Interview by Y. Alperovitsh
Translated by Tina Lunson
Ite Gun was 55 years old when the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out. During Hitler's occupation, and especially during the last period of liberation, she was often on the brink of destruction, and it is a miracle that she escaped death.
Ite Gun came from a wealthy family. Her father was a merchant and operated large businesses. As a child, she studied in a Russian school. After her marriage in 1905, she also operated businesses with her husband. They had a big matzo factory and a shop selling household utensils.
After her husband's death in 1920, she ran the businesses alone until 1939, when the Soviets entered Radzivilov.
She lived very well, giving her two daughters a good upbringing and education. She ran a beautifully organized home. The businesses were going well. The Radzivilov Jews remember her as very rich and much valued by the Jewish and nonJewish populations.
A smart woman, energetic and with an objective outlook on events, it was thanks to her very sensible characteristics that she was able to survive the Hitler occupation.
In fact, for her, the German occupation was a continuation of the suffering and pain she had gone through in the Soviet period. As soon as the Soviets arrived in Radzivilov, they seized her business and also turned her matzo factory into a bakery. Shethe former proprietorwas sent back to work as hired labor in the bakery.
The Soviets tricked the former bourgeois woman at every step and turn.
She got a passport with a paragraph indicating that she was a citizen of the second category and was a candidate for being shipped to Siberia with her family.
She had many sleepless nights. Any knock on the door late at night reminded her that the NKVD might be coming to arrest her. And being afraid was fundamental: the Soviets had deported a couple of dozen bourgeois from Radzivilov, and Ite had no grounds to prove that she was an exception. She was soon sentenced for being away from work for more than half an hour without permission.
By the time the Germans entered Radzivilov, she was physically and spiritually broken.
The Ukrainians did not forget that she had been a wealthy woman. They often came into her home and took everything that they wanted. For the Germans, too, her house was a good address for robbery. She did not sleep for whole nights, and as in the Soviet era, she expected a knock on the door.
The Radzivilov Judenrat and police embittered her life, especially the president, Yankel Furman, who constantly demanded money, gold, and valuables for himself and the Germans.
Twice she eluded death, one time on the eve of the liquidation of the Brody ghetto. In both cases, she and her family were rescued by the peasant Pietro Moroz.
The period between fleeing the Brody ghetto and liberation was the most difficult for her and the most dangerous one of the German occupation.
She was 17 months without a roof over her head, and spent several months with her grandchild in a hole in an old tree. She was out during the dayshe did not spend the night there. She slept in the snow in the forest and in the fields under the open sky. She was happy when she had the chance to spend a night in a hog pen, sleeping in a trough that the hogs ate from.
She was in an area where Ukrainian bandits, police, Germans, and bloodthirsty peasants lurked everywhere.
You had to possess a lot of courage, energy, and a realistic orientation in order not to fall into their claws. And she was not alone. She had a nineyearold grandchild with herthe only one remaining of her familyfor whom she had to find food and whose fate she had to concern herself with.
Gradually, she reached the edge of dying herself. Physically and spiritually broken, losing her last bit of strength, she fell into apathy, indifferent to anything that might happen. Yet each time she saw that her indifference was putting her grandchild at risk, she mobilized a last bit of strength and braved all hardships.
A Jewish woman who had lived her whole life in good material circumstances, far from physical labor and from natureforest, field, rivershad to wander around for 17 months alone over fields, forests, rivers, in snow and freezing weather, in the mud, always hungry and ragged.
Now she is 76 years old, living in Tel Aviv with her daughter, who came to the Land 1925.
Telling of her survival during the days and nights causes her great sadness and pain. It is difficult for her to manage it, and giving testimony takes enormous effort.
Her memory does not serve her well anymore, and I used every possible means to help her concentrate in order to recover answers to the questions posed.
A few years ago, she received a letter and a photo from the grandchild that she saved. He lives in the Soviet Union and has a wife and a child. He studies at the Rovno Conservatory.
She will not let the photo out of her hand; she holds it as a sacred relic.
To preserve her voice, I will make a recording, which will be a good keepsake for her family, the Radzivilov Organization, and Yad Vashem.
Names Mentioned in the Testimony
Yankel FurmanJudenrat president
BarashBrody Judenrat president
Shlome Gunnephew NonJews: Anya Chaykovskamaid
Mateykomayor of Radzivilov
Places Mentioned in the Testimony
by Avraham Blum (New York)
by Ite Gun Recounts
Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman
Date and place of birth: 1886, Radzivilov
Address: Tel Aviv, King David Hwy. #6
Family members who perished in World War II:
Daughter: Sheyntshe Norban (Gun), born in 1908, killed in Radzivilov along with her husband and fiveyearold daughter.
In addition, she lost many relatives.
Ite Gun relates:
I was born in Radzivilov. My father was a Jewish merchant and had a confectionary business. In my youth I attended Russian high school in Brody. In 1905 I married Aharon Gun (who died in 1920). We had two daughters.
My daughter Tsipore Yenai, who now lives in Israel and with whom I now live, immigrated to Israel in 1925.
The second daughter, Sheyntshe Norban, married Chayim Norban and lived with me, along with her husband and daughter, until they were killed.
For the entire Russian and Polish era, I had a business for household utensils. Besides that, I had a big matzo factory and every season I sold matzo all over Volhynia. I operated those businesses until the Bolsheviks arrived in town. In 1920 my husband died and I proceeded to operate the businesses myself. After my daughter Sheyntshe was married, we ran the businesses together.
I was a wealthy woman and had a fine, ordered life. I had a beautiful house, handsomely furnished, and I educated my children. Everything went well until the war between Poland and Germany broke out in 1939, and a few weeks later the Bolsheviks arrived.
When the Soviets came to Radzivilov, we wealthy people lived in fear, to tell the truth. Early on, they had shipped a number of rich Jews off to Siberia, and every day I, too, expected to be deported along with my daughter, soninlaw, and grandchild.
When the Soviets began to issue passports, all the former merchants were given passports with a paragraph. And of course, I and my daughter and soninlaw received passports with a paragraph.
I saw at once that it would be best if I willingly gave up my businesses, since I had a matzo factory, I had a location with a big oven. Plus, I had a big stock of flour in a warehouse.
When handing over the matzo factory, I simply asked them to allow me to work there as an assistant. They agreed. They confiscated all the flour and turned the matzo factory into a bakery, and started bringing in flour to bake bread for the population. Given that I was working for them as an assistant and that the flour warehouse was at my house, the Soviets made me responsible for the flour. I had signed receipts for receiving so much flour for a sum of 4,000 rubles. The flour was beginning to be used to bake bread, so there was less and less flour. I did not have documents to show how much flour had been taken out of the warehouse. I could see that the Soviets were going to ask me later where the flour went to. I set off to the accounting office to ask for my signed receipts back. Along the way I met a Jew who was a representative for the Soviets. He asked me, Where are you going during your work hours? I related the story about why I had to go to accounting. Then he replied, You're away in the middle of your work, you've made a mistake. He denounced me to the court.
At the sentencing, he said that, since I was a former bourgeois and had sabotaged the work, that he would take 25 percent of my pension of 120 rubles a month for a period of 6 months. And if there were a repetitionthat is, if I left work again without permissionI would be put into prison.
The Soviets also wanted to take my house, but I managed to avoid that decree. My soninlaw worked as a laborer.
I want to tell you that before the Soviets, there were shortages of products. Hundreds of people stood in lines in front of the shops for a piece of bread and other products. But since I worked with them in the bakery, I was concerned with bread and I used to help other Jews.
I have to tell you that right as the Soviets were coming in, some of our smalltime Jews began collaborating with the Soviets, wanting to take revenge on the formerly wealthy. They caused us wealthy people a lot of problems. Those Jews also called up the wrath of the Christian population and intensified the antisemitism. Later, when the Germans came in, the Christians took revenge against all the Jews.
As I have already said, we lived in fear. I figured each day that I would be arrested and sent to Siberia. The Soviets, meanwhile, were busy deporting former Polish officialsand the administrators and all those with the paragraph on their passports were left in peace for the time being.
During the Soviet occupation, I took in two young men from Stanitslau who were fleeing from a German camp. I gave them a separate room, and something to eat and drink. The boys were educatedone was a teacher of German, the second taught mathematics. One was named Sukhetski, and the second one's family name was Shlezinger. The young men later helped me with the Germans, but I will tell you about that later.
And so I lived in fear and fright of the Soviets until war broke out with the Germans.
Life with the Germans
The Germans arrived at the end of June 1941. At first, the Ukrainians went wild, beginning first of all with scoffing at the Jews, who were communists, communist youth and activists for the communists.
When the war with the Germans broke out, all those who had been big shots with the Bolsheviks tried to run away, but fleeing was not possible. The Germans sped ahead and forced them to turn back to Radzivilov.
The Ukrainians went wild. They went house to house robbing, taking everything they could carry away.
The Germans ordered all the Jews to wear the star of David on their arms, and later on the shoulders as a yellow patch in front and in back.
The First Jewish Victims in Radzivilov
The Germans took about 30 Jews. They were told to dig pits in the forest, and then they were shot. Among those shot, I recall, were Zalman Leviten, who worked in the mill as a bookkeeper; the rabbi Yakira; and a boy from our street, Sunye Zilberman.
The Germans Mock the Jews
Once Gestapo officers came to my house. They ripped out the shelves, took the best pieces of furniture, and went into my warehouse where the flour was kept, and which the Soviets had brought in.
The Germans ordered my soninlaw to take a sack of flour and put it into their automobile. My daughter and I helped my soninlaw load the sack of flour into the automobile. Later the Germans said to my soninlaw, Go wash yourself, and wash the place over your heart really well, because pretty soon we're going to shoot you.
This time we were really suffering from fear. You can imagine what we went through until the Germans left the house.
One time, a German came in and started to search around the house, and I could see that he wanted to get up into the attic. Up there was a closed writing desk. He broke up the desk, later took some other things, and left the house.
It was terrible. I did not close an eye for whole long nights. Any rustle I heard from the street made me sure that the bandits were coming to us.
Once there was an incident when my soninlaw was standing near the house without a star of David on his arm. Two Ukrainians came along and noticed him. They took him to the local commandant, beat him badly, and then threw him into the cellar. I followed after him there. On the way, I met a familiar peasant who had become a policeman, and I told him what had happened. I begged him to help me. He did indeed promise to help me free my soninlaw. He calmed me down and said, Go home, Ite. Your soninlaw will come to you soon. And so it happened: a short while later my soninlaw was freed. and we were still suffering in fear.
In the Ghetto
This was, I think, around Passover 1942. The Germans ordered all Jews in Radzivilov to leave their houses and gave a deadline of one day to move into the ghetto. We were happy that all the Jews would be together and perhaps the fear would not be so great. Each person brought what they could with them. I brought whatever I was able to, including a lot of food products and woodenough to last several years.
The Germans did not come into the ghetto often. My soninlaw worked outside the ghetto, and he used to carry messages from the Germans and had permission to move freely around the town. He was out in the town the whole day and came home to spend the night with us.
For 13 years before the war, Anya Zaykovskaya, a housemaid, worked for me; she was a peasant and very devoted. When the ghetto was fenced in with wire, she would come to the wire every day and bring us something to eat. Every Thursday she brought me a chicken for the Sabbath. One time, she was caught at the fence by a Ukrainian policeman while she was giving me food. He beat her and would have taken her to the commandant's office. She begged him to let her go. He warned her that if he saw her by the ghetto fence again, she would pay for it with her life. The peasant had worked for me some 10 years before. I gave him 50 marks and he let her go, but she was afraid to come again.
In the ghetto I lived in a room with 11 people. The crowding was bad, but at least food was taken care of. I had brought a supply of food, and besides that my soninlaw brought some food in from the town every day.
The Judenrat and the Police
I have to tell the truth: I suffered more from the Judenrat and the police than from the Germans. The president was Yankel Furmana coarse Jew, an ignorant and vile person. The Jewish police along with the Judenrat tore pieces out of us. Especially from the Jews who had possessions. They demanded money, gold, and other things for themselves and the Germans.
Yankel Furman wanted my soninlaw to work for the Judenrat, but he refused. I could never have imagined before that Jews could so bad to Jews, so brutal, without any reason. They could tear the last bite from your mouth.
The Germans really did demand money, gold, silver, silver goblets from the Judenrat daily, and the Jewish police collected it all. I gave away everything I had. There were a few Jewish policemen in the ghetto who ran rampant.
Later they divided the ghetto into productive and nonproductive parts. The workers received special passes. The nonworking, old, and ill did not get passes.
My soninlaw had a pass, and he was allowed to include my daughter and their two children on it. I did not work and did not have any pass.
Later, when they separated out all those who did not have passes, I did not go with them and stayed with my daughter. We understood that the day would come when all the nonproductives would be shot.
When the news reached us that the nonproductive Jews from Dubno, Rovno, and the surrounding areas were being killed off, we knew we were right.
Before the action, Yankel Furman, the president, came to me and said, Ite, you don't have a pass, and you have no right to live here in the ghetto. You must simply go over to ‘that' ghetto. Yankel Furman already knew that in a few days that ghetto would be liquidated, so he wanted me to be killed there as well. I understood that going over to that ghetto meant death.
The Liquidation of the Nonproductive Ghetto
News reached us that the Germans were gathering to liquidate that ghetto. The Jews there were living in terror. And the Jews who did not have passes and lived in hiding in the productive ghetto were trembling. I did not have a pass either. What to do?
I have already told you that before the Soviets came, I had taken in two young Jewish men. The boys were now well situated with the Germans. One worked as a translator, and the other in a German office. They had promised to help me. They wanted to get an empty, blank pass and fill it in themselves, but they could not find any blanks.
Sukhetski told me that he was even prepared to make his pass over for me.
When the Germans surrounded the nonproductive ghetto and led away the Jews to be shot, Sukhetski said, Don't be afraid. I'll come and spend the night with you. You hide under the chest. When the Germans go in to the house and find me there, they'll stop searching.
On that day of the liquidation, I hid under the chest. They took all the Jews from that ghetto far outside the town and shot them. I languished in terror.
I Remain in the Ghetto
On that day when the liquidation of the other ghetto took place, several Jews escaped during the action, and we hid them in the ghetto. They related how the Germans and Ukrainians had dragged old and sick people out of the houses and loaded them onto farm wagons and trucks and drove off with them. Those who resisted were shot on the spot.
The Germans had promised that they would not bother the productive Jewish workers. The rabbis were among those who were fed false illusions that the workers and their families would not be liquidated. But realistic people felt that the German assurances were worth nothing. Each person sought ways to save himself. Some dealt with known people, good peasants, who for good pay would hide them. Happy was the one who had such a wellknown gentile.
The proprietor of the house where I lived in the ghetto sometimes asked the mayor of the town, Mateyko, who was a friend of hers, how long we would live in the ghetto. The mayor answered, You'll eat the summer fruit, but not the winter fruit. We well understood the meaning of the words.
We Flee the Ghetto
The date for the liquidation of the Radzivilov ghetto drew closer. Peasants came into the ghetto and told us that more pits were being dug. The Jews did not believe it. They interpreted it to mean that the nonJews were creating a panic so that Jews would hide their money and gold with them. The Jews convinced themselves that the pits were for storing potatoes for the winter. The Jews believed these illusions because in Brody at that time, there was still a ghetto, and the Jews there were not doing too badly. And how was Radzivilov a lesser town that Brody? The Jews asked themselves.
I had a friendly peasant in Pietro Moroz. We were good friends with him. He had told me, Don't be afraid. When it becomes necessary, I'll hide you and your family with us. Yet my soninlaw asked, How long can you hide out with a gentile, and what if the war goes on for a long time? But there was no better way out.
The time came when a lot of police and Germans entered the town. We understood: they were going to liquidate the remaining Jews of Radzivilov. We decided to leave the ghetto as long as it was not too late. I discussed it with my soninlaw and daughter, that we would flee separately so we would not be noticed and would not arouse suspicion around us.
My soninlaw and daughter went first with their children. Later I left the ghetto. I went to a peasant friend and hid there. Eventually I let Moroz know where we were so he could come sometime later and take us with him. Our family members met at the peasant's. Moroz came at night and took us with him.
I must add that when we left the ghetto, Itshe Treybitsh's family, with two children, left just after us. They said, Where you go, we'll go, too. Do as you will, we won't be far behind.
When the peasant Moroz saw that another family was dragging along behind us, he told me that he was prepared to hide my family, but no one else. But what to do with the Treybitsh family? Because of them, Moroz would not take us into his home either, and he left us in the forest. He was simply afraid of trying to hide so many people.
In the Forest
While we were in the forest, the Jews in the Radzivilov ghetto were slaughtered. Rumors spread among the peasants that, about three kilometers from Brody, there were Jews in the woods who were carrying a lot of money.
After a while, a peasant with an axe approached us and asked, What are you doing here in the forest? I did not hesitate and answered that we were just resting here, that we were on our way to Brody. I said that so the peasant would not think we would stay there in the forest. I gave him 100 marks, and he went away. Later another gentile came, and then the first one again.
Moroz arrived, and we told him the story about the gentiles. He agreed to drive us to another place. The Treybitsh family went with us. The new place was not far from Brody. Moroz assured us that no one would bother us there. He promised to bring us food.
The new place was a field of cut hay, belonging to a wealthy owner. At that time, there were still stalks of uncut hay in the field, and in the morning peasants arrived to cut the stalks of hay. We were afraid that the peasants would see us and report us to the Germans. When Moroz arrived, I told him that this was not a place to stay, and I did not see any other way than to go back to Brody, where at the time there were still Jews alive.
Moroz brought us food, and another peasant undertook to drive us to the border for money. (The border between Germany and the [Polish] General Government was near Radzivilov.)
We arrived in Brody in one piece. The situation of the Jews in Brody was already very poor. There was nothing to eat. The Germans had systematically extorted all the money, possessions, and foodstuffs from the Brody Jews under the threat of death. There was no ghetto there yet.
Some of the Jews had made hiding places for themselves. I met a Jewish friend, and he related the situation to me.
In Brody I found Salke Putshnik, my brother's sisterinlaw. She took us in and gave us food and money. Later we moved to another apartment. Five weeks later, the Brody ghetto was created. You ask me, when was that? It seems to me that it was Passover 1943, but I don't remember exactly. But our apartment was figured into the territory of the ghetto.
In the Brody Ghetto
It was very bad. There was nothing to eat, and it was not possible to get out of the ghetto to bring in something to eat. And we did not have any good friends in the Brody ghetto. Some informed on me to the Judenrat for being a rich woman, and the Judenrat demanded that I surrender money and gold to them. No one would believe that I did not have any money. But since I did not have anything to hand over, the Judenrat wanted to arrest my soninlaw. We hid him.
When the Jewish policemen came to take my soninlaw, they did not find him. In their anger, they arrested my daughter. They held her for eight days and threatened us, saying that if I did not give up the money and gold, they would not free her.
The president of the Judenrat in the Brody ghetto was Barash, someone I knew. I appealed to him to free my daughter. He answered, Send me your soninlaw, and I'll free your daughter. There was no alternative, so my soninlaw presented himself to the Judenrat. They set my daughter free at once, and later they also freed my soninlaw.
Some time went by, and things were very bad for us. We did not have any money, and there was no way to buy any food. Around that time, the Germans demanded that the Judenrat assemble young men for military drills. All the young men reported, among them my soninlaw. The Germans gathered more than 300 men, marched them away to a camp in Olevsk, and shot them all. That is how my soninlaw was killed. That was at the beginning of 1943.
The Liquidation of the Brody Ghetto
After my soninlaw's death, I remained in the Brody ghetto with my daughter and two grandchildren. The time for the liquidation of the Brody ghetto was approaching.
Suddenly, completely unexpectedly, the Germans surrounded the ghetto. My daughter and grandchildren and I hid among between two fences during the action. A nephew of mine, Shmuel Sherer, also lay hidden with us. He said, Let's run away from here. At night we escaped from the burning ghetto and went back to the peasant Moroz.
When Moroz saw us, and saw that I had brought another group of Jews, he refused to let us into his house, and we stayed in the woods. There were eight of us.
The Death of My Daughter and Grandchild
Then the woods where we were located were surrounded by Germans and police. They began to draw closer to us. When they saw the Germans, my nephew, my daughter, and both grandchildren started to run away, but I stumbled and fell down. The Germans did nothing to me and chased after my nephew, daughter, and grandchildren. The Germans caught my nephew with his wife and their two children and shot them on the spot. Later, they caught my daughter and one grandchild and shot them. My grandchild Siunye, a boy of nine, succeeded in hiding, and the Germans did not notice him.
I lay there until night. The deaths of my daughter and grandchild and of my nephew and his family had totally devastated me. I lay and waited for death. It was all the same to me. In a few days Moroz came. He found me in the woods. He told me that he had found my grandchild Siunye. I was very happy that one grandchild had been saved.
We Hide Out in a Hole in a Tree
Moroz could not take us into his house, as his wife would not allow it. There was no alternative but to hide us in a hole in an old tree. We settled in there. At night Moroz brought us food.
I must tell you that getting us to the tree was not simple. There was a stream around the tree. Moroz drove up to the stream with a horse, swam across the stream, and brought us food.
It is very difficult for me to tell you what I have experienced, and I am tired now. I will tell you a shortened version.
It happened that peasants had killed six Germans. The Germans had gone wild, going into peasants' cottages, robbing them, and beating them. The Germans also went into Moroz's house. It had been reported that Moroz was hiding a couple of Jews.
They immediately shot his wife, and Moroz himself barely got away with his life. They burned his house, and he went to stay with a nephew.
I lost such a good peasant in Moroz. There was no one who could bring us anything to eat.
Without a Roof over Our Heads
There was no other way but to go from house to house begging for something to eat. The peasants were inclined to be very antiSemitic. But I had some good luck, in that they did not turn me over to the Germans or kill me themselves. My grandchild and I spent the nights in the snow. Hungry and ragged, we trudged from house to house begging for a piece of bread. Whole days went by when we did not have a bite to put in our mouths. I felt that my strength had already left me. Often I would spend the night with my grandchild in a trough where the pigs were given their food in the stall. I said to my grandchild, My child, I will not live through these troubles; you are still young, go and save yourself. But he would not hear of it. He did not leave me and wanted to share my fate with me, notwithstanding his mere 10 years.
By now I had completely lost my strength. But we had to keep changing our location. I crawled on my knees for four kilometers until we reached a village. I lay down and pleaded for death.
That is how I suffered for 17 months in the forest until liberation. The hardest part was the last three or four months.
The front finally approached Radzivilov. That was spring 1944. I had gone to a peasant woman to beg for something to eat. The woman had not been willing to let me into her house before, but when she perceived that the Soviets were already nearby, she was completely different. She gave us food and allowed us to stay overnight. When I wanted to leave in the morning, she did not let us go and again asked us to stay.
A peasant came in and said that the Russians were here in the village.
The retreating Germans set fire to the village. My son and I left the village and went into the forest. A peasant went by with a wagon full of hay. He set my son up on the hay, and I kept walking. The Russian soldiers caught sight of my grandson along the way. They gave him food and let him come over to me. He told me that the Russian soldiers wanted to take him with them. He went off with them. They dressed him in a military uniform. He came to me several times and said, Bobeshi, you cannot educate me, you cannot feed and clothe me, I will go to study at the suvorovskoye utshilishtshe [a military school for boys]. I was happy. He became the son of the people, and the soldiers loved him.
I went back to Radzivilov. My house had been burned. I met a few Radzivilov Jews. I stayed there for a few days and went to Dubno. In Dubno, I found my nephew Shmuel Gun, my husband's brother's son (who now lives in Tel Aviv). I stayed with him until 1946. That year, we went to Poland through the repatriation. We lived in Beuthen for one year. From Poland, I traveled to Austria. I was in the camps until 1948.
I arrived in the Land in 1948 and lived with my only daughter, Tsipore Yenai.
A year ago, I received the news that my grandson Siunye was alive. At Passover I received a letter from him with a photo, a picture of him with his wife and son. He lives in Vladimir. His wife is a teacher, and he teaches in the Rovno conservatory. I treasure his photo like the eyes in my head.
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