Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov
Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch
Zarach, a small village about six kilometers [west] from Braslav, is where I was born. At the beginning of the 20th century, there lived in this remote village only two Jewish families: my family the Reichel family and the Karasin family. I could find no book with any information on where the Jews in our village came from or when. But what's known to me from my father's stories is that at the end of the 19th century, seeking a way he could make a living, my grandfather ChaimEliahu Reichel settled in the village, bought a parcel of land, opened an inn, and made a living from the Gentiles who came to have their grain ground at the watermill. At about this same time, the Karasin family arrived and settled there. The head of the Karasin family, Michael, leased an estate and a watermill from a count who owned the village and surrounding land.
After World War I the count sold his estate to a Pole named Milevitz [Milewicz], and Michael Karasin and his family left the village and moved to Braslav. Our family remained in Zarach my father, Mendel; my mother, Reizl (who died in 1922); my brothers Gedaliahu, Shneiur, Gershon, Berl and myself.
The entire family supported itself from the watermill; we bought seeds, ground them and sold the flour to bakers in Braslav, Opsa [18 kilometers southwest of Braslav] and Vidz [Widze, about 40 kilometers southwest of Braslav]. One by one, all the children went to the cheder [Hebrew primary school] in Braslav. On Sundays, our father would take all of us to Braslav for the week, and on Fridays he'd take us home to our village for the Sabbath. Apart from our studies at the cheder, all of us went to the Polish schools. At the beginning of the 1930s, [two of] my brothers married and left Zarach. Gedaliahu moved to Vilna [about 160 kilometers southwest of Zarach], and Shneiur settled down in Braslav. My father, [my married brother] Gershon and his family, Berl, and I remained in the village.
On September 1, 1939, when war broke out between Poland and Germany, I was drafted into the Polish army. I fought against the invaders until the bitter end, until the Germans conquered Poland. Together with the remnants of the Polish army that retreated toward the Romanian border, I arrived in Lvov [in southeastern Poland]. Here we encountered the Soviet army, who took us prisoner. I spent more than a year and a half in a prisonerofwar camp near Rovno [Rowne, some 500 kilometers south of Braslav]. With the outbreak of war
between Germany and Russia in June 1941, they transferred us first to Zhitomir [Zhytomyr, in western Ukraine], and from there to Buzuluk near Chkalov [now Orenburg, in a region adjoining Kazakhstan].
In February 1942, I volunteered for Anders' Polish Army. I reached Ashkhabad with them [in Turkmenistan], but before the army left Russia all the Jews were freed [released from the army]. This was in September 1942.
We stayed to work at a kolkhoz [Soviet collective farm]. At the beginning of 1943 I was mobilized for the third time, this time by the Red Army. After a brief period of training, I was sent to the front to the KurskOriol [Orel] line. I was injured near Oriol [in western Russia]. After a long hospitalization of about four months, I recovered from my wounds and was sent to work in the kerosene industry around Chkalov.
At the beginning of 1945 I moved from Russia to Poland, but after a few months I returned home in the hope of finding someone in my family who'd survived. This hope was in vain; I found only destruction and devastation, and from the information supplied about my family by our Gentile neighbors, I learned the following.
At the beginning of July 1941, the Germans had confiscated our land (about 50 dunams) and transferred it to the Gentile neighbors; my brother Gershon, who worked at the watermill, had been expelled. He remained in the village for some time and for sustenance sold his family's clothes and household articles for food. After a few months, the entire family was sent to the Braslav Ghetto. Father, my brothers Shneiur and Gershon, together with their families, were slaughtered in the massacre of the ghetto on 18 Sivan 5702 (June 3, 1942). My brother Berl, together with a large group of young people, was taken to clean the army barracks in Slobodka the day before the slaughter. It's known that this group was returned to Braslav on the day of the massacre, taken straight to the pits and murdered. A few managed to escape, among them my brother Berl. He managed to get to the forests near Zamosh [Zamocz, about 16 kilometers south of Braslav], where he joined the partisans and fought in the Chkalov [Czkalow] Brigade against the Nazis and their collaborators, falling in battle. Despite all my efforts, I was unable to learn the day he died or the place where he was buried. My oldest brother, Gedaliahu, was murdered with thousands of Jews from Vilna at Ponar [April 5, 1943; strictly speaking, the Jews killed weren't from Vilna, but from the small ghettos around Vilna, including Oshmiany and Sventzion]. I remain the sole survivor of my extended family. In 1979, I immigrated with my family to Israel from Russia.
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Updated 20 Jun 2019 by LA