Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman
Ite Gun was 55 when war broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union. During the German conquest, she faced danger many times and survived only through perseverance, especially during the final days before liberation.
She came from a wealthy family. Her father was a merchant who owned large, successful enterprises. During her childhood, she attended high school, and after her marriage in 1905, she ran her own businessesa matzo factory and home supply stores. After her husband's death, she continued to run the businesses until 1939, when the Russians came.
Her businesses were very successful, and she became wealthy. She attended very well to her two daughters. Radzivilov Jews remember her as a wealthy, respectable woman, very clever and determined, a woman who succeeded in everything she did. Thanks to her talents, she was able to survive the dark period of German occupation until she was liberated.
Actually, to her the German occupation was just the continuation of the troubles and sufferings brought by the preceding Russian occupation.
When the Soviets began their rule, her stores and the matzo factory were taken from her. The matzo factory was turned into a bakery. She worked in it as a lowly worker in the bourgeoisie. The Soviets treated her badly. She received identity papers stamped with seif, that is, someone assigned a lower rank among the citizenry and likely to be exiled to Siberia with her family. Many nights she lay sleepless, because every knock on the door aroused fear of the NKVD.
Many wealthy women were sent to Siberia, but she was tried once for leaving work a halfhour earlier than usual without permission. When the Germans occupied the town, she already was broken in body and spirit. Because she was well known as a oncewealthy woman, the Ukrainians did not overlook this, and they paid her visits quite often and stole anything they wanted.
Nor did the Germans leave her alone. The Judenrat and the Jewish police made her life miserable, especially the head of the Judenrat, Yakov Furman. He frequently demanded money, as well as gold and other precious objects, for himself and the Germans.
She escaped from the roundups twice, once during the destruction of the Radzivilov ghetto and once during the destruction of the Brody ghetto. In these two episodes, she was helped by a peasant named Pietro Moroz. The period from her flight from the Brody ghetto until liberation was the most difficult for her: 17 months without a roof over her head, wandering from place to place in fields, wetlands, forests, frost and snow, clothed in rags and starved for bread. She was content if she could lie down in a pen with pigs, eating the food in their trough. For several months she hid in a hollow tree with her nineyearold nephew. At every turn and every step, there was something to haunt a Jewish soul, whether it was the Ukrainians, the Germans, the police, or the peasants. It required a great deal of effort, caution, and vigilance not to fall into these pursuers' hands. And she was not only concerned for herselfshe was responsible for her nephew, the her only remaining family member. Not once did she succumb to despair or become indifferent to her existence; it was enough for her to look at her nephew and think of his possibilities, and she got the strength to overcome her desperation.
Now she is 76 years old and lives in Tel Aviv with her daughter, who immigrated to Israel in 1925. For her, memories of her terrible trials elicit sorrow, but also a strong desire to transmit this testimony. With my questions, I tried to arouse her memories and thoughts. A year ago she received a picture from the nephew whom she saved. He is now in the Soviet Union studying in a conservatory in Rovno. She keeps this picture as if it were a holy relic.
by Bela FinkelshteynRashin
Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman
Date and place of birth: Radzivilov, 1886
Residence: Tel Aviv, 6 King David Blvd.
Relatives who died during World War II: Her daughter, Sheyntse Norban, born in 1908, and her husband and child, aged 7; and many other family members.
Ite Gun reports:
I was born in Radzivilov. My father was a merchant. He owned a haberdashery store.
I was educated at the Russian high school. I was married in 1905 to Aharon Gun. He died in 1920. I had two daughters, one named Tsipore Yenai, with whom I now live; she immigrated to Israel in 1925. My second daughter married Chayim Norban. We lived together until they were killed. During the Russian period and after that under Polish rule, I had a store selling housewares and also a large factory that made matzo. I supplied matzo to every region in Volhynia. After my husband died and my daughter got married, we continued to run the businesses until the Bolsheviks occupied the town. I was a wealthy woman, running a large, wellappointed home and educating my children well. We lived well until war broke out between Germany and Poland. A few weeks later, the Russians came upon us.
Life under the Soviets
As the Russians took over, we wealthy people were filled with fear, knowing that many would be sent to Siberia. I feared that they would send my family and me. When the Russians started handing out identity cards to the citizens, they stamped the merchants' forms with seif. My daughter, my soninlaw, and I naturally got these stamps…. I believed that it would be better if I voluntarily handed over all of my businesses to them, including the matzo factory and flour warehouse. I only asked them to allow me to continue working there, and they agreed. The matzo factory was transformed to bake bread for the residents. Because the flour warehouse was at my house, I was put in charge of the flour.
Once I left work a half hour early without receiving prior permission from the labor manager. One of their big shots, a Jew like me, accosted me and asked me where I was going during work hours. I told him, and he answered, You're on work time. You must be a saboteur. I'm reporting you to the authorities. The judge turned to be the chairman, who declared that I was a borozeka, that is, a bourgeoise, and that I was committing sabotage. So he deducted120 rubles from my wages, 25% of my monthly salary, for 6 months. I was warned that if I did this again, I would be put in jail.
They wanted to confiscate my house. But it remained mine because my soninlaw was a member of the proletariat.
There was a complete shortage of everything, and long lines for bread and other basics formed in front of the shops. Because I worked in the bakery, I was assured a supply of bread, and I could also give some to others. There were Jews who worked for the Soviets and they became wealthy. They took out their anger on the Christians, and this caused an increase in antisemitism.
During the German occupation, the Christians took revenge for this on the Jews.
As I previously related, I was constantly in fear of being exiled. Even though the Soviets were for now occupied with expelling Polish officials, I thought they would soon turn to us. In the meantime, during the Russian occupation I gave shelter in my house to two boys from Stanitslau who had escaped from a German camp. One was named Suretski, and the other, Zelzinger. They were both well educated: one was a German teacher, and the other studied mathematics. Both helped me afterward, when the Germans came. We lived in fear until the GermanSoviet war. At the end of June 1941, the Germans entered. From the outset, the Ukrainians celebrated the takeover of the Germans anxious to avenge themselves on those who collaborated with the Soviets, communists, and Komsomol members.
Before the Germans entered, the members tried to flee, but they couldn't because the Germans were already advancing on the main roads, and they were forced to return. The Ukrainians started to go from house to house stealing anything they wanted. The Germans ordered all Jews to wear a strip of white cloth on their arms with a blue star of David. Later, it was a yellow patch on the front and back.
The First Jewish Victims
The Germans gathered 30 Jews and ordered them to dig pits in the forest. Then they shot them. Among them was Zalman Leviten, the account manager at the station; the rabbi Yakira; and a young man, Sunye Zilberman.
The Germans Persecute the Jews
Once, the Gestapo entered our house, opened the closets, and chose the best clothing. After that, they went into the flour warehouse that the Russians had abandoned and ordered my soninlaw to load a sack of flour on their vehicle. After he had loaded it, they told him to wash and clean up, especially his chest region, because they intended to shoot him in the heart. But this all was to frighten us, because they left the house without shooting him.
Once a German entered my house, went upstairs, broke a writing table, stole all sorts of things, and then fled. The situation was terrible. For entire nights I didn't close my eyes, and every noise outside caused me to panic about being robbed.
Once two Ukrainians were passing our house and saw my soninlaw standing outside without his yellow patch. They dragged him to headquarters, beat him hard, and sent him into the basement. I saw everything, and I asked a policeman, someone I knew, to help me free him.
He promised to take care of the matter, and I believed him because within a short while, they released my soninlaw. Again everything ended in just fear.
It seems to me that it was in February 1942 that the Germans ordered all the Jews to move into the ghetto within just a day. We thought that maybe it would be better if we were all together. The terror would not be that great. Everyone took what he or she could. I took a lot of basic food to eat, enough to last for at least two years. The Germans came into the ghetto only infrequently. My soninlaw worked outside the ghetto; he delivered German messages, so he had permission to walk freely around the city. But at night, he had to sleep in the ghetto. Before the war, a young Christian girl, Hanye Shaykovski, aged 13, worked for me, and she was very devoted to us. Every day she would come to the ghetto fence and bring us packages of food. On Thursday she would bring a hen for the Sabbath. Once a Ukrainian policeman stopped her, beat her, and dragged her to headquarters. She begged them to forgive her. He threatened her that if she were found again anywhere near the fence, she would pay with her life. I gave him 50 gold coins, and he released her. She never came again.
In the ghetto, I was in a room with 11 other people. It was very crowded. We managed somehow with the food, and I helped others. As I have already said, I was fully provisioned, and my soninlaw would also bring something every day.
The Judenrat and the Police
We suffered a lot at the hands of the Judenrat and the police. The Judenrat chairman was Yakov Furman. He was crude and very evil. They exploited us, especially those who had once been wealthy. They demanded money, gold, and all the rest for themselves and the Germans. Yakov Furman wanted my soninlaw to work for the Judenrat. But he refused. I would never have believed that Jews could be so evil, harsh, and without conscience, ready to take the last piece of bread from your mouth. It is true that the Germans demanded money and gold and gold wares daily, and the police were charged with collecting it all. I gave everything I had, but they divided the ghetto into the productive and the nonproductive. The productive were given passes, and the others were not. My soninlaw was given a pass that included his family. I was not given a pass, but I continued to live with them. When the news came of the extermination of the nonproductive Jews in Dubno, we knew what awaited us….
Before the extermination, Yakov Furman said to me, you can't live in the ghetto. You must go with the nonproductives. He knew that in a few days the ghetto would be destroyed, and he wanted me to go there. But I knew that going there would mean my death.
The nonproductives lived in constant fear. Even those who were in the part of the ghetto sanctioned for the productives but did not have passes shook with terror. As I have said, I did not have a pass, so what was I to do? I said earlier that during Soviet rule, I hid two boys, and now both were working for the Germans. One was a translator, and the other worked in an office. They very much wanted to help me, but they couldn't. When the Germans surrounded the part of the ghetto for the nonproductives, Suretski came to me and said, Don't be afraid. I'll stay with you, and you'll hide in the closet. When they see me, they won't search anymore. And that is how it was. The Germans forced all the Jews out to a place beyond the forest and killed them, but I stayed alive. A few who escaped told of how the Germans and the Ukrainians dragged the elderly and sick from their homes and loaded them into wagons and trucks and brought them to their deaths. Those who rebelled were shot on the spot. The Germans promised not to harm the productives. The rabbis also clung to a vain hope. But everyone knew that you could not depend on the Germans' promises, and they began to look for ways to escape. Peasants came to negotiate hiding places in exchange for a lot of money. Happy was the one who had good acquaintance with a peasant. The owner of the house in which I lived went to Mateyko (the mayor) and asked him how long we would be in the ghetto. He answered that we would still eat the summer fruit, but not the winter fruit. We understood the meaning of his words well enough.
We Flee from the Ghetto
Peasants came and told us they were digging pits again. We didn't want to believe it. We thought the peasants wanted to plant fear among us so we would go ahead and stash our gold and money with them. No, the pits were for storing potatoes during the winter. They were creating distractions because in Brody, the Jews were not suffering so much, and there still was no ghetto there. So why would they want to kill the Radzivilov Jews?
I had an acquaintance with a peasant whose name was Pietro Moroz. He said to me, Don't be afraid. When the time comes, I'll hide you and your family with me. My soninlaw said, How long can we hide with a gentile? Who knows how long the war will last? He can't hide us for long. But there was no other choice.
And the time certainly came. The Germans and police surrounded the ghettothe action had begun. We decided to flee one after the other to one of the peasants whom Moroz had told us about. At night, Moroz would come and take us to his home. When we were fleeing from the ghetto, Itshi Treybitsh's family saw ushe, his wife, and two of his children. They said to us, Wherever you're going, we're going with you. We won't leave you. When Moroz saw them, he said he couldn't take them, only my family. He would not let them enter his home, and he left us all of us in the forest. He was too afraid to hide so many people. While we were in the forest, the German killed the Jews in the ghetto.
In the surrounding area, a rumor was spreading that about 20 Jews from Brody who had a lot of money were hiding in the forest. Suddenly a peasant appeared holding an axe and asked, What are you doing here in the forest? We answered, We're resting for a while before we continue to Brody. We didn't want him to think we were staying in the forest. I gave him 100 marks, and he went off, but afterward two others came with the same tune, so the whole business began again.
When Moroz returned, we told him that peasants were coming all the time. He agreed to take us to another place. The Treybitsh family stayed with us. The second place was not far from Brody. He said, No one will harm you here. He also promised to bring food. The new place was a pigslaughtering field owned by a wealthy peasant. The following day, workers came to turn the pork. We afraid they would see us and turn us over us to the Germans. When Moroz came again, we told him we couldn't stay here: it would be better for us to go to Brody, where Jews were still living. Moroz brought us food, and then another peasant came and, for money, took us to the border. We got to Brody safely.
The situation in Brody was very bad. There was nothing to eat. The Germans were choking everything out of the Jews under threat of death, everything they had. But there was still no ghetto. A few Jews made hiding places for themselves. My brother's sisterinlaw, Selki Potashnik, was in Brody. I stayed with her. After that, we moved to another flat. After 5 weeks, the Jews were concentrated in a ghetto. This was during Passover 1943, and our house was in the ghetto. Conditions in the ghetto were very bad: there wasn't anything to eat, it was impossible to leave the ghetto to get any food, and I knew nobody. Someone told the Judenrat that I had once been a wealthy woman, and they demanded that I hand over my money and gold. They didn't believe that I had nothing left, and when they heard that I had nothing to give them, they threatened to throw my soninlaw in prison. But he hid. What did they do? They took my daughter and held her in jail for six days, all the while threatening not to release her until I handed over my money. The chairman of the Judenrat, Barash, was an acquaintance of mine. I went to him, begging him to release my daughter, and he answered, When her husband comes, we'll release your daughter. There was no other way. My soninlaw went to them, and they released my daughter. After some time, they also released him.
The Germans demanded young men for labor brigades from the Judenrat. They gathered more than 300 young men, including my soninlaw. They sent them to a camp in Olevsk. There they killed everyone. This was at the beginning of 1943.
After my soninlaw's death, I stayed with my daughter and two grandsons. Suddenly, the Germans surrounded the ghetto. My daughter, the two grandsons, and I hid between two fences. There were 19 Jews there. From there, we saw how the Germans were going through all the houses and dragging Jews out of their hiding places, throwing them into the fire, and shooting them. We hid there for a few days. At every moment, we saw death before us. One of Barash's deputies, Shmuel Sherer, told us that it would be best for us to flee. At night, we left and returned to Moroz. When he saw so many people with us, he refused to let us inside and left us in the forest. We were eight people. Suddenly the Germans and police surrounded the forest and began to approach us. My daughter and the children turned to run away, but the Germans ran after them. I was weak and fell to the ground. The Germans paid no attention to me and continued to pursue them. They caught my relatives and family and killed them. After that, they also killed my daughter and grandson. The other grandson, Siunye, aged nine, hid, and the Germans never saw him. I lay there until evening; the death of my dear ones broke me completely. I longed for my death, because nothing in my life had value. After a few days, Moroz found me and told me he had found my grandson Siunye. I was happy that at least my grandson had survived.
Moroz could not keep us at his house because his wife objected, so he hid us in a hollow tree in the forest, and he would bring us food. It was difficult to approach the tree. It was surrounded by water, and only with great effort could he get close enough to give us the food.
It is difficult to recall everything that happened to us. I am already tired, so I will cut my story short.
Once, some peasants killed six Germans. The Germans raided and took their revenge on them. They also went into Moroz's house because, it seems, he had been accused. They killed his wife and burned his house, but he himself managed to escape. But we were left without anyone to help us and without food. I had to go from house to house to beg for food. The gentiles were antiSemites, but I was surprised that no one turned us over to the Germans and that they didn't kill us themselves. My grandson and I wandered like this, sleeping outside in the snow, starving and clothed in rags. Days passed when we ate nothing at all. I felt that my strength was leaving me. Many times, my grandson and I slept in the feeding trough of the pigsty. More than once I told my nephew, My child, I'm already lost, I can't go on any longer. But you're still young. Go on and save yourself. But he didn't want to leave me. He said his fate was linked to mine. At one point, my strength completely gave out. I crawled on my knees for almost four kilometers until I got to a village, and I stayed there lying in a field, begging for death. So it was for me for about 17 months. The most difficult were the last 34 months.
Meanwhile, the battlefront was coming close to Radzivilov. This was in spring 1944. I went to a peasant woman's house and asked for food. At first, she would not let me in. But when she heard that the Soviets were approaching, she changed her mind. She gave us food and also a place to lie down. She even suggested that we stay. A peasant came and told us that the Russians were in the village, but in withdrawing, the Germans had set fire to the village. My grandson and I started walking to the forest. One peasant allowed my grandson to ride on a wagon filled with pork, and I walked. the Russians were coming along the way. The boy caught their eye, and they gave him food and clothing. He stayed with them. I was very happy because they loved him; they called him the wandering boy.
I went to Radzivilov. My house was destroyed and burned. There were a few Jews wandering alone. After a few days, I went on to Dubno. There I found Shmuel Gun, my brotherinlaw's son, who is now in Tel Aviv. I stayed with him until 1946, and then I went to Poland, to Beuthen. From there I traveled to Austria. I was in a refugee camp until 1948. From there I went to Israel, to my daughter, Tsipore Yenai.
A year ago, I received notification that my grandson was still alive. I later received a letter from him with a picture of his wife and son. He is in Vladimir, a student at the Rovno Conservatory. I cherish his picture like the pupils in my eyes.
by Shifra Poltorak
Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman
Jewish Radzivilov, which established and supported a large Hebrew day school dedicated to Zionist education; the town that fostered a pioneering kibbutz with about 150 people and supported its members with different employment and cultural institutions; its community, which encouraged public and charitable institutionsthis Radzivilov, which was so much like other towns in Volhynia, suffered under the pressure of the Nazi boot and endured, and then disappeared completely from the world. Its Jews suffered until they were herded out to their slaughter and killed in places of carnage. The final resting place of the Jews of Radzivilov was in vast graves outside town.
The downfall began before the end of 1939, when the Russian Red Army entered the town and expelled the Poles. From then on, the character of life changed. Private enterprise was forbidden by the new government. Businesses were closed, or banned, or forfeited to the government. The rich of yesterday were debased, and those suspected of private commerce were deported to the interior of Russia. The Hebrew school became a Yiddish school, and its teachers were sent away. Everyone was forced to do compulsory work, and 15% of their salary went to the government.
Many also worked outside town. The Jews of the town found it difficult to adjust to the new order. But these days didn't last long, and soon enough the Russians also evacuated Radzivilov as the Germans advanced. When they entered the town, the terror began immediately.
The first thing the Nazis did when they occupied the town was to gather 25 young Jewish men and women accused of being Bolsheviks, according to a listwhich apparently was supplied by the local Ukrainians. They were taken to the forest close to town, commanded to dig a grave for themselves, and shot right there. This act alone was just the first act of terror for the Jews. After that came one decree after another, orders, announcements, and extortions, in order to abuse the Jews until one day they made a selection of Jewish professionals from among those who had no trade and forced them into a ghetto.
Communiques from different sources on the Nazis' acts of murder against the Jews made the hair stand on end. The situation worsened day by day. What were the Jews of Radzivilov to do? Escaping from the ghetto was very difficult, because there were not only Germans to contend with, but also Ukrainians out for the Jews' blood, willing to catch any Jew trying to escape and deliver him into the murderers' hands. For those professionals, the Germans forced them into different kinds of tasks. They endured their suffering only in the hope that they would one day escape from this desolation.
And finally the time came for the destruction of the children of Radzivilov. One day, 13 Sivan 1942, Nazi storm troopers rounded up 1,500 nonprofessionals from the ghettoold folks and childrenand marched them, men and women separatelyto the train station. There they were surrounded by uniformed Ukrainian security guards. That same day, they were cruelly killed. Some of the poor souls tried to flee. But the Ukrainian guards shot them, and almost all of them were killed (these events were told by those who miraculously escaped).
The fate of the professionals was not much better. After the slaughter, they continued to live in severe pain and suffering for the better part of a year, until 5 Tishrei 1943, until the bitter day came for them, too, and they all were taken out and killed.
The Jews who had been previously deported by the Russians to work details outside Radzivilov fared better, spending their time in Russia and escaping the Nazi slaughter. Some Jews managed to hide or take temporary shelter in Brody or neighboring villages. Some of them were rounded up and killed.
Some Jews found refuge among evangelical sects in a few Volhynian villages. But the Ukrainians searched for and found them. It should be pointed out that the evangelicals showed respect to the Jews who were hiding with them, but not one of them endangered himself on behalf of the Jews.
Those who survived in this way were R' Yosil Hoyzman, an elderly 75yearold; Roze Fik, aged 30; Sore, YitschakLeyb Karsh's daughter, and his brother and sister; Moshe, Bilhah, and Shifra Poltorak; and others. The latter three found refuge with the Baptists in the village of Kopilovka in 1942, staying until the Germans were defeated in 1944. In one village, Yanivka, almost 50 Jews were hidden.
There were few left among the remnants of Radzivilov, but they turned their backs on their homeland and went to the Land of Israel.
by Bela FinkelshteynRashin
Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman
On that dark day, I set out for the ghetto gate. My father was already gone. The Germans took him and didn't bring him back. My brother, Munye, was also gone. He fled the ghetto and disappeared, and to this day we have not seen him.
At the ghetto gate, a guard was posted, and he didn't allow anyone to pass. I stood on the opposite side gazing outward. Where to go? There was a wide expanse before me.
Suddenly a vehicle stopped, and an ethnic German got out. He addressed me in Polish and told me he could bring me to a safer place, where perhaps he might save my life. Such a decision to make, quickly and measured.
But how? And I was so young. I lacked courage and experience. I was worried. I didn't know him at all! I hesitatedhow could I leave my mother alone? In one moment, thousands of confusing thoughts filled my mind. I was sick with panic. I longed for freedom, to cast off of the chains of the ghetto. But thoughts of my mother kept me from fleeing. I stood for a few seconds, dumbfounded. I didn't know what to do. And then I ran to tell my mother.
She didn't waver for a second; she didn't ask me who, and who the man was. Out of motherly instinct, she felt that saying yes could save my life, and she saidI will never ever forget her wordsRun to him and go. God will watch over you!
I ran to the gate and was seized by so many different questions. Will he wait for me, will he already be gone? But he was there. He had waited for me.
We drove without exchanging a word. I didn't dare ask him who he was or what he was doing. I didn't know where he was taking me or what my future would be. Who among us could think of a future? Our life was living from day to day. Only the bitter present agonized us more.
We traveled to Rovno. There he began to speak in measured words: I am Yuzhek, and you are my sister. We arrived at a house belonging to a Polish family, and he introduced me to them as his sister. It was clear that he was very dear to this family.
I was fortunate that they didn't ask me any details. Where did I come from? Why? And, naively, nor did I prepare any responses for myself in case I were to be besieged by many confusing questions from all sides.
Sunday came. The girls of the family were going to church, and they invited me to come along. I managed to evade going, telling them that because my coat was torn, it was unpleasant for me to go out. Yuzhek was certainly going to bring me one. I don't know if they believed me, but in any event I got out of going.
Yuzhek was like a meteor. He would appear with some necessary things, and then he would vanish just as he had come.
One day, we heard that Yuzhek had been apprehended by the Gestapo and jailed. I fled the house with nothing, not even a walking stick. I wandered into many mishaps and dangers. But the hand of fate led me and saved me from the Nazis.
Today, from great hindsight, when I ask myself who this Yuzhek was, I cannot answer. But I believe without any doubt that he was a Jew who had disguised himself as a Pole to save himself and others.
by Sheyndil Oks
Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman
Edited by Arye Ayzen
The GermanyPoland War
In 1939, a war breaks out that sends fire throughout the entire world.
Hitler's army swiftly advances and conquers portions of Poland. The Soviet army mobilizes to aid Poland and consequently liberates Ukraine, agreeing to the new borders between them. My husband, Leyb Zats, and others are called to enlist by the Russian governors. I receive letters from him without ever knowing where he's stationed. After a time, I eventually learn that my husband and other men from Radzivilov are near LutskKivertsy. A few other women and I, anxious to visit our husbands, pay a surprise visit, but it's too latethey've been sent to a faraway place in Russia.
Radzivilov, our town, is filled with refugees from many different places that have already been conquered by the Germans. They speak of the atrocities during the first days of the Hitler regime in their localities. Although no one wants to believe that the murderers' hand will also come to us, this day does indeed come.
In 1941, on June 22, war breaks out between Russia and Germany. Cities and towns are conquered, one after the other. The refugees' warnings aren't just empty words anymore, but still no one wants to believe that the most evil of evils is upon us. Everyone comforts himself and even deludes himself, thinking, America and England won't allow this aggression. But in the meantime, the Jews have bigger problems: protecting their property, the property that the good gentiles will inherit afterward.
Our town is conquered by the Germans. The gentiles are incited, and they side firmly with Hitler. With each day come new proclamations, and the Jews begin to look for ways to escape, looking for good gentiles among their acquaintances, and these are rare. My sister, Sime Oks (Rishnivker), gets lucky: she gets the best situation, bringing her belongings to Langin Taranovski, the wellknown priest, who is a good acquaintance. Gentiles from the town and its vicinity indulge themselves: they come every day with empty sacks and, with no interference, fill them with the best that the Jews have. And thus begins the stormy period, full of the evil and suffering of World War II.
The Jewish way of life is declared heretical. The city's governing body passes to the Ukrainian nationalists, who align themselves with the Germans and leave control in the hands of the SS officers. Taranovski the priest is chosen as mayor; ethnic German Mateyko, the city manager; and goodfornothing Ukrainians.
The First Command
All residents are commanded to black out their windows, allowing no ray of light to penetrate. Any noncompliance with the order means death. The first martyr is Avraham Yitschak Chomut, who unwittingly shifts the window covering. The German who sees this kills him right on the spot. After a few days, the Germans gather a group of innocent men and murder them in the Brody forest. Anguish falls on the town. It's clear that danger is ahead for everyone. The German commander and the Ukrainians are beginning to take vengeance on the Jews.
Another severe command: all Jews are to put a white strip with a Jewish star embroidered on it on their arms. After a time, they replace the strip with yellow patches so that the Jew can be seen from afar.
And again: every Jewish person, man and woman, is ordered to give up his or her gold, furs, and fancy dress clothes.
After we are liberated from our belonging, making us, in effect, empty vessels, they begin to assault our souls. They set up a ghetto for us that is divided into two sections, surrounded by wire, I recall, and daily they start to take people out for work brigades under the guards' supervision. After some time, we find out that the Rovno ghetto has been destroyed and no Jew left alive. Not everyone believes these evil tidings. Many visit Sime Oks to hear what happened from her own lips because of her friendship with Taranovski the priest, who is now our community leader. His good, wellknown wife, Burotski the priest's daughter, steals into the ghetto to sneak a conversation with my sister. All the Jews believe that my sister will live because the priest and his wife, with Dr. Burotski's help, promise to rescue her. My sister also sometimes sneaks out of the ghetto to the priest's house to hear new reports, because no newspaper that Jews can read can be found and no one can listen to the radio; thus her efforts become the Jews' news source. The ghetto Jews ask her to go out to collect news and wait anxiously for her return.
As the suffering grows, she returns one day from the priest's home with awful tidings for us, innocent Jews, that our fate is sealed and we are destined to die.
This is just before Shavuot, a holiday for us that coincides with their terror. We cower in despair, our spirits distraught, and the one thought, the one we have in our minds is, where will help come from? We peer outsideeverything is alive and flourishing, the gentiles walking about wearing the Jews' fine clothing, which they stole, and their faces merry. Our hearts ache and our flesh crawls at this sight, but we are helpless… On the street that divides the two sections of the ghetto, they stroll around like little devils, throwing stones and sticks, spitting in our direction, and taunting us, crying, Look at yourselves, you Jews, you've lived too long! We raise our eyes to the heavens as if to hope that our salvation will come from the sky. Perhaps a miracle will happen, as has sometimes happened for Jews during times of woe, as in the prayer, Our Lord of the world, give us the strength to stand fast against troubles that seek to destroy us. The sun rises, the night falls, and darkness engulfs the houses, because lamps are forbidden, and the windows have to be entirely covered so the starlight won't seep into our minds…
We cower in the darkness, but our hearts are aware that none of us knows what will happen to us. We then see searchlights illuminating the second section of the ghetto, and shortly after, we see bloodthirsty killers approaching with rubber clubs in their hands, shouting, hitting, and pushing the Jews from the ghettothe sick, the old decrepit folks who can hardly walk are shot in place. Infants, little children, become like sports balls in their hands. Young people and those of age are forcefully thrown and organized six in a row, under the armed German and Ukrainian guards' command, and herded like sheep to their slaughter. At the edge of the city of Suchodol, they find freshly dug pits, and they murder everyone in the pits there; the wounded and still living alike are buried with the dead…
So it is for our mothers, brothers, sisters, and children, ignorant of their slaughter, with no hope and no rescue for the Jews.
After the destruction of the first section of the ghetto, the area has all manner of things left behind by the victims: clothing, shoes, children's shoes, various books, prayer books that Jews used for praying and appealing to heavens for a miracle. But the miracle never comes, it never comes… The surviving Jews begin searching for gentiles they know who are willing to build bunkers for them.
Among those who are still alive after the first section of the ghetto is destroyed are the two sisters, Leyeke and Zelde Charash, and their mother, Dobe. They hid in the attic. Then the order comes: completely clear the space where the destroyed ghetto stood. Under the guards' watchful eyes, people from the second section of the ghetto are sent to work on the desolation. The two sisters and their mother leave their hiding place, blend into a workgroup, and join the work. Heartbroken and choking back tears, the people work to bring order to the belongings and clothing shed by the martyrs, their murdered brothers and sisters, doing their work under the Germans' excessive pettiness. The earth rumbles beneath us, the heavens cry out, and ominous blackness hangs over our heads. Who knows what awaits us, who knows if the future of those who have survived is to envy their lost ones, whose suffering and torment is already behind them!
Each day, Jews are taken out for different types of work brigades. They leave, and there is one prayer in their hearts: just let us return in peace!
One day, the German judge's uncle, Volodka Kobit, comes to the ghetto (I must point out that Sasha Kobit was a German judge in our town). He visits with us and offers help in rescuing us. Since I know Sasha Kobit from a happier time when he was a teacher and used to visit our house, I'm delighted with his offer and ready to go with him. But my brother doesn't trust him; he cautions me and tells me, Sasha Kobit is no longer a teacher. He's a German judge, and Volodka Kobit is certainly the most notorious thief in town. He'll be the first to hand you over to the Germans. You're so naive, and you think you can trust everyone. We'd better go with Yashke Gopman. Many gentiles know him, and they've set up a large bunker for him and his whole family. They love him, he spent many years with Vladek the forester and another gentile, Vasil, in the Chotin forest. Gopman says that this is an iron bridge. It's the only place where we can find salvation and get revenge for our murdered brothers and sisters.
Night falls, and we set out. I walk with Yakov Oks, his wife, and his little girl Zore. Yakov Gopman and his family are also with us. He's our guide, because he's familiar with the area. After walking for several hours, we come to the designated place. We crawl on our hands and knees through the thick branches, and we enter the bunker… Gopman invites the owner to toast our safe and successful journey with brandy. After a while, we are content. The bunker is comfortable; we can talk with each other and go for walks in the forest. The bunker is well equipped, the gentile Vasil relates to us very nicely, and we don't want for food. He brings us good news every day.
The Germans will lose the war, the Russians are advancing, and it won't be long before we're free. However, one day he comes and tells us, don't leave the bunker because a small group of evil gangsters is gathering in the area, and they're likely to detect us and our shelter. In the meantime, he himself disappears. The Jews in the bunker maintain that he is no gentilehe is an angel. I'm the only one who doubts his words, and I try to leave the bunker. Gopman becomes very angry and orders me to come back. When I emerge from the bunker, my eyes are unaccustomed to the darkness: I see in the distance that we are surrounded by SS and Ukrainians holding weapons. I can still scream, Jews, save yourselves! My brother, who has gone out to call me back, is able to flee, but he wants to save his wife and his child. I hear shouting behind me, HaltStop! But I run on, panting and breathing with great difficulty. In the distance I hear brother cry, Zarumya, my daughter, run! Alone, on my own in the dark night, I run in the dense forest. There's no one else with me. Where am I? Who am I? What use is it to prolong my life? What benefit can I bring? Alone, on my own, what awaits me? Who needs me? Everything is lost, lost without memory…
No, I have to go on and get to where I can see my dear lost ones with my own eyes. Yes, SheyndeleI am filled completely with confusion. Yes, you go on in spite of your madness… But Vasil will be there, Gopman's angel, the murderer, who gave us all over to the SS. I now know everything, but what supernatural strength I have to propel me forward; I must go. I go blindly, with cautious steps; I fall soundlessly in the forest, and I fall asleep.
My Terrible Personal Tragedy
I am awakened from a deep sleep by the steady howling of dogs. My first thought is that certainly something has happened, and immediately after, the murderers are certainly close by with their dogs, already looking for more victims. But I don't fear my death anymore; I have no one left to live for. I continue… Avoiding the howling dogs and the killers' boots, I come to the killing place and see my great tragedy: everyone who was in the bunker lies dead. Among them are my brother and his wife. My heart is broken. I tear my hairbut where is my brother's daughter? She isn't there among the dead.
I go to the forest and shout, Hear O Israel, God of gods, can this be possible? No one but the girl is alive? To fall into the murderers' hands and still be alive? Can it be that the girl knew to fall down with those who were killed and then run to safety? No, no, it can't be.
The day turns into evening. I'm alone in the middle of the murderers. I don't close my eyes, and I wander alone with a troubled soul and a bloodless heart. No tears and no end to my sufferingdaylight comes … I rise to face the turmoil of another day of existence. Alone, I am beset with an unnatural thought, and everything around me points to one idea: the girl. Where's the girl? Without knowing the danger that awaited her, wouldn't she, having no choice, run straight to the gentile murderer? I must run fast so that I won't waste any time. I wander the forest and the fields; I convince myself that maybe I can find the child? I comfort myself with this belief. It's very hard for me to find the killer's house, but finally I spot the house from afar. And in the yard, I see what looks like a child wandering around. I weigh carefully what I see. What kind of courage do I possess to push me forward? A miracle for me and the opening of the heavenly gates… I hear the child's voice: Sheyndele, you're alive? Yes, my dear one, I'm alive. And now I have someone to live and fight for.
Our joy has no limit. We laugh and cry and for a moment forget the events that brought us to this. I thank God that my lost treasure is restored to me. My child caresses my face with her small, shaking hands. Now there's someone who will comfort me. And then I see the killer on the side looking at me with his savage eyes and a smile of ridicule at the tragic reunion. No doubt he's telling himself, Your happiness won't last long.…. I know that I really must talk to him, so I tell him he was right to warn us not to leave the bunker. If we'd listened to him, everyone would have lived. The killer is pleased with my understanding… He says they're not looking for Jews anymore. You can stay with him, the war is ending, and rescue is sure to come. He prepares some food for us, and drinks, and takes us to the woodshed. Then he tells us he has to go to Radzivilov, and tonight, when he comes back, he'll let us into the house to wash up a little. I eye the angel through murderous tears. I understand instantly that he's going to town to report us.
After he leaves, we decide to run away. We run away to the fields, far from his house, and we find a haystack along our way. We don't close our eyes, and we listen for any noise near us. Suddenly, we hear dogs barking insistently. We listen more closely, and in the dim night, we hear the murderer Vasil calling my name in Russian: Sonye! Sonye! We're completely covered, glued to one another, hardly breathing, our hearts beating wildly. We hear the guards cursing wildly like beasts after their prey.
They shoot at everything in their way. We crouch in terror and say a prayer, wondering if this is enough for our rescue. This time, we aren't discovered. We don't become their prey. Even after the terrible fright, the shots, and the barking dogs have passed, we still crouch in terror without moving or exchanging a word. After several hours, when peace has settled in our surroundings and normalcy returned to the place, we know that dawn will come soon, and it will be impossible to remain there. We'll have to run. But where? All roads are dangerous for us, death surrounds us on every side and with every step, but even so, we have to fight for our lives and run as far as our feet can carry us. We want to approach one of the peasants to beg for a piece of bread. But the danger is still great. We walk slowly, bypassing the villages so we won't be recognized among the peasants, and so the day passes. In the evening, we enter the gentiles' cemetery, and there we remain the entire night, frightened of both the dead and the sign of any living killers.
The light of day shines. We walk onward. We see a hut from afar and turn toward it. The peasant walks toward us, a murderous spark in his eyes. He doesn't even give me a chance to beg bread from him, but shouts, You're still alive! and raises his ax above our heads. I shout at him, Just a minute! I want to tell you something. If I haven't found favor in your eyes, do what you want with me, but listen to me, my dear peasant… We've been wandering along the edges of villages looking for shelter. We're staying in Baranye with a peasant. We have a lot of gold. If you agree, we'll stay with you until after the war. We'll give you all of it. We'll take it all from there and bring it to you here. The murderous gentile considers this. This suggestion appeals to him. He goes and brings us bread, water. He also agrees also to go to Baranye with us. We approach the river. He lifts up the girl and carries her, then me, across the water, and he shows us which way to walk. He himself is to wait by the river, and he warns us not to be too long. We walk on, our hearts trembling, and so we come to Baranye. The gentiles whom we knew before the war greet us with tears of joy. They tell us to hurry up to the attic before we're discovered. They bring us food and comfort us with kind words that better times will come, but we feel their fear. They tell us that Radzivilov is swept clean of Jews. Only in Brody is there still no ghetto, and many Jews from Radzivilov are there. We decide to go to Brody and decide our fate with all the Jews there. We have no more strength to freeze or struggle. The gentile knows this, and I ask him to be our guide on the way. I see that the gentile is afraid, but he has a compassionate heart. He wants to help us.
He tells us that the border is well guarded by German patrols. We completely understand, but we are determined to go. We have no choice. The good gentile goes to a neighbor, who knows the routes well, and asks him to haul some banned goods. The girl and I change into gentile peasants' clothes. Our heads veiled and carrying baskets, we set out on the road with the two good gentiles, one walking ahead of us, the other behind us, hauling large jars for buying kerosene in Brody. Not far from the border, we stop near a tree. They walk on by themselves to inspect the area. When we approach the Germans stationed there, we cross the border without any incident, and we arrive in Brody safely. We reach the cityto our great shock, Jews are milling around looking for places available in the forests, the fields, the bunkers. Each day actions, mass murders of Jews, take place before my very eyes, a wellknown sight that I've already seen in this wave of terror.
We find our relatives, and they receive us graciously, but again we feel the household's pain. Radzivilovers come and tell me the news that my sister's son, Izi Viser, is still alive. I become so anxious for my family, and in my heart I think, who knows how long we'll live? My friends who live in Brody have already made themselves a bunker, and they're secure in the thought that they'll live.
One day, I meet a few gentiles from Radzivilov who have come to Brody to buy kerosene. I try to find out about Volodka Kobit from them. I say that he visited us before, when we were living in the ghetto in Radzivilov, and offered to arrange for our rescue. But my brother didn't believe him. But because Sasha Kobit had been a good friend of mine for some time and had often visited us, I see an opportunity regardless of my brother and send a letter to him through his uncle. In it, I ask for his help, saying that he's the only one with the power to save us from death. My letter must convey a heartfelt message, because immediately afterward, Volodka Kobit comes to get us, as he promised Sasha Kobit. People simply envy me. In these hellish days, this is great happiness.
Reye Kestler from Kremenets comes to ask how she can join us, and then my sister's son, Izi Viser. Volodka Kobit waits each day. They say we'll be going any day. I suggest to my friends from Brody that they come with us, but to our regret, they don't trust our guide. They just wish us well on the way to cross the border safely in peace. We cross the border without incident in the dead of night. Volodka Kobit takes us straight to his house and settles us in the attic. But we can't stay there because it's not safe. We have to find another place.
Good gentiles have apparently told the Germans that Volodka Kobit is hiding Jews at his house. One night, the house is surrounded by Germans, searching in every corner, torturing and beating Volodka Kobit, but they can't prove him guilty, and he doesn't give us up, because, to our great luck, we're in a temporary bunker not far from the house. Apparently, Volodka was already worried, and he tried to arrange another place for us until he found a bunker. It's no small thing to describe what Volodka does to save us, because in trying to rescue us, he puts his life in danger. Volodka pays no attention to this. He has one goal: to save our lives. He also helps other Radzivilov Jews find other bunkers.
The danger grows worse from day to day as the Germans continue to post their terrible orders: any gentiles caught offering help to a Jew will get the death penalty. But even so, Volodka Kobit goes from village to village looking for a secure place for us. With his knowledge of all the bunkers to which Jews have already been brought, he takes us to the village of Gay Levyatinsky. There we meet Yitschak Treybitsh and his family, and we find refuge with them until liberation. Volodka, along with other gentiles, prepares a new bunker for us, even though it's still not completely safe. The Ukrainian police patrol from time to time looking for Jews. But we don't lose hope because every day Volodka comes with news: the day of our redemption is coming closer. He also announces to other gentiles that those who help the Jews now will be blessed, and a reward will come for their courageous help.
The time passes. Volodka Kobit often comes bearing good news, that the Russians are advancing and the Germans are beginning to withdraw. One morning, Volodka comes and tells me that in Radzivilov there are two young women wandering around who have been brought from different places. They're in grave danger from both the Germans and the banaronim. 
He doesn't know who they are, but the next time he'll bring a note from them. At that very instant, I don't care who they are. The important point is that they're daughters of Israel. Even though I've done so much for everyone, I can't add another person without the homeowner's agreement. But I know from Volodka, our rescuer, that there's another bunker with Jews in it not far from us, which Volodka set up, and he cares for them the same as he cares for us. I send them a letter via Volodka:
Brothers and sisters! In Radzivilov, our town, there are two young girls wandering around whom I don't know. We must help them so they don't fall into the murderers' hands at night.
They're surrounded by great danger, and we Jews must use our strength to help them. I'm willing to take one of them to our bunker, and I believe that you'll also agree to give one of them shelter. With this, we will all remain alive.
Soon an answer comes, and I write to the girls without even knowing them:
My dear girls, you don't know me. You can go with this man without fear. He looks poor, but he's a righteous man. God will help and lead you in peace.
Volodka Kobit doesn't waste a moment. That very night, he goes to get them. It turns out that they're Binyamin Likhtman's daughters. Our meeting is a shock, and we cry bitterly. I'm very happy that I can help rescue then. One stays with us until liberation. And the other pretty girl stays in the second bunker with Yitschak Vaynshteyn, Simche Simogran, Hirsh Kiperman, and their families.
Volodka Kobit sits by the radio listening with great anticipation to the latest Russian victories on the fronts. He comes to us immediately to share his joy that our liberation day is indeed coming soon. Suddenly we hear artillery fire from far away; it can be heard from all sides. The Germans run like poisoned mice from place to place and shout, Hurry, hurry, the Ruskies are coming! Our savior Volodka can't go home yet, so he stays with us and waits for the Germans' retreat and liberation by the Russians.
The Germans release their last command: that all gentiles must leave the village because it is now the front line. The German staff is stationed in our house; we stay cautiously in the bunker with no way to leave. Bombs explode over our heads. The earth shakes violently below us. We see for ourselves the lives buried under this landslide. It continues like this for a few more days, and still we can't leave. In the meantime, we are gripped by hunger and thirst.
In the middle of the night, Volodka decides to go outside. After a few seconds, he returns with the good news: the Germans have withdrawn, but we still can't leave because the Russians haven't yet occupied the village. More days pass until we hear the noise of vehicles and the rumble of tanks, and at the same time, we hear the sound of the Russian language. It's hard for us to believe that we can be happy and that this is our liberation day. While we're being liberated, Radzivilov, our town, is also being liberated.
We take our leave of the landlord, on top of the bunker, and thank him for the great kindness that he has shown us and all the goodness he has bestowed on us during the terrible days we endured.
And we, all of us who are still alive after the great destruction, set out to our town, Radzivilov, especially with our true savior and leader Volodka. We breathe the thick air, and we enjoy the clear blue sky, the blazing sun's rays, and a strong wind embracing and comforting us. Finally we are free! We can begin to live our lives again.
We arrive in Radzivilov. We see the destruction of the Jews' houses. We hardly recognize the Jewish town before us. The Jews' houses are occupied by nonJews, gentiles from the neighboring areas having settled in them. There's no trace of the displaced Jews. Everything is strange to us; there's no one to talk to and no one willing to talk. Only our rescuer's family welcomes us, receiving us in their house with joy. Our lives are a fairytale to their brothers and sisters. Volodka arranges a great feast, offers toasts, and we drink to the living, to life, to redemption, and to our liberation! We exchange blessings and well wishes for success in life renewed, Volodka Kobit with a cup of schnapps in his hand:
My dear children who have clung to life! You know very well what I did on to rescue you …. Never forget your savior, Volodka Kobit!
During this gathering, I'm able to gather the exact details about my sister. They tell me about how the holy priest Langin Taranovski unexpectedly handed over my sister, Sime Oks, and her child. Her husband was held in jail by the police all night, knowing that he'd be expected to poison himself. Sime Oks and her child were taken away by the city's murderer, Damko, who killed them. They tell me about the most tragic moment, when the child Liusik cried, Mama, Mama, why do they want to kill us? Tears choke me. My heart breaks within me, human pain.
I am compiling this for the benefit of the holy and gentle priest Taranovski with his great cross on his heart, who teaches morality and religion and preaches verses from the Bible, such as Thou shalt not murder! And he becomes a beast who cruelly sheds human blood. And for the simple and gentle gentile, Volodka Kobit, who was known as the biggest thief in the city and who revealed his good human, compassionate, and loving heart, with no thought of the danger that might swallow him, on behalf of the Jews, tortured and sentenced to death for no crime of their own. I can't find an answer to this. The heart bleeds, and deep sadness is all around …
Let us never forget what the German murderers did to us.
|The boy Liusik Oks||Sime Oks|
Let us never forget, because those of us who are still alive after the great catastrophe and the terrible extermination of six million Jews aren't halfdead, sick, broken, and shattered like a tree severed from its roots. We must document the terrible tragedy we endured to pass on to the next generation, so that they will read and remember everything that the cruel Hitler beasts did to the Jewish people during World War II.
Those of us who survived until liberation day wandered like strangers in the town where we were born and grew up. There was no one to maintain order, no future whatsoever. We encountered here and there only remnants of the great families, wrapped in sorrow and sadness. And we felt that we couldn't even begin to rebuild our lives in the place where our brothers' and sisters' blood cried out from every wall. Every piece of earth… Circling us were preying wolves who pitied us because we clung to life. We traveled on, on from the killing fields, through villages, cities, and towns, and came to the land of our yearnings, the Land of Israel, in which each one of us began life anew and built his home and family.
The Likhtman daughters also survived with us, content to reestablish a home and family. To our great sorrow, both sisters succumbed to illness. Dvore suddenly became severely ill. A few days before her death, she said to me, Sheyndele, you protected me from the Germans' hands, but now your hand is too short to save me; my fate is sealed. She died before her time. May her memory be forever with us.
We, the Holocaust survivors, descendants of Radzivilov, continue to gather at my home to talk about various things, without ever forgetting for a single moment what we endured. We bring to light the memories beyond the horror, the place where we left our dear and loved ones forever. May their memory be a blessing.
|Shlome Vaser||His Daughter Yokheved|
Shlome Vaser was born in 1888. It is not known how he died. His daughter, Yokheved, who was called Sonye, was educated at the Tarbut School in Radzivilov and later went to the University of Lemberg. She was murdered by the Germans in Lemberg in 1941.
Shlome's brother, Duvid Vaser, was killed in a group of young people after the Germans conquered the town.
Sore, his sister, Moshe Halperin's wife, who was murdered in Radzivilov, miraculously survived, went to the United States, and died there in 1963.
The other sister, Shlome's wife, lives in Akko.
Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman
Along with her whole family, Sore endured life in a pit in the forest with the aid of a peasant, Ivan Krug. The Germans were aware that there was a group hiding in a pit, and they surrounded the place and commanded everyone to come out. If not, they would all be killed. Everyone obeyed the order and emerged, and they were shot immediately on their exit. They were left there without even being buried.
Sore recovered and in the dead of night remembered what had happened. She saw everyone lying dead and with her last bit of strength began to crawl to one of the peasants' houses. He brought her inside his house, bandaged her wound, and later brought her to Brody, to her husband's brother, Rofa. He brought her to hospital, where they operated on her throat, and she survived. But she had to leave the hospital and find a hiding place for herself. She wandered in the fields until one day she encountered a peasant coming home from work, who took pity on her. He brought her to his cellar, where there were already a woman and her daughter. Each day, the peasant brought bread and soup. She remained there until liberation day.
After she emerged from the basement, she ran toward the town. On the way, she ran into Mrs. Ite Gun, and together they went on to Dubno after they did not recognize anything in Radzivilov. Sore stayed there for a couple of weeks, then went on to Poland, and from there through Stuttgart, Germany, to the United States.
Life was terrible during the Nazi regime, and she was immersed in the memory. She grew ill, became an invalid, and died in 1963.
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