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Yod

(Jod a.k.a. Jody, Belarus)

55°27' 27°14'

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Slava Pinchov

Daughter of Sara and Chaim-Shalom Bor

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

After many years filled to overflowing with pain and suffering, I return to the past to raise from behind a curtain of fog the memory of its Jews, who lived there for generations and then were cut off. Who was the Columbus who discovered Yod [Jod a.k.a. Jody], and who was the first Jew or the first Jewish family to settle there? I've no information and have found no authentic sources on it. I was born in Yod; I grew up and was educated there. I knew Yod well; Jews rooted in the town lived there. Jewish families lived there for many generations: parents, children, grandchildren; children of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Our family was also a large one, with aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides, relatives of our father and our mother.

Yod was a town like all of the towns of exile [from Israel] at that time, before the world war. It can be found on a map in the district of Vilna and the subdistrict of Braslav [Braslaw]. Its neighboring villages were Pohost [a.k.a. Novy-Pohost, about 20 kilometers northeast of Yod], Sharkovshchitzna [Szarkowszcyzna, about 20 kilometers southeast of Yod] and the commercial center, Gleboki [Glubokoye, about 50 kilometers southeast of Yod]. Many Jews lived in these places as well. The town of Braslav, to which we were connected in all municipal and governmental matters, was 25 kilometers from us [to the northwest]. In the [prewar] Jewish cemetery of Braslav, there was even a separate section where the Jews of Yod were buried.[1] The wagoners of Yod supplemented their livelihoods by driving the Jews of Yod in their wagons through the rain and mud, in summer and winter, to the train [station] in Braslav. On the return trip they'd bring sacks of salt, flour, salted fish and the like for the small shop owners in Yod.

In every town and village there was a market day once a week, which the Jews called a “fair.” Our market day was on Tuesdays. The entire town waited for this day; it was the main source of income. The Jews would spread out their wares in stalls in the marketplace; one had cans of paint, another would have barrels of pickles. All the products were brought out to the market, baked goods as well. On this day shopkeepers came to Yod from the entire surrounding area, and the fair also became a meeting place for friends and relatives. The owners of the inns in the town also waited for the fair, among them my Aunt Sheina and her seven children. Each child had a job on this day: one daughter served the table, a second one poured drinks into the glasses; a third refilled cigarettes

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in the stall, and a fourth sold apples. The two sons went around among the farmers at the fair.

Like everywhere else, also among us the Jews were divided into the poor and the prosperous. The latter included the owners of the flour mill and owners of the textile and shoe stores, who were approached more than once to donate to charity and who always responded nicely, whether out of a desire to merit honor or to do a great deed.

There also were craftsmen in the town: shoemakers, tailors and two blacksmiths. They earned their keep by the sweat of their brows from the Gentiles of the area. Their great honesty brought them a good name in the entire region. Yod was the “capital” of several small villages, where there lived only a few isolated Jews. Such villages were Kislovshchitzna [Kislowszczyzna, about six kilometers north of Yod], Raflovka [probably Rafalova, about six kilometers northeast of Yod, near Hustat], Hustat [Hustaty, about six kilometers northeast of Yod] and Yuditzin [Judycyn, about eight kilometers south of Yod]. The Jews in these places worked the land. They found solutions in Yod to all of their problems. On Passover Eve, for example, the Jews would come to Yod to buy matzoh [unleavened flatbread]; they also came before the High Holy Days, to make sure that they had a seat in the synagogue to pray with the congregation and to wish their families and others a good, blessed year. A good and heartfelt welcome to guests was customary in Yod. Permit me to remember the goodness of my father, Chaim-Shalom Bor, of blessed memory, who was treated with honor and respect by both the great and small in the town. He knew who lacked a bite of bread in the house for their children and who, in the cold winter, lacked wood for the stove that heated their house. Father always worried that no Jew would be left --- Heaven forbid! --- without matzoh on Passover. He was a messenger of the congregation in the full meaning of the word: He led the prayers in the synagogue, read the Torah on the Sabbath, and on Purim he read the Megillah [Book of Esther] for those who were sick in their homes. He worked to improve the only meeting place in town: the synagogue. Engraved in my memory is how, during Hanukkah, he'd pass by with a charity box for Keren Kayemet [the Jewish National Fund] in his hand and call out, “Jews, we must redeem the Land of Israel from the Arabs, for the sake of our children's future.” Father deeply studied Herzl's Altneuland [The Old New Land, a utopian novel published in 1902 by Theodor Herzl]. He was a Zionist in his heart and soul, and in this spirit he educated his children.

Oh! Father, my father, we didn't give you a Jewish burial, and I didn't raise a memorial stone for you. You were holy, and you remained among the holy Jews who are scattered in the fields and forests of Poland; your memory will always shine in my heart. I'll remember you forever.

To our great dismay, at that time the Jews of Yod didn't look sufficiently to the future, and they didn't sense what was happening. Each and every one of them lived only in the present. “Thank G-d every day,” they'd say. They were closely tied to each other. Here we were born, married and brought children into the world, generation after generation. People knew each other by their given names and the nicknames that were attached to them.

There were no Jewish educational institutions in Yod. The children of Israel studied in the morning at the Polish powszechny [comprehensive] public school, and in the afternoon at a cheder [Hebrew primary school]. My father, Chaim-Shalom, established a loan fund to help the needy of the town. Everyone who was able helped in this matter. Anyone in need could receive an interest-free loan of 100 gold pieces and return it within 10 months. There was a committee that managed the records of the fund. The members of the committee were chairman Avraham Shmushkovitz, secretary Peretz Shkolnik [and] cashier Yaacov Shtein. More than once it happened that some of the borrowers didn't keep up with their payments, and this caused problems and arguments. Father always tried to find a solution. He was also concerned with the spiritual life of the town's Jewish youth. He established a library in our house and made it accessible to the town's young people. With the help of a small participation fee, new books were occasionally bought. Within a short time, the library became known to everyone. There were different kinds of books in the library: textbooks, and simple novels that

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attracted young readers. There also were books in Russian and Polish. Each evening, people came to our house who were interested in what was going on in the world. They read the newspapers Moment and Letste Nayes, which were published in Warsaw.[2] The newspapers arrived once a week, and we received them together with two men from the municipality, Eliahu Rozin and Yitzchak Mushkin. On these evenings, the people who gathered there talked politics; they also enjoyed makhorka cigarettes (a cheap type of tobacco) that were always on father's table. When I recall the distant past in Yod, I think that my father was among those who spread culture in our isolated town.

I also want to remember my two uncles, who always took an active part in these same evenings of discussion and argument. They were my uncle Yosef, and my uncle Yaacov [Shtein]. Both of them were eager to know what was happening in the world. My grandmother also took a place of honor at the table.

Our family's livelihood was supplied by a small store, like that of many others in the town. There were shopkeepers who enjoyed great success, and some who merited less. Our store was managed by my father, with the help of my stepmother. My father's ability in Torah was greater than his ability in commerce, and our store wasn't among the successful ones. There was no livelihood from it. Therefore, my father did something he hadn't wanted to do: Having been a yeshiva student for many years in the past, he opened a cheder in our house and became a teacher. My father taught not only Torah but also reading and writing, and among his pupils were those who couldn't afford to pay for their lessons. He devoted himself entirely to the cheder.

Our family included my father, Chaim-Shalom; the stepmother, Gitel [née Rukshin]; me --- Slava, the eldest daughter --- my sister, Ida; and my brother, Nachum, the only son. Aside from his precious family, my father possessed little: a house, a small garden beside it, and a single cow. Despite this, in our town we were considered to be middle class, because there were people who had even less.

With the progress that was occurring everywhere, even Yod began to change. Many young people left the town and went out into the wide world. Many traveled to the big city of Vilna [about 155 kilometers southwest of Yod], to try their luck there. Many of these expected no help from their parents, even during the early days of getting accustomed to the big, strange city. Among those who left the town was my sister Ida, who was more active than I was. I remained with our parents. Later, among those who left, some became rabbis and scholars, such as [Rabbi] Yosef Fisher and Rabbi Yosef Bernamov. Around this time, development and progress were also felt in the town. The Jewish owners of the flour mill [the Zilberman family] supplied all of the residents of the town, Jews and Gentiles, with electricity. The houses and streets were lit with electric lights. Radio receivers appeared in the homes of the prosperous, evidence of the great progress being made at the time. Neighborly relationships with the Gentiles improved. Jewish young people befriended Christian youth, and life was conducted peacefully. The Jews began to live under the delusion that this situation might continue forever. But suddenly, things reversed: The war broke out; Germany attacked Poland.

When war broke out between Poland and Germany [in September 1939], the feeling grew in the town that the Poles and the Jews belonged to the same nation. Jews and Poles left together to defend the Polish homeland. Jewish parents saw off their sons, women their husbands, and sisters their brothers, when these left for the front. No one knew what would happen or how long the war would last. Immediately, in the first days of the war, those who remained at home felt that something terrible was coming, but they didn't know what. The war

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didn't last long. The Polish army was attacked and defeated, scattering in every direction. Many of those who'd left to fight didn't return. Some fell in the field of slaughter, and some became prisoners of the Germans. And then, in a completely unexpected way, we learned that the Soviet Union, with Stalin at its head, had made an agreement with Nazi Germany with the aim of dividing Poland between them. After this, the political situation was unclear until the division actually took place. Our town of Yod and its surroundings were joined to Soviet Belorussia, whose capital was Minsk [about 180 kilometers south of Yod]. The Jews, who knew the character of the Nazi regime, accepted the Russian government with blessings and love, because they saw it as offering a chance for better conditions. With the change in the political situation, the Russians began immediately to introduce new procedures. Jews who'd been in the Polish government couldn't hope for a government position; they were transferred to other institutions in the town. Many of the Jewish young people turned to their studies, something that previously they'd been unable to do because of limited means. I was accepted at a seminar for teachers in Braslav, where the majority of students were Jews from the surrounding towns. Certainly there were Jews who were dissatisfied with the new government, among them Jews whose businesses were eliminated and those whose possessions were confiscated. Hatred began to sprout between people, between those who were satisfied and those who weren't. This situation aroused from its slumber the great hatred between the Poles and the Jews. “Jews are Communists. Because of them, Poland lost the war,” cried the Poles. Many of them didn't hide their longing for the Germans and waited for them to come and take revenge on the traitorous Jews. Relations were tense and boded no good.

Very slowly, the Jews adapted themselves to the new government. Some took part in governmental activity, and some found it possible to deal in small trade. Jews began to make rosy plans for the future, building castles in the air. But this situation lasted only a short time, and then the fog returned. Refugees from German territory arrived in the town with bad tidings, which aroused great concern. As always, there were people who lived under an illusion and argued against the worriers: “Here in Soviet Russia, nothing will happen. The enemy won't come.” Unfortunately, they were wrong.

On June 22, 1941, war broke out between Russia and Germany. After several days of fighting the Russians left the area, but the Germans hadn't yet arrived. Fear grew from day to day. Many people left Yod and headed toward the Russian border [the pre-1939 border to the east] to put some distance between themselves and the danger. But there were also those who believed the war would end and things would return to normal. They didn't want to think that the hard work of generations could be destroyed in a matter of hours. But events developed very quickly. Even before people understood what was happening, the Germans closed all approaches to the town and the surrounding area. There was nowhere to flee, and most of those who'd left Yod returned. The Jews put their lives in the hands of G-d and fate.

While the Jews worried and feared, the Christians exulted and swore to take revenge. The Polish friends from school and the good neighbors of yesterday, who'd eaten gefilte fish [“stuffed” fish] with Jews on the Sabbath and been served hamantaschen [triangular pastries] on Purim or matzoh on Passover, all changed their faces. To us it seemed they couldn't wait until the Germans arrived. A delegation from the Gentiles of Yod went out in a celebratory parade to Zamosh [Zamosz, about 10 kilometers northwest of Yod], to find a quick solution to the problem of the Jews, which they decided to carry out by themselves.

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The first Germans arrived in Yod on July 21, 1941. These were Germans from the special unit (sonderkommando), who made decrees against the Jews.[3] On the day they came, some of the Jews locked themselves in their houses, and many left their homes and went into the fields or forests. With the publication of the decrees against the Jews, the Germans transferred the authority in the town to the local Poles, who organized a local police force in a Jewish house that they confiscated. After this action, the Germans left the town.

The next day, these were the orders published on the walls of the Jewish homes:

  1. Every Jew must wear a Magen David [Shield of David] on a yellow patch.
  2. It was forbidden for a Jew to walk on the sidewalk of a street together with Gentiles, and it was forbidden to walk on the main street of the town.
  3. It was forbidden for Jews to mix with a group of non-Jews.

The orders were accompanied by these “pearls”:

  1. The Jews caused the war, and it was obligatory to crush them like fleas.
  2. Jews sucked the blood of Christians, and they must disappear from the world.
  3. Jews were a contagious disease; Jews and dogs must be killed.

The decrees took effect immediately. After them came new decrees each day. The local police carefully carried out all the orders and instructions. The Polish population came to their aid, youngsters as well as adults. I remember the names of the first “warriors” of the town: Retzitzki, Yanshik and his sons, Pyotr Matrinank, Olga Mashuk and others. It's very hard to remember all of the decrees; there were a great many. The Jews obeyed them all and gave over everything they had, thinking that in doing so they could perhaps succeed in saving their lives. Jews were also taken for labor. I remember how my father worked on his knees in the market pulling grass from between the stones. And they also did this: One evening the police gathered 20 Jews at the police station, and all of them were beaten until they fainted. Among them was my young husband, Kalman Pinchov. After being tortured, the ones who were beaten had to pay a special bribe; otherwise they'd be beaten again.

Many of the good neighbors of yesterday now showed a different face. They would come to the homes of the Jews for a friendly “visit” and in passing tell hair-raising tales about all that was happening to the Jews in different places. After these “friendly” stories, they'd turn to the Jewish owner of the house and say to him, “Give us your possessions so that we can protect them. When you need them, we'll return them.” Having no choice, the Jews gave their possessions to the “friends.” Our family also gave the little we had to people we knew.

In the morning we didn't know what would happen at noon or in the evening. Fear of the unexpected pulled at our nerve-strings --- and there was no way out. The Jews sat in their closed houses and together discussed what to do; they gathered donations from those who still had some possessions, to give as bribes; they prayed to G-d in heaven; they announced fast days and recited psalms. They did everything that Jews do in such times, but help was late in coming.

One evening, in August 1941, the shouting of Gentiles and the sound of breaking glass were heard outside. In the streets of the town a large crowd of men, women and children had gathered, with rods and a number of rifles in their hands, shouting, “The end for the Jews.” The Jews abandoned their houses and possessions and fled through the alleys to the fields or hiding places. All night, the Gentiles went wild in the Jewish houses. They

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broke, destroyed and stole everything. The next day there appeared leaflets on behalf of the temporary government, in which it was written, “The rule of anarchy has ended. From now on, there will be law and order in the town.” This made mockery of the powerless. What could we do? Sad and ashamed, people began to return to their homes, which had been broken into and destroyed.

After the pogrom, the authorities appointed two Jews from the town to be responsible for implementing all of the decrees that the government would apply to the Jews: the first Judenrat [Jewish Council] in Yod. The two men of the Judenrat were Eliahu Rozin and Peretz Shkolnik. At this time, my husband and I lived with my parents and brother. Together we worried about how to survive under the terrible conditions. Each day, we calculated how to get through the day in peace. We grew discouraged about all the possessions that we'd given to the Gentile “friends” to guard, with a promise on their part to help us in times of trouble. Even my long-time good friend, Olga Mashuk, when I asked her to return something to us, replied immediately: “No! I won't return a thing.”

One day, an order was sent to the Judenrat: You must bring us all of the gold and jewelry that's in the hands of the Jews. It was already known to everyone that most of the Jews had nothing to give. In the synagogue, after a discussion my father, Chaim-Shalom, stood up and said, “Jews! You should know that charity rescues from death.” Immediately, people took off their wedding rings and handed them over to save lives. But this too was for nothing. Each day, groups of [Jewish] men were taken for labor outside the town. Those who went out said goodbye to their families, because they didn't know if they'd return home. This was how things were done at this early stage of liquidation of the town's Jews.

News that reached the town from other places told us the Germans were establishing ghettos and concentrating in them all the Jews of the region. Ghettos like these had already been established in Braslav and Sharkovshchitzna.[4] The ghetto in Sharkovshchitzna was intended for the Jews of Yod. Life in our town had become so difficult and dangerous that the Jews were almost happy to move to the ghetto. They believed that if they stayed together they might succeed in getting through this terrible period and remaining alive. In preparation for entering the ghetto [in Sharkovshchitzna], they took care to obtain warm clothing for the children and a bit of food. They turned to their Gentile friends, to whom they'd given all their possessions to guard, but only a few of these were ready to help and share a little food in exchange for the possessions. Pleading and begging didn't help. Their final answer was “No!” and their consciences were untroubled.

The Jews of Yod were to move to the [Sharkovshchitzna] ghetto in August 1941. But [August arrived and] things went on as usual, and the local administration didn't rush to implement the decree. To the Jews' questions, they replied, “There's still no order from the Germans.” This answer aroused deep suspicions. The Jews rushed about to learn what was happening. There was a feeling in the air that something terrible could take place at any moment. As always, the Jews prayed and fasted to cancel the evil decree.

And then [in December 1941] the fateful hour arrived. Instead of an order to move the Jews [of Yod] to the ghetto [in Sharkovshchitzna], the local Poles were given a free hand to riot against them. In cooperation with the local police, when all were intoxicated and drunk, they robbed and stole the little that remained, and when they could find nothing else, they beat people mercilessly. The head of the Judenrat, Eliahu Rozin, was beaten very cruelly. This was a sign that the Judenrat had no more authority or validity.

After a night of rioting, the news arrived that Gentiles from the surrounding area were busy digging huge pits at the approaches to our town. Many among us tried to find an explanation for this, and there were even optimists

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who wished to see the digging as a sign of the Germans' worsening situation. “Maybe they have to withdraw and are using Gentiles to dig to avoid revealing their true condition.” We wanted this explanation to be correct, but to the regret of us all, it was a false hope. The next day, immediately in the morning, we saw how the Jews of Kislovshchitzna, Yuditzin and others were brought, under heavy guard, to the Polish school and locked inside. Panic arose among the Jews of our town. What did this mean?

The evening of that same day, my brother-in-law Motke [Pinchov] came to our house, completely frightened, with the news of Job in his mouth: From a reliable source --- he told us --- he'd learned that the pits the Gentiles had dug at the entrance to Yod were intended for the Jews. And he'd found out more: This had come about because of a petition sent to the Germans in which the local residents asked that the lives of the Jews be given over into their hands, together with all their possessions. The locals had a right to them, and therefore the liquidation should be carried out here, not in some ghetto located elsewhere. My brother-in-law Motke added that the petition had been written by members of the local Polish intelligentsia, among them Adam Kostokovitz, Olga Mashuk, the teacher Kochenska and others.

After we heard what my brother-in-law said, a great fear took hold of us all. What would happen to the Jews of Yod was utterly clear. We discussed what to do and decided to immediately flee our house and the town. Each additional hour might be crucial for us. We decided to leave in two groups and meet at the home of the Mitzkevitz [Mickiewicz] family, who lived 15 kilometers from Yod. We knew the members of the family, and they could be trusted. We'd go straight there --- we determined --- Motke with his family, which also included two children, his sister and their elderly father. They'd try to reach Zalis [presumably Zalesie, about 3.5 kilometers southwest of Yod] and stay there a short time. After several days, we'd meet and decide what to do next.

This was the third day of Hanukkah, December 16, 1941 [most of the Jews of Yod would be killed the next day]. My father lit the candle and prayed for a miracle; only the power of a miracle could help us. Before we went out on the road, we told those close to us what was about to happen. Sad and discouraged, we left the house. In our group were father, with his tallit [prayer shawl] and bag for tefillin [phylacteries] in his hands, our stepmother Gitel, my brother Nachum and me. Our guide was my husband, Kalman. At this fateful time, my sister Ida was in Vilna; sometime before, she'd given birth to her oldest daughter. We knew nothing of their current situation.

We walked together into the night. It was very cold outside. We walked on side paths, close to each other, not making a sound. We knew it wouldn't be easy to find shelter. We moved ahead quickly; the will to live kept us going. We knew we couldn't cover the distance to our destination in one night; it was too dangerous to walk during the day. So we decided that before dawn we'd go to the house of one of the farmers we knew in the village of Marchinat [Marciniaty, about four kilometers south of Yod]. Some of our possessions were with him, and he'd promised to help us in time of need. We quietly approached his house and knocked on the door. His wife Platnicha opened the door and was very surprised to see us. “Get away from here, quickly,” she said. “Run! The farmers of the village got an order to capture all the Jews who escaped from the town, and tomorrow they'll shoot them all.” She added, “They'll shoot anyone who gives shelter to Jews!” We left the house. The light of morning burst forth, and with it the danger that an awakening farmer would see us and turn us in. We decided to risk the danger and enter a building along the way. After going some distance, we came across a small building that was used as a bathhouse, and we went inside. Tired and exhausted, we searched in the dark for the wall, so that we could lean against it. Suddenly, we felt there was a body. For a moment we were afraid, but then it became clear that this was a Jew who, like us, had escaped

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from Yod and found shelter here; we shared the same fate. The man was Yisrael Dubinsky, who'd fled alone from the town, “Because they said,” he told us, “that they'd kill only the men.” His wife and children had remained in the town. We stayed together in the bathhouse, and luckily no one entered that day. During the day, each one of us tried to squeeze his body into a corner or next to the wall, and prayed to become seeing but unseen.

It was Tuesday [sic; December 17 was a Wednesday]. Farmers returned from the fair in Yod to their villages, as usual. The bathhouse stood near the road on which the farmers' wagons traveled, and we heard some of their conversations quite well. They spoke among themselves about the great killing that had been done to the Jews.[5] How they'd brought men, women and children to the pits at the entrance to Yod, undressed them like the day they were born, and shot them. It was bitter for us to hear. That Tuesday [sic] we saw with our own eyes, through a small crack in the bathhouse, how the farmers were leading two Jews, who they'd taken from their hiding place in the village. These were the seamstress Liba [Pinchov] and her sister Etel. Helpless, we saw this and were unable to help; we knew that a similar fate might await us. The Gentiles rushed around everywhere like wild beasts looking for prey. Many who succeeded in escaping from the town at the time of the great Aktion [on December 17, 1941] were trapped on the roads or in hiding places by the farmers and turned over to the murderers. There were cases where farmers who'd given shelter to Jews were turned in. From the Jews, they took not only their lives but also their possessions.

In these difficult hours, we wondered if there remained any Gentile who was prepared to help the Jews; after what we heard and saw, we understood we couldn't stay in this place. We had to hurry and get far away. We decided to leave at nightfall and try to reach the farmer who we'd been seeking when we left our town. Yisrael Dubinsky didn't come with us. He said he wanted to share the fate of his wife and children, and so he returned to the town. As we learned later, he didn't find them alive.

Hungry and thirsty, we set out in the night. “We'll do anything,” we said, “to keep from falling into the hands of the Nazis. But if even one of us remains alive, he must avenge the Jewish blood that's been spilled.” I don't know how, in those dark moments, the thought of revenge arose. How could a Jew take revenge? There was no time to think about it, time was pressing us.

Again we were on the move; on backroads and paths, in the fields and forests, we distanced ourselves from that place with rapid footsteps until we reached a small stream of water. Even though my husband knew the way and the area, we erred. The water in the stream was nearly frozen, but the distance to our destination was still great. We were worn out and tired, and now we were also wet and frozen and --- above all --- night was coming to an end. Again it was essential to enter a village bathhouse and stay there during the hours of daylight. In such a building we might be safe, because usually the villagers came there only at the end of the week. Everything depended on luck. Not one Jew was ever captured in this kind of building.

To our dismay, the dogs in the area sensed us immediately when we entered the bathhouse, and they began to bark loudly. A farmer with a flashlight in his hand immediately appeared outside and saw us. “Don't be afraid,” he said, “I won't harm you.” This was the farmer Vasil Brezko [Wasil Bresko], whose lone house stood in a field next to the large village of Lonsk [Lonskie, about eight kilometers south of Yod].[6] The farmer was among our acquaintances, and we knew him as a G-d-fearing, merciful man. He took us into his house to dry off and warm up, and he served us potatoes and boiled

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water. Vasil Brezko was a poor farmer, a big drinker with a warm and kind heart. His family consisted of him, his wife and their five children. He suggested that we remain at his house in a hiding place in the attic, among piles of hay. “You can't go on the road now,” he told us, “the roads are full of villagers who are busy hunting for Jews.” Then he asked us to give him our boots and felt shoes so that he could dry them. In normal times this would've been kind but now, even though our shoes needed drying, his request was cause for worry. Was Vasil plotting something evil? Who knew? With no other option, we put our fate in his hands. Maybe the fact that he was a poor man would help us; he'd see us as a source of help to support his family. We gave him what we had and described the treasures he'd receive in the future, after we took them from the hoard we'd buried before fleeing from the town. “The war will soon end,” we said, and we told him that the merit of saving us would make him a wealthy man. These were stories we told Vasil, stories. Meanwhile, with worry in our hearts and rags on our feet, we went up into the attic and dug ourselves into a pile of hay. A number of days passed without any shocks, until one morning we asked Vasil for our boots and he replied immediately that he'd sold them all and bought bread for his family and for us. “Stay with me,” he added. “As long as it's possible, I won't drive you out.” Again --- what could we do? We remained. We wanted to believe that just maybe he was really a good-hearted person and not like all the others during this time.

Despite the fear that never left us, we grew accustomed to the new conditions and our “home” in the attic hay. Things continued this way until January 1, 1942. That day, we heard the sound of an airplane near the house. We heard a call in German, “Halt! Halt!” Without saying a word, all of us thought our last hour had come. The fear of death in such moments was worse than death itself. Every sense grew numb. We sat in the hay and prepared ourselves for the Germans' arrival. We sat there an entire day, but nothing happened; when it grew dark the farmer Vasil came and told us that not far from his house a German plane had made an emergency landing, and in it were 13 soldiers. They were waiting for technicians to come and repair the plane, and he didn't know how long things would take. Our stay in his house, Vasil added, worried him and his family very much. We were a great danger to them. But to send us on our way now was impossible, because many farmers were in the area to see the plane, and they'd capture us and denounce us. So he asked us not to make any noise in the storehouse. Nevertheless, in the evening he occasionally came up to us as if to take some hay to the cow, bringing a bottle of water. What bread was, we'd already forgotten some time ago. Vasil Brezko was frightened no less than we were.

A few days passed, which seemed to us an eternity. Because of the severe cold, my father got sick and my brother Nachum's foot became frozen. Each one of us considered how to put an end to this miserable life. Vasil, with his bottle of water, hadn't come for several days. Sick, thirsty and hungry, we were fed only by the smell of the foods that the Germans were cooking below in the storehouse. This nightmare continued for eight days, until one evening Vasil took us, half dead, out of the hay. Then we knew that he really was good-hearted. He took us into a well-heated bathhouse. The news that the Germans had left brought us back to life again.

The farmer treated Nachum's frozen foot. With the help of warm water, we were partly freed from

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the lice that had been eating us up. We felt as if reborn. All that night we sat in the cozy bathhouse, warming ourselves and eating potatoes with onions. These were the first good moments we'd known since leaving our home in Yod.

The next day, the troubles and fears returned. Vasil's wife quarreled with him and demanded that he drive out the Jews and not put their family and farm in danger. She lived in the present, she said, not the future. “Who says,” she argued, “that the Germans will lose the war?” Once more we told them about the treasure they'd earn after the war ended, but we knew that if Brezko didn't immediately get something helpful from us, all our stories would mean nothing. His wife would gain the upper hand, and they'd drive us from their house. We began to confer. At this time, we knew from news the farmer had brought us that a few Jewish families of craftsmen remained alive in Yod as “necessary Jews.” We knew also that among these Jews were my uncle Yaacov [Shtein] the blacksmith and his family. We looked for a way to contact him, hoping to find a solution. Vasil was willing to travel to the town and find Yaacov. We begged his wife to agree that we could stay with them for a few more days. In the morning, the farmer harnessed his sled, took an axe as if he was intending to have it sharpened by the blacksmith in town, and I wrote a few words to indicate where we were and hinted at our distress. That same evening, the farmer returned from the town in a good mood, with a warm greeting that had been passed along and a few written words from Uncle Yaacov. Yaacov wrote that he had a connection with a few more Jews who remained alive. He wrote that his brother Motke [or her husband's brother Motke, the original is unclear] was living in hiding. My husband's elderly father, Natan, had been taken to the killing pit. Vasil also told us that Uncle Yaacov had spoken to him and asked him to keep us with him until the times improved a bit and it was possible to move somewhere else. As a sign of appreciation for Vasil's good deed, my uncle had put into the farmer's sled a sack of grain, peas, barley and several loaves of bread, with a bit of butter. This greatly encouraged Vasil and his wife. We also enjoyed this food, but very little. For his part, Vasil offered samogon --- homemade vodka. Crucially for us, Vasil and his wife decided to let us stay with them. Their attitude toward us changed greatly; they saw us as a means of support. From time to time, Vasil would visit Uncle Yaacov, and he never returned with empty hands. Meanwhile, we moved to another hiding place, in the cowshed: the cow on the right, the pig on the left, and us in a corner that remained empty of storage apples. It was a small, narrow space. In the late hours of the evening, Vasil would bring us into his house to warm up a bit.

Winter [early in 1942] arrived in full strength. In days like these, it was impossible to seek another hiding place. It was also certain that there was no shelter in our surroundings, which were overflowing with Jewish blood. Farmers and sons of farmers were swarming on the roads and near the bridges over the rivers, hunting for Jews. For their services, they received from the Germans a kilogram of cooking salt. Many Jews from Sharkovshchitzna fell as a sacrifice on these roads. I was an eyewitness on one of these occasions and it's engraved in my memory to this day: One morning, we heard a terrible scream. I approached a narrow crack in the wall and looked outside. I saw a horse harnessed to a sled, and behind it a woman was being dragged; her heart-rending screams made me tremble. In the evening, Brezko came to our hiding place and told us that his neighbor from the village of Lonsk had grabbed Sara Munitz, who'd come to the village to find the hiding place of an acquaintance of hers. They'd grabbed her and tortured her very cruelly.

It's hard to describe what we felt that day. We saw ourselves, sooner or later, in the place of

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Sara Munitz. We talked with each other and searched for a way to escape the area. We felt we should meet with Uncle Yaacov, despite the danger. We knew that time was pressing, each day might be crucial. We decided to leave that night. The lot fell to my Aunt[7] Gitel the stepmother and to me, Slava, to carry out this mission.

We parted with much weeping; nesting in our hearts were doubts that we'd see each other again. The situation was urgent, we wanted to reach the town that same night. Father gave us his blessing and said, “G-d is the great father of everyone. He'll protect you. I pray that you return safely.”

Outside --- a snowstorm; even a dog wouldn't go out. We walked on backroads, hoping that we could reach our destination on a night like this --- and we succeeded in getting safely to the town without anyone sensing we were there. The town was quiet, as if after a storm. The homes of the Jews had been broken into, doors and windows were missing and houses were completely empty. It seemed to us that from every house the shadow of a dead Jew accompanied us. We passed our house, which was already peopled with other tenants, Gentiles. With deep emotion, we reached Uncle Yaacov's house and knocked on the window. They hadn't known we were coming and were very frightened. They calmed down only when they saw us, and they were happy to find us still alive. In fear, they told us that according to the order they'd received it was forbidden to bring Jewish refugees into their house, otherwise their lives would be in danger. After they hid us in a secret place, they told us what had happened to the Jews of Yod and themselves. With their own eyes, they'd seen the Jews of Yod, among them our relatives, walking on their last journey to the valley of death. It began on the Tuesday of Hanukkah, December 17, 1941 [sic; December 17 was a Wednesday]. The pits at the entrance to the town were open and waiting for their sacrifice during all eight days of Hanukkah [December 14-22]. Around the pits stood the Gentiles of the area, who celebrated. They searched the clothes of the sacrificed even before these returned their souls to the Creator, taking everything. The massacre had been carried out by two Germans with machine guns. Local police from Yod and Braslav helped them. Gentiles from the area, adults and youths, with rods in their hands, were the ones who brought the sacrificed to the pits from their houses and hiding places. Only a few, a very few, were saved and succeeded in escaping. Among them were Jews who were brought from Kislovshchitzna, who'd been imprisoned in the school. Uncle Yaacov had a connection with a few of them, and he helped them to some extent.

The destruction of the Jews of Yod in such a cruel manner was the first instance of liquidation of Jews in our area. In [other] places they still hadn't harmed the Jews,[8] not in the ghettos and not the people of the town, as “necessary Jews.” It was true, Uncle Yaacov told us, that there already were rumors that the “necessary Jews” would also be put in the ghettos, and therefore he'd decided to send his two oldest children, his son Simcha and daughter Sara, to one of his farmer acquaintances to hide; maybe with luck they'd remain alive. Uncle Yaacov and his family knew that a bitter end awaited the Jews in the ghetto. He advised us to remain with Vasil Brezko, if possible, all winter. We took bread with us and boots, mostly of felt, for our feet. At night we parted [from Uncle Yaacov] with much weeping. With a heavy heart and great sadness, we set out [to return to Vasil], hoping that among those who escaped would be some who'd take revenge on the murderers. This hope kept us going. Father, who had a great deal of faith, always encouraged us in difficult moments. All day he'd pray and say: “Jews must remain alive. Our history tells us that after each pogrom Jews remained alive and established later generations of Jews.” (After the war, I reached Yod and found there a photographer whose name, to my regret, I've forgotten. He gave me a photograph of the pits

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where 530 Jews from Yod and the surrounding area met their deaths. A huge mass grave. May G-d avenge their blood.)

Days passed. We remained at Vasil Brezko's, living in constant tension and fear. Father bore his suffering in silence. His hair grew whiter day by day. During the last days, he argued that we shouldn't be found together. He said that if, G-d forbid, the oppressor came we should avoid a situation where none of us could be rescued. In the spring, perhaps, we could move to a different hiding place or go into the forest. In the forest, there were Jews whose fate was like ours. From father's words, we understood that he'd lost hope of rescue. He grew apathetic. Depression ruled over us.

Some days passed and we didn't even receive hot water. The distress from hunger was great; we took to sharing the food of the pig and the cow. We took tiny amounts of their food for ourselves, so that Vasil wouldn't find out. The amount wasn't enough for all of us for each day, but once in two days. It was clear to us all that if we didn't die from the sword, we'd die from starvation. We had to leave this place, but . . . where to go? We decided to take a chance, put ourselves in danger and get a bit of food, and maybe also “something” for Vasil Brezko. Our intention was to turn to people who'd received part of our possessions to watch over at the start of the war and who'd promised to come to our aid in time of need. But how could we reach one of them? Despite the danger, my husband and I went out on a stormy, snowy night to a farmer, one of our good and faithful acquaintances, Vincenty. He was a woodsman who lived near the forest. We hoped that he'd help us and not disappoint us. All the way, we felt as if we were being followed. Full of fear, we arrived at his house and knocked on the door. The people in the house were afraid when they saw before them two pale shadows of human beings. Fortunately, they recognized us immediately. They brought us inside their house, warmed us next to the stove and gave us things to eat that we hadn't enjoyed for a long time. We told Vincenty (who had a great fear of G-d) the entire truth of our situation --- and that not only did we have no food but also the farmer sheltering us wanted us to leave. We asked Vincenty to give us a bit of food and to save us, so that maybe the farmer sheltering us would let us stay. To our surprise, Vincenty agreed to give us real food, seeds, wheat, peas and the like, as well as some items for Brezko's wife. We returned to Vasil's house happy with our treatment. Vasil left in a sled and brought back everything that had been promised us. From this food, we received a loaf of bread a week, for all of us. The important thing was that their attitude toward us improved a lot.

We tried to turn to other acquaintances in the same way, but unfortunately in most cases we returned with empty hands, accompanied by the barking of the dogs they set on us. Vasil traveled to the farmer Vincenty several times and always came back with food. Vincenty was the only man with a kind heart that we met with in those dark days.

Somehow we got through the winter of 1941-42. Spring came, but it didn't bring good news. In the town of Yod, the “necessary Jews” were no more. Uncle Yaacov and his family were moved to the ghetto in Gleboki.[9] From the news that had reached us, we knew that in most of the area's ghettos people were living in constant fear of destruction.

At this moment, we learned for the first time about Jews who had weapons in the area. It was said that with the help of these weapons they'd obtained all the food they needed from the farmers. To find out who they were and where we could meet them, we had to risk our lives once more and go to a farmer, who at the time of the Aktion [in December 1941] was the only one who'd helped and rescued people. His name was Yashke Artsishevski [Jaszka Arciszewski]. He lived in an isolated house far from all the houses

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of the village, and therefore the approach to his house was easy. As in most of our missions, and this time too, I and my husband Kalman set out to find Artsishevski, and after several hours of walking we knocked at his door. He immediately took us inside and was happy to find us alive. He told us that he had connections with Jews who'd succeeded in escaping death and finding shelter with him. He also told us that my husband's brother was at the home of his relative and he could meet us here in the house. We waited for night to come, and he traveled to bring my brother-in-law Motke. It wasn't for nothing that people called Artsishevski the “father of the Jews.”

About the meeting with my brother-in-law Motke, there isn't much to tell. This was a drama that many experienced, and only someone who lived through that time will understand its importance. Motke told us that after a long stay in a number of hiding places, he and his wife, his two small children and his wife's sister were preparing to enter the ghetto in Miory [about 34 kilometers northeast of Yod]. In their hiding place, it was hard for them to keep up their spirits. From what he said, it seemed that he'd grown apathetic toward life, and he didn't want to continue to look for places to hide. Sooner or later, he said, everyone would die. Until now, they'd endured many troubles and somehow remained alive, but now the farmer who'd given them shelter was asking them to leave immediately. What could they do?

Motke tried to convince us to move to the ghetto. We answered that we thought the situation would improve during the summer, and until then it would be good to stay with some farmer. To this he replied there was hope that in the summer groups of Jews organized in the ghetto would set out for the forests in the area. With sadness, we parted from my brother-in-law. We hoped to meet each other again [later in the year] and set out together for the forest. To our great dismay, this was a false hope. In the summer of 1942 [on June 2], the [Miory] ghetto was liquidated. My brother-in-law and his entire family were killed, along with all [sic] the Jews of Miory.[10]

Under cover of the dark and rainy nights, we tried to reach the “father of the Jews,” Artsishevski, not only to obtain a slice of bread but also to hear what was happening in the vicinity. One night, in his house we met Zalman Shkolnik and Shmuel Bernamov. Both of them had weapons. Zalman told us that when all the Jews had been gathered in the square [presumably in Yod in December 1941] before they were taken out to be slaughtered, he'd killed a German. This had caused a great panic that enabled a number of Jews to escape and survive. Others had been shot by the Germans while fleeing. The ones who escaped had reached this area and met here in Artsishevski's house. Among them was Eliahu, Shmuel Bernamov's brother, who'd fled from the Gleboki Ghetto. He told of a brave deed done by Shmuel: He'd entered the stable of one of the policemen, where a lot of weapons were hidden. He took out the weapons and divided them among the young men who'd gone to the forests of Kozian [Koziany].[11] These forests were large and contained swampy areas that couldn't be crossed. In these forests, the Jewish youths who escaped had organized themselves. Together with them were Russian prisoners who'd worked as slaves of the local farmers.

At this time, every Jewish youth had just one goal: to get a rifle or other weapon. Many of them participated in daring missions. In appreciation, I remember the heroes of our town, who are now found in the Land of Israel or abroad, who avenged the spilled blood of the murdered Jews. They killed Germans and local police who murdered hundreds of Jews: Zalman Shkolnik, Mulia [Shmuel] Bernamov, David Shmushkovitz, Pesach Zilberman, Shimon Shragovich and Zvi [Hirsh] Einhorn. They were brave partisans who took part in many missions. One of the first actions they carried out was to set fire to the town of Yod, together with its new residents. These residents were the people who'd murdered the Jews of Yod. The town went up in flames, and the Gentiles scattered in every direction.[12]

Jews made history; Gentile Christians lived in fear of Jewish revenge. Some of them even fled

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their homes. These young Jewish men, with weapons in their hands, took food for themselves and others from the farmers. Life in the forest was safer under the watch of the partisans.

After this awakening, we planned to leave Vasil Brezko's house, to join the Jews in the forest and live there until the Germans were defeated. Vasil agreed that if our plan failed he'd take us in again. We prepared for the appropriate day to set out, but again fate disappointed us. Events developed in a different way.

One morning, Vasil came with a rumor circulating in the village: The Germans were attacking the Jews and partisans in the forests. This action by the Germans had been prompted by the farmers in the area, who told the Germans about the movements of the Jews and partisans in the forest and asked that the Germans do something. The local farmers entered the forest with the Germans and attacked in a large force. Many partisans were killed. Others escaped and wandered from place to place to find shelter with kind farmers.[13]

The hope that we had now disappeared. Hungry and eaten by lice, we begged Vasil to continue to shelter us in his yard until after the winter. The problem was: How would we survive? Recently we'd been going out at night to get food from the farmers, and they, afraid of the Jewish partisans, had given it to us. Now, after the German attacks, everything had changed. It was difficult to go out at night; the danger was great and we also didn't know if there were more Jews in the area who were armed. Our hunger was great. We couldn't get even greens from the garden.

The summer came to an end, fall and winter were approaching. Vasil decided, out of great fear, to transfer us to another hiding place, in the stable, between two walls that had a space between them of half a meter. We sat in darkness always, day and night. Only the cry of the rooster told us that day had come. Discouragement penetrated deeply into our hearts. We envied the dog, who lived freely in the yard.

The tragic year --- 1943 --- was about to arrive. The ghettos in the cities and towns were liquidated, the Jews were shot. In the dark, between the walls, we asked ourselves: What are we living for? What are we waiting for? Our nerves grew weak. Our lives had no purpose. Occasionally Vasil came with bitter news. “The Germans,” he said one day, “are withdrawing, and while doing so they're burning everything. They aren't leaving a thing in its place.” Our father wanted to draw encouragement from the German withdrawal, and he increased his prayers and recital of psalms. As the month of Kislev approached [November 10 to December 8, 1942], he hoped again for a Hanukkah miracle to redeem us.

The miracle didn't occur. One morning the farmer came again, with the news that he and his family were planning to leave the house. Many of the farmers, he said, had left and were fleeing the village. The Germans wanted to destroy the entire area because of the partisans. That night, we came out from between the walls to see what was happening in the vicinity. On every side, we saw fires that appeared to be the result of heavy bombing from the air. The Germans, Vasil told us, were setting the farmers' homes on fire, together with their inhabitants. The villages that had burned: Sabil-Zoravovshchitzna [Sabil-Zorawowszczyzna, about 15 kilometers southwest of Yod], Kushtali [Kusztale, about nine kilometers southwest of Yod] and Lonsk. Horrible cries were carried to us by the wind. What could we do? Wait for death between the walls of the stable? We couldn't flee in the light of day. Where would we run to? We lay down and waited until the smoke rose in our noses and we felt the heat of the fires. I'll remember that night all my life. All around us, we heard the shouts of the Germans.

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Another night came. We reached a point where we could see and hear what was going on outside, and --- silence, the harbinger of approaching tragedy. There was no trace of people, and we heard only the barking of dogs. Near the place where we were, everything was burning. At this moment, father took off his coat, put it on my brother's shoulders, and said, “Children, there's nothing to wait for any more. You're young. Take your fate in your hands, and with the help of G-d some of you will remain alive. Run! Run from here. I can't go with you. Aunt Gitel and I don't have any strength left, we can't go on. And my long beard would give you away. G-d is the great father of everyone. After the war, the ones who remain alive --- search for each other.” And he repeated, “Run, run! Every minute is precious.” I remember the deep sadness in his eyes and the hushed sobbing of all of us. For a long time, we'd stood together against every difficult situation that faced us. Why should we separate now? Didn't death lie in wait for us at every turn? Father put his hands on our heads, and wordlessly he blessed us as he did on the day before Yom Kippur in our childhood, and we moved away.

The night was lit with flames of fire and the white snow. We ran with all our strength. To life, or to death? To reach the forest edge, we had to travel a great distance and a bridge over a deep valley. On the way, we met people fleeing in every direction. We worried that someone would recognize we were Jews and shoot at us. Next to the bridge, two Germans stopped us. In great fear, we stood frozen in place as if turned to stone; we heard the Germans shouting, “Mentschen gut, budinki kaput” [“We're leaving the people alive and burning the houses”], and they directed us to run along a different path. We ran, waiting for the impact of bullets, but they didn't shoot. They must have thought we were farmers from the area who were fleeing their homes like many others. Running, we crossed the bridge and kept going until we reached the first trees of the forest. There we fell breathless into the snow. After recovering a bit, we lifted our heads for a last look at the way we'd come, and the village that had guarded our lives for so long. The entire village was in flames, as well as the corner where we'd left our parents to await a miracle, wrapped in a huge flame. We knew that with that flame, the holy souls of our father, Chaim-Shalom, and our stepmother, Aunt Gitel, both of blessed memory, had ascended to heaven.

We felt the severe cold outdoors, which penetrated our bones. We were half naked and nearly barefoot. We rose with sadness and kept walking aimlessly into the forest. We were indifferent to anything that was likely to happen. This was the first instance, since the time of suffering and fear had started, that we wished death for ourselves. To die somehow, only not to fall into the hands of the Germans or their collaborators. All night we walked in the forest, and toward morning we saw at some distance a house, lit with a weak light, and thick smoke rising from its chimney. Around the house everything was burned. This surprised us. We came closer. Despite the danger, we told ourselves that we'd test our luck, as our father, of blessed memory, had advised. We knocked on the door, and when it opened, to our surprise we saw a farmer we knew, Beinarovitz [Viktor Bejnarowicz]. He immediately invited us inside. We grew excited. We couldn't believe there were still people who'd invite Jews, refugees from the sword, into their homes. I kissed his hands. Could we warm our frozen limbs? He sat us on the warm stove,[14] and for a few hours we felt as if we were in the Garden of Eden. After we warmed ourselves, he took us up to the attic, which was filled with hay. In our conversation with him, he revealed that he too was living in danger, not knowing what would happen. We stayed there, hoping that this situation would be temporary. The farmer told us that until recently several Jews had been hiding in his house. They'd left

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when the situation in the area became worse. Now, he said, the Germans had completed their operations against the partisans in the forest. So he advised us to go to the Zamosh forest [to the north of Zoravovshchitzna].

As before, we told the farmer Beinarovitz stories about our wealth that he'd get for saving our lives. Our aim was to find shelter for the [remaining] winter months. In the end, he agreed that we should return to him after the situation improved. We knew there were few Gentiles willing to endanger themselves by sheltering Jews, and so we were happy that he agreed.

We left his house at night and went to the forest according to his directions. After walking a few hours in the forest, we met some Jews: Shmuel Mintzer and his wife Liba, Eliahu Shmidt and his brother-in-law Liova [or Liuba] Bik. We became a large group sharing a single fate. We sat in the snow next to a large tree, and told each other of the hardships we'd been through. Today, when I think of those days of hunger, lice, snow and frost, I don't know where we got the strength to stand it all and remain alive.

After several days of sitting in the forest, we decided to again divide ourselves into two groups as before. The area was quiet, no fires were seen on the horizon. It was necessary to find shelter for the winter. We set out on the road, with each group not telling the other of its intentions. The destinations were each group's secret, for good or, heaven forbid, for bad. Thus, we were very surprised when we all met up again at the house of that same farmer, Beinarovitz. We were a large number of people and doubted he'd take such a grave danger upon himself and let us all stay with him, but after talking to us he agreed. He said that the danger was equal, whether with one Jew or 10. We remained together, because we knew we had nowhere else to go. The danger was very great, but there was no other choice. And further: For some reason we thought the winter of 1943 [that is, early 1943] would be a turning point, both for the war and for Jewish survivors. As always, among us there were people who'd already lost their will to live and argued: What makes you certain the Nazis will lose the war? We hadn't listened to a radio or read a newspaper, but still we believed in and hoped for the downfall of the Germans. So we attached ourselves to the farmer Beinarovitz. We decided to dig a bunker for everyone, and Shmuel Mintzer, who was a laborer and took the initiative, planned it in the cowshed. All of us helped with the digging, and within one night the pit was dug; its shape was that of a large grave. We covered it with boards, and on these we spread the dung of cows and horses. Inside the bunker there was only room to sit. Again we were in continuous darkness, hungry and eaten by lice, not knowing if it was day or night.

We couldn't leave the bunker to get food; the danger was too great. Once a week, we got from the farmer a baked loaf of bread and other products, whose quality we didn't know. We hung the bread above us on a string so that the mice wouldn't reach it; apparently they too were hungry. The bread would break into crumbs when it was sliced. My brother Nachum would spread his hands under the bread so that not even one crumb was lost. We ate once a day; there wasn't food enough for more than that. We always had to judge when the best time was to eat, during the day or at night. At night, we had to take out of the bunker the waste of the cows and horses that had drained in.

We were in the pit for many days, and each day seemed like a year. We felt like the living dead in the grave. My brother Nachum fell ill with a skin disease and suffered from swellings, and my husband fell ill with a stomach disease. Matters continued this way until March 1943, when something occurred that forced us to flee the bunker, at all costs: One day, gypsies stole our farmer's horse as well as the entire load in his sled (which hinted to us

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that other people were in the forest). In response to the robbery, Beinarovitz called in the Germans and their helpers, the Ukrainians. They entered the forest and made a terrible massacre of the gypsies. After this, the farmer brought all of the gypsies' possessions to his yard, even the clothes of those who'd been killed. He'd become drunk and thirsty for revenge.

The actions of Beinarovitz raised the suspicion that he wasn't one of the righteous people of the world at all, but a German agent. The suspicion was strengthened by the fact that all the houses in the area had been set on fire and burned down, but his house was untouched. We thought he might be holding us in the bunker for some purpose, or as a sacrifice for some contingency. The next night, we fled; the bunker now seemed to us to be a death trap. We set out on the road and put our lives in the hands of fate, without saying a parting word to the Gentile. Our aim was to get to the forest where we'd found Jews and partisans before the Aktion [the German sweep of late 1942, described on page 418], and we hoped we'd find them there once more. The forest was 10 kilometers away; not a great distance, but it was hard for us to travel. We were weak and sick. My husband Kalman had nearly gone blind from sitting in the dark. The glare of the snow in his eyes caused him great pain. When we finally reached the forest, we were exhausted. We rested a bit and continued into the heart of the forest to our destination, a well-known hill named Zhidovka (the Jewess). After an exhausting walk, we arrived at the place. We were happy to find there Jews like ourselves, who'd been forced to leave their hideouts. All of us hoped to stay here, hiding among the trees, for as long as possible. We began to enjoy some comfort. We even put up sukkot[15] to live in. How long we could stay in the forest, we didn't know. Within a few days, more Jews arrived at the camp on the hill; with them were partisans. Most of the Jews were armed with rifles. The problem of food grew worse. The settlements near the forest had gone up in flames, and to obtain food it was necessary to go great distances in operations at night. This was done by the young men who had weapons. We began to grow accustomed to life in the forest.

Summer [1943] passed, and the new winter approached. In the mornings and evenings, we felt the cold becoming stronger. In our hearts, we began to worry: What would we do in the winter months? Some people said they had no strength left to find a different place of shelter, they wanted to pass the winter in the forest, await some miracle, and mainly get help from the Jewish partisans. My husband, I and my brother didn't think we had the strength to survive in the forest over the difficult winter months, and we decided to try our luck again with the farmers, far from this location, in a village near Braslav [to the north]. The villagers there were living at the time in absolute peace and good relations with the Germans. In one of these villages, there was a farmer who'd promised to help us in times of trouble. We intended to go to him in the hope that the residents there were no longer busy hunting down Jews, since they believed none were still alive. Thus, in the lion's mouth we sought shelter and protection.

We returned to wandering at night. Finally, we reached an isolated house in a field near the village of Borodzanitz [Borodzienicze a.k.a. Bordzienic, about 20 kilometers southeast of Braslav and 10 kilometers north of Yod], where a farmer lived who'd been a friend of our family. After a knock on the door, the farmer appeared, and he seemed happy to see us alive. But he agreed to let us enter his house only after much hesitation. The experience of years of wandering taught us how to speak to the farmer in such cases. We decided to describe to him the great wealth he'd receive from us in the future. We built castles in the air and wanted him to believe in their existence. We knew there was no way to go back during daylight; the day was only for Christians and dogs. After our efforts, the farmer agreed to let us stay with him during the day, and at night we'd leave

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his house. We thanked him for that. When we were in his house with his agreement, we continued to try to convince him to let us stay there during the winter months, and finally he agreed. It became clear that he was a religious man who wanted to merit the Garden of Eden in the next world. He expressed his willingness to share our troubles. He was a poor farmer who lived with his wife and 10-year-old daughter.

Again we began to spend the days and nights in a stable or in a pit for storing potatoes. Occasionally the farmer would take us into his bathhouse to wash and warm up a bit. He shared with us the little bread he had, and we promised to help him for the rest of his life. He was a loyal Pole and always claimed that the Germans would be defeated and Poland would rise anew. His faith encouraged us. The village swarmed with Germans; the danger was great that they'd find us here. And then --- not only would our end come, but also the end of the good-hearted farmer and his family. One night, my husband's cousin, Zvi Einhorn (today in the Land of Israel) and Rafael Zilberman came to us. Miraculously, they'd learned that we were living there. They were partisans bearing weapons, and they came to ask if we needed any help. They brought a cow that they'd stolen in a distant village, killed it and gave its meat to the farmer with other food. Both of them, Zvi and Rafael, asked the farmer not to drive us out. They came from time to time, and through them we learned there were partisans operating in the forest, and Jews among them.

Unfortunately, after a period of quiet, one day the farmer's neighbors discovered us and we had to leave. When we set out on the road the farmer took an old, rusty pistol from its hiding place and gave it to us, saying: “It'll be a great help to you.” Its ammunition was a single bullet. We thanked him for everything and went out, accompanied by his blessing.

Another winter was approaching its end [the winter of late 1943/early 1944]. We walked on backroads, not saying a word. Every sound awakened fear in us. The pistol was always in our hands, even though none of us knew how to use it. Everyone wanted to hold it for a while. The pistol was important to us even to commit suicide, so as not to fall into the hands of the Germans or their collaborators. But . . . who had the right to the bullet?

We were unable to reach the forest in one night. In addition to the distance, we had to bypass the town, and this took additional time. With great difficulty, we passed to the other side of Yod [i.e., to the south of Yod], until we reached the road leading to the forest. The little time that remained until dawn, we dedicated to finding shelter. Fate ran its course, and this time too we turned to a good-hearted farmer who was sympathetic toward Jews. In the house there were a husband and wife, Romanonek. They brought us inside, fed us and sat us down next to the stove to warm ourselves. At dawn, they ordered us to go up to the attic in the cowshed, but before we had time to go up, the farmer came running, all frightened. With the words choking his throat, he called out: “Jews! You've brought a tragedy on yourselves and on us. The Germans and their collaborators are spreading through the village and searching the farmers' houses!” With this, he went out. We remained sitting in the pile of hay and put our trust in fate. The farmer and his wife, with baskets on their shoulders, took out the cows as if they were on the way to pasture, and slowly, without hurrying, closed the gate of the yard.

I don't remember how long we sat in the hay. We were afraid even to breathe. I only remember how the farmer entered the cowshed in the evening, and the first words he said were “It's me.” Half dead, we came out of the hay. Happily, good fortune hadn't deserted us. The farmer told us the Germans had been looking for homemade vodka at his neighbors' house and asked if they'd seen any Jews or partisans in the village. When they went past his house, they said,

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“Here there's nothing to look for.” He believed, he told us, that the G-d of Israel had saved us all. During the years of troubles and suffering, we had many other heart-stopping incidents like this.

We remained in our hiding place in the attic for several days, until it became clear that the Germans had returned to Sharkovshchitzna. Again we set out for the forest. We were surprised to find Jews who'd lived there during all the difficult months of the winter. They were full of hope for a better future. At night, they told us, they'd go out to get food and during the day they cooked it in their sukkot and ate together. The partisans guarded them. The forest people received us and helped us to build our sukkah. We decided not to part from this group of Jews, no matter what. Among the partisans were our relatives: two cousins, Sara and Liuba [or Liova]. Others also had relatives among the partisans, who would come occasionally to the camp and guarded the lives of the Jews, and they told us what was happening in the area and at the front, where the Germans had recently suffered heavy losses and were withdrawing. The partisans told us it was almost certain that the Germans would lose the war. We wanted their statements to be true, it was still difficult for us to believe. Nevertheless, the hope grew in our hearts that Jews would remain alive to see the downfall of the Germans.

We knew the partisan movement was a serious force that carried out important military operations and this gave us confidence about its protection, but we still felt the need to prepare for a bad situation if one developed. We decided to prepare bunkers for people and supplies if the Germans attacked again. The Jews stopped thinking about the possibility of leaving the forest and seeking shelter with the farmers. All the addresses of the good people among the Gentiles had been used to the full. The women remained in the sukkot and the men went out to the forest, to find appropriate places to dig bunkers. For a few days we were busy with digging, and with hard work the mission was accomplished.

One day, we heard the echo of shots near the forest. We didn't know what was happening. The partisans who'd gone out on an operation had yet to return. It appeared we faced an approaching storm. Tense, we waited to learn what had caused the shots. Many men and women went out to the edges of the forest to see and hear what was being done. They returned with the news that a large army was moving in the direction of Svila [Swily, about nine kilometers southwest of Yod]. What was this army? Were they for us or against us? We didn't know. We worried they were the Germans, and we were afraid of what might happen. Only with the return of the Jewish partisans to the camp did the atmosphere change. They told us that these were Russian soldiers and we shouldn't be afraid. The Russian army was pursuing the German army, which had collapsed along the entire front [around July 1944]. “Jews!” they announced, “Liberation has come!”

I can't describe the feeling in our hearts during these great moments. My strength failed me. Only someone who lived through that terrible period and experienced that moment would understand. I'll remember it all my life.

We were full of fear, but at this moment also gnawed by doubt as to the truth of the news. Was it possible that fate had allowed us to live and see the day of redemption?!

Very carefully we went out again, a group of men and women, leaving the forest to see what was happening. What we saw and heard indeed confirmed what the partisans had told us. The language spoken by the soldiers was Russian, and they sang a Russian army song. An older woman who was with us tied a piece of fabric to a pole and went with it to meet the soldiers. When she reached them, she bowed before a soldier and kissed his dusty boots. We also approached and told them that we were afflicted Jews who were hiding

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in the forest and had been waiting for years for the hour of liberation. At this moment, an officer stepped out from the ranks of soldiers, turned to us and said, “I'm also a Jew. Go and tell everyone in the forest that the hour of liberation has come and everyone is free.” After this, the officer ordered that they honor us with some food. He filled a sack with bread and canned pork and gave it to us.

With tears of happiness, we asked each other if everything we were hearing and seeing was real, or was it a dream? With this good news and the food, we hurried back to our people in the forest, who were waiting impatiently.

Only now was the full depth revealed of the tragedy that had struck the Jewish nation and each one of us. The wounds, which until now had been hidden because of each person's struggle to survive, were opened. Only now did we see in our minds' eyes the family members and Jews of our town who'd been lost. The tragedy and hour of redemption hit all of us with a shock that was strong enough to kill. A woman from Sharkovshchitzna, who was with us in the forest, died of a heart attack at the moment she heard our liberation had come; she was broken by the power of the news. We buried her in the forest. Her grave was added to the many Jewish graves scattered over the paths and forests, before and after liberation. The forest absorbed the tears of those who remained alive, who'd lived until now as if they were the walking dead. Only fate determined who would live. Each moment, death had threatened us all. We'd seen mothers leave their children behind and keep walking. We'd seen husbands fall dead and their wives run ahead with the hope that the German bullets would miss them. We'd seen fathers freeze to death from the cold and their children keep running in the hope they'd be saved. Their sighs and weeping were borne in the wind, on the paths and in the forests.

The hour of liberation came, unexpectedly, and with it our springs of tears were opened without stopping.

Without our dear ones, without our relatives, a will to live or faith --- where would we go? What next? We'd stopped making plans for the future. We remained in the forest until we were freed from the fear we'd lived with for many years. Many days passed until the liberation penetrated completely into our awareness and we began to grow accustomed to the new reality. Then all of us wanted to return to our places, to the towns where we'd been born. There were those who returned to Gleboki, to Druya [Druja, about 44 kilometers northeast of Yod], to Braslav. We turned toward Sharkovshchitzna. All of us hoped to meet relatives; maybe miraculously they'd remained alive like us. We hoped to live in houses that belonged to relatives or other Jews. The feeling of freedom awoke hatred in us and the will to take revenge on the oppressors.

The date of liberation of the entire area was July 9, 1944. We were freed from the threat of death, but the war continued. Long lines of soldiers of the Red Army progressed westward; their target --- Berlin, the capital of Germany. Many young men from the ranks of the partisans were drafted into the Red Army and continued to fight. The Christian population in the towns was hostile to the remnants of the Jews. The Gentiles acted like beasts of prey who had yet to gain satisfaction. Again we heard of dangers threatening Jews on the roads and even in their homes. We had to be very careful if we were going to live in the towns where we'd been born and grown up.

Our appearance in the town caused great disappointment to the Christians who'd taken the property and blood-soaked houses of the Jews. More than once did they say to people, “What? We didn't kill them all yet?” The many partisans who returned to their homes brought a change for the better. Together with the soldiers, they enforced

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order and established government in the forests. Among these partisans were Jews, and they merited important jobs in the local government. Their first concern was to expel the new residents from the houses that belonged to Jews, and to settle there the survivors who returned to the town. This aroused the anger of the Gentiles against the Jews and the government.

A group of Jews also arrived in Sharkovshchitzna. They were attached to each other and lived together. Every house where Jews lived looked like a small hotel. Happily and with an open heart, they received every Jew who came to the town. We lived together, because we were still worried about the future.

The days passed, and the [Soviet] government became established. The Jews dedicated most of their time to recovering Jewish property, that of the survivors who were now settled in the town as well as the property of missing residents of the town who were known to be Jewish. What stolen property was returned, we divided among those who'd saved Jewish lives. These good people visited us occasionally, and the survivors remembered well what they'd done for them and rewarded them for it.

The Jews continued to live without tranquility. They wandered from place to place; they searched, asked and hoped that maybe they'd find relatives alive. They continued these searches for weeks and months. The tension in our lives wasn't yet at an end. We still slept in our clothes at night, and in the daytime we wanted to hear what was happening at the front. We said that if, heaven forbid, the Red Army had to withdraw again, all of us would accompany it wherever it went. We were happy to hear that the army was going from strength to strength and had already advanced far ahead. In my thoughts I was far away, in Vilna and its surroundings. My sister Ida had lived there before the war. She'd married and borne a child. What had happened to her and the child? I searched for any news or rumor that might tell me, but there was only disappointment: no voice and no answer. I lost all hope of finding them alive.

Time flowed on, running ahead. We grew somewhat accustomed to things. Despite the deep pain in our hearts, we saw no chance of finding survivors from our family. We were discouraged. And then one day, the unbelievable happened: a true miracle. We were sitting in the house. The door opened, and my sister Ida walked in. We jumped up, unable to believe what we were seeing. Was this really my sister Ida? How can I put my feelings into words? She'd returned. We cried, and cried again, and so it was for many hours. She too had passed through many troubles and afflictions until liberation. On the day of liberation, she was with the partisans in the Miadel [Miadziol] forests [about 70 kilometers southwest of Yod]. From there, she'd wandered to look for her daughter, who she'd left with a Christian woman at the beginning of the war and who was three months old at the time. After searching, she'd found her; now the girl was three years old. The Christian woman had taken care of the girl with great devotion, like a mother.

After this meeting, we weren't separated again. All our thoughts now were about taking revenge. A politrok (political officer) named Nizhimkov, an acquaintance of my husband Kalman, cooperated with us and helped a great deal. He was an officer in a partisan unit. With his help, we carried out several operations against murderers of Jews, and I brought two Jewish murderers to trial, Retzitzki and Yanashik [sic; on page 409 the name was given as Yanshik], who'd run around like heroes during the war. I was the only witness and ensured that they were found guilty. They were sentenced to exile in Siberia and taken there along with other murderers of Jews. After the trial, I felt some easing of the pain in my heart, which sought revenge.

With the war's end in 1945, the government of the Soviet Union decreed that Poles and Jews

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who'd lived in Poland could leave Russia and return to their homeland. Many Poles took advantage of this opportunity to return to Poland [which now lay far to the west of Yod and Braslav].[16] With them went the few who'd helped the Jews during their time of trouble and saved their lives. To us Jews, the Polish “homeland” was no longer an attraction. We wanted to get far away from this cursed land that was soaked with so much Jewish blood.

At the beginning of 1946, the survivors who'd gathered in our area gave notice that they wanted to leave Russia. Again we became refugees wandering in long columns, without a home. For weeks and months we wandered on roads full of danger, from country to country, hoping in our hearts that a guide would appear to take us to safe shores. In columns we passed from Lower Silesia through Czechoslovakia, Austria and Germany, without transit visas. We were the Jewish underground striving for a new life. This continued until 1949, when we arrived in our homeland, the Land of Israel.

Footnotes

  1. According to From Victims to Victors, published in 1992 in Canada in English by three survivors from Yod --- Peter Silverman, David Smuschkowitz and Peter Smuszkowicz --- before World War II the Jews of Yod were buried in Sharkovshchitzna as well as in Braslav. Return
  2. The widely read Yiddish newspaper Der Moment (The Moment) was published in Warsaw between 1910 and 1939. For most of this period it supported Poland's Jewish Folkist Party (Jewish People's Party), a non-Marxist party that called for Jewish cultural autonomy, Yiddish as the national Jewish language, and a network of Yiddish schools. The newspaper also supported Zionism and settlement in Palestine. It was read particularly by Jewish small merchants and tradesmen. The reference to Letste Nayes (Latest News) is uncertain, as there was more than one paper with that name. Return
  3. Sonderkommando here might refer to sub-units of the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squads) that operated in eastern territories occupied by the German army. Here it might refer to either (1) sonderkommando 1a or 1b of Einsatzgruppe A, which carried out mass murder in Latvia, Lithuania and parts of Belarus, or (2) sonderkommando 7a and 7b of Einsatzgruppe B, which carried out mass murder in Belarus. Through June 1942, all of the Einsatzgruppen were under the direction of SS chief Heinrich Himmler and his subordinate, Reinhard Heydrich. Return
  4. The time period that Slava Pinchov is speaking of here was presumably between August and November 1941. Even though the Braslav Ghetto wasn't formally established (closed off with barbed wire) until April 1, 1942, it appears that some Jews from outside Braslav were being concentrated unofficially in Braslav by August 1941 --- see the testimony of Alexander (Shmaryahu) Dagovitz on page 357 of this memorial book and the account of Chalvina Pinchov on page 393. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II-B (2012), the Sharkovshchitzna Ghetto was established between September and November 1941. Return
  5. According to the book From Victims to Victors, published in 1992 in Canada by three survivors from Yod --- Peter Silverman, David Smuschkowitz and Peter Smuszkowicz --- on December 17, 1941 the Jews in Yod were taken to the pits outside town in groups of 20 and shot. The killings were carried out by local police (Belorussians, Russians and some Poles), supervised by German members of the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squads) who had arrived that morning. The synagogue was also desecrated. Within 10 days of this initial massacre, a large number of Jews who'd succeeded in fleeing the town at the outset --- with the help of local Christians --- but who had later been captured were also taken to the pit and shot. After about 20 days, the Germans announced that the killings had ended and the Jews could return.

    The total number of victims in Yod in December 1941 was estimated in From Victims to Victors at around 400, comprising some 250 Jews from Yod, about 50 Jews from Kislovshchitzna (virtually the entire community of that village), and some 100 who were captured within 10 days and killed. Other accounts, such as Slava Pinchov's account here, give a higher number, of 500-530. In the years since the war, a memorial stone has been placed at the site of the massacre. Return

  6. Page 572 of this memorial book (a list in English of the Gentiles in the Braslav region who helped Jews) says that Wasil Bresko was in the village of Wiazowicz. (a.k.a. Wiazowiec). This village was just to the north of Lonsk and about six kilometers south of Yod. Return
  7. The narrator Slava Pinchov's stepmother Gitel was also Slava's aunt. This Gitel (née Rukshin) was a sister of Ita Rukshin, who was married to Slava's uncle, the blacksmith Yaacov Shtein of Yod. Return
  8. This statement is true in the sense of large-scale killings; the massacre in Yod on December 17, 1941 preceded that of the Braslav Ghetto, whose inmates weren't killed until June 3-5, 1942. On the other hand, several of the smaller local Jewish communities covered in this memorial book had been attacked before Yod: (1) the Jews of Plusy (44 kilometers north of Yod) in late June or early July 1941, when two people were killed; mentioned on page 382 of this memorial book. (2) The Jews of Yaisi (20 kilometers north of Yod) on July 4, 1941, when approximately 14 people were killed; mentioned on pages 401-402 of this memorial book. And (3) the Jews of Dubina (42 kilometers north-northwest of Yod) on or around July 19, 1941, when 18-25 people were killed; mentioned on pages 370, 377, 382 and 390-391 of this memorial book. Return
  9. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II-B, a ghetto had been established in Glubokoye in October-November 1941; Jews from nearby towns were also brought there, raising the ghetto population to 6,000. On June 19, 1942, a massacre of some 2,200-2,500 of them was carried out, but unlike the Braslav Ghetto a large population was also kept alive to work.

    Later the Germans decided to raise the population of the Glubokoye Ghetto, as a way to attract the Jews who were scattered among the region's forests. Eventually, the ghetto population rose again, to 7,000. By 1943 Glubokoye was serving as a temporary refuge for Jews in western Belorussia who weren't in the forests. As partisan activity in the region increased, the Germans finally decided to liquidate the ghetto, announcing a deportation on August 20, 1943. When the ghetto responded with armed resistance, the Germans set fire to it, killing some 5,000 inmates. Some Jews managed to break out and join the partisans; it's estimated that about 60-100 ghetto inmates survived the war. Return

  10. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II-B, the Miory Ghetto was established in either the fall of 1941 or early April 1942, possibly in several stages. In the spring of 1942, a number of Jews were added to it from other places in the region such as Perebrodia (Przebrodzie) and Ikazn. The ghetto was liquidated on June 2, 1942 with the deaths of some 680-800 inmates; it's possible that a small number of inmates succeeded in escaping. Return
  11. These were extensive forests around the town of Kozian, which was about 32 kilometers southwest of Yod. According to the book From Victims to Victors (1992), these forests became a base of operations for partisan activity from the summer of 1942. Return
  12. A photo of the partisans Pesach Zilberman (later Peter Silverman), his sister Tania and their cousin David Smuschkowitz appears on page 442 of this memorial book. In 1992 in Canada, Peter Silverman, David Smuschkowitz and Peter Smuszkowicz (brother of David) published From Victims to Victors in English about their time as partisans during the war and the town of Yod. The book included a street map of the town, with the general locations of a number of Jewish families. Return
  13. According to the book From Victors to Victims (1992), the large German sweep through the Kozian forest took place in October 1942. Many partisans in the forest were killed, together with Jews in family camps that had been established near the partisan base. The partisan force melted away, retreating 150 kilometers to the east, returning to the forest only in the spring of 1943. Until then, it was an especially difficult time for Jews in the area who were seeking to hide. Return
  14. In Russia, Belorussia and the Ukraine, ovens were traditionally made of brick masonry that retained heat for long periods of time, and their outer surface was safe to touch. People could sit on top of the oven to keep warm. Return
  15. Sukkot (plural), sukkah (singular): A type of temporary hut --- called a tabernacle --- built for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot. Return
  16. In August 1945, the USSR formally annexed much of the eastern Polish territory it had taken in September 1939, including the Braslav region. This shifted Poland's eastern border roughly 200 kilometers to the west. Many Poles in the territory annexed by the USSR, including those in the Braslav region, subsequently left the territory and moved to the new Poland. Poland was compensated for the loss of its eastern territory with German lands to the west and north. Return

 

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