by Azriel Shilovitsky, New York
(became Irving Shiloff upon immigration to US)
Translated by David Goldman
Around the 8th of August, 1942, 20 men appeared in the forest, the first refugees from the Zhetl slaughter. There was no food and every rustle made us nervous. It seemed, if we were found, our lives would end.
However, destitution teaches. We began slowly to go out at night and bring food from the nearby villages and began to adapt to our new life. The small advantage of the forest Jews, was they immediately understood they had to organize and collect weapons in order to provide food and in order not to remain unprotected.
The Organization of the Jewish Military Detachment
On August 20th 1942 the first group was organized in the forest near Ludzhitch. Hirshl Kaplinksy was chosen as commander. After dividing into groups of ten the commanders were: Yisroel Shilovitsky, Pinye Green and Sholem Ogulnik. We began immediately to organize these tens with military training and provided weapons.
Meanwhile, Jews from Zhetl who had escaped the camps in Novogrudek began to arrive. The groups grew. We received a lot of support from the Russian First Detachment in Lipitchansker Pushtche, under the leadership of Nikolai Vakhanin.
The influx of Jews in the forest rose with the arrival of Zhetl Jews from Dvoretz.
The Jewish detachment now had 200 Jewish boys and girls. We put up tents and camps. We already had almost enough weapons. Our group had 5 machine guns and rifles for everyone.
There were already about 600 partisans in the forest, besides 400 men who lived in small family groups not far from the detachment and each in his own way supported his family.
The groups created an autonomous region on the backs of the Germans and this was beneath their dignity. It went so far that we did not allow grain, potatoes or meat to reach Germans anywhere in the region of Zhetl and Kazlaychsin.
German patience exploded when partisans began to drag out weapons and artillery which the Russians abandoned when they retreated. Not far away was the White Russian village Valiye. The Christians in that village removed the weapons or showed the partisans where they were.
This is where the partisans in general and the Jews in particular made a living in weapons, especially, bullets. The Germans saw this and waited for the opportunity to take revenge.
The Rudeh Battle
In the heart of Pushche was the socalled partisan capital city the village of Rudoyovarske. There were many partisans all around the village including our Jewish detachment. The village was swarming with partisans.
The Germans knew very well what Rudeh meant to us and they actually prepared to capture our capital city and give a death blow to the partisan movement. They thought about installing a strong garrison in Rudeh which would control the roads and restrain our development.
We would receive news that the Germans and their servants, the Ukrainians and Belarusians, were preparing an offensive against our headquarters. This happened at the end of 1942. As usual, we were sitting in the forest near Palatka, each doing his own work. Some were cleaning weapons, some were sleeping as they were exhausted after completing a job such as: cutting telegraph poles, bringing weapons and food for themselves and the dozen horses. Others prepared food, sang, sewed and mended clothing and shoes. Suddenly, we heard from Rudoyovarkse violent shooting from machine guns. As always, at the time of an alarm we received the following order:
In five minutes be prepared to fight!
We immediately sent out an intelligence group to find out what happened. I was in this intelligence group.
With great effort, one behind the other, we headed in the direction of the shooting. No one spoke a word. We only heard the orders of our commander. We arrived at a small house, approximately 200 metres from the village. A peasant peeked out of the window. We called him out and asked what was happening and who was shooting. We learned that Germans and Ukrainians arrived at Rudeh and people were saying they wanted to install a post.
This is where we met the intelligence group of the Russian detachment led by Nikolai Vakhanin.
When we learned the news we returned to tell the leadership of our camp. The situation in our detachment became strained. Everyone understood that a battle would ensue the next day in order to chase out the Ukrainians.
The order for our detachment was: strengthen your posts and prepare dry food for the trip.
Meanwhile all the commanders of the detachments in Pushche were consulted: Hirshl Kaplinsky, Nikolai Vakhanin, the famous Bulak, for whom the whole world trembled, and it was decided that tomorrow, everyone jointly would chase out the enemy from the village. They also worked out an exact assault plan.
After releasing a communique about the joint assault, the moods were happy. We hoped we would win the battle.
The next day, very early in the morning, we marched to the battle field. Women and the elderly stayed behind in the camp. They remained dignified, they did not cry and wished well and said we would meet again after our victory. We went to the battle one after the other, and spent the night in a house, 250 metres from Rudeh, in order to begin the battle at dawn.
At exactly 6 o'clock the first sounds of the cannons echoed. This was the sign our assault must begin. Soon after shooting began from all types of weapons: cannons, automatic machine guns, which lasted 5 minutes. The assault stunned the enemy and they barely responded. Immediately we received this command:
Attack! We streamed into the village from all sides. Together with the stream of people, our only tank stormed in which belonged to Bulak. This was the culminating point. When the Ukrainians saw our tank they ran away. There was an extraordinary panic.
Dozens of dead and wounded Ukrainians lay on the streets who we had shot with great excitement. Out of the 160 men that were in Rudeh, 50 were killed, 12 were taken prisoner and the rest managed to escape.
The village celebrated with joy. We took some weapons and supplies which the Germans managed to bring in and left in the village. Upon our return to the detachment we were greeted with songs appropriate for the victors.
The Big Raid
After the great victory the Germans planned a raid which was to smash all the partisans.
The raid fell on us unexpectedly. Besides which at that time we did not have experience in open battle. Therefore the success was sad. The main problem was our spirits fell.
Our commander Hirshl Kaplinsky fell in this battle. It seemed our end had come. The Germans captured our camps and burned food and items.
The raid had a particularly bad effect on the socalled family groups who lost around 70 men, besides those who died from frozen feet and typhus.
After the Big Raid
The raid lasted for three weeks. Then the enemy withdrew from Pushche.
A few weeks passed. The partisans regrouped and began to reorganize but there had been great losses in weapons and artillery which we felt.
The Germans left us alone until the fall of 1943. Until then many changes took place in our partisan lives. Firstly, our Jewish detachment merged with the Russian detachment led by Nikolai Vakhanin. We began diversion work which greatly harmed the enemy. We blew up trains, bridges, made ambushes, attacked German garrisons, activated a tank which the partisans captured and due to this the Germans organized the raid on August 15 th 1943. This raid was not very big. Its goal was to destroy the tank.
We burned the tank ourselves in Pushche. We then returned and settled into a camp where we would remain until liberation.
From September 1 st 1943 until July 1944 we were busy with Russian traitors who ceded from Russia in fear of the Russian army. The Russian traitors' goal was to annihilate, although at the last minute, the partisans. They organized a big raid which lasted an entire month. This was the worst raid we experienced.
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