by Gdalye Rozenberg (Zbarazh)
Translated by Sara Mages
Gdalye, the son of Mendel Rozenberg of Vitkovits, now lives in Zbarazh under a different name. His story was given to us by his cousin.-Editorial Board
On the day they arrived, the Nazis took Yakov Chazan, a known basket seller in town, put him on a truck, and took him out of town. His nine-year-old son started running after the truck, crying, weeping, and shouting, Father, I don't want you to go. I'm afraid we'll never see each other again.
When the Germans heard this, they stopped and put the little one on the truck so he would be close to his father. They killed both of them on the way to Pochayev.
The same day, the mother lost her mind.
And thus I observed the Holocaust regime from the start. The incident chased me as a child. I couldn't forget it during the Holocaust. I suddenly realized that a child wouldn't be protected unless he protected himself, and in my heart I decided to do it myself. I felt sorry for my parents. I realized suddenly that even with all my love for them, I was an independent 12-year-old who was responsible for himself.
My father, Mendel, worked for the Russians collecting the wheat quota that the gentiles were forced to give to the government.
When the Germans arrived in 1941, they stopped in the village of Zvinatsh. My father escaped in a cart to Kolodne. He also wanted to take us, his family, but when he didn't find us at home, and because he was short on time, he escaped alone.
My mother was left with three children. My brother, the firstborn, was drafted and served in the Red Army. Along with everyone else, we were locked up in the Vishnevets ghetto the day it was set up. At the age of 12, I would leave the ghetto at night, walk to our village 15 kilometers away, and return to the ghetto with food for my family. Each time I walked and came back a different way.
I kept doing this for several months. In August 1942, when I went to our village, I returned to the ghetto using the road leading to Zbarazh. Suddenly, I looked to my left and saw a group of sad, depressed people. I hid and waited. I saw that they were being shot and that they were naked. I saw them fall and drop dead. This wasn't during the liquidation of the ghetto; it was an extra action.
A farmer's wife was walking her cow not far from me. I walked up to the woman and asked her what the event meant. She answered me with great fear, while making the sign of the cross in pity, They're killing Jews over there, and if you're Jewish, you'd better escape right now.
I ran. I was also afraid of her. I hid in a cornfield, and in the evening, I returned to the ghetto. I found my mother and my two sisters, gathered other Jews, and told them what I'd seen, and I, the little one, a 12-year-old, advised them to escape.
Jews, escape as long as you're still alive! I begged them excitedly.
My family gathered all the food I'd brought, and we decided to escape that same night.
We escaped by running on the dirt road (the Bolonya). We children were able to cross the river at the end of the dirt road before we were spotted by Ukrainian policemen. But our mother trailed behind us and was not fast enough. As we stood waiting for her, we heard a shot and a sigh.
Mother didn't join us. To save our lives, we children-the oldest was 14-year-old Manya, and the youngest was 10-walked alone toward the village where we'd been born.
In the village, we saw policemen walking around, rounding up Jews, and gathering them in one place.
We understood that we had to leave the village. The same night, weary from our long walk, we continued to Zbarazh, where our father's sister lived.
On the road between Kolodne and Zbarazh is a thick forest called the Black Forest. That forest served as the border between what used to be Austria and Volin. Both areas were under German occupation. In the forest, we were caught by two Germans who ran into us by chance. One said, Let's hand them to the Gestapo. The other one asked us, Where are you going alone?
When we told him our destination, he said to the other one, Poor children, we should let them go. No matter what, they'll never get very far.
He warned us, the little ones, not to reveal our conversation. It would be harmful for us and you.
We continued and reached Zbarazh.
A couple of Jews, members of the Judenrat in Zbarazh, met us by the church at the entrance to the town. We recognized them by their famous sleeves. One caught us and said to the other, we need to hand them to the Gestapo. The other one was interested in our origin and wanted to know where we had come from. We told him we were Mendel's children, and he answered, Mendel was a good Jew, a loyal Communist, but a good Jew. He smiled at us and let us go.
A few days later, we found out that the Gestapo had announced that anyone who gave them 50 Jewish heads would save his soul and stay alive. They showed us the way to our aunt's so we wouldn't have to look for it for long. We went to her house immediately.
Our aunt received us with kindness, gave us food, and later said, My dear ones, I don't mind if you stay here, but you have to know that our lives are in danger, and if you've survived so far, maybe your luck will play out later. You'd better continue on your way; maybe you'll survive.
We returned to our village, and one of the neighbors, a kindhearted gentile, hid us. He dug a deep pit in the cowshed that housed the pigs, and there the two of us, the little ones, hid.
My older sister, Manya, was transferred to a relative in Horinka to reduce the risk. My youngest sister died after a few weeks. She passed away in my arms. She suddenly became ill when we were alone in the cowshed. A shiver went through me, and I didn't know what to do. I took her in my arms, and she died.
At night, I went into the garden next to our house in the village and dug a grave under a tree. I carved a memorial on the tree and buried her with my own hands. I left the mound of dirt and went back to my hiding place.
In the morning, when the gentiles saw the fresh grave, they understood that Mendel's children were hiding there.
They started to investigate and found us. My benefactor was also in danger, so I took his advice and left.
At night, I left and hid in the old cemetery next to the village. I had known the cemetery for many years. There were sorts of crypts for Polish nobles in the cemetery. I choose one and hid. At night I went to my benefactor, got food from him, and returned to my cave.
And so I remained alive, lonely and banished until the Russians arrived.
Then I met my sister, and the two of us, lonely and neglected, decided to live and look for our father.
When the Russians arrived, Ukrainian outlaws began rioting and killing their opponents to cover up their cooperation with the Nazis. They mostly wanted to get rid of Jews. They searched and found every Jew who had survived the German-Ukrainian killing fields and killed them. They also started to follow us, but a gentile prevented this by converting us. Manya returned to Horinka, and I stayed in Vitkovits. A pair of good little Christians.
The outlaws let us go. We survived.
Meanwhile, the girl turned 16, and her caretaker decided to marry her off to a gentile. When the news reached me, I was shocked. Even though I accepted my Christianity, I didn't accept the marriage since it was clear to me that it was against our father's wishes. I traveled to Horinka, kidnapped her from her benefactor's house, and took her to my place.
Meanwhile, a neighbor received a letter from my father, Mendel Rozenberg (who came from Vitkovits). Father wrote that he'd survived the Russians and wanted to know his family's fate. They told him about his misfortunes and said that only Gdalye and Manya were alive. A neighbor, our benefactor's wife, advised him to come and collect us because of the danger presented by the outlaws.
He answered their letter, saying, If we could decapitate Hitler, we can also decapitate the criminal outlaws' rotten heads.
The letter fell into the outlaws' hands.
Meanwhile, I moved to Zbarazh, and my sister remained with her Ukrainian school friend. They came, took the friends, and threw them into a well. They searched for me, but they couldn't find me.
When I returned home in the evening, I was told about the incident. The Ukrainian parents took their daughter out of the well and buried her. They left my sister inside. One of the neighbors sent a telegram to Mendel, my father, saying that his daughter had been murdered. My father came to Horinka immediately and began looking for the criminals. He took his daughter's body out of the well and buried her temporarily. Later, I showed my father the location of my little sister's grave. Father gave her a royal funeral. He took my sisters' bodies and buried them together in the Zbarazh cemetery, where the heroes of the Soviet Union were buried.
After he had transferred me to a safe place in Zbarazh and arranged a school for me, he dedicated himself to distracting the criminal outlaws and Ukrainian police.
He took two armed army units and returned with them to the area around Vishnevets. He was able to find the criminals and destroy them one by one. After he was done, he dedicated his time to doing the same in nearby villages, and with that he fulfilled his vow to cut off the heads of the hated insects.
I live with my father in Zbarazh and hope to immigrate to Israel with him.
by Moshe (Son of Hersh Matis) Segal
Translated by Sara Mages
September 1, 1939, the day the war between Poland and Germany broke out, finds me at my father's house in Vishnevets, where I'm spending my summer vacation. The notices plastered outside call the conscripts to join the draft and report to the nearby town of Kremenets. But Poland can't stand up against the Germans' crushing attack, and the government falls in a very short time.
The Polish government escapes to Romania, stopping on its way at the high school in Kremenets. Joining the invasion are the diplomatic corps, senior officers, and others. The road leading to Ternopol is noisy with cars driving quickly toward the southern border. A small number of Jewish refugees, along with several famous journalists, stop for a short break at the Talmud Torah building located at Leybke Chatski's home. A few of the town's activists, who had heard the news of the refugees' arrival, welcome them for their short visit.
The news of the German bombing of Kremenets and the first Jewish victims increases the reality of the upcoming danger and despair. The gloomy music broadcast by the Polish radio service and the call to the soldiers to aim well add to the feeling of sadness and grief.
Finally, the radio is also silent.
The town is covered in gloom, looking lonely and orphaned. The police and local authorities disappear. The local farmers roam around town with folded sacks under their arms, sniffing for the smell of unclaimed property.
When darkness falls, families gather together in silence by their doorways. Everyone wants to be together, to hear, listen, and exchange whispered opinions with their neighbors; the atmosphere is saturated with fears of what is to come.
The sudden news that the Russians are coming changes the situation. The first to arrive at the post office are two Russian officers. One stands on top of the roof of his car, preaching to the large crowd around him about comradeship between nations. He points out that a period of freedom is coming to all oppressed nations and talks about the brotherly hand offered to the Ukrainians and the Belarusians, and about their liberation from Polish suppression. Shouts of hooray and applause accompany his speech.
Lights return to the streets and homes. A sympathy demonstration organized by the Ukrainian population is marching toward Zamek Square. Local Jews, who have experienced similar bitter situations in the past, stay away from the festive demonstration. The patriotic songs sung by the Ukrainian demonstrators bring back the gloomy sounds of the recent past and the memory of Petliura and his friends.
The disorder starts to get organized. The high school building is filling up with Jewish clerks who sit and do nothing behind their desks. Loyalists to the new regime, who have come out of hiding, are using all their power.
A Communist Union of Youth chapter is being organized with the best of Jewish youth. Jewish girls look for their Ukrainian girlfriends, and loud gentile language is heard in the streets. The brotherhood between nations is extraordinary.
Military power and its heavy equipment arrive nonstop from Ternopol. Some of it is stationed in the town's suburbs. Armed soldiers sit in their trucks, parked on street corners. The soldiers talk heartily and politely to the people crowding around them. In the town center, a Russian soldier tells the crowd standing next to him about the wonderful life in his country under the leadership of Stalin, the father of all nations and the genius of mankind. In a circle nearby, an accordion plays, and a couple of soldiers dancing the Kozatchok mesmerize the crowd with their acrobatics.
Meanwhile, soldiers raid the shops, buying everything they can get their hands on. Everything is being sold. Dvosi Binyamin, who owns a fancy goods shop, is very excited about the politeness of her new shoppers, who don't argue about the price and pay everything she asks. But soon she realizes that this is an enforced liquidation sale, and she wants to save whatever she can.
A stockpiling panic takes over. The stores are empty. The leaders of the new regime organize a war against hoarders who hide merchandise. Searches and arrests take place.
In the midst of these days, I leave my father's home. I obey the authority's order that each person must live in his place of work and leave for the town of Horodok, near Vilna, where I'm a teacher. I sit on the bus, and through the window I see the image of my father, of blessed memory, framed in his white beard. Old age has leaped onto him before his time. He puts a few copper coins in my hand, pressing them between my fingers, blessing them with a silent father's prayer and asking the heavens for mercy. Father's heart predicts that this will be our last farewell when the bus moves, he wipes a tear from his eye, and his lips murmur quietly, May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord show you favor and be gracious to you, etc.
I arrive in Horodok after the long, difficult trip of those days. I work at school, keeping my thoughts to myself, as I did under the Soviet regime. But I'll skip this period, since I want to tell you about the Holocaust that the Nazis and their helpers brought to us. I dedicate this story to the memory of the thousands from my hometown of Vishnevets who, like me, were uprooted and stuck in a foreign land. In their struggle to survive, a struggle of emotional and physical torture, bound by the hands of their destroyer, they perished in the human crematoriums, and the location of their ashes is unknown.
The town of Horodok is no different from many other towns in eastern Poland. The ghetto and life there are no different than they are in any other ghetto. The Nazi extermination machine works according to a well-planned system whose tactics are based on fraud and deception, and its goal is extermination and uprooting.
The same frightful atrocities that take place in the Rakov ghetto are also inflicted on the Jews in the nearby city of Radishkovits. Here in Rakov, Jews are forced to wrap themselves in their prayer shawls and phylacteries and stand and watch their wives, naked as the day they were born, dancing around a fire of Torah scrolls until hand grenades and machine gunfire stop the dancing women's movements, sealing the night of horrors.
A 16-year-old boy manages to escape from the fire and arrives in our ghetto. According to a police order, housing a stranger in the ghetto area isn't allowed, so we have to hide him in a pit dug in a cowshed. He escapes barefoot in the middle of winter. All of his toes are frozen, swollen, and bleeding. He sits in the pit crying and begging for someone to take care of his legs. Secretly, without anyone noticing, I bring him rags, warm water, and a little bit of food.
In the nearby city of Radishkovits, men women, children, and infants march to open ditches. Alive, they are thrown in and shot to death.
News of horrifying atrocities reaches the ghetto residents from towns near and far. For some unknown reason, the destroyer has not arrived here yet. Physical and emotional tortures continue nonstop. Here, for example, today the town's pranksters put the cantor and two of his singers on a balcony in the town center to entertain the residents, who are enjoying a leisurely Sunday stroll, with their prayers. The sound of the prayers enters the ghetto through closed shutters, pinching our hearts and shocking our souls.
And here the ghetto's residents are taken to the town square, and 30 men are shot on the spot. An order is given to go back home and return with articles of silver and gold, coins and precious stones, and fill an empty truck to the rim. Horrified and scared, people run here and there. The sound of children crying and adults shrieking reaches the center of the heavens: Jews, save yourselves, rescue, and bring.
And the Jews save themselves and bring and the truck fills up with silver and gold and precious stones. Family heirlooms.
On the long winter evenings, the ghetto is saturated with gloom that wants to swallow its own shadow. The homes are extremely crowded. In the room's four corners, five families stretch out on their bundles, using them as a mattress. In the dark of night, the shadow of the angel of death hovers. No one knows what tomorrow will bring.
A young couple with a two-year-old baby sits in a dark corner behind the oven. They also want to be swallowed by their own shadows. To be invisible. They shrivel and shrink, knowing the baby will be exterminated first, and they want him to live. The baby absorbs his mother's pain and sighs from his heart, and he doesn't cry. From the day they came to stay with us, no one has seen him. They never take him out of the dark corner. His mother doesn't want anyone to know of his existence. She stands very close to him, bending down, hovering over him, hour upon hour, day and night.
In the dark nights, all your senses listen. You're afraid of the echo of your own steps and grumble when someone gets up from his place. You need to listen to what's happening outside behind the barbed-wire fence.
A noise reaches your ears, the sound of a truck stopping. The engine is turned off, and along with it, your breathing stops. Your blood freezes, you stay down. Have the destructive angels arrived? Is this the end?
Also in this ghetto, a Judenrat is being held captive by the Gestapo, grasping the deception of maybe and perhaps, turning nights into days to supply the twice-weekly quota enforced on the ghetto. Two council members travel around the area buying the items on the imposing list at imaginary and exorbitant prices.
And here the two deliver the order to the Gestapo, which is stationed in the district seat, and return with a new list. And the list is long: 100 women's furs, 200 men's leather furs, 1,000 pairs of warm gloves, and much more. The ghetto is fearful and worried. Where would they purchase all of that? The Judenrat collects silver and gold with a calm word and a tyrant's hand.
And one August day, after the ghetto is completely looted and its people have been turned into skeletons, the Gestapo kill their helpers. Close to 700 students, young children, and babies are forcefully loaded onto death trucks and taken to the valley. With their own eyes, mothers and fathers watch as hand grenades and machine guns shred and kill them. Old people and others are locked in the cellar of the Great Synagogue, where they are tortured through starvation to prolong their dying. The young, who are fit to work, are sent to a labor camp in a nearby town.
When the ghetto's surviving residents arrive at the labor camp, I'm already a veteran there. I was brought there with the first group of laborers when the Judenrat received the demand to supply manpower. I work on the roofs of the large, tall buildings being constructed in the camp area. I sleep on a hard wooden board in the large sleeping hut and work around an hour from the camp. My clothes are also my covers at night. The metal can I brought with me from the ghetto, in which I receive my daily share of soup, is still in my possession.
When the workers return from work to their sleeping huts, a long line of hundreds of human shadows snake around the kitchen to receive a piece of moldy bread and the daily watery soup with small pieces of meat floating in it. Waiting in line is tiring and exhausting. The Ukrainian guards use their clubs to control the line, making sure we're standing upright.
The person standing in front of me fails when he hands his metal cup to the soup distributor. He misjudges the distance from his hand. The long metal soup ladle hits his head. He drops to the ground, convulsing and dying in agony. No one helps him. It isn't wise to look in his direction and feel sorry for him. It's a matter of so what? A routine: tomorrow they'll bring a new worker in his place.
The soup distributor's mood isn't good today. He, his helper, or one of his friends is playing a game. The soup kettle is poured onto the ground so they can watch a creature with little resemblance to a human crawl on his stomach, licking and collecting pieces of foul food. The sight amuses them.
During the warm summer months, I sit on top of the weak structure, immersed in daydreams about food. The young man sitting next to me talks a lot about food: about the stew his mother used to make on Friday and the cakes she used to bake with her own hands.
Here he dips a piece of fresh challah in the garlic-seasoned soup, puts it in his mouth, chewing and chewing with pleasure, eating and swallowing
I feel the smell of the soup, the garlic, and the fresh challah, and I swallow my saliva. I'm carried on the wings of my imagination. I eat and eat I put a finger deep inside the corner of my pants pocket: maybe a lost breadcrumb will stick to it. I take my finger out, bring it to my tongue, and return to reality.
On those days, the remaining ghetto inhabitants arrive at the camp. They are the mothers who have watched their children's execution, fathers without wives and children, young men without parents, abandoned orphans, creatures with little human resemblance. They don't have the energy to die, and they live against their will. A sense of survival forces them to go to work, stand in line for soup, and go to sleep so they can get up the next day and go to work, to suffering and torture, until the end of their endurance and until the end. This is the sense of survival.
One of the new arrivals from the ghetto settles next to my sleeping space in the hut. It's Ayzik the blacksmith, a kindhearted, quiet Jew. He's not starving like me; otherwise he wouldn't leave his piece of bread on the windowsill, saving it for morning. He's new, and he doesn't know that you don't leave bread until morning.
The slice of bread winks at me from the windowsill and doesn't let me fall asleep. I move closer to the edge of my bed to be closer to it, smell it, and enjoy the shining piece of bread in the gloom of night. I twist in hunger, turning from side to side, get down from my bed, and climb up and down again. The slice of bread bothers my soul, and I can't pass the test.
And just before dawn, when the hut is in deep sleep, sunk in the mud of physical and emotional pain, when only deep sighs emit from the mouths of the sleeping, I slowly climb down from my bed, walk to the window, and stretch my hand toward the slice.
The next morning, no one pays attention to Ayzik the blacksmith's screaming and swearing.
I have a small, ornamented leather coin purse, a gift from my childhood friend, and in it is a reminder of tenderness and love, yearning and memories of days not long gone. A gentile, a laborer in the camp, sees the purse and brings me a little flour in exchange. I cook the flour with water behind the hut. Salt is nowhere to be found. I taste it and leave a little of the solution for tomorrow.
From the height of the roof, not far from the camp, on a tall hill, I can see a large concentration of thousands of Russian war prisoners, all of them young. They were brought here by the thousands, and the earth is swallowing them. Each morning hundreds of bodies-the night's crop-are taken for burial by their comrades-in-arms. Here, it isn't cheated, starving Jews who are buried in silence, but young men, heroes of the Russian war.
From where I sit, I can see an armed German leading a group of Russian prisoners. They look very young but starved and weak. One leans over, pulls a wildflower, and puts it in his mouth. The armed German shoots him.
On my left, underneath me, two Jews saw wood. A German collaborator, a Jew from Shavel, Lithuania, beats one of them for no reason, just like that, without cause. Who will say to him, why are you doing this? The collaborator doesn't stop; he hits him until he turns blue, loses consciousness, and dies.
Day after day, we bury the bodies of typhus victims. Every once in a while, dead Jews are replaced with new Jews brought from a distance to take their place.
On one of these days, I make up my mind to escape.
To run to the forest and try a new way of life, the way wild animals live. It's an innocent delusion, but it awakens in me the will to think, make decisions, act, and find ways to save myself.
This occupation lasts days and nights. It causes me tension and exhaustion. But it also takes my mind off the bitter reality and awakens my hope. And indeed, after many months of conversation with friends and after many secret meetings, the decision forms skin and veins.
One day, when the convoy makes its way from the camp to the sleeping hut, passing the locksmith's workshop located outside the camp, a group of Jewish laborers comes out and joins the convoy, as they always do. From the hands of one, I receive a bundle of the small pieces of wood that we're allowed to bring to our hut. The bundle contains two pieces of wood pressed together, and between them is the barrel of a Russian gun. That night is a sleepless one for me. In secrecy and care, I hide the barrel in a hollow space in one of the boards I sleep on. Later, we take the gun barrel and other gun parts to a deserted stable near the hut, where those with typhus hide from the Germans. Over there, we put the gun together and hide it until it's time to escape.
On a frosty, clear night in February 1943, the fence is broken. Equipped with a gun that has not yet been fired, a few bullets, and a handgun, eight of us break out of camp. By the time they start shooting at us, we're already across the road at our meeting point in the Jewish cemetery. Afraid of an encounter with the partisans, the Germans don't chase us. We walk slowly, in zigzags, to erase our tracks.
Walking in the deep snow exhausts us. We're forced to stop so we can rest and dry off. After crossing the river, we knock at a farmer's door. We walk inside and stand in front of him, this time not to ask for mercy. The rifle and handgun are impressive. We take our shoes off and dry off our clothes and the wrappings from our feet. After we eat our fill, we leave for the meeting point, where the representatives of a partisan unit are waiting for us.
Three partisans are waiting for us to arrive. They're disappointed when they see the poor weapons and the eight Jews. Only the strongest among us, the one who holds the gun, is accepted and taken wherever he's taken. Our handgun is also taken from us. It's clear to us that without weapons, there's nothing we can do. They can't understand our situation, and the expression on their faces indicates that they're not fond of Jews.
The meeting is short, and the partisans retrace their steps. We're left alone, and again we lack protection and hope; we're depressed and desperate. We spend three days in the forest. Each time we leave in search of food, we put ourselves in danger of falling into the hands of all kinds of killers who swarm the roads and the villages in search of Jews.
The depression and desperation and the inability to endure how we're living bring four of us to decide to return to the camp and take a chance on our lives. Two others decide to embark on a long walk to an area familiar to them. I'm left alone in the forest.
It's quiet around me. The forest is still and mute. The tall, thick trees stand erect and quiet. The autumn leaves are covered with a layer of snow. The world around me is frozen and cruel. Above me, leaden clouds cover the sky and lock the gates of mercy and prayer, and underneath me is a vast field of glaring snow.
Again I walk backward and forward in the deep snow to let my blood flow so I won't fall victim to the cruel freeze. By evening, when it gets colder, I walk closer to the edge of the forest. From a distance, I notice shining lights burning in the farmhouses. I walk toward the light and approach the first house. I open the door, stick my head inside, and in Russian ask for water, a little water.
A woman's voice answers me from the dim room: Enter, my son, enter, she says. It's the voice of the farmer's wife. She understands who would be asking for water on a freezing cold night.
The word my son casts warmth and love into my bones. Tears of happiness choke my throat. The woman gives me a glass of milk and a large slice of bread, and after I hungrily swallow it, she gives me another slice and says, Don't stay here in the village. The people are bad. Ukrainians and Lithuanians visit the village at night. Go to ‘Punya,’ where the farmers dried their hay today. It'll be warm there tonight, so go sleep there.
A small, lonely structure stands 200 meters away. I walk toward it and open the small door, which swings on its hinges. A stray dog beats me to it. He raises his ears and doesn't respond. I enter slowly and lie on one of the steps next to him, half-awake, half-asleep. At dawn, when I open my eyes, the dog is no longer there.
I return to the forest for the second day of my march. In the evening, I repeat the previous night's exercise. This time a wicked woman welcomes me and, yelling and screaming, throws me out her door. I run away from her. Under the cover of darkness, I slip into the barn, dive into a pile of hay, and spend the night sleeping next to the cow's warm body.
Before dawn, I return to the forest. My energy has left me. Hunger oppresses me. Desperation chews at me, and bad thoughts come to mind. I sit on a tree trunk, helpless and clueless.
Suddenly, I hear a thin, metallic sound coming from the forest. I recognize it. It's the sound of a saw in action.
Certainly, those are local farmers working in the forest, I think.
And if they catch me, they'll kill me. If they hand me over to the Germans to be tortured, they'll get a monetary reward.
This is my only choice, I say to myself. I get up and walk in that direction. When I arrive, two Jews who are standing and sawing raise their heads, turning white from fright. They're worried that their hiding place has been discovered and the end has arrived. But after a short conversation and after they recover, they take me to the cabin where they're staying.
The cabin was built in a deep ditch inside the forest's shrubbery, covered with branches and well hidden. Four families, which numbered 20 men, women, and children, live in the cabin. They are residents of the village who get donations of food from their neighbors. No one knows the location of their hiding place. Night after night, one goes out to get a little of the flour or potatoes they needed to sustain themselves. And so they've lived that way for a long time, and they're planning to continue living in the darkness of their secret place. They stand around me, listening in silence to my stories about the Jews and the killings, and great sadness prevails in the cabin. They give me a little hot barley soup, which warms and revives my soul. After a short time, it's clear to me that I can't stay there because of the crowded living conditions, and mostly because of the shortage of food. I get up and, on their advice, go in search of a similar cabin where a woman whose son I know is hiding. Her son is a member of a partisan unit, and maybe thanks to him, I'll be saved, and maybe I can join the partisans.
And again I'm marching in the deep snow, walking around farms, crossing walkways and roads, and my new search is accompanied by false hopes alternating with new hopes.
The day is getting darker, and I'm walking toward the unknown. Unexpectedly, walking toward me from the depths of the forest is the young brother of the partisan I'm searching for. The young man is on his way to a farmer in the nearby village who is serving as a contact between his partisan brother and the rest of the family, which is sitting in the cabin.
He brings me to the farmer's house, making arrangements for me to spend the night there. But he returns to the cabin since it's too dangerous to stay on the farm, as every once in a while, partisans and Germans show up there. He also expresses his sorrow that he can't take me to the cabin, since he and his mother are staying there as a favor, and a guest doesn't bring a guest.
I lie on the hay mattress the farmer prepares for me that night. My boots by my head, I feel better, since I haven't been able to take them off for the past two weeks. I lie there and make a decision: if the Germans or the Lithuanians visit the farmhouse tonight, I'll jump through the window in front of them so the bullet will hit me in the back, and I won't fall into their hands alive.
It's midnight, and someone is knocking at the door. I stay frozen; I can't get up. My legs don't listen to me. The farmer walks over to open the door, and the following conversation reaches my ears:
Are there any strangers here?
A Jew? From where?
I feel a little better. Listening to the stranger, I recognize the familiar singsong voice of a typical Jew. In a matter of seconds, three Jewish partisans dressed in white clothes-a perfect camouflage in the sea of snow-are standing in front of me. I know two of them from Horodok. They traveled a long distance to take the rest of their families out of the ghetto to the forest. The third is from Minsk. He's looking for his 12-year-old daughter, who escaped during the action. According to a rumor, she found shelter in a farmer's house working as farm help in his yard.
The four of us move in a winter cart harnessed to two horses, moving slowly in search of the girl.
Before dawn we find the place.
It's difficult to describe the meeting between the father and his daughter. It's a heartbreaking sight. The farmer, who has just learned of her origin, is shaking from the knowledge that he's saved a Jew's life. But he is promised help with food and is informed that it's his responsibility to protect her. He gets the message when he sees our determination.
The two go on their way. The man from Minsk and I stay in the farmer's house to wait for them to return. By evening, we find out that, on their way, they ran into a battle between partisans and a Lithuanian unit. Two Lithuanians have deserted from their unit and fallen into their hands. They find out that they are two young Jewish men from Vilnius who have been living with Christian papers. As Christians, they were drafted into the Lithuanian army to fight against the partisans and liquidate the ghettos.
The two young men take advantage of the situation, desert, and surround themselves.
The partisan commander, who in the past has acted with forgiveness toward gentiles who desert and join the unit, acts cruelly toward the Jews. The following day, both are executed for collaborating with the Germans.
Because of the delay on their way, my two friends can't get in touch with their families and are forced to return to their units.
Before their departure, they approach the cabin's occupants, asking them not to abandon a young Jewish man who is wandering in the forests, anticipating annihilation. The same evening, I sleep in the cabin as a member of the group.
But I stay in that cabin for only a few weeks. When spring arrives, German attacks on the partisans and actions against the remaining Jews in the ghetto increase. A few refugees, survivors of the burning fires who have escaped from the killing pits lose their way in the vast forest in search of refuge. Many are caught, tortured, and murdered on the roads. Only a few find refuge in the forest.
Meanwhile, the Germans increase their war against the partisans, who have gotten stronger. Thousands of German soldiers and their Lithuanian and Ukrainian helpers raid the forest in order to destroy the partisans' strongholds.
The ground starts to burn under our feet. We're forced to uproot and leave, not knowing where to go. The wandering of the cabin residents begins. Other Jews, persecuted and frightened, without clothes or food, join us. We make our way to the vast swamp of Byelorussia. Many of us fall; only a few survive.
Our only ambition is to obtain weapons so we can join a partisan unit. The unit commander, a sensitive Jewish engineer from Minsk with a warm, kind Jewish heart, comes to my aid. He's been forced to hide his Judaism because of the murderous anti-Semitic feelings in his subordinates' hearts. Helping to keep his secret is Vanka the redhead, a young man from Pinsk who has also been forced to hide his Judaism. The few Jewish members of the unit suffer a lot at the hands of the anti-Semitic Russians. Each time the unit returns from a sabotage mission, they report that a Jewish comrade-in-arms has been killed in action. It's impossible to know whose hands killed him, but the fact is that it happens over and over, only to Jews.
Many facts have proved that Jewish partisans were murdered by their Christian comrades-in-arms whenever they had the opportunity to do so, and they had the opportunity each time they exchanged gunfire with the Germans.
With all the goodwill of the Jewish commander, he can't accept me into his brigade. But he doesn't abandon us. We hide and we wait.
One day, Vanka the redhead secretly brings a couple of guns to our hiding place, one for me and one for my friend. We take the guns, say our goodbyes, and leave. We go far away to another unit, and then a new chapter of my horrible life begins.
by Yehuda Margalit
Translated by Sara Mages
When the Russians entered Vishnevets, I continued to work with my horse and cart in the steam mill belonging to Shag-Lifshits-Bisker. I thought that under this regime, which I hated so much, things would be better for me because I was a laborer. That's what I told my wife. But this wasn't what the local Communists wanted; it was Jewish brothers from our town.
Avraham Guber rose to power and was nominated immediately as the town's commissioner, and Kalman Choish was nominated as chief of police. The two started to purify in the Stalinist style and to distribute power and its benefits among their family members, relatives, and brothers in ideology, providing them with a secure income on the backs of the people they evicted from their jobs.
I was also among their victims.
Shmuel Guber, Avraham's brother, was given the management of the mill, and the day after he sat on Shimon Lifshits' big chair, he informed me that I was fired, meaning that I didn't have permission to come and work there, where I had worked for many years, where I had labored and exerted myself. I came to him and tried to say to him: how is it possible when I've worked at physical labor every day of my life, and this is my place? I earned it with my hard labor and my sweat, and I have a clean past.
He didn't let me finish and said, If you talk too much, I'll send you to Siberia. You should thank us that you're still here.
I couldn't understand the measure of their justice. They disposed of me and evicted the Jewish mill owner, but Grozinov the Russian, who was well to do, a rich man who owned fields, forests, and a flourmill, they allowed to stay. I wondered how they could do it. Meanwhile, I was left without a slice of bread, and my family was hungry. I went to Grozinov, the Russian gentile, and told him, I have a wife and four children. I've been thrown out of the place where I worked for many years, and we're starving.
The elderly gentile didn't let me finish. He nearly cried.
Leave them, he said. Take your harness, and come to me in the village. You'll work for a few weeks. You won't lack for bread. Later, we'll see. Their lives aren't finished yet.
My wife didn't want me to travel to the village each morning. She said she would go to Kalman Choish, talk to him, and soften him up.
He threw her out and also threatened to exile us to Siberia. The oppressor worked according to one formula.
She came back from seeing him degraded and depressed. I ran to the police. I stood in front of Choish, the commander, and said to him, I've come. Send me to Siberia right away.
On Sunday, Grozinov's agent came to me and said, The master wants you to come to work. Take the horses and cart, and come to work. There's enough work for a hundred devils.
That man's gesture, the gentile's, warmed my heart. I went to Grozinov's. They hadn't touched him yet, and he was allowed to keep his farm and forest.
His crippled brother said to me, Here, they're your brothers, and these are the good days someone prayed for.
At the end of the day, they gave me potatoes, flour, and other staples. It was a holiday at home. For many days, we hadn't had enough to eat.
At midnight, exactly at 12:00, there was a knock on the door. The children were frightened; my wife was shocked. I calmed them and went to the door, and when I asked, Who's knocking? he answered, Kalman himself, saying that he was the one knocking on my door.
I opened the door. Kalman stood by the door with two policemen. He said, Get dressed, and come with us.
I asked, With my wife and children?
He answered, No, just you. Get dressed now!
I said, Do you hear me, my great commander, I'm not moving without them, and secondly, what's burning? Where's the fire?
He pulled his gun and said, I'm going to kill you right here.
And he pulled his gun in front of my eyes.
I told him, You're such a hero. I didn't know you were like that. You need to know that I'm tired of living under your rule. You can do whatever you want with me, but I'm not moving without my family, that's it.
He insisted and tried to get closer to me. My wife approached him and gave him a ringing slap on the face. Blood started to pour from his nose.
That helped. Angry, he ordered his policemen to take her to Siberia, too.
The children began to cry, the four of them crying in unison like a choir. I said to them, My dear children, don't be afraid; let it be. You have nothing here. Get dressed and we'll go. We have to obey the commander's order. Come, we won't enjoy the rest of our lives.
Meanwhile, the dripping from his nose increased, and he became angrier. He was mad and screamed, Hurry up! Get dressed so you can go.
We left-me, my wife, and our children. The four lambs were shaking, crying emotionally the way children cry when they are awakened from sleep. And the moon was bright, and the picture was very emotional.
Kalman Choish stood there embarrassed, not moving from his place and bleeding from his brain. I said, So what's going on? Why are we standing here? You ordered-we obliged. We're going, I shouted. Friends! We're going, move.
Then a surprising thing happened. Kalman faced his Ukrainian policemen (I forgot to mention the policemen were Ukrainians) and said, Wait here. I'll be right back.
He left and didn't return.
We waited for him for an hour, two hours, the chill eating our flesh, and the policemen were stuck with us. I said to them, Friends, what are we going to do without the commander?
They answered, Take your wife and children, put them inside, and you stay and wait with us.
I took them inside, and when I came out, the two reptiles were also gone.
I found out later that during our conversation and the slap the commander received from my wife, a crowd had started to gather in the distance. Kalman was embarrassed and disappeared, and the policemen who saw his disgrace also took off. In the morning, I went to work for Grozinov, and nothing happened. He waited for me. He had been informed of the previous night's events; he was serious and angry and asked, What happened to you last night? Tell me, tell me everything.
I tried to cover it up, but he said to me, It's nice that you don't want to embarrass your brother, but I know everything. Your wife deserves a medal.
From that day on, I stayed with him, and I lived.
One day, the two Guber brothers entered, called me over to the side, and asked me questions about my situation, about my life, whether I had any difficulties, any complaints. I answered them, You two, along with all the Communists, can go to hell. I'll hear about your failure in Siberia. You're burying yourselves.
They begged, asking me to go with them. They promised to give me proper work, asked why I wanted to work for a bourgeois, and so on. They didn't say with gentiles, nor did they explain why a gentile could remain a bourgeois.
I refused, telling them, You don't deserve to say his name; I won't replace the dust on his feet and shoes with you. We studied together in cheder. Remember who you are. Aren't you ashamed of yourselves? Who are you?
For some reason, they begged and threatened me, telling me I wouldn't continue working there for too long.
A month later, they also evicted my benefactor, Grozinov, and again I was left without a way to earn my bread.
I stayed in Vishnevets, but I didn't go back to them.
I went to Kalman Fishman, the Gubers' uncle. He was a porter, and we had a common interest. I said to him, What should I do?
He answered, You talk too much. That's it.
Ignoring what had happened, I went to the mill to ask for work. The manager went to Shmuel Guber and asked him to forgive me, and he refused. Kalman said to him, You're acting like children; you don't know what you're doing.
I heard the conversation from behind the door. Finally, someone told Shmuel, Give him work.
Yakov Krigsehver, Mitye's father, worked there. He was the storekeeper; he gave me a note and said, You have 16 sacks over here. Get to work, and try not to talk too much.
Even though Shmuel never stopped bothering me, Yakov took a chance and gave me work notes, like everyone else.
In the general meeting, Shmuel was not reelected as manager. His brother Avraham took over the position his master had abandoned.
The decline of the estranged Jews began.
Meanwhile, the Germans arrived. They separated me from my family and sent me to Dubno, and from there I escaped alone to Russia.
I've forgotten everything, but I won't forget my brothers' betrayal, which remained in my heart like a wound.
by G. Nudel
Translated by Sara Mages
When the Poles left, chaos controlled the town. The Ukrainians, as they always do during times of uncertainty, joined the ruling power with the intention of pillaging and killing. We saw them waiting in different corners of the town, holding sacks in their hands.
Immediately, the local Jews organized as one to guard the gate. But when the news of the Russians' arrival reached the town, the Jewish Communists withdrew and organized a ruling body with T. Tsinberg and Avraham Guber as leaders, preparing themselves and trembling in great anticipation of their great day-the day the regime they hoped for would arrive.
The Russians entered through Mount Kremenets and camped for a day or two near the Zamek, seizing the homes belonging to the Lifshits and Gnip families to house the important ones among them. Meanwhile, several commissars in army uniforms were seen moving toward the town.
The Russians were welcomed by the local Communist group, and a surprising cooperation emerged between them. Young Vishnevets men jumped out of their skins not only to show their new masters signs of loyalty but also to award themselves with Jewish property, even if they had to slander their own brothers. As a result, the lives of many good Jewish people shriveled and ended in Siberia and local prisons.
We had never imagined the blackest of the black: that in Vishnevets brothers would betray their own brothers. We had never imagined how sick those young men were and how consumed they were by jealousy and greed.
In reality, there were only a few traitors, but their many shocking actions resulted in physical, emotional, and property damage.
At first, several of them, with Matis, Rivke the fish seller's son, the leader of the National Communists' Vishnevets Division, arrested Nachum Beren, Yosef Shapiro, and other loving sons of the Jewish community and the best of that generation. They transferred them to a dark prison cell in Kremenets, with Avraham Gruber and Chana Gruber conducting the arrest and selection of prisoners.
Those fresh Communists committed to testifying at their trial, and they kept their promise.
After the Zionist purification, they began cleansing the town of its capitalists. They took over property belonging to the Lifshits family, Shpiglman, Todros, and all the owners of large and small stores in town. Anyone who had dared to be a bourgeois in Poland, they sent to Siberia.
I remember that the Lifshits brothers, Shpiglman, and Gnip were among the first to be sent into exile. Their sin was their wealth, and their crime was their success in life and their failure to anticipate Stalin's rule of Poland.
The Jews were sent to Siberia at the end of December 1939.
When they were done with them, they collected their allies and the Polish discharged officers, also sending them into exile. The banishment was carried out with torture and brutality.
They did it in haste at all hours of the day without trial or judgment. They entered the home of the person selected for exile anytime they wanted, telling him to get dressed for the road. The sleds were waiting for the painful journey, and mounted commissars were waiting to escort them so they wouldn't escape during the journey.
Few of those who were exiled survived. The Lifshits brothers died, Gnip died in exile, and no echo has yet been heard from the others.
The deportation was carried out by the Communists-Matis and the Gruber brothers-with great enthusiasm and dedication. Their behavior depressed us: how could a Vishnevets man fall so far after years of togetherness and brotherhood? Where did the estrangement and cruelty come from?
Later, we discovered what drove them to behave like that. We found out that it was greed that had lived in them for a very long time, and now it was satisfied.
The Grubers took over the big flourmill belonging to Shag and his partners and enjoyed its profits. Yehoshue took over the bakeries, and Miler, the town's factories.
Yehoshue introduced norms and lines for bread and other food items. Our bakery was considered a middle-class operation because our whole family worked there and did all the hard labor. The gentiles understood, and we were able to keep our business and earn our living. But the Jewish Communists couldn't digest it, and when they couldn't stand up to the gentiles' amusement, they transferred us to Sofer's bakery, and they were sent to ours.
The norms they set weren't logical. For every 100 kilograms of flour, we were supposed to provide 140 kilograms of bread. Once when we weren't careful and baked 143 kilograms, Yehoshue got mad and started to talk like a big boss, and at the end of a torrent of cynicism and cursing, he said: You've eaten enough challah: you've fattened yourselves all your lives, you've gorged yourselves all your lives.
I couldn't help myself and said, Don't forget, your mother also gorged herself on challah and fish, and you ate with her.
Finally, I slapped him several times. The next day I had to run away. I escaped to Rovne.
I also escaped because at that time they started to harass Youth Guard members. Zionist activities were forbidden, since they regarded the new Youth Guard leaders as a dangerous threat to Communist rule.
All of us decided to escape and enlist in the Red Army.
In Rovne, I was able to enlist in the Red Army. I no longer heard about the actions of the local, fresh Communists in our town, our brothers and our flesh and blood. But something strange happened to me far from my town, and I remember it in all its terror.
It was 1942. I was at the Shepetovka front. I fell asleep in the trench and began to dream that I was visiting Vishnevets. I was walking on the road by the stream next to the Horyn. It was around Passover. I arrived home, entering quietly through the back door. I walked to my father's bedroom, passed through the other rooms, and saw my whole family, but my father was missing.
I looked for him, but he wasn't there. I asked my brother and mother, Where's father? And they told me he'd been executed earlier that day.
The matter came true later. I found out that the Communists had taken the town elders outside town and killed them. That was the first public execution in the town before the Germans' arrival. It was Communist Nazism.
The gentiles Ostrovski, Storozh, and Vilinski, who hated Jews, carried out the murder, but the Jewish Communists fully supported them.
by Chayim Korin
Translated by Sara Mages
In September 1939, I was staying in a rest house in Yuzefuv. The long pioneer training in Klosov had weakened me. We were hungry for bread in the kibbutz and suffered from malnutrition. The work was tiring, and there was no escaping the workload. The kibbutz sent me to recover and rest. With me were members of other pioneer groups, who, like me, had come to recover. The rest house closed after the first German attack. We scattered all over. There was no reason or way to return to Klosov. We ran home. I ran to Vishnevets.
Vishnevets was then in Russian hands. They were looking for qualified workers, people who were passionate about their cause and from the pure lower class. Being considered a farmhand, I enjoyed their trust and was given a job as a storekeeper at town hall. Their trust was not complete because they didn't dare give me a public job. Someone hinted that my lower-class status had been contaminated because of my pioneering.
I went to work for Avraham Gruber, a veteran Communist who had been elected general manager of all the Polish farms that had been confiscated after their owners left.
After a couple of months, Gruber was also dismissed, and a Russian Jew, who had grown up on the knees of the Communist regime, was nominated as general manager. After a month, we became very good friends. He trusted me and allowed himself to talk to me in the way a Jew talks to a Jew. One evening he said to me:
Vishnevets is swarming with ‘informers,’ your former friends included. They're tarnishing each other's reputations. Listen to me, Chayim, they're also gossiping about you because of your Zionist past. Very shortly you'll be fired, and if that's not enough, you'll be sent to Siberia or another hell. I'd advise you to leave without delay, and don't remember only the worst of me. You don't bother me.
I knew my secret had been discovered, and I didn't have too many choices. I left the town at night to hide in the nearby villages, hoping to return to the town at the first opportunity.
Our area was bombed in June 1941. The Russians retreated, but I couldn't return to Vishnevets since I was considered to be a Communist worker. Nor did I want to return. I had read too much about the Nazis to want to taste their regime. My heart predicted only the worst.
I came to Vishnevets for only one night to say good-bye to my dear family and leave.
My heart was heavy. I was tired from my wandering and depressed about my inability to reach Israel. But I had made up my mind-to leave.
For a long time, I had wanted to keep a distance from Vishnevets, my birthplace. The glorious Polish regime prevented me from leaving Vishnevets, but I decided to do it now.
That night, seven friends, including Leyb and Motil Sofer and Geler Moshe Yosef, came to the same conclusion and decided to enlist in the Red Army. In doing so, we were hoping to clear our names and smuggle ourselves into Russia.
In the morning, we went to enlist, but all the government offices were deserted. The officers had escaped that same night. There was no one who knew how to direct us or tell us where to go; there was no one to approach. We couldn't enlist in the usual way, the official way, so we decided to enlist in a different way, to break into Russia and live.
We went to the front lines; maybe someone would want our sacrifice. We caught up with the Russians on the way to Starykonstantin. They were tense and frightened, they suffered from a lack of self-confidence, and they were suspicious. They caught us and beat us hard trying to find out if we were German spies. We didn't tell them anything; we had nothing to tell; we begged them to enlist us, and we told them the whole truth. But it didn't help, and we were judged in our absence as spies. The next day, they would finish us off. We knew what was coming to us even though we didn't want to believe it; something good was predicted in our souls. Luckily for us, the unit's highest-ranking artillery officer was Jewish, and he let us go. He also implied that we should run away.
We were scared. We were afraid the Russians wouldn't give up on killing us, and we told him so. He sent us with an armed guard and advised us to run to Konstantin and mix with the local Jews. And so we did. When they left, we continued to run.
A few weeks later, we arrived in Stalingrad. All the Jews from the surrounding area went there. The rumors about the fate of the Jews in German-occupied territories were shocking. We dragged on and also went there.
We were drafted to work in a kolkhoz, since as Polish citizens we were not trusted to serve as soldiers on the front lines. They were worried that our intention was to liberate our homeland with the help of the Germans and that we would betray the Russians in favor of the Poles.
We worked at the Malogolovsk kolkhoz. Until winter arrived, we sustained ourselves with whatever the field and the farm provided, but with the arrival of winter, our food source ceased, and we were not given clothes. In addition, the hired workers' field kitchen was closed. The kolkhoz was very rich, but our condition, the hired help's condition, worsened while the members of the kolkhoz lived in prosperity.
We deliberated and decided to move to the nearby town. The place was cut off, and the only mode of transportation was groaning and moaning wooden carts harnessed to bulls. There weren't any roads, and it took us 16 hours to reach our destination. I registered to work legally. We were planning to stay there for a short while, eat well, warm our frozen bodies, and decide what to do next. But news arrived from all sides saying that the Germans were advancing, and we decided to escape, even without permission. We wanted to be as far away from there as we could travel, even if we had to walk.
We disappeared at night. The rumors that the residents of the areas occupied by the Nazis cooperated with them in the name of holy anti-Semitism sent shivers through our bones. Tired and weak, we walked, covering hundreds of kilometers on foot, in freight cars, by hitchhiking on bull carts, and again on foot until we reached Central Asia.
That's where we separated, each going his own way. The train stations were crowded, the noise level was great, and hunger was even greater.
Committees were organized immediately to help the refugees. Able workers were sent to a kolkhoz far from the main roads. I arrived at a kolkhoz named after Stalin, a desolate place that was cut off from the world. I realized that it was better for me to enlist in the army: I was worried about civilian locations. Maybe they would invite the Nazis; who knew the great power of hatred of the Jews?
I succeeded. I was drafted into the army without anyone investigating the fringes of my past.
I was sent to an accelerated training camp in Ashkhabad, Turkistan, and four months later, I was sent to the Ukrainian front lines in Debaltsova, in the Donbas, and again, not as a soldier fighting on the front lines, but as a soldier's servant.
Our conditions were unbearable. Our job was to stay at the rear of the retreating army-and it retreated and retreated-and sabotage vital installations so they wouldn't fall into enemy hands.
The retreat always happened at the last moment, and we were abandoned to the advancing enemy. We sabotaged trains and power and telephone lines. We lived the life of laborers, but we acted within the jaws of danger, taking the same risks as the soldiers on the front lines. The best part was that we were always near trains, and we were able to slip away at the last minute. Most of us were Jews, and we all had the same idea. We sabotaged the installations before the army retreated, and we ran off.
Once when the Germans caught us with their tanks, we were hiding in a ditch covered by a roof made of branches and railroad tiles. The heavy roof fell in on us with its ton of weight. Those who were crushed by its weight were killed and buried there. Three others and I, who were lying on the side, were wounded and survived.
I gave up on my own life. Too many miracles had happened to me, and a strange fear settled within me. Maybe the miracles had ended. But my will to live got stronger as my fear got stronger.
The last miracle happened that day. The Germans were driven out of that location by a Russian counterattack. I was discovered by them and taken in serious condition to a hospital in the city of Kagan. When I recovered, I was given 70% disability and released from the army.
At the hospital, we were taught different skills for our recovery in civilian life. I finished a full course in general storekeeping. I studied finance, economics, and food distribution.
I enjoyed my new occupation, but the distance from the front lines and my civilian life in the Asian city, whose name I have forgotten, created a strong longing for my home, Vishnevets, and for my parents, family, and friends, and my heart pulled me there.
In 1945, we returned to our hometown.
Finally, I arrived in Vishnevets. I was there for a few days, but I couldn't take more than that. The town had been destroyed, life had been pulled from its roots, Jewish life had disappeared, and our loved ones were gone. All that pushed me to run away. Our former Ukrainian neighbors influenced me to escape.
Their talk was full of too many clear lies, they had helped the Jews, smuggled food into the ghetto, and risked their lives, each conversation canceling out the preceding one. Their cynicism mixed with hidden joy made me fearful and nauseous. With all the pretend help they had given my friends who were no longer with us, they didn't let me sleep in their homes, not even for one night. I knew that, for me, Vishnevets was dead.
There were a few Jews in town. I remember that they included Moshe Yosef Geler, Moshe Fishman, and Avraham (?). I spent the night with them. Avraham still lives in Vishnevets. He was a veteran Polish Communist, and the current regime is his ideal regime. He works in a Russian clothing store.
How I Found My Town
There was nothing left of the whole town. Niuni Roytkoytel traveled with me on the train from Lvov to Vishnevets. This was his second visit to the town. He said to me, I'll cover your eyes, bring you to the town center, and leave you in the street. Then you'll open your eyes and see if you recognize the place. I did as he asked. I took my handkerchief off, and I really didn't know where I was standing. I turned around, shocked and confused, until I saw the flourmill still standing in its place. Only then did I know I was in my hometown, the town that no longer existed.
Only a few buildings remained standing in Vishnevets. The Great Synagogue remained and was being used as the district prison. They didn't touch the synagogue at all. Inside, I found the ancient stone about which many legends were told. It was said that it was 800 years old and came from a holy place.
|Remaining of All of Vishnevets|
It had been brought as a protective shield when the synagogue was built, and the saying You will be blessed when you enter, and you will be blessed when you leave was carved on it.
For a synagogue-prison, only the end of the saying is accurate, but no one paid attention to the text's meaning or value.
In the yard next to the building, the small cemetery, the Kvaresil, remained. Deadly silence and desolation hovered above it, and the atmosphere was extremely gloomy. Standing next to the gentiles' flowing life in the new town, the Kvaresil illuminates how it was and is a witness to what happened: one chain of pogroms against the Jews since the Kvaresil was created.
by Y. Mazur
Translated by Sara Mages
On the Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah 1939, rumors arrived that the Russians were getting closer. They had been seen in Zbarazh and Lanevits, and they were ready to take Vishnevets into their hands.
Out of fear of the Ukrainians, the guards of the collapsing Polish regime left for their homes to hide. And the Ukrainians, who understood the message, gathered by the monastery. They took the keys from the monks who were concentrated inside and wanted to beat them up. I don't know why, but a group of Jews, Shike Shteyn and I in the lead, approached the rioting Ukrainians and told them, Friends, what are you doing? We've lived together for many years. Why are you taking advantage of the disaster that has come to them? Give them the keys and leave; they haven't done you any harm.
Strangely, they listened to us, let the Polish monks go, gave them the keys, and left.
I was a teenager then, but suddenly it was clear to me that the foundation of humanity was weakening. The relationship between different nations was starting to collapse, and the world wasn't what it used to be. Something trembled inside me, and I made up my mind to be resourceful. Even at my young age, I was aware of what was happening around me.
Three days later, on Monday, the weekly market day in Vishnevets, which also served as a fair for the whole area, I saw the Ukrainians rushing around. Suddenly, the Ukrainians began to organize themselves outside town. It looked like they were getting ready to start a pogrom. The town was shocked. The storekeepers took measures and closed their shops. Some of the Ukrainians started to bother storekeepers who stood next to their closed stores, demanding that they open them. The Jews understood that they were planning to rob them even though they were shouting mercifully, Open up, today is market day, we want to buy. Why did we bother to come to the market when they won't let us shop?
The Jews didn't open up. Immediately, a defense group was organized by young men from the town, who had always been known for their bravery. They grabbed rifles that they'd collected from Polish soldiers who had deserted the front lines (I must mention that when the Ukrainian soldiers began to leave for home and let the Poles go, a Soviet representative immediately appeared and organized the young men as a unit. Their duty was to strip them of their weapons, search their wagons, and bring the hidden weapons to one location.) When I looked around me, I suddenly saw that everything was organized and in order. Rifles were everywhere, and young Jewish men were standing next to them. I can't forget the resourcefulness and bravery shown by the young men of my town during worldwide confusion.
The rioting Ukrainians were confused and asked each other what to do.
In order to make them quickly decide to leave, a group of young men walked over to them and said, You see, we're ready, and you have nothing to gain. You'd better disperse quietly. If not, we'll use our weapons.
The rioters kept up their loud consultation and decided not to leave empty-handed. Since they had decided to riot, they would riot. But when no brave volunteers willing to resist the Jews were found among them, they folded with embarrassment and left.
Immediately following this incident, the town's Young Communist group organized self-defense units. I was a teenager, and I couldn't investigate the matter, so I can't tell you how the group was organized or whether they were given an order from a high-ranking official or whether it was a personal initiative. But owing to them, the town was saved from pogroms for a short time.
We all took turns guarding the defense posts until the Russians arrived. We created an intermediate regime, and for a short time, the Communists forgot our Zionist background. Jews collaborated with Jews.
We stood firm from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, and at the termination of the Days of Awe, the Russians arrived.
In 1940, two young men from our town were drafted into the Red Army. I still can't understand why only Yitschak (Leyzer the barber's brother) and I were drafted.
We were away from the town for many years.
I served in the Red Army until 1942 and took part in many battles. Later, when they remembered our Polish citizenship, they declared us unfit, and we were sent to a working battalion. It was very dangerous work at the rear of the battles. I escaped from there to a different workplace, where I worked for many months with beets and sugar.
The end of the war was near, and I decided to return to Poland. I found a talented gypsy painter who was an expert a useful painting. He counterfeited Polish citizenship documents for the six of us: me, Kardash from Rovne, Losgos Yehoshue of Krasna (both of died of hunger next to me), Holtser Rozye (who lives in Holon, Israel), our public health nurse Goldshteyn from Stanislavov, a doctor from Kolomiya, a certified lawyer whose name I can't remember, and another person whose name we can't mention because he's being investigated by the Israeli Secret Service after it was discovered that he had been the one who informed on us to the Russians. Because of him, we were arrested and sent to Siberia for many years.
Meanwhile, Polish military troops were transferred to different battlefields in Poland.
We planned to leave Russia legally before it was too late. For some reason, I had the feeling that we wouldn't be able to build a personal or social life here. This feeling was based on the authorities' attitude toward us and on that of other citizens, who treated us as enemies that they should dispose of.
Our aspiration was to cross into Poland with the Polish troops and emigrate from there to Israel.
As we were planning our legal departure, we were detained without explanation.
We were arrested on April 21, 1943, and I was sent to Alma Ata in Kazakhstan. From there, I was sent to Tashkent.
In Tashkent, I ran into Dzhigen and Shumakher, and together we moved to a camp in Aktyubinsk, Kazakhstan. Twelve thousand people lived in the camp, which was divided into three sections: men, women, and the sick. People died like flies in that camp from starvation and humiliation.
I was there for eight months waiting to be judged in court for my Zionist past. My trial took place in Moscow, and I was transferred there.
On November 13, my friends, who had allegedly cooperated with me, and I were judged and sentenced. I was given 10 years, and each of the others received 8 years. We knew someone had betrayed us.
My official charge was antirevolutionary activities as a Zionist political activist who endangers the existence of the international labor regime.
I was sent immediately to the Northern Urals. For a month, we traveled under inhuman conditions, using all modes of transportation, until we arrived at our place of punishment. On the way, we spent two weeks in Chelyabinsk prison so we could get an idea of what was waiting for us in Siberia.
We were put in prison so we could recover from the malnutrition inflicted on us on the road. From there, I was transferred to a prison in Sverdlovsk, where a large transport was leaving for a place in the Urals located 100 kilometers from the tundra.
During our trip, people fell and died from lack of food and lack of suitable clothing for the harsh, freezing weather. A third of the 200 died on the journey. After we arrived at our destination and were divided into groups, more people died as a result of the month-long, difficult journey. From my group of 26 people, 24 died, and only two of us were left.
At first, we worked in the carpentry shop that provided us with occupational therapy-so we could recover. Later, I was transferred to work as a barber in the camp barbershop.
When I arrived at the camp, I was swollen from malnutrition. Those responsible for feeding the camp inhabitants stole the food supply, and we had nothing to eat. I became weak, and I couldn't carry myself. I couldn't even move a little in order to climb the few stairs to the hospital. I crawled on all fours each time I had to climb up or down. At the hospital, I also contracted pellagra and dysentery. According to the camp's statistics and the doctors' opinion, I was supposed to die. I also knew my condition, and I was ready to die. But a miracle happened, and somehow I recovered.
Recovering from pellagra weakens you for a long time and brings you terrible physical pain, but you feel your life is improving.
When I had completely recovered, I was put in front of a medical board, which gave me an excellent bill of health.
Although I wasn't feeling well, I was sent to a camp whose inhabitants were cutting down trees in the forest. For a month, I worked under difficult, unbearable conditions. I cut down trees during the day and loaded wagons at night. We didn't have food, only bread that we soaked in water. All the good food was stolen and sold by the commissars. While they ate greedily until they were full, their working kinsmen, their brothers in unity and idealism, were starving to death.
Again I was exhausted, and I realized my end was near. Depressed, I loathed my life, and I wanted to commit suicide. I did this in a particular way. As I rolled heavy tree trunks upward into the wagon, I grabbed one of the trunks, which weighed around 500 kilograms, pulled it upward to the height of the wagon with what was left of my energy, and stood it up in the air. I hesitated and hesitated, and finally, when my energy had left me, my hands started to tremble, my knees buckled, and I weakened my hold. I decided to release the rope, slide the heavy trunk, and let it fall and crush my body underneath it, ending my suffering and the difficult life waiting for me. Luckily, I hit my head on a railroad tile, lost consciousness, and rolled under the wagon. When the huge tree trunk fell, it rolled downward with a thunderous sound. One end got stuck in the ground. It remained upright, and I was saved.
I was sent to the hospital to heal my head and recover my strength. My head was extremely swollen, the bruise was large, and I was twisting in pain. They gave me five days off to recover, and after that I had to go back to work.
My pain didn't stop after my time off. My ability to think had been taken from me, my nerves were frail, my brain was clouded, and I was confused. I started to change my behavior, realizing they wouldn't send me to hard labor again. I felt my energy leaving me, my health was deteriorating, and I couldn't endure one more day in the forest.
They got scared of the way they were treating me and sent me to work in the camp laundry washing underwear.
Two weeks later, I was taken to the location where the mental patients were being held, and I was constantly supervised by the doctors. When I had recovered a little, I went through another medical board, and I was sent to the forests again.
Meanwhile, the war ended, life returned to normal, and I continued to serve my sentence.
In 1949, I recovered fully and was sent to another forest managed by a Polish gentile, a native of Dnipropetrovs'k who treated Jews very well. People hinted that he was Jewish or of Jewish origin.
He took me home, and I recovered under his care. There was plenty of food there, and my condition improved.
In December 1949, an order was given to separate the political prisoners and send them to a special camp in Karagander. It was a concentration camp for political prisoners. According to the camp's orders, we were dressed in prison uniforms, and our heads were shaved. We worked in construction during the day, and at 10:00 at night, they locked us in our homes. It was a Russian invention; we weren't prisoners in a prison, we were under house arrest.
We were locked up and sealed into our houses until 7:00 a.m. From 7:00 until 10:00 at night, we weren't allowed to roam the streets.
This was to prevent us from creating a faction that was dangerous to the regime. Except for that, our living conditions weren't difficult. After experiencing life in the land of freedom, we began to think that our situation wasn't too bad. We ate until we were full, and the food influenced our minds, sending them in the right direction.
Ukrainian outlaws who had collaborated with the Nazis were concentrated in this camp. They were also considered political prisoners. In reality, they were bands of robbers who formed a gang inside the camp. They left their homes in separate groups and roamed the streets from 7:00 to 10:00, when they were empty, killing people who felt not right to them.
In that way, they killed Ingel, the Jewish author, in front of me. They murdered him with an ax, struck him, and left him dead where he fell.
With me in the camp were famous Jews who had been charged according to the famous section 58. These included Professor Emden, grandson of R' Yakov Emden, who had been a genius educator in Leningrad, and Shmuel Kantor, a university history lecturer, also from Leningrad. He had been arrested because he raised his glass on Yom Kippur with two of his friends and said, Next year in Jerusalem. One of his friends was an informer, and the lecturer paid dearly for his crime. I also remember the author Hirsh Osherovits from Vilna, the Jewish poet Motel Grubian from Minsk, and Ochitel, a profound Jewish scholar from Bessarabia and a famous Hebrew teacher whose crime was his connection to the language he was famous for: Hebrew.
In 1942, I was transferred from the camp in Karagander to exile in Akmolinsk. It was a famous camp for those who had been given life sentences. It was established in a desolate place near the Vishnyovsk district in southern Siberia. My trial never took place, and I still don't know why they worsened my punishment. I was asked to sign an order for that transport. I read the order. It said that it was my idea and was being done with my knowledge.
I signed it since I had no other choice. I was indifferent to my fate and depressed. At times, I was sorry my suicide attempts hadn't succeeded.
In 1956, I was pardoned by an amnesty order given by Khrushchev. I stayed in the camp and lived there as a free citizen. I was able to travel from there to visit Vishnevets.
I traveled to Dubno by train and from there by taxi to Kremenets, to the intersection leading to Vishnevets. I stood in the street for almost an hour and didn't see a single Jew pass by. I couldn't find anyone to ask anything. I was shocked. I knew about the Holocaust, but I couldn't accept the fact that there weren't any Jews left in the world. I couldn't believe that I wouldn't be able to find one of us from Vishnevets in Kremenets.
Suddenly, a woman walked by. I recognized her from the way she walked. She was different from the others who were passing by. I assumed she was Jewish, and I started talking to her. I found out that she was from Katerburg and was living in Kremenets with her husband, who also came from her town.
They had always dreamed of living in the city of Kremenets, and now they could realize their dream. They didn't long for more than that.
I heard from her that not a single Jew was left in Vishnevets except for Tsvi Miler, who lived in Kremenets, according to her. I didn't know whom she was talking about. I sat with them for a few hours, and then I traveled to Vishnevets.
In the evening hours, I took the bus to Vishnevets, and half an hour later, I arrived in my town.
I'm not someone who gets emotional very quickly, but this trip was an emotional one.
When it was announced that our bus had arrived in Vishnevets, I didn't know where I was. I saw that our town was gone; not a trace was left of her.
There is no Vishnevets. Nothing.
I discovered that a few buildings were left, and Avraham Rozenboym lived in one of them. I spent the night there, and in the morning I went to see Vishnevets.
I went to the street where the synagogue was. All the buildings had disappeared. Only the holy house was left. That year, our house of prayer was used as a prison, and later it was converted to an apartment building. It was divided into three floors of apartments. It was explained to me that the district institutions had moved to a different town and that the prison had also been closed.
Also, the Tarbut building that we all knew was still there, as were Y. Kamtsan's and Gun's (Idil Hun's) homes on Zbarazh Street, those of Mazur and Berele, Moshe Aron's son, Moshe Yosl Geler's mother-in-law, and Shmuel Reyzels' sons.
I stayed in Vishnevets to file a claim in court for the release of our home and for the return of my right as its only heir.
|Nothing Remained of Vishnevets but Mass Graves|
After three months, I won the case. I sold the house and went to Zbarazh.
Before I immigrated to Israel, I visited Vishnevets again. This time, I found changes. The palace has been restored, and now it looks like its sparkling past. Tall buildings are being built now, and the town is overpopulated. The monastery was bombed, and there is no trace of it. After being cleansed of its Jews, Vishnevets is being cleansed of all of its Polish roots. The palace was restored because they considered it Russian property.
Something about Soviet Mankind
In 1946, it was February, and it was cold, only 40 degrees outside. They collected us and wanted to send us to work. We didn't want to go because we were hungry and weak. Suddenly, the commander, a major by rank, who was known for his cruelty and extreme anti-Semitism, walked in. He started to harass me, telling his secretary to write up a report that I had destroyed government property, like a blanket or a mattress. It wasn't true, but he did it. He wanted to provide an excuse for my arrest and the punishment he was going to give me. I took my clothes off, threw them at his face, and said, take them and give them to your children as a gift.
That angered him even more. He gave an order to take me outside, naked as the day I was born. Two Russians were standing there, and they chased me for hundreds on meters, back and forth in the freezing cold and the deep snow. Later, they put me in a prison cell and locked me in for the night. It was cold in the cell, and wind blew in all directions. There was only a small stove whose fire had been put out a long time ago. I held onto the bars of the warm stove, which were created to keep prisoners away from it. I hung on the bars the whole night without any clothes on, warming my frozen body with the remaining heat that blew from it and the metal frame around it.
One evening, on February 15, 1951, I was playing chess with a Jew from Tshernovits. Suddenly, the camp commander came in. His name was Anotova, and he was a great anti-Semite. He was angry, claiming that we were disturbing the peace, and put us in a prison cell with a cement floor. My friend was dressed and wore felt shoes on his feet. I had come back from my job at the washhouse, and I was lightly dressed and wore lightweight shoes on my feet. Half an hour later, my legs began to freeze, and I felt as if I were going to lose them. I collected what was left of my energy and started to run around the cell, which was only six meters long, to warm up my legs.
And so I ran from 9:00 in the evening until 6:00 in the morning, when they came to call me for work.
If I had not been needed as a laborer, they would have forgotten me, and I would have ended my life innocently in the cell.
by Sonye Shats
Translated by Sara Mages
In 1936 I built a home in Lodz. In July 1939, a month before I was supposed to immigrate to Israel, I decided to travel to Vishnevets and say goodbye to my parents and to everyone in that town who was dear to me.
August came, and my parents, who were having a hard time being separated from me, asked me to stay with them for another month. I stayed, and the war caught me. Vishnevets fell into the hands of the Russians, and I was stuck there.
I lived under the Soviets for three months. There was no way to escape them and immigrate to Israel. Later, we found out that we could save ourselves if we could reach Lithuania. The border there wasn't completely closed, and we'd be able to emigrate from there.
When I left my parents, we knew we'd be traveling to Lida, the last Lithuanian city in Soviet hands. From there, we'd be smuggled to Eyshishuk-Vilna, and the road was open.
My brother Eliezer, who had never left the bosom of our parents, decided to go to Yampol, which was originally a Soviet town, and build a life there. He was a member of the Youth Guard movement and saw Communist life as his ideal.
In Yampol, he sobered very fast when he saw the regime and its results: standing in line for every food item and the living conditions. He returned home having decided to immigrate to Israel.
He told our parents he'd go with us to Lida and come home. And so we left for Lida with my little brother.
In Lida, Israeli political party delegates only took care of their own members. The Youth Guard people didn't want to take care of us and told us to approach our own people. But they took responsibility for Eliezer and promised to organize his immigration.
I left my little brother, young and tender in years, with tears choking me. In my heart, I thought that at least we'd meet again in the near future, but the tears fell on their own.
A strong snowstorm was blowing the night we left Lida. The roads were covered with layers of snow, and the tracks were blurry. Our guides-smugglers got lost, and we couldn't find our way out. The night was dim, the chill was strong, and no one knew where we were. We kept on walking because we felt that if we stopped, we'd turn into pillars of ice. Suddenly, we heard shouting in Russian: Stop! And we fell into the Russians' hands.
They kept us for eight days in a place that is still unknown to me. They interrogated us as if we were spies, deserters, or traitors and brought us back to Lida.
The first thing that worried me was my little brother's fate. I looked for him in the town and couldn't find him. I asked the members of his party, and they told me he'd crossed the border and was on his way to Israel.
I calmed down and decided to go back to Vishnevets.
On the way, we decided it was too dangerous. Maybe they knew there that we'd fled. We turned and went to Rovne. We let our parents know we'd come back, and they joined us. A former family friend, who had joined the new regime, informed my father that it was known that his son had run away and that the authorities suspected our family. It was better that he'd left.
We spent two years in Rovne, and in 1941, the war between Russia and Germany erupted. Rovne was bombed, and we were forced to move away. The Russians asked my father to join them in their escape, but father insisted that we return to Vishnevets. He believed he'd be able to live through the Nazi regime. He was unfit in the eyes of the Russians-he said-and we'd certainly appease them. We couldn't convince him. His answer was final: I saw the refugees in our town. I don't have the energy or the will to be a refugee, wandering in the streets and living at the mercy of others.
He was drawn home to Vishnevets.
We were forced to oblige him.
We couldn't reach Vishnevets. The road had been bombed, and many villages had been captured by the Germans.
We were swept up in the stream of refugees. We traveled 200 kilometers on foot until we reached Novograd Velinsk. Those were five days of hell. Enemy airplanes flew low, spraying death on our area. The wounded and the dead fell around us, and a shower of bullets and bombs spewed above us.
Before we left Rovne, a message arrived saying that Eliezer was living in a Youth Guard kibbutz in Yanove, near Kovne. According to the message, he'd arrived safely and would continue to Israel with everyone. Thank God.
The news eased our journey. We played with that hope. We told ourselves that Eliezer would come and take us with him.
Days later, we came to the conclusion, and we had a basis for it, that he'd died in Yanove. He was so young and innocent; it was the first journey of his life, and he died taking it.
From Novograd, we continued our journey, alternating between walking and freight cars, until we reached Charkov through Kyuv and Dnepropetrovsk, with me in the final months of pregnancy.
Our suffering increased on the way to Kuybishev. We were transferred there along with other pitiful, poor suspects. We traveled standing in cattle cars, squeezed together with 90 people, for three weeks. We stood for 20 days without food or water. We slept standing, and we urinated were we stood. When we stopped, we took a chance and jumped into the frozen fields to dig into the frozen earth and pull carrots, beets, and other roots left in the fields to fill our stomachs and satisfy our appetite.
Every once in a while, I felt painful cramps. A fear came over me: maybe I'd deliver my baby standing in the middle of an overcrowded car. It depressed me more than anything else. Meanwhile, we arrived in Penza, and the management informed us that we'd be staying there for three days. I went to the doctor to ask his advice.
The doctor informed me that I was fit to travel for two more weeks. We scattered between the lines to receive our bread allotment, and we were ready to continue our exhausting journey, which was difficult and dangerous for me.
At night, I felt sick. Pains overtook me. At one after midnight, I delivered my firstborn son.
A few days later, we were sent to a kolkhoz in the village of Lunina. We didn't have any clothes, not even for the baby. It was a dangerous journey. It was unbearably cold. It's beyond my comprehension how the baby coped with the extreme cold. We felt better and said, in a couple of days we'll reach the kolkhoz, and we'll have walls and a roof over our heads; we'll have bread and warmth.
We reached a poor kolkhoz. Its inhabitances were hungry and needy. We received four kilograms of flour a month per person. We didn't have our own house. They housed us in an unheated clay hut, and the cold air leaked through the cracks.
Somehow we coped with the hunger, but the chill weakened us. We wanted to live. We stayed alive only because we were worried about the boy.
My father couldn't cope with our difficult situation. He died of hunger shortly after we arrived at the kolkhoz.
We couldn't leave the hut, since it was sunk in deep snow. My dead father stayed with us for three days without being buried.
On the fourth day, we gathered our courage, pushed the door open, and went out. We informed the authorities about the dead person, but they were not excited. There were many more like that. Digging a grave was impossible. They had an open grave that they'd prepared weeks before, and several frozen bodies were already in it. They threw father into that open grave.
Father is still buried with 10 gentiles of many religions. Father was not brought to a Jewish grave. I'm not strict in religious matters, but I'd pay the highest price to liberate my dead father from this brothers grave and bring him to a Jewish grave, as he'd wished and longed for all of his life.
I don't know if and when I'll have the opportunity to do so.
Many are the Jewish victims that we've planted all over the world. If only we could provide a logical explanation for their death and bring them to a Jewish grave.
by Yerachmiel Servetnik
Translated by Sara Mages
During the Russian occupation, our town's reprobates came to power. Kalman Choish became the chief of police and later the public prosecutor, and Avraham Gruber became the mayor.
We moved to our farm in Horenka, and every Sunday we came to town to hear the latest news.
Those two extorted money from the Jews and retaliated against those who were rich and earned a respectable salary.
Provincial feelings of jealousy, which were aided by the new gentiles' ideological approval, enabled the town's weaklings to sustain the envy and inferiority that had nested in their souls for many years.
Jews closed their stores in fear of looting or requisition and tried to empty them of merchandise in secret, but their Jewish employees informed the authorities. An order was given to open the stores and sell the merchandise, and every zloty would be counted as a ruble.
Jews emptied their stores at night in order to save whatever they could. Yakov Tenenboym asked me to hide some of his leather and complained about the cold weather.
I brought him firewood and saved his leather. I looked like a gentile when I rode my sled, and no one investigated me.
When the war erupted on June 21, 1941, I was drafted into the Red Army. At 5:00 on the same day, they lined us up in rows and transferred us to Yampoli. Fearful of bombing, we slept in a Polish cemetery, and the night predicted injury and wandering. In the morning, they transferred us to Lanovits by rail. We disembarked at Kornochevka train station, where they stripped us of our civilian clothes and dressed us in old uniforms, and we became soldiers. They transferred us to Ternopol, and from there we were directed to Lvov to protect Lvov. Immediately after we arrived, enemy planes bombed the whole area.
When the bombing stopped, we escaped and returned to Ternopol.
The Ternopol train station had been completely destroyed. We returned to Proskurov in vehicles and later on foot. We were bombed at night. I lay hiding in a potato field.
We were collected in the morning, and we walked toward the Dnieper until we reached Tshernigov. On the way, we saw that Bilotserkov was burning. They distributed us among the homes. A gentile said he wouldn't allow us to enter his home, only his barn. We slept in the straw, itching from lice. We were tired and dejected, and we heard our benefactor say to the Ukrainians among us, Why are you dragging behind the lice-infected Reds? You sleep here tonight, and tomorrow the Germans will arrive and liberate us, all the Ukrainians. We've been trampled by the cursed Russians for too long.
In the morning, the gentile woke up, announcing, Tomorrow the Germans will arrive, and I'll send the Jews and Russians to take my pigs to the meadow.
We knew we had to hurry and leave the Ukrainian trap, since they were waiting for the Nazis to arrive.
I was in Vinitse, it was August, and it was very hot. I lay down to rest along with hundreds of depressed and tired men like me. Suddenly, I heard someone shouting, Yerachmiel! I looked around to see who was calling my name and saw a group of young men from Vishnevets sitting together and resting in a ditch by the road, including Motil Sofer, Noske Layter the watchmaker's son, and others who had been drafted into the Red Army after me. I then understood that Vishnevets had been emptied of her youth.
They called me, pretending to ask my advice, but all they wanted was to tell me how depressed they were. They wanted to return home and tried to convince me to join them, but I didn't agree. I told them that according to my prognosis, a Nazi holocaust awaited the Jews, but they didn't agree. I left them in the ditch and went away. Later, I found out that most of them had returned and died.
I reached Poltava on foot. We stopped there and waited for orders. We didn't know what was happening around us. We rested for a week, and then it was decided to take hold there and stop the Germans from entering Russia.
An order was given to disarm all the Westerners and transfer them to Siberia. I now knew that the Jews were not wanted by the Russians.
In Priluk, they loaded us onto a train, and we traveled toward Siberia.
We traveled for two weeks until we arrived in the northern Urals.
On August 15, 1941, we arrived in a town by the name of Myed (copper) in the Urals, near the new city of Novaya Uralsk, the city of copper, tin, and gold.
The gold was mined from a mine 300 meters deep, but there were also open mines and rivers where water pressure had washed the sand out and the gold was left lying on the sand.
One day, they started to build factories, but we didn't know what kind of factories they were. Later, we found out that ammunition for missile launchers would be manufactured in those factories.
Three thousand people worked in construction. Most of them were Estonians, Moldovans, and Westerners. We lived in different camps and were taken to work in groups, but we lived separate lives. Each group was escorted by a political agent who supervised our political opinions. They also served as taskmasters who supervised us to make sure we supplied our daily quotas. When we complained about the lack of food, the political agent answered: thousands of our people die every day, and the world isn't shocked. What will happen if you die?
One day, our political agent passed among us and announced, Anyone who is a craftsman, step forward.
They were looking for construction laborers. When he approached me, I answered, I'm a carpenter, and I was taken away.
We repaired a burned-down factory .We cleaned it and turned it into a carpentry workshop. The work was long, and I was a supervisor.
Twelve people (a brigade) worked under my supervision. The director of all the brigades, who was in charge of all the tasks, was a Jewish engineer from Krakow. He was a good Jew, but he didn't know how to write reports to his supervisors. He didn't know Russian, and he didn't know how to report. He heard me speaking Russian and asked me to work in the office as his personal assistant. I started to write began writing his reports in Russian. As a result, our food was delivered to us, we ate well, and the crew was happy. In time, I understood the small details, learned the craft, and went to work as an assistant to the engineer.
One evening, the engineer told me to deliver the report to the office. A young Jewish man sat there and gave an order for me to be appointed as official report writer. Two weeks later, a high-ranking political agent called me and appointed me as a storekeeper. I didn't enjoy it, but I took the job and worked there until March 1946.
The Russians worked indoors under good conditions. The hard, difficult labor was done by the Uzbeks. They worked like slaves, like second-rate citizens, and didn't dare lift their heads. I was a clerk, which everyone needed. I was a storekeeper with unlimited possibilities, and I was in charge of my own time. I observed the regime and its citizens' lives. Desperation ate at me; was this a righteous regime? How could I live among them?
With the first repatriation, I left everything. I moved to Poland and immigrated to Israel.
I immigrated on the boat Exodus and went through everything involved with that, but I don't think the story is important for Sefer Vishnevets, so I'll skip it.
Finally, I only want to say this:
I agreed to write something in Sefer Vishnevets because I think the book is a memorial book, and the memory will serve as a historical lesson. Let's learn the lesson that no regime is part of our national identity. For us Jews, the Holocaust and the disaster were concealed from the beginning.
by Menashe Tsvik
Translated by Sara Mages
In 1941, the day before the war started, I was drafted into the Red Army as a gunner. I was transferred to Kremenets in order to approach the front lines. There we were informed that the road to Lvov had been blocked by the Germans. We were forced to travel to Ternopol via Vishnevets.
So we returned to Vishnevets. Six kilometers outside Vishnevets, we were told that there was no way to reach Ternopol. We turned and walked to the Lanovits train station, where we stayed. We couldn't board the train because German fighter planes were flying over our heads in wave after wave. We lay without moving. Three days later, we boarded the train and went to Shepetovka, but we couldn't advance. We retreated and moved interchangeably until we arrived in Novograd-Volinsk.
There they turned me into a medic, and I was attached to a medical unit. We didn't know what our duties would be. When we arrived at the train, we were engaged in removing dead soldiers' bodies from the cars. We dragged bodies out for three days in a row. We emptied the rail cars for new people heading for a new, scorching journey. We constantly had to take care of piles of bodies. The train moved. We remained, and we were forced to escape on foot. We walked at night, resting during the day, until we reached Zhitomir, a 180-kilometer hike. We stopped, and the front moved toward us. We fortified ourselves in trenches full of water, without food or rest at night. After a long day's hard labor, we received only dry bread.
We arrived in Priluk after a two-month hike. Once there, an order was received from Stalin to transfer all western Ukrainians suspected of being hostile to the homeland to labor camps.
They disarmed us and rounded us up by the thousands, Jews and gentiles together. There were several young men from Vishnevets with me, but I remember only Mikhael Valdman. We were loaded onto cattle cars, 70-80 people to a car, in a long train pulled by two huge engines, one in the front and one in the back. We traveled for 11 days with the doors locked until we arrived in the Urals.
People died in the crowded cars from thirst and suffocation, and there was no time to bury them.
When we reached the Urals, we stopped in the city of Rizh (Shchut in Hebrew) in the Sverdlovsk district. When the doors opened, thousands of bodies were taken out. Only around 16,000 people were left from a caravan of cars thousands of meters long that carried thousands of people.
We were taken into a forest. Once there, we were promised that we'd be taken to a place where the food we were longing for would be found. They walked us the whole day until the depth of night, without the food they'd promised us.
The next day, after we woke up, the camp commanders ran a strict inspection, asking for our parents' names, place of birth, and place of origin.
The forest was 12 kilometers away from a source of water.
Once more, many died from thirst, and again we spent a second night in the forest without food or shelter from the cold. It was August 9, 1941, the first day of early autumn in that area.
On the third day, we were ordered to gather twigs and make ourselves permanent huts to live in. Each evening we received two pieces of hard bread to sustain our souls. Thirty to 40 people lived in each hut.
On the fourth day, we went through a roll call, and everyone was asked for his occupation. I told them I'd been a carpenter from birth. They gave me an ax, paired me up with another young man like me, and ordered us to cut down 40 trees a day. We had to cut them and sort them into stacks of cubic meters. Each pair had to create nine cubic meters to earn 600 grams of bread.
And so we worked until September 15, which was the middle of autumn. Then they took me to dig trenches. Every day, we each had to dig a trench 8 meters long, 80 centimeters wide, and 4 meters deep to receive the amount of bread mentioned above.
People were frail and fell asleep from fatigue and chill when they dug deep into the earth, sometimes forever. The supervisors pulled them out with ropes, piled up the bodies, and at the end of the day, a tractor came and removed them.
I also got sick at that time. Exhausted and frail, I was transferred to a rest house. Fortunately, the doctor who examined me was Jewish, and he said to me, If my mother's situation was no worse than yours, I'd be happy.
His words shocked and angered me. I answered him, If you, a doctor, talk like this, I don't trust you. You're not my doctor. I turned my face to the wall and away from him.
The political agent, a short Jewish man by the name of Shvayke, came in to find out what was going on and who the man resisting the doctor was. I told him. He asked my name, and I told him my name was Moshe, son of Avraham (Moisey Abramovits). He was startled and asked, Where are you from?
When I told him I was from Vishnevets, he started and said, My father's relatives live there, and my Jewish name is Tsvik, not Shvayke. He was happy to see me:
Maybe you're related to me. Shvayke is a Ukrainian name that I took for convenience. I'm Tsvik.
Immediately, he requested that I be allowed to rest for five days, and gave an order that I be allowed to rest.
I was treated with Epsom salts. I had diarrhea day and night. I looked like a shadow, and I could only lie down.
Five days later, the nurse told me, You must leave; we need the space. We have others who need rest. I left even though I couldn't get up. With difficulty, I got up and slowly dragged myself to my unit.
I entered the commander's office and was directed to my former hut. When I arrived there, I found out that I hadn't been registered, and I didn't receive my share of food for that night.
Meanwhile, the first snow had spread throughout the forest, and I was stationed in a unit whose duty was to cut down trees and peel off their bark. We used the stumps to build ground-level cabins (zemlyanka). When the cabins were finished, 500 people were stuffed inside each one. We slept in levels, and each level was as crowded as the others. With the completion of the cabins, we were stationed at the quarry. For a full year, we worked at the stone quarry.
Again, I got sick from malnutrition and extreme fatigue. I lay unnoticed; no one paid attention to me; no one there paid attention to sick people. One day they found me and told me to leave the cabin. They were afraid I would infect the rest of the people with my disease. I found a place in the pantry where they peeled potatoes. I lay in a dark corner in that pantry, running a 39-degree fever without covers, bleeding and dying. People who came in and recognized me felt sorry for me and brought me slices of bread and a little soup made from frozen cabbage leaves.
As the days of my illness progressed, I was forgotten, and so was the place where I was lying.
I was inflicted with diarrhea, a high fever, and lice; my hair was dirty and uncombed. One day when I came out to go the bathroom, the camp inspector entered the pantry and saw me. He panicked when he saw me.
He thought he had seen the devil or a scary evil spirit and asked, Who is this spirit, who is this devil, this filthy ghost?
I answered, I'm a living human being, not a spirit and not the devil.
He called people over and they told him this was impossible. If this is the man, he was registered as dead a long time ago. What happened here?
He called the cook and asked him if he knew me. He recognized me and said I was a laborer who had worked too hard and become weak. That convinced him I was not a devil, and he said, If you know him, Vanya, it's all right. Take him, fatten him up a little, and bring him up to working condition.
I recovered a little, and they sent me to work in shifts at the sawmill. Week after week, I fulfilled large and difficult quotas. One week the day shift, and one week the night shift.
The supervisor over there liked me and promised to regard me as a non-Jew. It was kind of an advanced Russian compliment after many years of brotherhood.
I was put into the hands of a Jewish forester, and he promised me that if I filled my quota and more, he would give me additional bread. I worked hard for him for two and a half years. According to the card, we were supposed to receive 1,500 grams of grits, 600 grams of fat, 15 kilograms of meat, and 200 grams of sugar a month. We didn't get any sugar, and instead of meat, we received small amounts of salty fish. I lived like this for 30 weeks that seemed like jubilees.
During repatriation, we were loaded onto a train and transferred to our place of origin. I didn't go to Vishnevets because we were told the Ukrainians would finish us off.
Instead, we traveled to Strigum, in the Sudetenland, and from there we went to Valbezhikh.
We spent only five days there. Someone hung a boy on a tree, and we were blamed. It was a blood libel directed at us by our comrades-in-arms. We escaped, and after a lot of suffering and hardship, we arrived in Vienna. It hurt us that after so many years of misery, all the hardship that had befallen the Jews was yet not over. We returned to Poland as if we were returning to our homeland, assuming that during this difficult period, we might be rewarded with a warm welcome. We assumed that the Poles would see our return as an expression of brotherhood, but we were disappointed. The Poles stood in the middle of their dream of a total liquidation of the Jews, and with that dream, they healed their wounds. We left them.
In Vienna, we were put into the hands of Bericha. I was sent to Italy with immigration papers for Paraguay in my hands. When I arrived there, I found out that my wife and my son had perished in the Holocaust. I married for the second time and waited for the journey.
One day, it was May 26, 1948, as I was passing by Grugliasco Street near Turin, I found the city roaring and busy. I understood from the news that Israel was in great danger. The Arabs had attacked the Jews, Israel was surrounded, and excitement was high.
My heart was wrenched. My wife was pregnant, but my decision was clear. I approached Gur Arye, the Israeli delegate, and told him, I have 30 dollars. Buy me a weapon and send me to Israel. My wife will wait for me here. She heard our conversation and agreed. But Gur Arye answered me, You've come from Soviet Russia. First travel to your destination, and if you want, you'll reach Israel from there.
I arrived in Israel without any favors from the Israeli delegate.
by Meir Or
Translated by Sara Mages
And you have united yourself with sorrow, and your heart will be filled with it for the rest of your life. -Ch. N. Bialik
|Don't say it's already enough, enough of that,
to cry over the destruction of communities and man;
don't say God decided;
the dead are already dead, and the living must live.
Not God the Almighty, because there is humanity in Him;
He spilled their blood, destroyed their homes;
therefore we will cry, we will cover our heads in shame
because man is cruel, and his heart brings pain.
For they were all precious to me,
and I will not forget until I reach my grave
how they set the dogs after them
and their ashes scattered in all directions.
I will mourn all my life
for my pure souls,
who innocently exulted in the
gentiles' culture in the Diaspora.
We will remember for the sake of the future
our simple past,
we will light a perpetual memorial candle,
we will learn a lesson and respect their memory.
by M. Meliv (Frayer)
Translated by Sara Mages
When I was in Valbezhikh after the Holocaust, ready to immigrate to Israel, I decided to visit our town before leaving Poland forever.
I also wanted to visit my poor sister.
I got a tourist passport. I arrived in Kremenets in the afternoon, but I didn't go directly to Vishnevets. I stopped there to calculate my next steps. I acted with extreme caution because the area was swarming with Bandera's people, and getting to Vishnevets was dangerous.
I was in the area for almost three months, and I couldn't reach my hometown fast enough. I spent only three days in Vishnevets, and I dared to spend only one night there.
Our house and Yakov Chachkis's house, which were next to the rabbi's, were gone. All the ghetto streets were destroyed, and their buildings completely leveled.
I found three families in town: those of Avraham Rozenberg, Duvid Gnip, and Zev Sobol. The first two are still there.
The town center had been completely plowed under, and a town park had been planted there.
Several buildings that were still standing were occupied by Ukrainians who had collaborated with the Germans. In the space where Shapiro's home once stood, Ostrovski, the well-known piglet, built a mansion using bricks he collected from destroyed Jewish homes. The Lerners' house had completely sunk into the ground. I don't have any idea how it happened. Its windows were shattered and covered with wooden planks. It's not habitable, but a Ukrainian from the area lives there.
The Tarbut School building that belonged to Shmuel Balch is still standing and is used as a government-run hotel.
The Great Synagogue was left standing. It was converted into an apartment and office building, and it's full of partitions and doors. It's difficult to recognize that it used to be a place where Jews met to share their souls and beliefs.
The purpose of my trip was to visit my unfortunate brothers' graves. I was afraid to go alone. Zev Sobol joined me, and together we went the holiest place in our hearts.
The grave I arrived at was located in a ravine on the road to Zbarazh. When I walked into the ravine, I stumbled on human bones lying in the full view of day. Dismantled skeletons, disconnected bones, hipbones, parts of skulls, pieces of skeletons, and ribs from what at one time were our loved ones were scattered in the wind. I wanted to cover them up with earth, but I didn't have a tool in my hand, and there were so many bones. I could only cover a few with loose red earth, and my heart trembled inside me. Who knows whose bones I pushed into this contaminated earth? Who knows what body they belonged to? How had this body been shaped? For a moment, I imagined they were the bones of my father, whom everyone loved, maybe my good mother, my brothers, my sisters, and maybe my friends from school.
I broke into hysterics and continued walking and crying, bending over and collecting bone after bone, and each bone lacerated my heart.
The valley of scattered bones stretched for more than a kilometer.
It was explained to me that different visitors cover the bones, but the water flowing in the ravine uncovers them every so often, hurling them from place to place without giving them rest, bringing them shame and pain. The grave itself, the deepest one, is open and exposed. The murderers didn't bother to cover it, and all that is dear to us is piled up, one body on top of another, exposed to the day, fierce storms, and beasts of prey, without shelter or shade. And now there's nothing at all, the skeletons are piled on top of each other in an eternal tight hug. The sight is shocking and bloodcurdling.
Zev showed me the hill on the other side. The marksmen stood on top, firing burst after burst of bullets onto the poor victims, killing them in large quantities. According to him, my soul's loved ones stood on the bank of the ravine, and the bullets rolled them directly into the depths of the open-mouthed mass grave.
On the way, I recognized the faces of several Ukrainian friends and neighbors. I had to ignore them, since I saw the joy of our demise in their eyes.
In the Valley of Skeletons
(Photographed by Tsvi Yugur)
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