by Baruch Flitter
Translated from Hebrew by Nida Kiali
As the wave of oppression in the ghetto intensified, all glimmers of hope for a better foreseeable future had vanished and the humiliated Jews had no choice but to escape into a world of delusions and dreams…
Everyone had dreams. Many had experienced revelations that held a special meaning. Many different rumors with a mystical timbre traveled about from mouth to ear. Everyone waited for an upcoming miracle. Every dream and delusion was interpreted as a prediction of imminent salvation. There was lots of talk in the ghetto about salvation, so much so that even the word itself reached the Christians without them realizing its significance to the Jews.
Like in the good years, when the house of my aunt Leah, Asher Ben-Oni's mother, attracted the youths of town whether because of its joyous atmosphere or because of all the heated talk about important topics that took place there so too, now, during the somber days of Hitler's regime, the house served as a hub and a meeting place for all those who were thirsty for reliable news, rumors, interpretations and also actions.
In the basement of this house, a powerful radio was hidden. The spouse of Sonya, the daughter of my uncle Samuel Horowitz, also known as Puntik, was a regular listener to London, Moscow, Switzerland and other radio stations. He shared all that he heard and understood, along with proper interpretation, to those worthy of knowing.
Later, the house was used as headquarters to plan a mass escape to the forest. Of course, all rumors concerning a new hallucination or dream of upcoming salvation had soon reached this house.
Among the permanent household members was the mute Yisheyahu Melgalter. Thanks to his exceptional cleverness, he was always on top of things. He was always eager to learn what was reported on London Radio and what the world had to say about our situation. He was one of those who had insisted on escaping to the forest and fighting the Germans. Too bad I never followed up on what had happened to this wonderful young man. In April 1942, I too had a dream about the date of October 13th. I rushed to this house and talked about my dream and this date, October 13th.
Buzi Berman, one of the regular guests who used to attend the house meetings, was jotting down every date, hoping to disperse any illusions and ridicule any dreams and hallucinations.
When the expected date of an omen expired, Buzi used to ironically declare that Baruch's date, October 13th, surely wouldn't disappoint and would bring about salvation.
On October 12th, just as I entered Aunt Leah's house as usual, Buzi approached me with a sarcastic question:
Well, Baruch, what about your October 13th?
I answered in the same manner, just wait, Buzi, there are 24 hours until the 13th. I prophesied and did not know what I had prophesied.
The ghetto was surrounded by armed soldiers and trained dogs a day later, and the liquidation had begun.
All the occupants of our large and roomy house hid in a shelter prepared in advance. For some reason, I lacked the desire to hide in the shelter and remained in the house. I closed the doors and the windows, crawled beneath the pantry, and covered myself with carpets that were there, awaiting the forthcomings.
I did not need to wait long; a crowd charged toward our house. They stormed into it and started looting whatever they could find. I saw them all. They were good neighbors and acquaintances. I couldn't believe they were capable of such viciousness. Once the rioters had left, I came out of hiding, closed the doors and the windows once again, and went back into hiding. I had heard how the Koppelman family, who used to live in our house, were kicked out, and after this, no one visited the house anymore till evening.
Before everyone dispersed to their hiding places, mother took out a bag filled with gold coins. She divided them among us and said that it's better to have something in hand. Because of the lack of time, we separated, and every family member sought shelter in a different place. I had no clue as to where my siblings and parents were hiding.
After nightfall, I left my spot and headed to the attic where I met with my brother David and my uncle Samuel who were in the midst of planning their upcoming steps. Upon noticing me, they hurried to break the news to my mother that I was alive. This brought great joy to everyone's heart. However, I could not meet my mother. It was too dangerous to open their shelter. We could only talk through the door for a little while, and I received her last blessing for the unknown road ahead of me.
While carrying on a disjointed conversation in the attic, we fell asleep. I do not know how long I slept, and when I woke up, only I and my brother David were left in the attic. Uncle Samuel went missing.
I woke David up. We went down from the attic. I was able to get out of the ghetto and headed toward the village of Kunyn.
We did not have far to go when we came across a familiar Gentile -
Mikolay. He was on his way to Mizoch, not to save Jews… He started to justify himself, saying that he was going to find his son and then he directed us toward the village and went on his way. We walked for a few hours and met Mikolay again at the break of dawn… It seemed that we were walking around in circles. This time, with his help, we arrived at the village and entered the house of Havra, an old acquaintance. We gave her a few gold coins, and promised many other valuables in exchange for shelter. She agreed. The next day, Uncle Samuel, his sister, Riva, accompanied by Bebe Stifer, my cousin, joined us. In order to gain Havra's favor, we told her the location of the hiding place for our clothes and valuables in our house in Mizoch. Then we sent her to bring it to us. She returned and told us that she had found the hiding place, but it was empty because others got to it before her. We didn't believe her and suspected that not all of the story was true. Nevertheless, we remained silent and said nothing.
Two days later, we were forced to leave the house alongside our cousin, Bebe Stifer. Havra refused to host us all. We headed toward the town of Klopit. While there, we heard a rumor that our friend, Yehiel Greenberg, a man with numerous local connections, resided in Zalissya. It wasn't difficult to get to the woods of Zalissya from Klopit. Indeed, we met with Yehiel and a girl named Hava, from the village of Holchi who was in the same ghetto with us. Yehiel broke us some happy news. He informed us that his Czech acquaintance promised to help us. We decided to take refuge in the woods where we could live and hide.
We hid in rock crevices in the woods, while planning our future. We were able to get hold of tools and started preparing a shelter. With Yehiel's limp and Bebe's swollen feet, it was decided that my brother and I would go and bring a few days' worth of food for everyone. Just as we came down the hill toward the valley, we heard loud footsteps. We looked up and saw German soldiers running. We were able to hide in a pile of leaves the autumn wind had stacked, and listened.
We heard gunfire, followed by shouts of soldiers and then more gunfire. Then silence filled the air. We didn't leave the shelter during the day. Experience had educated us about the dangers of doing so. At night, we left the pile of leaves and went back to our shelter in the rocks.
We found Yehiel and Bebe, murdered. Bebe was lying down barefoot. The killers stole his brand-new boots. His socks weren't that far from his body. I picked them up and put them in my pocket.
Depressed, we returned to Havra's. To answer Samuel's question where is Bebe? I showed him the socks. He understood and burst into tears.
Despite what we had gone through, we could not afford any more delay at Havra's. That same night, we went back to Zalissya.
Hungry, weary, and depressed, we decided to approach Savalka Voroznszhnilik's uncle to ask for bread. I stood by as David asked him for food. He told him to enter the granary and wait over there, for he feared being seen while feeding a Jew. Once David stepped into the granary, that Czech started shouting out loud, a Jew! I caught a Jew! Police! I was able to hear how his wife and the neighbors were begging him to leave my brother alone and to let him go. He did not stop and kept shouting, I caught a Zhid! Police, hurry up! My brother's scream had also reached my ears: Mr. Voroznshnilik! What have I done to you? I want to live. Open the door for me. I got a bit closer. I saw my brother getting undressed, attempting to break the window lattices of the granary to escape.
The Czech then grabbed a thick rod and started hitting my brother's arms, trying to push him back into the granary.
My heart was pounding and tears of helplessness and anger poured out of my eyes. I approached the Czech. He was surprised to see me, and without thinking, he hit my head with the rod. I fell to the ground and he continued beating me. The blows caused me to regain consciousness. I started getting closer to the granary while wrestling with this bastard. We were lucky that the granary was closed by a latch and not a lock. I was able to unlock the latch and open the door with my head. Right before my strength gave out, I screamed: Get out, David, the door is open.
Half-naked, David ran out of the granary. The Czech tried to assault him, but David was quicker, hit him in the head with a rock or a piece of metal, and knocked him out. Before the police arrived, David managed to make it back to the granary and took his clothes. Upon leaving the Czech's backyard, the police appeared. We ran to the nearby forest as fast as we could, escaping the officers who chased and fired upon us.
We rested and relaxed, and arrived at the village of Zhovkva. We were provided with shelter for some time by an acquaintance of ours. We were uncomfortable eating his bread for free. We had little money to spare, and nonetheless, he refused to get paid. Therefore, we decided to come to Mizoch to try and find another hiding place, retrieve our belongings and valuables and use them to compensate that acquaintance.
We arrived at Mizoch. The hiding place was completely empty. Empty-handed, we went back to Zhovkva and broke the news about our failure to our acquaintance. We thanked him for all he has done and parted ways with him.
While wandering, we arrived at a remote town and knocked on the door of an isolated house. They opened and welcomed us, and a strange thing happened. The owner of the house started kissing
us, hugging us, and crying with joy. As we wondered about her manner, she revealed to us that she was Henya Bronka, our housekeeper who worked for us when we were children. Then, we recognized and remembered her. It was at her place that we had a hot meal for the first time in many weeks. We learned about other Jews hiding in the vicinity. And most importantly, her husband accompanied us to the woods, found us a spot for a shelter, and even helped build it.
I became gravely ill at that shelter and only through sheer miracle did not perish. I was too sick to speak. The shelter collapsed during the rainy days, moments before we left it. While roaming, we came across many survivors from the Mizoch Ghetto and other towns. We met good people, whose kindness and good deeds restored our faith in humanity, but we also met some who were worse than wild beasts and more dangerous than any four-legged predators.
As a result of the action of Yitzhak Wasserman's partisans, who took righteous revenge on those who killed his parents, respect for us with the local population had risen for a long time. Every town and village spoke of the heroic deeds of our fellow town resident, who incited fear in all haters of Jews.
One time, we came across Max Waltfriend of Sosnivka, who lived in the ghetto of Mizoch. He was seriously injured, and his hands and legs were tied. He told us that he was caught by two youngsters, almost lads, who tied him up with a rope and tried to slaughter him. They couldn't do it since they didn't have a sharp knife, only a dull blade. One of them went to grab an appropriate knife, and then he gained consciousness, hitting his guard in the stomach with his tied legs. He undid the rope until he could move, and here he was. We got all the ropes off him, washed him, and bandaged his wounds. Since then, he stayed nearby and we met a few more times.
We were aided by the Evangelicals multiple times, who did it for moral and religious reasons. In return, we were required to participate in their prayers and rituals more than once and pretend to be believers of their faith.
One woman from the Evangelical families greatly desired my neckerchief. I handed it to her without any hesitation, and I won her heart as of that moment. Over there, we learned that my father was alive and wandering about in Mizoch. The Germans permitted him to live there in relative freedom. By allowing that, the Germans wanted to concentrate all the survivors in Mizoch, leading them to believe that there was an option to live if only they served the German masters. And indeed, the rumor had reached some na´ve people who came out of hiding. They were discovered and killed without delay. They did not kill my father. They implied to him that he should run away, but he had had enough with life and didn't care one way or the other.
We wrote a letter to him and asked him to join us. The letter was to be delivered to Svolka by our acquaintance Bonchkovsky, and Svolka had to deliver the letter to Dad. Bonchkovsky could not set off on the appointed night, because of the heavy snow that covered the roads, and he came with the letter to Mizoch one day after Dad was executed…
Svolka helped us by sending clothes and food. He never turned us down. Over time we got to know people and learned how to get along. We would help the evangelists with the housework, and we especially specialized in grinding flour on a millstone.
While we were hidden in an attic at the Czech's home, the Germans unexpectedly stormed the village. They gathered all the people outside, including women and children, and placed them facing the wall. Then they started setting all the houses on fire. The people were about to be killed immediately afterward for real or imagined support of the Banderovites or partisans, I do not remember anymore. We decided to burn alive and not come down from the attic, because if we were discovered, the whole village would be destroyed without mercy. We covered ourselves, confessed, and waited for the fire to come. We only asked God that death come without too much torture. When the fire lingered, I peeked from under the lid. Through the cracks, I saw that the Czechs were rushing about with packages and that the Germans were gone. We came down from the attic and learned that at the last minute, the residents were pardoned and were only ordered to change their place of residence. They marveled at our courage, that we would rather burn alive than harm them. In return, they promised to take us to the village of Borshchivka, to which they had to move.
In that vicinity, we met with Bronia Weinzweig of Zdolbuniv, who spent every summer at Mizoch with her relatives, with Velvel, the barber, and with the children of Asher Shapira. We built a new shelter nearby and lived in it. Bronia was then apprehended by the Banderovites when she was on her way to look for food. However, she was released and lived to see the day of triumph over the Germans.
Both of us - my brother David and I - went through many more adventures and miracles. More than once, we were separated during a sudden onslaught on us, but we always found each other after a while. On the verge of liberation, of all times, when we knew that the days of German rule were numbered and victory was at hand, we were particularly harassed by the Banderovites, and there was a great danger of being killed just before redemption.
We were very careful for our lives, and with the help of the One Above, we lived to see our liberation by the Red Army.
David immediately joined the ranks of the Soviet security forces. Svolka then came to us
and asked for his sake to pardon his uncle Vorozhnilik, who at the time locked David in the granary and wanted to hand him over to the Gestapo. I did not give him a clear answer, but David said he was willing to pay Svolka for everything he did for him, even with his life. However, the uncle who wanted to kill him unjustly he would not forgive. David did not say he would hand him over to the authorities, and I promised Svolka to influence David to forgive his uncle, for that was Svolka's wish. In the end, When David approached the village with the Soviets, without any intention of hurting him, the uncle quickly ran and hung himself in the granary, where he had wanted to detain David…
After quite a few wanderings, we settled in Rivne and helped a lot of surviving Jews, thanks to our connections with the authorities. I rescued Michael Kournik by chance, from a group of Banderovite criminals who had been exiled and were on their way to Siberia, and he happened to come across them. We supported the others materially or helped arrange certificates. That's how, for example, I reinstated Asia Baraz to Judaism, etc.
A high-ranking Russian commander once implied that we should leave Russia. We felt the anti-Semitism around us and decided to do as he advised. I managed to meet my future wife, Ida Eisengart, take her out of her gentile environment and restore her safety. After wandering across many countries, we finally reached a safe haven in our country, in the middle of the War of Independence and managed to contribute our humble powers to the establishment of the Hebrew state.
by Asiya Braz
Translated from Hebrew by Gabrielle Cooper
When the German occupation forces based themselves in Mizoch and started to restore and resume economic enterprises and factories in the region, my father was sent to the village Buderazh to establish a dairy there.
I was a girl of eleven years then, coddled and cared for by my parents as the apple of their eyes. My only brother -- Izya-- studied at university in Lviv and we supposed he had succeeded in escaping to Russia with the Red Army.
The decrees and spiteful proceedings against the Jews became more frequent and more numerous, and for my father, the illusion that the Jews could still find days of respect and calm faded; he befriended a Polish couple without children and they agreed between them that the Poles would adopt me as a daughter. Father explained our situation to me, and he appealed to my heart to leave home and go willingly to the Polish couple in Buderazh. Of course, he promised that when the times changed, I would return home and we would live a happy life as before.
One bright day the couple turned up at our house and wanted to take me to the village with them. I did not agree. I cried, and I shouted, and I said that I did not want to be separated from my beloved parents. Since the whole deal needed to take place secretly, for obvious reasons, they were not able to force me to leave the ghetto without everyone knowing. With no other choice, it was agreed that I would stay with my parents but that Father would come to the Poles when the danger arrived. Father even took me to the house of the Poles once, so that I knew exactly where the place was and I could find them when needed. On that fateful night, when we were awoken and informed that the ghetto was surrounded and the destruction had started, all the occupants began to flee from the house.
I clung to my parents and did not want to separate from them. Only when my mother said to me that I was bothering them and was getting in the way, did I say goodbye to them and run away to Motia, a Christian acquaintance who served in good times as a maid at the home of our friends, the Vigoda's, who then lived at the nearby Hartstein house.
Motia's husband was a baker and he shut me in the closet immediately after I entered their home. While I was in the closet a police officer entered the house and I heard that he came to inform them that finally the end had come for the Jews of Mizoch. Just after the police officer left, the closet was opened and the baker said to me: My child, we cannot keep you.
I did not understand the situation: I was dressed as a shiksa and in my hand were the identity documents of a Christian girl and I thought that the danger had passed from me. The baker did not stop talking and listening to my explanations, he only took me in his arms, took me to a warehouse and put me into a big box full of bones which had been in the warehouse since the Soviet days.
I lay with the bones for a long time. There was night, day, and night again. I heard shots, shouts, dogs barking. I was sad, very sad, lying helpless and numb.
The Ukrainians looted at will from Jewish houses, and they turned the Hartstein's warehouse into their base. They would come with stolen objects, leave them in the warehouse and return to continue looting. They even reached the box where I was hidden among the bones and filled it with things from Jewish homes. To this day it is hard for me to understand how they did not find me there.
On the third night, Motia's husband came, took me out from the pile of things and bones, and he gave me a bag with bread and said: My arm is too short to save you. The city is now burning in a great fire. Everyone is busy putting out the fire and now is the time to escape. I stood there powerless, not yet fully understanding the situation. Bayer (the name of the baker was Bayer) then took me by the hand and forcefully dragged me
|The drama club of the public school|
to the Polish cemetery. Here he parted from me. He wished me luck and told me to run away from Mizoch. He also advised me not to go the usual way through the paths in the fields. He expressed his confidence that good people would help me.
I didn't know the way to Buderazh, it was a dark night, dogs were barking, and I was scared to go. I knocked at one house and asked permission to stay with them. Through the locked door they answered: they did not want to hurt me but they also could not help me. I started to appeal to the mercy in their hearts and they answered me with threats. I left the house and continued into the unknown. I walked all night and as it turned to morning I came to the village Holchi, the opposite direction from the village Buderazh, which I aspired to reach. Here I was attacked by a large dog. I gave him a big piece of my bread and he left me. I continued to walk and I came across a goy with a sack. I presented myself as a Christian, and to his question of where I came from and where I was going I answered that I was returning home from a visit. He understood who I was, gave me a tasty pierogi with beans, and showed me the way to Buderazh. The goy himself said that he was going to Mizoch to take for himself what was the property of the Jews.
Broken, tired to death, hungry and desperate for rest, I arrived in Buderazh at the house of the Poles who once wanted to adopt me. They told me that from now on my name was Marussia and that I was a relative of theirs whose parents had been deported by the Soviets. I pretended and did not tell them what I had been through. The woman invited me to cut firewood before I could rest or catch my breath. Despite my great tiredness, and although I had never done it before, I started to saw the trees with the woman. While working I told her about everything that had happened to me and I asked her if I could rest. The woman brought me home immediately, fed me a proper meal and laid me down to sleep. I slept a lot, and slowly, slowly regained my strength. Only the landlady knew my true identity; all the rest of the family members, including the parents of the woman, knew no more than the rest of the residents.
A few days after I arrived in Buderazh, an order was issued by the Germans to hang at the entrance of every house a list, approved by the police, of all inhabitants of that house. My documents were accepted by the police. On the tenth night of my stay in Buderazh I dreamed a dream: my parents were walking on a narrow path ridden with obstacles. They marched and approached me. In my dream I felt that someone touched my head and gently awakened me. I opened my eyes and standing before me were Father and Mother. I almost did not recognize Father. He was dressed like a typical rural Ukrainian and it was hard to recognize him as Jewish. Our happiness was great and each of us was yearning to take advantage of the moment. I told my parents what had happened to me and my mother told me that she had succeeded in entering the Finkel's hideout. There was no space for Father in this hideout, so he hid on the roof. Of course they searched for them thoroughly, because they were well known and their absences were noticed. But the hiding place was good and they were not discovered. All of the Finkel family had Aryan documents, and they remained in hiding until spirits in town calmed. Then they came out of hiding and my father instructed everyone on how to escape from Mizoch. My parents were with me for a few days, until Gabrova, the landlady, told them to go. She added that she would honor her word and save me, but that my parents were endangering her and me as well by staying. There was no choice. I said goodbye to my parents and have not seen them since then. I was cared for in a farming community of Polish children near Rivne, and I was out of danger.
Father had rescue plans and also appropriate documents, and was certain that they could go to a safe place. Unfortunately, on their way to Buderazh they encountered a group of young Ukrainian men who were merrily returning from a party. These men were well acquainted with my Father. My parents' pleas did not help, nor did the bribes and promises they offered to the Ukrainians. The merry men led my parents to Mizoch to deliver them into German hands.
The Germans assembled a crowd to witness the killing, and father was ordered to dig a pit for the two of them. Father dug the pit and told Mother that he was going to save her and that she must endure, because her children were still alive and she should remain to care for them. The pit was prepared and they were commanded to stand at the edge of their grave. Then, Father turned to the Ukrainian police and asked them to fulfill a last humble request before his death. They were puzzled when they heard him ask to be allowed to speak to the community, in order to say goodbye, and they agreed. Father then turned and said: Dear citizens! I receive this punishment from heaven inflicted on us Jews and I go to death without anger or complaint. However, at death's door I want to reveal to you a secret that we have guarded for years, and ask that my wife Rosa be buried in the Christian cemetery after her death, because she was a member of the Pravoslav religion I could not reveal this, because my parents and relatives would have prevented me from marrying her.
But now that I am about to take leave of you forever, I hope you will not deny my last request to you. For many years we lived in friendship, I have done no injustice to any one of you, nor insulted anyone. I am afraid to face the Creator of the world with this injustice I did in my life, when I deceived a Pravoslav girl and joined her to a people not her own. We are both about to receive the punishment we deserve and we will die without complaint. But I will be pleased to die when I know I have righted what I wronged and my wife can complete her eternal years among members of her religion and community.
A murmur passed through the big crowd. Women sobbed and cried out: A pure Pravoslav soul to save! Don't you dare harm her!
The commotion grew and my father's words were swallowed in the crowd's voice. No one
|The Beitar group on a hike in Sosenki forest|
doubted my father's confession. On the contrary, many of those gathered started to remember many signs and proof that my mother was not a Jew. The best proof by far was that she did not resemble a Jew at all and in her mastery of the Russian language she surpassed even the holy Pravoslav vessels.
In the end Father was executed on the spot and Mother was handed off to a Pravoslav priest. From there she moved to the village of Derman and worked as a nurse. The priest's son Vasya, an old acquaintance of ours, helped her a lot and taught her the ways of the Pravoslav religion so that she would not reveal herself.
I received two letters from her. In them she told me that she was working as a nurse in the Banderovites' battalion but told me nothing about my father's fate and how she had gotten to where she was.
When the Soviets were about to conquer the region, my mother was summoned once at night into the woods, to provide medical assistance to the wounded. The Banderovites murdered her in the forest because she knew too much about what they were doing and they were scared to leave her alive under the Soviet regime. And that is how I remained, on the verge of liberation, orphaned from my father and mother.
|The Gordonists of the Mizoch branch|
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