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[Page 297]

Zalman Charmatz,
Son of Chaya-Golda and Bentzion

Translated from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

I took part in World War II against Nazi Germany. On April 13, 1939, I was drafted into the Polish army with many young men from Braslav [Braslaw]. That same year, in the summer I was sent to the Slovakian border in the Carpathian Mountains.

On September 1, 1939, war broke out between Germany and Poland. I experienced my first “baptism of fire” in the town of Zhibitz [Zabice, in western or southwestern Poland]. The Polish armed forces weren't able to withstand the onslaught of the Nazi forces, and our forces retreated to Krakow, while the Germans were already approaching Warsaw; thus, the Polish army was already surrounded. The officers were the first to turn their backs on the enemy and disappear, and the troops simply fled in every direction or were taken prisoner.

In order not to fall prisoner to the Germans, we advanced in small groups at night with a few other Jews and crossed the Bug River (between the German lines). After many nights of walking, we arrived at the railway station of Brest (Brest-Litovsk), which was already in the hands of the Red Army [Brest was about 200 kilometers east of Warsaw, along the Bug River]. There I met my fellow townsman Shimon Shmushkovitz, who later perished. Many Jewish soldiers gathered there at the railway station in Brest. Although the Russians had promised us we'd be allowed to return home, they took all of us prisoner and shipped us deep into Russia to the city of Vologda [about 410 kilometers north of Moscow]. After spending two months sorting us out, they released us (the soldiers) to go home while keeping the officers in the camp.

When I got home, Braslav was already in the hands of the Soviet regime. My father, who for many years was a soltys [village elder] in our town, was arrested and sent to a labor camp. On April 13, 1940 I was exiled to Siberia, together with my sister Perle, of blessed memory, my aunt Leah, of blessed memory, and some other Jewish families.

In the middle of 1943, I was drafted into the Red Army in the town of Petropavlovsk [in Kazakhstan] and sent on a course for sergeants in the town of Semipalatinsk [now called Semey, in Kazakhstan]. I completed the course with the grade of “excellent” and was sent to the Third Belorussian Front under the command of Marshal [Ivan] Cherniakhovsky.[1] I took part in the battles for the liberation of Vilna, Kovno and Mariampol and also the villages of Vevie [Vievis], Zhezmir [Ziezmariai] and Kausdar [probably Kaisiadorys] in Lithuania, as far as the Prussian border.

[Page 298]

These towns and villages had already been emptied of their Jewish populations. I could sense the destruction that had been visited upon my people, and fought fiercely to take vengeance against the Nazis. I reached the conclusion that the continued existence of the Jewish people would be secured only by the creation of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.

At the beginning of 1944 our unit was transferred to the southern front, called the First Ukrainian Front, under the command of Marshal [Ivan] Konev [May 1944-May 1945], and integrated into the Red Army's excellent 285th Mortar Regiment (the possessors of the “Red Flag”) under the command of Colonel Baylenki - a Jew from Minsk. With this regiment, a unit with heavy mortars (120 millimeter), we fought to conquer the town of Zheshuv [Rzeszow] in [southeastern] Poland. After hard battles we conquered the town of Tarnovich [Tarnowiec] on the German border and extended our reach to conquer the town of Gleiwitz [Gliwice, now in southern Poland], on German soil. There I was lightly wounded. There was a short pause in the fighting, after which I was again sent to the front and took part in the battles of the Oder River [a river in Czechia and western Poland], the city of Breslau [now Wroclaw in Poland] and its surroundings, and the fall of Berlin and the liberation of Prague.

At the end of the war, the regiment was transferred to the vicinity of Lvov (Ukraine) to liquidate the internal enemy - the Bandera supporters[2] - who'd played a significant part in the annihilation of the Jews during the Holocaust.

For my part in battle I received four medals: a medal of heroism, a medal of excellence, and two letters of commendation and gratitude from the Superior Command (for the conquest of Berlin and the liberation of Prague).

In December 1945, I was demobilized from the Red Army and in 1948 I immigrated to Israel.

I praise and thank G-d, who gave me the strength and the right to fight under arms and to take vengeance against the Nazi oppressor, and to see them defeated and humiliated.

And I'm fortunate that I'm a free man in our own country - Israel.

 

Letter of commendation received by Zalman Charmatz for his participation in the capture of Berlin

 

Footnotes
  1. This front wasn't formed until April 1944; it was commanded by Cherniakhovsky from then until February 1945. Return
  2. The supporters of Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian ultranationalist who sought an independent Ukraine. During some periods of the war, Bandera and his supporters were allied with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union and committed atrocities against Jews. Return


[Page 300]

About Peretz Levin,[1]
Son of Chaya-Sheina and Leib-Meir

Translated from the Hebrew by Dr. Ida Schwarcz

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

Selections from the Letters of Peretz Levin That Were Sent from the Front during World War II

Peretz Levin was a soldier in the Red Army who was killed on February 8, 1945 in eastern Prussia. He was wounded in his arm [or hand], but refused to leave the battle. Shortly thereafter, he was struck and killed by a shell fragment.

Dear friends!

I'm writing again to you. We passed Kovno and Vilna. So many ruins, so much blood and tears! At the train station in Minsk, I met some young men from my town [Braslav]. I heard a story from a young man of 19, whose voice was that of an old man.

He told me that my family was murdered by the Nazis on June 3, 1942 [the massacre of the Braslav Ghetto]. My wife's brother carried my only son [Leiba] in his arms. My older brother, Zvi, and his infant daughter hid in the attic. The baby's cries gave them away, and the Germans shot and killed them right there.

The slaughter of the Jews in the town lasted three days [June 3-5]. People were thrown into pits while still alive. They were driven to their deaths with rods, like dogs. Whoever couldn't walk was shot on the way.

No! No! It's impossible to forget.

Many young people died as heroes. Only those who were in the forests as partisans survived, and those who concealed themselves in all manner of hiding places.

I know one thing now: We must kill these barbaric Nazis and their collaborators. The hatred burning in me has strengthened me, given me courage and energy.

They told me that a young man from our town turned to those around him while the bullets were tearing his body into pieces: “Jews, be strong and brave! Avenge our blood!”[2]

… I know nothing about my sister, nor about my brother Yehoshua, who was drafted in May 1941.

They killed my mother, my brother [or brothers, it's unclear in the original], my wife and my son.

… Why am I writing to you, you who don't know me!? … It's difficult for me, I must share all this with someone. I haven't one soul close to me, you must understand.

Does [my brother] Yaacov write to you? I write to him often.

Peace to you.

[Page 301]

Selections from His Last Correspondence (January 24, 1945):

… I await a letter from you, write and say how you are and how Yaacov is doing. Why are there no letters? I write to you often.

So little time! We go forward night and day. The Red Army is doing great things - victory over the Germans. We're all resting now between battles, and I, instead of sleeping - am writing to you. Who knows when I'll be able to write again.

We're striking the enemy.

Peretz

[another letter]

Dear friends,

Greetings from the front.

I've a bit of free time, so am writing to friends.

We're advancing, pursuing the Germans, the enemy's land is burning, we're taking revenge! We're winning! We march forward proudly.

Lacking sleep, but in high spirits!

I feel good - I'm taking part in destroying the enemy.

Peretz

Footnotes

  1. The account of Peretz's brother, Yaacov Levin, is on pages 86-89 of this memorial book and includes some information about Peretz. Return
  2. This probably refers to Chaim Milutin, who in late June 1941 was shot, together with Shlomo Zilber, when the Jews of Braslav were taken to a swamp outside the town. See page 254 of the memorial book. Return


[Page 302]

About the Three Fighting Veinshtein [Weinstein] Brothers

Translated from the Hebrew by Dr. Ida Schwarcz

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 
 

 

We wish to write about three brothers, the three Veinshtein brothers: Shmaryahu of blessed memory, Shmuel of blessed memory, and Yisrael-Yosef, may he live long, natives of Braslav [Braslaw], sons of Gitel and Uri of blessed memory, whom the hand of fate separated and scattered far from their birthplace, homes and families, dragging them into the terrible storm of war.

The youngest brother, Yisrael-Yosef, who came to Israel after the war, relates:

“In 1940, I was drafted into the Red Army as a regular soldier. When the war broke out between Russia and Germany [in June 1941], I was sent to the Crimean Peninsula. There were fierce and desperate battles. I took part in the defense of the city of Sevastopol [about 1,310 kilometers southeast of Braslav, on the Crimean peninsula] as an artilleryman.

“One should remember that at the start of the war the Germans were at full strength in men and material. They attacked without pause and advanced quickly.

“In one of the battles, most of the soldiers in my company were killed by the Germans and some were taken prisoner. About 20 of us remained, mainly Jews, who made every effort to avoid falling into the Nazis' clutches. We ran for hundreds of kilometers, together with thousands of Soviet soldiers, retreating to the rear. Eight of us reached Baku [about 1,410 kilometers southeast of Sevastopol], and the local defense office sent us to the city of Molotov [now Perm, about 2,130 kilometers north of Baku] in the Urals, where we were put to work in military factories.

“Within a short time I was made manager of production, with many workers serving under me. I had many successes. After the war I was asked to remain and continue my work, with promises of benefits and a higher rank, but I gave up everything and left Russia.

“I came to Israel in 1948 and met my brother Shmuel, who was still alive. I told him my war experiences and he told me how he'd brought munitions to the front as a soldier in the Jewish Brigade[1], for those fighting the Germans. Shmuel also told me of the heroism and death in battle [in 1941] of our brother Shmaryahu of blessed memory. Both of us already knew that our large family in Braslav had been annihilated by the Germans.”

The second brother, Shmuel, came to the Land of Israel in 1939 and was a member of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel [near Jerusalem]. Comrade Moshe Katz writes, “Shmuel was a quiet, gentle man, and faithfully did all that was asked of him. I knew him well, because

[Page 303]

I worked with him for a long time on the railway. He was devoted to his home, Ramat Rachel, and loved the place and his friends.

“With the outbreak of World War II, he volunteered to join the Jewish units within the British army to fight against the Nazis, and he served as a driver in RASC Company 650 from June 22, 1942 until July 1946.”[2]

 

Selections from Letters Sent by Shmuel in the Army to His Home, Ramat Rachel

Before his army company left for abroad:

We began a new way of life in the company . . . on Sabbath night, we organized the first Sabbath party. Many guests, including women soldiers, came from Givat Brenner [a kibbutz in central Israel] and Rehovot. The Jewish commander spoke about the Nazi hell in which the Jews of Europe find themselves, and it's our duty to avenge the blood that's being spilled like water . . .

To all my comrades [adult members of the kibbutz] and the children, greetings!

I received the packages of newspapers and two packages as a gift for the holiday of freedom [Passover]. I thank you. I also received the gift package from the settlement, and I prepared a nice package for the refugees. I discovered that there'd been an Italian concentration camp here for our brothers, the children of Israel. We talked to them. One of them spoke Hebrew very well; a veteran Zionist. He told us of all the difficulties they'd endured. The Italians' behavior toward them was fair. At the time of the [Allied] invasion [of Italy], they hid in the hills. They showed me the hiding places in the fearful mountains. They sat in niches [in the mountainside] for 13 days without food or water and suffered badly until our army came and saved them. The Italians, the residents of the town, knew where they were hiding, of course, but didn't betray them to the Germans . . . On the Seder night [ritual feast celebrating Passover], many Jewish soldiers from various armies joined us and Gentile guests also came; high-ranking officers as well as refugees sat with us. The children of the refugees asked the four questions [part of the Seder night ritual]. Many people had tears in their eyes . . . After the holiday, Moshe Shertok[3] visited us. A number of Jewish companies gathered, and he gave a talk to us . . .

Write about everything happening in the kibbutz. Peace to all of you, and we shall see you in the Land of Israel after the victory.

Shmuel

December 20, 1943:

. . . I received a diary and a letter from Ben-Zion. I can't describe our joy. All my thoughts are concentrated on what's happening in the Land [of Israel]. This affects me greatly, as it does the other comrades.

On the one hand, we're glad to have the honor of being in the first ranks of the units invading Europe, and on the other hand I'm sorry we aren't with you in the difficult days facing our country.

Shmuel

Shmuel passed away on July 3, 1980 after an illness.

 

[Selections from Letters Sent by Shmaryahu to His Family]

Shmaryahu, the oldest, was born in 1913 and immigrated to the Land [of Israel] in 1935 with his wife, Sara. That same year, their son Uri was born. Shmaryahu was one of the first to enlist in the British army for the war against the Nazis. He volunteered for the Land of Israel's “suicide squad” (51st Middle East Commando), fought in Eritrea, and fell in battle on March 5, 1941.[4]

When Shmaryahu was in British army camps in Egypt and elsewhere, he was careful to keep in contact through letters with his wife Sara and his brother Shmuel, who arrived in the Land [of Israel] on the eve of the war's outbreak, as well as with many friends. Here are a few selections from his letters kept by his son, Uri:

[Page 304]

January 22, 1940:

. . . I reached my destination. I was so deep in thought about the family that on the train I lost my pack and its contents. I especially regret the loss of my photographs, addresses, and material for a book on my life in the army that I'd started writing . . . Greetings and kisses to Sara and Urileh.

Shmaryahu Veinshtein

January 14, 1940 [sic]:

. . . I've returned again to army life. After my leave, I miss the family even more . . . But the main thing is to be healthy and we'll see each other again . . .

Shmaryahu

June 8, 1940:

. . . Please give my greetings to Sara, may she watch over Uri carefully so that he'll be strong. I wanted to send him a gift, but it's not possible at this time. Perhaps another time . . .

Shmaryahu

October 15, 1940:

To Sara and my dear son Uri. I wrote to you only yesterday. Now the situation has changed here. Please don't send me anything except photos . . .

. . . Please don't worry about me, I'm not in dangerous places . . . The boy probably misses me. Tell him I miss him too, and maybe in three months' time we'll see each other again.

. . . In the next letter I'll write about changes in my life . . . . Happy holidays to you. Urileh, don't cry, and listen to your mother. Be healthy and well. Happy holidays, Happy New Year, and a peaceful year to you.

Shmaryahu Veinshtein

November 22, 1940, somewhere in Egypt:

To my dear wife and my sweet son, Urileh, be well.

. . . I love reading your beautiful letters that you wrote me . . . . I understand you're in difficulties, I'll try to help as much as I can. On Monday, the 24th of this month, I'll send you lira [Italian currency].

. . . I wrote three letters to my brother Shmuel but didn't receive a reply. If you've received a letter from my mother, please send it to me. And don't forget to take my pants from the laundry. . .

 

This Is How the Brother Shmaryahu Fought and Fell

From the earliest battles the commando proved itself; even though its numbers were small, it was superior in every way to the enemy, which was 10 times larger. Small scouting parties of 10-15 people appeared everywhere in the rear of the Italians, and their appearance alone aroused fear and anxiety among the enemy. The enemy didn't know rest, either in the daytime or at night, and felt that behind every bush and rock there lurked the soldiers of the commando, whose caps decorated with colorful feathers brought with them fear and death.

--- “Lochem” [“The Fighter”]; from Sefer HaHitnadvut [Jewish Military Volunteers in World War II, published in Israel in 1949]

[Page 305]

I had the honor of belonging to the third group [presumably of the commando], which was considered the best. We carried out many exemplary missions, such as the unofficial visit to the Italian headquarters in Keren, and it wasn't our fault that all the officers there were sleeping in pajamas and unable to receive us properly. We came saying “Buona notte” (“Good evening”), and it was the sentry's fault for not responding to our greeting: he was sleeping and we didn't allow him to wake up. That morning, we lost three good comrades: an English captain and two men in the ranks; one of them was Shmaryahu Veinshtein, and we'll never forget him.

--- Zvi Svet; from Sefer HaHitnadvut

 

Selections from Letters Sent to Shmuel (Brother of Shmaryahu) in Kibbutz Ramat Rachel

[First selection]

“It is with deep sorrow that we inform you of the death of our comrade Shmaryahu Veinshtein of blessed memory. He fell as a true hero during one of our attacks on the hills near Keren (Eritrea) on Wednesday, 6 Adar 5701, March 5, 1941. With his courage and bravery, he saved our company. Every one of us, from the chief commander to the regular soldier, value his good heart and his bravery in his last moments. He wasn't the only casualty among us, but we wept only at his death.

“Please receive the sympathies of all his comrades. They are all mourning like you. May his memory be blessed!”

[Second selection]

“On March 4, at six in the evening, the military company in which the departed served --- together with his Jewish friends who are writing this letter --- left to survey three hills in no man's land and see if anyone from the enemy's army was there. They walked for three hours over the hills, until they came to a plain where there were barbed-wire fences.

“A battle started with the Italian army . . . . there was a hail of bullets and explosions. The late Shmaryahu Veinshtein distinguished himself in the battle. He was responsible for the company's machine gun, and he fired with speed and energy. The battle lasted for an hour and a half, ending with the retreat of the Italians and the conquest of the hill by the British-Jewish unit . . .

“. . . The next day, March 5 in the morning, the Italians began a counterattack to regain the lost position. In this battle, Shmaryahu Veinshtein fell.”

The letter ends: “Be proud of your brave brother, who died a hero's death. He gave pride to our company and to all the Jewish people. We're continuing on the path he set, and may G-d enable us to avenge the blood of Shmaryahu, our good comrade, and the blood of our nation spilled in vain in the lands of the world. We're certain that we'll see you soon, after we achieve the victory and freedom for the world, and especially the freedom of the Jewish people.

“We share your deep sorrow.”

[Third selection]

May His Soul Be Bound Up in the Bond of Life

“Shmuel! Your brother Shmaryahu wanted you to say Kaddish for him and also that Uri should learn how to say Kaddish. After the shiva [seven days of mourning], try to take care of Urileh. We, the friends of Shmaryahu of blessed memory, have vowed to concern ourselves about Urileh all our lives if we live . . .

“. . . Don't despair. This is a time of emergency, and Shmaryahu fell as a hero. Tomorrow it'll be the turn of someone else, perhaps mine. Nevertheless, we don't despair. We'll continue fighting and avenging ourselves on the enemy, despite the danger, until the sinners are wiped from the earth and there are no more tears. Amen Selah . . .”

[Page 306]

The first and third selections were written by Levi Perkal, 10690 51st Middle East Commando M.B.T. The second selection was written by his comrades in battle.

 

The Heroic Actions of the Jewish Fighters

Many Jewish fighters at the front volunteered for units that accepted the most dangerous missions and were called “suicide squads.”

The news from the front testifies to the heroism of the Jewish companies and the value of their actions. Shmaryahu Veinshtein, who was killed in the battle opposite Keren, (see the Davar[5] from Monday) saved an entire company while sacrificing his life.

(From “Palestine and the Middle East”)

[Page 307]

Details: Shmaryahu Veinshtein, son of Gita and Uri

Born: In 1913 in Braslav in the Vilna district

Immigrated to the Land of Israel: In 1935

Served: In the British Army (World War II)

Army number: 10696

Date and place where he fell: March 5, 1941 near Keren (Eritrea)

Burial: In the British military cemetery near Keren (Eritrea) [The Keren War Cemetery]

(From “Palestine and the Middle East”)

 

Grave of Shmaryahu Veinshtein

 

Footnotes
  1. A military unit established within the British army in 1944 and composed mainly of Jews from Palestine. It fought mostly in Italy in 1944 and was disbanded in 1946. Return
  2. Royal Army Service Corps, a part of the British army responsible for transport and supply. Return
  3. Moshe Shertok (later Sharett) (1894-1965), a Zionist leader in British Palestine. Following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, he served as foreign minister and later as prime minister. Return
  4. The 51st Commando was formed in 1940 within the British army, from among Jewish and Arab volunteers in Palestine. It was active through 1941, fighting against the Italian forces in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and Eritrea. In 1942 the 51st Commando was absorbed into the Middle East Commando, which disbanded later that same year. Return
  5. Davar (Word) was a Hebrew-language daily newspaper published in British Palestine from 1925. Return


[Page 308]

About Gershon Yankelevitz

by Yaacov Levin

Translated from the Hebrew by Dr. Ida Schwarcz

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

“. . . And if you find me
Dead on the field
Dead in the snow
Covered with a bit of straw . . . ”

--- Stanza from a partisan song

In the books Partizaner Geyen! by Kaczerginski and Milhemet HaPartizanim by Kahanovich, a dramatic battle is described, led by the partisans in the Nacha [Nacza] Forest.[1] A son of Braslaw, Gershon Yankelevitz, nicknamed Velvel-Gershke, took part in this battle and fell as a hero.

Yankelevitz was born in Braslav [Braslaw] in 1910. In the mid-1930s he moved to Lida, where he was married and lived until the war. In the summer of 1942 he fled from the [Lida] ghetto to the Nacha Forest [about 60 kilometers southwest of Vilna], where he joined the Kotovsky partisans (Leninski Komsomol) and was appointed a platoon commander. Thanks to his knowledge of the forest paths, he was often able to break through with his platoon when surrounded by the Germans and White Poles.[2] At the beginning of 1943, he derailed two German trains near Martzikantz [Martsikants].[3] He was instrumental in eliminating a great number of enemies.

Yankelevitz was especially good at sabotaging telephone and telegraph lines. During one such action, on the Martzikantz-Sobakentza [Martsikants-Sobakentsy][4] road, he caught a spy and handed him over to the special division of the platoon.

Kaczerginski's book continues:

. . . It was September 9, 1943. Grisha [another partisan] tells: “We were on the way to carry out a mission. Suddenly we heard voices: Halt! Halt! We scattered among the bushes with our weapons drawn.

“I looked around: there were 25 soldiers from the [Nazi] garrison that was camped in Martsikants, all armed with automatic rifles. Near me I saw my mother, Gershon Yankelevitz from Braslaw, and Mradin Vintsikovski.[5] Suddenly there was a heavy rain of gunfire. ‘No matter what, don't let yourselves be taken alive,’ I commanded nervously . . . ”

Vintsikovski continues telling what happened next: “When Grisha's mother fell, he dashed with his machine gun, upright in the midst of a hail of fire, reached his mother's killer and bashed his face in. To cover Grisha, Yankelevitz and I increased our fire on the enemy, who started to retreat. We began pursuing them, but Yankelevitz was wounded and fell. We also lost sight of Grisha. Where was he?”

Grisha tells: “My dear mother lay there, as if she was smiling at me. She held the rifle close to her body. I took it out of her hands and covered her with twigs and leaves. Afterward I covered Yankelevitz with branches, hid their weapons (lest they fall into enemy hands) and returned to base.”

Footnotes

  1. These refer to Partizaner Geyen! (Partisans on the Move! ), published in Germany in Yiddish in 1947 by Shmerke Kaczerginski, and probably to Di Milhomeh fun di Yidishe Partizaner in Mizrah-Eyrope (The War of the Jewish Partisans in Eastern Europe) by Moshe Kahanovich, published in Israel in Yiddish in 1954. Return
  2. The Armia Krajowa (AK), also known as the Polish Home Army: the Polish resistance movement. Sometimes there were skirmishes and bloodshed between the AK partisan groups and the Soviet and Jewish partisan groups, even as each of them separately battled the Nazis. Return
  3. This might refer to Martsinkantsy, now called Marcinkonys, in Lithuania, about 90 kilometers southwest of Vilna. Return
  4. This might refer to Sobakentsy, now called Pervomayskaya in Belarus, about 18 kilometers southeast of Martsinkantsy. Return
  5. The reference is obscure; it could also be read as “and Vintsikovski from Radun.” Return


[Page 309]

About Mikhael (Mendel) Sherman
Son of Rivka and Leib

by Bilha Sherman [his wife]

Translated from the Hebrew by Dr. Ida Schwarcz

Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

When the Jews of the Braslaw Ghetto were being annihilated, Mikhael escaped from the ghetto and hid in the forests and in the homes of peasants, until after much wandering he was accepted as a partisan in the Zhukov brigade. He participated in various operations and inflicted losses of possessions and men on the German enemy.

After the end of the war, toward the end of 1945, he went from Russia to Poland, and came to the Land of Israel with the illegal immigration. He stayed in a kibbutz near Hadera for about a month. Later he volunteered for the Palmach and served in the fifth battalion of the Harel brigade. Mikhael took part in escorting convoys to Jerusalem, fought the Arabs in the Kastel fortress [1948], and in battles near Ramat Rahel he was seriously wounded and spent about half a year in a hospital in Jerusalem.

As a brave partisan, and after that as a member of the Palmach, he tried with all his strength to combat the malignant disease that [later] befell him, but he wasn't successful.

On May 2, 1979, Mikhael died in Canada. He left his wife, Bilha, and two daughters, Rivka and Leah.


[Page 310]

Sara Shmushkovitz
Daughter of Batia and Leizer Gamush

Translated from the Hebrew by Dr. Ida Schwarcz

Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

I was born in Braslav [Braslaw], but I don't remember the Braslav of my childhood. My father, Leizer Gamush, left the town when I was three years old. We lived in Novy-Pohost [Novy-Pogost, about 32 kilometers southeast of Braslav], in Miory [about 40 kilometers east of Braslav] and during the years of the war in Ufa in the Urals. I returned to Braslav after World War II in 1946 with my husband Ziske Shmushkovitz and his family. There were very few Jewish families there, mainly survivors of the Holocaust, who by some miracle had escaped the terrible massacre, and a few families that had left Braslav in June 1941 and returned.

I'd heard enthusiastic stories from my husband's family about the beauty of the town, its blue lakes, the pine forests near it and about the thousands of Jews who had lived there. To my sorrow I found huge mass graves in the center of the forest, where about 4,500 Jews and been buried, and single graves in the forests and fields where many were murdered when they tried to escape the massacre, and as stated, some tens of families of survivors of the Holocaust [who'd returned]. There were additional families from Braslav who'd found safety in cities all over Russia during the war and remained in those places. Sometimes, especially during the summer months, they'd come to Braslav, visit the cemeteries, clean and put the place in order, and return to their homes.

At the beginning of 1976, on the initiative of Chaim Stavski, Shmuel Lubovitz and my family, we decided to organize a reunion. We wrote to all the people from Braslav whose addresses we had and decided to meet in Braslav on July 24. There was a great response. People came from all over Russia: Batia Arklis (Deitch) from Alma Ata; Nisan Konin from Bobruisk; Moshe-Hatzkel Milutin from Kislovodsk; Chaim Stavski from Ufa; Shmuel Lubovitz from Kiev; Chaim Munitz from Vilna; Galya, Chaim and Yehoshua Kanfer from Minsk; my family from Riga; Liuba Maler from Dvinsk [42 kilometers northwest of Braslav; now called Daugavpils]; and more families. Our hosts were of course the few families that still remained in Braslav, among them the families of Shimon Per, Chaim Deitch, Samovar, Shura Milutin, Yisrael Rozenberg and Tisman.

It's hard to describe the joy at this reunion; a meeting of people, friends, neighbors, whose paths had separated more than 35 years before; a meeting of those who'd remained and lived through all the horrors

[Page 311]

of the Holocaust, and those who'd left Braslav in June 1941, before the Germans captured the town.

The first day of the reunion was dedicated to the cemetery. The area was neglected. We collected the dry branches and burned them, we cleaned the paths, we shared memories and united in remembrance of the martyrs. We continued our meeting in the home of Shimon Per. Lunch lasted until late at night. Again and again, each of us related memories and stories of the past.

And then, the parting. Parting from the graves of our dear ones, parting from Braslav, parting from friends with a heavy feeling in our hearts --- would we ever meet again?

 

Di griber” (the pits): Here the Jews of Braslav and surroundings were murdered

 

[Page 312]

On the Terrain of Braslav

by Yoel Nimnov

Translated from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Jeff Deitch

The communal graves are mute
Enveloped in quiet, silent
The living bow their heads
As the past comes before their eyes.

Here are buried thousands
Who were murdered so cruelly
For one and only sin ---
That they were Jews.

Standing silently, in trepidation
Relatives, friends, acquaintances;
Lying here in their eternal rest
Youth, children, and also the elderly.

The ground here is suffused with blood
Tears have been spilled like a river
Is it possible to forget?
How is it that we cannot remember?

May the Nazis be repaid for everything
For the blood, fear, and days of darkness
Your deaths will always be remembered
For all times, from generation to generation.

Never will we forget you
And within our hearts is the hope
That there will be no more war or killing ---
That peace will pervade the world.

This poem was written on June 24-25, 1976, on the day of the gathering in memory of the Jews of Braslav [Braslaw] who were murdered by the Nazis during the years 1941-43. The poem in Hebrew was a free translation from the original in Russian.

 

[This photo in the memorial book has no caption but shows a memorial gathering at the monument in Braslav from a year sometime before 1976. The Hebrew inscription on the monument says, “Here lie more than 4,500 Jews from Braslav and the surrounding region who were cruelly slain by the German murderers / 18 Sivan 1942 / 10 Adar [II] 1943.” The dates on the monument correspond to June 3, 1942 and March 17, 1943 (though it should actually be March 19, 1943).]

 

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