots, and there always were guests at our meals. That's how we lived, like one big family.
There were almost no complete families in the camp. In general, the camp contained individuals who'd been rescued from the clutches of the Nazis. Our children were the only ones in the camp.
Thus, the first winter in the partisan camp passed over us. Spring arrived, and the forest turned green. In the evenings we'd go out of the cabins, gather together, light bonfires, sit around them and sing.
In the beginning, it was hard for me to understand how people who'd lost their dearest ones could sing and celebrate. The children were very happy. They gained weight because of the good food, and enjoyed the freedom and atmosphere of the forest. There was no room for fear or hiding places. It was possible to go outside to play during the day.
The partisans went out frequently on operations against the Germans. They blew up train tracks and trains and caused the Germans heavy losses. There was also loss of life among the partisans. The Germans were afraid to go deeply into the forest. Fortunately, they didn't know the size of our force. In fact, we were very few and we weren't well armed, either in quantity or quality.
One day the news came that a German unit was approaching the forest. An order was given to leave. This was in the winter. Naturally, we didn't wait long; we left the cabin and everything in it, and ran to look for a place of shelter deep in the forest. We walked all day, and toward evening we arrived at another partisan camp. There we found many Jewish acquaintances. We slept there, and the next day --- when they notified us that everything was all right --- we returned to the previous place. Over time, echoes of the battles began to reach us from the front. We'd heard about the defeats of the Germans and their withdrawal, and we believed that soon we'd be liberated; but we worried that before their final collapse they'd want to take revenge on the partisans and kill them. The men prepared shelters for a time of trouble, deep inside the forest. We also prepared a lot of food: smoked meat and toast. But thank G-d, there was no need for it.
The Germans conducted a large hunt for a partisan unit near Disna [Dzisna, about 72 kilometers east of Braslav], in the region where my cousin Luba [sic; presumably the Liuba mentioned on page 224 of this memorial book as a nurse for the partisans] worked as a nurse transferring the wounded to Russia. We were worried about her, but one day she appeared, healthy and whole.
The year 1944 arrived. The Germans were collapsing on all fronts, and as spring approached we were certain that their end had come. The constantly heard thunder of artillery came nearer and nearer. We were witnessing the defeat of the Nazi murderers.
And the longed-for day arrived! On July 9, 1944, the Red Army arrived at our camp and told us that we could go home. After a number of days, Zusman and other men from Braslav took a wagon and traveled to the town to find out if the danger had passed. When he came back, Zusman took us to Braslav. We returned to the town with mixed feelings: we were happy we could return home, to the place where we'd been born and grown up; but we knew we were coming back to a place holding the graves of our dear ones, a place of blood and tears,
inhuman suffering and troubles.
When we reached the town, we didn't even enter our house; all of us gathered in one of the empty houses. Slowly, slowly, Jews began to arrive in the town, the remaining refugees from Braslav and its surroundings --- and all of them lived together in several houses.
Letters began to arrive from all over Russia from survivors from our town, and in them were questions about the fate of their dear ones. I answered every letter and passed on all the information known to us. Together with the Red Army, many journalists from abroad arrived and interviewed us. All of them wondered how we'd succeeded in rescuing the children. Through the journalists, we told our relatives in the United States and Israel that we were still alive. In 1945 a daughter was born to us, and we named her Batia, for my sister. We decided not to remain in Braslav and at the first opportunity to make aliyah to the Land of Israel. At first the authorities didn't permit this, but later everyone who'd once been a Polish citizen was given permission to leave the Soviet Union.
In January 1946, we left Braslav. We stayed in Germany for three years, and when the state of Israel was established we made aliyah, in April 1949.
|Exodus from Braslav, 1945|
TSYSHO itself was established in Warsaw in 1921 and continued to operate until 1939. It was led mainly by the left wing of Poale Zion (the more radically socialist wing of the Labor Zionists) and the Bund (the Jewish socialist party in Poland), which was anti-Zionist but supported the use of Yiddish. Together they sought to create a network of secular Yiddish schools under socialist auspices.
TSYSHO was administered by a central office in Warsaw and a central education committee in Vilna (which between 1922 and 1939 was part of Poland, as was Braslav). According to The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, the curriculum consisted of Yiddish language and literature, Jewish history and culture, the sciences, math, music, physical education, arts and crafts and, in some cases, Hebrew. In addition, Polish language, literature and history were taught in Polish.
At its peak in the late 1920s, the TSYSHO network maintained 219 institutions with 24,000 students in 100 locations. These included 46 kindergartens, 114 elementary schools, 6 high schools, 52 evening schools, and the Yiddish Teachers' Seminary in Vilna. The crown jewel of the TSYSHO network and Yiddish secular education in Poland was the Vilna Realgymnazye, the first modern high school in which Yiddish was the language of instruction. Return
With the winter in Belorussia receding, on March 2, 1942 some 5,000 Jews in the Minsk Ghetto (out of 49,000) were shot by German security forces consisting of Belorussians, Ukrainians and Lithuanians. On March 3 some 2,300 Jews from the Baranovichi Ghetto (out of 18,000) were shot by German, Belorussian and Lithuanian police. On May 8 some 5,700 Jews in the Lida Ghetto (out of some 7,200) were shot. On May 29 the Dokshitsy Ghetto, with some 2,653 Jews, was liquidated. On June 1 the Luzhki Ghetto, with 528 Jews, was liquidated, as was the Plissa Ghetto, with 419 Jews. On June 2 the Miory Ghetto, with 779 Jews, was liquidated. The massacre of the Jews in the Braslav Ghetto began the next day, on June 3.
Subsequently other ghettos were targeted, including the Slonim Ghetto with 10,000-12,000 Jews, the Glubokoye Ghetto with 2,200, the Disna Ghetto with 2,181, the Kletsk Ghetto with 1,500, the Druya Ghetto with 1,318, the Dunilovichi Ghetto with 979, the Pastavy Ghetto with 848, the Ghetto in Opsa, with 300, and the Sharkovshchina Ghetto. Return
Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch
. . . The Germans entered the town on Thursday afternoon [June 26, 1941]. Two patrols riding on motorcycles arrived from the direction of Turmont [Turmantas in Lithuania, about 35 kilometers northwest of Braslav/Braslaw]. They stopped next to our house and looked toward the Catholic church (the tallest building in the town), apparently to make sure there were no snipers in it. Representatives of the Polish population received them with bread and salt.
Toward evening, they turned around and left the town on the road that passed next to the Christian cemetery [in the western part of town]. At midnight, a large German army began to move in the direction of the village of Plusy [about 21 kilometers to the north]: foot soldiers, artillery, vehicles and more. Few soldiers remained in Braslav. The next day, on Friday [June 27], the Germans announced that the Jews had to come out of their houses; they gathered them all next to the horse market [a.k.a. the cattle market], separated the men from the women and took all of them into the Dubki [Dubkes] forest, to the peninsula on Lake Dryviata [Dryviaty]. From there it was impossible to flee, because all around there was a heavy guard of soldiers with machine guns, and also because the surrounding area was swampy. Only my cousin, Chaim Milutin, and Shlomo [Zilber] the shochet [ritual slaughterer] tried to flee on the way, but they were caught. Chaim was hit by a volley of bullets; he turned toward the people around him, called out a farewell to everyone, and fell. Shlomo the shochet was shot in the head; he kept clearing his throat and then a soldier approached him and shot him again, killing him.
At the place where we were gathered, they ordered us to sit on the ground and not move. We sat that way all night. Only at four o'clock in the morning, after a discussion between the Germans and the person appointed by them as mayor of the town [of Braslav], a doctor and veterinarian named Kovalski [Kowalski], did they free us and give us permission to return to the town. We found our houses broken into and robbed. After a number of days, they ordered the Jews to hand over their cows to the authorities; they decreed that we had to wear yellow patches on both sides of the body. The ghetto was actually organized only 10 months later, in April 1942.
There was no German police force. Policemen were appointed from among the local Polish and Belorussian population. Exceptionally cruel among them were one Grivkov [Kriwko] from Ikazna [Ikazn, about 14 kilometers east of Braslav], Shlachchik [Shliachchik], [Stefan] Zhuk and also Yashinski [Stanislaw Jasinski], who later became the chief of police.
A unit of German gendarmes ruled in the town, and battalion [or regiment or troop] 44 of the SS, which had returned from the front, camped at the train station. There were
emergency storerooms there. We worked in the garage. Moshe-Hatzkel Milutin worked with me.
The Judenrat [Jewish Council] was appointed by the supervisor Kovalski immediately after the Germans entered. He appointed about 10 people. The chairman was [Yitzchak] Mindel and the rest of the members were Sheinkman, Chaim-Yekatriel [Katriel] Deitch, Yankel-Velvel Shapira, [Gershon] Klioner, Falka [Rafael] Fisher, Hirshka Deitch and Leib Valin, who was responsible for sending people out to work.
Chaim Munitz was the secretary. It was said that he kept a diary about life in the ghetto and the events that occurred to the Jews of the town. After the liberation of Braslav [in July 1944] we searched in many places for this diary, but we didn't find it.
The Judenrat had many responsibilities, mainly to carry out the decrees of the German authorities, such as handing over cows and other animals, handing over fur coats, organizing the knitting of hats and wool gloves for the German army, and making ropes out of flax. A group of men worked at the train station stripping the bark from logs that were sent to Germany for paper manufacturing and to the coal mines.
They didn't pay for the work, and they provided no food. Each person worried about himself and his family and the need, of course, was great. We had to sell clothing and possessions to buy food. We sold to the Poles, the Belorussians and the farmers in the area; it was forbidden for us to go to the market. The Gentiles would come into the ghetto, which was concentrated along the length of the main street --- Pilsudski Street.
The Germans also brought Jews from the Jewish village of Yaisi [Jaisi, seven kilometers east of Braslav] into the Braslav Ghetto, and also Jews from the nearby towns --- Druysk [Drujsk] and Dubina [Dubene]. The crowding was terrible. Several families lived together in one apartment or house.
There was no medical assistance. In cases of illness, a doctor would be brought secretly. Circumcisions were also done in secret. At night, people shut themselves in their houses. Nobody went out and no one came in, due to the great fear. There also were cases of random murders, without any clear reason.
A large group of 80-90 men would go out to work at the train station. I remember that once 13 men didn't return from the station. Later we learned they'd been put into a boxcar that stood on a side track and shot. Among them were Boris Karas and Yechezkel Vinokur. They were murdered after a warehouse worker denounced them, claiming they'd been careless in their work.
Several weeks after the Germans had entered, Soviet planes bombed a German army convoy. Local residents, Poles and Belorussians, said that a hunchbacked Jewish woman had been seen signaling to the planes. The Germans seized Zelig Ulman's sister, accused her of spying and murdered her. After that, they arrested Beila Deitch (she too was a hunchback) and accused her, Yaacov Musin from Druya, and Ch.-I. Burat of the same crime. After much running around and many attempts, the head of the Judenrat, [Yitzchak] Mindel, succeeded in freeing Burat. After suffering much torture, Beila Deitch and Yaacov Musin were hanged by the Germans.
They found the member of the Judenrat, Zelig Ulman, his wife and his daughter, who'd hidden themselves in a secret place. They took them to the Karpovitz [Karpowicz] forest [near the western entrance to Braslav] and killed them there. This happened about a half-year before the destruction of the ghetto.
The women (Esther Rusonik, Lusia Segal, Sonia Aron, Roza Skopitz, Esther Zeif and others) worked mainly in cleaning the offices of the Germans. The attitude of the Polish population was, in general, threatening. No one from [among] the [Gentile] residents helped the Jews with anything. Sometimes their attitude was even worse
than that of the Germans. The local farmers were more human in their behavior toward the Jews of the town. For instance, the farmers from the villages of Ozravtzi [Ozierawce, about six kilometers southeast of Braslav] and Achremovtzi [Achremowce, about seven kilometers southeast of Braslav] hid several Jewish families until the last day of the occupation. (Natka Fisher, Niuta Kantor, Masha and Mendel Maron and two families from Dvinsk [42 kilometers northwest of Braslav] hid with farmers in the village.)
The son of the Pravoslavic [Eastern Orthodox] priest, Alexi [Aliosha] and his brother Dima Vasilevski [Wasilewski] --- helped more than a little. Especially Alexi, who was the deputy of the starosta [town elder] Kovalski. He helped the prisoners of war of the Red Army, forged documents and certificates, and would send the prisoners to the villages to work. The Germans killed him and the supervisor Kovalski.
|Beila Deitch (first on the left) and family|
|[The other family members shown here are Beila's brother Shaya Deitch, a theater actor; their mother, Fraydel, who was the widow of Pesach-Leib Deitch; and the young Malka Shteinman, a niece of Beila and Shaya. Malka later married Moshe Milutin. Shaya Deitch is also pictured on pages 40-41 of this memorial book.]|
The killing began on June 3, 1942 and continued for three days. The day before [the killing began], a group of about 100 women was taken to do cleaning work at the nearby village of Slobodka [11 kilometers northeast of Braslav]; the next day the oppressors returned them and brought them, together with all [the Jews of Braslav], to the site of the massacre [where they were then killed]. A few days before, rumors had spread in the town about the destruction of Jewish populations in the region. The rumors told of massacres in Gleboki and Miory. In the winter of 1941 [on December 17], the Jews of Yod [Jod a.k.a. Jody, 25 kilometers southeast of Braslav] had already been killed.
Knowing all this, we tried to prepare, digging and building secret places. We built them in stables, cowsheds, storerooms and various other places; we'd dig a pit and cover it with boards. There we lived. Matityahu Hendler [maybe Gandler], the blacksmith's son, built a trench like [those] on the front.
In the night between Tuesday and Wednesday [June 2-3] we heard terrible shouts, accompanied by shooting. I lifted the screen of the hiding place and saw groups of Germans, together with local police, going from house to house and taking people outside. I quietly snuck out of the hiding place and fled in the direction of the house opposite; I entered a hiding place that had been dug under the storeroom. There I found several families who had been hiding there for a few days. All the time, we heard shooting.
I left and crawled between the bushes. I found [people who had been] killed --- Moshe Vishkin's father [Tuvia] and his brother Yosef. I crawled back and entered my Aunt Rivel's kitchen. There I found some people hiding in a pit under the table. Ch. Pinchov, Esther Rusonik, Moshe-Yechezkel [Moshe-Hatzkel] Milutin, Mendel and Masha Maron and Moshe Vishkin were there. I lay down among them.
From there, we went out at night to see what was happening in the streets. We found many bodies. They'd killed my mother in the yard of our house, while she was trying to flee through the gardens. The policeman Grivkov [Kriwko] killed her, and my brother buried her.
The big massacre took place near the train station. Almost all the Jews of the town were brought there [to the pits that had been dug outside the town]. They ordered all of them to undress next to the pits and then they shot them. Mashka Katz ran from the pit; all day she lay hidden among the bushes. In the evening she walked naked to a nearby village and asked for shelter, but the farmers handed her over to the Germans, who killed her. The daughter of the dentist Niuska Yakobson ran away when the people were being taken to death. She entered a house that stood on the side of the road and hid there. The police found her and killed her. Many young people were killed in the streets, in their attempts to flee.
The Germans knew that many Jews were still hiding, and so they announced that they'd take no more people out to be killed, because they needed people to work. One of those who passed through the streets and called for the Jews to come out of their hiding places was Epshtein's son, a drunkard and a corrupt Jew. Many Jews believed these announcements and came out of their hiding places. They were immediately imprisoned in the Yiddish school. Hundreds of people were there.
Sheinkman, and Ribash from Druya, members of the Judenrat, turned to the Jews who remained alive and asked for money, gold or jewelry from them, to bribe the guards, but this didn't help, and all of them were taken out to be killed. They say that the elderly Rabbi [Avraham-Abba-Yaacov] Zahorie went to be killed wrapped in his tallit [prayer shawl], saying, We must accept death with honor. Several people (such as Hirsh Fridman) drank to excess before they were taken out to be killed and [then they] went with all the Jews on their last journey.
In the ghetto there was an underground organization, consisting mainly of young people and former soldiers. I know that after the destruction of the Miory Ghetto [on June 2], rumors began to spread about the coming destruction of the Braslav Ghetto. People (most of them Jews from the Miory Ghetto who had succeeded in fleeing in time, before the destruction of that ghetto), filtered into the Braslav Ghetto with weapons to defend themselves. I don't know what happened to these weapons. I myself had a pistol that I buried in the ground.
When the men of the Judenrat came to collect money to bribe the guards, we went out into the streets with wagons and gathered the dead, who were lying around outside. We were witnesses to police chasing after some Jews with rods; we saw how they chased after Yitzchak Ulman and grabbed him.
My father was a guard in a leather storeroom. When he learned of the killing, he went up in the attic of the storeroom, took the ladder up with him, and hid there. Earlier we'd taken him to our hiding place, but he didn't want to stay there and told us, You go, the young ones. I'm already 48 years old. I know
of several incidents of active opposition. For example, I heard about Eliezer [Leizer] Biliak, who disguised himself as a German they'd killed and murdered several collaborators among the local residents. And Moshe-Baruch [Bank], who after a struggle was tied to the tail of a horse and dragged through the streets of the town until he died.
The Road to Armed Conflict
At night, we decided to leave the ghetto. Several men, including me, snuck into the garage of the hospital and hid there for a number of days. From there, we set out in the direction of the Karpovitz forest [just to the west of Braslav]. In the forest, we came across graves that weren't properly covered; we found bodies with their feet unburied. We covered them and continued onward. We entered the house of a farmer and hid in the attic for an entire day. The Gentile told us he'd visited the church in town and heard about what was being done there. From his house, we went to another farmer, who took us into the granary and gave us food. From him I learned that my father had been killed; the oppressors had also found and killed Ulman's father, who'd hidden in Burat's house. We also learned from the farmer that the Jews of Opsa [18 kilometers southwest of Braslav] had not been destroyed.
We waited for night and [then] set out in the direction of Opsa. We entered the ghetto there by way of the Vidz-Boyan road [Boyan hasn't been identified]. There I met my uncle Yerachmiel Milutin and Esther Rusonik. Yerachmiel took us to the bathhouse of a farmer, and there we found Moshe Vishkin and A. Reichel. They gave us a bit of money and a loaf of bread. From there we continued to Vidz [Widze, about 20 kilometers southwest of Opsa]. On the way, we met several Jews from Vidz, and we walked together. In the dark, we couldn't find the bridge over the river. We grew confused. We wandered all night, and found the road again and entered Vidz only toward morning. We stayed there for a week and worked with all of them [the Jews of Vidz]. From there, the police took us to Sventzion. There we worked repairing the train tracks.
The food we received was like in the camp, a bit of soup with a little bit of meat. From there, I'd sometimes travel to the Vilna Ghetto on the train and return to the Podbrodz Ghetto. There was one German there, Shultz. After I repaired his motorcycle, I gained his confidence. The son of the German was always singing the [Nazi Party's] Horst Wessel song: When a Jewish man is killed with the knife, then it's good and fitting.
After staying a month in the Podbrodz Ghetto, we were sent to Duksht [Dukstas, in Lithuania and about 75 kilometers northeast of Podbrodz]. There too we worked on repairing the train tracks and in the sawmill. In the sawmill many non-Jews, farmers of the area, also worked as hired laborers. The supervisors were two Germans, who'd been disabled in the war.
In the winter, before Christmas of 1942, I made contact with my cousin Moshe-Yechezkel [Moshe-Hatzkel] Milutin, who was in the Sventzion Ghetto; Biliak was with him. At the time, rumors were spreading they wanted to destroy our work camp, and a group was organizing that planned to flee to the partisans.
I asked for permission from my supervisor to visit a family relative, and I received it. I set out on the Dvinsk-Vilna train. When I got off the train at the station in Duksht, gendarmes grabbed me, chained me, took me to the police station and put me in jail. There I learned that some days earlier some of the members of the Sventzion labor camp had fled (Idel Rusonik, Hendler, Efraim [sic] and others); they thought I too was one of the escapees. Rusonik and Hendler they sent to Ponar. When Motka from Turmont learned that his friends had been taken to be killed, he knew that if he was caught his fate would be like theirs, and he decided not to fall into their hands alive. He entered a Gentile's house, asked for a knife, and cut his own throat.
They brought him to the police station as he was dying, and he died there. They killed Arka [Aharon?] Milutin in the place where they buried Motka.
When I was in the jail they abused me, starved me and flogged me at every opportunity. One time, the door opened and into my cell burst a violent dog, a German shepherd, which attacked me and bit me on the leg. For a long time after that, I was unable to walk. Scars from the bites and wounds remain with me to this day.
The gendarmes interrogated me; they beat me with murderous blows until the German from whom I'd received the travel permit arrived and asked that I be freed, because he needed me for work. After they released me, the German took me and gave me medicine and food, and in this way I was saved. He also told me they were going to destroy the camp. By the way, after the war I learned that this German was alive and in Düsseldorf. I wrote to him but got no reply.
From Duksht, I fled to Sventzion [about 50 kilometers to the south], where I met my cousin Moshe-Hatzkel [Milutin]. We knew that they were sending people to Ponar to be killed. We organized 20 men, we gathered several weapons, grenades and a pistol, and we set out in the direction of Hidotzishok [Hoduchishki a.k.a. Adutiskis in Lithuania and about 27 kilometers east of Sventzion] --- to the forests.
|Partisan certificate of Moshe Milutin|
We reached a forester, who told us that there were indeed partisans in the area who carried out sabotage activities, mainly against trains, and that they sometimes came to meet. With us were Yerachmiel Milutin and Esther, my cousin Moshe-Hatzkel [Milutin], Yochai Barka [sic] and a few other friends. We wandered in the forest for a few weeks, occasionally entering village houses to take food. We slept outside, in the snow, under the trees.
One day we met a Russian, a former commissar of the Red Army, whose name was Vasily Markov. We spoke with him about our wish to join the partisans. He promised us that he'd return to see us after carrying out a sabotage mission. This he did, after a number of days, and he took us to the forests around Postav-Hidotzishok [Pastavy-Adutiskis]. On the way we encountered a German ambush, which opened fire on us. Fortunately, only one member [of our group] was injured. We covered him with branches, promised that we'd return for him, and kept walking. Markov and two friends succeeded in crossing the river, and we remained in the forest without a leader. We entered [the house of] one farmer, forced him to harness a horse, and together with him we traveled to the place where we'd left our friend. We took him with us, and at night we crossed the river. We reached a village by the name of Osatzina, on the other side of the river. While we were crossing the river, the partisans opened fire on us, thinking we were Germans, but in the end the situation became clear. After interrogations, the partisans accepted only those who had weapons of their own. Those with no weapon in hand were sent to procure one, so that they could join up.
From there, we turned in the direction of Braslav. We reached the village of Krasnosletzi [perhaps Krasnosielce, four kilometers west of Braslav], and there we began to carry out actions: we destroyed the houses of collaborators with the Germans, killed local policemen and Germans, derailed trains, and carried various other types of sabotage. I took part in many activities in the areas around Sharkovshchitzna [Szarkowszczyzna, about 40 kilometers southeast of Braslav], Boyan, Opsa, Kozian [Koziany, about 40 kilometers southwest of Braslav], Vidz and others. Near Kozian, I was wounded. Our officer was Strikov, a former Soviet pilot. We continued to operate in this way until the summer of 1944. After that, we joined the Red Army. In July 1944, our town of Braslav was liberated. The day after liberation, I asked for and received permission to visit it. There I stayed two days, gathering a lot of information.
Those who'd collaborated with the Germans had fled. I searched for Anton [Burak], who was one of the most despicable informers, but didn't find him. I wanted to execute him. At the time, we had permission to take revenge and execute such people without trial.
When I learned the identity of the man who'd killed Leizer Biliak, we went and told this to the Soviet authorities and asked for permission to capture him. They told us to wait. After a week, they informed us that permission was granted. Avraham Biliak and I then went to the house of the Gentile Promchenko. He began to run; we opened fire on him and killed him and his sons.
In autumn 1941, responsibility for the local police was transferred from the German army to the German gendarmes, after a civil administration had been established to replace the military administration. (That is, the German gendarmes supervised the local police unit.) Among the men based at the German gendarmes' outpost in Braslav were Johannes Czapp, Willy Dittmann, Otto Hayman, Paul Kontny, Leo Leidenroth, Luwdig Müller, Ernst Schreiber and Waldemar Schultz. Return
On April 5, 1943, an estimated 4,000-5,000 Jews from the Sventzion Ghetto and other small ghettos in the region, on the pretext of being resettled in the larger ghettos in Vilna and Kovno, were instead taken in trains to Ponar and killed. The victims on that day included many villagers from Dubina, who'd been transferred to the Sventzion Ghetto from the Vidz Ghetto around the summer or autumn of 1942. Return
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