by Sholem Gerling (Ramat Gan)
Translated by Janie Respitz
One of the issues among the partisans was caring for the sick and wounded. In normal times we found a solution, we arranged for the sick to be placed with local peasants. At first the amount of sickness was small and the roads to the farm houses were relatively calm and safe.
It was a different situation during the hostile raids, especially when they lasted a long time. For example, in 1942, when from the 12th of December the Lipitchansky forest was surrounded by tens of German divisions, and as a result of heavy bitter battles many partisans were wounded. At the same time there were many sick with typhus and 90% of our comrades were leprous! By this time there was no talk about arranging for the wounded and sick to be placed with peasants. Everyone agreed they would not be safe and the few partisan doctors would not be able to visit them. It was also impossible to burden the surrounding population with so many severely wounded and sick. One solution was: to open our own partisan hospital. And this is what we actually did.
We Found a Place
Finding a place for a hospital on the backs of the enemy was easier said than done. After a long difficult search the choice was a secluded corner of the forest between the villages Ruda Lipitchanska and Zatchefish. The place was shown to us by a local peasant, in an area of approximately 6 square kilometres of marshes that no one had ever stepped into. The above mentioned peasant stumbled across it in the winter of 1940 when he went hunting. At the time it was extremely cold and the soil was frozen. If not for his own footprints in the snow the peasant would not have known how to return.
At the general meeting it was decided that each partisan detachment should supply four people who would help organize the hospital and serve as medics and security in the event of an attack.
This newly created division took to their work energetically. The first thing they did was create a camouflaged approach.
At the very end of the marsh was a small hill. As a result of storms and trees which were dynamited they laid two planks for a footbridge which one could barely cross. They placed the fallen trees in a way that it looked like that is how they fell. When the planks were not being used they were taken away. The branches of the trees were camouflaged with moss and tobacco so even dogs would not smell traces of human steps.
At the same time they prepared pieces of cotton, field beds, dirty and bloody bandages which would be scattered at the hill in the event of an alarm to fool the enemy that the hospital was there. This proved to be very smart. Thanks to this the hospital was actually saved a few times.
A special armed detachment was placed at the hill to protect the hospital, and whenever possible, fool the enemy.
Later, when all the preparations were ready we began to build the hospital.
Four tents were erected. There was no room for more in this limited space. One tent was designated for severely wounded, the second for lightly wounded. The third for the bakery and the medics and the fourth was where the doctors lived. There are a lot of good things to write about partisan doctors, especially the Jewish ones. I would like to mention a few of them that worked in the hospital.
Dr. Rakover, an internal medicine specialist from Novoredke ghetto gladly accepted the suggestion of the partisans to go to the forest. He was devoted and worked intensively. Until the hospital was founded he did not avoid any battles. He was always there to offer first aid.
Dr. Khaim Miesnik, a surgeon left the Lida ghetto, with his wife
and a small child on a cold snowy day, and came to the forest. Thanks to his great professionalism, hundreds of severely wounded partisans were saved from death.
Dr. Avrom Alpert left with his wife and small child on a terrifying journey in search of a resistance group which together with them would fight against the enemy. Later he would become the brigade doctor of Fabieda.
We must also mention the doctors: Rozentzveyg, Golombovsky and Pupko. It is difficult to describe their working conditions, because even now it appears as a dream to those who experienced it.
The newly wounded were brought to the same tent as those who had already been operated on. The screams of the new arrival mixed with the moans of the others.
Carrying the sick over the narrow footbridge in rain, and freezing cold temperatures, and then to a crowded, damp tent with the most primitive means to administer first aid and often an immediate operation was no easy task.
Until August 1943 there was no anesthetic. The most difficult operations were done without narcotics. For a long time we did not even have cotton or gauze.
The Hospital is not Discovered
The German murderers knew about the existence of the partisan hospital in the forest. They devoted a lot of effort to discover and liquidate the hospital, but without success. There were times when they almost discovered our tracks. We believed they knew exactly where we were and would wander through the swamps with rubber boots and face nets against the mosquitos, searching, but returning with nothing…
On a few occasions we were able to hear their voices and curses from the hospital. Those were frightening moments.
The only comfort was the bullet that each of us had.
The Germans tried other ways to discover the hospital. However we only learned about it later after the following incident:
In the spring of 1943 a gorgeous Russian girl appeared in the village Demianovtse. She said she escaped from an echelon of deported Russian girls and we should direct her to a partisan group. Incidents like this happened often and we believed her.
That same day a partisan group from Varshilov's detachment returned from their assignment through that village. The commander of the detachment showed interest in the girl, questioned her, talked to her and took her with them.
In the forest, the commanders, as usual, began a rivalry to gain the sympathy of the beautiful girl. To everyone's surprise, she kept her distance while conscientiously and seriously carrying out the work she was given.
After three weeks with the detachment she asked them to give her work in her profession. She was a nurse. The partisan hospital needed nurses, so they fulfilled her request.
She immediately gained everyone's trust with her devotion to her work at the hospital. The patients would gladly talk to her, opening their hearts…
One night, a patient happened to hear her talking to another patient. The conversation sounded suspicious to him, particularly the issues she was asking the patient about. In the morning he told everything to the commander. They began to observe the girl. The suspicion was confirmed and she was immediately brought to an interrogation.
During the first few days she denied everything, but in the end she admitted her guilt and told the truth. This is what we learned:
The Germans set up a special school in Minsk for spying and diversion work. The school recruited young, beautiful Russian girls and taught them to spy on the partisans. They provided the girls with good food and drinks and for their parents as well so they could not resist the temptation. She was one of forty girls at the school. Each was trained for a specific task. Her assignment was to find the partisan hospital in Lipitchansk forest.
We received a lot of important information from this nurse on the last night of her life.
Early the next morning a partisan bullet settled accounts…this was the last attempt the Germans made to find our hospital.
by Sholem Gerling (Ramat Gan)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Yisroel Busel, a locksmith, was born and raised in Zhetl. His father was a blacksmith. He was one of the many unknown and forgotten Jewish partisans, who fought bravely and fell heroically in battle.
Let these lines about him, written by a friend, serve as a memorial light.
Lipitchansk forest. Partisan detachment Barba. Commander: Kolya Vakhanin. The year, 1943. Yisroel Busel and I were in a Jewish company. Later the company was dissolved and scattered among various divisions. Yisroel Busel was sent to a company where he was one Jews among 65 Russians and White Russians. His company was taught special instructions, led by Captain Kovaliov and first Lieutenant Alexander Gorelik, they had special assignments: blow up railroads, block viaducts and send echelons flying through the air. This was difficult and dangerous work.
Besides mining railroads these guys would refurbish mines from old shells. An important source for raw material were the 25 kilogram bombs which they stole from the airfield between Shtutchin and Lida. The bombs were without explosive capsules, they were very large and difficult to transport and not easy to mine. Therefore they had to be refurbished and this cost a few lives.
Yisroel Busel was one of the most talented mine producers. He quickly mastered the technique and devoted heart and soul to it. His comrades respected his work and he was loved by all.
At first everything went according to plan. After preparing the sufficient amount of mines they began the actual work: mining the railroads. The command was: not to allow enemy echelons to reach the front! The rail lines: Lida Baranovitch, Baranovitch Minsk, Volkovsky Bialystock were seeded with explosives, and tens of enemy echelons began flying through the air…
The Germans were becoming more cautious. Every kilometre there was a guard who every minute would shoot a light rocket and light up the area. Every metre of the railroad was checked every morning by German military engineers who were specialists in mine searching. Among the various means the Germans used against mines, they thought of one which was practically impossible to solve. They would place very thin pieces of wood along the entire rail line which could not be seen in the dark. The partisans, laying the mines, would unknowingly step on these pieces of wood and in the morning it would be easy to find the spots where the mines were hidden and remove them without danger.
Tens of mines were lost because of this, with no results. It became harder to blow up the railroads which became more important by the day as they led directly to the front, Kursk Ariel Belograd, where the main assaults took place.
Our comrades were distraught, including Yisroel Busel. He would disappear for hours, tinkering with something but no one knew what. One day he called me aside and said:
I want to trust you with a big secret. A finally invented a mine which explodes right after you place it, set off by the lightest movement. It is impossible to remove it from its spot without it exploding. I suggested he tell the commander about his invention.
Commander Gorelik was very excited and showed great interest. In his presence and the presence of other commanders and partisans Yisroel Busel, pale from excitement, demonstrated his mine and explained its construction. It was different from other mines because the explosion was not caused by pulling out a wire from the capsule, or strong pressure. His mine contained two capsules attached by a thin black thread which would explode from a gentle movement of the thread.
The results of the test surprised everyone. They lifted the inventor up in the air three times and in his honour shouted hurrah and kissed him…He later received a special gift from Moscow for his invention, a new pistol and an automatic rifle.
Soon there were results from Busel's important invention. Already on the second day of using
his mine, two Ukrainians and two Germans were blown up on the spot. The same was repeated a second and third time resulting in chaos among the Germans. We received information from all sides that the Germans feared this secret mine. The Germans were afraid to approach these mines. Once again the enemy echelons began to fly through the air.
Yisroel Busel was not destined to enjoy the results of his invention for very long. In the summer of 1943 (around June), while carrying out an assignment on the railroad tracks from Lida to Baronovitch, not far from Novolieniye, he was killed by one of his own mines.
Six men went to the railroad. Busel and his friend Vasili Bashko buried the mine. The others were standing guard. It was a dark night and it was raining heavily. At a certain moment everyone shuddered from Busel's cry and right after a big explosion. They all ran away.
At the spot where they had decided to meet after completing the task, only 4 arrived. Yisroel and Vasili were missing.
After a few hours the four decided to return to the place of the explosion and look for their missing comrades.
Feeling their way in the darkness they found, near the exploded tracks, the limbs torn from Busel's and Vasili's bodies. Searching further, they stumbled across two massacred bodies of German patrols. It was clear: The attack by the German patrols was so unexpected, in order not to fall into enemy hands alive only one solution remained: blow themselves up with them…
He was 29 years old. Let his memory serve as a blessing.
Izye Rabinovitch was born in Zhetl in 1928. He escaped from the ghetto and arrived in the forest in 1942. At first he was in the family camps.
Little Izye Rabinovitch did not like the family camp. He would come to our post every day and ask:
Take me into the partisans.
Of course we sent him back. One day he snuck in to see the commander:
Take me into the partisans! I will go with you everywhere. I can't sleep at night. I dream about terrible things…fear drives me out of the tent… take me in!
You are still a child, go home, answered the commander. He cried, fell to his feet and did not budge. They took him and sent him to feed the horses.
We were preparing a defence for an attack by the Brown Bandits, who were trying to penetrate the forest. We set up an ambush near the village Luditchi. Little Izye, now our coachman, brought us food every day with two female cooks. On the fifth night we were informed that 7 kilometres from our ambush at the Mirayshchine estate, a company of Latvians had consolidated. In order to liquidate this enemy we had to increase our strength. It was decided three ambush groups would gather secretly and work out a plan of attack. Our commander explained the assignment and ordered us to go to the meeting point. Little Rabinovitch was there, listened and said:
I will go with you! The commander, as usual in such a serious moment shouted at him angrily:
You go back and bring back the women and the dishes! Izye stood at attention and stammered: The women can go on their own…coming here they held the reins very well…
He said this in such a childlike, naïve way, everyone burst out laughing. The commander also smiled and softened.
You don't have a gun, they will be shooting there. You could be killed. You better go home!!
The little guy shook his head, tears welled up.
How come you can all go where they are shooting and I can't? The commander should lend me his revolver…he also has a pistol…
Even Yisroel Busel stood up for him:
Let him come along. He'll help carry my reserve bullets for my machine gun. Finally the commander agreed.
With great joy little Izye grabbed the bag of reserve discs and headed out with quick steps.
During the attack on the Latvians which began exactly at 12 o'clock at night, Izye displayed rare boldness and fearlessness.
Quick, lie down, bullets are flying! shouted Yisroel Busel more than once. He didn't make a big deal of it and asked:
Give me your machine gun for a while, I'll shoot once through the window, just once!
After a 4-5 hour battle the Latvians ran away.
We did not enter the estate right away as we were not sure if their silence was just a trick to fool us. We were also afraid of hidden mines.
Meanwhile, little Rabinovitch disappeared. We were waiting for it to become light (there was no longer any shooting), and then we saw, how he rode out from the estate on a horse and complained to everyone:
What are you waiting for? The stable is full of horses!
After that incident little Izye was assigned to a battle group in my division and alongside everyone else fulfilled many difficult and important tasks. His work was still to carry reserve discs for machine guns. He learned how to handle a machine gun and understood its construction. He also had his own gun which he protected with his life. It was always shining, was always in order, even in 1942 during the fiercest raids when there was not even enough time to wash your face.
It did not take long before he received something he didn't even dare dream about: his own machine gun.
I was successful in obtaining another machine gun and knowing that Izye could handle it, and no one would care for it like him, I decided to give it to him. Are there words to describe his joy?
A short time later we left for the Kurfish forests to build a new camp. One day, Izye came running and told me that Boris (with the wart), a well known partisan, asked him to lend him his machine gun because they were going on an assignment on the other side of the Nieman.
You can lend it to him, but take a gun in return so you don't remain unarmed.
No, said the little Jewish partisan. I will not let the machine gun out of my hands, I prefer to go with them on this assignment…and he left.
There were six men. Five Russians, and he was the sixth. They crossed the Nieman and arrived at the designated place. Three went into the house and three remained standing on the street on guard. Izye was among the last. He stood with his machine gun at the crossroad. He stood there with no idea what danger was looming.
Good neighbours immediately informed the German guard at the nearby headquarters. In less than an hour they were surrounded. Disguised in peasant's clothing the murderers snuck behind Izye's back and shot him. The others did not hear the shot and did not know what happened. They too were soon surrounded and they could not defend themselves. They were burned together with the house. One of the guards managed to get away.
Despite all our efforts, we did not find the corpse of the young Jewish partisan Izye Rabinovitch. We were not destined to give him the last honours he deserved. May his soul be bound among the living!
Areleh and Shloymeleh
On a cold February night two black boxes were brought by boat to the village Golubi on the Nieman. We unloaded them very carefully and put them on the shore. According to information received by our detachment we understood the boxes were the coffins of two young Jewish partisans, Shloyme Itzkovitch, who was born in Baranovitch in 1928 and Arel Haydukovsky, born in Zhetl in 1927, who were carrying out an assignment on the other side of the Nieman and were killed.
Arel Haydukovsky arrived in the forest along with all the other Jews who escaped from Zhetl, on August 8th 1942. Disregarding his young age, from the very first day he was ready to participate boldly in all dangerous operations. He was loved right away by all the partisans in our detachment and gained respect, like an equal adult comrade.
When Jewish partisans, with the permission from the commanders entered the surrounding ghetto to rescue Jews and bring them to the forest, the young, small Arel was among the first to report for this mission. Together with two other Jewish partisans we went to save the Jews from Novogrudek.
It was far, approximately 50 kilometres, and we had to go through various dirt roads and detours. The biggest danger loomed around the ghetto. It was surrounded by an open field watched carefully by the armed enemy!
Arel and his friends entered the ghetto with those returning from work. Disregarding all the dangers
connected to leaving the ghetto, many Jews turned to him. Unfortunately, the first time they were only able to save 8 10 people.
The best specialists and professionals were in Novogrudek ghetto, having been selected from other surrounding ghettos which had been liquidated. They all lived in a few houses and wore a number. They were counted a few times every night. Besides this, their clothing was so apparent, every peasant would recognize them immediately making it very risky.
During the day when the ghetto was least guarded the barbed wire was cut in a specific spot, and at dusk, before they lit the large projectors, those chosen to leave crawled out one at a time. The first to leave were the three partisans and they prepared for any incident.
This is how many Jews were saved.
A few weeks later, Areleh Haydukovsky and four others left for the second time. Once again, with the help of this young man Jews were saved from the murderer's claws. Among others, at that time Dr. Rakover joined the partisans and later did a lot for the partisan hospital.
The young Arel Haydukvosky did not display any less heroism in other operations which as a minor he participated in on his own free will. He voluntarily presented himself and asked them to let him go along. He took part in and excelled in the liquidation of the German garrison in Zhaludek, 25 kilometres on the other side of the Nieman (April 1943); and participated with the others in the famous Train track attack.
This is when his friendship began with Shloyme Itzikovitch, the second young heroic partisan in our detachment.
There is a lot to tell about Shloyme Itzikovitch. It is simply astonishing how this small Jewish boy was so bold and fearless. I remember, among others, this incident:
It was around April 1943. Our detachment took up a defence position near the Nieman, protecting ourselves from the White Poles on the other river bank. Having been in one place for a long time we decided to send out reconnaissance to the enemy. Shloyme Itzkovitch took this mission upon himself. He presented himself to the company commander with the request for permission to sail across the river. They wanted to send an adult with him because he could not row.
When they arrived on the other side, his comrade sat in the boat and Shloymele left for the village. He went into the first peasant farmhouse and asked from the doorstep if there were any Poles in the village. Here was an unfamiliar boy, in broad daylight, with a gun bigger than him. Understandably this was cause for concern in the farmhouse. The woman there asked him with compassion:
What's your name, little boy?
He replied curtly and audaciously:
That's when the woman cried out in fear:
Run away, run away! They are in the village, the Poles…
But Shloymele Itzikovitch asked calmly: How many are there and how often do they come to the river bank?
The peasant's warning for him to leave quickly did not help. He told him to go to the river and he will tell him everything.
The little partisan wanted everything on the spot and to be informed immediately. Then he demanded: prepare food for a few partisans and two pairs of underwear! He stood at the door:
Nobody can leave the house, if you do, I'll shoot!
At first glance the whole thing appeared comical, but when the little guy grabbed his gun, opened the lock, loaded a bullet in the barrel and put his finger on the trigger, everyone present in the house became very serious.
They sailed back late at night. No one slept. Everyone, including the company commander, lay in the barn anxiously waiting. As soon as they heard movement, everyone got up.
Who's there? Then they heard a child's voice answer:
The joy in the barn was indescribable. We took him in and the commander hugged him with true fatherly love.
So, tell us!
In the darkness, no one noticed the package under his arm. He told us what happened calmly and leisurely, not leaving out a detail about what he did and what he managed to learn. The more he spoke, the more it sounded like a made up story.
It was quite amazing! To cross the river where no other partisan dared to go and returned safely!
Some people doubted his story, until Shloymele spread his arms and with a mysterious smile said:
People, come and eat! (He said this in Russian).
And to everyone's surprise he opened the package that was lying beside him, untied a peasant kerchief and took out a jar of honey, a large pack of butter and a few pieces of hard cheese. He kept the two pairs of underwear for himself and his friend Haydukovsky.
The enthusiasm was great. They grabbed him, kissed him and threw him up in the air. After the feast they made him a full fledged partisan and gave him an honourable place to sleep. However he refused and said:
It's my turn at the guard post.
No! everyone shouted spontaneously, go to sleep, we'll go instead of you.
A command came: Blow up the railroad tracks in all of White Russia. Explosives were sent by airplane for this purpose from Moscow. Everyone received 3 pieces of explosive material and we had to use it to blow up around three miles of three separate train lines.
Arel Haydukovsky and Shloymele Itzkovitch decided to carry out this mission together. The successful completion of this assignment brought them even closer and strengthened their friendship. From then on they were always seen together. They also went together to their last assignment!
January 1944. The train tracks from Rozhon to Baronovitch, which goes to Minsk, and was located in our region and had to be blown up at any cost!
The difficulty was not only in mining the tracks, but in swimming across the Nieman to the place where there were not only Germans rampant, but White Poles as well. Due to a lack of explosives, not everyone could be trusted with such a mission. When discussing who should take on this special task, from almost 300 partisans, two children's voices called out:
We will do it! This was Arel Haydukovsky and Shloymele Itzkovitch.
They left that same night. We never saw them alive again.
Opening the boxes, a horrific picture unfolded before our eyes: Arel Haydukovsky's skin was covered with bruises and shot in a few places. Clearly, he fought back against the enemy. Shloymele Itzkovitch was lying still, as if sleeping, with a smile on his face. It felt like he would soon wake up from his sleep.
They were buried together in a common grave in the forest at a crossroad. The entire detachment was present including the leadership. The commissar delivered a sad eulogy, enumerating the heroic deeds of these two young partisans who fell in the name of freedom and for humanity while honouring their people. Their coffins were lowered into the grave and a command was given:
Three shots rang out in the quiet forest from diverse weapons.
A provisional tombstone made from wood was placed on their grave with the following inscription (in Russian) Honour these heroes for eternity.
Shloymele Shifmanovitch came to Zhetl from the nearby town of Zholudok after the liquidation of that ghetto in 1942. He managed to escape as he did not look Jewish.
Having no place to live, young Shloyme went to the House of Study. He lived there barefoot and hungry. After a while, three other boys he did not know moved in. They had escaped from the work camp in Novogrudek: Binyomin Yursih, Khaim Slamkeh, Yosl Bitensky and Shepsl. (They would all be killed as partisans except for Yurish).Through them the partisan headquarters in Zhetl had secret contact with Peysakh Finklshteyn.
Shepsl, a tall healthy young man, with a serious proud expression on his face, would often, with tear filled eyes, tell his comrades about his wife and child who were killed. Shloymele, who heard this story more than once, could not understand one thing: where did Shepsl and the other three disappear for the whole night? Not able to fall asleep in the empty House of Study he lay there and waited for them.
Tell me he asked Shepsele quietly when he returned, you always talk about your wife and child, but then you go out all night to have a good time?
Shepsl smiled at him and thought: Can I tell him the truth?
One day, Shepsl and Yosel left on a mission from headquarters to the village Kashkali, to a certain peasant Pranyuk,
to get some weapons. Berl Monkovitch went with them. The trip there and back was around 45 kilometres. They left the ghetto at 9 o'clock at night and returned at dawn with the entire treasure: 3 hand grenades, a few bullets and an Otrez, (a gun cut off at both ends making it easier to mask). The weapons could not be placed at the regular spot so Shepsl brought the Otrez to the House of Study and hid it in a lectern.
Later, when Shepsl got up Shloymele went to him and embarrassed said:
Now I know you don't go out to have a good time.
What do you know now that you did not know before? asked Shepsl with a smile.
I saw what you hid in the lectern. Shepsl became serious.
Someone as young as you should not know about these things! Don't you dare tell anyone! Bad things will happen to you! Do you hear?
Shloymele swore on all things holy he wouldn't tell anyone. Then he asked:
Take me with you, wherever you go. By all means test me. I am very familiar with the roads. I will do everything you ask of me. Will you take me along?
We'll see answered Shepsl, a little gentler.
He looked at the little Jewish boy who looked like a gentile and thought to himself: with his curly hair, bare feet and tattered clothes he looks like a true shepherd…he can even go on missions further away and during the day.
We must discuss this.
Shepsl spoke to me about this the next day.
Good, I said. Send him to me.
And this is how Shloymele became our trusted man.
Quiet, serious, compliant and very secretive he was very useful in our underground work. He did not talk a lot or make a lot of noise. He did not interfere. He carried out everything we asked him to do with precision.
One day he was sent on a mission to the forest. When he returned to the ghetto the next day he said to me:
I will not remain here. I'm going to the forest. I don't want to be here any longer!
What will such a young boy do in the forest I thought to myself, but then said aloud:
Go, and may you be guided by a lucky star!
And he left.
We heard he was a shepherd who brought horses to pasture that belonged to the artillery. We did not know if this was true.
One night, when I was already in the forest, the partisans carried out a large operation. They had to destroy a large alcohol factory which was located in Mayontek Zhukovchizne.
It was late at night. The companies began to arrive at the meeting point. The artillery were also approaching. I was deep in conversation with my friend, a partisan, and suddenly someone fell on top of me and started kissing me.
Shloymele Shifmanovitch! How did you get here? And how did you recognize me in the dark?
From your voice he said, and told me he was in the partisan artillery.
The resistance of the enemy was weak, and after one hour of fighting we entered the estate. Our trophies were meaningful: live inventory, wagons of tobacco, bottles of alcohol, butter and cheese. What we were not able to take, we destroyed.
Shloymele Shifmanovitch, like an old artillery man, rode among the first. From that day on I met him often.
In July 1943 a new detachment was formed whose task was to block the newly established German garrison in the village Ruda Yavarska. Shloymeleh was assigned to that detachment as reconnaissance. Soon this little spy was popular among all the partisans. He would never return from a mission without exact information. With his joy, and his childlike heartfelt smile he was loved by all. It would never have occurred to anyone that he was a spy.
In February 1944 we went with the detachment to assault the German garrison in the above mentioned village. In the first attack they captured two bunkers taking 76 prisoners. The remaining two bunkers were desperately defended.
Yerakhmiel LIkhter (machine gunner number 1) and Shloymele Shifmanovitch (number 2) crawled up to the little bunker window the Germans were shooting out of. Yerakhmiel Likhter was killed on the spot.
Shloymele was badly wounded in the stomach. They barely were able to remove him alive from the hail of bullets.
They took him directly to the partisan hospital where after two days of suffering, he died.
Translated by Janie Respitz
Berl Ivenitsky of blessed memory
Berl Ivenitsky was born in Zhetl in 1921. He graduated high school and was a bookkeeper by profession. He was loved in the detachment and was a happy fellow. In the evening he would sing by the bonfires and bring pleasure to his friends with his beautiful voice.
In September 1942 he arrived in the forest from Novogrudek ghetto. He belonged to Kaplinsky's group, and later the third Jewish company in the Barba detachment.
He participated in almost all battles. Then he was sent to the headquarters of the brigade and its economic group. Due to anti Semitic tendencies he was sent to one of the detachments of the Varashilovsky Brigade where he remained until liberation.
After liberation he was mobilized in battle against Nazi bandits and in 1944 he died heroically fortifying the Narev River. He was buried in that region.
After experiencing so many battles, he did not survive to see the total downfall of German fascism.
Avrom Hirsh Indershteyn of blessed memory
Avrom Indershteyn was born in Zhetl in 1892. He arrived from the Zhetl ghetto in August 1942. He worked in Kaplinsky's group as the detachment's tailor. He was a quiet, modest man. He clothed all the partisans. He was killed during the big raid of 1942 and was buried in the forest, not far from the hamlet Karshuk.
Yosef Alpert of blessed memory
Yosef Alpert was born in Zhetl. As a boy of 14-15 he arrived in the forest right after the first slaughter and settled into the family camp. A few months later, when his two brothers arrived from Novogurdek ghetto (Avrom and Berish) and joined Kaplinsky in his division, they took him from the family camp and he became a shepherd in the Barba detachment of the Lenin Brigade.
At the beginning of 1943 when the Lenin Brigade created the Lenin detachment, little Yosef and his brother Avrom and his sister in law were sent to the new detachment. There he was used for small operations as well as local guard duty.
One evening, when the young Yosef was at his post, he fell asleep and the anti Semitic commander, Volentin, not taking his young age into consideration, shot him for this crime. He was buried in the Lipitchansk forest.
Yitzkhak Alter of blessed memory
Yitzkhak Alpert was born in Zhetl in 1920. His was a harness maker. He arrived in the forest from the Novogrudek camp in October 1942 and joined Kaplinsky's Jewish group. He participated in almost all the battles. Besides this he worked as a saddle maker for the detachment and would make saddles, combat knives, pocket weapons etc…
He was a quiet, calm, modest and obedient partisan. He had a warm relationship with the family groups, to whom he would give everything he had. In July 1943 he escaped with 25 men to Nolibok forest due to the frightful anti Semitism which dominated the Orliansky detachment.
In Nolibok he joined the Ordzhenkidzhe detachment where he proved to be one of the best partisans. After liberation he worked for a while in Baranovitch and then joined the Red Army and was killed in battle against the Germans. It is not known exactly where he fell and where he was buried.
Sholem Bom of blessed memory
Sholem Bom worked as a teacher in the Yiddish school in Zhetl. As a graduate from a Polish teacher's seminary he came to Zhetl in 1935 1936 from a town in the Vilna region.
He was very talented especially as a music and art teacher. He organized magnificent choirs with the school children as well as adults,
who would often perform for the benefit of the Yiddish school. I can see him standing before me, black haired, energetic young man who possessed an incredible amount of energy and was very ambitious. He put much of his talent into the choir as well as amateur circles at the school.
This is how his life flowed until the outbreak of the German Soviet war. When the war broke out in 1941 he found himself in the ranks of the Red Army. During a retreat to the east his division was probably surrounded by the Germans and they were unable to unite with the Red Army.
It is not known how he arrived in the Lipitchansk forest, either he escaped from German captivity or broke away from the siege. In general, this period of his life and his further heroic activity is draped in mystery.
There were a few opinions. Some said he betrayed the Jewish people for a whisky. I will make an effort to evaluate his personality objectively, paying attention the material which has remained about him. I will make an effort to briefly impart his heroic struggle in the partisan movement and his tragic death.
He arrived in the Lipitchansk forest at the beginning of 1942, when the amount of partisans could still be counted on your fingers. He came from around Lida where he had previously operated as a legendary commander under the Polish name Khadzietsky. As a Pole it was easy for him to move through the Polish regions where he was loved by the Poles who provided him with information and weapons.
When he arrived in Lipitchansk he was already a commander of a detachment which was called Lider. Later, the Varashilovsky detachment emerged from the Lider detachment in the Lenin Brigade, which was known for its anti Semitism and killing Jews.
We were told he would walk around in a long leather coat with a belt, armed with an automatic gun. His attitude toward Kaplinsky's Jewish group was cold. This resulted in hatred and disdain toward him but in his situation he could not behave differently. The Christian partisans did not know the brave commander Khadzietsky was a Jew. This was his luck. Thanks to this he was able to play this leading role. However the secret could not be kept for long. At the time there were many Zhetl Jews around who knew him. This passed from Jewish mouths to Christian ears.
Khadzietsky also began to feel uncomfortable. It must be said that pretending to be a Pole was useful. He was loved and received an exceptional amount of weapons. His group was the richest in war materials thanks to his personal influence and respect by the Poles.
Hearing what was happening to Jews in the surrounding towns and seeing the problems Jewish partisans were facing in the forest, he began to revise his attitude regarding the Jews.
He also remembered his gorgeous wife and child who were in the Zhetl ghetto. He sent messengers a few times to his wife wanting to bring her to the forest. However his wife betrayed him with a White Russian policeman who was serving the Germans. Disregarding this fact he sent a few trusted messengers to get her. She never left the ghetto.
This all affected him. Analyzing the Jewish situation in the ghetto and the forest, remembering his ties to the Jewish masses, he decided he devoted his efforts to the fight against the German occupant, however his energy and talents were given to the Jewish partisan groups helping them obtain a dignified position.
He then decided to secretly go over to Kaplinsky's group but he did not want to go with empty hands. He wanted to bring all the ammunition he had hidden.
The Christian partisans from his group learned about this as well as the subsequent leader, Commander Petiye Makorov, for who Khadzietsky was like a thorn in his side. Makorov and a group of anti- Semites decided to get rid of their Jewish commander. Commander Khadzietsky had a devoted adjutant, Leonke, who never parted from him and stood beside him until the last day like iron and steel.
Petiye Makorov and his comrades decided to kill Khavdzievsky and his adjutant. In order not to have any witnesses they invited him on a walk in the nearby village, and riding there on horses they shot Khadzievsky and Leonke in the back with an automatic gun and buried them in the marshes.
The shameful murderers later defended their actions saying Khadzietsky wanted to betray them and wanted to go over to the Jews and give them all the weapons.
The truth was, it was a power struggle.
The crime was kept secret and even after liberation Petiye Makorov was not held responsible.
This is how one of the creators of the partisan group in Lipitchansk forest was killed. This man could have achieved so much more in the fight against the German fascists. His character must be eternalized as a partisan commander who brought the Jews a lot of honour.
Sholem Busel of blessed memory
Sholem Busel was born in Zhetl. He was a locksmith by profession. While in the ghetto he was the first one ready to join the partisans in order tot take revenge on the German murderers.
He was very helpful to the Zhetl underground organization. He stored the collected weapons in his cellar and was always busy polishing and repairing the weapons. He had his own pistol which was more precious to him than anything else thinking he could take revenge with it.
During the second slaughter, together with Shepsl, Frenkl and Kantorovitch, with the revolver in his hand, he broke through the first and second barriers and died heroically at the third. The Germans paid dearly for his life.
Yosef Bushlin of blessed memory
Yosef Bushlin, the son of a Zhetl blacksmith was born in 1923. He was of middle height with a solid build, a blacksmith by profession. He came to the forest from the Novogrudek ghetto with his father and brother. They joined Hirshl Kaplinsky's Jewish group. His father and brother settled into the family group, and later in the third company of the Orliansky detachment. He participated in many operations and diversion assignments.
Together with a group of 25 he left for the east in 1943, later in Ordzhenikidze. He displayed great bravery in battles with the White Poles and received government distinction for ambushes against the German and Ukrainian police not far from Hute Shklame (in the Lida region), and a second distinction for the battle with the White Poles in Dokudova (Lida region).
Ruven Berkovsky of blessed memory
Ruven Berkovsly arrived in August 1942 from the Zhetl ghetto. He was 35 years old. He worked as a cutter of shoe leather, first in the Jewish company and later in the general detachment. He also took part in battles with a weapon in hand. He helped to make sure the Jewish partisans did not go barefoot.
He was killed before liberation during the last raid in 1944. When the entire ghetto was blocked a group of partisans decided to tear through the blockade. A group of 25 which did not succeed get away were besieged by the enemy and a few were captured alive by the Germans, including Ruven Berkovsky. They brought him to Zhetl and shot him one day before the arrival of the Red Army.
Mayrim Dvoretzky was born in Zhetl in 1914. He came to the forest from the Zhetl ghetto in August 1942 and was killed in February 1943 on his way to carry out an economic assignment for the detachment as the first sergeant of the division.
He was killed under the following circumstances: He was in the village Romanovitch (Zhetl region) with Yoyne Brestovitsky, Moishe Mankovitch and Soreh Alpert who belonged to the family groups. They were sitting in a peasant's house and talking to three partisans from the bandit like neighbouring detachment (Lida detachment). Suddenly, the Lida partisans took their revolvers out of their pockets, aimed them at their heads and demanded they hand over their weapons and go outside to the street. Once outside on the street they opened fire where Mayrim Dvoretzky was first seriously wounded and then killed.
Moishe Mankovitch was wounded in his hand and managed to escape under a hail of bullets. Mrs. Alpert was dragged, raped, shot and thrown into a hole filled with potatoes. The murderers were Kolke the bandit and Vanke the bandit.
The Russian commanders and Captain Sinitchkin knew very well who the murderers were, but they did not take any measures against them. There is one witness of this incident still alive today: the partisan Moishe Mankovitch who remained an invalid his whole life.
Dvoretzky participated in many battles as first sergeant. He was very diligent, disciplined and provided the partisans with all necessities. They brought him from the village Romanovitch and buried him near the Ludzhitch lighthouse, with a military salute.
Alter Dvoretzky of blessed memory
Alter Dvoretzky was born in 1906 in Zhetl. He was the son of well off parents. At a young age he graduated from high school in Grodno and in 1922 went to Germany to study in a polytechnic institute. During years of great inflation he had to stop studying due to financial reasons. He quit his studies and returned to Poland.
He entered a Polish high school, completed his matriculation and tried to get accepted to medicine, but because he was a Jew, he was not accepted. He spent one year auditing courses at Warsaw University. However this did not satisfy him so he went to Vilna to study law.
This is where he began to show interest in communal work. He joined the Zionist Socialist association at the student union. Soon he was in the top ranks of the Zionist association, giving lectures and getting involved in broader political work. He was loved by his friends.
During his vacation he would come to Zhetl and carry out diversified work for the Labour Zionists, organizing various cultural events, communal trials, where he would appear as the accuser or the defense. He possessed rare talents, was very smart, intelligent and was loved even by his opponents. He was interested in everyone and everything. He was interested in sports, and believed in the expression that only a healthy body could have a healthy spirit. He organized a sports team, a football (soccer) team and participated himself. He was considered one of the best athletes among the youth in Zhetl.
I will now break an old conception of small town Jews, that believe that sports are not appropriated for grown ups, especially a student who will soon be a lawyer he would say.
His university studies proved to be very difficult due to great anti- Semitic tendencies which dominated the professors at Vilna University. They tried through all possible means to make things as difficult as possible for Jewish students in order to reduce the amount of Jewish lawyers. However, he persevered and a after a few years receive the title Master's of Law. But this is when his real suffering began. He could not earn a living and had to undergo a difficult path to get clients and practice law.
At this time he married and had a little son. His parents were impoverished and he had to try to get by. He did not lose his courage or energy. He continued to work, becoming a court intern and at the same time, was active in the party where he devoted a lot of time, energy and love. After many long difficult years he finally, on the eve of the fall of the Polish state, received the title of lawyer.
The year 1939 brought upheaval. The Soviets arrive. He must now, as a political activist with Zionist tones, only involve himself in his professional work. He quickly became one of the most beloved and talented lawyers in the Baranovitch region.
However, this did not last long, only until the arrival of the German hordes. When they had to, in these dark bitter times choose a representative from the Zhetl Jewish community, he was chosen as the chairman of the so called Judenrat (Jewish Council). He displayed exceptional organizational talents and did the job keeping the Jewish youth in mind. The clever, farsighted Alter Dvoretzky foresaw, this was the devil's game and not the way to save Jewish lives and Jewish honour.
He had the idea to organize the Jewish youth in the ghetto to fight. His idea was to collect weapons and prepare the Jewish youth to go the forest as an armed force to take revenge on the German executioners and to save those who could not fight.
His idea was grandiose. He was not only thinking about the youth from Zhetl, but all the Jewish youth from surrounding towns. To achieve this goal he secretly organized a partisan headquarters in the Zhetl ghetto. He led this work in incredibly difficult conditions having to deal with opposition from many Jews who were afraid to call the bear from the forest. He understood, in any case, what he needed to do. Therefore, disregarding everyone, carried out his holy work, risking his life at every minute. While in the ghetto and having contact with the Germans, he was always armed with an automatic pistol, so he could, at the appropriate moment, take revenge on a fascist murderer. For details about his secret work, the partisan headquarters and his heroic death, you can read about it in the section about the History of Zhetl in the article about the underground movement.
Aron Haydukivsky of blessed memory
Aron Haydukovsky was born in 1928 in Zhetl. He came to the forest from the Zhetl ghetto
in August, 1942. He had a brother in the same detachment and his father, sister and another brother in the family group. He was short, had an athletic build and black hair, somewhat myopic. He was very cheerful.
He was killed in January 1944 in a village across from Golub on the right side of the Nieman, walking with his friend Shloymele Itzkovitch with a mine to blow up the train tracks.
He was one of the brave partisans, participated in all battles and ambushes. He had a kind heart for the family groups always felt the responsibility to support them, even though it was dangerous to remove himself from the detachment. He was buried together with his friend Itzkovitch near the lighthouse, in the partisan cemetery, near the farmhouse of the peasant Matzukevitch.
Yehoshua Haydukovsky of blessed memory
Yehoshua Haydukovsky was born in Zhetl in 1906. He came to the forest in August 1942. He lost a wife and two children in the ghetto. He was a leather cutter by profession. He was killed carrying out an act of revenge on a police family in the village Trikhotky near Ruda Yavarsky under the following circumstances:
When the partisans started shooting, someone from the police family ran through the door where Haydukovsky was standing. His friend who opened fire on the escapee accidentally hit Haydukovsky who died on the spot. They brought him to the detachment and buried him in the partisan cemetery near the lighthouse not far from Matzukevitch's farm.
Ruven Khlebnik of blessed memory
Ruven Khlebnik was born in Zhetl in 1915. He was a Yeshiva student. He arrived in the forest from the Zhetl ghetto on August 1942. He belonged to Kaplinsky's group and participated in a few battles until the second raid in 1943.
During the spring raid he was left in Baylsky's family group because he did not have a good gun. Later, when a group of 25 Jewish partisans escaped from Barba in the Nolibok forest, they took him with them and he joined the Ordzhenikidzhe detachment, Kiravkse brigade, which was active in the Lida region.
After liberation he left for the front. He was wounded twice and met his heroic death fighting the German executioners. His place of burial is unknown.
Leyzer Leybovitch of blessed memory
Leyzer Leybovitch was from Zhetl (Tcherne the miller's grandchild). He arrived in the forest from the Zhetl ghetto after the second slaughter and joined Kaplinsky's Jewish group. Although he was just a boy of 16-17 he was among the talented fighters, participating in a few battles and ambushes. Together with the 25 who escaped from Barba he joined the Ordzhenikidzhe detachment and was later killed on the front near Warsaw.
Mendl Mankovitch of blessed memory
Mendl Mankovitch was born in 1922 in Zhetl. He arrived from Zhetl ghetto in August 1942 and died from typhus in March 1943. The great typhus epidemic broke out during the large raid in December 1942. Due to the difficult sanitary conditions people had to live in, there were many victims.
He participated in all the battles and ambushes until he got sick. He was very brave and courageous and excelled in cold blooded attacks. He took upon himself all the difficult spying operations even when they were extremely dangerous. He was not afraid and completed all of his tasks. As a partisan and comrade he was disciplined and devoted. He was buried on the hill near the partisan hospital.
Yoyne Medvedsky of blessed memory
Yoyne Medvedsky was born in 1918 in Zhetl. He belonged to the secret partisan movement in the Zhetl ghetto. He helped to collect weapons in the ghetto and stored them in his cellar. He was sent a few times as a messenger from the ghetto to the forest to Alter Dvoretzky. In the end he was captured in the slaughter in Zhetl at which time he was sent with another 200 workers to the camp in Novogrudek.
He escaped from Novogudek and in August 1942 came to the forest and joined the Jewish group. For a long time he was commander of the division. Later, when Kaplinsky's group united with the Christian partisans, he remained division commander.
He participated in all the battles and ambushes in the forest. He excelled in battle, collected weapons for the detachment and in the first half of 1943 was sent with many others to the Lenin Detachment. There, he was among the outstanding partisans. Four blown up echelons can be attributed to him.
At the end of 1943 he moved to the newly created Red Guard Detachment, where he remained until liberation. In this detachment he partook in two great battles against the Germans, and two train explosions and a difficult battle against the White Polish bandits at the Nieman, near the village Stukali (Zhalud Region). The battle lasted two hours. In the interim they destroyed the boat he used to cross the Nieman and he fell into the river. Barely alive, he managed to save himself and return to his detachment.
After liberation, he went with the entire unit to the front. He fought at Volkovisk, Lomzha, Zambrov, and Ostralenka. It was there he was wounded. Once he recovered he was wounded again, sent to hospital and provisionally released. He settled in the town of Bialo Podloska with his wife (Sholem Pialun's sister) who had also been a partisan the entire time.
He died under the following circumstances:
Travelling by train, he was attacked at the station near Mezritch by Polish reactionaries and shot. At the same time a Jewish girl was also shot and a Jewish boy was severely wounded. This was in 1945. He was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Mezritch.
After experiencing so many battles, this is how one of the bravest partisans died.
Yitzkhak Sovitsky of blessed memory
Ytzkhak Sovitsky was born in 1914 in Zhetl. He arrived in the forest from the Zhetl ghetto in August 1942. He was short with blond hair and full of life. He was a house painter by profession and was killed under the following circumstances:
During the attack on the garrison in Aruda Yavarska at the end of March 1944 he was accused of retreating too quickly from the battle and as a result of a command from the commanders of the Lenin detachment, he was shot.
The commanders, with the anti-Semitic commander Volentin were not successful in the battle. According to their plan they were supposed to liquidate the entire garrison, however due to poor organization they only succeeded in destroying one bunker and 80 men were taken prisoner.
There were many losses among the partisans. Six partisans were killed who were sent to destroy the German bunker with grenades. Included among the dead were: Shloyme Shifmanovitch, Yerakhmiel Likhter and Bekenshteyn from Deretchin.
Volentin, wanting to wipe away the failure and find a scapegoat to blame, took advantage of the moment and killed Itche Sovitsky, accusing him of retreating too quickly. He was buried in the forest not far from the village Ruda Lipitchanska.
As a partisan in the Barba detachment, in November 1942 with a group of friends: Nosn Funt, Shaknovitch Yehoshua and others, he went to the Lida ghetto and brought 10 men, including Dr. Miesnik and his family who was our head surgeon and performed many complicated operations in extraordinarily difficult and primitive conditions. The famous partisan Borukh Levin also arrived with them.
Shaul Sovitzky of blessed memory
Shaul Sovitsky was born in 1917 in Zhetl. He arrived in Novogrudek labour camp in September 1942. He fell victim to anti Semitism during the first raid.
During the large, terrifying winter raid, the partisan split. In the freezing cold and snow they were without shoes and socks. On his way to an economic operation, Sovitsky took a pair of boots from a peasant who was a German collaborator. He put them on right away and left his old pair for the peasant to repair. The commanders used this opportunity to kill another Jewish partisan while raising the level of discipline among the partisans. In accordance with a command by commander Sinitchkin, he was sentenced to death.
The verdict was supposed to be carried out by the commander of the detachment Kolya Vakhanin and the official at the time Vorotilo and his assistant Grishko Kozak. However the condemned managed to escape before the sentence was carried out under the following circumstances:
He asked if his death sentence could be replaced by dangerous diversion work, but they refused. They searched him and found a gun hidden under his belt. They suspected he was planning to attack them. Sovitsky once again asked commander Kolya to change his punishment, and when he once again received a negative response he requested a final wish before he died: a smoke. They permitted it and taking advantage of the moment, he escaped.
They began to hunt him down. Participating in the hunt were Grishko Kozak and Misha Kretov. He was wounded in the chase, and from the blood stains in the snow, they found him in the family group in Ludzhitch forest at Berl Yokhe's from Zhetl.
Grishko Kozak demanded he come out of the tent. If not he would throw a grenade and kill all the others who were in there. Not wanting innocent people to be killed because of him he came out and took off the boots. His last request was they give the boots to his wife. He said goodbye to all the Jews, lay down in the snow with his face down and the bandit Grishko Kozak carried out his sentence. Sadly, he struggled for a long time with death. The murderer took the boots for himself.
In the detachment he carried out his duties as a good machine gunner, took part in many battles, ambushes and diversion assignments, was a disciplined comrade and was killed due to the anti Semitism of the enemy. He was buried near the lighthouse in Ludzhitch.
Hirshl Patzovsky of blessed memory
Hirshl Patzovsky was born on October 30th, 1915 in Zhetl. He died fighting in Nolibok forest on July 9th 1944 and was buried the same day in a communal grave in Bielsky's detachment.
He was one of the working boys who after a day of hard work spent the late hours reading books to deepen their knowledge.
At a young age he lost his mother and looked for comfort in communal work. He was a member of Hashomer Hatzair. Later, he connected his fate with the socialist movement and became active in the professional activity in Zhetl.
In 1937 he was arrested as a member of the board of the Building Union and was sent to jail in Novogrudek.
After his release he was mobilized to the Polish army.
During the Polish German war in 1939, he fought near the Prussian border and later was one of the defenders of Warsaw. On the 28th of September, 1939, when Warsaw capitulated, he was taken prisoner by the Germans.
Later, when the Soviet army liberated western White Russia and the Ukraine, he returned home. On August 6th, 1942, when Zhetl became rid of Jews, he was sent, together with 150 Jews to the Novogrudek ghetto workshops.
He suffered from hunger and beatings. He became sick, swollen and began spitting up blood. This is when the grandiose plan was made to build a tunnel. He was one of the 235 to escape from the tunnel.
After much wandering he arrived in Bielsky's detachment. He suffered both morally and physically, due to the great contrast in living standards of people. They knew in the detachment he was a carpenter, and not a bad one. He harnessed all his energy and built tents, actually palaces, a theatre, workshops, the headquarters, the sausage department, the bakery and tent after tent.
From time to time he left on operations. His comrades could not praise his boldness high enough. Often when he was standing ready with his gun prepared to leave, headquarters would stop him from going as something needed to be built. When the German defeat was approaching he was sent with others to guard the nearby airfield and roads. His group fought the Germans. During an outing they met the Red Army.
On July 9th 1944 he was sent with his group to guard the headquarters. At dawn a German division attacked the camp. A Russian major led a group of partisans shouting hurrah against the enemy. A battle ensued. Shamefully, many armed men from the Bielsky detachment ran away, together with the women and the elderly. Those who remained fought an uneven battle. Among those who fell were Hisrshl Patzovsky. He had a terrible death. His stomach was completely torn open and one eye was shot out.
It is hard to know what he was thinking during the final minutes of his life. Perhaps he had grievances against his fate, which delivered the harshest punishment, being killed on the day of liberation. Or maybe during his horrible dying pains he found the strength to understand that he witnessed with his own eyes the power of the Red Army liberating the regions.
Who knows? This is a secret he took with him to his grave.
Peysakh and Zaydl Finkelshteyn of blessed memory
Peysakh Finkeslshteyn was a carpenter in Zhetl and belonged to Alter Dvoretzky's secret
partisan movement. He was also with Alter Dvoretzky in the forest. He spent three weeks in the forest and then was ordered by Alter Dvoretzky to return to the Zhetl ghetto with Yoyne Medvedsky, to take out the rest of the people. However, he remained in the ghetto unable to carry out his assignment and was killed in the second slaughter, August 8th, 1942.
His brother Zaydl spent more than two years in the Orliansky detachment. After liberation he joined the Red army and fell in battle against the Germans.
Alter Kogan of blessed memory
Alter Kogan, the son of the Zhetl cantor was born in Zhetl in 1923. After he lost his family he escaped to the forest with the first partisans of Kaplinsky's group (August 1942). He was always in the first ranks, in battles, ambushes and planting mines on train tracks. He was very bold, brave in battle and cold blooded in the most difficult moments. He belonged to the first Jewish company of the Oriliansky detachment.
Unable to withstand the horrible anti Semitism, he left with a group of 25 men to Nolibok forest. First he joined Bielsky's detachment and after the newly created Ordzhenikisde detachment. He took part in many battles and diversion work.
Hirshl Kaplinsky of blessed memory
Hirshl Kaplinsky was born in Zhetl in 1910. His parents made and effort to give their only child a good education. Due to the worsening of their economic situation, Hirshl left his studies at the Tarbut High School in Lida and returned to Zhetl.
In 1927 he founded the Hashomer Hatzair in Zhetl and was the leader until 1932 when he was called up for military service.
He displayed many educational and organizational talents and his influence was felt throughout the movement. He held an important place in Zionist work in town in general and particularly in the Tarbut School, where he was secretary from the founding of the school until it was liquidated by the Soviets.
With a strong character and filled with wisdom he always found a way to influence the youth.
During the last action in the ghetto he escaped from the gathering point at the old cemetery together with 50 other young people, who organized themselves at the last minute, under the slaughter knife of the bandits. He arrived with them to the forest and it was obvious Hirshl Kaplinsky would lead the Jewish partisan groups that were organizing in Lipitchansk forest.
The qualities he excelled with in Hashomer Hatzair and in his communal activity in town served him well in his fight with the Nazi murderers. His military experience helped him to organize diversion operations for the partisan groups. Within a short time attacks were carried out with great success.
During the large raid against the partisans in Lipitchansk forest he headed the partisan division at the Shtchare and pushed back the enemy's attack. That same evening, he went out with a friend on a spy mission looking for a way to make contact with headquarters. As they walked, they stumbled across a German ambush. After a short struggle his friend was killed and Hirshl was wounded. With his last bit of strength he crawled to a partisan group. As he approached them he was met by the traitorous Russian partisans who shot him and he died on the spot.
Hirshl Kaplinsky did not manage to realize his aspiration of going to the Land of Israel. He died a hero, fighting for Jewish honour and for Jewish existence.
Hirshl Robetz of blessed memory
Hirshl Robetz was born in Zhetl in 1919. He arrived in the forest in August 1942. On the 3rd of September 1943 during an uneven attack by Germans on their post, he was killed and brought for burial not far from our partisan camp, 4 kilometres from the village Ruda Lipitchanska (Zhetl region). He partook in many battles and ambushes.
The Sisters Frumeh and Sonia Shilovitsky of blessed memory
The two sisters, Frumeh and Sonia Shilovitsky hid in a cellar and later came to the forest with their brothers Ezriel and Yisroel. At first they were with Kaplinsky and later in the Orliansky detachment. Frumeh Shilovitsky worked as a cook.
They were both killed during the large raid in December 1942 under the following circumstances:
During the raid, running toward Karshuk's farmhouse, they fell upon a German ambush and were both killed. Right after the raid their bodies were found and buried in the forest, not far from Karshuk's (near the Lipitchansk forests). Their father and mother died in the forest from hunger and hardship.
by Tzila Zernitzky Yoselevsky (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Oy, oy, oy, Kokes and Shakhmaniyes
Oy, oy, oy, have pity on them.
They walk around like chickens without a rooster
And they have nothing to do.
The first anti partisan division goes on assignment
The third rides on horses.
The third builds tents,
And the first sleeps with his mistress.
Characteristic of the forest, the lines above were written by an unknown poet…
Today, when the noise of weapons has been silenced, when trenches are even with the ground, graves are grown over and life calls, we read these lines with a smile and contempt.
However, at the time, this song had deep meaning where anger was expressed as well as the embitterment of the forest society. At the time, this song was sung by all the partisans, some triumphantly with laughter while for others, it was their last song…
When describing the chapter on partisans and their heroism it is worthwhile to remember a little about the mutual attitudes of the forest people.
The words Kokes and Shakhmaniyes date from approximately the end of 1942. Within the armed elements as well as the family groups there was class distinction.
It is tragic, but unfortunately true. What is even more painful is the fact, that after the shared dark past, when people lost everyone and everything they had, and lineage, honour and dignity were buried in one mass grave, they continued in the forest to distinguish between better and worse off people.
From the beginning this had more a physical character. The younger elements found it easier to find solutions and cope under these new conditions.
In the family groups this was understandable. The groups consisted of various people: young and old, those alone or with families,the rich, and those who were fed themselves by scrounging in the surrounding villages. Lifestyles divided the forest society into regions, where the rich and poor lived separately. For example: the poor lived in Nakrishok and Luditch forests and near the lighthouse. They were tattered, barefoot, and hungry. Even a relative, an armed partisan, would avoid going there because what pleasures awaited him there after a difficult task, except for cold, hunger, complaints and emaciated distressed girls. However, the Germans would often go there and put and end to their pain and suffering.
On the other hand, in the heart of the forest, closer to the detachments, in Grafsk and Demianovetz forests, lived the rich, the better ones, the higher sphere of society. The people that lived here were the ones who managed to escape with money or their hidden belongings, or even did some business. One of their tents was called Handwork and Culture. They had a much better existence in the forest.
These two classes were distinguishable outwardly and inwardly. During the freezing cold winter and in the summer when the forest smelled nice and beckoned life, you could see people walking on the forest paths and immediately notice which class they belonged to.
In fact, on these paths you could meet a boy swollen from hunger with his feet wrapped in rags, an older person bent over, a despondent broken shadow of a man, formerly a successful businessman, but now lonely, neglected and disappointed. You would also see pale, withering young girls.
They would come face to face with healthy, fresh people filled with life and hope, well fed children and well dressed clean, glowing, charming young girls.
Members of the better class would look cynically at the pitiful poor. How great was the resentment and bitterness of the poor man, when not long ago, he was among the better off. But the city and its past were far away.
Here, all the inhabitants of the forest met on the narrow plodded through paths where a variety of emotions, joy and tears were absorbed. A drop of blood would fall there from a wounded
or dead partisan whose comrades carried back from battle to the camp. There you would also hear the ringing of triumphant songs when partisans would return after a victory against the enemy.
It was in this camp, within the fighting groups, that the above mentioned song was born: Kokes and Shakhmaniyes.
There, in antithesis to the family groups, the concept of money did not exist. Rich and poor did not exist. Here, everyone paid a dear price, selling their lives to the enemy. If in the family camps they fought to survive, here there was a bitter bloody fight with death.
Despite this, here as well, on the surface, there were two classes: one, the better and privileged, the second, the lower and ignored: the so called Kokes and Shakhmaniyes. Here, as in the family groups, common sense and talent played a role. The first candidates were the remnants, those who remained from the underground in the ghetto (some came with weapons). The rest began to concentrate around them. Those who had a chance to join the detachment were the ones with weapons, those who had served as soldiers and had military experience, and those who were recommended, or better said, had connections.
The situation was more difficult for young boys and even worse for young girls who hadn't yet, or were unable to adapt to these new surroundings.
If such a boy succeeded in entering the detachment through a friend or broke through a barrier, his following journey was marked by great moral and physical suffering.
Due to a shortage of weapons, such a boy would have to remain doing unskilled work, chopping wood for the kitchen, fetching water, harnessing and unharnessing the horses, building tents and often endure the whims of the higher authorities. Standing guard duty was a great achievement.
They did not take these boys to ambushes where you could take the weapons from a fallen German, as these weapons were distributed among the Experienced.
Of course, they were not very hopeful about worming out of this situation. Very often you would see one of these water carriers or wood choppers wearing two different boots or torn shoes and a greasy jacket that an Experienced guy would give him when he received a new one, as these items would disintegrate from age and filth and such a poor item would be mocked and humiliated. All of this impacted him morally and the boy would become resigned, apathetic and discredited by others and himself and would continue to drop lower and lower.
It is worthwhile to point out, the majority of these boys who only recently left their mother's supervision and whose understanding of life came from books and stories, were disappointed with the cruel reality they had to experience in this difficult crisis. Many of them were jealous of the Experienced. Not of their boots or their warm fur pelts or even success with the weaker sex, but their guns, the only key for revenge.
The best fact was, that after the reorganization of the detachments, with the influx of weapons and good commanders, the majority of Kokes and Shakhmanyies comprised a large amount of the heroic fighters. Like many of the Experienced, many of them ended up taking credit for blowing up bridges and killing Hitlerites.
One question remains: who bears the blame and responsibility?
The anarchy created at the beginning?
The Koke and Shakhmaniye himself?
Or the disdain of their commanders?
The Zhetl partisans and the Red Army who fought, took revenge and died in battle with Hitler's murderers.
by Lizeh Kaplinsky (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Once again there were rumours about raids and again there were difficult days. There was nowhere to hide. The forest was once again crowded. Every day we searched for a new hiding place.
The mood was stressful. After long searches our architects Zhamke Fin and Aron Leyb Kovensky went to build a new cave. They found a nice dense forest of nut trees near the river.
A few days later we moved to this summer residence. It was difficult going from one forest to another. However we organized ourselves well at the new place. Everyone had his own bunk. This was the greatest comfort in the forest.
It was already very warm. The forest was blooming but something gnawed at us, things were not calm. It continued like this for a few weeks until the large raid began. It flared up in all corners of the forest.
One day we saw Jews running through the forest with packs on their backs shouting:
The Germans are already in Demianovtze. This was a nearby village. We were all confused. What were we to do? We immediately began to hide and bury our potatoes.
It was noisy. Everyone was running not knowing where to go. We understood the raid was serious and it hung over our heads like black cloud.
However, thanks to our brave partisans, we were able to finish building our caves under heavy fire. The women buried themselves underground. Each one of us had a few black crackers.
The situation in the forest was becoming worse by the minute. Jews were flying from one end of the forest to another. Jews came to us frightened, with red sweaty faces, disheveled, with packs on their backs asking:
Where should we go? Where can we hide? It was not long before the cave was ready. We received news that the forest was under siege. We heard them shooting up the forest. People were panicking.
We were 22 people underground, without air. It was so suffocating, we sat with our mouths open. We breathed like stuffed geese. No one dared to speak. It seemed we would be captured at any moment. The air became more dense and hotter. We undressed down to our underwear. Our bodies were wet. When someone touched another person he was disgusted.
We suffered in this underground hole for an entire month. There was no possibility to see daylight. This happened to be the nicest time of year. Red berries were blooming as if there was no shooting. It felt like the earth was splitting and the sky was falling.
The enemy surrounded us from all sides. We were desperate. The hunger was great and we were only able to breathe fresh air at night.
As soon as it became light, they sent us back into the cave. No one wanted to return to this live grave and the horrible stench. It was dark, low and we had to crawl on all fours.
As soon as we went down into the cave we were overcome by the heat. Mosquitos drank our blood.
We were prematurely dried up, our eyes were dark and our faces jaundiced. The cave sucked out all the colours from us. We slept all day due to hunger and weakness.
We received horrible news. We envied the dead. We lay underground covered with lice and filth. As we lay there we suddenly heard Russian. We all froze. There was a dead silence in the cave. There was no pulse.
These were the collaborators. They were walking on top of our cave. Each one of us awaited death. We thought they would throw grenades into the cave. They disturbed our cover and shot a bit of food under the bushes.
For a long time we were afraid to come out of the cave. We feared they were waiting for us under every bush. After this experience we
felt dejected. Are we animals being ambushed?
We did not believe we would be freed from this darkness, from life in the forest and that a day would come when we would stand under the sky and look at the sun.
One day, as we were sitting in the cave we heard movement not too far away. We made an effort to listen.
What could this be? Everyone said their own prayer and thought about death. Suddenly a few people stuck their heads out. They had a good premonition. They began to dig: they saw the partisan Senka Payte. He shared the good news with us:
The Red Army is here! The first partisan detachment marched in and freed us from the German, bloody criminals!
Two of our friends went closer to the partisans, not believing their luck. The partisans shouted:
You are freed! The two boys ran breathless to the cave and announced:
The Red Army is here, come out!
We all froze. We wanted to break down the wall, the door seemed too narrow.
Finally we left our dark graves and were freed. We could not believe the day arrived that we could move freely and visit our loved ones who were tortured.
From the forest to our home was the second tragedy. We gathered our forest remnants and began to walk to our destroyed town.
We walked all night, about 22 kilometres. The road was difficult. At six o'clock in the morning we arrived at our old home after two years of living underground in the forest.
The town was unrecognizable. More than half was burned. Everything was covered with wild grass. The rest of the houses were in ruins. Windows were torn out. The houses without doors appeared orphaned. The Christians looked at us in astonishment as if we had returned from the afterlife.
We made our first visit to those tortured in the Krufish forest. We went to the large graves. Heart rending screams tore from our hearts:
Father! Mother! Darling children! Beloved brother!…
Unfortunately our screams were futile.
There were human bones strewn on the graves. Beside them a dried out skull. I looked at it. It gave witness to our great Jewish tragedy.
While we were in the forest banished from everything, we never even thought that we, small, weak people would resist the powerful bloody Hitler, may his name be blotted out, and we as free people would arrive in our own Land of Israel.
by Soreh Ovseyevitch (Holon)
Translated by Janie Respitz
We had already been in the forest for 22 months. It seemed like an eternity, it felt like we never had a home and that we were born in the forest. The rustle of the trees was our lullaby, our beds, the hard planks of wood and our home, a hut made of wood. Beside the hut was a shallow pit, this was the well from which we drew water to cook and wash.
The days in the forest drag on. We do not see the end. The night, our saviour, does not want to come. The night is our day. That is when we rested our broken bones and stressed nerves. At night we were able to move a bit and were sure there would not be an attack.
According to the latest news, the Red Army was attacking on all fronts. The Germans were retreating and the front was getting closer to us. Now the will to survive was stronger, to live to see the German defeat.
Meanwhile our lives were in danger. The Russian People's Army that collaborated with the Germans under general Kaminsky, was in Zhetl.
We prepared every day for a raid. We built caves. We carried heavy bags of sand far into the forest in order not to leave tracks of freshly dug earth. We built our hiding place but we begin to doubt:
Is it not visible and is it covered? Perhaps we should begin to build another one somewhere else?
We did not have to wait long. The raid began on June 7th, 1944. In our cave were Khane Gertzovsky, Lusik, Khane Volotinsky, Feyvl Kalbshteyn and Gruniye from Novogrudek. When we entered the cave no one believed we would ever come out. It was damp and the walls were covered with thick mold.
The door to the cave was closed all day because the Russian collaborators walked around the forest all day. Every rustle of the trees sounded like footsteps.
We waited impatiently for nightfall. At night, we would quickly cook, wash and prepare for the following day. We had very little water. It was very hot and the wells dried up.
One day, when we returned to the cave I was carrying a small pot of food. We stopped, not far from the cave, to gather a few branches and leaves to cover up our footprints. When I put my pot down a bit of the food spilled out. After walking a bit further I thought that the next day when the Germans walked by these traces could lead them to the cave.
I told this to Khane Gertzovsky quietly. We decided to go back. With our hands we raked the ground and wiped away the signs of the spilled soup. I was still unsure if there were traces. Sitting in the cave I thought fearfully that if we were found everyone would be killed because of me. I was very happy when night fell again.
There was another cave not far from ours where Dvoyreke Gorodaysky was. Once, during the day when it was quiet and we were sure no one was near she came to our cave. She wanted to smoke a cigarette and did not have a light. The door to our cave was open and we were all dozing. As soon as Dvoyreke was inside we heard shouting from horse riders. Dvoyreke quickly closed the opening to our cave.
The riders rode over our heads. We heard them talking. We all held our breath. Nothing scared us more than being captured alive. Now, as the day of liberation was nearing, we heard sounds from the front, precisely now, our lives were in danger!
The day does not end. Every minute feels like an eternity. It was as if the earth stopped spinning on its axis and night would never come. Finally it was night. We breathed a little easier. Another day of fear and torture had passed.
July 7th, 1944. Like every other day we crawled back into our lair at dawn. It did not take long before we heard shouting. We trembled:
Nu, this is surely our end. The murderers are above our heads and we will be captured. To our great astonishment we heard the voice of Hirshl Kaplinsky who told us all to crawl out. Hirshl told us divisions of the Red Army were already in the forest.
No one could believe this. We thought he had simply gone mad, or that it was a dream. Had our hour of liberation actually arrived?
We decided we must leave the forest as quickly as possible because Germans who had been hiding from the attacking Russians could suddenly appear.
Our group consisted of: me, Khane Gertzovsky, Notteh Sokolovsky, Shifra Shabokovsky, Feyvl Kalbshteyn, Lizeh and her daughter Mireh Rozovsky. We walked slowly and did not say a word. Everyone was deep in their own thoughts. Rows of soldiers passed us but we did not see them. We were still afraid the soldiers would attack and shoot us on the spot. We could hardly believe we were walking freely on the road toward Zhetl. The Christians stood in front of their houses looking at us, overgrown and tattered.
Where exactly were we going? Home?
Now everyone realized our home no longer exists. All our dear and beloved had been killed before we left for the forest.
We were two kilometres from town. We could see the top of the church. Instinctively we slowed down our pace. Someone suggested we rest a bit. Everyone agreed as we all wanted to delay the moment we actually entered town and stood before the bitter truth.
We sat for a long time. No one dared say: Let's go.
How good would it have been if I could have heard my mother's kind words, if I could have found a lap upon which to lay my head and have a good cry.
We picked ourselves up and continued our walk. We looked toward the graves, the only thing that remained.
by Hindke Mirsky (Montreal)
Translated by Janie Respitz
This took place on July 16th 1944. The last commander of the Barba detachment, Ilya Glazkov, gathered all the partisans and marched with them to Zhetl. He left a few sick partisans in the forest together with: Dr. Rakover and his wife Manye, Alter Orlinsky (The Mother), Moteh Zakraysky, Mayshek Mirsky, Yenkl and his wife, Vanye and me. After feeding the sick I went to pick berries, meeting many Red Army soldiers on the way.
The day was sunny and calm. After lunch Dr. Rakover went out for a walk. Mayshke MIrsky, Manye Rakover and Moteh Zakraysky remained in Misha Krestov's tent. I remained with Yenkl's wife sitting with the patients in another tent. Alter and Vanye were in the bakery.
Suddenly we heard loud shooting from machine guns. When I looked out the door I saw Dr. Rakover running without a hat shouting:
Save yourselves. The Germans are in the camp!
We all ran, leaving one patient behind who could not be moved. The shooting was vigorous, bullets flew over us. While running, Yenkl was wounded in his foot but he continued running until we arrived at the swamp at Golubi Rashtshe, from which we barely pulled ourselves out.
In the evening we arrived in the village of Golubi trembling over the fate of those who remained in the forest. Later we learned those who remained did not leave the tent. Upon hearing the shooting only Moteh Zakraysky ran out and was shot on the spot.
Mayshke Mirsky and Manye Rakover pushed the guns through the door and began to shoot. The Germans, thinking they were partisans, threw a hand grenade on the tent which luckily did not explode and they quickly retreated. In the village of Golubi we asked for help to bring the patients and the others that remained in the forest. We needed a lot of intervention to get some people from Davidov's or Severnem's military groups. Some of them promised to help in the morning. Having no other recourse we went into a peasant's house, bandaged Yenkl's foot and decided to wait until morning.
I will never forget that night. We cried for our dear ones, quite sure the Germans had murdered them.
To our great surprise the door suddenly opened and Sonia (translator's note: previously referred to as Manye) and Mayshke Mirsky came in. They shared with us the sad news about Moteh's death.
In the morning we all returned to the camp where we buried Moteh, took the patients and left the forest.
This is how our year long partisan life in the forest ended.
On the way to Zhetl, not far from the village Demyanovetze we once again met Germans, but now they were being led by the Red Army soldiers. They gave us the privilege to take them to Zhetl. We, 6 Jews led 8 Germans to Zhetl. How pathetic they all looked. Watching us, they tried to figure out what we would do with them. When we told them we were Jews they began to cry and beg for mercy.
Many Red Army soldiers approached us. They asked where we were taking the Germans. When they heard our answer, that we were taking them to Zhetl, they laughed.
Why should you drag them with you, give them to us at our expense.
We happily handed them over ignoring their pitiful faces which begged for protection from Jews
With broken hearts, crying eyes and deep sorrow we entered the ruined and massacred Zhetl.
by Khaim Sovitsky
Translated by Janie Respitz
On July 1st, 1944 the blockade in the Lipitchansk forest ended. Tired and hungry we returned to our camp.
We received information that the Red Army was close. We received a command to stop the retreat of the German army by blowing up train tracks between Razhanke and Skribova on the road from Slonim to Bialystok.
We waited for nightfall and went on our way. At the Nieman we received an order to cross to the other side and wait there for further orders. When we received a report from the reconnaissance group that all was good, we began our work. We mined the line at various points and quickly left. On our way back we rewarded ourselves with some food and returned to the camp.
On July 7th we learned the Russians captured Novolenyie, the district city Zhetl and the entire region. We could not believe our ears, the last hour before our liberation had struck.
The artillery from the front was moving toward the Shtchare. We received an order: to take various roads to Zhetl. When we were 10 kilometres away from the Red Army, riders from the main brigade caught up with us and ordered us to return to camp. We turned around to return through the village of Nakrishok. Only a few days earlier there had been a strong German garrison there. We attacked them more than once, but each time we had to retreat, leaving behind victims. However we always left them with greater losses both in men and ammunition. The most important thing was they were always afraid of us.
July 8th. First thing in the morning they informed us the Red army had advanced further and none of us could leave the camp. They gathered us in an empty field near the Shtchare where almost all the detachments of our brigade were gathered. They told us we must spend the night there and wait for further orders.
July 9th. High ranking Soviet officers arrived and greeted us as dear devoted soldiers in the fight against the German enemy. After listening to a few patriotic speeches they accompanied us with songs to the other side of the river.
As we did not find any food in that region, I and 12 other men were sent back to the camp to bring bread from the camp bakery. As we approached the camp we heard loud shooting from machine guns. We could not understand the reason behind the shooting as the army had advanced forward. We went to the peasants who lived near the forest, but their houses were empty. Everyone was hiding from the frightful shooting. Finally we found a few Christians who told us the forest was full of Germans who were running from the attacking Red Army. Their divisions were defeated and in small groups they were going through the forest. The peasants advised us not to return to camp as they were surely more powerful than us. We listened to them and returned to our detachment.
July 10th. We were awoken at dawn. We prepared to march. We did not know where. Peasant women came to say goodbye to their sons and husbands. They told us that overnight a group of Germans shot Moteh Zakaraysky (Avrom the tinsmith's son) in the camp bakery. They found a group of partisans baking bread. The entire group ran away but Moteh was not fated to be saved in the last minutes before liberation.
We marched toward Volkovisk. We had not eaten in 48 hours. Hungry and tired we stopped to rest three kilometres from town in the Zamkov forest. There we were informed Volkovisk had been captured by the Red Army.
At eleven o'clock in the morning an army major came from the second White Russian front, led by Marshal Rakosovsky. He greeted us warmly as devoted fighters. He informed us, for our service, we would receive appropriate recognition and meanwhile we will be allocated to the best division
of the 339th regiment. They divided us into groups. Our group consisted of one hundred men including the following 20 from Zhetl:
Avrom Alpert Yisroel Burda Yoyne Brestovsky Zelik Haydukovsky Hillel Zhukhovitsky Yosef Novogrudsky Yisroel Zhulhovitsky Zaydl Finklshteyn Yekhiel Yoselevitch Velvl Kravetz Efraim Yoselevitch Zelik Kovensky Feyvl Lontzevitsky Yosef Kalbshteyn Dovid Likhter Doivd Noyekh Rozenfeld Yitzkhak Mankovitch Yosef Mankovitch
The following men from Zhetl served in other detachments:
Berl Ivenitsky Yekhiel Yoselevitch Hirshl Indershteyn Ruven Khlebnik Yisakhar Berman Aron Leyzerovitch Nokhem Berman Shepsl Lipsky Khaim Bekenshteyn Hillel Levenbuk Mayrim Galinsky Yoyne Medvedsky Leyzer Goldshteyn Berl Nikolayevsky Shmuel Gertzovsky Meir Sovitsky Yosl Gershovsky Khaim Epshteyn Sholem Gerling Zisl Kalbshteyn Borukh Volfevitch Shmuel Shabakovsky Moishe Aron Zernitsky Khaim Yatvitsky
The next morning they took us to another place where we had to meet our new leaders. We spent the whole day lying in the field and when night fell we spread out on the grass and slept. They woke us in the middle of the night and told us to go to headquarters to register.
There was a small house in the corner of the field. When we entered we saw a table lit by a small candle, an older Red Army man who wrote down everyone's name. He also wanted to know where we came from and the names of our close relatives. I did not know how to answer this question: who should I give in the event I am killed in battle. I could not provide an answer. I asked myself that question and for a long time was lost in my thoughts.
Why are you silent? he asked, Why don't you answer me?
I don't have anyone to give you I finally managed to say.
Give me anyone you want.
I gave him the following address: All surviving Jews from Zhetl.
July 13th. It was still very dark when they woke us up. The officers from each division arrived. They gave us some food, the first time in a few days we had a chance to fill our stomachs. It did not take long before we were marching. According to all the signs on the roads we felt the enemy was not far away. Within a short time we received the order:
The shooting was heavy. We shouted: Hurrah! And ran after the enemy. However, when we came to the bank of the Svislatch River we had to stop. The enemy had dug deep trenches on the other side and was shooting at us. We received an order to drive the enemy out of the trenches at all cost. Again we advanced shouting:
Hurrah! Death to Hitlerism!
We stormed their bunkers and tens of soldiers dropped dead. Some of my closest friends fell in this battle: Zaydl Finkelshteyn, Dovid Likhter and Yoyne Brestovitsky. The number of soldiers in our division was greatly reduced.
We moved forward on the left side of the train tracks which ran from Volkovisk to Bialystok. The whole road was seeded with dead Germans. We came across a smaller enemy group and succeeded in staving them off. We moved forward capturing village after village, town after town.
August 19th. We continued to march onward. We received an order from our colonel Raznov to cut through the forest road that leads to the train tracks. One battalion from the Red Army was already fighting there and needed help as the resistance of the enemy was great.
We snuck closer to the edge of the forest but the enemy chased us away. This was the only road upon which they could retreat therefore they were defending it so relentlessly.
When night fell they provided some food but while eating we were attacked by German airplanes and had to be satisfied
with our first bites. When it was really dark they regrouped us and told us to continue our attack.
The commander of our division talked to us with a pistol in his outstretched hand. He explained we had to cross a small river, fortify it on the other side and not omit any enemy trucks. He ordered us to spread out through the field and cross the river one at a time. Then he warned us that whoever lags behind will be shot by his own comrades. I knew what he meant. I was very familiar with such cases.
The distance was not great, around 500 metres. We walked about 300 metres and everything was calm. Luckily it was a dark night and the Germans did not notice us.
After walking a little further they suddenly opened fire on us and we were drawn into a battle with the enemy. We received an order to retreat 100 metres and bury ourselves at the edge of the forest. The group which collected the fallen arrived. We collected them like fallen corn stalks under the peasant's reaping hook, shot and riddled with bullet holes. Among the pile of corpses I recognize two of my Zhetl partisan friends: Yosef Novogrudsky and Zisl Kalbshteyn. Yosef's body was torn to pieces, hard to identify. He was blown up by a mine.
The shooting did not stop. They sent us to defend the hill. We captured it without casualties. The German artillery shot at us without interruption. We had to retreat. We buried ourselves in the field and lay there for half a day. The enemy discovered our position and hailed mines from mortars upon us. One mine landed not far from the hole I was lying in. A sliver twisted my gun and I was covered with pieces of earth.
I remained lying there until darkness fell. Then I got up and went to the commander to inform him. He gave me a machine gun and we marched on. After marching all night we arrived at a tar factory 25 kilometres from Bialystok.
August 21st. The enemy was in the village not far from the tar factory. After reciprocal shooting they retreated. Our commander sent a reconnaissance group out to find the remaining Germans. Just as the spies entered the village, shooting began and two of them were immediately killed. One of the two was Zelik Haydukovsky from Zhetl.
The enemy was chased out of the village, but dug into the nearby forest. Before we attacked them a group was sent to determine their strength. One man in this group was Efraim Yoselevitch. A battle ensued where Efraim was wounded and could not move. Lying in terrible pain he was hit by a grenade and died. The attack by the enemy was repelled and we moved on.
August 23rd. During the day we moved closer to the village Yanove, 5 kilometres from Bialystok. We stormed the village and partially pushed out the enemy. The enemy defended the other part of the village relentlessly. I received an order to chase out the enemy with the help of my machine gun. I took a strategic position and after a long fight the enemy retreated.
August 24th. They brought us breakfast very early because soon we had to attack the enemy again. A fog covered the fields. It was cool and damp. I led with my machine gun with Zelik Kovensky behind me. The enemy began to fire bullets at us. We shot back. A bullet hit Zelik and he fell dead beside me.
After a short time we were ordered to storm the enemy. We approached and were one hundred metres away. I had not yet managed to stand up my gun when I felt I was wounded in my hand and foot. I fell to the ground and called for help.
A few soldiers ran to me including Borukh Vismansky from Bielitziye. They quickly pulled off my boot and bandaged my foot with a rag.
It was impossible to drag me off the battlefield as the enemy was shooting over our heads. I remained lying on the field the whole day. In the evening they carried me to the village where I spent the night. The next morning they took me to the field hospital where I lay for six weeks. After they sent me deep into the hinterland, to the Urals, to the city Upa.
I remained there for two and a half months and then they sent me back to Zhetl as a discharged soldier.
by Shloyme Sharlat (Haifa)
Translated by Janie Respitz
June 22nd, 1941. A shrill voice disturbed our rest. The blankets were lifted and the soldiers went out to hear the news.
Molotov spoke at noon. A strong speech. Military and civilian songs instilled courage and called for action. Molotov spoke slowly, clearly and with conviction.
The enemy has attacked, we must defend. Our cause is justified. Victory will be ours.
Just yesterday there was peace. Today, war. Human blood had already been spilled and widows and orphans are being born. Just yesterday I received a letter from Zhetl and responded quickly. I grab the letter and read the greetings from all my friends in the Iron Guard. The news from Zhetl was filled with joy and hope. This was all suddenly disturbed as they are so close to the border! Who knows what they will do?
Our division received an order to leave for the front. By the first of July we were already in echelon. We approached the front. The closer we were to the front the more refugees we saw.
We went through Bransk. We were greeted by German airplanes, which instilled great fear on the roads filled with military and civilians. Among them, a large amount of Jews, women and children.
Everyone was running. I look for a familiar face. It seems to me I will find someone from Zhetl that will tell me what's happening there. I understand that even if I find someone from Zhetl they also won't know anything because every day, every hour, the radio brings fresh, sad news.
The Germans advance. They capture city after city. Lida and Baronovitch are already captured. The Germans are nearing Minsk. The hope that I will be at the defence of our province disappears.
Our regiment is defeated. Meeting points are created with formations from other regiments. The Germans are going to Smolensk. The days are difficult. The population is running to the east. We walk with our backs to the east and wait for a miracle.
German airplanes drop leaflets saying the war is only against Jews and commissars. However, people that escaped from a prisoner camp 388 kilometres from Moscow said the Germans were not picky and death was sure for everyone.
On the 3rd of October we fall into the third siege. A German troop landed and we were surrounded. Everyone walked on foot, even the commissars and generals. Heavy weapons were destroyed and some were left in secure hands with the hope that if we could not break through the siege we will have something to fight with in the partisan groups.
We walked at night, and during the day we were forbidden to stick out our heads. German airplanes were pursuing individuals.
Meanwhile the Germans were experiencing a Russian winter. With frozen noses, hands and feet they were not even able to run away. The peasants beat them with sticks and took away everything they had not yet sent to their wives and lovers.
The roads were burdened with Germans. Thousands of Germans died. It was a difficult winter. Stormy winds buried the roads under the snow. On the sides of the road we would often see Germans with their heads in the snow and their leather boots sticking up.
The front stopped at the Agra River. Battles of strategic significance resumed. More attacks, pushing the enemy further and freeing millions from the German cannibals.
The occupant put up a strong resistance. He did not want to leave behind the Russian and White Russian warehouses of bread, meat and honey. He did not yet complete his extermination operation against the Jews. He had not yet satiated his thirst for blood. We are now very close to Minsk, Baranovitch and Zhetl.
The summer of 1944 was approaching. The roads have dried after the wet spring. The rye
was growing. The fields were green. The army was ready to take revenge. Plans were prepared. Our brothers behind the enemy front were working hard to spread fear among Hitler's heroes who were afraid of every shrub and of their own shadows. The army put hope in its patriots on the other side of the border.
The hour was nearing. Minsk is already behind us with 56 thousand German prisoners. The front pushes forward, Baranovitch, Stolptz and Novogrudek. We are only a few kilometres from Zhetl. We can already see the great destruction caused by the Germans. We see the destroyed Houses of Study and torn Torah scrolls. Our hearts our broken. We cannot ask anything to anyone. There is no one to offer consolation!
I met Jewish partisans from Novoredok. They told me a bit about Zhetl and its fighters, but my head did not grasp what my ears were hearing.
I could not rest. With great impatience I waited for the moment when Zhetl would be liberated.
I get closer, Kisheleve, Novoleniyie, Halavli, where we would always meet Aron Leybke the wagon driver, Mayshke the Turkey and Yoshke Ishieles'. The forest near the saw mill where the youth of Zhetl would gather in the summer.
The saw mill stood like a large tombstone, stripped of wood. The Germans took it all. They would have taken the ground if it were possible.
The truck turned right, to the Nieman where difficult battles are still taking place. I turn left, with my pack on my back and my weapon on my side.
I am already in Zhetl. I start to walk, where do I go? Who shall I look for and who will I find?
I walk on both side of the street. Jewish houses, but peeking out of the windows are unfamiliar, non - Jewish faces. I walk and cannot believe what I see. Zhetl without Jews?
It is unbelievable. Is it really true what the newspapers and people said? Vinarsky's house, where Feygele Kaplinsky lived, empty. Zaydke's house, destroyed. Khaytche's, destroyed. Ruins on top of ruins!
The war had already hardened me, but fell apart completely. Where are the Jews of Zhetl? The Jewish town with its culture, with its friction between religious and secular, Zionists and Yiddishists, the youth from the Bund and Hashomer Hatzir? Where is everybody I loved and didn't love? Are they all really in the Zhetl cemetery? I will go to them, spend the night and after, with my pack on my back, I will go to my war comrades and take revenge for all the innocent who were killed. But then a miracle happened. People recognized me and called to me.
Do you see who came? Shloyme Sharlat! Shloyme Sharlat!
This took me out of my despair. I kissed the people who I did not previously know, people I had never spoken to before. One thing united us: we were Jews from Zhetl.
They began to ask me many questions: had I seen this one's brother or this one's sister, or had I met anyone from Zhetl? So many people from Zhetl escaped, was I the only one who survived? Others pointed out with heavy sighs:
See, this is all that has remained from my entire family!
I walked to the marketplace. On the way, at Leybke Kaplinsky's house I found a few Zhetlers who asked if I recognized them. From my old friends from the Iron Guard that played an important role in Zhetl, I found almost no one.
What value do the houses in Zhetl have if they are empty, without Jews? What good is the synagogue if there is no one to pray?
The ground is soaked with Jewish blood burning under our feet. We cannot remain in Zhetl which looks like a graveyard. We must leave and settle in the land of our forefathers.
by Berl Goldberg (Montreal)
Translated by Janie Respitz
The eve of Passover, March 1939. Standing in my store I received a telegram to report immediately for military duty.
There was a feeling of mourning as on Tisha B'Av in our home. My family cried as if they knew they would never see me again.
I left that same day for Baronovitch. From there I was sent to the Polish German border where they taught us to shoot and how to slaughter one another.
Friday the 1st of September we received the sad news: War!
We were sent immediately to the front where German machine guns were awaiting us. We fought them in Sherftz and Plotzk. We then received an order to march toward Otvotzk.
German cannons and airplanes shot at us from all sides. The entire road was sown with the dead. Finally we arrived in Otvotzk. After we rested a bit we marched toward Warsaw.
There were already German paratroopers in Warsaw. After a short time we rid the city of diversionary agents.
Resting from our battle in our lodgings we heard shooting. The Germans began bombarding Warsaw. Within a few hours Warsaw was transformed into a large cemetery. We fought in the suburbs, but realizing our situation was hopeless we broke through the front and marched to Modlin.
In Modlin we received the sad news, Warsaw fell. However we continued to fight until the 27th of September. On that day I was wounded and sent to a prison camp: Stalag A.
Our situation was not an enviable one. During the day they tortured us with hard labour, at night, beatings. Dozens of prisoners could not withstand it and died. One day a miracle occurred. A Wehrmacht officer entered our room and saw how a Nazi officer beat a Jewish prisoner to death. The Wehrmacht officer slapped the Nazi across the face and phoned a higher authority to replace the Nazi. They actually sent another officer who treated us humanely.
A while later they received an order to send us home, to regions occupied by the Russians. However, instead of sending us home, they sent us to an airfield not far from the border. The living conditions were terrible. Thousands of prisoners died from typhus.
I was also sick with typhus. I lay in bed for 10 weeks. Mulye Sovitsky from Zhetl sat by my bedside day and night until he too got sick. Miraculously, we both survived.
From there they sent us to Konskavalye where we worked hard paving highways.
After the Nazi occupation they sent us to Bendzin. We worked there for a year under difficult conditions. Hunger dominated the camp. Mulye Sovitsky bribed a few German soldiers and would go to the city to buy food. One time they betrayed him and they found the food I had. With great trouble I crawled out of this mess. I claimed the food was from the kitchen and not from town.
From there they sent us to Vielitchok and Plazhov. In Plashov we exhumed those tortured to death and burned them.
When the Russian front drew nearer they packed us like herring into wagons and sent us to Gras Rozn and Brilnitz in Czechoslovakia.
There we worked in an ammunitions factory. The Czech workers put us in contact with the Czech underground movement who provided us with weapons. When the Nazis learned of this they fled and this is how we took over control of the camp until liberation.
The Russian regime sent us home. Travelling with Sovitsky home to Zhetl we stopped in Lublin. Mulye found his wife. I found Manye Rabinovitch and she told me no one from my family survived and all the Jews left Zhetl.
That is when I decided to leave Poland a search for a new home.
(Translator's note: the list is according to the Hebrew Alphabet)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Zatzshteyn (Two children)
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