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[Page 451]

Kislovshchitzna [Kislowszczizna]

(Kislavshchyna, Belarus)

55°30' 27°11'

 

Masha Kapitza

Daughter of Tzivia and Yaacov Rukshin

Translated from the Hebrew by Yaacov David Shulman

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

I wish to put before you the story of a 12-year-old girl, one of many such stories. It's the story of my life, of what I experienced. I hope it will serve for my children and grandchildren as a memorial to my family that perished in the Holocaust, so that the Nazi atrocities are never forgotten.

I was born into a traditional Jewish home, where love and warmth filled every corner. The house was located in the village of Kislovshchitzna, about seven kilometers from the town of Yod [Jod a.k.a. Jody] and about 20 kilometers from the larger town of Braslav [Braslaw].[1]

In my memory, I can still see the old wooden house where we lived happily and contentedly: my father, my mother, Grandmother Breina, Uncle Leibke and of course the children: Etka, Masha, Dvora, Bentzion, Shimon and Rachel. I remember well the synagogue that was built close to our house. In particular I remember the chair of my father, who was the synagogue gabbai [caretaker]. The chair was made of wood, hand carved, higher than the other synagogue chairs. My father would sit in it with dignity, surrounded by his children, as we prayed together. On cold winter days, when the synagogue couldn't be heated, my father would bring the worshippers into our home to warm up next to the fireplace and pray. In our village of Kislovshchitzna, there were about 32 families --- half of them Jewish and half Polish. The atmosphere of village life was pleasant and calm, with each nationality respecting the other. But little by little, we children began to feel a spirit of anti-Semitism in the air, something in the nature of “Jews, go to Palestine!”

At the end of the summer of 1941 [after Germany had invaded on June 22], when I was 12 years old, news began to arrive in the village that the Germans were killing the Jews. One day, Germans appeared in the village. They loaded the Jews onto the wagons of Gentiles, transported them to the town of Yod, and took them out to be killed.[2] In this incident we were lucky: Because my father was an excellent tailor, the Germans decided to leave our family alone. The days passed as news continued to stream in from the surrounding communities about Jews, who were artisans, taken out to be killed. My father gathered the family together

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and then we split up, fleeing to Gentile friends of the family.

After I fled the village of Kislovshchitzna, I came to the village of Podhaitzi [Podhajce, about three kilometers northeast] to stay with a Polish family. The woman of the house was called Yosefa [Josefa]; she hid me in the attic. There wasn't much food, but I didn't complain; I was happy they'd taken me in. It was potato-planting season, and the woman of the family told me that when everyone went out I should come downstairs and warm myself next to the fireplace.

Fearfully I came down from the attic and gingerly approached the fireplace, careful not to make any noise. Unfortunately, the curtain was open and the daughter of the village policeman was standing outside. She saw me and began to yell, “Jew, Jew!” and ran to the village center to get her father, the policeman. Thoughts raced through my mind; I decided to escape. I ran outside and fled into the field next to the forest. I hid in the field, and through the bushes I saw policemen on bicycles arriving at the house, looking for me. When they found nothing in the house, they decided to continue their search in the field. Many girls my age were in the field, helping their parents to plant potatoes. I rolled up my pants legs and concealed my face and eyes with my headkerchief so that I'd look like one of the other girls, as though I'd moved off a little to the side to “do my business.”

The policemen passed very close to me but, naively thinking I was with the other girls, they continued on their way. I remained in the field until darkness fell. When night came, I went to another village named Gardosh [perhaps Girdziusze, about two kilometers northwest of Kislovshchitzna] to look for my father. When we'd fled our house, my father had said he'd go to this village, where he had friends. When I approached the village at night, I could hear that it was surrounded by Germans looking for Jews, so I didn't enter. Instead, I decided to continue to another village named Badraki, where my parents had a Gentile friend named Igor [Kapusta], a good-hearted and compassionate man who helped every Jew he met. With great care I approached the village, which was surrounded by trees. Suddenly I heard a voice calling out from the darkness. I stopped immediately and listened. The voice called, “Yaacov, Yaacov . . . ! Yisrael, Yisrael . . . !” and then: “Masha . . . , Masha . . . !” I couldn't believe my ears. I didn't reply, and the words were repeated. Only after the person calling out identified himself as Igor did I go to him, and we fell into each other's arms. Igor, as was his daily custom, had gone out at dusk to graze his horse in the pasture. Recognizing me from a distance, he began to call my name and my father's name, thinking we were together. Igor had gone out to the edge of the village, because he thought we'd come to him to seek refuge. Since searches were being carried out, going to his house would've been dangerous, and so he preferred to meet us at the village entrance and direct us to the granary, which he owned. We sat and thought about what I should do. Igor said that if the Germans caught a Gentile helping a Jew, both would be killed. And he added that my uncles Yisrael and Alter [Rukshin], who'd been staying with him, had been forced to flee to the forest, to another place. As he talked, Igor decided that out of pity for a small girl he'd risk taking me to the granary, which was half empty. He hid me in a corner there and scattered hay around me and on top of me, so that someone coming in wouldn't notice me. While I was staying in the granary, Igor would sneak cooked potatoes from his mother's kitchen and bring them to me, without telling his mother. One day his mother noticed the missing potatoes and decided to help. Without saying anything to her son, she went out to the field, pulled up some nettles, put them in a pot with a little milk, cooked them with a few potatoes and brought them to me in the granary. For a long time, this food was like a royal delicacy to me.

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This went on for four days, until it became known that the Germans were in the next village and about to reach us.

In the morning, she dressed me in clothing that made me look like a Gentile, and Igor took me out of the village. He dug a pit among the trees, put me into it and covered it with branches and twigs, so I couldn't be seen. I lay in the pit for two days. After that, the Germans left the village, and Igor took me back to his house.

One day, as I was in the granary, I heard the voice of my father, who'd come to look for me. When I met my father, there was no end to my happiness.

The danger in the vicinity of Igor's house increased; father decided we must escape to the forest. There we met Jewish refugees from Kozian [Koziany, about 32 kilometers southwest of Kislovshchitzna]. Together with them, we experienced all of the attacks that the Germans carried out in the forests.

Let me give you an idea of such a German attack. First, airplanes circled above the forest and dropped bombs. Afterward, they sprayed artillery fire and other heavy ammunition. Then foot soldiers stormed in, killing and destroying everything in their path. During an attack, we'd flee from place to place like people running amok. After one such attack there was a lull in the shelling, and we decided to light a fire to warm ourselves and thaw our freezing bones. As we sat next to the fire, I fell half asleep and moved to a nearby tree. Beneath it, I fell into a deep sleep. Only after a few hours had passed did my father realize I was missing. He looked for me in vain, until someone noticed a pair of feet sticking out of the snow. Apparently while I'd been sleeping, the snow had kept falling and covered me up. If that person hadn't noticed me, I'd have certainly frozen to death beneath the snow. When we found a safe place, my father began to remove my frozen clothing from my feet to massage my body --- which was blue from the cold --- with the help of the snow, and to warm me next to a fire. To this day, my feet bear the wounds and scars of that cold.

My situation grew very serious; I couldn't move my feet and the wounds caused great pain. Father decided to look for a place where I could hide and my feet could heal. After some searching, he found a Polish family that agreed to keep me at their house until I healed or recovered. I stayed with them for seven days. They treated me with dedication, placing leaves and various ointments on my feet. To be clear, I didn't stay in their house --- heaven forbid --- but in the barn together with the cows, where it was warm and my wounds began to form scabs. At the end of the week, the woman of the house came and told me the Germans were approaching and looking for Jews, and I'd have to leave. In the state I was in, I couldn't go anywhere; I couldn't move my feet. I burst into tears and begged her to let me stay. Her pity was aroused, and she agreed. I dug down in the barn under the cow manure, and lay there for a few days until the Germans left.

After some more time had passed, the Polish woman came again and said the Germans were coming to the village and I must leave --- otherwise I'd be caught and the family would be taken out and killed. This time the Germans were searching with dogs, and she was afraid. In anguish, with tears in my eyes, I thanked her for her solicitous care and began to drag myself to look for my father. I found him staying with a Pole; together we continued to the forest. After wandering about, we again met the group of Jews from Kozian. We joined them, and in this way the days and months passed.

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One day the Germans staged an attack in the area in the forest where we were staying, and we scattered in every direction. After a month had passed, I met my father again. Like me, he was starving; we shared a few peas that I had in my pocket. One day, when my father went to look for food, he found horses that had been killed in a German attack. He cut a piece of meat from the horse; we lit a fire and put the meat in a tin to cook it. While it was cooking, the smell of the meat apparently reached the Germans, and they began to fire in our direction. We were forced to leave the meat behind and flee. We escaped to another forest, where the survivors of the German attack had gathered, and stayed there for a few months.

While I was in the forest, one day my sister Etka appeared. She told us she'd been in the Kozian Ghetto and from there had come to the forest.[3] While she was talking, a German attack began, with airplanes and heavy ammunition. My sister was hit and died on the spot. In this attack, my Uncle Alter, who was with us, also died.

During the attack, everyone scattered. But since my feet were injured by frostbite, I couldn't run. Alone, I began to weep. A Jewish woman from Bilgioas named Asna passed by. She took me to her, supported me and pulled me after her. We fled until we reached a clearing that had been made to prevent fires from spreading, which separated two forests. Such forest clearings were often surrounded by Germans. As we entered the clearing, we saw a German sentry, and our eyes met his. We froze on the spot. The German, who must have thought we weren't alone and there were partisans were behind us, turned around as though he hadn't seen us [sic]. We took advantage of his hesitation to flee into the forest, as Asna pushed me under a bush until the attack ended. Afterward, we went deep into the forest, where we met families I was related to, and they took care of me.

At this time my father's hand froze, and he was forced to move to the house of Polish acquaintances so that they could help him recover.

Because of the starvation and cold, the [Jewish] family that was taking care of me decided to leave the forest and return to the village they'd come from, where they'd left a great deal of property in the hands of a Gentile friend. This Gentile received the family kindly and told them they had nothing to worry about, he'd provide them with everything they needed. That night, the Gentile went out, got an ax and, when everyone was asleep he killed them all, to the last one.

In the meantime, my father, whose hand had somewhat improved, returned from the Gentile he'd gone to. The Jews in the forest decided to establish a group of partisans, and my father decided to join them. Young people also joined but I wasn't allowed to, since I was too young. We, the children and elders, were called the “families of fighting partisans.” From this time, our situation improved a great deal. The partisans would go out at night to Polish villages, carry out raids and bring food and water. The group had a rule that when food was in short supply it shouldn't be distributed to the families; if a member were caught doing so, his blood would be on his head. I remember a youth called Eli Bernamov who risked his life by stealing salt for us from the partisan stores. There were others like him, and with their help we succeeded in overcoming starvation.

One clear day, two partisans went out on horseback to spy on the Germans, to warn against any coming danger. They galloped back to the forest and announced that the Russians were coming --- and with them, freedom. Naturally we were suspicious. After all we'd experienced, we found it hard to believe that this hell was at an end. But, as they'd said, the Russians indeed came and freed us from the inferno [in the summer of 1944].

With the end of the war, I met my father near the village where I'd been born. Nothing of the village remained --- everything had been burned and destroyed.

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In Germany, I met my husband, Avraham Kapitsa, who was also a Holocaust survivor. We got married, and our first son was born. We --- my father, my husband, and my son --- made aliyah to Israel. After much time, my father of blessed memory passed away in his old age. Today I'm a contented mother and grandmother of three children and five grandchildren.

As for the rest of my family, a short story about my six-year-old brother Shimon and my 10-year-old sister Dvora. At the beginning of the disturbances, my parents had placed them in the reliable hands of a Gentile woman in the village of Alchovka [Olchowka, one kilometer east of Kislovshchitzna], where they stayed for two weeks. During that time, the children refused to eat the unkosher food the Gentile woman prepared for them, and so she only cooked them potatoes. In the end, she grew tired of this and decided they'd have to leave her house. My siblings knew I was with her brother, a man named Kapirosh, whose house stood alone in a place called Alechsandrova [perhaps Aleksandrynowo, about 2.5 kilometers southeast of Kislovshchitzna]. In the middle of the day, while I was at the oven, I heard the Gentile man speaking with my sister and brother, telling them they must go back to where they came from, and that their sister Masha would come to them that night. Despite my desire to go out and embrace my siblings, I held myself back, since the house was filled with guests and I didn't want to get the Gentile arrested. Also, I understood from his behavior toward me that my stay with him was coming to an end.

When darkness fell, I left my hiding place and went to visit my brother and my sister with the Gentile woman in Alchovka. They begged me to take them with me, but I too had nowhere to go. Despite the emotional meeting and their tears, I couldn't take them. I asked them to be patient, promising that in a few days father would come for them.

All of this I told father. When he heard this, he went and hired a Gentile for a great deal of money to get the children and take them into the ghetto in Sharkovshchitzna [Szarkowszczyzna].[4] Mother's sister, Liba, was in that ghetto with her family. She took them in and they stayed in the ghetto until a German attack [on June 18, 1942]. Everyone then fled the ghetto, and when Liba fled, they fled with her. On the way, the Germans killed Liba. She fell, and the children kept running until they reached a place not far from the forest where an empty bathhouse stood. Since they were worn out from running, they told the people with them to tell father and me that they were tired and would stay in the bathhouse, and asked that we come that night to take them. This information reached us but, sadly, after three days had already passed.

People who came to the forest told us what happened: The children were staying in the bathhouse. Toward evening, the forest guard came. He treated them well, gave them food and drink, and said they had nothing to fear. But at the same time, he sent a message to the Germans that two Jewish children were hiding in the bathhouse. Hearing this, the Germans came and killed them.

And another short story about my mother, Tzivia Rukshin, and my two-year-old sister, Rachel.

After a German raid on our village of Kislovshchitzna, the [Jewish] shoemakers and tailors were left alive. The second time, when we learned about another impending raid the Germans were about to carry out, we decided to flee, but my mother Tzivia decided to remain in the house with my [youngest] sister Rachel, because she reasoned that no villager would take her in with an infant in her arms, the crying was liable very quickly to get them arrested and bring disaster on the house and family. Grandmother Breina, my father's mother, joined her, and they remained in the house. The Germans came and transferred them to the Vidz [Widze] Ghetto.[5] They stayed in this ghetto for a short while until my mother's sister, Grunia, smuggled them out with the help of a Gentile to the Kozian Ghetto, where Grunia lived. Grandmother Breina remained in the [Vidz] ghetto. She was taken in one of the selections

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carried out by the Germans, and to the best of our knowledge she perished at Ponar.

Mother, who was with her sister in the Kozian Ghetto, felt safe until the Germans carried out an attack against the ghetto. From there, she went to the Glebokie [Glebokoye] Ghetto, staying there until it was liquidated on 19 Av 1943 [August 20, 1943]. There, my mother and my sister Rachel perished.

As for my brother Bentzion, I know only a little. After we fled the house, he joined my Uncle Leibke, who was a tailor by trade. They stayed with a Gentile and worked for him as tailors. When the work came to an end and the Gentile no longer wanted them, he told them to leave. They had nowhere to go, and they made their way to the Sharkovshchitzna Ghetto, where they perished together with all [sic] of the Jews of that ghetto.

Footnotes

  1. The distances stated above were probably the distances by road; as the crow flies, Kislovshchitzna was about six kilometers northwest of Yod and 17 kilometers southeast of Braslav. Return
  2. This appears to refer to August 1941, when the Jewish residents of Yod were attacked by Gentile villagers from around Yod and their houses were looted. However, most of the Jewish residents of Yod died later, on December 17, 1941, when they were shot and buried in mass graves. See, for example, page 412 of this memorial book. Return
  3. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II-B (2012), the German authorities ordered the establishment of a ghetto in Kozian in the late summer or fall of 1941. This ghetto, which also contained Jewish refugees from other locations in the surrounding area, existed for nearly a year. In August 1942, the Jewish inmates were informed that they'd be resettled in the Postavy [Postawy] Ghetto; on hearing this, about 60 Jews fled the Kozian Ghetto, eventually forming a partisan unit in the nearby forests. Those Jews in the Kozian Ghetto who didn't flee, numbering about 300, were transported about 60 kilometers southeast to the Glebokie [Glebokoye] Ghetto, which would be liquidated from August 20, 1943. Return
  4. The Sharkovshchitzna Ghetto, about 24 kilometers southeast of Kislovshchitzna, had been established between September and November 1941, according to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II-B. At its peak, this ghetto is estimated to have had 1,700 inmates. It was liquidated on June 18, 1942, when the German police and local collaborators surrounded and attacked the ghetto. Some 700 inmates died, but in the confusion nearly 1,000 others managed to break out and flee into the surrounding area. The Germans and collaborators recaptured at least 300 of these and shot them. As many as 500 of the surviving escapees later entered the Glebokie Ghetto.

    Thereafter, in August 1942, the German authorities spread news around the region of an amnesty for Jews in hiding if they gave themselves up and came to the Glebokie Ghetto. This attracted a further number of Jews to this ghetto, but it would be liquidated from August 20, 1943. Fighting broke out during the liquidation and a number of inmates succeeded in escaping into the forests, but more than 3,000 others were shot or burned to death. Return

  5. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II-B, the Vidz Ghetto, about 40 kilometers southwest of Kislovshchitzna, was formed in early 1942. In subsequent months Jews were added to it from Drisviati [Dryswyaty], Druysk [Drujsk], Opsa, Dubina [Dubene] and Kozian. By August 1942, the official population was 1,505. In the fall of 1942, most of the inmates were transferred to the Sventzion [Swieciany] Ghetto, about 45 kilometers southwest of Vidz. From there, most of the inmates were sent to the Vilna Ghetto or taken just outside Vilna to Ponar [Ponary] and killed on April 5, 1943. Return

 

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