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[Page 234]

Rafael Charat,
the son of Isel and Avraham-Baruch

by Boris Ulman, Son of Leah and Zelig

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Aron Charad

My father was a small-scale merchant who was involved with the buying and selling of fowl, eggs, fish, fruit, and other such foodstuffs. He would send the products for sale in the regional city of Vilna. During the time of Soviet rule, Father worked as a warehouse keeper in the bakery of the Kurt family. His job was to receive the flour and give over the bread. I worked in the tailoring workshop, my brother Yisrael worked as a firefighter, and my brother Moshe worked in a print shop.

After the German invasion of Russia, unrest pervaded in the town. The Soviet officials began to leave, leaving us to our fate. A portion of the Jewish population, especially the youth, began to escape in the direction of the former Polish-Russian border, with the hope of entering the Soviet Union and remaining there until the fury would pass.

In our house, we were of the opinion that we all had to leave. However, father was opposed. “What will happen to the People of Israel will also happen to Reb Yisrael,” he said. We, the sons, were already old enough, and we set out on the journey nevertheless. My sister Sima remained at home with our parents. Along with us, a large group of youths set out in the direction of the town of Dryvya. Along the way, we met the wagon driver Pesach Szkolnik with his daughter Libka. They were also travelling in that direction. The next morning, we were shelled from the other side of the Dvina River. We were told that the Russians were not permitting people to cross the border. We returned home to the town desperate and disappointed. It was difficult for us to walk the 40 kilometers by foot. We only walked at night, with the flames of burning towns lighting up our path.

When we entered the town, we found that the German Army was there. We only found our parents at home. Our sister was no longer there. We found out that the Germans had arrested the members of the Communist Party as well as the Comsomol youth. My sister was a member of Comsomol, and everyone advised her to leave quickly, even if rumor said that the situation would not last long, that the Russians would repel the Germans, and that she would then be able to return. When Sima did not return after several months, we were convinced that she had been killed somewhere.

Several days after the entry of the Germans, Soviet airplanes bombarded the German Army centers. The next day, the Germans arrested

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a Jewish girl and two lads, accusing them of cooperation with the Soviets by signaling the airplanes and pointing out the bases and hiding places. They were tortured and taken out to be killed.

The next victims were 14 Jews who were killed based on the slander of a Polish work supervisor who informed the Germans that they were lax in their work. Our work was shaving boards of lumber at the railway station, from where the shavings were sent to Germany. Our work was incessant. We were forbidden from taking a rest.

There was an army base in Slabodka. The Germans found out that the Russians had hidden armaments their as they were retreating. We were sent there. We dug, we found the armaments, and we loaded them on the railway cars. Once we loaded barrels of water onto trucks: when we finished the work, the German commanded us to stand atop the barrels. We suddenly realized that another German was pointing his gun at us. We became very perplexed. One of them photographed the event. We unloaded the barrels at the bakery and received a loaf of bread as a meaningful reparation for the fright.

When the ghetto was established we were commanded to leave our houses and enter the ghetto to live together with the family of Leizer Fromin. We gave over our cow to our Polish neighbor and asked him to bring us a bit of milk from time to time. We also gave them over many articles of clothing to sell to a farmer from the village of Diadushki. We would exchange property for food during times of need.

Nine of us lived in the tiny dwelling. While we were in the ghetto, we already knew that the Germans were liquidating the Jews. News about the liquidation of Jews in neighboring villages reached us. We did not believe that it was possible to hide and save ourselves. The Germans received a great deal of assistance from the local Christian residents. They knew about everything taking place in the town. Nevertheless, people began to prepare hiding places.

The Germans would issue calming messages of assurance via the Judenrat, stating that nothing bad would happen to the Jews of Braslaw, since they were diligent and obedient workers.

We, the four men in the family, decided to prepare a hiding place to use in the event of any tribulation that may come. We began to dig together with our neighbors, the Taboricki family. Taboricki's house seemed suitable to us for this purpose, since it was located some distance from the street and close to the mountain. The work had to be carried out in a covert and quiet manner. Not only did we have to watch out for the police, but also for the eyes of the neighbors. The entrance to the hiding place was below the bathroom. .

Early in the morning of Wednesday, June 3, 1942, we heard screams from outside and orders to leave the houses. Some of the people succeeded in hiding, but we thought that we would be able to escape to our acquaintances in the village during the ensuing commotion. We made a mistake. When we left the house, we saw that we were surrounded on all sides by armed men who were leading everyone in one directions. We were also forced to advance together with everyone. Our family walked together, and when we neared the house of Palka Katz, we began to run behind the houses toward our hiding place. They started to shoot at us from the direction of the mountain, but we nevertheless succeeded in going down to our hiding place. We remained there for only three days. They captured us on Friday, the third day of the slaughter. Someone went out to fetch a bit of rain water to drink, and one of the policemen noticed us. They sent several dogs to ambush us. The police and gendarmes arrived immediately and demanded that we leave our hiding place, or else they would throw a grenade inside.

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The family of Meir-Yosel Deitch, relatives of the Taboricki family, was together with us. Some of them succeeded in escaping. My two brothers also succeeded in escaping from the police. The others were arrested and brought to the concentration area behind the tax office. I was brought along with Matos (Matityahu). The army brought Father and Mother behind us. In the building, we met other Jews who had been found in various other hiding places. The fate of everyone was sealed. I recall Chaim-Izik Maron standing there, weeping bitterly. I recall the large room in which there were many articles of clothing tossed around. First names and surnames were written on the wall, with the word “perished” beside each name.

While we were still in the ghetto, Mother distributed articles of value to each of us to keep for a time of need. Perhaps we would be able to save ourselves and survive in return for an article of value. Now, as I was imprisoned in the tax office, knowing that our end may come the next day, I tried my luck. A policeman and member of the Judenrat (whose name I will not mention) with a band on his arm were sitting next to the door. I approached him and offered him an old golden watch from the days of Czar Nikolai if he would free us. He refused, and ordered me to move away from the door. Later, I tried again. It was already dark enough, and only one slumbering policeman sat near the door. To this day, I cannot explain how I escaped by him and exited to the yard. There were the bodies of murdered people there. I jumped over the corpses, and ran through the yards until I reached the house of Leib Gurevich. I ran into a Jew who had lived with me in the hiding place. That time, I saved myself. I sat frightened and trembling that I had found my friend Meir Gurevich there as well.

We had to leave the hiding place, however. The police and the Germans moved from house to house, searching every corner, and it was very difficult to hide. Meir's mother Rachel told us to escape. My mother Isel of blessed memory was a native of the village of Diadushki, where several Jewish families had previously lived. Mother studied in school along with the natives of the village, and many of the girls of the village were her friends. She knew every farmer there. During the summer, we would go there to vacation. Now, I decided to escape there.

At the entrance to the town there was a bridge that was guarded by the Germans. Along the way, we met the sister of the policeman Kolkowski, and found ourselves between a hammer and an anvil. However, fate was kind to us: the two guards were lying down asleep next to the bridge with their weapons at their sides. We crossed the bridge without anyone noticing us. However, they both quickly woke up and shouted at us to halt. We were frightened, and began to run in different directions. We were separated and never saw each other again. After the war, I heard that Meir arrived at the Globok Ghetto, where they killed him.

I lay down in the field all night and entered the village early in the morning. I met my older brother Yisrael at the home of our good friend Mikita Swylowic, and later my third brother Moshe arrived. Mikita took us to his acquaintance Wanka in the village of Boyebszczyna. He belonged to an ancient sect of the Orthodox Christian faith. He hid us for several months. We slept in the attic covered with piles of hay and animal fodder, as the lice and mice ate us alive. When we found out that a second ghetto was being set up in Braslaw, we went there. There were several hundred of us in the ghetto, including some people from Opsa. The Judenrat was comprised of several Jews of Opsa. Mikita and the Polish neighbor with whom we had left the cow would bring us some food. The ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by the police. One of them was the former conductor of the band in which I had played. Wanka, the farmer with whom he had hidden, once came to us and told us

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that rumor had it that this ghetto would also be liquidated shortly. He advised us to return with him. With his agreement, we dug a hiding place under the sheep pen.

This Wanka saved us from a certain death. A few days after we left the ghetto, the gendarmes and police arrived, hauled out everyone to pits, and murdered them. This was on the eve of Purim, 1943.

We remained with him for several months. When people began to find out that he was hiding Jews, he requested that we find another place for ourselves. He helped us as always, and we came to our friend Mikita. He found for us a farmer in that same village named Kasan. We dug a hiding place in his barn as well. We covered the walls of the pit with the doors of the village bathhouses, which we stole from the nearby villages during the nights. Once, as we were attempting to bring a door down, we noticed the shadow of a man and became very frightened. It became clear to us that he was a Russian captain who had escaped from a prisoner camp near Dvinsk. He joined us and we lived together. Later, we found out that this farmer had also hidden Leib Sherman and his children.

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Overleaf: The War Commissariat informs Sima Charat that her two brothers, soldiers in the Red Army, fell in battle:
Israel Charat on Sept 9, 1944.
Moshe Charat, gravely wounded in battle, died on Sept 20, 1944.


[Page 239]

Avraham Biliak,
Son of Henia-Riva and Natan

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

When the Germans and Russians divided Poland between them in September 1939, I was a lad of 15. Suddenly I became an adult. Life's routine was broken; everything changed. We went from being cattle traders in independent Poland to farmers in Soviet Russia. Ten hectares of agricultural land were divided between my father and his two brothers. At home, we were, in addition to our parents, four sisters and three brothers: Masha, Moshe, Sheina, Sara-Gutka, Libka, Tevka [Tuvia] and me. All of us from the Biliak family, a respected family. After the Holocaust, only two of us remained: me and my brother Moshe. Masha –our big sister – was married in 1933 to Yankel Glazer. At home, she caused us a lot of problems and anguish, like Hodel in “Tevye the Dairyman.”[1] Our Masha was an active member of the Communist Party, which was illegal in Poland. Occasionally they'd arrest her and put her in jail in Braslav [Braslaw] or in Lukishki [Lukiskes Prison] in Vilna. This would happen in the runup toward the workers' holiday, May 1, and also before the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution [October-November]. She was [also] arrested when they found Communist propaganda material in the attic. Before the war began, she and her husband had two children, Avraham-Itza and Rivkele. The third child – Velvele – was born during the war, and he was half a year old when the Nazis murdered the Jews of Braslav.

We parted from our big brother Moshe with a sad heart. He was drafted into the Polish army, in the war against the Nazi invader, at the beginning of September 1939. Their advance was much faster than expected, and it could be estimated that within a few weeks they'd take all of Poland. We grew worried about our fate; we feared the Germans.

Then came the decision of the Soviet authorities to rule over eastern Poland (as they said, to free the areas of Belorussia and western Ukraine). With flowers and kisses and shows of happiness, we willingly received the Red Army. We began to grow accustomed to a new, strange way of life [Soviet rule]. We became accustomed to shortages and standing in line for necessities, and we also learned to be afraid. The men of the NKVD[2] would sometimes take unwanted families and send them to distant locations. Jews from Braslav were sent as far away as Siberia.

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We lived under the Soviet regime for about two years [September 1939 to June 1941]. Frightening news reached us about the Nazis' treatment of their Jewish population. Then, before we understood what would happen, it became our turn.

We were astonished when we heard that the Germans had invaded the Soviet Union [on June 22, 1941]. We were shocked by the strength and rapid advance of their army. The Red Army withdrew, sometimes in confusion, deep into Russia. On the fourth day of the war, the last Russian officers and their families left Braslav. The civil government, the police and the party, also left. We remained without a government. There were no Poles, the Russians had fled, and the Germans hadn't yet arrived.

On the fifth day of the war, the Germans entered Braslav. First a number of patrols riding on motorcycles, and then the army. They located themselves opposite our house, in the yard of Skuriat and along the length of Lake Dryviata [Dryviaty]. After that, they changed locations and moved the army next to the train [station]. Remaining near us were a number of their workshops and a bakery that was established with three large machines to supply their bread. They grabbed people [Jews] for various types of work. They also took me for work in the bakery, with 20 other men. We worked from morning till night. Each order from them began with “Du verfluchter Jude” [“You cursed Jew”]. Many times they dragged me to work at the train [station]. We worked many hours at hard labor. We loaded weapons, hay, wood and other things. Despite our good work, they beat and cursed us. If a Jew had a beard, they'd grab it and shake his head in every direction.

After that came a succession of things: a Judenrat [Jewish Council], Jewish police, yellow patches, a prohibition to walk on the sidewalks and a prohibition on buying in the market; contributions of large sums of money, valuables and good clothing.

The day before Pesach 1942 [on March 31, 1942], an order was published requiring Jews to leave their houses and property and move to a ghetto. The ghetto ran along the entire length of Pilsudski Street, and it was divided in two. Across the bridge, in the direction of Slobodka [to the northeast], the elderly and their families had to gather (“nicht arbeits-fähig” – not fit for work), in other words: the “dead ghetto.” Our house stood within the elderly ghetto, and we very much wanted to stay in our house. My father went to his friend, Rafael Fisher, a member of the Judenrat, to consult with him. Rafael told him, “You can remain in your house. All of us are sentenced to be destroyed. They might destroy you earlier.” We moved to live together with the family of my uncle, Mulka Biliak, my father's brother. Everything was done in a big hurry: the crowding in the house was great, the conditions were terrible, the children were crying. We received a little bit of food from the Gentiles in exchange for some clothes and valuables. We knew that the ghetto was temporary; they were concentrating the Jews before destroying them. We had to find a hiding place and try to remain alive. We dug a pit under the house, pouring the dirt into the river under the bridge. We made an opening in the floor to go down [into the pit], well camouflaged. We prepared water and food in the pit. On June 1, 1942, they ordered the Judenrat to send to Slobodka (10 kilometers from Braslav) 100 young people to clean the army barracks, mostly girls. I and my sister Libka were among those drafted. They gathered us all in the yard of the Judenrat. On June 2, Tuesday morning, we went out on the road. Gendarmes and armed police who rode on bicycles accompanied us. The [Gentile] people of Slobodka pitied us and gave us water and a bit of food. On Wednesday morning, they gathered us again and we were told that we were returning home. Our happiness was boundless. We walked in loose order. Along the entire way, we met patrols.

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As we approached Braslav, a unit of gendarmes met us. Brutally and with curses, they began to crowd us together and speed us up. Shlomke Shapira, walking next to me, said “I have a feeling something's happening in Braslav. Come, let's run away.” At a suitable opportunity, we rushed from the group. Hirshke from Zamosh [Zamosz] joined us. We hid until the group moved far away. Later, I was told by my sister [who stayed with the group]: Only after the group entered Braslav did everything become clear to them. The marches to the extermination pits were at their height. The city was full of Germans, Lithuanian police, Latvians and locals. On every side there were screams and shots, beatings and curses. In the group [coming back from Slobodka] there was fright and confusion. A few tried to escape and succeeded, as did my sister. Others were shot and wounded. The soldiers took most of them to the pits and killed them in cold blood. And my sister further told me: Next to the gate of the cattle market they saw two bodies, of Avramke and Naftal Fisher [Avraham, the son of Baruch Fisher, and Naftali, the son of Zalman-Yaacov Fisher]; they'd fiercely resisted the police who came to take them to the pits, and the police had shot them.

The order to begin the destruction of the Braslav Ghetto on Wednesday, June 3, [1942] came from the Gebietskommissar [district commissioner] from Minsk. The night before the massacre, we noticed forces arriving in the town and spreading out around it. These were Einsatzgruppen [mobile killing squads], Lithuanians, Latvians and locals. To assist, vehicles arrived loaded with gendarmes from Gleboki [Glubokoye, about 70 kilometers southeast of Braslav]. On this day [June 3] they went wild; they murdered and slaughtered multitudes of the Jews of Braslav.

That night, the street of the ghetto was quiet. Patrols circulated outside. When they went away from our house, I snuck out and entered the family hiding place. My sister Libka had already managed to come. My family was saved from the massacre on the first day, except for my sister Sheinka; we didn't know what had happened to her when we all went down into the hiding place. Apparently, she was grabbed and killed. The next day, the soldiers continued their work: they broke the doors and windows of houses, turned over furniture and looked for hiding places. We were lucky; they found no one in our house and didn't see the entrance to our hiding place. In our hiding place, my sister Masha's baby – Velvele – was crying. We were afraid his cries would reveal the hiding place and its inhabitants, and my sister put a feather pillow over his mouth, and then the crying stopped. The massacre of the Jews of Braslav continued for three days. In the first massacre, our family lost two of its members [Sheinka and apparently Velvele, who it seems was suffocated].

We knew our shelter was just temporary; we had to flee. Even before the massacre, my father had gone to speak with farmers from the neighboring villages. They showed a willingness to help us when needed. One of them was our friend Petro – the priest from the Belmont church [Belmont was about seven kilometers southeast of Braslav]. On Friday night [June 5], we decided to try our luck. We went out: Father, my sister Masha and her husband Yankel [Glazer], my sister Libka, my brother Tevka and me. Mother remained in the hiding place with her two grandchildren – Masha's children. With them also was my sister Gutka [Sara-Gutka], who didn't want to leave mother alone with the children. We decided: We'll find a safe place, then come back and take them with us.

At the entrance to Belmont, there was a large bridge, well guarded by the Germans, so it was necessary to go around it. We asked for help from an acquaintance who lived near the bridge. After midnight he put us all into a boat, made a big detour far from the bridge and brought us into Belmont. The priest was surprised to see us and happy that we'd come. He'd thought for sure that we'd been killed. He received us with food, drink and tears in his eyes, and promised to help us survive. First, he took us into the church and locked it. To his congregation he said, “It's better for the church to be locked and not used as a hiding place by undesirables who are passing through.” On Sundays, he'd return us to his house and open the gates of the church to the worshippers.

A number of days after the massacre, the oppressors passed through Braslav and announced on loudspeakers that all those who were hiding could come out; nothing

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bad would happen to them. My mother, my sister, the children and many others with them who had survived believed the announcements and went outside. All of them were gathered into the yard of the Judenrat and some days later they were all taken to the pits; their end was like those who'd gone before them.

Yankel, Masha's husband, decided to return to Braslav and bring the children, mother and my sister. We didn't yet know that they'd already surrendered themselves and been killed. When he reached Braslav, he was caught; they beat him and killed him. The priest [in Belmont] began to look for safer places for us. He took Masha to a farmer in the village Zaravtzi, where they hid her under a large Russian stove; the chickens were also kept there. Father, me, Tevka and Libka he brought to the village Piatoshki to two brothers who weren't married. They hid us in the cellar under the cowshed, and at night we'd go up in the attic, where we had a lot of air and a larger living space than in the cellar. We paid them generously for all of their kindnesses: the lodgings and the food, the communication between us and the goodness of their hearts. For just one thing was compensation impossible – the fear. Whoever hid a Jew lived in constant fear. The villagers were warned continuously not to hide Jews, and woe to the person who had a hidden Jew found in his house. His fate, the fate of his family and his possessions, was sealed. The house and its contents would be burned, the animals taken, and the entire family would be killed. Once the brothers hinted to us that a few of us would have to find another place [to hide]. We heard that in Opsa [18 kilometers southwest of Braslav] a ghetto still existed; we had acquaintances there. We decided to separate: Father and my sister Libka would stay where they were, my sister Masha would move to a neighboring village, and I and Tevka would go to Opsa. We said our goodbyes, and we parted from the brothers who'd put their lives in danger because of us. They told us how to go on the roads and paths, through the forests and villages. On the way, villagers helped us. All the time, we faced dangerous threats; we were afraid but continued onward. Everyone was looking for Jews: the Germans – naturally – and the local police – they were drafted to do this and did their work faithfully. Every Gentile who caught a Jew and turned him over to the authorities received salt as a reward. (There was a great shortage of this necessity.)

Before the entrance to Opsa, a local Gentile told us how to enter the ghetto without being seen. He pointed to a small wood not far from where we stood, and told us that two bodies were lying there: Mulka and Chemka [Nechemia], the sons of Leib Sherman. They were two young sons of Braslav, like us, who'd been caught, tortured and beheaded. We approached and identified them. We wept. In our minds arose gloomy thoughts. We couldn't stay in the Opsa Ghetto for two reasons: First, it was closed to Jews from outside, and worse: every day police from Braslav visited, and they might recognize us. If caught, we could expect certain death. We kept going, somehow, for another 20 kilometers. Exhausted, we reached the Vidz Ghetto [the Widze Ghetto, about 20 kilometers southwest of Opsa]. Here we were allowed to stay for some time. Three weeks passed; we'd only just managed to recover and rest a little. Then an order came for the Judenrat to send a group of young men to the labor camp in Sventzion [about 45 kilometers southwest of Vidz]. They put us in this transport. The camp [in the Sventzion Ghetto] was on Vilna Street, in an area fenced in with barbed wire. They took us inside and separated us into miserable huts. We were about 500 Jews. All of us worked at repairing the train tracks from Sventzion [sic] to Podbrodz [Pabrade, about 27 kilometers southwest of the train station at Nei-Sventzion and 32 kilometers southwest of Sventzion].[3] They put us to work early in the morning and returned us late. We worked at hard labor for half a year, supervised by the men of “Todt.”[4] Then we were told they were transferring us to the Vilna and Kovno ghettos. From trustworthy sources, we learned immediately

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that the destruction of the labor camp was part of the overall plan for destruction, and that some of us would be sent to Ponar.

Meanwhile, in the autumn of 1942, the Germans established another ghetto in Braslav.[5] When this became known to my father and sisters, who believed the Germans' promises of no more killing – they went to the ghetto. In March 1943 [March 19], the ghetto was destroyed and all of them were killed. Now from my family, just I and my brother Tevia remained, and unfortunately the two of us became separated. He decided, with his friend Shlomo Yechilchik, to go to the Vilna Ghetto; I, Moshe Milutin, Yerachmiel Milutin and his wife Esther, all of us from Braslav, decided to go to the Kozian forests, where we'd heard partisans were organizing themselves, and join them. We snuck out of the camp [at the Sventzion Ghetto] and went on our way. We arrived at the village of Kamyelnik, near Lintup [Lyntupy, about 13 kilometers southeast of Sventzion]. We asked one of the farmers we met, and who seemed to be a decent man, if there were any partisans in the area. We'd found the right person. Because we were Jews he put his confidence in us, telling us the partisans had passed by that night and he'd inform us when they came back. The time – Pesach Eve 1943 [April 19]; spring. For a week we hid in the forest and then, when the partisans returned from their mission, the Gentile [arranged for us to meet] with their officer Charitonov. In the course of the conversation we asked him to accept us into the otriad,[6] and we showed him our weapons. He was convinced of our desire to fight the Germans, and he agreed to take us.

Now we were partisans. We had to prove our will to fight and revenge ourselves on the Germans and their collaborators. At night, we went out to the base. In the river, near Paltrova, on the way to their mission, the partisans had submerged two boats. Now we had to take them out and use them to cross the river again. But here we met a surprise. A Lithuanian police unit knew of our movements, apparently because of a denunciation, and they were waiting for us. When we approached the place where the boats had been hidden, they directed heavy fire at us. We fled in disorder to the nearby forest and hid. We'd passed a serious baptism of fire. The next day, we met in the partisan base in Paltrova. At first, they joined the Braslav group to the otriad in the name of Chapayev, but after a number of weeks, they transferred us and a few others to the otriad named Spartak [the Spartak brigade]. In the Kozian forests additional Jewish fighters joined us, as well as Russian soldiers who'd fled German imprisonment. Within a short time, they appointed me officer of a section in the second otriad and Yerachmiel Milutin the assistant officer of a patrol section. I went out on most missions together with Moshe Milutin.

In Vidz, there were many gendarmes and local policemen. They plotted against the villagers with the excuse that the villagers were helping the partisans; they took their possessions and even burned their homes. It was decided to teach them a lesson. On the orders of Commander Strikov, we went out, hundreds of partisans, to attack the uniformed men in Vidz. In addition, we were ordered to take control of the pharmacy in the town and get medicines from it. In a surprise attack, we killed many. We also lost some [fighters] killed, among them six Jews.

To guard a certain important section of the train track near Voropaivo station [Woropajewo, about 55 kilometers south of Braslav], the Germans built bunkers. From these bunkers, they guarded against attacks by the partisans. We received an order to destroy the bunkers; we had to blow them up with the soldiers inside. According to the report of the patrols that surveyed the target, 500 Germans were there. Under the leadership of Ponomariev [Arkadi Ponomarev] we went out, 250 partisans, to carry out the mission. When we got near the place, we divided into squads. The bunkers were equipped with machine guns. In our hands was a new Russian anti-tank gun (PTR) that was excellent for cracking bunkers. We approached in the dark, without them sensing us, until we were 50 meters away, and on command we opened fire with all our weapons. Our success was complete; we blew up the bunkers and killed the Germans.

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At the beginning of 1944, I was appointed officer of the punishment section. The group numbered six men, and besides me there was another Jew, Tzalka Malozhki. We received our instructions from the intelligence department next to headquarters. We acted against traitors and collaborators with the Germans, denouncers, murderers of Jews and the like. Sometimes we carried out the death penalty in the place where they lived, and other times we brought them to headquarters.

When they came to destroy the Jews of the second ghetto in Braslav [the “Opsa” Ghetto in Braslav, which was liquidated on March 19, 1943], Leizer Biliak fought against them with all his strength. With his pistol he shot and killed a German, wounded several others and then succeeded in fleeing. The Germans promised a reward to whoever handed him over to their security forces. Leizer knew the village and the place where his relative Yerachmiel Biliak was hiding. When he got there, he found Yerachmiel's brother – Chontza – with his children; they also had nowhere to go. Yerachmiel's hiding place was too small to contain them all, so Leizer went out with Chontza to look for another hiding place. In the course of their wandering, they entered the village Matseshe [Maciesze, 13 kilometers southeast of Braslav], to their acquaintances the Primchenko family, and asked Alyocha, the head of that family, to allow them to rest and wash. Alyocha agreed, while signaling to his sons that they should notify the Germans that two Jews were in his house, and that one of them was the wanted man – Leizer Biliak. Within a short time, the gendarmes arrived and arrested Leizer and Chontza. They took them out to a nearby hill and shot them.

Two weeks later, villagers told us the story. We decided to take revenge. Three times we went to the village: I, Yerachmiel Biliak and Moshe Milutin, and with us the partisan Pitka Kasharavski, to kill the father and the sons. Twice we returned, because not all of them were in the house. The third time, we found them all. We were prepared for them to resist or try to escape; three of us took positions around the house. Alone, I entered. They recognized me and immediately understood why I came, and they grew very frightened. They tried to escape. I shot one of the sons and killed him. The second son and Alyocha were killed outside by the friends who'd came with me. Consolation? No, but still it was revenge.

At the end of the war, my brother Moshe and Yehuda Graber retrieved Leizer's and Chontza's bodies and brought them to burial next to the pits [in Braslav]. May their memory be blessed!

In the summer of 1944, the Braslav region was liberated, and much more. The partisan units disbanded. I was drafted into the Red Army, and I continued to fight the Germans in the framework of the first Pre-Baltic front until victory over Hitler and his army. Then I returned to Braslav. I went to see with my own eyes the pits next to the train [station] that were filled with thousands of Jews. I also learned that my brother Tuvia [Tevka] had been killed in the police station of the Vilna Ghetto.[7] With the help of the Red Cross, I located my brother Moshe. I'm not the only orphan. Of our family, we two survived.

Footnotes

  1. Tevye was the fictional narrator of a series of short stories by the eminent Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem that were first published in 1894 and later published together as a novel. A pious Jewish milkman in czarist Russia, Tevye had a large number of daughters, one of whom – Hodel – was politically active and broke away from her traditional upbringing. Return
  2. 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
  3. The rail line linked Pabrade and Svencioneliai (Nowo-Swieciany in Polish, Nei-Sventzion in Yiddish), where the train station was located), not Pabrade and Sventzion (Swieciany in Polish, Sventzion in Yiddish), where the ghetto was located. Svencioneliai was about 11 kilometers northwest of Sventzion. Return
  4. The Organization Todt: A civil and military construction and engineering group founded in 1933 by senior Nazi Party member Fritz Todt. Until 1945, it operated or oversaw many major projects in Nazi-occupied Europe, including the concentration camps, and made extensive use of slave labor. Return
  5. After the first Braslav Ghetto was liquidated on June 3-5, 1942, the Germans repopulated it in August or early September 1942 by bringing in some 50 Jews from Opsa, many of them craftsmen. Because these people were from Opsa, this second Braslav Ghetto was also called the “Opsa” Ghetto. It would be liquidated by the Germans on March 19, 1943. Return
  6. Russian word for a partisan unit. Return
  7. The story of Tevka (Tuvia) Biliak is on pages 283-285 of this memorial book. Return


[Page 245]

Chaim-Eliahu Deitch,
Son of Malka-Reiza [née Deitch] and Yitzchak

Translated from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

On September 1, 1939, at the outbreak of the German-Polish war, I was immediately drafted into the army, as were many others from Braslav [Braslaw] and its surroundings. We were taken on the first train to Sventzion [Swieciany, about 85 kilometers southwest of Braslav]. Many draftees from different towns and villages arrived there – a lot of people. In the evening we had a festive gathering, on the initiative of the locals and artists from among the draftees. It was a pleasant and enjoyable event, despite the shock and astonishment of the outbreak of war and the sudden enlistment. But the evening didn't end as planned. In the middle of it, a Polish officer arrived riding on a horse and ordered us all to enter the train cars waiting for us at the station. We were about 2,000 people. All of us were already wearing army uniforms and carrying guns and food. We obeyed the command at top speed, and the train set out. I was able to find a seat, and because I was very tired I fell asleep. We knew we were being taken to the front to fight the invaders. To tell the truth, I'd no wish to fight for the Poles, but this time I knew I'd be fighting against the enemy of the Jews.

We approached Lomzhe [Lomza, about 380 kilometers southwest of Swieciany], but we couldn't enter the railway station. German airplanes had preceded us and bombed the railways and everything on them – locomotives, wagons and war equipment. We passed the town. The bombing had also damaged living areas, and houses were burning. We passed wagons carrying wounded and dead. In some of the places, bearded Jews stood looking out for Jewish soldiers, and they offered us food and drink. We also endured a bombardment as we crossed the bridge over the Narev [Narew] River outside Lomzhe. The airplanes hunted two targets together – a bridge and a large Polish army concentration. We had already crossed the bridge when it collapsed. Many of our soldiers were killed or wounded, and we hadn't yet hurt even one German.

We were ordered to dig ourselves in and fight. A long time had passed since I'd received any training, and the others were the same as me – army reservists. We fought an entire week and suffered many losses, but we managed to hold the line for a time and inflict losses on the enemy. Once, we even launched a counterattack; we forced the enemy to withdraw with many dead and wounded, but this was a passing episode. The next day, they repaid us with such a blow

[Page 246]

that we couldn't recover. Only a few of us were left, and we scattered in every direction.

Three of us ran in one direction; me and two shkotzim [a disparaging term for Gentile young men]. We sought shelter. At night, we walked along a canal. In the morning we were discovered, and the enemy shot at us. A small grove was in front of us. We advanced, bent and crawling, and one of the Gentiles was hit in the eye by a bullet. We wanted to rest a little in the grove and care for this wounded man. Suddenly, there was a shout: “Hände hoch!” [“Hands up!”]. One of us succeeded in running away [while I and the wounded Gentile were captured]. We were taken to a small village and the wounded man was bandaged. After a while, the man who'd escaped was caught and shot; they suspected he was a spy. The two of us were transferred to a prisoner camp in another village.

For several days, I worked in a field bakery and ate well. On the fifth day of our stay in the village, I noticed increased movement by the Germans around us. The same day, we received a command – we organized ourselves like good soldiers. We were taken out of the place, and we marched … We were told we'd have to march to Hamburg. None of us could estimate the distance, but it seemed very threatening. We walked. The food was meager, and the drink also was limited.

All my life, I'll remember that chaotic march and what happened to us on the way. We were very many prisoners; I can't estimate our number. We arrived in Hamburg two weeks later with fewer than half our people. A sane man would never be able to understand why they had to kill so many people on the way. What a satanic idea it was!

We passed through forests, groves and villages, and another forest was ahead on our route. We were told to take off our shirts, stand in order and walk in single file, one behind the other. The path was very narrow, and there were cut trees on the side along the entire path, like markers along the path. The forest was very dark and dense. As we advanced, some Germans stood on both sides of the path opposite us, waiting for us, as if greeting a military parade. Our many guards started to push us forward. As we passed them, they shot anyone who happened to be in front of their pistol muzzles. We started to run and bend over; we stepped on the bodies of our fellow soldiers. By the time we came out of the forest, our ranks were much reduced. We continued the tiring march. We were frightened, tired and wounded. Even the little food we had I couldn't put in my mouth.

In Hamburg, we were placed in a camp with an electric barbed-wire fence. The guard was increased, and they were armed with machine guns. We were put into miserable huts, with no windows or doors. The roofs were sloped to the ground.

 

Recruits of the Polish army, September 1939. Eliahu Munitz (first from the right)
and Hirsh Chepelevitz (third from the right) later fell in battle.

[Page 247]

The Incident with the Coat

On the way to Hamburg, not far from the road we'd passed through, I'd seen a Polish officer lying dead on the ground. It was autumn; it was cold already and raining outside, and our clothes were torn and ragged. I removed his coat from him and put it on. It was ragged, but anyway it was a coat. At night, in the open huts we slept huddled together, covering ourselves with the coat.

There was a well with a hand pump in the camp yard. One morning I went out to wash, and when I came back … the coat was gone. “Where's my coat?” I asked. No one in the hut knew anything about it. I went outside, walked around the hut, and there was a Polish prisoner from a nearby hut, holding my coat. I approached him, yelling in anger, “Why'd you take my coat?!” “You damned Jews,” he replied. I hit him so hard that he fell against the sloped roof. I took the coat from his hands and returned to the hut.

The camp guards heard shouting, saw prisoners gathering, and called for help and entered the camp. They asked questions, investigated, and took me outside. My friends, Jewish prisoners, grew concerned about my fate. Outside they investigated, asked questions, took photographs, and took me into a nice building. I waited a bit. A door was opened, and I was told to enter; a severe-looking German officer was sitting at a well-ordered desk. I stood there trembling. In one second, many thoughts passed through my mind: “They don't need many reasons to kill a Polish prisoner, let alone a Jew.” To the officer's question about how I'd arrived there, I answered that I hadn't wanted to fight, so I'd surrendered. My answer satisfied him. He went on questioning me and wrote down every detail. To his question where I came from, I replied, “Braslav.” He repeated and asked, “From Breslau [in Germany]?” I responded, “No, from Braslav in Poland, not far from Vilna.” He asked me to describe the town. I told him, “It's not a big city. It has several streets, a mountain in the middle [Castle Hill], and is surrounded by large lakes and forests.” Then he asked me to describe the area. I mentioned villages and places I knew very well, not understanding why he was so interested. When I mentioned the Belmont estate [about seven kilometers southeast of Braslav], he yelled “Oh mein Gott!” and again I understood nothing.

I noticed the man had changed. His tension had disappeared. He grew more relaxed, as did I, a little. He pushed a button, and his adjutant came in. He asked for coffee and bread rolls. It didn't enter my mind that they were for me. He invited me to sit and offered me food. Now it was his turn to confess. He told me that during World War I he'd arrived in Braslav with the German army and been appointed the officer in charge of Belmont – the yard and the property. I felt that he enjoyed the nostalgic memory. I enjoyed the coffee and the fresh rolls. Now, I thought, he'd do something good for me.

The interrogation and conversation ended. He said, “Now they'll imprison you. You'll also go on trial. You've attacked a Volksdeutsche [ethnic German], and you'll have to defend yourself, justify yourself, and prove the coat is yours. Otherwise you'll be shot.” A push on the button, and the adjutant entered. A door was opened, I was taken down to a cellar and placed in a very small, narrow cell. There was no room to lie down, sit or even bend my knees, just to stand up. In the door was a little opening, and on the ceiling a small, flickering lamp. The next day, through the door opening they gave me salted fish and cabbage with water. I knew I'd be tormented by thirst if I ate the fish, so I tossed it back through the opening. I ate the cabbage and drank the cabbage water. It was hard to stand in the cell; I couldn't find a place for my aching feet. This went on until

[Page 248]

soldiers came and took me to the trial.

German officers were sitting in a row, and I stood in front of them. They began with the question, “Why did you strike a Volksdeutsche?” I responded, “Because he stole my coat.” “Can you prove it's your coat?” “Of course,” I answered. “Show us,” they said. They put the coat on the table, and I pointed out one by one where the tears and patches were. They checked everything. I went on, “Please, look at the belt at the back of the coat. One of the buttons is tied with an iron wire.” They checked; it was true. I also said that the right-hand pocket was torn and likewise tied with a wire. They checked – also true. After consulting among themselves, one of them said, “The proofs are correct. You're released to return to the camp. The coat will be given to the Volksdeutsche as compensation for the beating.”

My Jewish friends welcomed me back with joy. The next day [September 23, 1939] was Yom Kippur. We fasted and prayed, and at the end of the day food was thrown to us. I couldn't find out who told them we'd fasted or who'd thrown the food …

 

Escape

After several days, an officer came and asked for volunteers for work in the village. I volunteered along with several others. We helped villagers at assorted jobs. They were very satisfied with us, and in return they served us good, varied food. Our guards, every day the same ones, decided we were all right and there was no need to guard us. They went to enjoy themselves in the farmers' houses. Trains passed nearby, and for some reason they slowed down. We decided to escape. We took advantage of the guards' absence and jumped on a cargo train headed for Poland. After a ride of several hours, we calmed down from the excitement. We were no longer prisoners.

We were six, two of us from my area. In German-occupied Poland, friendly Jews explained to us how to continue on our way. They told us that Bialystok and our entire district were under Russian control. We crossed the area of Poland that was partitioned between Germany and Russia. We crossed relatively easily the new border that divided Russia and Germany and reached Bialystok [some 400 kilometers southwest of Braslav]. I breathed with relief – the escape had succeeded. But woe to me if I'd been caught.

Many things happened to me during the escape. I'll briefly tell them. We had to hide because of sudden searches. We walked long distances. Sometimes we ate, but we suffered much from hunger. We had to replace the torn clothes with something more sensible. We had to be very wary of Polish policemen – collaborators with the Germans. My loyal friends were the Jews who helped me a lot on the way.

In Vilna [about 165 kilometers southwest of Braslav], I separated from my friends and took a train that brought me home. I was very happy when I met in the train car one of my townsmen, Yehuda Fisher [probably the merchant son of Avraham-Leib Fisher]. He offered me food and drink, and we talked the entire way. I answered his questions, and he told me what had happened in the town. On the platform in Braslav, I saw women, some of them mothers, who came there daily in the hope of finding their son or husband returning from war. That's how I met my mother, who fainted from the great emotion. Instead of her taking care of me, I ended up taking care of her. Finally, I'd returned home.

[Page 249]

Starting Everything from the Beginning

Mother and I were at home. Father had already died before the war. I couldn't find my brother Zerach, who'd been drafted to serve the new homeland in the Red Army. We only received a few letters from him. Once we got from his commander a letter praising Zerach and saying that we should be proud of him. He was an excellent soldier and an excellent tankman.

I wanted to return to normal civilian life as soon as possible under the new Soviet authority, which was new to me. Here, you didn't do anything without the authorities' permission. There were permissible things as well as restrictions. You weren't allowed to trade as before and couldn't own a business; everything belonged to the state. It was the employer, the one that provided for you. I was accepted as a fireman, but when they learned I'd been trading under the former authority, albeit as a small-scale merchant, they fired me. After a while, I was accepted in a government linen company. I returned to normal life.

 

War Again?! The Germans Again?!

A year and a half passed. I worked, and mother managed the household. In the evenings and on rest days there were meetings with friends, drinking a cup of tea, and conversation. Sometimes, I went to watch a Russian film.

Suddenly, like thunder on a clear day, the war between Russia and Germany broke out [on June 22, 1941]. The Germans were pressing hard and advancing. During the first two days of the war, I was completely beside myself. I ran from place to place and from person to person to hear and see what others were doing. On the third day of the war, I decided to escape to Russia[1]; I was afraid of the Germans. I said goodbye to my mother. She was helpless and didn't know what to say to me. She wept. The escapees all ran in one direction – to Russia. I went by train for part of the way and continued on foot. There were many Jews along the way.

We arrived in Disna [Dzisna, about 72 kilometers east of Braslav]. A lot of people had arrived there from nearby or further away. All were in a rush, afraid the Germans would precede us and then we'd be lost. We heard airplanes pass above us, on their way to targets in Russia. A train arrived bound for Polotsk, which was our destination [Polotsk was about 35 kilometers southeast of Disna]. The crowd pushed itself onto the platforms and into the compartments. The locomotive whistled, and we moved out. We were one day ahead of the Germans, maybe only a few hours, we thought. But the train had only just started to pick up speed when German planes attacked us with guns, dropping bombs on us. A tumult broke out. We tried to hide under anything available, putting something over our heads to avoid being hurt. Many jumped from the speeding train. I jumped too and was unhurt. The train continued on, and the planes disappeared.

Some of the people from Braslav met in an open field and discussed what to do. Chances of escape were growing slim. Some said it was better to be back home when the Germans came. We decided to go back. The way was long and tiring. Many of us tore our shoes, and it was very difficult to walk barefoot. We could get water from anywhere, but we were hungry and it was harder to get food.

While we were at the entrance to the town [Braslav], Russian soldiers entered from the direction of Slobodka [the northeast]. We were surprised – were the Russians still here? At exactly the same time, the German Army was entering opposite them, from the direction of Opsa [the southwest]. I went home.

[Page 250]

The Germans Are with Us

On the first Friday after the Germans arrived in Braslav [June 27, 1941], they gathered all the Jews and expelled us to a large swamp behind the city. Gendarmes with guns and machine guns guarded us to prevent our escape. Two Jews were killed during the round-up – the shochet [ritual slaughterer], Shlomo [Zilber], and the youth Chaim Milutin. We were terrified. It was said they'd kill us all in the marsh. I walked with my mother, and beside me, struggling along, was the elderly rabbi, Rabbi Avraham[-Abba-Yaacov] Zahorie. We lay in the marsh for a day and a night. On Saturday morning, we were told to return home. Most of the houses had been pillaged by the Gentiles. To my good fortune, our home was untouched.

Soon after that, they ordered us to wear the yellow patch on our chest and on our backs. We weren't allowed to walk on the sidewalk. It wasn't permitted to stay outside from evening until morning. It was forbidden to buy from Gentiles. There were many other prohibitions as well. The Judenrat [Jewish Council] was in charge of executing the orders, and they were carried out strictly. It was headed by Yitzchak Mindel, and several Jewish policemen were in his service.

In the spring of 1942, the Jews were ordered to leave their houses and gather along a small street that was announced as the ghetto. We had to leave our houses and belongings, and we moved to a small house with two other families, the Valin brothers. I succeeded in selling a few belongings to the Gentiles. With the money, I bought wheat and hid it behind a woodpile. On Passover Eve [April 1, 1942], several families joined together to bake matzot [unleavened bread]; they invited me to join them. We worked for several nights in the cellar of the house of Abba Shmushkovitz, the former bakery owner. I was so happy that I had some wheat and was able to prepare some matzot as well. Mother was happy.

The Judenrat received a new demand from the authorities, to send them two men able to do mechanical work and locksmithing, and two more to take care of the horses. At the Judenrat, it was decided that for the mechanical work Moshe-Chatzkel Milutin and another youth from Kovno would be suitable; and for the stable work and taking care of the horses they sent me and Chaim Munitz,[2] the son of Shmuel-Yankel. The stable and the locksmith workshop were near one another. There were many horses in the stable, and there was a fenced yard. Both of us had to care for the horses, clean manure from the stables, feed and water the horses on time, and take care of the equipment. We had to work hard, for many hours, to meet the authorities' demands. But I must admit that the officer in charge treated us nicely. He didn't get angry, yell or hit us. Things continued in that manner for about half a year [actually just two months: early April to early June].

Since it was forbidden to leave the stable unattended, we arranged that one of us would go visit his family each night. The day before the ghetto was liquidated [on June 3-5, 1942], I left with the German officer to go to one of the villagers in the area to get hay for the horses. He went on horseback, and I went in a wagon hitched to two horses. The German officer went back as soon as we finished loading, and I arrived back at the stable late that night. I told Chaim, “I haven't visited my family for two nights; they [sic] must be worried. I'll wash up a bit and go and see my mother.” Chaim said, “While you're washing and getting dressed, I'll go see my family and come back soon. Then you'll go.” I agreed. But we didn't know what was about to happen the next day. Chaim couldn't return.

Early in the morning [June 3, 1942], a local policeman came and took me to jail. Before that he told me to take off my clothes, and he took my shoes and trousers, which were in good condition. I didn't understand the reason for my arrest and didn't yet know why Chaim hadn't returned. That morning and throughout the day, I heard a lot of shooting, the sounds of guns and machine guns. I didn't understand why they were shooting, and I didn't know that one kilometer away

[Page 251]

the Jews of the town were being exterminated. In the afternoon, a policeman I knew passed by. Through the bars, I asked him why there was so much shooting, and he told me everything. How can I possibly say all that I endured during those days and nights?

Several days later, the German officer for whom I worked arrived, released me, and told me to go back and take care of the horses. Could I go back to that life of routine again? Caring for the horses, feeding them? And my mother? I hadn't even said goodbye to her. Perhaps she'd looked for me by the pits, wanting to face the end together. These thoughts raced through my mind. Could it be that I, Chaim-Eli, son of Malka-Reiza and Yitzchak from the village of Galis [probably Gajlesze, about 11 kilometers southeast of Braslav], brother of Zerach (maybe he was fighting now against the Germans) was the only remaining Jew? Why hadn't they taken me with all the others? And why had they thrown me behind the bars that morning?! …

The next day, my friends came back. Moshe-Chatzkel and the youth from Kovno had run away to the lake and hidden themselves there during the days of the massacre. They said this to the German officer too. We worked a little, walked around, and talked a lot. The German didn't demand much of us. We saw the Gentiles carrying wagons full of Jewish property from the ghetto.

One week after the massacre, while we were in the stable yard, a Gentile acquaintance passed by the fence and, without stopping, told me that my mother and some other Jews were in the Judenrat yard [alive]. The German allowed us to go. I shouted, “I have a mother!” We were told that policemen had passed along the ghetto street and announced there'd be no more killings – this was a German promise. People [presumably including his mother] had come out of their hiding places, which the murderers hadn't managed to find during the days of the massacre. Moshe-Chatzkel found his relative Esther [Rusonik] in one such hiding place. We discussed sending her out to one of the villages.

The German told me to bring him a slaughtered pig from the Ostropolsky sausage factory. He also asked me to get some good bedding, and suggested I look for them in the houses of the Jews. This was an excellent opportunity to get Esther out of there. I harnessed a horse to a wagon, loaded it with lots of hay, and went out. I put the pig on the wagon and had also found some good bedding for the German. I went to Esther's hiding place, and suggested she come with me. I wrapped her in sheets, took her out from the house, laid her down in the wagon, and covered her with straw. I gave the pig and bedding to the German, and this time I heard a good word from him – “Danke schoen” [“Thank you”]. Moshe-Chatzkel transferred Esther to a Gentile acquaintance, Slitski, who promised to protect her and take care of her.[3]

On the 10th day after the ghetto massacre, we heard shooting again.[4] This time we guessed what it was. Indeed, on that day they liquidated all those who'd survived the first massacre. Wagons laden with clothes arrived near the stable. When they unloaded the wagons, I recognized my mother's dress. I murmured, “Baruch Dayan Emet” [“Blessed Be the Righteous Judge”].[5]

 

Escaping Again

Now we knew for sure that there were no Jews left in Braslav. Any who survived must have escaped and hidden themselves. It was very dangerous to remain; we decided to run away. But to get out through the gate to the road, even at night, was very risky. There were German forces in their offices and their accommodations. Gendarmes and police also patrolled during the night. Any Jew caught would die. At night, we dug under the foundation of the stable. The place we came out to was an open field. People didn't search there.

[Page 252]

We wanted to go through the fields to some acquaintances in the nearby villages. At the time, we didn't know where the massacre had taken place. There, not far from the train station, we saw the burial places of our beloved ones. There were long, large pits. We saw how the pits were exploding from internal pressure, as if from an earthquake.

We separated. My friends went to a Gentile blacksmith whom Moshe-Chatzkel trusted. I went to the village of Murazha [Murazh, about three kilometers northeast of Braslav] and hid myself under a pile of straw in the barn of an acquaintance, Taduvka [Tadowka]. After two days, he discovered me, gave me food and asked me nicely to go. I wandered from place to place until winter came, eating anything I could get. Winter began, and it started to get too cold to wander around. I went to the village of Pantilayki [Pancielejki, about five kilometers north of Braslav]. It was snowing on the way. I arrived at a house and climbed into the attic of the barn. In the morning, when Anton [the house's occupant] came to feed the cows, he noticed footprints on the snow, climbed up and found me. He was astonished to see me, and willingly agreed to help me.

I remained with him about a year and a half [roughly the second half of 1942 to early 1944], with a short break – during a certain period he was afraid that his daughter-in-law would turn me in, and he asked me to leave his place. I went from him to another small village, Zarach [Zaracz, six kilometers west of Braslav], to a farmer named Milevitz [Milewicz]. He had a large family with seven children. They willingly accepted me. They put me in the bath, gave me a change of clothing and food, and hid me in the barn. A short time later, they heard that a Jew from Braslav had been caught by the gendarmes, been unable to withstand the torture, and told them the name of the village and the family who'd hidden him. The Germans had killed the family and burned the entire village. The family hiding me became afraid of hiding me any longer. I went back to Pantilayki and met Anton near his house. I asked to stay with him for a while. He agreed that I could stay with him, and he also told me that a new ghetto had being built in Braslav.[6] If I agreed, he was willing to check whether they'd accept me.

Meanwhile, news began to arrive about the Russian victories and German retreats. The evil daughter-in-law now changed her tune; it was convenient now to be nice to me. Once, she came up to the attic and said, “Don't be afraid of Anton. He needs you now and wants to keep you. He's a criminal.” She told me that during the great massacre of the Jews of Braslav, two Jewish women had thrown themselves into the pit without being hit by the bullets. They were Eidel and her daughter Chana Munitz [mother and sister of the Chaim-Noach Munitz described on page 250]. At night, after everyone had left, they'd emerged from under the heap of corpses, naked and covered with blood, and come there. He, Anton, had turned them over to the police for salt and a lighter.

After Anton checked in Braslav and told me I couldn't be admitted into the ghetto, I left him and went to look for the partisans. I went from place to place and from one partisan unit to another, but they didn't want to accept me without weapons. In the otriad[7] of Polish partisans I was told clearly, “We don't accept any Jews.” Then I went to the village of Babuli near Zamosh [Bobyli a.k.a. Bobyle, about eight kilometers southwest of Zamosh]. I entered the command room of the otriad and said to them, “I don't have a gun, but I'm an experienced soldier who wants to fight. I'm not leaving here. Instead of being killed by the Germans, I prefer to be killed by a Russian bullet. Please kill me now.” The officer was impressed by my words and asked me to wait, while he went to speak with his superiors. When he returned, he told me I was admitted to the otriad. I was glad. I received an otrezanka [sawed-off rifle[8]] and took part in the majority of the otriad's actions. Later I was transferred to a special mission unit and put in charge of a 12-man unit. We were ordered to cross the old border and organize a new otriad under Morozov's command.

We proceeded on out-of-the-way roads for many days, avoiding encounters

[Page 253]

with the German Army. We crossed the Dvina River near the city of Disna and reached our target. We organized quickly; the new otriad under Morozov's command began intensive activity. Now the enemy was between a hammer and an anvil. The Red Army was repelling them, and as they withdrew the Germans encountered our fighting unit. Together, we inflicted on them losses of soldiers and arms.

… It was the spring 1944. The Red Army soldiers continued to expel the invaders from their land. In the liberated areas, the partisans had stopped their activity and joined the regular army formations. When Minsk, the capital of Belorussia, was liberated, we applied to join the army. We were concentrated in a camp. In a festive roll call, we were informed that a Polish division was fighting by the side of the Russian army. I joined the Second Army. We began moving. I passed a course in Vilna and received the rank of corporal. We received Polish army uniforms. Around Poznan [about 280 kilometers west of Warsaw], we battled the retreating German army and took part in expelling them from Polish land. We were in Munich [sic] when the Wehrmacht [German army] announced its surrender.[9]

The war ended on May 8, 1945. I remained serving in the Second Army until October that year. I was released from the army on October 4, 1945.

The next step was aliyah, immigration to Israel.

 

A bronze medal was awarded by the Polish army to Chaim Deitch
for action and bravery in battle against the German invader.

 

Footnotes
  1. Meaning the border of pre-1939 Russia, which was to the east of Braslav. Return
  2. This Chaim Munitz (Chaim-Noach, son of Shmuel-Yankel and Eidel) was different from the Chaim Munitz (son of Rafael-Yaacov and Shaitel) mentioned on pages 70-71 of this memorial book, as well as the Chaim Munitz (son of Levi-Yitzchak and Rachel) who survived and left an account on pages 280-282 of this memorial book. Return
  3. The account of Emma Milutin-Korner (born Esther Rusonik) is on page 274-279 of this memorial book. Return
  4. Survivors' accounts differ on the number of days that passed between the ghetto liquidation, which began on June 3, 1942, and the time the Germans and their collaborators began killing the remaining Jews who subsequently came out of hiding. Return
  5. The blessing recited upon learning of bereavement. Return
  6. In August or early September 1942, some 50 Jews from the town of Opsa were transferred to a new ghetto in Braslav, to repopulate the Braslav Ghetto after its inmates had been slaughtered on June 3-5, 1942. Because the members of this second, new ghetto in Braslav were from Opsa, the second Braslav Ghetto was also called the “Opsa” Ghetto. It would be liquidated on March 19, 1943. Return
  7. Russian word for a partisan military unit. “Polish partisans” probably refers to the partisans of the nationalist and anti-Communist Armia Krajowa (Polish Home Army). Return
  8. A rifle whose butt had been sawed off and barrel shortened, making it easier to carry; used by the regions' peasants before the war because it could be hidden beneath one's jacket. When the Red Army retreated from the region in June-July 1941, many peasants found soldiers' abandoned rifles and turned them into otrezankas. Return
  9. Munich in southern Germany was liberated by the U.S. army on April 30, 1945 and not the Soviet army or Polish troops, neither of which reached southern Germany. Nevertheless, Mr. Deitch said in the Hebrew that he was in “Minchon” (Hebrew for Munich). Munich doesn't seem correct, but an alternative location for the reference hasn't been identified. Return

 

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