Translated from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch
The village of Zamosh is 12 kilometers from the town of Yod [Jod] and about 18 kilometers from Braslav [Braslaw], nestled among thick forests. The village population was approximately 100 families. About one-tenth (10 families) were Jewish.
The main occupation of the Jews was commerce, but there were also landowners who leased their land to tenants. A small number of Jews were employed as officials.
Like most families in the village, our family earned its living from retailing and the lumber trade. There was no synagogue in the village. Sabbath and festival services took place in the private home of Estrin, a local resident. My father served as the prayer leader and Torah reader during these services.
Jewish children received their primary education from the local Polish primary school in the village, but cultural, social, and political activity was conducted in the nearby towns. Most of the older youths joined the institutions, organizations, and parties in these towns.
Neighborly relations between Jewish and Christian families, in the village and nearby, were good and proper. During the German conquest, there are witnesses to many instances of help by the local population in hiding Jews, finding hiding places in the neighboring villages, and providing food and clothing.
At the outbreak of war between Poland and Germany [in September 1939], my brother Kalman and I were drafted into the Polish army. In the tumult of war, we were taken captive near the city of Radomsk [Radomsko in central-southern Poland, south of Lodz]. I succeeded in escaping, and after many tribulations and wandering through the area of Pshitik [Przytyk in central-eastern Poland, south of Warsaw] I was able to reach Vilna [about 150 kilometers southwest of Zamosh].
In November 1941, when Jews of Vidz [sic] were brought to the Braslav Ghetto (and from there to the Gleboki Ghetto [Glebokoye Ghetto, about 70 kilometers southeast of Braslav]), we as well --- the Jews of Zamosh --- began to be affected by the German decrees. These demanded that we give them all our valuables and property. The local police commander demanded that we vacate our homes. As they passed through, the Jews of Vidz urged us and even recommended that we move to the Braslav Ghetto with them. Having no choice, we did so. Did we have a choice?!
My parents, my brother Kalman, and my family lived in Milutin's house [in the Braslav Ghetto]. We were given one room, in which the six of us lived.
The crowding in the ghetto was terrible. Everyone --- the residents of Braslav as well as Jews from nearby towns --- crowded together and were concentrated in one street, the former Pilsudski Street. There was only one Jewish doctor in the ghetto, and his capacity was limited due to the shortage of medication and medical equipment. Obtaining these items from outside the ghetto was fraught with mortal danger for all Jews.
There remained two Christian doctors in the Aryan section of the town: Dr. Baretzki [Barecki] and Dr. Emelianovitz [Emilianowicz]. When my wife, Sonia, went into labor, I succeeded in contacting them. They promised to come when the time arrived and help with the birth. On the day of the birth, I got a permit from the starosta [town elder] to leave the ghetto. Late at night, accompanied by a policeman, I went to summon Dr. Baretzki along with a nurse, and they helped my wife give birth to a girl. This took place on the eve of Purim in the month of Adar [March 2, 1942], and we asked the rabbi's advice on what to name her. He advised us to call her Esther, after Queen Esther of the Megillah. To our sorrow, the baby didn't survive for long. She died while we were in hiding a few days after the first Aktion [June 3-5, 1942].
The ghetto was fenced off [it appears that this occurred or was completed around April 1, 1942]. Daring individuals went out through the fence at night to fetch food. My brother Kalman reached our village of Zamosh from time to time, and he obtained a bit of food from the villagers with whom we'd been friendly.
We went about tattered and torn, not because we lacked good, proper clothes, but out of suspicion that the policemen and gendarmes would confiscate our clothing as they'd done many times before, taking them for themselves. There was one bathhouse in the ghetto for everyone, and all the ghetto residents took turns bathing there.
The chairman of the ghetto Judenrat [Jewish Council in Braslav] was Yitzchak Mindel, a former iron merchant. He was a warmhearted, sensitive Jew. It pained him to receive every decree made against the Jews by the Germans and their collaborators, and he tried to soften the decrees as much as possible. The members of the Judenrat --- [Eliezer] Mazeh, [Sasha] Tempelman and others --- also dealt with the ghetto inmates with understanding. Even the Jewish police of the ghetto didn't persecute the Jews, handling the many irregular incidents there with patience.
The slaughter of the Jews of Yod [had taken] place in December 1941. Some of the Jews of Zamosh and Kislovshchitzna [Kislowszczizna, about 17 kilometers southeast of Braslav] were liquidated along with them.
[After that] we went about with the feeling that our turn was approaching. My brother Kalman, who was familiar with construction, built a bunker for 20 people under the garage of the Milutin family. The bunker was well hidden and hard to detect.
The Jews were considered subhuman by the Germans; the murder of a Jewish man, woman or child was nothing to them. A German captain from Gleboki [Glebokoye] shot and killed a Jew for not wearing the yellow patch or for walking on the sidewalk rather than the middle of the road, as was demanded. A local policeman named Grivko [Kriwko] was especially cruel and would often use force.
After the war, Zusman Lubovitz, I, and others in the city of Olshtyn [Olsztyn, in what's now northeastern Poland, about 470 kilometers southwest of Braslav] identified this man. He owned a stall for the sale of meat and sausages. We approached the authorities, and he was arrested. A search of his house found foreign currency, a great deal of jewelry and gold and silver valuables pillaged from ghetto residents. The Jews wanted to bring him to justice on the spot.
The lot of [Yitzkhak] Mindel, the chairman of the [Braslav] Judenrat, was also full of libels and degradation. Once, he was summoned to see the chief of police. Several Jews waited in Mindel's house for his return, to learn why he'd been summoned to appear before the German. When Mindel arrived, he was pale as plaster: he fell onto the sofa, rested his head against the wall, and cried out in a loud voice. After he calmed down a bit, he told us that the German had been drunk. The German had ordered him to kneel, crawl toward him and lick his boots, as well as perform other disgraceful acts that he couldn't describe.
The Germans often demanded large sums (called contributions) from the Judenrat, and would threaten to kill several people if payment wasn't made. Mindel would say that the money was ready to be collected and would be handed over, but People --- no!
He'd go from house to house to collect the requested amount. Once the Jews were forced to swear on a Torah scroll and light candles to prove that they'd give over everything they owned. This was done through the efforts of the Judenrat and in the presence of the local rabbi.
After the first Aktion [June 3-5, 1942], only about 600 people remained. The Germans demanded another 600 gold rubles, or else they'd take out the rest of the Jews for execution. Izia Ribash collected the rest of the money that the Jews had and gave it to the Germans.
On the night before the slaughter [June 3-5, 1942], my brother Kalman woke up and felt that something wasn't right in the ghetto. He summoned all those who were designated to hide in the shelter. We sat there for five days; we were about 20 people. Later, 11 of us succeeded in escaping from Braslav. Sasha Tempelman, and Yerachmiel and Arke [Aron] Milutin were with us. We set out in the direction of Opsa [18 kilometers southwest of Braslav]. Then my brother, my family and I set out for the forests of Zamosh. Our situation was difficult; my wife Sonia was very ill with a high fever. Our young daughter [Esther] died in the hiding place. Moshe-Baruch Bank, a member of the ghetto chevrah kadisha [burial society], covered her with a sheet and buried her.
In Zamosh, we hid with farmers with whom we were friends, building a hiding place in one of the barns. One hiding place was even built in a house where Germans lived. I must note the names of several farmers who treated the Jews with friendship and helped us as much as they could: One of them, Yashka [Jaszka] Gasul, was the smith of Zamosh. He and his daughter Tonka, an intelligent, good-hearted girl, fed us and served as our ears for what was happening in the area. They hid us in their house even though they knew the matter was very dangerous for them and they could have lost their lives. Later, when we were forced to escape again to the forest, I met my brother Kalman and my friend Shlomke Shapira there. Yashka arranged the meeting, because he knew where they were.
Our friend, the farmer Nikolai Popin, also served as a contact for us. After we escaped from Zamosh in July 1942, he knew where we were hiding, as well as the hiding place that my brother Kalman had prepared in the bogs, among thick vegetation.
At this time, someone reported that Yulian Markievitz [Julian Markiewicz] was hiding Jews, and he was taken out to be killed.
My wife Sonia, myself, and others, wandered from place to place for almost two and a half years. Our friend [Nikolai] Popin, who was very poor, helped us in our difficulties.
Many groups of partisans moved through the forests. Their strength and numbers grew each day. They'd set up ambushes and raids against the Germans, causing a great deal of difficulty for the enemy with their attacks. The Germans were afraid of them and didn't dare to enter the forests. On the other hand,
they'd burn entire villages as a punishment if they found that an area's farmers were helping the partisans.
There was also a group of gypsies with us. The Germans treated them in the same degrading way as they treated the Jews.
Kalman and I circulated information for the partisans. Since we knew the area, at times we forged contact between friendly farmers and groups of partisans. From time to time, the Germans would move in force to set up blockades over barren areas to subdue the partisans. One day I found Zusman Lubovitz, his wife, and his wife's niece in a very desperate situation in a partisan camp. We helped them as best we could. Together with Yerachmiel Milutin, who was in this partisan camp, we transferred them to our camp, and they remained with us until liberation.
The Red Army arrived on July 9, 1944. Our joy was indescribable. The partisan commander assigned various tasks to us all. We remained in the forest for some time longer and helped them with their work.
In 1941, the Soviet authorities had arrested my father and exiled him to Siberia. A paratrooper who returned from Russia [now] brought us the news that he was living in Gorki [now Nizhny Novgorod, about 400 kilometers east of Moscow] and working as a warehouse operator. Aside from this, we heard nothing more of him. Our mother was with us in the ghetto, and endured all the tribulations with us. She succeeded in evading the slaughter but she was ill, and we carried her on a stretcher until we arrived in the forest. Her strength didn't hold out, and she died on the journey. My brother Kalman made aliyah to Israel, but passed away later due to a malignant illness.
In 1946 I immigrated to Poland, and from there to Germany. I made aliyah to Israel at the time of the declaration of independence [in 1948]. I enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and served for a year and a half, working in military manufacturing.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Braslaw, Belarus Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2019 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 30 Jan 2020 by LA