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[Page 356]


(Okmyanitsa, Belarus)

55°42' 27°00'

Alexander (Shmaryahu) Dagovitz, Son of Chana[2] and Avraham

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch


The village of Okmenitz lies on the road between Braslav and Dubina [roughly nine kilometers north of Braslav and seven kilometers southeast of Dubina]. A beautiful place, surrounded by ponds and pine forests; our family lived there for generations. Our father, Avraham Dagovitz, was born there in 1880. In the family, we were six souls. The parents, Avraham and Chana; the daughter, Esther; and three sons: Leibke, Shimonke, and me: Alexander. I was born in 1923. There were no other Jews in the village. Our family's living came from a flour mill, operated by water power, that we rented from the landowners, the Alexandrovitz brothers. We also had a fishpond, in which we grew a unique species of carp.

In Okmenitz, there was a group of pioneers who trained themselves in agriculture; their kibbutz was in Braslav. We'd go there every Sabbath to spend time with them. Our family spent the Jewish holidays in Braslav or Slobodka [about 11 kilometers northeast of Braslav].

Life in Okmenitz was quiet and peaceful, and passed without upheavals. The local young people were good, and we grew up together with very friendly relations. Life continued in this way until World War II broke out [in 1939]. First, the Soviets came. They took everything, but it was still possible to go on living. The disaster began with the war between Russia and Germany [starting in June 1941]. The Russians evacuated, and many people went with them. Our family didn't manage to leave. We stayed, and our father said, “I survived Kaiser Wilhelm [II], I believe I'll also live to see the last of Hitler.”

The German army passed Okmenitz without harming anyone. They began to organize a local police force only days later, into which they drafted young men from the village and its surroundings. Two local men, Kazhik and Malinovski [Malinowski], were appointed at their head. We'd go out each day to Braslav to get news about the Jews there and around the region.

One Sabbath, in July 1941, several Germans, accompanied by local police, came to our house. Father was then standing in prayer, wrapped in his tallit [prayer shawl]. The visitors asked us for the horse and wagon and promised to return them in a few hours. They received everything and left. After

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several hours, they did return to Okmenitz; the horse brought them to our house by itself. My brother Leibke went out to untie the horse. As he approached the wagon, the Germans whipped the horse, and it began to gallop. They shouted at Leibke, “Jew! Jew ––– forward!” This continued until Leibke entered the pool of water next to our house that served as our reservoir. When Leibke entered the pool, one of the policemen aimed his rifle at him. All of us saw this from the window of our house. Mother raised a great cry, “They're killing Leibke!” We heard a shot, but my brother wasn't hit. Afterward, it became clear why: When the policeman stood up to shoot, the policeman Kazhik jumped toward him and pushed the rifle above Leibke's head, shouting, “What are you doing? He's our Jew (nash zhid).” So Liebke's life was saved. That day, we understood this event as the start of the disasters that would befall us. In the evening, several Jews from Dubina came to us and told us that the Germans, accompanied by the police, had entered their village before noon. They'd robbed the homes of the Jews and killed some of them.[3]

[On August 1, 1941] the day before Tisha B'Av (the ninth of Av), the [Gentile] head of the village ––– the soltys ––– and two Germans came to our house and told father that we all had to move to the ghetto in Braslav, which they were establishing at the time. They further told him to prepare a complete list of all our property and give it to the authorities, and to put on the house a sign with one word: “Jew.” All these instructions were to be carried out within a week.

After the Germans left, our father turned to the village head and brought him a nice gift, and he decided to temporarily delay our exit from Okmenitz. Each day, Kazhik and Malinovski came to our house with news about what was happening. These were always the tidings of Job: killing here, robbing there. Our parents began to give away our belongings to our farmer friends, with the thought that later, in time of need, we'd be able to get something back from them. This uncertain situation continued until Hanukkah [December 14–22, 1941], at which time they came and ordered us to move immediately without delay to the Braslav Ghetto, which we did.

In Braslav we stayed in the house of Shimonke, the son of Eli–Chaim, who was a relative of ours. We were registered in the community and went to work with the rest of the Jews of the town. At this time the Jews already understood what was likely to happen, and many began to prepare hiding places for their families. I worked next to the train station, together with young men from Yaisi and Slobodka. While working, we heard news of killings in Miory [about 40 kilometers east of Braslav], Glubok [Glubokoye, about 70 kilometers southeast of Braslav] and other places. In the evenings after work, we passed the news on to others in the [Braslav] ghetto.

On Christmas Eve [1941], many policemen and Germans arrived in Braslav. Worried that they were going to eliminate the ghetto, my brothers and I went at night to one of the villages, where a [Gentile] farmer lived, a good friend of ours. This farmer wanted to shelter all of us on his farm, but to our misfortune another farmer saw us and told others. These put pressure on our friend: If he didn't drive us out they'd inform on him, and his end would be bitter. Weeping bitterly, our acquaintance asked us to leave his house. We returned to Braslav. Our parents were happy … our family was again united. Our parents told us that this time the Germans had been satisfied with a large “contribution” (bribe) in the form of gold, silver and warm clothes for the German army. The Germans carried out a “selection” in the ghetto: they left the professionals on one side of the bridge and put the others on the other side, on the way to the Dubki [Dubkes] forest.[4] We lived with the family of Shneiur Biliak from Slobodka, and worked together with Russian prisoners of war to dig a well.

One day, they sent me with another lad from Yaisi to work serving and cleaning the house and office

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of a German officer. We didn't know who the man was. Once, while both of us were busy cleaning the office, a Gentile appeared, introducing himself as a soltys (head) of one of the villages. He told the German officer that at present he couldn't supply the amount of seeds, eggs and the like that they'd ordered him to gather from the farmers of his village, and he asked for more time to comply. The officer heard him out and then ordered his assistant to shoot the soltys on the spot. Both of us were horrified. The German assistant very calmly took out a pistol from his holster and shot the farmer. His blood splattered the wall, and the floor filled with blood. They then told us to take the cursed pig out of the office, which I and the lad immediately did. We wanted to take the body even further away, but were told this would be done by the Russian prisoners. When we returned in great fear to clean the office, the officer asked us to prepare a cup of tea for him, and continued to play his phonograph as if nothing had happened. The next day, we found out that this officer was none other than [Willy] Dittmann, who was responsible for the entire region.[5]

Food was very scarce, hardly enough to sustain body and soul, and the work we did was very hard. People persevered with difficulty. Whoever wavered at work was shot immediately. At this time, I fell sick and developed a high temperature. We didn't know what my illness was; a medic told us the symptoms showed it was definitely typhoid. There was no doctor or medicine. Despite this, I succeeded in recovering with the help of some kind of pill, whose contents none of us knew, but I grew very weak.

On June 2, 1942 [Tuesday],[6] two of our acquaintances from the leaders of the local police, Kazhik and Malinovski, surprised us by entering our apartment. “It's just a visit,” they said, but we understood that their coming meant something was about to happen. They looked at everyone and then at me, the youngest in the family. Eyeing me, one said to the other, “He certainly will die.” To us, these words were a clear hint that they'd come to warn us of a looming disaster. The evening of that same Tuesday my two brothers, Leibke and Shimonke, left to find us shelter at the house of an acquaintance in a nearby village. A few minutes later, they returned with a yell: “Mother, father, children, save yourselves ––– the massacre has begun!” After this, I never saw my brothers again.

Mother got up immediately, and despite my great weakness from the illness, she turned to me and said, “My son, get out of here. Look for somewhere to hide.” She gave me clean underwear to take with me, and I left the house. Outside, shots from rifles and machine guns were heard in every direction. Frightened people were being made to run like dogs, some straight to the pits of destruction [that had been dug outside the town near the train station] and many others to the movie house, the study halls, the sport hall and the police station, sites of destruction in the days to come.

A youth ran past me shouting, “Come quick, hide yourself!” I ran with him some distance to a storeroom for wood. We entered and hid like mice between the boards and crates that were there. Other Jews who'd gotten there before us were also hiding. After a few minutes, police and Germans broke in and began to shoot, shouting, “Juden raus!” [“Jews out!”]. Many of those inside were killed or injured. A German approached me, and the youth shouted, “Out!” I received a proper blow from the German's rifle butt, but stood up with the help of the youth. The German took both of us to the bridge over the river, the waters of which joined the two lakes, Dryviata and Noviata, but was stopped by a call from the German patrol. He approached his fellow soldier and began to talk with him. While they were talking distractedly, the youth and I succeeded in getting away. With great effort, I also managed to cross the barbed–wire fence

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and reach the lakeshore. From great exertion, I must have fallen down and fainted. I don't know how long I lay there, unconscious. I do remember that after recovering a bit, I found myself lying in a horrible field of slaughter. Next to me lay a young girl dripping with blood, and I was covered in her blood. I tried to move and found that my limbs responded; apparently I wasn't injured. Around me were killed and wounded, and the cries of people who wanted to die. I heard sighs and moans all around. And then I saw more: how policemen and Gentiles were driving a horse and wagon and putting human bodies in it. A terrible trembling passed through me. If they saw I was alive and well, they'd shoot me immediately. I tried to crawl, to get away from there, to a nearby house. While fleeing, I encountered a boy about 12 years old, Kopke [Gurevitz][7] from Dubina, the grandson of Velvel Blacher. Both of us kept crawling. With our last strength, we succeeded in reaching one of the houses and went inside. I had no strength to go further. There we stayed, because the boy didn't want to leave me. Other Jews were also hiding in the house. Among them was a girl who'd been shot by the police and seriously wounded. From the direction of the pits came the echo of shots ––– the destruction was at its height.[8] We decided to remain in the house. We closed the front door and blocked it on the inside, so that it'd be difficult to open. Then all of us went up to the attic; we hoped to stay there until dark and then continue our flight. This house had two exits, in two different directions. We thought this might make it easier for us to leave the ghetto.

The young people and those who were stronger left the attic at night and went outside to see what was happening in the ghetto. Because of my weakness, I couldn't go down. Another youth stayed in the attic to guard the wounded girl. Kopke went out with them; after some time, he returned. He told me that he saw how Jews with yellow patches on their clothes were gathering the bodies of those who'd been killed, while the Gentiles were robbing their houses.

These events occurred on Wednesday [June 3]. In our region, the Polish policeman [Stefan] Zhuk excelled in cruelty. The next morning we heard a woman crying; her voice sounded familiar. I looked out through a small crack and saw Germans in the street below leading a group of Jews, adults and children, among them the wife of Shneiur Biliak. In her arms was the baby boy she'd given birth to two weeks earlier, and next to her was her seven–year–old son holding on to her dress. The mother was crying, and now and then a German was hitting her with his rifle butt. After a hard blow, the woman stumbled and fell, and the German shot her on the spot. Then he murdered her baby by stabbing him with his bayonet. I saw more: how the man pulled the bayonet from the infant's body with his boot. Her seven–year–old saw all this and understood. He tried to run away, and the Nazi shot him too. This was the tragic end of Shneiur Biliak's family. The day before this, Shneiur had gone out to one of the villages to get food for the brit milah [circumcision] ceremony that was supposed to be held the next day. While he was outside the ghetto, he certainly heard about what was happening there, and didn't know where to go.

After we stayed in hiding for a number of days without food and water, the boy Kopke went down alone to see what the situation was. He returned with “news”: “They won't harm the Jews any more, that's what people said.” I knew that this was just a trick of the Germans. I went out carefully, so that they wouldn't see me in the street, and entered our house: Everything was broken and destroyed, and there were many signs of blood all about. In the basement I recognized, because of the possessions strewn about, that my parents and my sister, Esther, had been there. On the floor I found the pouch of my mother's gold watch, also some dry bread and a bit of fat. I took these items and returned to my hiding place. The boy returned too. It was clear that we couldn't remain in this place; we had to flee

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quickly. But it was only the next night that we succeeded in escaping from the house and the ghetto, because the ghetto was filled with [Gentile] residents of the area who covered the houses of the Jews like birds of prey. I met one survivor who told me, “When the destruction began, a group of us was put into the Sandy Synagogue and guards were set on us. On Thursday afternoon, the guards disappeared. We saw their men through the windows of the synagogue, breaking into the houses of the Jews ––– they too wanted spoils. We took advantage of their disappearance and fled.”

We went in the direction of Slobodka [about 11 kilometers northeast of Braslav], near the villages Luni [Lunie, about 12 kilometers northeast of Braslav] and Zarach [Zarzecze, about seven kilometers northeast of Braslav and differing from the Jewish village of Zarach, which was six kilometers west of Braslav]. We approached one of the houses [there] and looked through the window. A woman stood in the room, kneading dough. Before we could speak to her, she sensed we were there and started to shout, “Jews, run away quickly, here you'll get nothing. They'll kill us because of you.” We left immediately and kept walking. Next we met a farmer who was about to plow his field. I decided to risk it and asked for something to eat. I told him who I was, and he replied that he knew my father. He promised to bring us some food. We hid in a pile of hay and waited for him, not sure if he'd keep his promise. But after some time passed, he returned bringing something to eat. In the evening, he asked again what we planned to do. “To cross to the other side of the lake,” I answered, “and from there, go to Okmenitz.” [Zarzecze was on the eastern side of the lake, and Okmenitz was on the western side.] He agreed to help us, sending his son to take us in his boat to the other side of the lake. We stayed on the shore. After washing ourselves a bit, we sat down to decide where to go next. I'd told the good farmer we were going to Okmenitz, but how would we get there? Every farmer knew me there, and they were likely to hand us over to the Germans. After thinking about it, I said we should go to Shvilishki [Szewieliszki, about 1.5 kilometers northwest of Okmenitz], where I'd studied in the past. I knew a farmer there who'd suffered a lot from the Germans. They'd imprisoned his daughter because she belonged to the Komsomol[9] during the time of the Soviets. I hoped he'd give us shelter on his farm.

Okmenitz was on the way to Shvilishki. During a quiet night in the villages, I passed our farm and stopped without emotion. The house and our possessions had been given by the soltys to his brother. The dog began to bark, but when I said to him, “Zhuk, be quiet!” he recognized my voice and stopped barking. I wiped away a tear, and we continued on. We passed “our” fish ponds, crossed a little bridge over the river, and arrived at Choltorvitz's house in the village of Shvilishki. When he saw us, he was very frightened. After collecting himself, he told us the Germans had taken all the Jews who'd survived the action in Braslav out of their hiding places and killed them. He'd been sure we too were among them. He took us into the bathhouse and brought us food, with news from the neighborhood. We arrived there a week after the destruction of the ghetto in Braslav. Every day, Choltorvitz brought us food and gave us news. After we'd stayed a week at his place, he told us that the “Opsa” Ghetto was being organized [in Braslav].[10] When he heard this, the boy Kopke, who longed to see his family members, asked to go to it, because some of his relatives were there. The farmer agreed to take him. One day, he covered Kopke with straw in his wagon and in this way got him to Braslav. I remained alone.


In the Farmer's House

I stayed for some time at farmer Choltorwitz's house. Before Rosh Hashanah [September 1941], I tried to go through the forests to the village of Postoshki, which was closer to Braslav [Pustoszka, about three kilometers south of Okmenitz, near the road to Braslav]. In this village, I knew, there was a farmer who was a friend of my oldest brother. Once my brother had told me that the farmer promised to give him a rifle,

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one of the rifles the Russian soldiers had left behind when they retreated. I went to the farmer's house at night, and he received me very nicely. He told me he had a rifle and two hand grenades, and he was willing to give them all to me. I took only the two grenades, because it was difficult to walk undetected with the rifle. I knew how to use the grenades; I put them in my pocket and went out to return to Choltorvitz's house. I told myself I wouldn't give my life to the Germans without them having to pay for it.

One day, rumors reached the farmer's house. One was that the Germans had suffered heavy losses at the front, and the other ––– a partisan movement was organizing itself in the forests and already operating in the area. Witness to this were the words of a farmer, who told us that in Okmenitz the dams of the ponds had been blown up, and in response the Germans and police, with Dittmann at their head, had now surrounded the area and were searching the farmers' homes. “This time,” I thought, “my end has come for sure.” I quickly went down into a storage pit for potatoes. I sat there with an unlocked grenade in my hand. Because of me, the farmer and his family would pay with their lives. I sat there at the ready for some time, until the farmer came and said the danger had passed, the Germans had left the area. The same day, Vasily, the farmer's son, returned from the forest where he'd taken the cows out to pasture and said that on the way from the forest he'd met two strangers; they'd asked if there were Jews and prisoners in his village. Their words aroused his suspicion that they might be policemen in disguise but, Vasily added, they'd also asked him if his house was near the forest. And indeed, that evening two armed men approached the farmer's house and greeted everyone in Russian. They asked if they could have something to eat and came inside. While eating, they said they were from the same partisan unit that had destroyed the dams in Okmenitz. They also told us they were looking for additional men to recruit for the partisans. They ate and drank and went on their way. Were they telling the truth? I didn't know.

After this news, I decided to join the partisans, to fight and take revenge. But ––– where were they? How to reach them? I knew that in that village of Postoshki there was a farmer ––– Pentalai was his name ––– who had a brother–in–law in the village Ozravtzi [Ozierawce, about six kilometers southeast of Braslav], a place visited by the partisans. I wanted to reach this farmer, despite the great danger involved. After several days I was able, with the help of my benefactor, to see this Pentalai, and he gave me the details needed to reach the partisans. Outside, there was already a chill of autumn when I left. I walked by way of Kalenkishki [Kalenkiszki, about six kilometers southwest of Braslav, across the lake from it], without passing through Braslav, which as always was full of Germans. I walked only at night; during the day, I hid. One day I remained sitting in a pile of straw in a field. Suddenly, two members of the farmer's family came to gather the piles and take them home. They took pile after pile, almost reaching the one where I was hiding. Then behold, a real miracle: At this moment, their father called them to come home; I was saved. That night, I went on the road again.

One night, when outside it was windy and snowing, I came to a bridge whose name I didn't know. The entire surroundings were strange to me. Not far away, I saw a light in a house, and I approached to look inside. Through the window, I saw the hats of three gendarmes. The sight caused me to quickly jump backward, and I hid behind a tree some distance away. From inside the house, I heard a dog barking. The door opened, and in the doorway stood a German and the dog. The German looked around, fired a number of shots into the air, shouted to the dog, and both of them went back inside. After calming down, I continued; I was hungry and tired. I reached the edge of the forest, where I saw a small hut. Despite the danger, I decided again to try my luck. I knocked

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on the window. A young Gentile came outside and asked, “Jew or partisan?” “Partisan,” I answered. Before entering, I turned around and shouted, “Comrades, guard well! I'll return immediately.” This farmer told me the name of the village and the area. He also warned me not to go around in daylight, because the area was swarming with Germans who were searching for partisans. He gave me food and a bottle of samogon (homemade liquor). I thanked him and left. I walked until I reached the village of Siuli, which the Germans had burnt to the ground. There I sat down to rest; I lacked the strength to continue. Suddenly I heard the sound of a wagon. As it approached, I saw a man sitting inside and two women walking beside it. When they came nearer, they shouted “Hands up!” in Russian. They searched me, took away my grenades and asked, “Who are you?” I said I was a Jew and wanted to reach the partisans. They told me to get into the wagon, and we continued through the forest until we reached some small huts. They locked me inside one of them and went away. After a few hours some men came, took me outside, and gave me some food. Around me I heard people talking among themselves, and to my great surprise I also heard conversations in Yiddish. I looked hard at the men and recognized one of them ––– Yerachmiel Milutin. He approached and asked my name; I told him. He came up to me, hugged and kissed me. I told him everything that had happened until I'd come to the forest and about my wish to join the partisans. He said that soon an officer would return from an action; Yerachmiel would talk to him about me and ask what to do. And indeed, soon the officer came, and Yerachmiel told him about me. The officer replied that it wasn't customary to take partisans without weapons but in my case, since he knew my brother Leibke very well, they'd make an exception. And so, he said, he'd talk with the brigade officer. Meanwhile, he suggested I start training immediately with cold weapons ––– a bayonet. I was sent on guard duty together with a Jewish fellow, Zimmerman, and two others, Gentiles.

On Christmas Eve 1943, I went out for the first time with a group of fighters for an actual operation. At this time, German soldiers were traveling on holiday leave. At train stations, they'd leave the railroad cars to eat and drink. Our task was to ambush a few of them, attack and take their weapons. Walking carefully for two days, we reached the objective. Outside it was dark and cold; we lay there and waited. Along came a train, which stopped at the station. The Germans began to get off the train. From my place of ambush, I saw one of the soldiers hang his rifle on a tree and sit down to relieve himself. My only weapon was a bayonet. My officer gave me the signal to act. I quietly approached the Nazi and quickly thrust my bayonet into him; he died before he could utter a sound. I took his rifle, but the officer wasn't satisfied with that. We returned to the German and took all his documents from him. I returned to the base with a coat, boots and weapons like those of everyone else; I'd become a regular partisan.

Our otriad,[11] which bore the name of Chkalov, grew. New people joined, and Jews were also taken into it.

During the war, the Germans suffered heavy losses from the partisans' activities. In retaliation, they bombed forests over the entire area from the air, because they didn't dare enter them on the ground. At this time, we were divided into small groups. The brigade to which I was appointed was called Zhukov. We couldn't go out to fight because of the German siege. At this time I didn't meet Yerachmiel Milutin, and I was very worried that, G–d forbid, he'd been wounded in action. After several days of bombing, the Germans lifted their siege on the forest, and partisan activities resumed.

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Our unit received an objective to fire on the Druya–Miory railroad line, to snipe and blow up the tracks. Our base was within a village that had been burnt to the ground; the farmers in the neighborhood would occasionally bring us news of the Germans' movements. One day several cars, loaded with Germans and police, appeared next to our village. We took battle stations and waited. We didn't want to fight an open battle, because there were many of them. Zimmerman and Zaidel and the unit's officer were with me. The police and Germans searched for a while and then began to leave the place. We received an order to attack them with all the weapons we had, as well as grenades. Many of the Germans were wounded, and a few were taken prisoner; we also suffered a number of wounded. During the battle, I saw our unit's deputy officer struggling with a fat German; both of them were rolling on the ground. I grabbed the German by the neck, and my officer overcame him. This German turned out to be none other than Sonderführer[12] Dittmann, the chief murderer of the Jews of Braslav; this was the third time I'd been near him. At the battle's end, as ordered, I was among the soldiers who took the prisoners to headquarters, which was 25 kilometers from the battle location. We sat Dittmann on a horse and tied his legs under the horse's belly. His hands (behind his back) we tied to the saddle. When we arrived at the base, we gave him to the officer of the brigade for questioning. He was interrogated very severely, and handed over important information about local collaborators. At the end of the interrogation, he was sentenced to death; the sentence was carried out immediately.

Not far from Miory was a large camp of gendarmes, policemen and other collaborators who served the Nazis. Their job was to guard the train line and train station. This was a most essential line for the Germans; supplies were sent along it to the front. In the winter of 1943, our unit received the task of ambushing a train loaded with equipment and derailing it. The next day, we arrived at the location at dusk. Here it became clear to us that access to the tracks was difficult and there were guards nearby. The officer of the operation called for some volunteers to eliminate the guards. He decided to send Fisher, who was a good marksman, with three other fighters. They approached in secret, and in a short time they overcame the guards, put explosives under the tracks and blew them up. The entire unit began to withdraw. Our situation was good, only two wounded. We advanced without delays up to a certain point next to a river, not far from the village of Kuzinitz. Suddenly we began taking fire from the other side of the river. We were in an area where there was no cover; nearby was an orchard of fruit trees, but all the trees had been cut down. We entered the orchard, got behind the stumps and returned fire. We were few compared to the enemy.

In my hands was a “seven–battle” machine gun, which had been damaged more than once. I stood it on the stump of a tree and began continuous firing at the Germans. Unfortunately, as had happened more than once, it stopped working after the first shots. I kept trying to operate it; our situation grew very serious. Not far away, I heard the voices of Germans approaching and shouting, “Halt, halt!” Suddenly, like a miracle, the machine gun began firing again; I cut down Germans right and left. Many of them fell, and others began to run away. In these difficult moments, suddenly I sensed Yerachmiel Milutin next to me; he appeared like an angel from heaven. He moved me aside, grabbed the machine gun and kept shooting. I was covered with blood and mud from the grenades that the Germans had thrown at us.

At the end of the battle, after the Germans fled, I learned that Yerachmiel, with a group of partisans, had arrived to help us, and this decided the battle in our favor. In this difficult battle, we lost a few of our fighters and suffered some wounded, among them Yerachmiel and myself. Among those who fell was a Jewish lad from Zamosh [Zamosz]. We

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took his body and those of the other fallen for burial at the partisan camp in the forest. A few days later, a formation of our unit was held, in which the officer summarized all the actions and accomplishments we'd recently achieved. Unexpectedly, they ordered me to take three steps in front of the row, and in front of everyone the “combrig,” brigade commander Siromcha, announced my part in the last battle and said, “Sasha is the one who rescued our unit during the difficult moments we had in the battle.” (By the way, my Hebrew name wasn't Alexander, but Shmaryahu; only after my time with the partisans, who called me Sasha, did I adopt the name Alexander [for which Sasha is a nickname in Russian].)

At this same time, the officer praised the Jews fighting the common enemy and also talked about the concern there'd been about receiving Jews into the otriad when it was formed. After a series of additional actions, one day I was called to present myself to the officer. He ordered me to prepare a sketch of the area around Okmenitz for a project we'd be carrying out. Our task was to destroy a large supply base that the Germans had established in one of the holdings in Strusta [Strusto], which was next to Okmenitz, an area I knew well from childhood. I fulfilled the order and added extensive information on the area. I was also attached to the group that left to carry out the task. After hiking at night, we arrived in the morning near the destination. We rested in a storehouse during the day, and at night went out to act. This time, there were no special difficulties. We destroyed the main dam, broke into the fishponds


Alexander Dagovitz, partisan in the Zhukov brigade

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and destroyed the flour mill. Another group of ours destroyed the large pig pen that supplied meat to the front. On the way back, we entered Plushkat, between Dvinsk and Braslav. There, within the forest, we had to find the forester Jan Zinkovitz [Zinkowicz], whose son was the police officer in Opsa. This police officer received information from his father the forester about the movements of the partisans, passing it on to the Germans. Using what they heard from the forester's son, the Germans were bombing the forests, killing farmers and burning their houses. At night, we reached the forester Zinkovitz. A group of partisans, I among them, entered the house. We took the forester outside, his wife went with him willingly, and we moved them both to the road. There, the officer shot the two of them. Inside the house and in the cellar, we found many possessions of Jews; the father and his son had been busy all the time, robbing and stealing from them.

At the end of my story, I'd like to return to Okmenitz, my birthplace and the place of my youth. When we destroyed the flour mill, I'd also wanted to destroy our old house, where the brother of the village head was then living, but the officer didn't allow it. He said, “Maybe after liberation, someone from your family will return here, and this house will then serve him as a place to live.” And so it did happen, two years later.

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  1. a.k.a. Okmienic, Okmianica Return
  2. In this memorial book's list of victims, the mother's name is given as Nechama–Reizl. In a page of testimony submitted to Yad Vashem in 1999, Alexander Dagovitz also called his mother Nechama–Reizl. Return
  3. The attack on Dubina took place on or around July 19, 1941, when 18–24 Jews there were killed. See the Dubina section of this memorial book on pages 367–392. Return
  4. This separation of the Braslav Ghetto into productive and nonproductive sections was also mentioned by Avraham Biliak in his account on page 240. Return
  5. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, Volume II–B (2012), Dittmann was one of a number of Germans based at the gendarmerie outpost in Braslav. Others were Johannes Czapp, Otto Haymann, Paul Kontny, Leo Leidenroth, Ludwig Mùˆller, Ernst Schreiber, and Waldemar Schulz.
    The German gendarmes were responsible for overseeing the local police after the autumn of 1941, when a civil administration was established in Braslav and responsibility was transferred to the gendarmes by the German army. Return
  6. This Tuesday was the day before the massacre of the Braslav Ghetto began; police and Germans began surrounding it very early on Wednesday morning. Return
  7. Koppel Gurevitz was the son of Tzipa–Chana Gurevitz. Tzipa–Chana was the daughter of Zev (Wolf/Velvel) Blacher. Koppel was mentioned also in the testimony of Mira Shneider Lotz of Dubina in this memorial book. According to the testimony at Yad Vashem of David Blacher (a brother of Tzipa–Chana), Koppel didn't survive the war. Return
  8. This refers to the pits just outside Braslav where most of the Jews in Braslav were slaughtered on June 3–5, 1942. Return
  9. The All–Union Leninist Young Communist League, the youth division of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Return
  10. After the first Braslav Ghetto was slaughtered 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
  11. Russian word for a partisan military unit. The Zhukov brigade is mentioned further on pages 256 and 440 of this memorial book. Return
  12. Specialist officer, a rank in the Wehrmacht as well as the Waffen–SS, Organization Todt and other Nazi organizations, denoting a specialist of some kind. Return


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