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[Page 54]

The Forest Girl

by Kayla Goldberg–Tzizin

Translated from Hebrew by Corey Feuer and Yonatan Altman–Shafer

The day of the Mizoch ghetto's destruction came unexpectedly and found all of the ghetto's residents surrounded by murderous soldiers.

Many of the Jews –– myself included –– knew that the days of the ghetto were numbered and decided to run away from the ghetto and to hide in either the forests or villages surrounding it, but they were too late. I even spoke with Gievski the Ukrainian, with whom I traded in the ghetto, and he gave me a solemn promise that when the time came, he would help me and hide me. The knowledge that the ghetto was surrounded and the destruction was commencing reached me in the wee hours of the morning before dawn.

Without thinking too much or consulting with anyone else, I headed towards the meadow behind the kloyz with my friend Mark Plinker, so that we could escape through it to nearby Krasnogora where my “friend” Gievski lived. When we reached the reeds, we saw Tuviya Kantor and Pontik Horowitz standing and consulting with each other as to whether to pass through and risk being shot or find another path. We too stood still and saw that they were shooting at every visible person that passed through the reeds. We also saw the first ones killed and were encouraged by the fact that quite a few people managed to escape without getting hurt. We ran forward. Whistling bullets flew over our heads and from all sides, and after a few minutes we found ourselves in the safe and sound in the garden of the Russian Orthodox priest. We rested for a few minutes and then taking a circuitous route, we made it to Gievski's house. I knocked on a window and I saw an unknown hand close the curtains. I continued to knock but nobody answered. There was no point in lingering by the house in the gentile neighborhood, and so we turned in the direction of the Susinski grove. When we arrived at the grove, dawn was starting to break, and we could see the first farmers walking. With no other way to hide, we climbed a thick tree and hid between its branches. From atop the tree we saw very very many of the farmers of the surrounding area flocking to Mizoch to get a close look at our distress and to gloat. We became intensely fearful and decided not to come down from the tree until it was completely dark out. The farmers passed by the tree on top of which we were sitting and talked about the Jews being led to their deaths. We heard that everyone was praising the Germans and were happy about our misfortune, and our hearts told us that we would not be able to save ourselves from oppressors like those. But we heard other things being discussed as well.

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A few old farmers were shedding tears for our bitter suffering and were prophesying divine punishment for those involved. A glimmer of hope snuck its way back into our hearts and inspired us to fight for our lives, because the country was not yet devoid of honest people. Meanwhile, the day brightened and the traffic on the roads began to wane.

Terrifying screams, the rattling of machines, gunfire, and the cheers of drunken mobs met our ears. Every suspicious rustling in the forest made our blood freeze. Each gunshot tore a hole in my heart, each scream rattled my nerves, and the cheers of the crowd drove me mad. And as this torture and anguish carried on, day faded into the relief of the night. We descended from the tree and decided to go to the village of Horvi. I knew the directions to the village. I had never, however, been there before. I only knew that the village was populated by Poles, it was surrounded by sprawling forests –– some quite large –– and that in the ghetto, they said that it was a place where one could hide. It was dangerous to take the regular main road. Therefore, we went to the fields intending to reach the destination without being seen. The ground was wet; chunks of it stuck to my shoes, and walking was very difficult. The sky over our heads was red from the giant fire that engulfed Mizoch. We were tired, hungry, and broken, and we noticed we lost our way. We had no choice but to go the main road and ask for directions. We knocked on the window of one of the houses. To our great luck, we got a lot of help from this house. We received food and drink and precise directions for the rest of our journey. We continued down our path feeling reassured until we felt sand beneath our feet. We realized we had reached our destination. We immediately saw before us the forests we had heard about and the village itself. With the rest of our strength, we made our way to a forest, found ourselves a spot in the thicket, and, exhausted, fell right asleep.

When we woke up we were close to despair. The forest was very loud and its appearance was threatening to us. The trees and grass were covered with a thick layer of dew like after the rain. We were cold, and our hunger and thirst were beginning to get to us, when suddenly we saw close to us a young farmer with an ax. We did not know who he was and what his intentions were. Was he for us or against us? There was no point in running away. I gathered up my courage, approached him, and inquired about the way to the village of Horvi. He immediately said that he knew we were Jews, and that he would not cause us any harm. He said that he chopped wood in the forest and brought it down to the nearby valley. He was now waiting for his son who went to get a harnessed carriage for taking the wood to his house. As the conversation continued, he suggested we come over to his house for a few days, and he said that many of the people of Mizoch went to Horvi to hide. In the meantime, his son arrived with the cart and food. We then went with them to their house. In the evening, we arrived at a house that stood at the edge of the village. The farmer told us to stay next to the granary outside and that he would come to take us to the house after he put the children to bed.

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We sat next to the granary and waited. The hours passed by and the farmer was nowhere to be found. Different ideas popped into my mind. Who knows? Maybe he went to call the Germans in order to hand us over to them. Maybe he was sharpening an ax so he could murder us. But there was no choice. We did not have the strength to run away now. Finally, he appeared. We went into his house, had a big meal, and the farmer even set up sleeping space for us in the granary. We stayed four days in the granary and also got food. Eventually, it dawned on me that the farmer desired me and that Mark might pay with his life, so we decided to leave. On the fifth day, the farmer came and informed us that the “guys” were coming over that night and so it would be advisable to leave the village beforehand. We received from the farmer provisions for the trip, detailed instructions on how to get to the residencies of the Baptists, and a request to return to him any time we had difficulties. We kissed him and parted with him as friends. We found out later that the man was actually a dangerous horse thief, well–known from the underworld, but nevertheless, he treated us a lot better and nicer than the many others considered “decent”.

On our journey, the Poles harassed us and threatened to rat us out to the Germans. I could not hold myself back and told them that they should at least, now that they had lost their independence to the Germans, treat us like human beings. The old Poles begged us not to argue with the young Poles and suggested that we escape quickly from the area. We returned to the forest, where we met Shlomo Shteinberg with his two children, who were refugees in Mizoch. We were already five hunted people. Together we went to Kalinka and were joined there by the old Weltfroind couple from Katowice, who had been refugees in the Mizoch ghetto. Life, however, forced us to separate again. I met Shlomo Shteinberg, who survived, after the liberation, but the Weltfroinds were murdered. We heard from the gentiles in the surrounding area that not far from the town of Shumsk, there was a village called Andrushchovka populated with evangelicals who helped any Jews that came to them. We headed towards the village. One of the days we were at the village Feremarovka, we heard that the family of Mizoch's watchmaker was hiding in the nearby forest. This referred to Nahum Poliak. I found a farmer who knew exactly where they were residing, and he agreed to take me to them. My acquaintances wanted to dissuade me from going, but I decided to take the risk only so that I could meet Jews from Mizoch.

Incidentally, the guide felt at home in the forest. We walked a long way until we reached a cave. We entered the cave and found Nachum Poliak and his whole family. I hardly recognized them. Covered in soot, they were black like Africans. The cave was lit and heated with bonfires, and the family resembled people living in a grave. We spent the whole day sitting in the cave and telling our stories. We did not stop listening and storytelling until the farmer urged me to return to the village.

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During our wanderings, we met many of our acquaintances from Mizoch, and sometimes our group grew very large. We were especially invigorated by a group of refugees from Końskie who had been in the Mizoch ghetto.

One time, one of the Konskie refugees –– his name was Ben–Zion –– went with Mark to find bread for us and encountered Ukrainian murderers that killed them in cold blood. Our group dispersed out of fear, and I was left by myself.

Later, I once again met Nachum Poliak and his two daughters. He told me that their cave had been discovered and only he and his daughters survived the incident. I joined Nachum and his daughters and we hid in a village. One evening we were joined by two of the people from Konskie who had lived in the Mizoch ghetto, a man and a woman. His name was Gedaliya and her name was Bluma. A terrible storm was brewing outside and the farmer with whom we were hiding agreed that we would spend the night in his house. During the conversation, he told us that his son, who was a forest ranger, had adopted a Jewish girl that was found wandering the roads on the day of the destruction of the Mizoch ghetto. According to him, the name of the girl was Andazia, and she was from Konskie. Based on what the farmer said, Bluma understood that he was talking about her younger sister. And that was indeed who he was talking about. The farmer also told us that his son was visited by partisans, and we very much wanted to join the partisans. The farmer, however, did not easily agree to lead us all to the partisans. He first wanted to get explicit permission from the partisans' headquarters. We therefore decided to go to the partisans on our own. We went to the forest ranger and decided to trace his steps in order to find the partisans. During this period, Ukrainian Banderite partisans who also murdered Jews –– not less efficiently and possibly more so than the Germans –– also swarmed the forests, and great care was required in approaching the partisans. By chance, I happened then to meet with Miriam Trochlier. I learned from her that her son Baruch and his friend Yisroel Erlich were living in the forest and looking for weapons in order to join the partisans. According to her, the Rozenblat brothers were also in the area. We eventually met, at the forest ranger's, with many Jews and also with the partisans. Among the partisans was a German officer called Stanislav who had defected from the army and joined the partisans. They said that he did so because of his communist opinions and views. The partisans, however, merely tolerated our presence near them. They did not allow us to join them, as they required in exchange for our joining many weapons, which we could not obtain. One bright day, the partisans disappeared and we were left alone and abandoned.

Once, when I stumbled again upon Feremarovka village and ended up at the house of an evangelist farmer, the farmer whispered in my ear that she was hiding another Jew. In the evening, we went to her pigsty, and answering her call, a terrible monster crawled out of a hidden hole. When he heard that I was a Jew, he stood up, began to stroke my hand, and in a strained voice mumbled incessantly:

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“You are a Jew! Another Jew is alive!” A revolting odor wafted from him, and he was dirty like the pigs in the pen. He told me that he was a ritual slaughterer from the nearby town and he had been living like this for several months. Then and there, I decided to take him with us. He caused us lots of trouble because he was not sound of mind and he prayed everywhere very loudly. He once went looking for Soviet partisans and ended up dying at the hands of Banderites.

On January 18th, 1944, the first of the Soviet soldiers arrived at the forest. On January 21st, we received a certificate from an officer of the regular army which said that we were Jews who were hiding in the forests of Slavuta and we were now being sent to the home front. They also brought us three horse–drawn wagons, provisions for the journey, and great relief. During those days, Shlomo Shteinberg, with whom I had once hidden, joined us badly injured. The Soviet soldiers, who proceeded like a flowing stream, did not cause any difficulties for us during our journey. An officer once stopped us and told us to travel around a different path, as the path on which we were traveling was laden with mines. This thing –– seemingly understandable and simple –– brought me to tears; a few days ago we were like hunted animals and lo and behold, we were again human and there were people caring about our wellbeing. In the town of Krasnostav, we were stopped by an officer who told us to go to the school atop the nearby hill to see how a war criminal who had collaborated with the Nazis in the extermination of Jews was being tried for his crimes. When we entered the court, the mayor was testifying and he told of how the defendant with his own hands slashed the bellies of the Jewish children, crushed the heads of infants, and robbed and abused the Jewish civilians. He slammed the witness stand hard and shouted at the murderer: “how could you hand over our Jews to death for a kilogram of salt you got from the Nazis?” The murderer was condemned to death, and the sentence was carried out on the spot. We were present when he was hung, and we received much satisfaction from the death of the wicked man.

From there we reached Novohrad–Volynskyi. There was a serious military situation in the town. Nevertheless, the officer of the city provided us with a place to sleep. We could not and did not want to reach Kiev, as it was completely destroyed. We therefore went to Zhytomyr. We knew that a Jewish woman named Geskis lived there at 13 Snotzki Alley, and that many of the remaining Jews were living with her. We of course immediately went to this address and found an actual angel in the form of a woman. I had not seen a traditional Jewish home since the day we were imprisoned in the ghetto, and here, on a Friday, we had come to a house where candles were lit in gleaming silver candlesticks, the house was shining with cleanliness, and there were beautiful Jewish dishes on the table –– and on top of all that, the house was full of Jewish survivors. In Zhytomyr, we underwent a medical exam. The badly wounded Shlomo was taken to a hospital and all of us received a little bit of money, clothes, and, most importantly, encouragement. After some time, jobs were also arranged for us. One time, I met Yaakov Gelman in the street. My emotions from the meeting ran high,

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even more so when I learned from him that my brother Mordechai was alive and that he was planning to head through Poland and Germany to the land of Israel. I immediately began to make preparations to go with the advancing Russian army to Poland. I enlisted with the army and made it to Berlin. Meanwhile, the war ended. I was discharged from the army and found among the living my relative Chaim Tzitzin. I married him and we got by in Germany. There, I connected with my brother who was in Austria, and after lots of wandering, we all met in our liberated country –– in a Jewish nation.

 

The Sugar Factory in Mizocz

 

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Memories of a Partisan

by Yankev Mendiuk

Translated from Yiddish by Clair Padgett

I was twelve years old during the outbreak of the German-Polish war. At that time, I was in 5th grade at a Polish folk-school in Mizoch. My older sister Rokhl studied at the Tarbut[1] secondary school and my six-year-old younger brother, little Motl, was in kindergarten.

My parents had a nice manufacturing business in Mizoch, from which we earned enough money to take care of ourselves.

Soon after the fighting erupted, masses of refugees started arriving in Mizoch. We locals called them “biezshentses.[2]” Their numbers climbed day by day and we began to run low on basic products. The stores started running out and many of them closed. My father explained to me that we would also have to close our business since we could not travel to get more materials, given that all the trains were occupied by the military.

One Sunday, a rumor spread through town that the Russians were coming to aid Poland. People were saying that their troops were already in neighboring villages and that they would be in Mizoch at any minute.

There was a huge commotion. On hearing the news, everyone was out on the street and many went out to meet the Red Army with flowers in their hands.

My parents were among the few who were worried by the news, since they remembered well what happened in the 1920's, when, with the arrival of the Bolsheviks, Jews were beaten and their businesses ransacked.

But this time, the situation looked entirely different. The new Soviet regime disarmed the Polish police

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and declared that the war between Germany and Poland had ended, that western Ukraine would unite with Russia.

The Polish refugees then began returning to German occupied territories, and in their place, new Jewish refugees fleeing from German occupied Polish territories arrived.

The incoming refugees would tell horrific stories about how the Germans treated the Jews. They had recounted, among other things, how Jews were mugged by everybody. They were driven out of their homes and forced into hardship and agonizing labor. They had to wear yellow patches, could not come by basic goods, and were locked in ghettos. Jews were beaten and shot without rhyme or reason. The Jews of Mizoch received their fleeing brothers with open arms. And, although new refugees came to us daily, they all found shelter and work.

Meanwhile, the Soviets began to pillage the surviving businesses. They bought up everything possible and paid whatever price they were given. Watching them, old residents started hoarding too, and soon there was a general shortage. All of the businesses closed, and their owners started making efforts to acquire positions working under the Soviets. My father also liquidated his business and became an employee in the sugar factory, which had become nationalized.

In school, the Russian language replaced Polish. With the start of the school year, I became a sixth-grader. New teachers arrived and everything was re-arranged: a new language, new holidays, a new curriculum. Everything was new. In school, different social circles emerged. However, the children of business owners were not included. This caused plenty of anxiety for us children who were affected. In the midst of this, my father was establishing contacts with kinsmen in Russia and left Mizoch on a visit about three weeks before Germany invaded Russia.

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On Sunday, the 22 of June, 1941, for a second time a state of war was declared. This time, a war between Germany and Russia. Tuesday, the Russians started to evacuate Mizoch. The Jews, knowing what awaited them at the hands of der daytch (the Germans,) began to evacuate with the Red Army. Due to the hastiness of the Soviet's retreat and the resulting hardships, however, many of the evacuating Jews unfortunately returned to Mizoch. The Germans were upon us by Friday morning. The same day, the Russians heavily bombed the little town, and houses as well as the Orthodox Church were damaged. Some Jews, too, fell victim to the bombardment. The next Sunday, the Ukrainians began a pogrom against the Jews: masses of peasants came together from all of the surrounding villages, armed with axes, iron clubs, scythes and the like. They all inebriated themselves at the brewery and began to cut loose according to their custom. Houses were pillaged, several Jews were killed, and many more were wounded.

From that day on, we became strays. Not just the Germans, but the Ukrainians, too, did whatever they wanted with us.

Within a few weeks, the edicts began. First, the Germans ordered us to wear white patches on our right arms, then they changed the ordinance and told us to wear yellow patches. One in front on our right side, and one on our backs, between the shoulders. Children had to wear patches, too. I remember, as if it were today, how ashamed I was to walk out on the street with the patch, since my Polish friends would laugh at me and tease.

Before long the Germans established a Judenrat[3], with a Jewish police force armed with batons. Every day new taxes and laws were imposed on us. The Germans would make demands and the Judenrat would collect.

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The “HaShomer HaLeumi” on the day of the departure of Rachel Nemirover, the group's first immigrant to Israel

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Our family had remained together up to this point, except for my father, who was stuck with his kinsmen in Russia and could not come home.

In October 1941, I began to work in the sugar factory with several other Jews. We were tasked with the hardest work there was to do, and for this we were given 120 grams of bread, a few basic products and some money. Split among family members, we would get 30 grams of bread apiece.

At the start of 1942, the work at the factory ended and the Mizoch Ghetto was established. Our house fell within its boundaries. From all the surrounding hamlets, they gathered up the Jews and placed them in the ghetto. People lived in rooms, in attics, in cellars -- it was cramped and stuffy everywhere. The Ukrainian police would often make searches in ghettos. They searched for arms and would take away anything they wanted. Meanwhile, they would beat and torment us. The 10th of January, 1942, the Germans ordered that 200 Jewish laborers be handed over. Before the workers had been supplied, they increased the number to 300. I was among those handed over. We were pushed 17 kilometers on foot towards Zdolbunov[4] , where there had already been a ghetto for over two months. Here we convinced ourselves that it was just like any other old town. In Mizoch, we had lived as though in paradise…

For work, we were organized in the middle street like horses. We were forbidden to go on the sidewalks. We had to remove our hats for every German and Ukrainian. With every mistake we were menaced with death. In the Zdolbunov Ghetto there were only women and children. The men were taken from them allegedly to work and had not returned. Those of us from Mizoch were located in the devastated and abandoned municipal synagogue, which laid within the domain of the ghetto. By night, we passed time on the wet stone floor in immense suffering and barely lived to see day.

6 a.m. after breakfast, which consisted of 40 grams of bread and a half-liter of black coffee, we left for work under the command of the German Joseph Yung. The working conditions were horrible.

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From 7 a.m. until noon, we had to work without stopping to catch a breath. Noon to 1 p.m. was lunch hour. Lunch consisted of a little bit of watery soup with some rotten, uncooked potatoes and 40 grams of bread. From 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the evening, we continued to work without resting, as if we were the worst of convicts. In the evening we had bread again, 40 grams of bread and a cup of black coffee. For pausing to catch a breath from work, we were given deadly blows.

Under the conditions, my sister Rokhl became terribly sick. The house was cold. There was no Jewish doctor there. A bit of fat or sugar was impossible to come by. Medicines were out of the question. My 8-year-old little brother would sneak out of the ghetto and go to work for a peasant in a village. For his work, he would bring home a bit of milk for sick Rokhl. We were sure that our Rokhl would not survive. But our neighbor, the old bonesetter Mr. Itzik Flitter, made a remedy for her and she became healthy.

I remained in forced labor far from home. In March, 80 Jews were driven from Zdolbunov to Rovne[5] , and I was among them. In Rovne, we worked under the same command and the same doggish conditions as in Zdolbunov. In the once lively Jewish district of Rovne, over 6,000 Jews had lived in total. The majority of them were already liquidated. On “1 May Day” in 1942, the Gestapo ordered all the Jews to assemble at the regional commissioner's building in order to hear an important speech.

Various fantastic rumors soon spread in the ghetto. Some said that Hitler had reconsidered and was freeing the Jews from the ghetto, others said that something not so good was coming. Everyone waited for the uncertain morning. Our group was commanded at the time by the German engineer Grobe. He treated us decently and was generally not like other Germans. When the Jews from Rovne had to appear before the regional commissioner, he gave us leave and ordered us to go home.

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This had provoked suspicion in the Judenrat and they consulted with the Gestapo. Grobe got an order for us to immediately be called back to work and even before we arrived at home, we got the order immediately to return to Rovne. But we could not manage to follow this new order. We returned shortly afterwards, as the Rovne Jews were surrounded and loaded on railroad cars. The Gestapo and the Ukrainians were always after us, but Grobe defended us. The murderers succeeded in seizing only six Jews from our group. From our residence we saw how our Jewish brothers from Rovne were loaded into railroad cars like cattle. We heard their screams and cries, we saw and heard how they were shot and killed. We looked on as Engineer Grobe fought with the Gestapo for our lives. We saw the death before our eyes, and survived the resistance of the Rovne Jews.

The liquidation of the Rovne Jews went on the entire night, until they were driven away into the Kostopol forest[6] in the morning.

At 8 a.m. we were marched to work. Our group had grown a little larger and we were now numbered at a total of 100 men. We grew with the addition of 20 Jews saved from the slaughter in Rovne. Grobe transferred us back to Zdolbunov, since Jews were no longer permitted to be in Rovne: It was declared to be completely “judenrein.[7]

I was put to work in Zdolbunov within four weeks. I lived at this time with a woman named Kitay. The Germans had taken her husband away as soon as they were inside Zdolbunov and she never saw him again. My strength began to leave me. The hard work, the awful diet, and the terrifying events I survived made a skeleton out of me. I was afflicted with a heart illness and I began to suffer from lethargy. My mother went to the Judenrat, and they gave them my father's holiday garments and obtained a month's leave for me. Afterwards, as they sent another to take my place, I was free to come back to Mizoch.

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The 24th of August 1942, soon after I came home, the Germans gave us a letter from my father. The letter had been sent out of the Russian state by the International Red Cross. At first, we were completely joyful, as this was the first bit of news we'd received from him since the war broke out. But soon anxiety and dread took the place of joy, and we began to live in permanent fear that the Germans would take us for communists and annihilate our family. However, they let us rest until the liquidation, which would come two months later. During my leave, fate had it that I would survive the denunciation of Zeyde Gelman by Shlomo Knieber, since he slaughtered a cow and sold the meat to the Jews. Gelman, as well as the farmer who had sold him the cow, were arrested, and both were threatened with death. There was a terrible panic in the ghetto. The peasants threatened everyone that if something happened to the peasant who had sold the cow, the Jews would never again get any kinds of basic goods from them. We soon raised money and the Judenrat proved successful in saving the peasant from the gallows. He got off with a little scare. Gelman, on the other hand, was hanged in the town square.

In early September, fugitive Jews from Dubno[8] came to us in the ghetto: Varkovitch and Yeziorani. Their ghetto was liquidated, and Dubno's borders were declared “judenrein.” Zdolbunov now remained like an island in a raging sea, where Jews still lived for the time being.

At this time, the front was near Stalingrad[9] . We had no precise information about the situation. We only knew that if the Germans won, they would get drunk with victory and intensify their persecution of Jews. It was also bad when there were defeats at the front, since they would then take their anger out on the Jews.

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The High Holidays arrived unexpectedly. The situation turned hopeless. Not a ray of hope was left in the ghetto. Everyone came to the Rosh Hashanah prayer but no young people were seen there. All of them were working in foreign lands. Rabbi Lerner declared in his sermon that the work of the young people, who were not present for the prayers, was even more admirable than prayer since their labor saved the lives of many Jews.

On Yom Kippur eve, all Jews met in the synagogue, without exception. Even the small children and sick people. This time, people came to the synagogue at 3 p.m. because Jews were not allowed on the street after 6 p.m. Nobody really prayed -- just sobbed and lamented. Everyone had someone to mourn or someone to plead for. I remember the sermon by the rabbi's son-in-law, Mr. Shimen Berkovski, as if it were yesterday. He compared us to a flock of sheep, some of which were marked with dye and did not know what the marks had in store for them. He also compared us to a cuckoo, who has no nest of her own and slips her eggs under other birds … we interpreted his words and were comforted a little. We believed that we could obtain salvation through pleading and prayer.

* * *

On the night of October 12 and 13, 1942, a powerful division of the German military and Ukrainian police surrounded Mizoch ghetto. That day, at 4 a.m., I needed to march with a group to work in Zdolbunov. However, they would not let us out. We immediately alarmed all of the residents, and within a minute the town stood weak on its feet. I remember how we were then covered by a thick fog. It seemed as though heaven was trying to protect us. Some Jews began to make for the ghetto boundaries to crawl out of the criminal siege. The fallen did not deter us because it was clear that, either way, death was unavoidable. Others, in turn, began to set fire to their houses so that they would not fall into the hands of the enemy.

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Around 8 a.m., the German police, S.S, Gestapo, and a great many Ukrainian policemen marched into the ghetto. They demanded that all Jews, without exception, should grab three days' worth of food and gather in the market, from which they would be marched to a train for “relocation.” Everyone already knew what “relocation” meant to the Germans. My mother gathered her children to her and said, with much pain, that we had to go with all the other Jews. But to me, a secret force whispered, “Don't give in. Fight for your life.” I tried reasoning with my mother that we should hide. She didn't want to hear a word of it. I told her then that she wouldn't be so easy-going watching us as we were shot. Our father was alive in Russia and we children would try to save ourselves. With great effort I succeeded in changing the minds of my sister and brother so that they would come with me. I could not persuade my mother. We took my mother and went to my uncle, Hirsh Reznik, who was a cantor in the big synagogue. When we reached him, he was wearing his prayer shawl and tefillin, reciting psalms. Our great grandmother and her family were in his house. We said goodbye to all of them and looked upon our dear mother for the last time before going away to the hideout. Our hideout was in our house, well-hidden between two thick walls. The entrance was a concealed door in the corner of the attic. There were ten of us in there, almost all of us juveniles. There was no place to sit, and all of us stood pressed together like herrings in a barrel. In the streets, the wild cries of the mobsters came to our attention: the Ukrainian “heyda!”, the German “Jewish swine!”. Later, we heard the shooting, the weeping, and shuddered at the screaming of tortured Jews. That is how Tuesday, the 13th of October ended.

Wednesday the Germans started to pillage the remaining houses in the ghetto and stole whatever they wanted. We remained in the hideout. Thursday the Germans allowed the Ukrainians to finish the work of plundering the ghetto. These last ones came into the ghetto in big groups and, with crowbars and axes, hacked at the walls, ripped up the floors, and axed the furniture to find hidden Jewish property.

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Looking for things to steal, Ukrainian murderers found the hideout in the attic of our neighbors, the Branstein family. They soon brought Germans in, who blew the hideout up using grenades and strangled all of the survivors. We heard everything from our hiding place and stood terrified.

Friday the hunger really started to prey on us. Our legs were clabbered and we began to envy those who were already resting in their graves. That night two of us -- a mother and a son -- abandoned the hideout. I still don't know what happened to them. Saturday, the 17th of October, rain fell the entire day. Everyone's feet were swollen from hunger and from standing in splitting agony. At 1 o'clock my little brother and I abandoned the hideout. My sister was completely exhausted and could not come with us. The rain was still pouring. Creeping on all fours (we were afraid to walk like human beings) we crawled all the way to the river. Suddenly two Ukrainians appeared out of nowhere, as if they had popped up out of the earth. They had been lying in wait for Jews and blocked our way. I began begging them, weeping, trying to win them over, but nothing helped. They accused us of setting fire to Mizoch and said that we would have to go with them to the Germans. One grabbed me by the arm while the other held on to my coat and dragged me by force. I called to my brother telling him to escape to a farmer that we knew and try to save himself. However, he wanted to stay with me and share the same fate. I screamed at him and demanded him to run away. At this point, he threw himself into the river and began to swim. One of the thugs tried to catch my little brother and I tore myself away from the second, leaving a strip of my coat in his hand. Then both started to pursue me. With no other way out, I copied my brother and jumped into the water. It was already very cold and the thugs didn't feel like bathing.

[Page 71]

“Brit HeChayal” and “Beitar[10] ” in Mizocz

[Page 72]

That is how I saved myself from their hands. I did not find my brother on the other side and have not seen him since.

I climbed up to a Ukrainian village not far from Mizoch. In the fields stood wet bales of grain. I crawled into one of them and collapsed like a corpse, exhausted. Sleep was impossible. The fate of my loved ones would not let me rest.

In the morning, farmers came with pitchforks to turn over the wet straw and drug me out half-dead. They led me into a small house where I came upon three more Jews from Mizoch. It was Hirshke Gantsberg and Ida Ayzengart, along with her brother-in-law. They had arrived here in a similar way. These Ukrainians loyally served the Germans and handed incoming Jews over to the Gestapo.

Our entreaties and arguments for them to free us had no effect. Only when we gave away the money and jewelry that we had managed to take with us did they let us go.

We escaped to the nearby forest and did not have time to hide before dozens of peasants came running after us. The thugs that had taken our money and jewelry in return for not denouncing us had still gone through the entire town spreading the word that four Jews were hiding out in the woods. Given that the Germans would give out salt and sugar for every Jew handed over, there was no shortage of enthusiastic volunteers ready to kidnap Jews. We were quickly surrounded and had nowhere to run. Hirshke Gantsberg and I risked our lives jumping into a deep trench where people crushed stones to make lime. Ida Ayzengart and her brother-in-law were caught by the bandits. From the ditch we heard the murderers torture them to find out where we were. They searched for us for a long time. Only when night fell did they leave the woods. Late in the evening we got out of the trench with difficulty and headed for the Oyezdtse, a town with a Czech population.

[Page 73]

We had believed we'd find something to eat there, but unfortunately people did not want to give us anything, even when we offered them money. Here and there we were able to wheedle out a bit of bread. We only avoided dying of hunger thanks to the beets, potatoes, or little bit of fruit that we found in the fields and gardens. We slept on straw in the fields or out in the underbrush. After many days of that kind of living, we got used to it and adapted to the situation. We got our hands on an axe and a small cart. By night we would pry open warehouses and take bread, meat, fruit and other necessities. We didn't miss eating anymore, but we had to move around frequently.

When it became dangerous to go through Aynsbrukh near Mitlen we decided to go into Mizoch at night to find some of our valuables buried during our time in the ghetto.

After some due preparation, we got under way. Mizoch was a total of eight kilometers ahead of us. Late at night we cautiously entered the town and approached our house. Our apartment looked like a ruin. It terrified me; all of its doors and windows were torn out. An emptiness hovered in its rooms. The furniture was chopped to pieces, the floor ripped open, and the feathers from the pillows and bed covers were scattered everywhere. It was clear that the ransacking was exhaustive. However, we were successful in finding our jewelry and our silver tableware.

We left the town with our property. For the silver, we got six big rolls and spent an entire week laying in a field without having to move.

One day we were recognized by a farmer that we had known and he described to us exactly how our community had met its fate.

[Page 74]

He told us that the Jews from Mizoch had all been rounded up and forced into graves prepared for them near the pine grove and that the Germans had ordered them to undress and lay themselves out side by side. Once this was done, they were shot to pieces, and the Jews that were standing in line were forced to lay themselves over those that had already been shot. Those that were not shot to death were buried alive in these pits.

My teacher, the assimilated Jenia Shisl, had worked in the ghetto as a translator under the commissioner. Before her death, she had asked to be allowed to go into the grave not naked, but with her shirt on. But this last request of hers was refused. This farmer also knew how my sister and little brother met their end. According to him, my sister was successful in reaching Karp Parpeniuk, a farmer who still owed us money from before the war. She stayed in his house for a while and was eventually shot in his yard. After separating from me, my brother little Motl ran to some peasants that we knew, who hid him in a pig pen. When his legs became frostbitten and he could no longer walk, the peasants submitted him to a hospital. The doctor had immediately recognized that the child was Jewish and informed the Germans. When the police came to take him away, he resisted and begged them to spare his life. They promised him that he was just going to be driven to another hospital and would not be shot. He still did not want to go with them. At that point they forced him out into the hospital's courtyard and shot him.

The night I heard this story from the farmer's mouth, I persevered as I had on the night of the liquidation. The extermination of my little brother hurt most of all, and I wept long and hard.

The entire time we were in the woods, we had not changed our clothes or taken the boots off of our feet. Our feet became completely swollen and we often could not walk. With great difficulty, we reached a village.

[Page 75]

With my mother's jewelry, we got bread and fat. We turned back into the woods, crawled into a hole, took off our boots, and began to smear the fat over our swollen feet.

During the next few days, we were able to march. We heard from different sources that there was still a Jewish ghetto in Warsaw and we chose to head that way. We got to Zdolbunov by foot and snuck into a freight train that had to pass through our destination. We made it to Kovel safely and hoped that we would reach Warsaw. Unfortunately, we were discovered at the train checkpoint in Kovel[11] . They caught us and began to escort us to the Gestapo. On the way we both cursed the moment it had occurred to us to escape our destiny. We both said it would have been much better to die with everyone else in Mizoch than in some unfamiliar place after enduring so much pain. I was reminded of my mother's parting words to me, that trying to escape our fate would not be worth it ... and I chose, once again, to escape. I told this to Gantzburg and confessed to him that death could never arrive too late.

When we were over the railroad bridge in Kovel, I did not think long before jumping out. I took as much air in as I could with one breath. They shot and called out and tried to chase after me, but I escaped my persecutors. Now I remained alone. I lost my friend, who I had lived through so many hard days with. I was lonely, tired, and despondent in an unfamiliar place. Walking through the alleys of Kovel, people watched me go by, pointing, “There goes a Jew!”. I don't look particularly Jewish, but my shredded clothes, my tired colorless face, and the terror that shone through my eyes had plainly unmasked me. I quickly understood that the town of Kovel was no place for me, and I went over to the nearby hamlets. I could pass for a Ukrainian and hoped to find work from a farmer. Nobody, however, wanted to take me in.

[Page 76]

Firstly, it was already late fall and there wasn't any work left. Secondly, people demanded documents, which I didn't have. I decided to wander around in the woods and wait for a miracle.

One day, walking through the forest, I heard the command “Stoi, ruki vu vierch.” (Don't move- hands up!) It was the 24th of November, 1942. I turned around and saw that I was surrounded by 15 people, all armed with guns. I raised my hands and one of them immediately searched me. A thick snow had fallen and I trembled from dread and from the cold. I was sure that this time the end had finally come for me. One of them asked who I was, but I couldn't answer. My tongue was paralyzed. Before they blindfolded me, I could tell that my assailants were not people from any military unit, since they all wore different clothes. I was walking for a long time with my eyes covered, being led by two people. From their conversation I understood that they were partisans. We finally came to a halt. They uncovered my eyes and led me into an earth hut. An old man with a large moustache and small beard was sitting in the corner. He was clothed in an old fur coat, and wore a belt with a Lange pistol hanging off of it. He contemplated me for a moment and said loudly “Tell me who you are, you German spy”.

“No!” I contested, “I'm not a spy. I'm a Jew from the town Mizoch, near Rovne. I escaped death. They murdered my elders, brothers and sisters. I saw them bury Jews alive and I went in search of the partisans so that I could take my revenge on the Germans.” The commander thought a little and said to me “I'll take you in as a partisan, but remember, you are a Jew to me and nobody else”.

I knew right away what he meant and I remained... as a Ukrainian. I knew the Ukrainian language perfectly well. I didn't look like a Jew and the performance proved successful. Given that I was the youngest in the detachment, they tasked me with working in the kitchen.

[Page 77]

From then on, I didn't want for any food, clothes, or place to rest my head. Our division was called “Za Rodinu” (For the Fatherland) and numbered 150 fighters. The commander was named Fiodorov, and the fighters had mostly come from defeated regiments of the Red Army. Some were also runaways who had been in German captivity. With time, I became familiar with partisan life and learned how to handle guns.

I liked the partisans and I really wanted to take part in the action. I wanted to avenge the innocent Jewish blood that had been spilt.

The commander did not want to use me for military undertakings, and only after pressure from my friends, did he relent and let me take part in partisan operations.

* * *

In the little town of Tseglov[12] , some German policemen pulled up to collect a consignment of goods. They compiled cows, pigs, grain and other products from the peasants. Everything was being brought together under the provision of the Polish clergy, from which mobilized peasant wagons had to drive everything to Kovel by morning. We got the job of liquidating the Germans and preventing the shipments from leaving town. A strong snowstorm was rampaging outside. It was almost impossible to move. Following the plan, we marched in a group of 60 men to carry out the assignment. Coming into the hamlet, we split off into three groups. The first group was made up of 15 men and had the job of patrolling the town and its environs, cutting the telephone lines. The second group, which had 20 men, surrounded the place where the German unit was stationed. The third group, which was composed of 25 men, and was where I found myself, came close to their guard posts and left three soldiers dead.

[Page 78]

The Germans had not expected such a bold ambush and in a matter of minutes we commanded the warehouse and stalls. Meanwhile, the German unit, which found itself in the priest's house, realized what was happening and a heated fight broke out between our forces. We demanded the Germans to surrender and they answered with a heavy fire. This left us with no choice but to blow up the house together with the Germans.

Our commander Bandorenka turned to me then and said, “You are the youngest and smallest in our group. Here is a bottle of gasoline, matches, grenades, and a revolver. You need to crawl up close to the house, douse the walls with gasoline and set a fire. Then you can throw a grenade or two into the house. The revolver is for special situations.” They adorned my ears with a white pelt, then I went over my task, took up the tools, and crawled over to the house. The house was built of wood, the walls were frozen and wet, and all over the doors and windows were shot up by the “Fritzes.” (The Russians would call the Germans “Fritzes.”) I was successful in crawling close to the house but soon realized that setting it on fire would not be easy. I pulled a grenade out of my pocket, removed the pin and threw it in a window. Seeing that my grenade had provoked confusion among the Fritzes, and that they had not even ceased shooting from one window, I crawled up to the house to sneak into an entryway, doused it well in gasoline and set it on fire. To my surprise, the entire house was soon engulfed in flames and the Germans were forced to abandon it. They then came up against our second group, who opened fire on them. Seeing that they were being attacked from both directions, and believing that we were everywhere in large numbers, they surrendered.

[Page 79]

That day seemed as though it were the best day of my life. I was glad and proud that I had managed to carry out the orders. The amassed goods set aside for the Germans were handed over to us by the peasants. Their losses totaled 18 dead, 24 wounded and 16 captured. In addition, we took eight machine guns, 20 rifles, 15 automatic rifles, 12 revolvers and thousands of bullets. In short, we returned to our base with valuable property and captives.

The military tribunal that the captives faced sentenced them to death for setting fire to the houses in Tseglov and for slaughtering a large part of the local population.

I had volunteered to be among those carrying out the sentence. When the commander gave the order “Fire!”, I did so screaming out loud: for my sister, for my little brother, for my mother and for everyone in Mizoch I put several bullets in those Germans. And I shot them using their own gun.

* * *

From that day forward, an important change took place in my life. I started becoming a valuable member of the detachment. My partisan comrades started looking at me differently. They began to like me and take me into account. I started to feel less like an imposition and more like an authorized member.

The days ran by in a continuous struggle with the Germans. One day when Commander Fiodorov called us together, he told me: “you are Yankev Mendiuk, but everyone calls you 'Vanka.' Because you outwitted the Germans, I'll give you a last name, 'Makhliuk.'” Going forward, I was officially and unofficially named Vanka Makhliuk.

My single best friend during this time was either the automatic gun or the Luger pistol that I had taken from the Germans. I couldn't part with them for a minute.

[Page 80]

In springtime, 1943, our unit greatly increased in size. The German assault was broken in Stalingrad and Moscow. Their persecution became merciless and we created a new partisan unit with the name “Chapaiev”.

On the 16th of April, 100 men from our unit (myself among them) received the orders to cross over into Poland in order to strengthen a local partisan branch called Dzerzhinsky. The group was led by a hero from the Soviet Union, who we called Charni (the black). We set out on our goal, losing 20 men on the way through side battles and joined the Dzerzhinsky unit, which was in the Rudnitsky woods near Vengrov[13] at the time. I knew Polish and fit in easily. They just changed my name from Makhliuk to Makhliak to sound more Polish.

I became involved in the intelligence group. Although it was much more difficult and dangerous than the military regiment, I put all my effort into carrying out my responsibilities.

Our task consisted of preventing German reinforcement along the Eastern front and recruiting more Poles into the partisan ranks. In my group, which was made up of 30 men, I passed myself off as a Pole. Our area of activity took up the Podlias territory and a part of the Lublin region. We had contacts and connections with people working for the Germans. Many of them used to help us, especially by laying mines in the roads. These were some of the same Poles who worked the railroads. I became interested in the fate of the Jews and came by different bits of information about them. There wasn't a ghetto any more. The Jews had all been deported. On rare occasions they were still found working, as so-called “useful Jews.” I heard about the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. During the “deportation” of the Shedlits[14] Ghetto, the Germans handed over 180 Jews to work on the railroad.

[Page 81]

In May 1943, all of them were taken to the Jewish cemetery and massacred. A small group of Jews worked in Radzim[15] in the carpentry and lockmaking workshop under the local Gestapo. I was successful in establishing contact with them. Being aware of the fate of the Jews from Shedlits, I took great efforts and arranged for some of them to join us in our detachment. In Sokolov Podlaski[16], the Germans constructed an alternate railway which headed towards Treblinka. With this route they used to carry military cars full of “deported” Jews and drop them off in Treblinka. It was said that there the Germans had special facilities where they would kill thousands of people at a time. Afterwards, they removed the victims' skin and fat and made soap from it.

In late September 1943, our unit was stationed in the hamlet Karchov, 20 km from Sokolov. We were informed that a train carrying Jews had stopped at the Sokolov station. The train was decorated with flowers and was especially guarded. Various slogans were written on the sides of the train and it was headed in the direction of Treblinka.

Our members soon chose to hold up the train, liquidate the German guards and free the Jews. Afterwards we would inform them where they were being transported.

In order to execute this task, my unit went out in a group of 200 men. We stopped the train 20 kilometers outside of Treblinka by blowing up the rails with grenades. When the train came to a halt, a harsh battle broke out between the German guard and our unit. After the tough and bloody conflict, in which we lost 12 fighters, we took control of the situation. The transport consisted of 600 Jews, Czech citizens. It was very difficult to communicate with them, since none of them spoke any Polish or Russian. We quickly understood that they were all engineers and that they had been sent to the east in order to re-establish industries ruined by the war.

[Page 82]

The Polish Folk-School in Mizoch- almost all of the students are Jewish

[Page 83]

Interestingly, they were so fooled by the German propaganda that they had taken their instruments and technical manuals with them. They had even arranged an orchestra with a buffet in the car…

When we told them that only 20 kilometers away stood the death camp Treblinka, where Jews were murdered night and day and Germans made soap from their fat, they didn't believe us. Only when we told them to get a good whiff of the air and take in the smell of death did they begin to understand. They then set fire to the train and scattered as best they could. Some of the young people came along with our division.

After that bit of work, the Germans brought in the Ukrainian “Galician” Division, as well as Polish police, to stabilize the situation. They began a sweeping campaign to end the runaway engineers and exterminate the partisans. During the course of that week, we had endless clashes with larger German forces and many of our members were killed or wounded.

* * *

I remember a beautiful sunny day in July. We hid ourselves near the village Yablone, planning to wait it out there. However, we quickly realized that we were surrounded on all sides. There were 80 of us, many of which were wounded. An unbalanced fight ensued, for life or death. Our ranks were sparsely scattered and we no longer had anything to defend ourselves with. With superhuman strength we stood our ground until nightfall. Of the entire unit, only twelve managed to tear themselves out of the iron chain with which the enemy had encircled us. We went into Yablone and quickly blended in with the locals.

[Page 84]

I could have audaciously stayed in that village as a Pole and lived peacefully. I even had the right documents. My conscience, however, would not let me rest. My blood boiled and demanded revenge on the Germans, as much as possible. I met with my Polish friends and we chose to continue the fight in a new partisan unit.

We went into the Garvolin forest[17] and came across a partisan group which belonged to the A.K.[18] The commander, “Zhbik” welcomed us warmly as Poles who left the Soviet units and came together to fight with our Polish brothers.

After a few weeks of membership with the A.K., I was incorporated into the second corps of military intelligence stationed in Lionke by Warsaw. My life became dangerous at this point. It wasn't the work itself that posed a threat, but the danger of being exposed by my comrades as a Jew. I was especially afraid that in my sleep, a Yiddish word might pop out of my mouth. A terrible hatred of Jews ran rampant in the A.K division, and the life of a Jew was not worth a dime. There were times when I discovered other Jews among the members, but I was scared of letting myself be discovered through association with them. It's possible that they felt the same.

Bit by bit we became the real sovereigns of the eastern part of Warsaw and its surroundings. Our influence was so great that we would attack the Germans in broad daylight.

At that point I saw the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. My hatred of the Germans was once again inflamed. Walking down the street, I always carried a gun and was ready for anything.

Once, walking in Praga down a street in Mokotow[19] with a suitcase full of literature, some Volks-Deutschen began harassing me, telling me to give them money since I was a Jew. My arguments and protests were of no use, and they began to drag me to the Gestapo. I hastily turned around, pulled out my revolver, and laid them out dead. I took off gladly, and left Esk(?) in peace.

[Page 85]

These money-hungry gangs, which were employed by the Germans, used to roam Poland, menacing Jews in hiding with the threat of death.

Something similar happened another time I was walking down Skarzhevski street in Prage[20] , across from the employment exchange, with a couple of comrades from my unit. Two girls, around 16 or 17 years old, were going to the employment exchange to enroll for work in Germany. They were detained by a German gendarme and a Polish policeman. Their documents were in order. One of them, however, looked like a Jewish kid. The policemen immediately stood them against a wall and shot two blanks at them. One screamed “Oy vey iz mir!” the other “Jesus and Mary!” The thugs, seeing their suspicions confirmed, executed the Jewish girl on the spot. We had stood by and watched the entire thing unfold. As soon as the girl collapsed, we took out our revolvers and laid the policemen out dead beside her.

My senses evolved drastically. I would detect a threat like a trained animal. In addition, I was careful never to forget the Sunday prayers in church and always wore a cross around my neck.

1944 was a year of heavy persecution by the Polish people. We received the orders to mercilessly liquidate the collaborators and informers working with the Germans and to recruit more men.

At the beginning of 1944, Gauleyter Kutchner, the well-known executioner and murderer from the Warsaw Ghetto, was assassinated on Unia Lubelska Square[21].

About a month later, we carried out a risky assault on an armored car which was carrying 10 million zloty from Krakow to Warsaw. The attack, which I took part in, occurred on Senatorska Street[22]. It made a strong impression on the entire country.

[Page 86]

The Germans promised a reward of 5 million zloty for information about the participants in the attack. Despite the frequent searches and arrests that the Germans were making in Warsaw, our activity expanded and intensified.

On the 17th of July, 1944, since I was born in Volhynia[23], I was moved to the Lublin station, the 127th Volyn division of the A. K.

The news from the front was very good: The Red Army was already standing at the gates of Poland. The invasion from the Allies in France had methodically unfolded and the Germans grew weaker day by day. We were also pursuing the retreating German army from the east and we caused serious losses.

On the 28th of July, 1944, the Red Army made it into Liubartov (Lubartow), which was 28 kilometers from Lublin.

Our unit, which numbered 250 men, was transferred to Lublin in order to take over the powers that be in the freed city. We were, however, disarmed by the Soviets there. A big part of our group took flight and the rest of us were arrested and put in the city castle, which had served as a jail during the German occupation. The Russians treated us as though we were enemies. They treated us very badly -- they were brutal and pitiless.

I once called for Soviet officers to tell them that I was actually a Jew, and that I had only fought with the A.K. in order to save my life, but they paid no attention to me.

We were forced to carry out various difficult and unpleasant kinds of work. For example, exhuming people murdered by the Germans or, inversely, burying those that were killed during the German retreat and had not been buried.

In two weeks, a Polish committee under the direction of a major unexpectedly arrived in our prison in order to recruit volunteers among us for the front.

[Page 87]

The major was a Jew, and I told him how I came to be in the A.K. He took a strong interest in me and dispatched me to work in Lublin's district office. There, as an ex-partisan and worker with the U.B. (security service), I advanced as a second lieutenant.

At the end of August, 1944, I was dispatched to Shedlits (Siedlce), to the chief of the investigative service's office under the government's security division. There I had the opportunity to send hundreds of Jew-murderers and other German saboteurs and agents to rest eternally in their graves.

An important section of the ex-A.K. members, who were not happy with the new democratic order in Poland, became involved with the nationalist N.S.Z.[24] and they continued their underground fight. This time, however, it was against the new Polish order and the Red Army.

Though they had been successful in escaping German hands and surviving concentration camps, prisons, and cruel torture, respected democratic leaders fell by their murderous hands.

The first of November, 1944, an unsuccessful assassination attempt was carried out on me as well. I knew that I would pay for my office sooner or later with my life, and I realized the time was right to mobilize myself in the army, where I would offer my life in order to take the revenge that was due to all of the Jewish enemies and contemptible fascists.

The 3rd of January, 1945, I was admitted into the intelligence service of the second regiment in the third division and took active part in the fight in Warsaw.

The 11th of January, we received the order to fetch, for any price, a “tongue” (a living German captive.) On a pitch-black night, when it was difficult to see even up close, I went off with a group of soldiers to carry out the order.

[Page 88]

We put ourselves into two boats and, as quietly as possible, began floating through the Vistula river to the German shore. We moved very slowly, step by step. Every minute lasted an eternity and we were unnoticed approaching approximately 20 meters from the bank. Then, an accident occurred and one of our soldiers unwillingly let loose a grenade in the water. The German patrol heard the splash in the water and lit up our surroundings. It was the end of us. A fiery hail rained down over our heads and our sapper, who was sitting at the helm of my boat, had already fallen dead. Having no other way out, we went into the water. In one hand I held my rifle, and with the other, I fought against the strong January current.

Through some incomprehensible miracle, three of us made it to the bank completely frozen and utterly exhausted. The bank was in enemy hands. Within a few steps we stumbled upon the bodies of our comrades who had fallen on the first days of September 1944, trying to create a foothold right by Siski.

We quickly laid ourselves out among the dead and stayed there from dawn until late at night. As if to spite us, the night made itself bright and starry and there was no talk of going back. We had to wait another day. Perhaps the second night would make it possible to go back. Laying among the dead, we closely observed the Germans' movements. A strong wind blew and it was hard to keep our eyes open.

We nevertheless saw how a group of Germans moved forward carrying grenades. In front walked a sapper who cleared the way for them. Soon they were walking right next to us.

About an hour later we heard approaching footsteps. It was the German sapper, who had already brought the soldiers to their destination and was coming back.

[Page 89]

We remembered well our pledge to bring back a '“tongue” and we decided that this was the time to do it. As soon as the sapper came close to us, we used the last of our strength to throw ourselves on him, stop up his mouth, and told him that if he did not follow our orders, he would face a horrible death. He surrendered. We steered him to the shore and with his help made a raft out of planks bound together with wire. We then bound the German and laid him on the raft. We were the only ones in the water and we pushed the raft forward. When the water became deeper, we held on to the raft with one hand and swam with the other.

Our unit arrived half-unconscious but happy. They thought they had lost us and had even performed prayers for our soul. Our deed was highly praised and the eight of us (five dead and three surviving) were awarded with the “Virtuti Militari[25]” cross, 4th class.

The winter offensive on the eastern front began. Our regiment had progressed onward in endless battles. When we arrived in German territory, my pain was renewed, feelings of revenge were awoken and I paid the German murderers according to the old law: A tooth for a tooth. An eye for an eye…

While taking the city of Kolberg[26], our regiment endured heavy losses. Half a battalion fell, and among them many young Jewish men.

Here I want to mention and honor all of the unknown Jewish heroes who fell for the dignity of our people, taking vengeance on the German murderers. Their bones rest in the mass grave, together with their brave Christian friends. I would especially like to mention my good friend and hero Moyshe Klugman from 'Ianov Lubelski', who always remembered and served the Jewish people with honor. May the earth be easy on him.

The 4th of May, 1945, standing at the gates of Berlin, I was seriously wounded by shrapnel. I lost two fingers and was paralyzed in my left leg. For three months I lay in a hospital and when I was discharged in Lublin after the victory over Hitler, I was greatly disappointed that it was not destined for me to go into the nest of my enemies as a victor in the cursed, brown Berlin.

Footnotes

  1. Secular Hebrew language school.. Return
  2. A Yiddish word for refugees, implying they were bedraggled or in bad shape. Return
  3. A Judenrat was a World War II administrative agency imposed by Nazi Germany on Jewish communities across occupied Europe, principally within the Nazi ghettos. The Germans required Jews to form a Judenrat in every community across the occupied territories. (Source: Wikipedia.) Return
  4. Zdolbunov, a town near Mizoch. Current map reference Zdolbundiv.Ukraine. Return
  5. Rovne, nearest city near Mizoch, 16 miles away. Current map reference, Rivne, Ukraine Return
  6. Between July 13th and 14th, 1942, the last remaining 5,000 Jews in the Rovno Ghetto were gathered for liquidation, transported to the forest near Kostopol and murdered. In November, 1941, 15,000-18,000 Jews from Rovno were murdered in the Sosenski Forest. 2,000-3,000 Jews were murdered in the months following the German' arrival in June 1941. (JewishGen: Rowne Victims Killed in the Kostopol Forest Return
  7. Nazi designation for areas cleansed of Jews, referring to areas in which the Jewish population was deported or exterminated. (Source: Jewish Virtual Library.) Return
  8. Dubno, a town 18 miles west of Mizoch. Return
  9. Stalingrad. Current map reference, Volgograd, Russia. The Battle of Stalingrad turned to tide of the war in favor of the Russians. Return
  10. Betar is a Zionist Youth Movement founded in 1923. Members received paramilitary training in anticipation of the need to defend themselves in Palestine. In WWII, many Betar members joined British forces, and those remaining in their communities joined partisan groups. Return
  11. Kovel is a town on the rail line leading to Lublin and Warsaw. The current map reference is in northwest Ukraine. Return
  12. Tseglov, Current map reference Tsehiv, in northwest Ukraine. Return
  13. Vengrov. Current map reference Węgrów, in eastern Poland. Return
  14. Shedlits. Current map reference Siedlce, Poland. Return
  15. Radzim. Ccurrent map reference Radzymin, Poland. Return
  16. Skoklov Podlaski. Current map reference Sokołów Podlaski, 80 km east of Warsaw. Return
  17. The town Garwolin is 62 km SE of Warsaw. Return
  18. A.K, Armia Krajowa (Home Army) was the dominant resistance movement in German-occupied Poland during World War II. (Wikipedia) Return
  19. Mokotów is a district within Warsaw. Return
  20. Praga. A historic area in Warsaw on the eastern bank of the Vistula River. Return
  21. A square in Warsaw, plac Unii Lubelskiej. Return
  22. .Senatorska , a street in Warsaw Return
  23. Volhynia is the province within which Mizoch is located, also spelled Wolyn, Volin. Return
  24. N.S.Z., Narodowe Siły Zbrojne. Return
  25. The War Order of Virtuti Militari is Poland's highest military decoration for heroism and courage in the face of the enemy at war. It was created in 1792 by Polish King Stanislaus II Augustus and is the oldest military decoration in the world still in use. (Source: Wikipedia) Return
  26. Kolberg. Current map reference Kołobrzeg, Poland, coastal city on the Baltic Sea. Return

 

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