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A Partisan from Pabianice in the Forests of Belarus

Memoirs written by Jakob Grynsztejn

 

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The beginning of German rule in Pabianice

1 September 1939. It was a Friday. Everything was prepared in order to greet the Sabbath. The market was full of peasants and housewives who were shopping. The factories ran as per normal and yet everything was different. Holes were being dug to protect us from airborne attacks. The smell of war was in the air. The older people who remembered World War I well shook with fear. Many had tears in their eyes.

The Poles – especially the young ones – were hopeful, drunk on propaganda. “We'll show them!” the Poles argued. During the past few days they had become polite to their Jewish neighbours. That wasn't a good sign either... The enemy endangered us both.

German aeroplanes appeared at twelve noon. An alarm sounded and the first bomb fell immediately. It brought on a terrible panic in the city. The market became empty. The factories stopped working. It was as if the city had died. Only the Scouts on their bikes hurried along, together with the military. The Jews of Pabianice passed the Sabbath in great fear. They were afraid of the bombs and petrified of what tomorrow might bring.

All through Sunday the town was flooded with refugees from other cities and towns who brought sad news with them. They gave one answer to all questions: Jews, don't sit still. Run while there is still time. On Sunday night all the roads were full of refugees from Pabianice who were leaving the city – Jews and Christians, police, office bearers, young and old and even patients just out of their sickbeds. The only part of the population that stayed behind was the ethnic Germans of Pabianice.

My sister and I left with a group of young people headed towards Warsaw. We wandered for nine days under constant attack by German planes, until the German army caught up with us near Warsaw. They locked us up in a cathedral for three days because we had supposedly shot at them. We returned to Pabianice hungry, tired and exhausted. The first German soldiers had already descended on Pabianice.

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Pabianice looked a sad picture at this time. Jews didn't leave their homes. They were being caught on the street and taken away for work. The older Jews with beards suffered the worst. They returned home from work beaten and bloodied. Konstantyn and Boznicka Streets suffered greatly because mostly Jews lived there. I hid my father and looked after him.

During Rosh Hashana the Hitlerite bandits organized the underworld and within a few hours they had totally demolished the shul – leaving only the naked walls. In addition to all our other troubles, we were tortured by the hunger that was felt immediately in all working–class homes.

During Rosh Hashana and Yom Kiper Jews gathered secretly to pray. During these holidays the Germans seized young and old for work. They seized old Mr. Szyf from our building for work. I left my hiding place and asked the German to take me instead. He agreed, but I remembered that day for a long time... I returned home bloody and swollen from their beatings. They cut my hair with a knife.

The news that the Red Army had reached the River Bug held out our only hope of freeing ourselves from this hell. I sought out a German acquaintance and through him I got permission to travel to Grodno [Lithuania] for myself, Lejbusz Rajchbard and Aron Doktorczyk. We parted with our parents and were the first ones to leave the city.

* * *

After 15 days of walking we reached Bialystok [Northern Poland, then newly Soviet territory]. Jews were dancing in the streets there. We were happy too, but our souls were full of sadness knowing in what condition we had left our loved ones.

After a few weeks we had gathered together a whole group from Pabianice, amongst them:

Sala Joskowicz,

Mendl Joskowicz,

Hersz Janowski,

Gerszon Gelbart,

my sister Sarah.

We went to the town Uzda on the Russian side of the border, close to Minsk [capital of Belarus]. Later we were joined by Szmul Dawid Grynsztejn, Hillel Blumensztejn and Jeszaja Bornsztejn. We settled in and stayed in contact with Pabianice by letters and packages, which we sent to our dear ones until the war with Russia broke out and we once again found ourselves in the hands of the German murderers.

* * *

The Bloody Rule of the Germans in Belarus

Suddenly we heard shots and the sound of tanks. The wooden huts shuddered. Our hearts pounded from fear. The damned enemy had entered the town of Uzda, which is about seventy kilometres west of Minsk.

Everything changed from that day on: hard work and insults. Jews came back from work beaten

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and bloodied every day. Hunger was an immediate problem.

15 July 1941. The first command: all Jews must wear a round, ten centimetre yellow Star of David on their chests and on their backs. The punishment for non–compliance was death.

A German officer from Bayren became the new commander of the town. Every day Jews and Belorussians who had served as directors, party members and teachers under the Soviets were shot on the Jewish cemetery. The town was surrounded by a web of death that could not be penetrated. The enemy sowed death and destruction in every home. Jews began to think that they should organize something. They did not succeed. Everybody groaned under the weight of the occupier's mighty war machine. Every mistake or carelessness brought with it the danger of death.

12 October 1941. A new order: all Jews must shift onto only two streets. This would be the Ghetto. Within three days everyone had to hand over their property, only keeping one shirt and the clothes on their backs.

14 October 1941. A group of Lithuanian police and German soldiers who were stationed in the town encircled the Ghetto. At 8 a. m. the commander, together with the police, led fifteen families of Jewish artisans and specialists out of the Ghetto. My wife and I and our eighteen–month–old child were in this group. So were Sala and Mendl Joskowicz from Pabianice and their families.

The entire Ghetto was sure that we were being taken to be shot because we had worked at machines during a time when acts of sabotage were committed.

The Germans led us into an empty house that was outside the Ghetto and surrounded by guards. At eleven we saw Jews being taken in the direction of the forest on trucks. Half an hour later we heard the intense shooting of machine guns. The trucks kept on taking Jews in the direction from which we could hear the shooting... We understood the great tragedy right away.

The shooting continued until 6 p. m. The fifteen families began to scream and cry, racked with deep groans. The same trucks that had taken the unlucky ones to their deaths returned later, full of clothing with shining yellow patches.

The next morning the commander came and gave a speech: “All the Jews of Uzda have been shot because they cooperated with the bandits in the surrounding forest.” We, as artisans and specialists, were to work loyally for the Wehrmacht if we didn't want to share their fate. He showed us the two small houses in which we were to live. He gave us thirty minutes to remove all the necessities from the houses where we had lived before. This meant that we had been chosen to live. I looked around to see who was missing and realised that Geniek Gelbart and Hillel Blumensztejn had been shot.

When I entered my old dwelling I overheard a disguised voice coming from the attic: “Yankele, save us. We are alive. “ It was my brother Szmul Dawid, my sister Sarah and eight other Jews who had hidden from the Germans. I went up to them with a mixture of happiness and confusion. I wanted to cry, scream, call for help – but I couldn't. Every careless sound meant death. You had to smother everything inside you and you had to decide what to do now quickly.

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We decided that the hidden ones should go to the forest at night. We would stay in contact with them. First they had to get out of the enemy's murderous grasp. In the evening I sneaked out through the yard to bring them food, fat, soap and warm clothes. We chose their route. We decided on some signals and as soon as night fell over the town, all ten Jews crawled on their bellies to the safety of the highway, heading towards the forest. For the rest of us the only hope was that once the escapees settled down in the forest, we would also be able to save ourselves.

Three days later we received bad news: all ten of the Jews had met up with the SS and were killed in the forest about fourteen kilometres from where we were living. Amongst them were my brother Szmul Dawid and my sister Sarah. We continued to work, resigned and condemned, not knowing when the death sentence that hung over all our heads would be carried out.

* * *

In the Minsk Ghetto

1 March 1942 at 4 a. m. the murderers chased us out onto the street, beating us and screaming at us. They put us on trucks and took us to the Minsk Ghetto. By this time the Minsk Ghetto had already survived a terrible mass deportation, which ended in the deaths of over twenty thousand Jews. The Ghetto itself looked terrible. In Old Minsk, around Yubeler Place, there were a few dozen streets that were surrounded with barbed wire. People walked around, swollen from starvation and with eyes that had become dim. The frost burned. No house was heated. The people were frightened and the air smelled of death.

We, the newly arrived fifteen families, slept on the floor in the Judenrat offices, because there was nowhere else for us to settle ourselves. Jews came to stare at us because we still looked human and we weren't wearing rags, yet... Some of them were sympathetic because we had fallen into a slaughterhouse [the Minsk Ghetto itself], while others argued with us because we hadn't run off to the forest. We had lived so close to it, after all. We could almost have touched it with our hands.

The next day, 2 March 1942 at 10 a. m., SS and Ukrainians marched into the Ghetto in order to remove ten thousand men who were not specialists or artisans. On command the murderers spread out over the Ghetto streets and began to seize people. Supposedly, all those who could prove they were artisans were lucky, because they would remain alive. They were allowed to go through to work.

I didn't have any such proof. The newly arrived men were taken to a hiding place on Zavalna Street by the head of the Ghetto police, a Warsaw Jew named Blumensztok. The women and children remained in the Judenrat building. Supposedly they weren't in any danger because they were women.

Since the murderers hadn't managed to carry out the deportation plan by lunchtime because all the men of the Ghetto hid themselves from sight, horrible wild mass murder began. Anyone who was in the street, at home or in a work place was shot on the spot. Within one hour the streets, the houses, wherever you looked, were full of dead men, women and children. The Judenrat building filled up with people who thought that they would be protected by the Judenrat.

At 5 p. m. the murderers drove all the Jews out of the Judenrat. My wife and our eighteen–month–old Rozele were among them, as was a fifteen–year–old girl whom we had saved from our pogrom. Everyone was concentrated in the street together with about a thousand Jews who had been brought from other workplaces. They were all lined up, ready to leave. The head murderer opened

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fire on the running crowd. Hundreds fell dead. The bodies of the girl and our dear Rozele were filled with bullet holes. As it happened, the bullets missed my wife. After the shootings were over the murderers set fire to some buildings near the Judenrat and left the Ghetto, which was drowning in a sea of blood.

As soon as the Germans left, at about 7 p. m., everyone came out of hiding and saw the tragedy that had occurred. I found my wife near a heap of bullet–ridden corpses. She had been looking for our child. She screamed that the child was still alive. She turned over hundreds of dead children and looked into all the little faces. She wanted to find our child but was faced with horrible sights that would freeze the blood in your veins. There were bellies cut open, heads that were soaked in blood and unrecognizable faces that were as stiff as wood because of the frost.

After this terrible slaughter, we were totally resigned and ready for whatever fate would bring us. We went to work outside the Ghetto every day and returned every night to wait for death.

* * *

Contact with the forest

In a few months time, we found out that an underground movement existed in the Ghetto and that it was connected with the forest. To get in touch with this movement was almost impossible for us, because the Russian Jews considered us to be Poles and were afraid of us.

The Ghetto became smaller and we had to shift into another place. We got a bed in a room with three other families. After living with them for a short time I noticed that a family in a neighbouring room opposite us often held meetings in their room, small get–togethers. Strangers appeared after curfew. After a few weeks the neighbour disappeared and never returned. His wife and children didn't show any signs of sorrow, which was quite unusual. I thought that our neighbour, Gelfand, had left for the forest to become a partisan.

One night as I came home from work I discussed things with my wife and we decided that today we would find what we had sought for so long – the forest and revenge. That same evening I spoke with Mrs. Sarah (as we found out later, she was the most important woman in the Minsk Ghetto underground) and challenged her with the facts. I said that her husband had left to join the partisans and that she must put us in contact with them. We were ready for anything. At first she denied everything. She said that her husband was in the hospital, that she was the mother of two children and that we shouldn't say anything more about it because she was afraid that that it all smelled of death.

I didn't want to give up the prospect of escape though, and apparently my stubbornness and determination impressed her, so she decided that I was trustworthy. The next day I was put in touch with a Jewish woman who had come from the forest. This was Comrade Bronya, the wife of the commissar of the fighting unit Katuzov, which at the time was in the Djerzinsk (Kaidanov) Forest, about twenty kilometres from Minsk.

Two weeks later, my wife and I were accepted as members of the Minsk Ghetto underground movement. From that time on we were in constant contact with the forest. Almost every week representatives came to the Ghetto, but in order to be accepted into a unit and go to the forest you had to have already been active in the Ghetto. Your main responsibility was to get weapons and medicine as well as to attract dedicated people who would be able to fight in the movement.

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Our fight for survival now had meaning, a goal – and that eased our suffering. We no longer waited for death to redeem us. We met new people and were busy every night. We had orders to carry out that were dangerous and required ever increasing amounts of courage. We lost all fear. We breathed forest, struggle...

My wife was taken to work in a German weapons camp. She washed the floors and polished weapons there. Her orders were to bring as many weapons, bullets, grenades and rifle locks as possible into the Ghetto. She did this work beautifully. Almost every day she returned from work with the purloined goods tied around her body. We made her special, wide boots so that she could hide bullets in them. And each day she returned with some wood, supposedly to heat our room. Actually, she hid parts of machine guns, grenades, rifle locks and automatic weapons in the piles of wood.

The secret organization was divided into semi–autonomous groups. In each group men and women were detailed to workplaces where they were to steal or buy weapons and smuggle them into the Ghetto. The representatives who came from the forest almost every week took the weapons to the units. The printers smuggled in a press, which was then used in the forest to print newspapers and pamphlets for the neighbouring population. The mechanics brought typewriters, the doctors brought medicine and the tailors even brought German uniforms for use in the forest.

I was ordered to dig a hidden cellar under our building in which to hide the weapons and medicine. We dug there every night for three weeks and emptied the dirt into a nearby well. In order to ensure the safety of the weapons we dug another hiding place in a wall of our newly dug cellar. It was deeper and had a narrow, well–disguised entrance. Only one person could climb through at a time. We began to store weapons there.

In the meantime a battle occurred in the forest between the Katuzov Unit and the Germans. The unit suffered heavy losses and left for another forest that was in another direction. Our contact with the forest was cut off. This continued for four months, during which time we continued to collect weapons and prepare people. We learned how to use weapons. Our main goal now was to renew our contact with the forest.

We were reconnected with the forest thanks to the party committee outside the Ghetto. This time we were connected with the Stalin Unit, which was stationed in the Staro–Sel Forest. Once again people began to head for the forest. We sent along weapons and medicine with every group.

In time a group of comrades left under the leadership of Comrade Feldman (an old party man and one of the organizers of the underground movement; later he became the commissar of the Budyonni Unit). The group was in regular contact with the forest thanks to representatives who came to the Ghetto. The main representatives were three heroic children who led hundreds of Jews out of the Ghetto and saved them:

Twelve–year–old Simele, Thirteen–year–old Banka, Thirteen–year–old David.

All of them were born in Minsk.

Up until the closure of the Ghetto, these three courageous Jewish children led between twenty and

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forty Jews out of the Ghetto every week and often twice a week. They walked the fifty kilometres from the Staro–Sel Forest to the Ghetto and back. They also brought weapons and medicine. These children led almost all the doctors out of the Ghetto and also carried out many “actions” outside the Ghetto. They came into the Ghetto well–armed, so that they would not fall into the murderers' hands alive. They worked very hard, carefully carrying out both the orders of our General Staff and those of the leaders of the partisan units.

The massacre in the Minsk Ghetto

* * *

Underground activities continued in this way for a long time. We sent many people out into the forest and prepared a long–term plan to create a Jewish family camp, following the plan of Comrades Zorin, Feldman and others who were already in the forest. Our plan was postponed, however, due to increased terrorism and orders that harmed the Ghetto. It seems that the Gestapo found out that Jews were going into the forest. Each building in the Ghetto had been assigned a registered number and they ordered that every Jew should show his house number next to his yellow star. If one Jew was found to be missing during a count, all the inhabitants of his building would be shot.

The first time this was attempted was with house number 148, on Obutkovia Street. This was a two–storey building that housed two hundred and eighty Jews. A group left to join the partisans and ran into a German trap on the way. One Jew was taken alive. He was from house number 148. That same evening, the SS encircled the house, forced all the inhabitants out onto the street and opened fire. No one survived. A mountain of meat, a sea of blood – that was the sight that we saw at dawn. Jewish women were forced to spend a whole day sweeping up the frozen blood, which had spread out over a large area.

This bloody event created a difficult situation amongst the fighters. It forced us to work more strictly, more conspiratorially. Each person who we sent into the forest after that was registered as having died before they left. And there was no shortage of dead Jews in the Ghetto. Then the Germans changed the bosses of the Ghetto – instead of the old murderer Richter, a new cut–throat named Riba arrived from Vienna. The new cut–throat soon demonstrated his murderous propensities.

There was an orphanage in the Ghetto that housed a few hundred children up to age ten. Their parents had already been shot. On the order of the new murderer, an SS group murdered all the children there within two hours. The next day the same SS group encircled the hospitals (there were two hospitals in the Ghetto; one was for Russian Jews and the other was for German Jews). The murderer himself came in with his pistol and slowly shot to death all the patients in their beds. Some jumped out the windows but were killed by SS bullets. The Ghetto went into mourning. We couldn't undertake anything, because our orders were to rescue as many from the Ghetto as possible and not to allow our hand to be forced by provocations. We would get our revenge in the forest.

* * *

The bloodletting did not stop. In the “October” Factory a few dozen women worked in the tailoring department. They were mostly former medical students. They were ten minutes late for work one day, so the murderer ordered that they be led back into the Ghetto. Fifteen Ukrainian bandits shot all the girls and women on his order. They fell in the mud near the offices of the Jewish committee on Yubeler Place. This occurred in June 1942. The murders and shootings were endless. Each day brought new victims. Every day fresh blood was shed.

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During this horrible time there were a few Jewish traitors who served the murderers: the twenty–five year old Epsztejn from Galicia (Poland), whom the Germans placed in charge of the Ghetto and Wajnsztejn from Lodz, the head of the Ghetto Employment Department. These two quislings have the deaths of thousands of Jews in the Minsk Ghetto on their consciences. On 18 June 1942, the traitor Wajnsztejn killed an eighteen–year–old boy with a blacksmith's hammer in front of everyone. The boy had been accused of working with the partisans. This was how Wajnsztejn wanted to prove his loyalty to the murderer Riba.

Despite the fact that daily we had a chance to get rid of these two traitors, we didn't do it because our job was to bring people and weapons to the forest. Carrying out an act of terrorism would have damaged our ability to fulfil our goal.

On 23 July 1942 they wouldn't let us back into the Ghetto after work. The Germans said that there was a “clean–up action” against partisans going on inside the Ghetto. This was how we found out that a terrible pogrom had been going on there since early morning. For three days the Jews who worked outside the Ghetto were not allowed to return home. For three days we heard shooting, detonations and explosions in the Ghetto day and night. For three days Jewish blood flowed.

Twenty–five thousand Jews were murdered during these three days – men, women, children, the elderly, the healthy and the sick. Each of them, without exception, was shot to death. Some were shot on the spot and the rest outside the Ghetto in specially prepared pits. Only a few people survived in their hiding places, because most of the buildings were demolished. The cut–throat walked around like a conqueror and boasted that he had liquidated the “nest of bandits".

On the first day of the terrible pogrom I was working with two other Jews in the Water Department, in a barracks for German soldiers. That evening a German took us back to the Ghetto, just like every other day. While we were walking on Sovietskaya Street near the Lenin Library, a little boy ran past and told us in Russian that a horrible slaughter was going on in the Ghetto. We stopped on the spot and said to the German that a pogrom was going on in the Ghetto so we wouldn't go any further. We wouldn't enter the Ghetto just to be killed.

I thought about running away. The German said that we should wait where we were and that he would go and see what was going on in the Ghetto. He led us into a gateway and left. This was one of the unusual cases when a German left Jews alone outside the Ghetto. I suggested right away that we should leave quickly, but the other two Jews were undecided. I tore off the yellow star patch and the house number from my clothes and started to walk in the opposite direction to the Ghetto. I myself did not know where I was heading. After about three streets, three policemen approached me and held me. Only then did I notice that the other two Jews were following me and were still wearing their yellow star patches and house numbers. The police assumed that all three of us had run away from the Ghetto and that I was the one who was meant to lead the other two to the forest.

They took us back in the direction of the Ghetto accompanied by curses and beatings. This was the direction of death. The central streets of Minsk were in ruins and we had to walk through them. It was about a thirty–minute walk to the Ghetto. I became bathed in sweat at this fateful moment. We were walking three steps ahead of the policemen, whose guns were pointed at us. A thousand thoughts filled my head. My plan to go to the forest was melting away. Who knew what had happened to my wife? Everything was over now, but why was I obeying them so docilely since I was

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going to die anyway? What would I risk? At least I could throw myself at them – that's what I began to think.

Quietly I began to discuss these plans with the other two – that we should fall on the policemen and go down before we reached the Ghetto, where death was a certainty anyway. One of them agreed at once but the other couldn't decide – “He wants to live”, I thought. He suggested: “Let's talk to them, maybe they'll let us go... ”

It was already evening by now. The closer we got to the Ghetto the more clearly we could hear the shooting and the explosions. Then we saw a large column of Jews who were walking away from the Ghetto. They were led not by soldiers but by guards from the work battalions. We were about a hundred and fifty metres away from them.

We winked at one another and at that moment we began to run towards the column. The police began to shoot and yell out. We joined the mass and blended in. Our guards looked for us and finally left. We found out about the great tragedy from these Jews. All who remained in the Ghetto had been shot. Only those who worked outside the Ghetto had survived. This is how we thrust death away for a short time. After this massacre the Ghetto became a work camp. It became smaller and was now concentrated around the cemetery.

* * *

A German colonel falls in love with a Jewish girl and helps the partisans


There were about six thousand Jews in the Minsk Ghetto who had come from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1942. Amongst them were many world–renowned professors, doctors, engineers, etc. Supposedly, the Germans had brought them to undertake work, and had promised them that at the end of the war they would be sent home. Two weeks after the huge massacre, the remaining Central European Jews were ordered to present themselves on the square in front of the Judenrat together with their children. This included hospital patients. They were to bring all their belongings with them, because they were going “home”. The entire time that they had been in the Ghetto we had made every effort to get in touch with them. They rebuffed us every time, arguing that nothing would happen to them, that only Russian Jews were being shot and that was because they were all Communists.

To the very last moment we warned them about the dangers that awaited them. They were, however, convinced that they were going “to Germany”. They followed the orders given them to the last detail. They lined up with their packages and with their children by their sides. We looked at them with pity and yet we envied them because they didn't believe that everything would end for them within a few hours. But that's what happened.

The morning after they were marched away, the Judenrat had to send people to the big opera hall to sort the possessions of the German Jews. They had all been shot four kilometres from Minsk in specially prepared pits. We only managed to save two German Jewish girls. This is how we did it.

A German colonel was the head of the big Minsk Municipal Building. Every day a column of Jewish women came from the Ghetto to work for him, to do laundry for soldiers and clean. Most of them were from Germany. After a while, he fell in love with a Jewish girl from Hamburg. The girl let one of our people, who was also one of her co–workers, know that the colonel wanted to defect to the partisans so that he could marry his “beloved”. We considered the matter in great depth and told him

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that we would send him to the forest, but with two conditions. He had to come into the Ghetto first so that we could see him and he must carry out all of our instructions. The German agreed to everything.

At the pre–arranged time a limousine entered the Ghetto. The colonel got out of the car, went into the Employment Office and looked at the columns of Jews who were marching off to work. According to the law everyone had to take their hats off to him. We took off our hats and studied him.

The next morning we let him know that he had to be ready to move quickly. We prepared a list of what he should take along with him: weapons, a radio, etc. On the day of our choice he was to come to the Ghetto, not in a limousine, but in a truck. He was to take Jews with him, supposedly to take them to work outside the Ghetto. We chose a young man as a leader and armed him so that he could carry out this scheme no matter what.

To our great surprise the German did not show up on time. The workers who were supposed to go with him had already left for work. Fifteen minutes later the truck arrived, carrying the colonel, his bride and her sister. They left the Ghetto, driving towards Sluck. Then they stopped in the first partisan–friendly village, shot the driver and burned the truck, after which they left for the forest. Four weeks later, the “groom” was sent to Moscow for interrogation – without his beloved, of course.

* * *

The End of the Minsk Ghetto

After the horrible events of the past few days, orders began to rain down upon our heads. Each order ended with the words: “The penalty for failure to comply with this order is death. ” A special order was hung up throughout the Ghetto, stating that mothers had to surrender their children up to the age of fourteen years. This order convinced everyone that the Ghetto would only survive a few more weeks.

A new wave of killing began with awful German throat cutting and a wild chase after the few remaining children. No one wanted to give up the little ones. Mothers hid their children and children were dressed in adult clothes and went to work. Everything was done so that they would look older. The child who was physically larger in build was lucky. The hunt for Jewish children continued and the Jewish police helped out in this horrible act of destruction.

In my column, where I worked, there was a fifteen–year–old boy. He was slightly built and thin from hunger. He hid amongst the adults for a week but in the end the murderer noticed him. In the morning as we all went to work, the boy was pulled out of the line, thrown on the ground and murderously beaten until he lost consciousness. Then the German murderer stepped on his throat with his boot, squeezing until the boy's feet convulsed and he was gone.

The wild, beastly German Riba threw small children on the ground and shot them. He dragged bigger ones to the cemetery, where he shot them in front of open pits or dragged them, unconscious and half–dead, to a mass grave. Such murderous acts were repeated every day in front of everyone. We burned for vengeance. We had already seen so much blood, so much death, but we were shattered by the mass murder of children. Many demanded revenge, but our orders from the forest continued to be that we should not allow ourselves to be forced into action by any provocation and to save as many people as possible by sending them to the forest. Here, we were told, we could kill one or two of the murderers, while partisans battling them in the forests could hunt them down like dogs.

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A Jewish family camp had already been created in the forest under the leadership of Zorin (a comrade from the underground movement). The announcements from the forest told us to “send Jews. Don't worry who is battle–worthy and who is not. Send everyone who still can walk. Especially send us children, because they are in the most danger. ”

The underground organization began efforts to save even more Jews. The comrades from the Russian partisan brigades in the forest helped us. We secretly spread the news in the Ghetto that the Stalin Brigade was organizing a Jewish family camp under the leadership of Comrade Zorin. Anyone who was able should head in the direction of Staraya Selo. Jews began to stream into the forest but without knowing whom to contact. These Jews were met in the forest by the partisans. Those who were not fit for battle were sent directly to Zorin's family camp.

Every day new groups arrived in the family camp. The Staro Selo Forest was too small and not sufficiently secure, so the newly arrived wandered off to the Nalibak Forest, where there were already four Russian partisan brigades. The following were especially helpful during this rescue action:

The commander of the brigade

Semyon Gozunko,

Comrades Zorin from the Minsk Ghetto,

Feldman,

Krawczenko,

Vasil Ivanovitch Turov (who organized a new brigade called Parkhomenko, seventy percent of which
was made up of newly arrived Jews from the Minsk Ghetto who were ready for battle).

Semyon Gazenko founded a similar brigade that was called Sovietskaya Byelorus.

In the Ghetto there were frantic moves to go out to the forest. Groups were sent out every night. They were met by partisans in the Staro–Selo Forest. We had good reports. Everyone arrived safely. There were many cases of Jews waiting until evening, when they joined groups that were heading off to work outside the Ghetto. Entire columns of Jews who worked outside the Ghetto left for the forest during the day. Hundreds left at night via the cemetery without having any arrangements to meet. People went in all directions, to Sluck, Uzda, Kaidanov, Furovitch and other places.

Many fell into German traps on the way. Many fell, but that didn't stop anyone. Others returned after wandering in the forest for a few days but then eventually they went back to the forest. The leadership wasn't allowed to leave the Ghetto. We were constantly told to “wait a bit longer. You can't leave yet. Save whatever you can save. ”

We were puzzled about the behaviour of the Germans during these few weeks. None of the murderers showed his face in the Ghetto, as if the Ghetto had no head. In the mornings the Germans led the columns of Jews out of the Ghetto to work as usual and in the evenings they brought them back. Were they influenced by Germany's defeats at the front? Or was this the quiet before the final liquidation? Over a thousand Jews from the Minsk Ghetto were already in the forest. It was time for the leadership to leave the Ghetto too. Almost all of our weapons were in the forest already.

One night we found out about a new system of destruction – gas machines (dzobuwkes). They ran all night in the Ghetto and gassed two buildings with about a hundred and fifty Jewish inhabitants. This was a new method of destroying the last remnants of the Jews in the Minsk Ghetto. Every night the gas machine (a hermetically enclosed truck producing gas from burned petrol) poisoned the

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inhabitants of another building – every night on another street. The Germans no longer differentiated between specialists and non–specialists. Every day the pits at the cemetery became fuller and fuller. These were the death–watch weeks of the Minsk Ghetto.

We go to the forest and take the Partisan Oath


It was finally my turn to go to the forest. I organized a group of about thirty, including two children and eight women. Each was armed with grenades, pistols and knives. Each carried a backpack that was full of bullets and medicine. This was the last of our weapons cache. We were well organized and capable, if necessary, of offering resistance. Jewish policemen who were also members of the underground watched out for us at the spot where we were to cut through the wires. At midnight we left the Ghetto. We went out with ease; luckily the night was dark. It was raining gently and at 6 a. m. we arrived at Staroya Selo, where a group of Jewish and Russian partisans was waiting for us.

It is worth mentioning something characteristic of these times. Ghetto Jews were used to being constrained within a limited area and were depressed both physically and spiritually. The wild terror, the torture, the constant mass murders, the constant hunger, the Ghetto pain and constant living in fear of death affected the minds of Jews. It was not human beings who wandered the Ghetto streets. All that were left were their unkempt shadows, full of resignation and with no ability to organize anything for themselves. As soon as these Jews left the Ghetto for the forest and received weapons, they changed radically. They became brave, proud, revenge–hungry and courageous fighters.

In the evening we went even further into the forest, accompanied by Russian partisans from the Stalin Brigade. Two days later we arrived in the Ivienice Forest near Baranowice. We stopped about fifteen kilometres from the partisan camp to be divided into groups. The elderly and children were sent directly to Zorin's family camp in Nalibok. The younger men and women were sent to battle units.

My wife and I were delegated to the Porkhomenko group of the Stalin Brigade. Fifty to sixty per cent of the membership was made up of Jews from the Minsk Ghetto. The commander was a Ukrainian, a lieutenant in the Red Army named Vasil Ivanovich Turov, a model of a military leader. Apart from the commander and the staff officer the other leaders were Jews from the Minsk Ghetto.

The partisan camp was made up of small tents that were covered in bark instead of linen. On top they were masked with twigs and branches. The tents stood in street–like rows, divided like the groups themselves. The official places were in the middle: a bigger tent for the General Staff, a bath–house, a hospital with Jewish doctors and nurses under the leadership of the well–known Minsk doctor Marya Abramovna – who was like a mother to all the partisans. The camp was four kilometres from the track that divided the swamp. The four kilometres stretched over deep mud that could only be crossed by experienced foresters.

On the third day we took the partisan oath, which went more or less like this: “I, the son of the Soviet peoples, swear to be loyal to the partisan movement which battles wild German fascism. I swear to be disciplined, brave and pitiless in battle. I swear to take revenge for the innocently shed blood, for the tears of our mothers, for the burned towns and villages. Until the enemy is beaten and driven from our Fatherland I will not curb my strength and will even give my own life in battle. If I dishonour this oath, may I be struck by one of my comrades' bullets. ”

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After taking the oath we were sent out to work. Our first job was to organize food for our group. At night we went into villages right next to German garrisons and took cattle, pigs, rye, flour, etc., and took the supplies back to the group. Each such trip lasted about a week and we foraged within a one hundred–kilometre circle.

 

Our battles with the Germans

After a short time we participated in our first divisional work. Our responsibility was to beat the German garrison to the train spur Negoreloya and to blow up the railway tracks that led to the front. The whole brigade participated, about eight hundred partisans. Our group of about a hundred and thirty (including sixty Jews and twenty–two women) participated as well.

We walked about a hundred and twenty kilometres, zigzagging and passing German garrisons. It took about two days. When we arrived at our planned destination, we came upon the enemy accidentally. There were Germans standing on the platform at the train station and a battle developed. Our crossfire and yells forced them to retreat, leaving their dead and wounded. Under cover of a hail of bullets we laid fifty grams of dynamite along a length of the train tracks. That whole area flew up into the air. We heard the gigantic explosion from five kilometres away.

We carried out our mission successfully. By daybreak we were about twenty–five kilometres away, deep in the forest. Our losses were one dead and six wounded. We could only imagine how many wounded the enemy suffered. When we reported on the action back at camp our hearts were full of joy when the commander thanked us, newly arrived from the Minsk Ghetto, for carrying out our mission successfully.

Our group was subdivided again. I was assigned to a diversion and explosives detail that consisted of five – two Jews, two Russians and a Tartar who was our group commander. After a few days of preparation, we left for the assigned region. We were given one box of dynamite and a detonator. We had to find everything else for ourselves. We spent a whole week of nights scouting the region. For two weeks we tried to approach the train tracks, each time unsuccessfully. The entire railway line was being closely guarded by strong German patrols.

On the last two nights, we put on masks in a small forest that was three hundred metres from the railway line and observed the trains that sped down the tracks. We used a moment during nightfall to lay the dynamite and to light the fuse. The patrol didn't expect anything to happen so early in the evening, so they were not paying close attention to the railway line. Half an hour later we were lying on the ground. We could sense the approach of a train. Everything and everyone was ready. Each of us held his breath. The sound of the train wheels approached and suddenly a long train appeared. As it approached where we lay, I pulled the string and in the time it takes to bat an eye there was a thunderous explosion, deafening everyone in the surrounding area. Fire leapt into the sky. Shooting started. Rockets lit up the sky together with the fire that was burning everything around and reaching ever higher. We ran from one bush to another until we reached our horses. We galloped into the heart of the forest.

In the morning we sent out some friendly peasants to see what the enemy's losses were. The locomotive and four wagons were totally destroyed, wagons lay on top of one another and there were dozens of dead and wounded. Twelve hours after the explosion they were still looking for more dead. We drank a toast to our victory, and the joy of a job well done warmed our hearts.

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We received an unexploded grenade from a peasant. We decided to use it to mine the highway. We went to the main road from Minsk. We dug a hole for the grenade, covered it and then waited for the results. A light car passed. We heard an explosion and the car flew up into the air. Two German officers and their chauffeur were killed. Thanks to these two successes our group became well known throughout the area. We returned to base.

14 August 1943: sixty thousand Germans encircled the forests where we were living. There were about fifteen thousand partisans, three thousand of whom were Jews. The commanders were Major–General Platanov, Major Dubov and Colonel Vasilevski, all from Moscow. The colonel remained in the forest after leaving the Red Army.

An emergency was declared throughout the area. Dozens of German planes bombed our camps. They hunted us on three fronts, shooting up every metre of earth and every bush. Bombs fell and sank into the mud. The trees protected us from the splinters, but a number of horses fell. A Jewish partisan named Mindel was lying in one of the tents. He was wounded in the legs, so he didn't leave the tent. A bomb as big as a child fell on the next bed but failed to explode. We used it to mine the road and a truck full of Germans flew into the air as a result. The destroyed vehicle remained there as a symbol until the end of the war.

For the first two days we kept up the pressure on the Germans but, due to a lack of ammunition and food and the impossibility of waging open battle against a regular and well–armed force, we were forced to withdraw. We received an order from the General Staff to split into small groups, not to engage in battle and to hide ourselves in the mud and the bushes until the storm passed.

Together with another Jewish couple my wife and I hid in the swamp amongst the mud and the tall wild grasses. The other couple were Chancze and Jisroel Zylbersztejn: Jisroel was murdered in Poland by a group from the Land Army [the armed division of the Polish Government in Exile] after the liberation; his wife now lives in Israel. We were without any food at all for ten days. German planes flew over our heads. We could hear Germans talking. During the day we hid in the mud, covered with branches and moss. At night we would wander to another spot. We oriented ourselves by the shooting. We went wherever we heard less shooting. We wandered countless kilometres. We were terribly tortured by hunger. We burned with fever. All we had to eat were berries and all we had to drink was water from the swamp. Between hunger and not sleeping for twelve nights in a row we were exhausted. When we found an island amidst the mud we couldn't wander anymore. We were ready to end it all by suicide.

On 1 October 1943 the Germans withdrew, leaving murdered partisans on the roads and paths. Fifty to sixty Jews died during this action, including twelve from our group who had hidden together and died as martyrs. The murderers caught them and tortured them horribly. We found their corpses half burnt. Their hands were tied behind their backs with barbed wire. The murderers had burnt them alive. Amongst these twelve Jews was the brave little Bankele, who had been a courier connecting the forest with the Ghetto and who had saved so many Jews. We buried them in the partisan cemetery. Hundreds of Jewish and Russian partisans paid them honour and swore to revenge their spilled blood.

The Jewish family camp, which had housed about two thousand – amongst them many children, women and the elderly – survived the blockade with hardly any losses.

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During the blockade the Germans burned the villages around the partisan forests. In some villages they drove the peasants into one house, where they burned them alive. Others were dragged off to Germany as labourers. Hundreds ran away and joined us in the forest. According to the official communiqués and the press, the Germans boasted that they had killed ten thousand partisans. But actually the number of partisans was increased by the thousands who left the villages and cities around the forest. After the blockade finished all the groups and brigades were reorganized and discipline was increased as was fit for a military organization.

 

The activities of the diversion and mining groups

My wife and I were sent to another group that was called Ponomorenko. It was made up of the diversion and mining units of a couple of brigades under the leadership of the famous Captain Kaidalov. There were only six Jews in this group. I was assigned to a diversion unit together with five Ukrainians. Our region of activity was the area around Oszmene–Lida Molodechna, Olshany–Smargon Kievo. There were Polish and Lithuanian bandits in this area who worked directly with the Germans. They claimed to the populace that they were fighting against the Germans and the Russians.

We rode for a hundred and twenty kilometres until we arrived in the Smargon Forest. We cut past two train lines. For partisans a train line was the front. When we entered a village at night, the peasants were amazed. This was the first time they had seen partisans with red stars on their hats. We showed them our automatic weapons and bullets, all of which were marked “Moscow 1943”.

Our first job was to blow up the telephone lines. We took along five peasants with axes and saws. They worked diligently all night while we kept our weapons trained on them. They cut down all the telephone poles for fifteen kilometres in the direction of Smargon.

Our group consisted of six men, four of whom had served in the Red Army and had escaped from a POW camp. They included an engineer, a lieutenant from Kiev and me – one Polish Jew from Pabianice near Lodz. The engineer was our commander. Vasil and I were next in command. We would switch our exhausted skinny horses with the peasants' young and healthy ones. The area around Oszmene had always been famous for its horses.

According to news that we received, there were grenades in the Smargon Forest that the Red Army had left behind when they were forced to withdraw. We went straight there and gathered up a few dozen grenades. Eight days later we used them to blow up a train that was full of technical materials that were being transported from Lida to Molodechna. The explosion could be heard dozens of kilometres away. A few dozen Germans died. Communication was impossible for twenty–four hours until they could clear the line of the twisted wagons.

 

“Vlasovtses” shoot at partisans, rob the peasants and get their just deserts


The town Baksht was part of the partisan zone. Riding back to the base in that direction, we suddenly noticed two sleds full of Germans. We were in an open field. The situation was critical. We dismounted from the horses and took up positions. Then we noticed that the Germans had raised a white handkerchief – a sign that they were surrendering. We called one of them out and told him to approach us with raised arms. As it turned out, these were nine “Vlasovtses” [anti–Soviet Russians] who were wearing German uniforms. The one young woman amongst them also served the Germans. Their representative explained to us that they had served the occupiers for the past three

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years. Now they regretted this and wanted to join the partisans. They were ready for anything as long as they were accepted.

They gave us their weapons and we took them to our unit. On the way I observed their behaviour, looked at their well–stuffed bellies and my blood began to boil. I felt that I was bringing in murderers. They looked exactly like the ones who had murdered my brother, my sister, my child, the Jews in the Ghettoes... In the meantime I had to hold my tongue and bring them to our unit. They had a lot of nerve. When we arrived at the base, the General Staff decided that they had to pay for their sins by putting their lives at risk in battle.

We changed the route of our march and went to the area around Minsk. We felt much freer here than we did around Oszmene. All the local peasants here supported the partisans. We could sleep peacefully in any village. The peasants stood guard over us. This area considered itself to be a partisan region, although the Germans often stuck their noses in.

There was a rule amongst the partisans that villages that were a part of the partisan zone had to be treated well. We used to help them out with food, fabrics and other things that we took from the Germans. After we had been in the villages for a week, the peasants started to complain that partisans came at night, took things and mercilessly beat anyone who tried to stop them. We worked out quickly that this was the work of our “Vlasovtses”.

We explained that we weren't Germans, so our attitude towards the locals must necessarily be friendly. Our explanation didn't help much and the “Vlasovtses” continued their dangerous activities whenever possible.

We rushed into action and successfully blew up a military train twelve kilometres from Minsk. During this action the former “Vlasovtses” tried not to participate directly in the work of mining. They argued that they were new – and didn't know how to do things correctly yet.

On the way back to the base, in the last village before we entered the forest, we all downed some strong drink. By now the “Vlasovtses” were a bit tipsy and started to argue amongst themselves. I listened carefully. They were discussing the wrongs that each had been guilty of while they were serving the occupier. The conversation heated up until one of them shouted out: “Wait until we reach the base. I'll tell everything then. ” Finally they all made up and hugged one another.

I remembered this, and when we arrived at the base I told the commissar, Zachar Boyko (a Ukrainian Jew), who immediately called a General Staff meeting. There was a prosecutor (formerly a dentist). All of the “Vlasovtses” except for the woman were arrested.

The preparations for the trial lasted six weeks. It turned out that they were part of an SS unit located in the towns around Minsk, like Baranowice and Slonim, which was very actively involved in shooting Jews. They had also participated in all of the local anti–partisan actions by shooting civilians who had connections with the forest. They had finished a special spy and sabotage school in Minsk. They had been sent to the other side of the front lines three times by the Germans and had carried out sabotage and many other bloody crimes there.

During a meeting, the prosecutor read aloud the charges and the punishment for the above–listed
crimes and for treachery to the Soviet Fatherland. The punishment was death by firing squad. The sentence was carried out immediately. The murderers were punished.

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Only the woman remained from the whole group of traitors. This is what happened to her.

The woman was not arrested. She worked as a domestic in the camp. Kola, a commander, fell in love with her. While her friends were being shot, she happened to be in the farthest “zemlyanka” [dugout or earthen tent], about three hundred metres from where the sentence was carried out. After the execution the head commander asked where Shura was. The “starshina” [senior person] reported that she was in the “zemlyanka” where laundry was mended. The commander called together a squad and ordered them to shoot her, too. Kola loaded his pistol and went off to his beloved to tell her that she was being called to see the General Staff.

She shivered and began to ask why she was being called. She didn't know that her comrades had already been shot. Kola and his beloved came outside together. While walking he fell a few steps behind her, wanting to shoot her in the back. As soon as he put his hand in his pocket for the revolver, she turned around. He continued walking. This was repeated a few times. Finally, seeing that he couldn't shoot her in the back, Kola pulled out the revolver and shouted: “You betrayed our Fatherland. Here, this is your payment.” He emptied his revolver into her.

 

Messengers from the Polish government in London murder Jewish partisans

There were two Polish partisan units in our forest. They were autonomous and worked together with our General Staff. Our plans were shared and we carried out many actions together. We often met on the forest paths.

In December 1943 a group of Polish officers arrived from London. Within a short time we felt a major change in our partisan life.

A fifteen–man group from Zorin's family camp went out to get food for the camp. All of them were murdered secretly within the partisan region – in other words, they never reached their goal. We were very bitter, because nothing like this had ever occurred within our region before. A week later a Jewish diversion group from the Ponomeranko group rode out. They all came from the town Stolptsi and they all shared the same fate. They were murdered in a sadistic manner within the partisan zone.

After a while it became known that the group of Polish officers had ordered that the Polish units should begin to fight against the red partisans and most of all against the Jews. Two brigades of well–armed partisans from diversion and battle units were sent out to liquidate the two Polish groups, which contained about two hundred and fifty fighters. Our entire group participated in this action.

The Poles' camps were about sixty kilometres away from our camp. We encircled them completely and took everyone prisoner without a single shot. The messengers from London, a group of forty cavalrymen, were not there. They found out about our action and left for the town Ivienits. There was a strong German garrison there and they fought against us later together with the Germans.

At this time the last group arrived in the forest from the Minsk Ghetto. They brought us the sad news that the Minsk Ghetto had been totally liquidated. Minsk was now Juden–rein... They also told us that during the liquidation a group of Jews had offered active resistance. At the cemetery they threw themselves on an SS unit and a battle ensued. It lasted two hours. All the Jews perished but they fought stubbornly until the last bullet. Jewish police who were part of the underground also participated in this battle. The two Jewish traitors – the ”leaders” of the Ghetto – were the first ones to be shot by the underground. These were the last living greetings from Jewish Minsk.

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Lively Jewish Minsk no longer existed. The Germans had tortured and murdered the local Jews. My dear two–year–old daughter Rozele was amongst them.

The liquidation of the Minsk Ghetto awoke in us a burning desire for vengeance. We rushed forward into every action and wanted to see as many fascists as possible die like dogs. We didn't rest. We never stayed in the forest for longer than a day or two. We moved constantly, always involved in actions – rip, burn, mine, attack. We counted every dead German for whom we were responsible: for my little daughter, for my brother, for my sister. The total was large, very large. I didn't see my wife for months at a time, although we were in the same unit. We each had separate responsibilities.

 

The heroic battle between partisans and a well–armed German military unit

Towards the end of December 1943, our diversion group was called out by the General Staff. Commander Kadilov took out a map and showed us that five kilometres from the town Krevo (near Smargon) there lay a hundred–kilo bomb that the Germans had dropped at the beginning of the war. Apparently it had never exploded. We were to remove its dynamite and use it to blow up the railway line between Lida and Molodetshna – which military trains used when taking men and materials to the front. This was a direct order. Besides, every one of our units had a group of well–armed partisans, about sixty, who needed to learn the “neighbourhood”. We would take them to within ten kilometres from Olshany and then separate. Their orders were to gather a large amount of food for the entire brigade. We were told to be careful, because the area was thickly settled with German garrisons and Polish bands. We were not to undertake any side–battles, but were only to carry out our orders. We had time to prepare, to work out the details, check out the people, etc. Senior Lieutenant Fiodorov was to command the group of sixty. The commander of our diversion group, Lieutenant Vasil and I were assigned to be his deputies.

At the appropriate time, we separated from our unit. Sixty–six of us – some in sleighs and the rest on horse–back – took off. We were to travel about a hundred fifty kilometres on back–roads to the two railway lines.

They murdered our messengers. We were in a trap. The last two weeks in the forest we shifted our position every day.

[The partisans were surprised in a house by the Germans]

Suddenly I thought, what will happen if they take me alive, being a Jew? Instinctively I stood with my whole body exposed in the window and shot at the German who lay near the machine gun. I took care of him. The machine gun was silenced. At the same time, Vasil shot the German commander just as his troops were beginning to regroup. They withdrew on the left and started shooting incendiaries at us. Since we were busy fighting, we didn't notice that the house was on fire. We took advantage of the moment when they freed up the left and broke through the encirclement. We continued the battle in the free area. Our comrade was wounded in the hand, but he didn't drop his gun and continued to fight. A hail of bullets continued to rain down on us.

Suddenly my head felt hot. I felt a cut. A stream of blood flowed over me. I fell, got up again, ran and fell again. Everything swam before my eyes. I had only one aim – to reach the forest, fifty metres away. While they ran my comrades shot at the enemy behind them. I wasn't able to fire anymore. It took my last bit of strength to reach the forest. We knew that they wouldn't dare to follow us there. We had no fear of the Germans in the forest. Our comrades washed us with snow and bandaged our

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wounds. We walked all night until we reached our base. We sent a messenger into the town Olshany for medicine and a local naturopath healed our wounds.

I was wounded on the right side of my head and developed fever. I lay for eight days without being
able to move.

This battle astounded the whole neighbourhood. The Germans said that the dead who they were taking to bury were partisans. Our heroic battle, in which we suffered no losses, improved our reputation amongst the peasants and we developed friends amongst the population. The dynamite remained undiscovered. Ivan had buried it in the peasant's barn during the battle. The next day Ivan and Vasily went back to the burned–out hut and retrieved the dynamite.

Two weeks later we carried out a brave and successful mission at the same location where we had blown up the railway line a few months before. But we lost the ever–happy Vanka this time. He died while laying a mine that blew up prematurely. Vanka was blown to pieces. This is how we lost a dear and loyal comrade. We revenged his blood by blowing up a trainload of German soldiers at the same place where Vanka had perished. The explosion occurred under the third wagon, exactly as we had planned it. One wagon flew onto another. It took them a whole night to remove all the corpses from the train.

We left the area with a feeling of satisfaction. We were preparing to return home to our base, but it turned out that the Germans were holding all the roads. It was three months before we were able to get through. We sneaked between garrisons and looked for new paths to no avail. The White Polish bands nipped at our heels. A few times we were forced into battle and had to withdraw because of the imbalance of power between them and us.

We decided that no matter what, we had to get through. If we didn't succeed, we would head towards Vilna, where there were other partisan units. We chose appropriate horses and started off. We crossed the first railway line a hundred metres from a German guard who noticed us but didn't shoot at us. We got through and covered ground quickly. We also crossed the second railway line safely. We reached our base on 20 April 1944.

We didn't recognise our swamp. Thousands of new partisans had arrived and every few kilometres there were new partisan units. Units became brigades. The front broke through past Smolensk. Everyone felt good, although a storm was brewing. The Germans were planning to search for the partisans. The units dug foxholes around the forest. We prepared mines for mining the paths. Hundreds arrived from Moscow to help us and many of them were Jewish.

Our group was greeted with surprise and joy. The commander showed us a daily order that said that we had fallen heroically in battle with the Olshany German garrison. My wife had already been mourning for me for two months. We explained the mistake by saying that the Germans had been carrying their own dead for burial, not partisan dead.

 

Our last battles with the Germans and the Liberation

After resting for a few days our group was thrown back into the Minsk region. I became the commander of the diversion group and Vasil left for Baksht with a second group.

The Minsk region was full of diversion and mine–laying groups who were positioned near the railway lines and highways. Riding to the railway lines at night, we met a group from “Sovietskaya Belarus”,

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who were heading for the same place as us. We decided to carry out the action together. Both groups consisted of fifteen men. We scouted the area for a few days but were unable to do anything. The German guards were too strong. In the end we headed off for the Minsk–Zaslavl railway line. We masked ourselves and held our breaths. There were no trains scheduled for after midnight. We decided to lay mines before dawn and did so. We lay for an hour and – nothing. No train. Then we felt the approach of a train. I checked that everything was ready. The train was approaching noisily. It began to pass us. Almost half the train passed. I pulled the string and immediately a great fire flashed together with a clap of thunder. In a moment the air pressure pushed us to the ground. We opened fire and then retreated in the direction of Staroya Selo. The result was that the locomotive and the first two wagons were completely destroyed. Six wagons full of soldiers and cannon that were headed towards the front were hit. Sixty Germans were dead or wounded. There was no service on that railway line for eighteen hours.

We returned to the base. The mood in the swamp and on all the bases was a happy one. The Red Army had broken through near Vitebsk and was marching quickly towards Minsk. In the forest we worked feverishly. Everyone was working at blocking the retreating German army and preparing to hit them one last time from behind. Every day planes landed on our airstrip. Officers deplaned. Everyone was ready for an emergency. Everyone was given one week's provisions in advance.

We were ordered by Moscow to carry out a railway war. Our brigade was again ordered to the train spur at the Negoreloya Station. The action was carried out successfully. We blew up the railway tracks for five kilometres, hit the garrison and took a lot of the food and weapons that were located in the station. A few days later we blew up hundreds of kilometres of train tracks. The whole partisan movement in Belarus and Ukraine was present at these train tracks. The action had a mass character and was very helpful to the success of the Red Army.

We didn't go back to the swamp. We went to rest in the town Rubizevitsh. Here we received an order to go back out on the road to hold back and hit retreating remnants of the German army, which were in great disorder. Small groups of Germans surrendered immediately. They were barefoot or had wrapped rags around their feet. They were unkempt, hungry, unarmed. They begged for their lives. They fell at our feet and cursed their leaders. That's how the “master race” looked on its judgement day.

Larger groups, especially of the SS, only surrendered after battle. When we encircled them, they raised their hands and came to us with a white flag. After approaching about twenty metres they opened fire. Our dead and wounded fell. After coming under crossfire from us they threw down their weapons for real and surrendered. Later they argued that they were soldiers and that they had been following orders. We paid them back with blood for blood.

On 28 July 1944 in the village Komen near Ivienits we met up with the forward troops of the Red Army. Our joy was great. We kissed them like old friends and lifted them into the air. Our hearts were full of joy. The forward troops left. They said to us: “Take your revenge, children. Now is the time. Chase them. Choke them. They are murderers, not soldiers!”

We didn't rest for nine days. Shots could be heard day and night on the side paths and the roads were filled by the advancing Red Army. Thousands of tanks and all kinds of weapons stretched towards the West. We still fought in the forests against the remnants of the defeated Germans.

After two weeks the military and the NKVD [Soviet Secret Police] arrived and took over our positions. All the partisans were concentrated in the town Ivienits. We rested for a week, before going to Minsk for the historic partisan parade. Hundreds of thousands of fighters participated.

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The partisans took over the organs of power locally and in the cities. The overriding majority were mobilized into the Red Army and left for the front. As an artisan, I was ordered to organise a tractor station in Ivienits.

I left for the front after two months. I was detailed to the fifty–second mechanized division of the second Belorussian front in a tank brigade that was to cut through the lines. I had the rank of head mechanic.

We marched to Warsaw, Modlin, Mlawa, Torun, Byczocz, and Sztetyn. On this side of the river and in the town Aldam near Sztetyn we were in heavy battles. We fought for each house. On the other side of the river in the city Sztetyn the Germans hung out white flags on every house as a sign of surrender. Despite the fact that everyone was exhausted from lack of sleep and constant battle, the fighters kept on going. Suddenly we felt that it was getting hot. Our tank was on fire. They had shot “panzer faust” [anti–tank shells] at us. The soldiers started to jump out of the tank. Only one got out in one piece. I and two others were surrounded by flames. Two were burned to ashes. When we came to we were in a military hospital in Sztetyn, with heavily bandaged wounds.

We celebrated the final victory over the enemy in the hospital in Sztetyn.

* * *

November 1945. After the hospital I went to Pabianice for a visit. My home town presented a very sad picture. Until I reached the city I still had some hope that somehow someone had survived. I realized the scope of the great disaster right away.

A few dozen Jews who had returned from concentration camps, who were saved from death really at the last moment, sat around a table in the building of the Jewish Committee and ate a common meal. It was cooked in one pot for everyone. The streets were empty, just as empty as was my soul...

 

pab208.jpg

The committee of the post–war Jewish community in Pabianice

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The main synagogue of Pabianice after the Destruction. Only the outer walls remained whole. The leadlight windows were bricked up. The gates and doors were ripped out.

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pab210.jpg

The interior of the main synagogue after the Destruction. Nothing remained of the gorgeous Holy Ark and of the beautiful Bima. Everything was stolen, even the floorboards.

[Page 211]

Lonely with my own thoughts, I walked the Jewish streets of my home town. Memories of my childhood forced themselves to the surface. Every house told a story. Every street had its own tale to tell: this is where my cheder was, we played here, later I worked in these buildings. Here we spun dreams for a better future. In this garden, we had many discussions, read books. When the Germans occupied the city, the first thing they did was to hang a big sign on the garden that read: “Entry forbidden to Jews and dogs. ” The sign was no longer there – but the Jews weren't there either. Empty. Everything was empty. I ran back to the Jewish streets. Every building, every wall spoke to me: This is where the Ghetto was. This is where they died of starvation and here on Warszawska Street the Jews of Pabianice walked their last road...

I left my home town in sorrow and in pain – never to return.

* * *

pab211a.jpg
 
pab211b.jpg

After the war in the Jewish public kitchen located on the premises of the Jewish Community Council

 

News about the Deportation of Jews from Pabianice by the Germans,
from the Palestinian [Eretz Israel] Wartime Press

Collected by D. Dawidowicz

1940

Copenhagen (JTA). The Nazi “Breslau Newspaper” published official announcements from the Nazi police, stating that masses of Jews in many cities within occupied Poland had been murdered. In Lodz and the surrounding region, hundreds of Jews were murdered during the burning of the synagogues. Thirty–three Jews were killed in Szerodz, over one hundred were killed in Radom, and in Pabianice ten Jews, whose sin was to show lack of respect towards the Nazi flag, were whipped publicly.

[Page 212]

The Germans tell about their horrible actions against Jews

Amsterdam (Folkor). The “Silesian Newspaper” announced the fate of Jews in occupied Poland with open joy. This is what they said about the crimes of the German military in the town Lask, in the region of Lodz, where there were about two thousand Jews, most of them elderly:

“After conquering Lask, the German military found a lot of weapons in Jewish homes. In many cases, the Jews opposed German orders and many of them were 'taken care of on the spot'. A young Jew attacked a German soldier with an axe, intending to kill him. ”

The Nazi newspaper continued, saying that German soldiers opened fire with machine–guns on the Jews, who were gathered near the synagogue and attempting to obstruct the hunt for weapons. After a few days, seventeen hundred Jewish families from the area were brought to Lask. The refugees were locked up in the cemetery and were not allowed to leave it without special permission. Once a day, twelve people were allowed to enter the town to get food and water for their brothers. After a few days, a terrible typhus epidemic broke out there. Doctors were allowed to enter the cemetery, but without medicines.

In Pabianice, they publicly whipped nine Jewish men and one woman in the market place because they did not salute the Nazi flag. The newspaper added that “the Jews had to carry out the punishment themselves. ”

* * *

The cry of Polish Jewry

The well–known Polish journalist, an ex–staff member of the Yiddish newspaper “Today” [Haynt], J. M. Najman, wrote the following in February 1940, from Vilna:

“...the destruction of Polish Jewry is so huge, that it is impossible for human thought to comprehend its scale. There is no precedent for it in the history of the human race. There is nothing to compare it to, no way to measure it, no words to consider it, to imagine it accurately. And that is why we are sinking into despair, unable to act, in helplessness and weakness... ” (“Davar”).

* * *

1943

A martyr's death in Treblinka

Istambul (special for “Davar”), 1. 12. 43. A refugee who arrived from Poland shared with us the shocking facts about martyrs' deaths in Treblinka.

Amongst those who were brought to die in a camp was the well–known rabbi, Reb Mendele of Pabianice, one of the rebbe of Ger's brothers. The rabbi asked the Jews, who were carrying out Nazi

[Page 213]

orders to collect clothing in the camp, for a glass of water. Out of fear of the Germans, none of them dared to fulfil his request. Then the rabbi announced that he would give away a half of his “world to come” in exchange for a glass of water.

One Jew, a tailor, who thought that the rabbi was dying of thirst, risked his life and gave the rabbi water.

The rabbi didn't drink. He washed his hands and began to say the Jewish prayer of confession out loud. The Jews who were present said the prayer along with him. A Nazi patrol had stopped off at the camp and yelled, “What is this, a Jewish synagogue?” and began to shoot. Jews died the deaths of martyrs in the middle of their confessions.

The tailor hid in a train car, under a pile of clothing. He succeeded in escaping from the camp. A Polish railway worker saved him. He crossed the border and reported this horrible scene in Treblinka as a living witness.

* * *

The well–known labour leader, Berl Kacenelson, said the following at a public reading, during a youth seminar in June 1944, about the death of martyrs:

“Even if there had not been an uprising in the Ghetto, I would not say a word against the Ghetto Jews. When people stand before the Nazi animal, we cannot demand that they rise up, because we know very well that there was no hope of success, no chance of being saved. Usually people rise up when they believe that the future will bring victory. ”

He continued to mention the death of the rabbi of Pabianice and said that he considered his death to be “a mighty event on the day of death. This is, ” he continued, “Jewish death for the sanctification of God's name. ”

The writer Moshe Prager published a story about the martyr's death of Reb Mendele Alter, called “Rabbi Mendele of Pabianice Goes to Treblinka” in “Davar”. It is included in this memorial volume in the original Hebrew [see page 279].

The Hebrew poet Sh. Shalom wrote a poem about the death of Reb Mendele.

* * *

[Page 214]

1945

Former German commander of the Pabianice Ghetto tells about his acts of murder

Geneva (Folkor). Dr. Hans Georg Meyer, the former commandant of the Pabianice Ghetto, admitted in the evidence that he presented to American officers in Germany, that the exact plan to destroy European Jews was developed and accepted at a meeting in Berlin in 1940, in which Hitler, Goebbels, Heidrich and Ernst Kaltenbruner (the head of German military espionage) participated.

When he was questioned about the fate of the Pabianice Ghetto, he admitted that half of the Jews who were locked into the Ghetto were murdered by gas, but – he argued – this occurred in his absence, while he was in Norway.

* * *

How many Jews remained in Pabianice?

Warsaw (Polpres). 26.10.1945. The Central Jewish Committee compiled a list of those Jews who are currently members of the Polish Jewish communal organizations.

Lodz – 19,871 Jews

Krakow – 4,520 Jews

Sosnowiec – 3,005 Jews

Katowice – 2,152 Jews

Bedzyn – 1,501 Jews

Pszemyszl – 1,231 Jews

Radom – 957 Jews

Czestachowa – 2,472 Jews

Lublin – 2,342 Jews

Bydgoscz – 872 Jews

Oswiemcin – 790 Jews

Kielce – 672 Jews

Tarnow – 650 Jews

Kalisz – 350 Jews

Zawiercza – 177 Jews

Wloclawek – 161 Jews

Pabianice – 148 Jews

[Page 215]

Chrzanow – 147 Jews

Bytom – 138 Jews

Skarzyska – 87 Jews

* * *

The murderer of Pabianice Jews sentenced to death

Hans Georg Meyer, the butcher of the Jews of Pabianice, and the builder of the death camp in Chelmno, was sentenced to death by the Lodz District Court. The sentence has been carried out. (A.Cincinatus, a letter from Poland, “Davar”, 28.11.47)

* * *

The author Rochl Auerbach, who survived the war years in Poland, noted the following in her “Ghetto Diary”:

“29.5.1942. Lately we have heard from Pabianice and from its neighbouring towns that the 'liquidation' of the Jewish population there was carried out in such a way, that the children up to age ten and the elderly over age sixty were killed by shooting. Those in the intermediate age groups were forced to go through a selection. Those who were capable of work were taken for work, and the incapable – the weak – were taken out behind the city and murdered by machine – gun fire near open pits.

Yes, the superstition of the 'new European knights' taking care of the weak, the helpless, the 'elderly, women and children', consists of destroying the non – productive base in order not to waste food reserves on them...

6.6.1942. Yesterday I was told how the children under age ten were murdered in Pabianice. I could not understand how the mothers allowed their children to be taken away from them, how they allowed them to be torn from their sides without sharing the fate of their children. But apparently the hangmen made their job of slaughtering the children easier by taking all the women out to work at dawn on that day. In their absence, they took the children away, outside the city. At the same time, they spread a rumour in the city that they were being taken to Warsaw. They say that most of the mothers who survived lost their minds... Yesterday there was a rumour spread in the city that a similar fate awaits the children of Lodz in the coming days.”

(Published in the volume “Warsaw” (A) in the series “Encyclopaedia of the Diaspora”, Jerusalem–Tel Aviv, 1953.)

 

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