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[Page 443]

In the Path of
Suffering and Struggle

 

Fighting and Struggle in the Forest
(From my Memories as a Partisan)

by Dyadya Misha (Moshe Gildenman) z”l

Transliterated by Yocheved Klausner

On the 2nd of September 1941, the last order of the “local commandant” was officially issued: every Jew, 12 years of age and older, must wear on his clothes, on the left side of his breast and on his back, yellow tags.

I wore the yellow tags [or “yellow patches”] until I left the ghetto. When I crossed the river, together with my son, we tore off the tags and, after thinking for a while what to do with them, we instinctively hid them in our bags. As it turned out later, we had both the same thought: if they kill us, it will make no difference whether they find the patches in our bags or not; if we will escape and survive the Germans, we will keep them as a memory of the moments of suffering, pain and humiliation. However, this was not to happen: our four patches did not survive to “see” the end of the war and the defeat of the Germans.

 

Partisans in the Tent

The long winter-nights in the forest became more and more tiresome. Two weeks have passed since our successful attack on the town Razvashov, where we have destroyed the garrison and captured several wagons of wheat flour, meat and brown sugar. So we had a supply of food for a while. We also benefitted from the fact that a heavy snow covered our tracks: we moved about 70 kilometers deeper into the forest and began organizing our camp. First we dug some wells, and then we erected “kaybashes” – specific partisan tents. The tent was made of thin, cleaned pine branches, arranged with their tips upward and fastened with a thin and strong branch of a birch tree. This structure was covered with hay, which was

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found in abundance in the place. We left a hole on one side, to serve as entrance, and usually covered it with an old sack. In the middle of the tent we arranged a quadrangle of four heavy logs, where a fire would be kept permanently. Around that, on a thick layer of hay, the partisans would sit or lie down. To erect such a tent took only a few minutes, and it had room for 10 -12 men. Two partisans were always on watch in every tent: one guard outside and one inside the tent. The latter's job was to keep the fire burning, to boil water for tea, and at night, while the partisans were asleep, to keep them from scorching their boots at the fire.

Usually we slept with our clothes on, with our feet toward the fire. When one of us would, in his sleep, stretch his leg too close to the fire or place it on the log, the guard would hit it with the long stick he always held in his hand, and the partisan would draw his foot back, out of danger.

 

Hanging the Traitor

Our friends the partisans were getting impatient – sitting over two weeks “without work.” The Germans stopped looking for us and returned to their barracks. Talks began about planning and organizing an “operation.” There were suggestions – one more fantastic than the other, and plans – one more daring than the other. A surprise-attack was out of the question, because we did not have enough ammunition for that purpose. We decided, therefore, to go out in small groups through the region and attack the Starostes, the secret agents and the families of the Ukrainian police. My order was: hang the Starostes and the secret agents on the gates of their houses and “bomb” the families of the police officers – which, in partisan

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jargon, meant: confiscate the cow, the pigs and even the chickens and set fire to the place. Through this operation we intended to accomplish two goals: first, to punish them for their betrayal and second, to intimidate and frighten all those who sympathized with the Germans and helped them. We Jews had a third aim as well: revenge on the Ukrainian treachery, which had remained imprinted in our memory from the time we lived in the ghetto.

We separated into four groups, each group going in a different direction. We decided to meet after five days, that is, on Saturday, in the Jokovyetz village, on the border between Zhitomir and the Kiew Gubernia. I was leading a group of 30 partisans and my son another group, of 25 partisans, armed with a grenade thrower. My son's pseudonym as a partisan was “Lyanka.” The other two groups were led by Dimitrenko and Sobolev.

 

Shadows among the Trees

Saturday at dawn I arrived with my group in Jokovyetz. Dimitrenko and Sobolev and their partisans were already there, alive and well. We were waiting for Lyanka and his group. We shared with one another the reports about our activities during the last few days: we had executed several dozens of Starostes and policemen, burned over 30 farms that had belonged to policemen and secret agents, and spread panic among the Germans and their helpers over a radius of several hundred kilometers. In the Pavlovitch village I myself have hanged the Staroste and his wife. While performing a search in the house, I had found a petition to the “Regional Commissar” to allow him to punish 37 peasants who have gathered, without a special permit, dry twigs for heating their homes. Since the Staroste was illiterate his wife Jevdokia had signed the petition for him. As an accomplice, we executed her together with her husband.

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After we have told all our “heroic” stories, we established guards for the night and we lay down to rest.

I could not fall asleep. I was worried about my son, who hadn't shown up yet. Every few minutes I went to look out the window. Suddenly, I saw shadows running through the forest, hiding under the thick trees. I looked more carefully and observed that the shadows were running toward the frozen river and disappeared there. I woke some of my friends, and even before they approached the window to look outside we heard several shots and cries of pain coming from the partisan who stood guard outside. I said: take your weapons! and soon all partisans were ready. But even before we could reach the windows, a rain of bullets struck the house and all windowpanes were broken. I ordered my partisans to line up at the walls between the windows and wait, and I sent one of them to the attic to survey the situation. Suddenly all became quiet – the calm before the storm. In a few minutes the partisan in the attic announced that on the frozen river, between its tall banks, a German unit of about 50 men was stationed, and another group, about the same size, encircled our building, with intention to attack us from the back.

The situation was very serious, but a miracle saved us. At the critical moment, Lyanka and his group of partisans arrived. They attacked the Germans, 23 Nazis and an officer were taken prisoners.

After an investigation, it became clear that most of them were “Volks-Deutschen” from the colony near the town Novogrod-Vohlinsk. They began begging for mercy. At my demand they gave an exact description of the annihilation of the Novgorod-Vohlinsk Jews, among whom I had many acquaintances and friends, since this town was only about 28 kilometers from the shtetl of my birth.

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kor447.jpg
Revenge!
The artist: Chaim Bargal

 

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We could see on their faces that they had taken no small part in the action. At my command, they were all shot.

The officer, seeing the end of his soldiers, refused to talk. However, my friend had the means to make him talk, and he told us that his name was first lieutenant Knapf and he came from Stuttgart. When he recovered after having been wounded at the Moscow front, he was given the rank of Head Commandant of the SS unit assigned to the destruction of the partisan units in the Zhitomir and Kiev regions.

 

A Just Sentence

Lyanka liked the uniform of the officer, and decided to exchange his old clothes for the officer's uniform. As he was emptying the pockets of his old jacket he found the two yellow patches that he had kept there from the day we left the ghetto. He asked the officer whether he knew what these yellow things were. “No” answered the officer. “I shall explain” – said Lyanka – “your Führer ordered us Jews to wear these tags so that we can be recognized as Jews on sight. We are wearing them on our chests and our backs.” And then he yelled “take off your shirt!” – and without waiting, Lyanka tore off the officer's shirt and with two pins pinned the yellow patches on his bare flesh, one on his chest and one on his back.

“Now strip naked, the same way my mother and my 13-year-old sister were ordered to do before they were murdered.” All partisans curiously followed the scene – they tore off his pants, his boots, his underwear. He remained standing in front of us

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stark naked. The temperature was 15 centigrade below zero and a strong wind was blowing. “Now march forward!” Lyanka called, and with his stretched hand holding his pistol showed him the direction toward the dead Germans lying in a pile on the ground. Suddenly he called him back, all the while playing with the trigger of his gun pointing to him. The German looked around terrified. On the spot where he had conducted earlier the investigation, Lyanka ordered him to stop. “What you are feeling now, we have felt during all the time we lived in the ghetto. Now lie on the ground with your face down.” The German obeyed. Lyanka bent over him, placed the gun on his skull and held it for a few long minutes. The German moved restlessly waiting for the end.

“What you are experiencing now, the 2,200 Jews in Korets, among them my dear mother and beloved little sister, have experienced on the 22 May 1942, when they were thrown, naked, into the grave, ordered to straighten out the corpses that were already lying there and lie upon them face down. Then a German shot them all.”
With these words Lyanka pulled the trigger and sent two bullets into the German's skull.

 

“He Can Remain Here”

Some time later, a peasant woman from the village told us: The day after you left the village, a very large unit of Germans arrived. They surrounded our houses on all sides, assembled the residents and began an investigation. During the investigation they beat us until many of us lost consciousness. The Germans demanded that we show them where the “Dyadya Misha” and his partisans were hiding. We all replied that we did not know any of the partisans. For two hours they tortured us. Then they ordered us to load the dead Germans onto the wagons. When their commander approached

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the naked body with the yellow patch on his back and turned him over, he saw that his face was unrecognizable – a raw piece of flesh. When he noticed the yellow patch on his chest as well, he touched him with the tip of his boot and said – “Das ist ein Jude [this is a Jew], he can remain here.” When all were ready to leave, they set fire to the village and departed. We, the residents, with only summer clothes on our backs, fled through the heavy cold to the neighboring villages to find a roof over our heads. Before we left our village we dragged the dead German to the woods, prey for the wolves.

 

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