by Max Weltfreint
Translated from Hebrew by Corey Feuer and Yonatan AltmanShafer
Our permanent residence was in Katowice, and our livelihood was in Mizoch; my father was a prominent fruit merchant, and he supplied fruit not only to the major Polish cities, but also to foreign countries.
Mizoch was a major source of fine fruits that were praised far and wide. Naturally, fruit sellers from all edges of Poland were attracted to it, and Dad was one of the first who opened a branch in the surrounding economy. Starting in the early '30s, Mizoch became our second home, and Dad and I spent most of the year there. We went back home to Katowice only for holidays. During the summer months, the entire family would come to Mizoch, which was like a retreat with its charming scenery and excellent atmosphere.
On September 1st, 1939, the date on which Germany invaded Poland, our family as usual was in Mizoch. The disintegration of Poland and the annexation of Katowice by the German Reich prevented us from even thinking about returning to Katowice, and Mizoch became our permanent home.
We chose Mizoch as our residence not just because of the mercantile roots we had in the area, but particularly because of its kindhearted residents and comfortable social environment. For the same reasons, dozens of other refugee families from Polish territory occupied by Hitler went on to live there.
Two days before the Mizoch ghetto was wiped out, Mr. Goldbrenner, a Judenrat member on behalf of the refugees, told us that the Sonderführer hinted that the days of the ghetto were numbered, and we needed to flee. I turned to Yaakov Grossblatt, told him what I heard, and suggested fleeing to the forests. He hesitated and postponed the decision for a day or two. And while I was hesitating and was considering what to do,
the ghetto was surrounded, and its residents were ordered to gather in the town square.
At this point, without thinking much, I headed towards the ghetto fences. I was not the only one involved in the effort to flee the encirclement; there were dozens of bold men among us. The guards shot at us, sent dogs after us, and even chased us. Some of the escapees were killed, some were wounded and apprehended, and I, after running intensely, barely made it to the village of Horvy.
Horvy village was located within thick forest and its residents were Polish. Some acquaintances in the village gave me something to eat but refused to allow me to hide among them for a few days. I wandered from place to place, from one acquaintance to another, until I made it to Zelinsky, a Baptist acquaintance.
Zelinsky agreed to hide me, and I stayed at his house for 10 days. I sat closed off in my room, only looking through a crack in a hidden window. I saw individuals from Mizoch walking around looking for places to hide or disappearing into the thick of the forest. I also saw Jews being led from the forests by the Ukrainian or German police. Among the apprehended was the pharmacist Finkel's family. I saw them all sitting cramped in a cart being guarded by police officers. Zelinsky told me after a few days that the whole family killed themselves with a potent drug while riding in the cart.
I learned from one farmer that Jews were living on the sloping mountain in the forest. I went there, and I indeed found the Berman family all three brothers and the sister. Over the course of two weeks we would see each other every day. I was not able to live with them because their dwelling was incredibly filthy.
During one of our meetings, Ukrainians surrounded us and began shooting at us. We all scattered in different directions. A few days later I found out that only a guy named Shimonovich and I were spared from the shooting. All of the rest of the participants at the meeting, including all of the Berman family, were killed.
I wandered from village to village and from forest to forest. I met with every survivor of the Mizoch ghetto who was living in the area, but I did not find for myself stable companionship.
Fate had it that I witnessed the murder of the Wasserman family at the hands of a farmer in whom they had placed their trust: I happened to go into the house in which they were hiding to ask for bread. I did not know that the Wasserman family was being hidden there. Suddenly Kraszewska the neighbor barged in, shouting in panic that the Germans were nearing the house. I hurried to escape and hid in an open space not far from the house.
After a few minutes I saw the Wasserman family led by the master of the house to the fields.
I lay still for a long time and did not see the Germans come, so I got up and went off towards a distant house. The Wassermans' son Yitzhak arrived a few days later with his partisan group. He called me to him and told me that that night he would avenge the blood of his family, who were murdered in the most treacherous way by the farmer with whom they were hiding; I learned from him that the story of Kraszewska bursting into the house and calling that the Germans were coming was staged and calculated. Immediately after the scream of the Germans are coming, the farmer took the whole family to the field, and, with the help of some acquaintances, murdered them. Only the soninlaw, Moshe Maizlitsh, escaped. All of the family's gold, money, and jewelry of course fell into the farmer's bloodstained hands.
Yitzhak suggested I join his squad and participate in their quest for vengeance that night. Since Yitzhak, who led the squad, was its only Jewish member, and the rest of the squad consisted of Poles, and also because their demeanor did not mesh well with my character I refused.
That night, Yitzhak and his squad surrounded the house of the Polish murderer, woke everyone, and stood them up against the wall. After killing them, they lit their house on fire.
The actions of Wasserman's squad brought us respect among the Gentiles, and Yitzhak was feared by everyone in the area. I was once caught by a group of unfamiliar partisans. After interrogation, they imprisoned me in a room in which the Rosenblatt brothers and Yisroel Erlich were also found. Meir Roseblatt told the commander that he owned a weapon, and if they released us, we would bring him the weapon in order to be accepted to the group. The commander agreed. We went off and returned in the morning with a weapon. The partisans, however, were not there, and to this day we have no idea who these partisans were.
From that point on, I lived in the forest. I was saved from death countless times by unexplainable miracles. Many Jews from Mizoch and the surrounding area fell before my eyes and our numbers became very small.
One time, two young guys caught me, took my belt off, and bound my legs with it. They bound my hands with a rope. They tried to kill me with what was either a piece of a tin or a knife blade, but they could not do more than wound me with a tool like that. I was bleeding, but I was still alive. One of the guys went to get a knife and the other stayed to guard me. I collected all of my strength and with my bound up legs I kicked the guy guarding me forcefully in the stomach. He fell over moaning and I undid the binding around my legs and escaped. To my great fortune, I immediately ran into the Pliter brothers, who dressed my wounds and brought me to a quiet, safe corner.
Meanwhile, there was a change in morale and in the situation on the frontline. The defeat of the Germans
was certain and fast approaching. In exchange for promising that we would pay in full for every kindness the farmers extended to us, a few of the farmers agreed to provide us with shelter and food. To be safe, we wandered from village to village and frequently changed our place of residence until we finally saw the first soldiers of the liberating Red Army.
|The pharmacy in Mizoch (built in 1935)|
by Nahum Kopit
Translated from Hebrew by Yonatan Altman-Shafer
That day, Sunday, the 22nd of June, 1941, I will remember until the end of my days. That day, I spent time with my sister Gisiya away from our parents' house, with our close family that lived in the city Slavuta in Soviet Russia; these were very pleasant days, sitting with our formerly estranged relatives, bringing up memories as well as plans for the future. Early in the morning we got up to visit an aunt (our mother's sister whom we didn't know) in the city of Izyaslav. That summer was extraordinarily beautiful, with blooming gardens and intoxicating scents in the air. A gentle breeze blew as we strolled happily to the train station. On the way, we encountered a young Russian man who told us that war had broken out. We lingered, puzzled, not understanding the full meaning of the news. The echoes of nearby explosions began to reach our ears, and then we saw the first horrors [of the war]: houses going up in flames, crushed corpses, panic and terror. We returned immediately to our aunt's house and found everyone healthy and whole.
After Molotov's speech to the Soviet people that afternoon, and after the initial recovery [from the attack], our relatives began to plan their evacuation at home into the depths of Russia. They wisely tried to convince us to join them, but we wanted to be with our parents in Mizoch. We parted emotionally and in low spirits, we left for the train station for the second time to return home. However, the possibility of going home seemed very faint then-- the repeated bombings generated a terrible panic. People were running around crazed; there were signs of doom and destruction, of death and bereavement, at every turn. The regular transportation was stopped or just broke completely, and the roads were flooded with military and civilian vehicles, to the point that it was impossible to pass through, and the train station was much more chaotic than even expected. Everyone was being pushed; yelling, crying, begging, and pouncing on every train heading east. We were among the few that were trying to go west; nevertheless, it still took us three days to get there instead of the usual three hours. We traveled slowly, with frequent interruptions and bombings, until we arrived in Zdolbuniv. In this city, which was an important crossroads in the days of the Poles, the Germans caused great damage to the train station,
and with the last of our strength, we arrived in Mizoch utterly exhausted.
Mizoch was then also gripped by panic and anxiety. Members of government and those close to the state had already left the area and fled to Russia. Many of the Jews wanted to follow in their footsteps but were not allowed to do so. Only on the fifth day of the war was the border opened, and it was possible to leave the country. In our houses, it was decided that the youth would flee, and only the elderly would remain with the youngest children, and when it was all over, the youth would come back to Mizoch. We began to separate. The parents could hardly hold back their tears -- it was difficult for them to see their children off. When my niece Tzipkela approached me to say goodbye, I broke down. I loved her above all; she was cute and innocent and I was unable to leave her. So we all stayed together in order to bear our hardship as one to the end. In the first days, we took solace when many of those who fled returned due to hunger, the horrors of war, and hardships of the road, but the consolation did not last.
The Germans' Arrival in Mizoch
On Friday, June 27th, 1941, the Germans arrived in Mizoch. They came in riding motorcycles in perfect formation, very polished, in shiny new clothes the likes of which we had never before seen. They filled the town and asked very politely if they could bathe. The Jews were amazed by this kindness, and suspected that all of the stories of German cruelty were lies. And so their vanguard remained with us in town for two days without any harm coming to us. They left and a steady stream of army vehicles passed through the town, and the situation began to worsen by the hour. The Jews sat in groups in basements and hiding places, scared of the Germans and terrified of the bombings. The first victim of the bombings was Feibel Fishbein; at his funeral, we felt the oncoming storm, because then was the first time the Ukrainian neighbors stoned the Jews for no reason, audaciously and with insulting provocation.
The second victim in town was the wife of Baruch Truckler-- Chana. She was killed by drunk Ukrainian rioters after the Germans gave everyone free beer that they had confiscated from Matzak's brewery. Around nearby villages, the rumor spread that the Jews' property was now unclaimed, and they came in droves to take advantage of the opportunity. After they got drunk, they began to rampage in the streets of Mizoch. They broke into stores, shattered windows, trampled, destroyed, and robbed, and desecrated the great synagogue, throwing the Torah scrolls outside. Some Jews, including my father, bless his memory,
put their lives on the line and brought the Torah scrolls to a secret location.
A few anarchic weeks passed with us at the mercy of a raging mob, and only when Mizoch was selected the location of the district headquarters, did the district governor, the gendarmerie, arrive, and then the robberies and atrocities were committed by law of the authorities. The Jews were ordered to wear white ribbons that were 10 centimeters wide on their left arms, each with an embroidered blue Jewish star. They created a committee (the Judenrat), which was led by Abba Shtivel, who also served as town's soltys [head of village government] under the rule of the Poles. The Judenrat also had Jewish policemen at their disposal, armed with clubs. Every day, we were flooded with a stream of harsh and humiliating decrees, becoming increasingly hard to withstand. The Jews were forced to do all kinds of utterly pointless work; their only purpose was to make them despair. After 7:00 in the evening, it was forbidden for Jews to leave their homes, though the Ukrainian police would often come into their houses then… Eventually, the ghetto was established, and all the Jews of Mizoch, as well as the Jews from the surrounding villages, were forced inside.
Our house, as well as my sister Ita's home, fell within the territory of the ghetto. The houses [in the ghetto] were not very specious; they were barely enough for their owners. However, everyone tried to squeeze tight, and somehow every Jew found space with their brethren. Yaakov Rozenshtein and his mother Tzivia stayed at our house, and the big Perlmutter family from the village of Fivcha, our good friends from before, went to my sister's. The Gentiles were ordered to eschew any contact with the ghetto, whose inhabitants were now forced to place yellow badges on the fronts and backs of their clothes. The Jews were also forced to give their valuables and jewelry to the authorities, and had to subsist on the meager rations that were allotted to the ghetto. The Jews' stockpile soon ran out, and the famine and general scarcity forced the Jews to break all of the rules at risk to their own lives. It was forbidden for Jews to eat meat or raise domestic animals and poultry, among other things… but meat was not missing from the ghetto. I remember this because once, when my mother was cooking a small goose, which was purchased through bartering, there was suddenly a random search in the ghetto. And when the Ukrainians were searching, they reached the pots on the stoves. Consequently, Mom quickly spilled the goose into the basement, which was then filled with water. I also remember a time when my father of blessed memory wanted to go over the weekly Torah portion on Friday night as he used to do in previous times. All of the children went to bed, and he hid the light of the candle and sat down to do his pious work. Suddenly [the police] began to knock and demand entry to the house. Knees trembling with fear, Father approached the door and opened it. The cruel Ukrainian police came in, and Kalim from Mizoch stood out among them;
a man who had, in the days of the Poles, always been eating from the tables of the Jews, living off of them, and now was a tyrant making their lives hard. In instances like these when a Jew was caught at night, bent over books by candlelight, he'd be accused of providing information to the enemy over the radio. But this time, the same cruel soul simply blew out the candle and ordered Father to go to bed. Perhaps he remembered the time when Father helped him with his job, and thus showed him mercy. However, miracles and acts of grace like this one did not always occur with the Ukrainians. Reuven Gilman, my cousin's husband, used to drive to the village of Bilishev to sell items. [During the occupation], he secretly continued to travel to the village, which was about three kilometers from Mizoch, and bring food supplies back to his home and family. The residents of Bilishev were all his old acquaintances. Many of them owed him money and others remembered him with grace, so every venture to the village was worthwhile.
During one of his visits to the village, he said offhandedly to his acquaintance that rumor had it that the Germans were retreating, and their end was imminent. His slip of the tongue reached the ears of the Germans, and Reuven was taken into interrogation, from which he did not return.
In Forced Labor
During this time, the Judenrat was ordered to provide workers for German factories. My fate was to be among the recruits for working on a train in Zdolbuniv. We lived in the local synagogue and our sustenance was provided to us by the Judenrat in Mizoch. The living conditions in the synagogue were terrible, and anyone who could afford it was allowed to rent rooms in the ghetto. I rented a place to sleep with the Zinger family from Równe. The father was an accountant by profession, and he worked in construction with me. The work conditions were horrible. When I first saw the fellow townspeople, who were sent to forced labor before me, I felt hopeless. I especially recall the horrible sight of Mottel Sizak, father of two, breathing heavily as he pushed a wheelbarrow filled with soil. Walking with the wheelbarrow didn't allow for any stopping whatsoever, not even for a breath of fresh air, as when one person stopped, the entire circle halted immediately. And if someone was forced to delay because his strength had left him, he was taken next to the shed and cruelly beaten by the supervisors.
The factory we worked in belonged to Jung Solinger, a railway building company. The head manager of the factory was an engineer named Gerber, who was rarely seen in the workplace. He was filled in for by a different engineer called Shmalier, who was in charge of the Schwab area, a man who was almost always present and watched over us with great scrutiny. The first was tall and wore glasses that covered a cruel face. He was a crazed animal in the form of a man. The second was middle-aged and similar in viciousness to the first. Both were
capable of beating any person to death, especially Jews, and for any offense. For example, to them it was a serious offense to drink water while working. However, I was lucky enough to be transferred after two days to work in construction, where the conditions were much better. At my new workplace, we worked only until the afternoons on Sundays, and could spend time at home (an 18 kilometer walk, as Jews were forbidden from using transportation of any kind), as long as we started work on time the following day at 6 a.m. From time to time, we could get days off from the cruel engineer to visit home. However, such a request actually posed a great danger, as if the engineer was in too good or too bad of a mood, he could beat the applicant to the point of causing a lifelong deformity. Yet in spite of the ever-present dangers, people continuously took risks, solely so they would spend a single day with their families. I was never satisfied with the visits at home. At work there was never time nor a way to receive and process news. By contrast, at home there was information galore, and the news was always appalling: Moshe Rodman, who had served as secretary to the Judenrat, argued with his colleagues, and, as a result of mutual snitching, was taken by the Germans and disappeared. After some time, his wife Sonya was taken too, and no one knew what happened to his two sons. A more shocking event occurred with my childhood friend Zayde Gilman, may God avenge his blood. He was a butcher, and, with the knowledge of the Judenrat, would secretly provide meat from time to time to the Jews. Another butcher, Shlomo Kniever, reported him to the Germans, for refusing to give him fifty marks in hush money. It should be noted that this is the same Kniever who went to the Judenrat and warned them that if they wouldn't pay him off, he would tell everything to the Germans. Despite his threats, not a soul believed that he actually would do it.
This whistleblowing could have ended in a horrific disaster for the entire community, but Gilman accepted all the blame and did not implicate the Judenrat or the buyers. The Germans set up the gallows in the square, and gathered all the Jews as well as the Christian residents. The first person they brought to the gallows was the farmer who had given a cow to the Jewish butcher. They placed the rope around his neck and announced that he would be hanged for this offense. But afterwards they took the rope off his neck and set him free with a stern warning. After him they brought poor Zayde, and in front of his elderly mother, and in the presence of his wife and two children. Forcing the entire entire crowd to watch the appalling event, they hung him, jeering.
I was not present for this performance; I was in Zdolbuniv then, where a similar situation unfolded: one of the residents, Pliter was his name, fixed his house's fence that stood on the border of the ghetto. He was immediately accused of attempting to dismantle the ghetto. It was obviously a lie, a glaring libel, and the Jew publicly hanged for this sin.
A different Jew among the refugees, a young man, though thin and weak, was exhausted and miserable from hard labor and hunger. He was shot like a dog out in the open by an SS soldier, who was generally considered to be a good and compassionate man. After this action, the soldier burst into the Judenrat offices and announced that he shot the young man because they should not waste bread, and ordered him to be buried. I myself was saved from certain death once by a miracle. When I went with Mrs. Zinger, whom I lived with, to help her during the shopping hours that were reserved for Jews, I was late in taking off my hat before a gendarme who had appeared in front of me. He lifted his gun and was about to murder me over this transgression. I quickly took off my hat as Mrs. Zinger began to wail, and he let go of me. This happened immediately after the liquidation of the Równe ghetto, so apparently his appetite for Jewish blood was satisfied by then. Incidentally, thanks to the German engineer Gerber, 50 of our people were saved from certain death, as we were in Równe precisely at the same time as the Aktion.
|The local council building (the Gmina) in Mizocz|
That Gerber had hidden them, protected them and transferred them to Zdolbuniv as workers in his factory. This was when the absolute and final liquidation of all of the ghettos began. One by one, the surrounding ghettos were wiped from the face of the earth, and only three ghettos remained: Zdolbuniv, Ostrog, and Mizoch. My brother Levi of blessed memory lived in Dubno from the day of his marriage. When Aktion began there, his family hid him thinking naively that only men were needed for labor. However, when my brother left his hiding
place after a few days, he was the only one that remained alive of his entire family. Among the holy martyrs in Dubno, his wife Kayla and daughter Miriam also perished, and all his property was looted, yet despite everything, being depressed and in shock, he arrived in Mizoch after all of his hardships. In those days, I had been away from the house for a long time. So I braced myself and, on Saturday, I went to the oppressive engineer and requested a day off on Monday, which happened to be Yom Kippur. I wanted that day so I could be together with my family, and to unite with the Creator alongside my community, in the synagogue that I had always prayed in, but the wicked man denied my request. On Sunday, I went to work as usual, and I arranged for my friends to clock me in on Monday; if my absence were to go unnoticed, it would all be well and good, and if they were to discover I was gone, they would give me some sort of punishment and send me home. This was the last Yom Kippur on the soil of Mizoch. The Sonderführer extended the curfew by two hours for Kol Nidre, so the synagogues were filled to capacity. We felt that this was happening because it was the last Yom Kippur for our community, and this was reflected in our heartfelt prayers. My absence from work went unnoticed, and after a while I was formally released from forced labor and returned home. In town, survivors of exterminated ghettos were wandering around, and they found temporary refuge with us, and the Germans did not notice them. This provided us another sign that our end was near. The delusions that our city would be saved, that her fate would not be similar to her sisters, had ended.
The Beginning of the End
Everyone was making rescue plans, and I, together with my cousin Eliezer, formed a bold plan to escape into the woods, weapons in hand. We said we'd buy a gun from sellers in Zdolbuniv.
On October 11th, 1942, Eliezer left for Zdolbuniv with his railroad worker permits, and I was ready to go the day after him with money to purchase the weapon. I arrived on time and found Eliezer in a despairing mood. Rumor had it that there was no possibility of buying weapons, as the Zdolbuniv ghetto was in its last hours. He returned home and I stayed back in hopes that I would potentially succeed in acquiring a weapon.
On Tuesday, October 13th, 1942, or in Jewish years, the second day of Mar-Cheshvan, 5703, the Zdolbuniv ghetto was besieged by the Gestapo and the Ukrainian police in an attempt to raze the ghetto. I, alongside the rest of the Mizochians who were working in Zdolbuniv, tried to escape, but all those who attempted to use the convenient escape routes died trying. At daybreak, the Gestapo and police began to fire into the ghetto, and forcefully brought the remaining Jews to the pits that had been prepared the day before in Kridova Gora. Following the advice of Lev Wiener, nine of us Mizochians went into the small and rickety cowpen, which had cracked plank walls
and was visible to all. I objected to hiding in this dangerous place,but Lev said that there was nothing to lose. Aside from us, there was Yosef Stefer, Yehoshua, Chaim Wiener, Yaakov Rosenblatt, a Polish refugee whose name I forgot, Yitzchak Wiener, and Moshe Likvornik.
Through the cracks, we saw all the atrocities of the Aktion. The Gestapo and Ukrainian police passed by the cowpen countless times in their pursuit of fugitives, but they never peeked into it. Around noon, silence finally won out in the ghetto; every once in a while, a few lone policemen would be spotted carrying valuables out of the homes of the deportees. Several officers stowed objects in a pile of stones in front of the cowpen, and Lev Wiener even suggested that we take the valuables, as they could be useful if we stayed alive, but we rejected his idea. At night, all the policemen returned to the ghetto. They brought a lot of alcohol and food with them as well as took whatever food and drinks had been left in Jewish homes. They were being rowdy and became very drunk, savoring the massacre of the Jews. We found that time ripe for leaving the cowpen and escaped one by one from ghetto. On side roads and across fields, over rivers and valleys, we headed home to Mizoch. After walking for hours, we realized that we were lost. Having no choice, we knocked on a window of one of the [nearby] houses and asked for directions. A woman came out and recognized us as Jews, explaining that we could not go to Mizoch, as the ghetto had already been demolished and the town had gone up in flames. While we pondered our fate, dawn broke and we arrived in the village Zlisi, which was inhabited by Czechs and lay around three kilometers from Mizoch. We separated into three different groups, three in each set, as we knew that a group of nine people would not easily find shelter even for one day. In my group was myself, Lev Wiener, and Yaakov Rosenblatt, who had many acquaintances in this village. One of Rosenblatt's Czech contacts brought us into his home, feeding us generously and also providing us with a place to live. He confirmed the woman's story that the Jews of Mizoch had been murdered, and told us that they themselves had set fire to the town, so that the Germans and the Ukrainians would not benefit from their property and work. We spent three days with this Czech man, and we wept over the fate of our loved ones who we'd never see again. On the fourth day, the Czech man told us that he had been in Zdolbuniv, and there he saw large signs on behalf of the Germans warning that anyone who shelters Jews would be killed.
Wandering in the Shadow of Death
The Czech man requested that we leave the residence. The danger in those days was very great; gangs, extortionists, and flat-out murderers roamed the roads, not even including policemen and Gestapo. They all sought to destroy any [Jewish] survivors
who had managed to escape the liquidation of the ghettos. We decided to hide for a few weeks in the surrounding villages in the residences of acquaintances, and then to take shelter in the woods. I had many contacts around the village Soime since my father owned a flour mill there, as well as a grocery store. I knew the area and its residents well; I had been in trade relations with them up until the breakout of the world war. But that night, to my amazement and our severe disappointment, not a soul answered our knocking on the windows as I identified myself. Some acquaintances didn't answer at all, and a few responded that they didn't know any Nachum… We fled for our lives from there and arrived at the edge of the great forest, where a few foresters' houses were scattered. We knocked on the window of my contact Kirili Filianiuk, and I identified myself. He opened the door, loudly expressing his happiness that I had stayed alive. He brought me and my friends into his home, feeding us and preparing a place for us to sleep on the threshing floor. From our hiding place in the granary, we often saw policemen, who were leading the Jews they'd capture from the woods to interrogation. The number of the apprehended was quite large, and we then realized that had the Ukrainians not completed the work of the Germans in exterminating the Jews-- many tens of thousands would have been saved. After a week of relative calm, we had to leave the place and venture into the woods. We were not yet accustomed to lying on wet ground, but we did, without any soft surface or warm cover. We lived for consecutive days without food, and our suffering was great. We searched the forest for brothers in suffering and anguish, feeling sorry that we had parted from our fellow Mizochians with whom we had been saved in Zdolbuniv. During the days we hid and rested, and at night we went on expeditions into nearby villages to obtain food. More than once we would return from our night work without a single slice of bread, but from time to time we would experience delightful revelations in people who felt our pain and tried to ease our distress.
During one of our visits to the village of Moszna, while staying with one of my acquaintances, the Czech Jozef Svoboda, I learned that my brother Levi and sister Gisia were in the village, alive and well. After many searches, we found them, and from them we first heard full details about the bitter storm that had overtaken our town of Mizoch. The cruelty and unwillingness of our Ukrainian neighbors to help was most painful. They had been reliable acquaintances of ours, but now they didn't listen to my sister's pleas to at least save her child, Tzipka'le. And there were also those who murdered their Jewish neighbors with their own hands. We now comprised a large group of five people, which involved considerable difficulties in obtaining shelter, food, and water, but we did not want to part from one another. In the village of Bilishiv a poor shoemaker helped us a great deal, putting his life in grave danger for our sakes. From him, we learned that his rich neighbor, a devout Christian and church activist, told him he wants to help us. We went to him, and indeed he fed us and also
|The mass grave of the martyrs of Mizocz next to the Sosenki Forest|
provided a hiding place with him. Already the very next day, while serving us food, he began to preach the teachings of Jesus to us. He was sorry for our suffering to no fault of our own, but justified the situation, for the sin of our forefathers in murdering the prophet Jesus. His incessant preaching felt like rubbing salt in our wounds, so we left his home and continued our wandering.
In time, we had to turn to him again for help, but he refused to aid us with anything. He also told the shoemaker that we shouldn't be helped, due to the fact that it was a sin to help the insistent, infidel Jews. Once, entirely by surprise, we ran into Yaakov ben Yechiel Baruch Olicker, together with Tzvi Toharan, from among the refugees. They explained to us that they had made a shelter in the Lysa Hora forest, and lived there along with Yosef Wolfman. Next to their shelter was another pit, which could easily be turned into our own shelter. They gave us a detailed description of the location and then we parted ways with the hope we would be reunited soon. The next day, we headed to that location, and on the way, we ran into Yonah Olicker, who had been with Moshe Likabornik. He told us that one of his Ukrainian acquaintances had tempted Woltzi Klotzman, Shmuel Fisher, another refugee, and Yehoshua, husband of Tzivia Rozenshtein, to come stay with him. When they came with him, he brought them to a pit and told them to wait there until he brought them tobacco and food. Germans then appeared who murdered them on the spot. He offered me a similar invitation and we fled for our lives from there. After endless wandering, we arrived at the designated place. We asked immediately if someone had seen our friends in the area. They replied that only Mikolaj from Mosznice knew about the location, and not only did he know but he also helped a lot with setting it up. The location was narrow, fitting for a caveman from the Ice Age, not for a person from today. However, since our predecessors had been there for a few months, without anyone harming them -- we stayed there too.
Yosef Wolfman believed we would be saved by Purim. We prayed there, laying tefillin, as during his escape from the ghetto, Yosef had not forgotten to take his tefillin and tallit along with him, as well as an ax for self-defense. The surrounding area was populated with Poles, from whom we obtained our meager food supplies. We would thaw the snow and use the water for washing and cooking. There we learned that the brothers of Yaakov Rozenblatt were in the area, and over time we met up with them, as well as with Avraham Perlmutter from the village of Pivatasha. He and his daughter were nearly naked, wrapped in worn rags and terribly hungry. They told us that Shlomo Koppelman managed to escape from the ghetto and lived in Pivatasha until the Ukrainians murdered him and threw his body to the dogs for their consumption. I sent Avraham to my contact, whom I had smuggled clothes to from the ghetto, and asked him to give him
one suit. After some time, when I met with this acquaintance, he told me that Avraham visited him and received a suit, but he had only worn it for a couple days before he was murdered. One day, Yaakov Olicker and I found ourselves at the place of the Polishman Oblowski. He fed us and told us about a Jewish boy who had been seriously wounded in his escape from the ghetto, and was wandering about the area. The child defecates without being able to properly move his hands and feet. Consequently, everyone refuses to let him enter their homes. This was the 12-year-old son of Aryeh Firer. His father found him, cleaned and healed him, but both eventually perished.
When we heard rumors about hidden Jews, potentially from Mizoch, we did not consider the possible danger and did not spare any effort trying to meet with them. Farmers informed us that there were Jews from Mizoch hidden three miles away. We started to search for the location, and with great efforts, we found their hiding place. There, we discovered Max Weltfreint, Yaakov Rozenshtein and his wife Leah, Aryeh Lipshitz and his whole family, Ephraim Mullman with his son, and a few more Mizochians. Meetings like this were sources of encouragement and joy in our unbearably difficult lives; they instilled a spirit of hope in and strengthened our faith in the Day of Redemption. During this encounter we heard additional evidence about the bitter annihilation of Mizoch, which we were desperate to hear more about. I was especially interested to hear from Yaakov Rozenshtein about the last moments of my family, whom he had lived with until the end. My father of blessed memory, who had already been an old man, lacked the strength and courage to escape into the unknown, wrapped himself in his tallit and tefillin, said a prayer of confession, and accepted his fate. The dear mothers only worried about their children, hiding them, providing food for them, and praying for their lives. They themselves lined up for the death marches to the pits dug next to the sugar factory. Yaakov Rozenshtein, his wife and his 2-year-old son, hid in a shelter that was built under their house's cowpen. His mother and my mother provided them with a great deal of food and covered the shelter in sand and hay. They stayed in the shelter for a few days until their child was sick from lack of oxygen. Then they left the shelter and headed towards the village of Ozirka. Their child died on the way, and after much wandering, they arrived at a cave, where they had lived until now. We discussed amongst ourselves about how the upcoming Shabbat was Rosh Chodesh of Adar Bet, so the men could come to us and form a halachic minyan. Life became more bitter and difficult than usual, as the Banderites had heightened their war against the Germans, and they had not forgotten about the remaining Jews and Poles. There was then virulent infighting, and scarcity became prevalent in the wealthy and established villages. Everyone was terrified of the Banderites; even the good and decent among the villagers were scared to give us any help. Thus, Leib Viner and I decided to try our luck in a place far from where we lived. My brother Levi wanted to join us,
but I was against this, as he was very depressed after everything that had happened to him: the liquidation of three ghettos in which he had lived and the loss of his entire family. Additionally, he was very weak and not fit for the long and hard road ahead. Although there was a shortage in the forest, the Jews were much safer there.
We were about 15 kilometers away from our lair in the woods when we reached the house of my Polish contact from the village of Svienta. He told us that not far his house laid the corpses of four Jews who were killed by an informant. He wanted to bury them but was scared of the Banderites. We asked him to prepare tools and promised that in one of the coming evenings, we would find the bodies and bring them to a proper eternal rest. However, things went completely differently than we had thought or wanted. In search of means of sustenance and livelihood, we arrived at the village of Bilishev and knocked on the window of the farmer Nachum, who had been the best and most honest of all the villagers. He quickly ushered us into his house, hiding us in a place no one could see. He warned us that we were now in great danger, as all roads were being watched by Germans for the Banderites. The latter are also following in the footsteps of the Germans to attack them, but neither of them have forgotten about the Jews. He volunteered to go to safe locations for us and bring us what he could, so we stayed for six consecutive days in the hiding place without seeing the light of day. Only after we knew that the things had calmed down did he kindly allow us to leave our hiding place. This was two days after Rosh Chodesh of Adar Bet. We left Bilishev loaded with food and made an effort to reach our lair in the forest before dawn. The journey was long and hard, but thanks to our lengthy rest, we arrived at the location in time. However, we immediately felt a suspicious change in the area. Everything was scattered around, and above all there was a very threatening silence. At nightfall, after some recovery, we started going over the disparate objects with our hands, and I came across the corpses of my brother Levi and my sister Gisia… I went to the other shelter where more friends had been hidden, calling out their names, but there was no response. I struck a match and opened the door, and discovered a horrible and shocking spectacle. Blood everywhere, congealed brains and a terrible stench. Yaakov Olicker laid dead with his five-year-old son on him. I left the pit and said to Leib that we needed to flee as quickly as possible from this place before daybreak as they had discovered the hideout. Before I had even finished speaking, out of the dead of night, a child's cry rose up from the pit: Mommy, Mommy, it hurts. I retraced my steps and brought the child out of the pit, and we learned what happened from him. The man who had arranged the hideout brought the Banderites, and they tortured and murdered everyone. The child, seriously injured and suffering from great pain, survived because he knew how to pretend to be dead. And thus, he survived. When the morning dawned, we realized how horrific the abuse and robbery of the dead had been.
Without wasting another moment, we fled from the place that served as a shelter for us for two months. The boy could not walk due to his wound bothering him, and was also deeply exhausted, so we took turns carrying him, and with great difficulty we reached a pit where 12 residents of Mizoch had once lived. The place was completely deserted and there was already full sunlight. We rested for a bit and then had no choice but to leave the boy in the pit with enough food. We promised him that we would come back for him later when we find a place for all of us. The boy, after spending two days among the dead, having been terribly lonely and surviving off crumbs he found in the pit, agreed to it all. So, the two of us sat on a felled tree trunk in the thick of the forest, looking for a way out of the situation. I remembered that I was once in this area with the father of the child at the home of the Pole Jan Orlovski, and was hospitable. We decided to find Jan and ask for his aid. We left all of the food we had with the boy and that was the first time that we went to find the Pole in the light of day. Luckily, we got to him without incident. I introduced myself and he immediately recognized me. Despite all of the dangers, he gave us shelter and sincerely helped us with our troubles. He especially mourned the loss of his friend Yaakov, and sent his son to the boy in the pit to console him and to bring him back to the house that evening. The young Orlovski returned from the pit with the boy, expressing his concern that there was no chance that the boy would survive, but I said I was certain that if the boy received care, he would live. That night, they brought the boy to the Pole's house, stripping and washing him in a warm and cleansing bath. His wool hat was stuck to his wound, but with the help of the hot water we were gently pouring over the wound, the congealed blood thawed and the hat slipped off. The boy did not say a word the entire time. The poor child had learned how to suffer. We cleaned his wound spiritedly, made him a clean bandage smeared with oil, and laid him down to sleep. The next day, the problem faced us again with renewed severity-- what would we do with the boy? We could not leave him in the pit or the granary. In the house he posed danger both to himself as well as to us, not to mention the Pole. Consequently, we decided to offer the Evangelicals to adopt him, as they once expressed their interests in adopting a Jewish child and educating him according to their faith. However, this time they refused to even speak with us, as fear of the Ukrainians had fallen upon them. We turned to the Pole and he immediately informed us that while we were gone, the Germans destroyed his neighbor's house, as they had been providing shelter for a Russian prisoner who had defected. We discussed it and promised the Pole that we would leave that night.
The Pole was very saddened by our fate, and was happy along with us to see that after a few days of care the boy began to recover. The wound healed, he looked healthy, and we took him to our hiding place. It was then that Kayla Goldberg, along with one of the refugees who lived in the Mizoch ghetto, stumbled upon us.
The encounter was, as usual, very exciting, and gave all of us great joy. Once again, memories of our beloved town arose, and we did not tire of hearing about its bitter end. Then we told each other about the miracle of salvation. Kayla informed us that a Ukrainian acquaintance whom I knew as a professional thief, crook, and man of the criminal underworld, hid her in times of danger and helped her tremendously. I could not believe these things and thought her description of this man was incorrect, but over time I also witnessed the strength of his character and goodness of heart. Despite his poverty and urgency, despite living a life of petty thievery and working for the rich, he shared his bread with us during the war at a time when others were afraid to even talk to us. Indeed, who can really understand a human soul?
At night, we all left together to find the Jews with whom we once promised to hold a minyan together. We found them and they told us that indeed they had come to us for the minyan, just as our hiding place was revealed to the murderers. They heard the shootings and screams of those being murdered but miraculously managed to escape for their lives. Ephraim Mullman was among them, and he agreed to try to arrange for our boy to be together with his son who was staying with an acquaintance farmer. We brought the child, whom we called Ben-Tzion, and Mullman succeeded in his mission in having the boy stay with his son, whose name was also Ben-Tzion. And from then on, we all lived together in the forest.
One night, seven of us men left to fulfill a sacred debt towards our slain brethren and bury them in a human grave. We buried them and formed a marker of sand over the graves in the hopes that maybe one day we would be able to return to the place and bring their bodies to a Jewish graveyard. Kaddish echoed through the depths of the forest, saturated with our tears of rage, though we felt a little relief from our hearts, as we had done a kindness of truth [chesed shel emet] for our precious people. We then decided that on the following Sunday we would also bury the four Jews who were murdered near the village of Svienta. And so we did. We arrived at the house of the Pole who had saved their lives and to whom we had promised at the time that we would bury them. We explained to him the reason for not having done so yet and he understood. After a few minutes, he brought us a Jew with a long beard, thin as a stick, and asked us to identify him. We could not. Only when he started to speak did we recognize him as the younger brother of Leib. I have no words to describe the reunion of the brothers, who had each thought that the other was dead. Nor do I have words to describe the rescue of Moshe Viner, who was hidden for six months on the roof of a farmer's house in the village of Derman, covered in planks and rags, his body shrunken from a lack of sunlight and insufficient oxygen. If not for the good food he received, he could not have stayed standing in his condition. It is therefore no wonder that it was impossible to recognize him. When he learned that his brother was alive, he left his hideout and went to the Pole's house with hope to find Leib. We were glad that the story resulted in adding another living Jew to our ranks. Together, we left for the place the Pole was leading us to, where the dead were. It was already impossible to recognize the place. We buried them, said Kaddish,
and added markers to the graves so that we could find them in the future. The number of Jewish survivors we found in the forest grew steadily, so we separated into different groups, though we stayed in contact with each other. My group included Leib Viner and his brother Moshe, Alter Gerber, Aryeh Firer and his daughter Chava'le, Lipa Lenger, and others.
The holiday of Passover approached. We acquired 16 kilograms of wheat, and Chava'le ground it at an acquaintance's hand mill and baked matzah. On the night of the seder, we held a small bonfire in the thick of the forest. The eldest in the group, Rabbi Alter Garber, read us the Haggadah from a siddur we had, and everyone repeated after him. Aryeh Firer's son Avraham'le asked the Four Questions. We reminisced about the seders we used to have in our homes and we wept bitter tears. The Haggadah became the lament of Tisha b'Av and the seder became a eulogy. On the first day of Chol Hamoed, Leib's brother Moshe passed away. We buried him according to Jewish law and envied him for dying by heaven's hand. In light of bitter past experiences, we learned to change hiding places frequently, constantly moving to another location. There we met Niona Lenger, wife of Yosef Lenger and her daughter Chaya'le, who found Gisiya, Aryeh Firer, and Lipa Lenger by surprise. The child Ben-Tzion was also brought to us and our group became a large unit filled with women and children. The three or four brave men were given another heavy burden of obtaining food for everyone. The Ukrainians had destroyed the Poles and were persecuting them no less than the Jews. The Poles were fleeing their towns at night and leaving all of their fortunes behind. Repeatedly, they would give us the food stashes instead of leaving it to the Banderites, or they would tell us the location of food stashes of Poles who had fled the area earlier. We then encountered the Rozenblatt brothers with the family of Asher Shapiro, along with Baruch Pliter, with Bronia Weintzweig from Zdolbuniv, who would visit Mizoch every year with her close friends and many others. The brothers Avraham and Eli Rozenblatt lost their lives when they ran into armed Germans. They tried to defend themselves with a weapon they had but could not stand against soldiers with automatic guns. On Sunday, the morning of the 25th of Iyar, the day after the demise of Avraham and Eli, we left to visit their group and learn how they lived. Aside from me, our group included Baruch Pliter, Lipa Lenger, Leib Wiener, and Velvel Ochs and the lawyer Zatz from Dubno. Together, we were a very large group of 20 Jews; we were very happy and also mourned the death of the Rozenblatt brothers. The weather was fair and good and I fell asleep on soft grass.
The screams of Mullman's son awoke me. And before I even realized what was happening, I saw Jews fleeing in every direction. And gunshots were heard. I stood on my feet and started to run away. I came across Germans who shot at me from the ground but missed. Later, after I left my hiding place, I became aware that there was a steady silence in the area. I wanted to know about the fates of my friends so I began searching in the place where the attack started. I was first to arrive; then came Baruch Pliter and the Meir brothers and Herschka Rozenblatt. We left together to check the area and found the dead: Shimon Feldman, Lipa Lenger, the son of Alter Garber, Yaakov Rozenblatt, Leib Wiener, Asher Shapira, Chaya Lipshitz and her son Yehoshua, and Ephraim Mullman. In the morning, we dug a hole and buried everyone in a communal grave. Only the elder Garber dug a separate hole for his young son, burying him and shedding a wave of tears over the grave. Still missing were Asher Mullman, the boy Ben-Tzion Olicker, Yaakov Rozenshtein, one of Lipshitz's daughters, and the lawyer Zatz. Later we learned from the farmers that they had been caught alive and hanged in the forest.
After that, our lives in the forest were hard to bear. We could not stay in one place for more than a few hours. Sources of food supplies were inaccessible. We were afraid to light fires, and the distress in full swing. When we would return to a prior hiding place, we would always find traces of rioters who had demolished and destroyed everything. The only thing they did not find was us. Over time we learned how to harvest potatoes and vegetables from abandoned Polish fields and to collect mushrooms and berries from the forest; the only thing missing was bread and salt. And from time to time, we would get a bit of that too.
Following the Partisans
At that time, we first heard about the groups of partisans in the forests. But here was the problem. The Russian partisans did not treat the Jews as persecuted people; if they did kill them, they chased them away. Nonetheless, Nachum Poliack and his two daughters, Kayla Goldberg, a few refugees, as well as Yisraelik Erlich and Baruch, son of Hershel Truckler managed to stay around them. The last two were murdered by the partisans for some kind of an offense. Or just because they were Jewish. However, in spite of this gloomy information, we wanted to join the partisans, as we did not have anything to eat aside from potatoes. In the meantime, we managed to steal a cow from a cowpen and slaughter it. We were satisfied with the meat, but there was a lot of difficulty in covering the traces of the theft. One evening we came across a Ukrainian who was a member of a partisan group, and he told us that if we so desired, he would help us join them. Some of us were enthusiastic about it, but others said that he could be a spy and it would be good if we killed him. However, Jews are always prone to imagining things, and not only did we not kill the Partisan we also did not change our hiding place. Ultimately, he informed the Banderites about us, and they, disguising themselves as partisans, won the hearts of the women, who convinced the men that the partisans wanted to do good by us. They even brought us apples and good food
and told us to gather on Sunday to go as a group to join the partisans. In the end, only the doubters among us survived, and the naive were shot or buried alive. Among the last survivors were, aside from myself, just the Meir brothers and Hershka Rozenblatt, Niona Lenger and her daughter, the brothers Baruch and David Pliter, the two children of Asher Shapiro, and one boy from Shumsk. These individuals constituted the sole survivors remaining in the forests. On my advice, we decided to leave the woods and to try to manage in the villages. I suggested this for one reason only: if we were killed in the forest we'd be eaten by dogs, but in the village, we would at least be buried…
Once Again in Mizoch
The chances of getting by in the village were then very faint. The Poles moved into town, the Ukrainians were scared of the nationalists, and the Czechs did not want to risk themselves for the sake of the Jews. In spite of all of this, we left in small groups to try our fates. I was with Yonah Olicker and we decided to knock on the doors of acquaintances that were known to help Jews. We wandered from acquaintance to acquaintance, but we could not stay with anyone for more than a single day. Ultimately, we decided to turn back to Mizoch to the Ukrainian Pochbula, whom we knew had hidden the Yehuda Broinshtein. And indeed, he took us in and, in exchange for a suit, agreed to hide us for two months. His two sons were members of the army troops of the Banderites, but they were among the few who did not murder other peoples. They told us that in senior positions in the party there are now two opinions regarding the treatment of minorities. The extremists demanded the elimination of the Jews once and for all, as well as of the Poles and the Russians. The moderates were more in favor of occupying the land without war with the local residents of other ethnicities. They proposed to postpone coming up with a solution to the minority issue until after the war. And in the meantime, each group would act of its own accord, with the extremists killing any person who did not belong to the Ukrainian nation. Unfortunately, our days of rest with Pochbula did not last. After a few days, he came to us with the suit and requested that we, for our own sakes, flee from Mizoch that night, as the Ukrainian nationalist command decided to attack the Germans from here, and to turn Mizoch into their fortress, scrubbed clean of any foreign element. As soon as night fell, we left his house and saw many other residents of Mizoch leaving town. Of course, we could not afford to be discovered, and we climbed onto the roof of a pigsty and lay on it. We saw the Banderites banding together, heard their orders, and thought that our end was near. During the night they took over the Polish district and massacred its population. Afterward, they burned all the houses to the ground. The Germans were not able to be taken as easily, and their war lasted all night. Towards morning, the Ukrainians began to retreat in battle and the Germans burned
all the areas of the town which were inhabited by Ukrainians. Fortunately for us, the pigsty upon which we hid was in a different part of the town that was intended to be saved, and thus we were not burned alive. We lay there without any food or water but we hardly felt this for three days. When things calmed down, the owner of the pigsty returned home and, without any choice, we called out to him as he came out and went around the pigsty. He was simply happy to see us and told us to dig potatoes out of the plot alongside the house for both the pigs as well as for ourselves. The residents of Mizoch who had fled because of the battles began to return to town and, due to the fact that most of the houses had been destroyed, many found shelter in the house where we were staying.
So, we were both pushed into a hole in the granary, without any room to move. The owner of the house who knew about us then located our hiding place, and subsequently invited all those who stayed in the house to a feast inside, while helping us out of the hideout and allowing our escape. We decided to go to the village Borshechibksi-Czechi, where Yonah Olicker had hidden with Liza Melamed and her son Yasha immediately following the destruction of the ghetto. The Czech Milak Dos could not hold everyone, so Yonah left while Liza and her son stayed. The Czech man was not among the wealthy so we knew that the suit in our possession would buy us shelter for a few days. The Czech was very happy with us, as his conscience constantly bothered him for sending Yonah away. And when he realized that he was still alive, he was truly content. To our question of whether or not Liza still lived, he answered that he hoped that all Jews will be in as good of shape as her. He added that she and her son remained under his wing, and that he would protect her until the end of the war, even if he would have to pay for it with his life. The following day we met with Liza and her son. This was the first time since the destruction of the ghetto that Liza had seen another Jew, and everyone was immensely happy. Liza and her son looked terrible. Though they were relatively secure, they were also dirty, skinny, and filled with lice, suffering from hunger and deprivation as the Czech was poor and lived in squalor, though he shared with them what he had. Also hidden in this village were the Rozenblatt brothers and Yisrael Olicker, Yonah's uncle. In those days, the village had different parties that were connected with the Ukrainian parties. Presumably they did so only to prevent the fate of the Poles and save themselves from extinction. Our Czech was the head of the local party, and his uncle Yosef Altman was the secretary of the party. The two of them were poor, but that did not prevent them from helping us. When we met with Yisrael Olicker, he told us that the Banderites had caught Yehoshua bar Trachtenberg alive, and when he told them that he resided in the Czech village Broshchivki, they sent him to the secretary of the local party, Altman, to ask for work and help on their behalf. And so it was. The attitude of the Czech village-- where everyone knew about us-- was more than excellent. For example, the wife of the man whose house we were in, did not agree to let us eat our meals in the cowpen,
and more than once we had to eat at the table with everyone. We always preferred to eat in the dark, as when we sat at the table in the house, we were always expecting danger.
Under the Auspices of the Czechs
Due to the disruption of transportation, the mutual war between the residents, and the extinction of the Jews, there was a great shortage of clothes and salt. For simple salt, which used to have a near-zero price, you now had to pay a fortune. This situation was also caused by the fact that the Ukrainians were afraid to visit cities because the Germans would be suspicious that they were spies. The head of the party, the same Altman, therefore approached me with an offer: that if we had enough money, he would go to Zdolbuniv and bring salt and clothes from there. Of course, he promised me a share in the profits. I gave him ten dollars as well as a letter to a Czech contact who lived in Zdolbuniv and owed me money. That morning, he rented a cart and traveled, and we entered the granary to grind flour in the hand mill. The children and their mother were in the fields. Surprisingly, and without us noticing, a cart filled with armed Ukrainians entered the yard. They headed straight towards the pigsty where we were working. And they were very happy to see us, as one of them was an old acquaintance, even asking me to say hello to my parents. When I said that they had perished, he expressed his sorrow, and I do not know if this was about the loss of my parents or the fact that I still lived… Then he asked about the identity of my friends. I said that one was named Yonah and the other was Srul Olicker. When they heard that his name was Yisrael, they began to probe and determine if this was the Srul who owned a tavern in Mizoch. I realized immediately that this murderer had sinister intentions towards Rabbi Yisrael, but I could not back down anymore and claim otherwise. They did indeed move on without harming us, but we were already experienced in these matters and knew that we had to leave the place right away. Of course, the next day they returned, searching for us among the pigs, especially for Yisrael, but did not find anyone. Altman's journey was successful; he returned from his mission safely and collected my debt from the Czech. In Zdolbuniv he sold poultry and eggs that he bought relatively cheap in the village for high prices, as well as bought salt that had been purchased at a comfortable price and sold at a very fat margin. He was in a good mood and he decided to act cunningly. He went to the headquarters of his Ukrainian party and asked what he should do with the Jews coming to the village. To kill alone or to keep them alive? To his amazement, they said to him not to harm them, but rather to give them any help they could. So, he told them that the Ukrainian nationalist army had searched for Jews in order to kill them. The party told him in the clearest way that those who did that were merely robbers and they must be simply expelled from the village. And to reinforce the message-- they gave him weapons
for distribution among the members of the party for the purpose of this action. After that, our situation greatly improved. Altman got very rich and even brought me a pair of boots for the winter.
On the Verge of Liberation
Fall arrived. Due to the persecution, almost all those remaining from Mizoch were gathered in the village. The Czechs received and organized everyone. I was then already free from food-related worries. Altman was earning a lot of money and provided for all of my needs. Good news began to fill the air. The Germans withdrew along the entire front and we already knew that the day of liberation was approaching; however, that was exactly when the danger increased and we did not want to die on the verge of liberation. The damned Banderites harassed us and threatened our lives. Night after night, we would have to change where we were living, occasionally fleeing into fields as well. I remember that one night, amidst an intense frost, it was rumored that the Banderites were coming to take us. I was transferred to Liza's hiding place, which for some reason was considered safe. As we lay half-naked in the beds, we heard the footsteps of many people. We jumped out of the window with only the skin on our backs. All night, we lay in the snow in an open field, and in the morning, it turned out that it had been the Soviet vanguard. On December 2nd, the first of the regular Soviet troops entered the village. Our happiness had no limit, but we were not relieved at all. Mizoch and the surrounding villages were used as the center of the Ukrainian nationalist gangs. They fought the Soviets, shooting them down, and no Jew would come out alive. Herschka Rozenblatt, who had managed to get through all of the days of the German occupation, was murdered at the hands of the Banderites after liberation. Mizoch was left with nothing but the place where it once stood, so we could not return to live there, and the Banderites were in control there no less than the Soviets. Consequently, we left to live in Zdolbuniv. But before I left my damned and beloved birthplace, I visited the place twice more, in order to part from the remains of my loved ones' bodies. I saw the place where all of the holy people of the town were killed. I held with my own hands the bones of our dear children that we found after the rain had revealed the earth that covered them. I covered them in soil mingled with tears and silently parted from them, forever in burning pain.
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