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[Page 403]

Yod

(Iody, Belarus)

55°27' 27°14'

 

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Zalman Fisher

Son of Chaya-Sara and Yitzchak

Translated from the Hebrew by Yaacov David Shulman

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

About 500 Jews lived in my small town of Yod [Jod] --- and I, who was one of them, carry in my heart both the memory of routine, everyday life and the unforgettable and incomprehensible events that befell my family and my town.

It wasn't easy to live there. Earning enough to meet one's basic needs was everyone's concern. Everyone made a living as best he could from various types of work --- in small stores, in small-scale enterprises. My father made a living from trade. He traveled to the surrounding villages and bought produce, horsetail hairs, wool and similar products, which he then sold to larger-scale merchants.

There was a strong bond between Yod and Braslav [Braslaw, about 25 kilometers northwest of Yod]: both in terms of geographical proximity and family ties. In addition, the government regional offices for Yod were located in Braslav. Store owners in Yod would acquire their merchandise there. And once when Sara-Riva lit candles in the sukkah [temporary hut constructed for the week-long festival of Sukkot] and set fire to the entire sukkah and as a result half of the houses in town went up in flames, the firefighters of Braslav saw it as their duty to [come and] help put it out. We even took our dead to be buried in Braslav.

The children studied at a cheder [Hebrew primary school] and at a Polish government school. If someone wanted more than this, he had to travel far from Yod to seek higher education elsewhere.

When I grew up, I left to study in the yeshiva in Braslav. The people who taught were from among the heads of the yeshiva: Rabbi Chaim Tarshish, Rabbi Shalom Rabinovitz, and others. Tens of children from Braslav and surrounding places studied in Braslav's synagogues. Like other out-of-town youths at the yeshiva, I ate according to the custom of “days,” receiving food from a different householder every day of the week. Each day I was supported by another family, and on Sunday the cycle began anew.

When my study there ended, I was persuaded to continue learning in the yeshiva of Vilna [about 165 kilometers southwest of Braslav].[1] I didn't easily agree to leave Braslav. This was a place buzzing with lively, young students, among whom I had many friends. Many spent the evenings in clubs for youth.

I studied at the Vilna yeshiva for a year and a half. On the eve of the Passover holiday, I received

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a letter from my parents in which they asked that I come home for the holiday. I never returned to Vilna.

On September 1, 1939, the German armies invaded Poland and with lightning swiftness conquered large parts of the country. In the second half of September, the Russians took over the territories of Poland bordering Russia, which they called Belorussia and western Ukraine. We, who lived close to the Russian border, became Soviet citizens.

I was accepted for work in a government store, and on May 1, 1941 I had to appear for active service in the Red Army.

A going-away party in my honor was held in my brother's house. I invited my friends ---who like me had been called to serve in the army --- and relatives. The chairman of the local council was also among those invited. We danced to the notes of a band, and we parted from our comrades and friends. For many, this was a permanent farewell.

We spent the rest of the night waiting for a wagon to come and take us to a collection point in Sharkovshchitzna [Szarkowszczyzna, about 20 kilometers southeast of Yod]. We left our parents and relatives, most of them forever, and we set out on our way. At the collection point, we underwent medical checkups and were told to wait for three days. We waited until the end of the conscription process. After that, freight cars took us to the station at the junction at Krolevshchitzna [about 45 kilometers southeast of Sharkovshchitzna; from Krolevshchitzna, a rail line went in the direction of the Kalinin region]. There I saw many other train cars filled with conscripts.

Our destination was Opotzkeh in the Kalinin region [Opochka was about 220 kilometers northeast of Krolevshchitzna]. We traveled for many days until we arrived. Before we had a chance to organize ourselves, acclimate and enter the routine of training, suddenly . . . war.

That was on June 22, 1941, seven weeks after I'd reported for duty to serve the Soviet state. The German army crossed the borders of the Soviet Union and kept going. The Red Army faced a test; it had to stop the enemy's advance and expel it from its borders. We, the draftees, who hadn't yet learned how to use any kind of weapon, were each equipped with a rifle, grenades, helmet and other items and then sent to the front.

We came upon the enemy army while it was still at the Latvian border. There we took up defensive positions. The battles were fierce and continued without letup. We fought for days and nights. The two armies used all sorts of weapons. Many soldiers were killed, and many were injured. Finally, we could no longer hold the lines we'd been defending, and we got orders to retreat and take a position behind new lines.

Planes bombed us. A bomb that fell near me buried me alive. Fortunately, my comrades saw me and quickly uncovered me. In shock, I was taken with other wounded to a hospital in the city of Paskov [Pskov, about 130 kilometers north of Opochka], but enemy aircraft came there as well, bombing the city and damaging the hospital. We were evacuated to another hospital. When I recovered, I received shortened training and was sent back to the front. The enemy stood at the gates of Leningrad.

By now I was a veteran soldier, tested in battle. I overcame fear and continued to fight. One night, when I was on guard, I heard a rustle from the bushes not far from me. I summoned help. We carefully flanked the location and approached two German saboteurs. We captured them and brought them to headquarters. For this, I received a commendation. At night I'd sneak out under orders to enemy territory and return with captive German soldiers. I don't know where I got the ability and courage to do this. I wasn't afraid of anything. I did all I could to break the enemy, and for this I received a medal for bravery.

One morning, I was summoned to headquarters. With my weapon, I stood at attention. I was ordered to sit and asked many questions about my past. The officers praised me for being a good soldier and they had no

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complaints against me, but an order had come to remove former citizens of Poland from the front. Who was I to oppose the decision of the Supreme Soviet? We took leave of each other with a handshake and with wishes that soon we'd see the defeat of the enemy.

Many others like me were released. We were all taken to an area where thousands were gathered. We were kept there a long time without knowing what lay before us. In the end we were put on two extremely long trains, and we set out on the way. We didn't know where we were being taken. To my good fortune, I was on the second train. The first train, which preceeded us, was bombed by German airplanes. When we approached it, we saw a shocking sight: Carriages were crushed and many people had been killed and wounded.

Our trip lasted as many as 16 days. We lay on bunks without padding. The food was meager and of poor quality. Only twice during the entire long trip did we get a warm meal: the first time at the station at Gorki [now Nizhny Novgorod, about 400 kilometers east of Moscow] and the second at the station at Molotov [now Perm, some 830 kilometers east of Gorki]. Our destination was the station at Sverdlovsk [now Yekaterinburg, some 300 kilometers southeast of Perm]. When we arrived, we were housed in barracks and sent to work in military factories that produced goods for the front. Conditions were terrible. In Sverdlovsk, I wore summer military clothing while it was 50 degrees [Centigrade] below zero. Only thanks to my youth was I able to withstand all of these adversities.

We stayed there until the end of the war. Then I was released from the army and received the Medal of Victory for my part in the battle against Germany. I was asked what I intended to do. “Go to Yod,” I replied.

My town of Yod had been liberated in the summer of 1944. From then until the end of the war, I'd corresponded with a few of my friends who remained alive. From them, I learned that my entire family had been destroyed.

I wanted to go there and see everything with my own eyes. “To Yod,” I said, “That's where I want to go.”

I received a travel pass for home, some money and food for a few days. The trip stretched out. On the way, I tried to imagine how my town looked, having read the letters that described the carnage and devastation.

Who could capture the reality? I wandered the streets of the town. Everything was burned and destroyed. I walked and wept. From afar, I saw my brother's house standing ahead of me. I approached and entered. I remembered my brother, his wife and all of my other relatives. In this house, they'd made the going-away party for me on the evening before I was drafted into the army. Now it had been turned into a pharmacy and clinic.

I left the place. Outside, I met a Gentile acquaintance who invited me to stay with him. He told me that Jewish survivors of Yod were in Sharkovshchitzna. In the morning I went to see them, traversing the distance of 18 [sic] kilometers. I was afraid of the meeting, but --- here they were! We kissed, wept and sighed. They told me everything. From them, I learned that Yod was the first town in the area where the Germans had carried out an organized massacre [on December 17, 1941]. First, they prepared pits not far from the town. Afterward, they went from house to house and seized those in hiding. They assembled all of them, from the elderly to infants, in the synagogue, and put a guard over them. From there they were led in groups to the pits, to the slaughter. I was told that was the day they killed my parents and my two brothers. I was also told how two injured youths crawled out of the pits and how they were caught, beaten cruelly and thrown back into the pit.[2]

And I heard the story of how they found Bereleh Mushkat hiding under an oven. The murderers tortured him

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brutally. First, they gouged out his eyes and cut off his ears and fingers. Only after these torments did they kill him. Max [Binkovich] the barber refused to go, and he fought with his murderers until they shot him on the way to the pits. When they led away Liuba Pinchov, the local Gentiles wanted to see how she'd be killed. A contemptible Gentile woman, a friend of Rivka Einhorn for years, searched for Rivka and her mother and found them hiding in the bathhouse. She called a few wretched Gentiles, and they took them to the pits to be murdered.

When the massacre in town began, my brother Aharon-Leizer fled and hid in the forest. One cold winter night, he and a few other Jews from Yod entered a granary in one of the villages and hid in the hay to warm up a little and spend the night under shelter. The Nazis discovered them and burned the hayloft with the Jews inside.

When I was conscripted into the Red Army, I'd left in my parents' house two married brothers and sisters with families and children, my young brother, and many family relatives. What did I find when I returned at the war's end? Woe! I found not a single one of them, all had been murdered.

The local inhabitants, under the leadership of Kublunk, owner of the cheese factory who was under the protection of the Germans, carried out the atrocities against the Jews of Yod.

But the time of retribution arrived: The Jewish partisans from Yod knew what had happened. They

 

Certificate of the medal awarded to Zalman Fisher for the victory over Germany

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waited, and when the right time came they took revenge on the Nazis and their local collaborators. Thus, one day the partisan Zalman Shkolnik entered the town at noon, found the murderer Kublunk and killed him in the street. And one night the partisans came to the house of the Gentile who'd led Liuba Pinchov to the slaughter pits, and they killed him. When the partisans learned that the German officers were staying in one of the houses, they came to the town and killed them. At the time of the occupation, the local Gentiles took possession of the Jews' houses and property. The partisans of Yod organized, and one morning they emerged from the forest and set fire to the houses of the town from every side.

When partisan activity increased, the Germans besieged the forests and sent thousands of soldiers into them to fight. In these battles, other inhabitants of Yod met their death.

The war came to an end. A few Jews gathered and came from various places back to the towns of their birth. They saw the destruction, and they left to build new lives. I too began building my life. On one of my visits to Braslav, I met Chana Gurevitz. We married and established a family. We had a son and daughter. About 20 families assembled in Braslav. We met on various occasions, and prayed together on Sabbaths and holidays. We wanted to leave the land drenched with the blood of the Jews. Only 13 years later were we able to leave Russia, and we came to Israel.

Every year, during Hanukkah, the people in Israel from Yod gather (each year with a different family), tell heart-breaking stories of those days, and recall the holy and pure martyrs who were torn from life and shot down next to the pits near my town of Yod.

Footnotes

  1. This account says “the yeshiva in Vilna,” even though there were many yeshivas in Vilna at the time. Return
  2. It's estimated that some 400-500 Jews of Jod were massacred at the pits on December 17, 1941. In the years since the war, a memorial stone has been placed at the site. Return


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Liuba Yanovski

Daughter of Miriam [Zilberman]
and Moshe Vilkitzki [Wilkicki]

Translated from the Hebrew by Yaacov David Shulman

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

I was born in 1925 in the town of Yod [Jod] to my parents Moshe and Miriam. I had a brother, Avram [Avraham], older than me by two years, and a younger sister, Hinda, who was born in 1936.

Under Polish rule, we made a living from a textile store, where we sold fabric and woven goods to the local and surrounding populations. Our lives were peaceful and good. In town we were considered well off. I studied at the local school, and my brother continued his education at the Epstein Gymnasium in Vilna.[1] My father, who came from Vilna, would go there occasionally to buy merchandise for the store and to visit his family [Vilna was about 155 kilometers southwest of Yod]. Sometimes I joined him. I'd spend time in the lap of the family and enjoy myself in the big city.

Changes came with the war. When the Russians entered [in September 1939], our family's situation deteriorated. The Russians didn't allow any private business, and it wasn't such a desirable thing to be a merchant under the Soviet regime. If a person was both a merchant and rich, he and his family were sent into exile far from home. We knew that people who weren't [considered] loyal to the regime were sent to Siberia.

Father quickly left home. He went to Novo-Vileyka [now Naujoji Vilnia in Lithuania, seven kilometers east of Vilna], acquired a passport there under another name and got a job as an accountant. Mother, a diligent woman with initiative, assumed the responsibility of taking care of the family. She concerned herself with our day-to-day existence and saw to it that no evil eye should harm us. So that we wouldn't be deported, Mother bribed clerks and police officers and in particular their wives, and they saw to it that nothing bad happened to us. This is how we lived, depressed and without our father, under the watchful eye of the new regime.

With the outbreak of the German-Russian war [in June 1941], our father returned home and the family was reunited. Only a few days after war began, the German army passed through Yod and advanced toward Russia. I and other children ran to see them. We saw soldiers, tanks and motorcycles that the Gentile population met with joy, bread and salt, calling them liberators. In the market square, the Germans gave speeches to the assembled people. The Germans promised them freedom and announced that the oppressive Soviet regime wouldn't return. As best as I can recall, there were no Jews at the assembly. The

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Gentiles chased away the curious Jewish children, yelling, “The Germans have liberated us from Stalin and the Jews!” On this occasion, the anti-Semitic woman Kastosia Demidovitz, who roused people against the Jews, was especially prominent, but there were others like her. The plundering of the Jews' houses began. It was in essence a pogrom, accompanied by blows and curses. We feared being attacked. We quickly left our houses and sought refuge until the violence passed.

When the winds settled and the plunder ceased, we returned. Weeping and tears were the portion of the Jews of Yod in those days. The Gentiles had taken whatever it was possible to take from the houses and courtyards. They broke the furniture, ripped open the pillows and quilts, shattered the floors, and did everything to find treasures hidden by the Jews.

. . . Afterward, we were ordered to choose a representative committee, and we were told to sew yellow patches on our outer clothes. We had to surrender our sheets, towels and warm clothing for the German soldiers. Women and young girls were required to knit woolen socks in great quantities. We lived in fear and tension until the month of December.

On Hanukkah 1941 [December 14-22, 1941], an acquaintance entered our house and told us that many Germans and police had come to town. Mother's heart told her that something bad was about to happen. She proposed that we leave the house and find shelter among our acquaintances in the village. Already before this, a rumor had come to her ears that the Germans were tormenting and brutalizing the Jewish boys, and she hurried father and Avraham out of the house. She also proposed that we --- mother, me and my sister --- go to acquaintances in another village, to whom we'd sent some of the property and objects from our house. We'd divided our possessions among a few villagers, with the thought that at a time of trouble they'd come to our aid in exchange for the goods we'd deposited with them.

We left the house quickly, but there was no doubt in our hearts that in a short time we'd be able to return and keep living there as before. We locked the door before we left, so that people wouldn't suspect us of fleeing.

The woman peasant to whom we came in the village hurried to hide us in the straw of the granary. As she did so, she told us that the Jews of Yod were being killed [December 17, 1941]. Now the purpose of the Germans' arrival in town became clear to us. The participants in the Aktion searched in the villages for Jews who had fled. A Gentile woman who hated Jews thrust a pitchfork into the straw where we were hiding, but she failed to find us. Toward evening, our friend asked us to leave the place because of threats that any family discovered to be hiding Jews would be killed. Bewildered, not knowing where to go, we left the village. During the night we walked a distance of 25 kilometers. Outside, it was freezing cold and our small sister was with us. We had no food, and instead of drink we sucked icicles. How great was our disappointment in the morning when we found that we were back where we'd started the previous evening. Our [peasant woman] acquaintance told us that the policeman-murderer Retzitzki and others were going through the village looking for Jews. Again we left. When we came to the woods, we found a group of women and children from Yod who'd fled the slaughter. Together, we wept. Then, as though he'd sprung out of the ground, a despicable young Gentile with a scar on his face appeared before us. We recognized him as Yozef, an anti-Semite who helped the Germans hunt for Jews. “Aha!” he roared with glee. “It's a good thing that I found you, the Vilkitzki family.” Pointing to the others, he said, “I'll take you to the pits as well. We'll kill you all.” Then he whispered to my mother, “If you pay me well, I won't harm you and won't take you. I'll leave you alive.” This Gentile with the scar on his face hadn't dreamed he'd grow rich that day. He took everything my mother had in silver, gold and jewelry.

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We remained with nothing but the assurance that we'd bought our lives. He told us, “If you go in such-and-such a direction, you're likely to meet the officer Retzitzki. If he catches you, neither silver nor gold will save your lives.” I remember how I begged the others to redeem their lives with their money. The Gentile left us and went on his way carrying much property, and we scattered in every direction.

At home, we parted from father and Avraham. We agreed that if we didn't return home soon, we'd try to keep in touch through our good friend Mitzkovitz [Mickiewicz], owner of the hutor[2] near the town of Kozian [Koziany, about 32 kilometers southwest of Yod]. Now the hutor was our destination.

I was astonished at how mother was able to lead us at night on the right path. Our joy had no end when we learned that father and our brother were with the [Mitzkovitz] family. Mitzkovitz and his family, his wife, his two sons and his daughter, took us in with great warmth.

Not far from their house stood a sizable structure that contained a large village stove. This structure with its equipment served as a place for drying flax. We were housed in it. Of course this was no hiding place at all, and anyone who searched for us would have found us at once. The [Mitzkovitz] family was putting itself in great danger, because a directive had been issued, which passed from mouth to ear and also circulated in writing, that any village family found to be sheltering Jews would be executed.

We stayed there for a month. The winter was at its height, and Mitzkovitz was worried. He wanted to help us, but he was afraid of the danger. He apologized to us and told us that he was sorry, but he could no longer keep us. He proposed that we go far from his house into the forest [a large forest covered much of the land between Yod and Kozian]. In this way, he wouldn't endanger his family, and if we remained in the forest he promised to help us.

How would we live in the forest in the cold and snowy winter? Would we die of cold? These and other questions gnawed at our minds. We went deep into the forest.

Mr. Mitzkovitz took his leave of us next to a large haystack and returned home. We warmed ourselves by a fire and fell asleep inside the stack. The next day, we set up a hut. We gathered logs and made them into a floor. We closed in the walls with twigs and branches squeezed together tightly, so that the wind wouldn't penetrate. We bent the ends of the branches and bound them to make a sort of roof, and we paved the floor. This was our new house. We counted the days and weeks that remained until winter would come to an end.

With the coming of spring [in 1942], everything changed for the better. We spent the summer months in relative ease. In addition to the food the Mitzkovitz family brought us, we gathered edible mushrooms, grasses and forest fruits of various kinds.

Toward the end of the summer of 1942, the forest took on a different appearance. We were no longer alone. Survivors of acts of murder, Jews fleeing the ghetto from fear of liquidation or during a liquidation, began to enter the forest. Men came whose protectors refused to endanger themselves and shelter them any longer. Also arriving were Russian soldiers who'd fled German captivity. In the forests of Kozian, groups began to organize and engage in partisan activities. Near us, an otriad[3] called Spartak was formed, which my brother Avraham joined. Similarly gathered in the forest were families both together and fragmented, individuals, sick people and old people who'd escaped the Nazi inferno and organized into a family camp, which benefited from the otriad's protection. We too joined this camp.

In one partisan action my brother was injured, and due to the lack of good medical assistance he died of blood

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poisoning [in January 1943].[4] He was only 17. The family and his partisan friends buried him in the forest, and my father wrote details identifying him on a wooden board and said Kaddish for his only son. In response to the increased activity of the partisans in the area, the German army organized a campaign of punishment and liquidation. They set a siege around the forest, which lasted from the end of December 1942 to the beginning of January 1943. The partisans fought with great courage, but their resources in manpower and arms weren't enough in a war against a large army with modern weapons. They decided to fall back and sneak out through the encirclement. Many partisans fell in battle, and men from the family camp were killed by the Germans' heavy firing. When we in the camp felt the siege was closing in on us and the shooting was growing closer, people began to flee in panic. My family too left the zemlyanka [dugout], and we ran with everyone else. We didn't know where we were going. The main thing was to get away, to stay alive. We ran, we fell, we hid in the bushes and we started running again. The shooting from behind us hit its targets, and people died. We ran together, holding hands. Then I went a little further ahead, and father cried out that I shouldn't go so far off, I might get lost. And then everyone was hit: father, mother and my sister. I was the only one who remained unhurt. I cried out: “Father! Mother!” I wept, but they didn't reply. I was pulled along with the stream of fleeing people.

It was early evening, and the sun was setting. The shooting stopped until the next morning. I went back to search for my family among those killed. I found my mother and small Hindeleh lying in the white snow, surrounded by pale splotches of blood. I didn't locate my father. Someone saw him killed not far from where my mother and sister were found. Apparently he'd had the strength to run a few more steps until he staggered and fell.

Night came. People argued that we must leave. During the night, there were many more chances to sneak out.

Where would I go, and what would I do alone? I'd lost my support and anyone I could rely on. To whom would I turn for help, and who'd support me in my grief?

. . . And then a man stood at my side, called my name and embraced me. For a moment I couldn't identify him, but then I knew him. This was my uncle, Rafael Zilberman, my mother's brother, whom I hadn't seen since we'd fled Yod. His wife Lusia, his three-year-old daughter Dora and [my?] grandmother had been killed by the murderers, together with the other Jews of Yod on the day the Germans came to the town. Only he, the uncle, succeeded in escaping. Now he was my support, and I trusted in him.

 

Partisan identification of Liuba Vilkitzki [Luba Wilkicki]

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As we wandered from place to place, we met our relatives: Yitzchak Shulkin, his wife Breina, who was in an advanced state of pregnancy, and their children. They too were seeking shelter. We decided to try our luck in one of the villages, where we had many acquaintances. A peasant whom we knew took in my uncle and me and gave us refuge, and the Shulkin family took refuge with a peasant named Semyon. After only a few days passed, “our” peasant came to us in a state of agitation and told us that Semyon had denounced our relatives and delivered them to the police. We left to avoid endangering ourselves and this good peasant. I know that partisans from Yod later captured Semyon and hanged him.

During the time of the siege [of the forest], the Germans burned many villages and killed their inhabitants. Those who'd escaped harm were afraid to take us into their houses even for a short time. During this act of vengeance, the Germans set fire to the house of the Mitzkovitz family and burned alive the father, mother and aunt. The sons managed to flee, and they survived. I was in touch with one of them, Vladek, for a long time. In the spring of 1943, my uncle and I presented ourselves to the command of the Spartak brigade and asked to be accepted into their ranks. I was big and developed beyond my 15 years. I was accepted and separated from my uncle, whom I only met once more during the remainder of the war.

I had good reasons for joining the partisans. Despite my young age, I felt an obligation to take part in the war against the Nazi oppressor, who had caused me so many tears and so much grief. I saw that I must take vengeance on behalf of my destroyed family and home. In my eyes it was preferable to fall in war as a partisan fighting the enemy than to be pursued by Gentiles who'd denounce me to the Germans for a handful of salt, or to be captured by a policeman who'd cruelly mistreat me and then kill me. If I fell in battle, I would've lost nothing; I had no one to turn to and no place to live. And if I survived, I'd have no reason to be ashamed of my life. I could be proud that I was a Jewish partisan and had contributed my share to the war against Nazi Germany.

One day, when I visited the family camp, I met a partisan who'd come looking for people to join his unit called Gastello, which was based in the Narotz [Narach] forest.[5] I wanted to leave Spartak, and this was a good opportunity to do so. I stepped forward as a candidate among young people who volunteered.

In the Gastello unit, we were 34 girls. Besides serving as fighters, we carried out other necessary tasks. Since I was Jewish, I served from time to time as a translator from German to Russian [since Yiddish was close to German]. This happened when we caught a “tongue”[6] (a German soldier) and it was necessary to get information from him that the partisans needed, such as the amount of territory controlled [by the Germans], train movements, how bases were guarded, the number of soldiers and types of weapons. Such interrogations were very interesting.

When I came to the Gastello unit, the brigade commander, [Viktor] Manokhin, summoned me and proposed that I serve as a nurse. He personally taught me how to administer first aid. There were two other nurses with me. When we went out to an action, in addition to my own weapon I carried a knapsack filled with first aid supplies. We returned from many actions with injured fighters, and my hands were filled with work. Our situation improved after a doctor joined us.

In July 1944, our area was liberated. Partisan activity came to an end. Most of the partisans joined fighting units of the Red Army.

For me, the war was over. The hand of fate left me alive to carry in my heart the heavy weight of the calamity to the end of my days. Until the end of my days, I'll remember my dear parents, my brother the partisan, and my sister Hindeleh lying in the snow next to mother. How can I not remember them? . . . I'll never know where they're buried.

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In the summer, only green hyssop covered the field of the massacre.

In 1949 I married, and we established a family. For years we sought a way to leave Russia, but only in 1973, after the Yom Kippur War, did we come to Israel, where we were greeted by my first-born son, who'd made aliyah before we did.

After I left Spartak, my connection with my uncle, Rafael [Zilberman], had ceased, but I met him again in Israel. He related that with the end of the partisan combat, he'd transferred into the Red Army and kept fighting in Germany until he made aliyah to the Land of Israel. On the way there, in an illegal aliyah, his ship was seized by the British and all the passengers were transferred to internment camps in Cyprus.

In the Land of Israel he reestablished himself, married, and had a son. With time, the son too married and gave his father two granddaughters.

But my uncle suffered from increasing paralysis. I visited him in his home and afterward in an old age home, where he passed away in November 1981.

Footnotes

  1. The prestigious Epstein Gymnasium was established in Vilna in 1915, as a Jewish high school with instruction in Hebrew. The founder and first headmaster was Dr. Yosef Epstein (1873-1916). In the 1920s it was renamed the Tarbut Gymnasium and continued to operate until the summer of 1940, when it was shut down by the Soviets and the building was nationalized. Thereafter it was replaced by a Yiddish high school, which closed at the time of the German invasion in 1941. From 1916, the premises in Vilna were at Pylimo St. 4, which is now occupied by the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Return
  2. Russian word for a single-homestead settlement / isolated peasant farmhouse. Return
  3. Russian word for a partisan unit. According to the book From Victims to Victors, published in 1992 in Canada by three partisans from Yod --- Peter Silverman, David Smuschkowitz, and Peter Smuszkowicz --- the Spartak brigade was the first partisan group established in the Kozian forest, around the summer of 1942. Return
  4. Avraham Vilkitzki is also described on page 443 of this memorial book, in the section titled “Partisans in the Braslav Region.” It was in the German attack on the partisans in December 1942-January 1943, described by his sister Liuba in this account, that Avraham was wounded. Return
  5. The Narotz forest was centered around what's now Lake Narotz, which is some 50 kilometers south of the town of Kozian and 50 kilometers southeast of the town of Sventzion [Swieciany]. Like other massive forests in the region --- the Kozian forest west of Yod, the Naliboki forest west of Minsk, the Rudniki forest south of Vilna --- it sheltered partisans as well as family camps.
    According to Ghetto in Flames, published in 1982 by the former partisan Yitzhak Arad, partisans under Fyodor Markov were operating in the Narotz forest from 1942. Jewish refugees were also living there by 1942, if not earlier, and by June 1943 such refugees numbered in the hundreds. In September 1943 the Germans carried out a massive sweep of the Narotz forest, killing many refugees in family camps as well as Gentile and Jewish partisans. The partisans retreated north to the Kozian forest, returning to the Narotz forest in October 1943. Thereafter, conditions for Jewish refugees took a turn for the better, as partisan organization improved and weapons were parachuted in from the USSR. Return
  6. From the Russian “iazik,” used to describe a German prisoner who revealed secrets. Return


[Page 440]

Partisans in the Braslav Region

Translated from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

A brigade called Zhukov operated in the Braslav [Braslaw] region. Its commander was Siromcha, and its commissar was Voloychik.[1] The brigade originated from the Stalin brigade (in the district of Vitebsk-Belorussia) and comprised two detachments that united: Kutuzov and Rokossovsky. The [Zhukov] brigade captured Opsa after liquidating the German garrison there. It united with the regular army on July 9, 1944 and took control of Braslav that day along with the Red Army.

On the importance of the fight conducted by the partisan groups, the material and physical damage inflicted by the partisan movement on the German occupation soldiers, and the psychological impact on the Nazi soldier --- testimony can be read in an excerpt from a diary, found with German captain P. Boshla, who was killed battling a partisan unit:

With our tanks, we entered the darkness of desolation. There was no living soul in sight, but the shadow of the avengers could be felt everywhere in the forests and bogs. These partisans attack suddenly, as if they've risen from under the earth. They shoot us and hit us, and then disappear like shades from the netherworld. The avengers persecute us at every step, and there's no way to save ourselves.

Hell! I never saw or experienced anything like this at any time or place. I'm not trained to fight spirit-ghosts from the forests. Now I'm writing in my diary, afraid to see the setting sun. It's better not to think. Night falls, and I feel shadows crawling, approaching, stealing their way through the darkness. I'm overtaken by the fear of death.

--- From the book Partizany Vileishchiny (Partisans in the Vileika Region)
by I[van]. F[rolovich]. Klimov and N[ikita]. E[rmolaevich]. Grakov[2]

Footnotes

  1. On page 256 of this memorial book, “Shiromcha” was called the officer of the partisan Zhukov brigade, and “Bolevchik” an officer from the Soviet army who was serving in it. Page 364 of this memorial book also mentions Zhukov brigade commander “Siromcha.” Return
  2. Published in Minsk in Russian in 1967; the Hebrew original said the coauthor's name was Kilmov, but in fact it was Klimov. Return



[Page 441]

Partisans from Yod [Jod a.k.a. Jody][1]

All entries are from Lexicon of Heroism

Translated from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

Pinchas Yaffe [also Iafe], son of Shalom

He was born in the Jewish village of Bildugi [Bildziugi, about 10.5 kilometers northeast of Yod] near the town of Sharkovshchina [Sharkovshchitzna a.k.a. Szarkowszczyzna, about 15 kilometers southeast of Bildugi] in 1895.

He escaped with his 15-year-old son Mordechai (Motel) at the start of the liquidation of the Jewish population of the town of Yod (Braslav district) to the Zachovshchina [Zachowszcsyna] forest near Kozian [Koziany, about 32 kilometers southwest of Yod] in December 1941. Both were armed.

In the forests, he met with groups of Jews who'd escaped from the ghettos of the area. The organized themselves as a partisan group. They shot a farmer named Obrian in the village of Zalesie [about 3.5 kilometers southwest of Yod] and burned down his farm for the crime of collaborating with the Germans. The killed the family of the farmer Abramei, who'd handed over to the Germans several Jews from Yod who had survived the massacre. They killed the chief of the village of Boyavshchina (near Yod) [Bujewszczyzna, four kilometers southeast of Yod]. In June 1942, this unit was incorporated into the partisan regiment Ponomarenko, led by Meirson, which in turn combined with the Russian division of the same name active in the district of Danilovitzi [Dunilowicze, about 45 kilometers south of Yod].

In July 1942, the Jewish brigade attacked the village of Korsunki [Korszunki] (near Yod) [about four kilometers southeast of Yod], which was the location of the Samachova cell.[2] Together with a Russian detachment that was part of the Spartak unit, they attacked the town of Yod one night and burned down the houses of all collaborators, along with their residents, including two German captains who happened to be housed there. Among the burned buildings was the local council building [this might mean the headquarters of the district command]. Pinchas Yaffe carried out this revenge action and distinguished himself in it. His son Mordechai also won praise in the daily records of the command.

When the commander Meirson decided to leave the forests of Kozian and move the base of the Ponomarenko unit in the area of Danilovitzi, Yaffe and his son and several other Jews decided to remain and continue their punishment of local collaborators. The group instilled fear in the entire area. In response, the Germans put a price on Yaffe's head --- blocks of salt, a rare commodity.

On November 15, 1942, Yaffe went with his son to the village of Boyavshchina to take revenge on a farmer who was collaborating. When they didn't find him at home, they decided to spend the night in one of the huts nearby. The farmers found out, broke in during the darkness of the night and captured them. The son was burned alive, and the father was handed over to the Germans. He attempted to escape, but was shot.[3]

--- Hirsh Einhorn (Pachach, portfolio 62) and Kahanovich
(Milhemet HaPartizanim, page 368)[4]
[Also appears in Lexicon of Heroism, page 183]

 

Binyamin Dubinsky, son of Aharon

He was born in 1902 in the town of Vidz (Braslav region) [Vidz, a.k.a. Widze, was about 40 kilometers west of Yod]. His father was a leaser of land from the landowners. Binyamin became involved in his father' business and was liked by the farmers. Later, he moved to live in the town of Yod.

He escaped to the forest of Milk (between the towns of Yod and Pohost) [perhaps Milki, about nine kilometers northeast of Yod] with several of his friends immediately after the first massacre [in Yod] (December 1941). They joined a group of escaped Russian war prisoners and marched eastward to

 

Partisans of Yod in the Spartak brigade
From left to right: Pesach Zilberman (communications), Tania Zilberman (nurse), David Szmuszkewicz (reconnaissance).
[Pesach and Tania, siblings, were related by marriage to David; all of them survived the war. In 1992, Pesach (Peter Silverman), David, and David's brother, Peter Smuszkowicz, published in Canada an English-language account of their experience, From Victims to Victors.]

[Page 443]

obtain weapons and ammunition.

They returned to the forests of the area in May 1942, well armed, and formed the partisan detachment named Shirokov [Szirokow], after their commander. Dubinsky was appointed commander of a sub-detachment.[5] He proved himself in attacks by the brigade on the German regular army in the village of Acremovitzi near Braslav [Achremowce a.k.a. Achremowcy, about seven kilometers southeast of Braslav and 16 kilometers northwest of Yod]. The Germans were defeated, and their weapons and ammunition were taken. Dubinsky also proved himself in the ambush against the Germans and their Belorussian assistants near the village of Perebrodz-Zagorie.

In November 1942, he went to take revenge against a farmer who'd murdered Jews whose farm was near the former Jewish settlement of Bildugi. To help him, he took several Jews from that settlement who'd been wandering and hiding in the forest. They didn't find the farmer in his home, so they spent the night at a lessee of the farmer's land. Local farmers tipped off the Germans, who surrounded the house, attacked and killed them at night.[6]

--- Hirsh Einhorn (Pachach, portfolio 62)
[Also appears in Lexicon of Heroism, page 135]

 

Avraham Vilkitzki [a.k.a. Wilkicki / Wilkocki], son of Moshe and Miriam

He was born in the town of Yod (Vilna district) in 1925. He studied in Vilna [about 155 kilometers southwest of Yod] until the outbreak of the war. He escaped from the Kozian Ghetto in August 1942 and joined the Spartak brigade in the surrounding forests. He participated in all attacks and battles of the brigade.

He was injured in his hand and leg in the battle, and remained wounded in the field. With his last bit of strength, he crawled to a haystack and hid there. His friends found him a few days later and transferred him to a secure place. Due to the lack of medical services he received inadequate treatment, and he died of blood poisoning on January 13, 1943.[7]

--- Leib Zimmer (Pachach, portfolio 62)
[Also appears in Lexicon of Heroism, page 154]

 

Shimon Zilberman, son of Zalman and Chaya-Sara

He was born in the town of Yod (Braslav region) in 1919. His father was a fisherman. He couldn't continue with his studies at the Polish public school on account of the poverty of his family, and he became an apprentice to a shoemaker.


He escaped to the Kozian forests immediately after the first massacre [in Yod] (December 17, 1941). Throughout the winter and spring months of 1942, he moved about with a group of refugees seeking arms and pursuing murderers of Jews (his entire family who escaped to the forests had been turned in to the Germans by farmers). In the summer of 1942, he was accepted into the Spartak brigade, which had arrived from the region to the east.

He took part in battles against the enemy garrisons in Vidz, Opsa [about 20 kilometers northeast of Vidz] and other places, and in ambushes near the villages of Ustsye [Uscie, about 12 kilometers east of Vidz] and Vasvichi [Wasiewicze, about 16 kilometers southeast of Vidz]. Since the brigade needed a shoemaker, they advised him to return and work at his trade. They settled him in the home of the forester Kubalyunk [Kowalonek] for this purpose.

One morning in January 1943, the house of the forester was surrounded by the Germans. Our partisans who were there succeeded in breaking through the German chain, but Zilberman and Avraham Yair were trapped and burned alive in the house, together with the family of the forester.[8]

--- Hirsh Einhorn (Pachach, portfolio 62)
[Also appears in Lexicon of Heroism, page 162]

 

Shalom Munitz, son of Meir and Sara

He was born in 1900 in Yod (near Braslav). He was a wagon driver.

He escaped with his wife, children, and a group of youths to the forests of Kozian in November 1941. At that

[Page 444]

time the ghetto wasn't yet set up in the town [sic], and the partisans hadn't yet organized in the forests.[9] The group began to search for weapons from the farmers of the area; the farmers had hidden weapons that had been cast off by the Soviet soldiers during their retreat. Under the leadership of Munitz, the youths took revenge on those who turned in Jews and who were collaborators. Among others, they killed the farmer Stanislav Kubalyunk [Stanislaw Kowalonek], who turned in the Halpern family and Sheyna Rubashin to the Germans; and the farmer Fyodor Retzinikov [Recznikow], who turned in the Mindov family and Chava Munitz to the Germans.

The group functioned as an independent partisan unit. When escaped Russian prisoners of war began to gather in the forests in the summer of 1942, they joined the by-now experienced Jewish fighters and together launched large-scale procurement actions. They set up the Yatzminov [Jaczminow] brigade (named for the commander), which later became the brigade named for the commander Shirokov.

Munitz was appointed commander of a unit tasked with the provision of weapons. While searching for weapons, they'd wreak vengeance on farmers who collaborated with the Germans. After many complaints were lodged against him for killing farmers, he was made responsible for providing food for the brigade and for the family camp (in which his wife and children lived).

During one of his journeys to collect food in the villages, he encountered a German ambush in the Virov [Wirow] forest. He was killed along with his friend S. Stein in February 1943.[10] His wife and children survived.

--- Hirsh Einhorn (Pachach, portfolio 3)
[Also appears in Lexicon of Heroism, page 57]

 

Faivel Truk [a.ka. Trok; parents not named]

He was born in 1912 in the town of Yod (Braslav region) to a poor family. From his youth he was forced to help his father, a wagon driver, in earning a livelihood for the family.

He escaped from the Vidz Ghetto on July 5, 1942 and joined the Ponomarenko brigade, which was active in the region of Glubok [Glubokoye, about 50 kilometers southeast of Yod].

He took part in the attack on the standing army in the village of Kamai (near Hoduchishki), in bombing the railway bridge on the Voropayevo-Glubok [Woropajewo-Glubokoye] line, liquidating Polish gangs in the forests of Samische [Szamic], and many other actions.[11]

In March 1944, he went out in a supply action (he was the vice commander of the supply division in the brigade) to the Konstantinova farm near Glubok. Before they left the village, his group was surrounded by the German forces, and he fell in battle.[12]

--- Asher Buchinski (Pachach, portfolio 62)
[Also appears in Lexicon of Heroism, page 177]

Footnotes

  1. This refers to Lexicon Hagevura by Yehiel Granatstein and Moshe Kahanovich, published in Jerusalem in Hebrew in 1965. An English-language version appears on the JewishGen website as “Biographical Dictionary of Jewish Resistance.” Return
  2. Samachova was a voluntary organization under German protection that sought to repel partisans who came to confiscate food from villages. Return
  3. The book From Victims to Victors, published in Canada in English in 1992 by members of the Silverman and Shmushkovitz families, survivors from Yod, gave different details. According to them, Pinchas and his son were captured by the peasants and handed over to the Germans to be shot. Pinchas angered the Germans, and they proceeded to burn him and his son alive. Return
  4. Pachach: Information on Jewish partisans compiled by Pachach (Partisans, Soldiers, and Pioneers --- Chalutzim), an organization based in Israel that researches Jewish partisans in World War II. Milhemet HaPartizanim (The War of the Partisans) probably refers to Di Milhomeh fun di Yidishe Partizaner in Mizrah-Eyrope (The War of the Jewish Partisans in Eastern Europe) by Moshe Kahanovich, published in Israel in Yiddish in 1954. Return
  5. According to Lexicon of Heroism, he was appointed deputy commander. Return
  6. According to the website of the Organization of Partisans Underground and Ghetto Fighters, Binyamin Dubinsky died on December 13, 1942 in Bildugi. Return
  7. According to the website of the Organization of Partisans Underground and Ghetto Fighters, Avraham Vilkitzki died on January 15, 1943. Return
  8. According to the website of the Organization of Partisans Underground and Ghetto Fighters, Shimon Zilberman died on January 30, 1943. Return
  9. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II-B (2012), the Kozian Ghetto was established in the late summer or fall of 1941 Return
  10. According to the website of the Organization of Partisans Underground and Ghetto Fighters, Shalom Munitz died on February 17, 1943. Return
  11. Hoduchishki (also called Hidotzishok in Yiddish and Adutiskis in Lithuanian) was in Lithuania, about 62 kilometers south-southwest of Braslav and about 52 kilometers southwest of Yod. The village of Kamai was about 10 kilometers to the south of Hoduchishki. Return
  12. According to the website of the Organization of Partisans Underground and Ghetto Fighters, he died on March 17, 1944. Return

 

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