It is late August of 1939, The weather is hot. We hear the German radio thunder: 'Poland must cede the corridor We must have a thoroughfare to East Prussia ! Danzig must be German! The Germans in Poland want to join Germany etc. etc.
The diplomats are working desperately; the Polish Ambassador in Berlin, Mr. Lipski, seeks an audience with German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop to discuss the situation. Ribbentrop finally receives him late on August 31, when he knows already that several hours earlier Hitler ordered to start the march on Poland. What can Lipski accomplish?
The army is busy with preparations; Ridz-Smygly declares, over the Polish radio, that not a button from a Polish jacket will be lost. At the same time the generals are forming their divisions.
In Antopol few people knew what was going on. Everyone had his own troubles with making a living, looking after the children, the house, and communal affairs. To be sure, they all had their faith in God. Some housewives were provident and stored up more groceries. In the drugstores they bought some aspirins and other medical supplies for the house. They prayed in the synagogues more ardently than usual. The Polish intellectual "elite" of the town was unnerved. Some had already been drafted and were leaving.
It was 4.45 in the morning of September 1, 1939. There was a report of an alleged attack by Polish soldiers reported over the German radio station in Glywic, Silesia. Other well-planned incidents between Poles and Germans were reported in other localities. Hitler "cannot endure Polish aggression. He has given the order, and the divisions are crossing the Polish border". That was reported in the early morning broadcast and was heard in the houses in Antopol. We were benumbed. I was ordered to prepare first aid stations in town. The main center was in, Dom-Ludowy (Peoples' House) in the market-place. We were collecting medical supplies and were preparing to treat the wounded.
At. night the town was dark. Windows were shaded, lights were shaded. Streets were vacant. Only soldiers on patrol duty moved about. It was war! Antopol was under military rule
The next day we eagerly sought out news-reports and groceries to store up. Faces were grim and worried. Parents grieved for children who were gone; women grieved for menfolk. Some were stuck since the whole governmental machinery had been quickly disorganized and nothing moved anymore.
We did not move from the radio. Why was Russia silent? What were doing the British, with whom we had concluded a pact? Why was France inactive?
On the third day of the war German airplanes appeared over Antopol. They descended near the electric station behind town, looking for something important, and were off. We waited in the prepared dugouts in the nearby fields and imagined that a plane was throwing bombs precisely at our dugout.
One morning, August 17 to be exact, we experienced a sense of relief. The radio announced that Russia had entered the war. We waited and hoped for the Russians to come to our town. It was now clear that Poland would be torn apart, and there was nothing to be done about it. Unfortunate Poland was fated for another partition as in the 18th century. We felt for the Polish patriots, who had so little time to enjoy the modem rebirth of their nation, only from 1919 to 1939! But what of us, Jews? What will happen to us?
The Russians advanced fast. Also the Germans were flying forward fast. They were racing towards each other, with Antopol between them. On the radio we heard reports from each side. Our young people stopped all daily work and were glued to the radios. They were our source of news. They told us that the Russians were quite close. The Germans were reported to have reached south of us, and turned towards Brest-Litovsk. Woe to us! We were in their clutches! They were already in Kobryn.
The next day things, looked brighter. The youngsters heard a report over the radio that the Germans were retreating to Brest-Litovsk, and the Russians were coming to our town. The people of Antopol were waiting anxiously while, in the meantime, the town got along without any constituted authority. Jews stayed at home, sat around in the prayer houses, in the stores and workshops, talking, praying, and hoping.
On September 20th the Russians entered Antopol. The soviet army passed in a long line far out into the distance; motor vehicles, men, armaments and amiability. Every spot was being occupied - vacant lots, large houses, orchards and fields. Temporary accommodations were sought out by infantry, artillery, tanks, communications and other services, in Gorin's Park, in the market place, on the square facing the Hebrew school "Tarbut", in the old synagogue courtyard, and alongside the pavement. Some of the officers in the Soviet army were Jews. This was good news to us, Polish citizens. The arrivals were under strict orders not to talk much; they were busily at work. Antopol was now becoming part of Russia, White-Russia (-Byelorussia) to be exact.
It was spring of 1940. Antopol had changed, having been transformed from a small community into a district center, the administrative capital of a segment of White-Russia, with a population around it of some ten thousand people. The authorities had established their headquarters in the market place. The party secretary was staying in Mazurski's house. The drugstore had been moved from there into Yudl Lifshitz's brick-house. At the other end of the brick-house they had installed a radio receiver, which had been connected by wires to the houses in town, where earphones were installed. The reception center functioned throughout the day and newscasts and music programmes were heard in the houses. Lifshitz's other brick-house had been taken over by the post office. The militia established itself in Greenberg's brick-house. Sirota's brick-house was taken over by the military commission which registered the young people and mobilized them. Klorfine's brick-house housed the State Bank, carrying on the financial business of the region. Sacharov's house became a court house. PoIciuk's brick-house became a hotel for visiting dignitaries, and later it became the center of the komsomol. The stores were converted into warehouses for the military and for the administrative authorities. Some stores were used for the newly established state or co-operative shops with a limited choice of merchandise. Lifshitz's long frame house was turned into a polyclinic. The brick-house across the street became the office for civil registration of births, weddings and deaths. A shoemakers' co-operative was established in Wysocki's house; a tailors' co-operative on Kobryn street. The Ispolkom (Executive Committee) esconsed itself in the former Jewish Community House. Three schools functioned. The NKGB was in Szagan's house. Telephone wires were strung between houses and everything was carried on in strict order, under punctitious control.
Many new settlers arrived from White Russia and from Russia proper. Party Secretary Subatin occupied Bereh London's house on Pinsk street, and ruled together with Pastushenko, of the Ispolkom.
Jews had to change their occupations. Instead of shopkeepers and middlemen they "became" clerks, administrators, members of cooperatives or artels (collective independent labor unions). On the side they did a little trading. They lived, listened to speeches, read Russian papers, heard the radio broadcasts. Young people went to the cinema; older people went to the prayer houses, especially for the evening services. Their number shrank as the atheistic bezbozhniks (godless) intensified their activities.
To go back a few months to the end of 1939. Great projects were being carried out in the Antopol region. The Bug Canal was being shortened, an airport was being built, apparently for military purposes, and several thousand deportees were brought from Russian labor camps to work on the projects. The Antopol Jews were organized into "Sabbath brigades" and "volunteered" to help in the digging. I well remember the trip out and the work. More than one of those "volunteers" returned ill with pneumonia or swollen legs, but the canal was finally completed. Through the canal the Russians were able to send their barges laden with rye and wheat to the Germans (it sounds like a bad joke, but that was a fact) and come back with other goods (seemingly gasoline). The airport was nearly ready but was not to be made use of. Life marched on. The number of sick people in town grew. It did not cost any money to get treatment. Anyone, if he so pleased, came into the polyclinic, registered, was examined, received a prescription, went to the drugstore and got what he needed.
Others, to be sure, were in need of hospitalization, and so a hospital was set up in Antopol. There was the house of Jankiewicz at the foot of Kobryn street. One day I was brought there and was told to open up a hospital. Two weeks later the first patients were admitted.
Two houses belonging to kulaks (well to do peasants) were brought from a village and were converted into hospital wings, one for obstetrics, the other for patients stricken with contagious diseases. The Antopol hospital had 35 beds. Close to a hundred patients would apply each day for treatment in the dispensary of the hospital. Antopol became a medical center. A Jewish girl from Moscow and another from Bobruisk were brought to Antopol as physicians. Several nurses and apothecaries were from Homel. Our townspeople nearly stopped going to Kobryn and to Pinsk for medical treatment.
The Soviet occupational authorities ordered that "elections" be held in Antopol. A list of candidates was posted in Mazurski's house and everyone was "advised" to vote for the whole list.
The citizens of Antopol went one rainy autumn day to the ballot boxes, into which they threw in printed pieces of paper with printed lists of candidates. Later there was a meeting of the so-called elected Soviet-council in the frame house of the Polish school on Pinsk street. It was a festive occasion. The "delegates" were allowed to buy chocolate, sausages and cigarettes. In other districts it was the same thing. The delegates then adopted a resolution to demand the incorporation of the district into the Soviet Union.
On October 29, 1939 the Supreme Soviet took cognizance of the resolution and voted to accede to its demand to have the Antopol region become an integral part of the U.S.S.R.. We were annexed to the Byelorussian (White Russian) Republic of the Union. Minsk became our capital too, and from there we received decrees and officials, commissars and leaders. The new regime took to purging the atmosphere of reaction, kulaks, ideological and economic opposition, etc. Among others, recent Polish settlers were carried off to the interior of Russia. At night the military authorities informed the victims to dress and pack, and they were loaded on motor cars to be taken to an assembly center.
It was a sunny morning in June 1941. 1 was about to take a short rest, but at seven a.m. my rest was disturbed: Yossl the tailor knocked on my door, all excited. At 6 a.m. he heard the German radio announcing that the Germans had attacked Russia. A train of coal cars arrived at the Brest-Litovsk station from the German side, as it had been every day. The sealed cars opened and German machine-gunners jumped out of them rushing straight into battle. Many Russian officers had spent Saturday night celebrating as usual. Now they were so treacherously attacked by their erstwhile allies, after the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty; The brigands were coming here. At dawn their planes bombarded Kharkov, Odessa, Homel, Minsk. There was a state of panic. What was to be done now?
Although we were part of White Russia, we heard reports reaching us by word of mouth about brutalities across the Bug river: killings, oppressions, evidently with the view of exterminating the Jews. We did not quite believe everything we heard. We did not want to believe that Man could descend to such bestiality. After all, even Nazis are human beings, so we thought.
The Jews of Antopol took to their feet. Everyone understood be had to flee. But where to? Russia? Leave everything and run! But one man was ill, another had small children. Besides, there was no transportation available. Could we advance as fast on our feet or by wagon as the Germans on vehicles? What if they overtook us on the road? That would be certain death! What was there to be done? What did other people do? What were the Russians doing? What were the authorities doing?
Four days later. Unbearable four days, when life and death were on the scales, terror and impotence, decision and helplessness. The Soviet authorities threw everything they had onto the vehicles and rushed away, promising they would return. "Don't be afraid! We'll come back! We'll show the Germans what we can do". They offered to take me along. But How could I do it? What of my family? We now envied the kulaks who had been forcibly deported to the land beyond the Volga. They were sure of their lives. We here remained chained by ties of family and friendship, by human sentiments, and by an inner sense of responsibility. Whatever happened to others might very well happen to us.
The Germans entered Antopol. A new page was turned in Jewish history, a page which degrades the word Man. This was a period of suffering unlimited, of appalling savagery and of very few miracles, including those which enabled myself and seven other people to survive. Small shreds of large beautiful flower-pots smashed to pieces. The German jackboot trampled over Europe, stepped over town and hamlets, among them our dear town Antopol and destroyed them - how it destroyed them! So much brutality, and so much blood shed unjustly! Such degradation of human dignity and human spirit! Those were dark days, darker than black, years of history. Alas for the people who made them! Alas and alas for those who went through them.
I leaf through the diary of my ghetto days and I come up with the following:
1) There is deathly silence in Antopol. It is 2 p.m.; the second "hunt" has been completed. I quietly emerge from my hiding place in the house on Zaniew street, to which we have been driven by the Germans. I see, at a distance, a green two-legged swine walking. He passes by Appelbaum's house. The doors are open, the inhabitants already evacuated. Out of the left-hand side a small child crawls out, on all fours, advancing serenely, as if there were nothing to fear. Evidently his mother had hidden him away before being driven off by the Germans. Now the child is looking for its mother. The swine-in-jackboots with their hobnailed soles sees the child. He approaches and raises his boot... I cannot look any more. Later they took away from there a bloody bundle with a smashed head for burial. Why did not a thunder strike the beast?
2) The tailor's son, also a tailor, has been arrested by the police on the charge of being a communist. But everybody knew he was a non-party man. He ran away. The police served notice that unless he surrendered, they would shoot his parents, his wife and child and ten Jewish notables of Antopol. Meanwhile the young man's father and wife were placed under arrest. Ten notables were being picked as hostages.
The "fugitive" was in the neighborhood. At night he would slip into his house, where he was told about the situation. Yet, no person was willing to betray him to what everybody knew was certain death. Everyone imagined what suffering this fine-looking young man endured and what his inner conflicts were. Should be give himself up, then he would be subjected first to torture and then to shooting. If he did not - his wife and child, his father and mother and the other hostages would be the victims.
Thus he lived through forty eight hours of anguish. When the time was up, he came and reported to the police.
"Shoot me, but spare the others!" he told them. The murderers did just that. They paid no attention to the noble courage of the man. They did not even think of it. They placed him onto a truck going to Kobryn and there shot him on the high bridge over the Muchowiec river. There, on that place of execution, many victims fell. We, who survived him, honored his memory as a hero.
3) It is the last "hunt". The remaining 300 wrecks of human beings are surrounded by a chain of killers and machine-guns, lurking across the fence of the small ghetto. The Judenrat and "our own" police are no more. In another few minutes they will begin rounding up all of us, dragging us away and taking us to the sands to the left of the highway leading to Proszychwost. There we shall be ordered to strip and a bullet will put an end to life.
My thoughts race through my brain like flashes. Some time ago, I was given a ride back to town by a colleague, the Ukrainian doctor, by the name of Niestruk, who had been brought to us from Kobryn to serve as Chief Physician of the district. He tried to comfort me with his philosophy: "Well, my dear Sir, what can we do? A prosecuting attorney has arisen, by the name of Hitler, and he issued a decree, a death sentence against all the Jews, and there is no appeal. So you can't appeal. All you can do is wait in your cell until you are taken out for the execution!".One thought asks : Has the end now actually arrived? But another flash comes: What kind of a trial? What verdict? On what basis? By what right? What for? Firm resolves are formed and crystallized: Not to let it happen ! To save one's life by every possible means! Under all circumstances.
The sum total of our family was as follows: Our own child, a little girl of ten months, we had handed as a "gift" to a Gentile woman (Vera Okhritz) a month earlier; my sisters, Radia and Peshka with her husband and two wonderful little children, Rochele and Yudele, had been done in by the brutes some time earlier! my mother Shifra was hiding each time in a different place; my wife's mother Zivia and her brother Avromtze were still alive. This is all. What now ?
It is 6 a.m., October 15, 1942, past the High Holidays. Our fate had already been sealed up on high. The survivors, mere remains of human beings, had dressed quickly and were running around like shadows, like trapped birds or mice, silent, speechless, humbled, resigned, bewildered, pale and dried up. A welter of emotions which it is difficult to describe and difficult to understand, because they are emotions born in human beings living in bestial conditions. Short sights are dropped. What is one to do? Where is one to hide? Jews, save yourselves!
I take a look at the nearest and dearest survivors. Zivia has gone to Yossl Sirota's secret hide-out, taking leave with profound grief in her eyes. I take my mother and wife... come, let's try to get away. We go into the cabin at the end of the ghetto street, where there is a window out on the Gentile street. A last look in my mother's deep, dear, true, infinitely devoted and sad eyes... I leap through the window. My wife tries to draw me back. She has seen through the mist a German standing on the other side. But it is too late. My feet land on Gentile soil, outside the ghetto. An impudent act on my part. A German gun faces me, its bayonet pointed at me. "Halt!", I bear the command. It's a miracle that I haven't been stabbed. He takes me in. The dull-witted German has orders to shoot anyone who leaps from a window in the ghetto. The head does not think; the heart flutters; cut to pieces. I left there mother and wife. They won't leap; they saw the German take me in and must be sure it is all over with me. What will they do? What will become of me? I resolve again that so long as they haven't deprived me of my life, I will not submit!
October 16, 1942. 1 lie on the rim of the cut rye in the granary of Ivan, whose cabin is the last in Antopol, on the road to Proszychwost, to the left of the cobbled highway. A few weeks earlier I saved the housewife's life by stopping a hemorrhage. That day I left my home and my wife, with Ivan who had come to plead with me, at the risk of being killed by the Germans if they caught me. Now this woman, whose life I had saved, found me in the shed on an early morning when she came to milk the cow. The cow was on the other side. When she noticed me, she was frightened at first, as if she saw a ghost. Then she called out her husband, Ivan. They took me up to the top and hid me. But first they brought me a coat to cover me up - I was wet from the rain and shivering from cold. Then they brought me hot milk and pancakes.
The sun has arisen, and so, I am alive, among sheaves of rye. For a whole day the head did not think, was dulled. It was only the inertia and the instinct which were functioning. I clung like a dog to the ragged clothes to keep warm. Then gradually the brain began to react.
I see it clearly now: The German orders "Forward!" and I walk. He brings me to a group of brutes, among which were the German, the Landwirtsmann, the Chief of Police and their dog, the Buergermeister of Antopol, the former mail carrier Chrominski, who was a Pole and Volksdeutsche, the murderer of our dear ones, the fiend stained with the blood of his victims, whom he had dispatched with his own hands. I see his diabolical face with its pointed nose and frozen dead eyes, his hand on the revolver by his side. His swinish snout utters the command: "Zabrac Jego !" (Take him away) and two policemen grab me and lead me into Sirota's gate, where the pasterunek (detention) was located. Four other people were there who had been seized earlier. A few minutes later they bring the midwife Weinstein and three young men. It was too early in the day to shoot. Every article we had on us had been taken away and we were told to sit on the floor. The verdict is unmistaken.
The brain thinks only in one direction: Where does one find the strength to administer them such a blow that we could liberate all those who are scurrying about the fence looking for holes to hide in? The heart is full of hatred for the brutes, full of pain and worry. How long will it go on beating?
I picture the German with his revolver aimed, taking me about 8 a.m. Any split second he may press the trigger and pierce me with a bullet. I walk quietly. He is leading me back into the ghetto to the assembly place.
On all fours like a cat, I leap forward, when the machine gunner leading us, bends down to light a cigarette. My heart beats even now when I think of the decision I made in a flash and carried out: I ran over to Eisenberg's stable. I am noticed at a distance by the old chief of the German constabulary. I am sure he sees me, but be pretends not to. I am not afraid of him. I recall that after the second "hunt", when he stood at the well near Markiter's house in the ghetto, he was looking into the well and said to me quietly with a sigh, as I approached the well: "What a misfortune." His voice trembled; and I thought that tears would come to his eyes. That was the only true sorrow which I noticed in a German in those days.
Here I lie in Eisenberg's stable, on the loft. I don't move. Pain, hunger, thirst - I don't feel them. I have covered myself with rotten bay and am waiting. Night is coming and I have to make use of it. I slide down the loft and begin wandering among the dark mute houses of the ghetto. I can still bear, on one side, the dead silence, and on the other - the voices of the sentries who make the rounds, and shoot into the air from time to time, to see that no one escapes.
I stole out between PoIciuk's and Sirota's houses, and am now crawling on my belly through the market place. A thin rain is falling; it is dark. I am already on the Zaniew street, and suddenly in the dark there is a gun facing me with the command "Stoj! Kto idzie?" (Stop! Who is going?). I recognize the voice of the policeman Kostia, whom I know well. I used to give him some salve to irritate the sore on his finger, so that he would not be able to put on his boots and have an excuse to stay away from the raids. Kostia, it seems, also remembers and is grateful. He let me go through. This way I reached Ivan's stable. My body is trembling now, not from cold but from excitement, from impatience, from anger. What of the rest? What of my mother, my wife Gittel, my child? What of all the 300 survivors? I saw some of them being led away. Ivan crawls up to me in the afternoon and tells me that it is not good in the ghetto. He brings me a German newspaper and I read with pain of the Nazi victories at the front. Night falls, but how can one sleep?
... April, 1943. My wife and I are under the floor of a house not far from the railway station, between Antopol and Proszychwost. We were united three days after parting, when she came at night to the hiding place where Ivan kept me.
Suddenly the order arrives to demolish the house under which we are hidden - the demolition was deemed necessary for security. Our hosts are faced with the dilemma what to do with us? Letting us go free is dangerous, because my wife would not be able to withstand the blows and would divulge her hiding place and our hosts would be executed. I bear them discuss the matter over our heads. The question is: should we be shot or poisoned? But there is no poison to be had anywhere, and the man, an acquaintance of mine, though he has a weapon, does - not want to shoot - me. I get an old iron bar ready and fix up a lock on the door. I will not surrender. I will fight for my life!
Finally a way out was found. Arcyszewski learned that Dr. Cherniak and his wife were alive and came to take us. We came out to him. This wonderful man, the Polish patriot, burst into tears when be saw what was left of a Jewish community. We went to live with him.
Our address as of the end of April: Antopol, Kobryn street No. 10, the loft of Arcyszewski's stable. We are buried in the bay, near the planks. There is a crack, which serves us as a window. Three times each day the doors of the stable open wide and the housekeeper, a kindly village spinster, comes in carrying a pail with food for the denizens of the stable: a couple of pigs, a cow, hens and a rooster, a horse and a Jewish doctor and his wife, the Jewish pharmacist. The food for the humans is hidden at the bottom of the pail under the fodder for the animals. She talks to the animals, climbs the ladder (ostensibly to get some hay, and unloads the meal for the Jews. While on top of the ladder, she whispers a few words to us. Now and then the master himself would come for a chat, while the housekeeper waits underneath. He would give us some news and bewail the fate of Poland, of Polish Jews, of his relatives. He works for the Germans but be would always end his conversation with a curse: Let the cholera seize them, the sooner the better!
One night a pig became hungry. He grabbed sleepy hen from the fence. The hen raised a cry. The other animals in the stable woke up and raised a din. The pig evidently became frightened, let go of the hen and the conflict in the stable was terminated, with no damage to anyone. I watched the struggle, thinking to myself that with humans it is not so simple. We, the powerless, have been attacked by a ferocious beast, all of us, adults and children, old and young, well and sick. Our outcry reached up to the heavens and was loud enough and strong enough to move mountains. But it was of no avail. Here we are in the very heart of the once living Jewish town, where we had a community of some two thousand souls, and now it is all vacant, quiet dead...
From Arcyszewski's we moved to the village Rushevo. The moving took place in a singular way. At 12 noon a cart drove in into the courtyard on Kobryn street, near the market place, right in front of the eyes of the arch-murderers. The cart was loaded with tall logs and some straw.
Arcyszewski together with the tall young village blacksmith from Rushevo came into the stable. There were two full sacks tied up ready for them. They looked as if they were filled with potatoes. The two men took first one sack and threw it onto the cart, then the other. They put the sacks straight, covered them with some straw, then made an opening in them to enable us to breathe. The sacks contained me and my wife, of course.
The two sat in the driver's seat, whipped the horses, drove up to Kobryn street and out of Antopol. We arrived in a farmstead in Rushevo, to an address which goes back to the ghetto...
... When the Jewish doctor had to visit a patient in the country, he had to get a permit from the burgomaster to leave the town limits. One day a Gentile woman brought me such a permit and asked me to come to see a gravelly ill woman. I went along and arrived at a farmstead to the right of the road. I was invited to sit down and wait. In about ten minutes the door opened and a Gentile entered, armed with an automatic and band grenades. He was the "sick woman". I was brought there, so I was told, because they had confidence in me. The German invaders were hunting them as they were hunting me.
"I took ill," be told me. "When I get well, we'll go on fighting the enemy."
I examined him and found out that he suffered from jaundice. The prescription was made out to the "peasant woman". Grateful and silent, dignified and proud, he pressed my hand and took me back to the ghetto.
In about three weeks, a man who did not look Jewish came to see me at the polyclinic, closed the door tight and told me the following story:
"My name is Aliosha. I am a Jew, a pilot, a soviet war prisoner. My plane was shot down by the Germans at the battle of Brest-Litovsk. I was taken prisoner and handed over to a peasant to work for him. They thought I was a Gentile. Now I am being called to headquarters for investigation. I am afraid they will order me to undress to see if I am circumcised. Can you perform an operation over me to make me look uncircumcised?"
"That I can not", I said, "but I have another idea for you: Go to that farmstead at Rushevo and tell them who you are. They will take you in."
Ten days later a peasant in sheepskin came to see me. It was that same Aliosha. Under his sheepskin he had a weapon and a slice of sausage for me with a promise: "We'll help you when you want help. We'll tell you when things are bad. We have people with us who know."
Evidently they were late with their information - they did not have it in time and failed to warn me. But I had their address and this is how I found refuge in Rushevo...
At long last! The end has come to the accursed Germans. They look so ridiculous now, so broken up, so filthy, bloodied, humiliated and ruined! We have lived to see the day when justice triumphed. But what a colossal price we paid for it!
We enter Antopol again. It is empty. Last night it was evacuated by the monsters. The cur Chrominski fled along with his masters. On leaving they burned a few houses.
It is a beautiful day in June. The first one to meet me is Ivan Baiduk. He falls on my neck and kisses me. What an outpouring of affection! A pity to mention it. My first steps are directed to the house where our little girl is supposed to be. The Lord be praised! She is here, in good health. But what about later? It is so difficult to breathe here! So difficult to watch everything around you. Here, in this place, we once lived and loved every spot of it. Four other girls came, who managed to save themselves, and that was all that was left of Antopol Jewry.
We have to get settled, carry out the orders of the new authorities - the soviet armed forces. I am told to organize the health services in town and also for the whole region. I ardently throw myself into the task. I look for work to keep me busy all day and through the sleepless nights. I don't want my brain to be free to think, to remember,
But we cannot remain here. For whom? We must leave, we must come among Jews, we must leave the diaspora and realize our old dream...
Our little daughter is over three years old now. Vera Ochritz still keeps her. She is holding on to her in order to "save her soul" for the "true faith". She refuses to give her up, feeling like a mother to her, the girl owing her her life. Vera says: "We shall wait until the girl is eighteen years of age. Then she will decide whom the wants."
What is to be done? It is a difficult problem. The woman has become so attached to the child! Once the constabulary arrested the woman on suspicion that she was harboring a Jewish child. They had an idea that the girl was ours. They were ready to shoot the girl. Vera held her in her arms for three days, saying: "If you are going to shoot, shoot both of us. Then both our souls will go up to Heaven together!"
The local priest stepped in and saved them. He testified that Vera was a believing Christian and that the child was Christian (the priest knew the truth, however, from Vera's confession). She was entitled to the rights of a custodian. Yet the parents were alive. We gave her everything we could, we helped her a great deal, but we could not make her a gift of our child. There was a trial and the court ruled that the child belonged to its parents.
We finally made it. We packed and left for Brest-Litovsk. There we boarded a train for Poland, as repatriates. First we went to Lodz and thence to Gorzub (Landsberg) and later to Wraclaw (Breslau). Here we found some survivors of Antopol Jews, namely Mazurski's daughter and Itke Wolinetz. Mazurski's daughter saved herself under extraordinarily difficult circumstances and lived to see freedom. Itke came with her husband Meyshe Helefantstein.
We take our seats in the carriage of the train leaving for Paris. Farewell, Poland. Farewell, land of exile. We are determined and we are able to realize our ideal - to come to the Land of Israel.
Midway we linger a little in France. In the hotel, where the remnants of the escaped survivors are gathered from the larger and smaller towns of the now extinct Jewish communities, there is a great deal of talking, reporting, discussing. History is being recorded!
There are sick people, survivors of annihilated households, broken spirits, frustrated ambitions, melancholy neurasthenic people, unnerved individuals, undernourished, frost-bitten, cut-up tortured bodies, arms tattooed with numbers; each one a world by himself, a history, a tragedy. What is to be done?
Our firm resolve is to shake off the dust of the exile from our feet, not to let ourselves be discouraged by the hard times in the Homeland (that was in the years 1949-1950). On the contrary we must now come there to help. But not everyone feels that way. Some have other ideas.
The idealists are quietly ridiculed. It was we, the survivors, who have seen how little value human ideals have. Hitler has trampled them underfoot.
In Marseilles we embarked on the Israeli ship Artza. How well we feel among our own people! How precious that is!
On Wednesday, April 4, 1950, we greet the soil of Israel.
We have become the citizens of our ancestral land!
In those early September days of 1939 faces changed. Everyone is anxious, worried. Bombs are falling over all of Poland. The treacherous Germans destroy everything in their way. They are coming closer to us. What is to be done? Where can one flee? We are drowning in a sea of hatred and hostility, we have nothing good to look forward to; we are powerless, poor and weak. Affection and loyalty in our own ranks can be of little avail in such days of fire and blood.
It is mid-September now. All night, only the noise of the Polish army vehicles can be beard, as they are leaving the, front to flee towards the Rumanian border. Explosions are heard. On the Kobryn side the sky is reddening. The wounded are being brought in.
In the morning information reaches us that the Russian army is approaching. The Jews of the town become alive. Finally there will come an end to the uncertainty and a new chapter will open. A new order of things, new joys and sorrows - but, the main thing, life will be secure. The Russians arrive. People adapt themselves, they work, they build. Months go by.
It is 6 a.m. on June 22, 1941. A new conflagration is on. On the Bug, near Brest-Litovsk, the Hitler bands are moving forward. The Soviet forces are fleeing in great haste, abandoning large stores of supplies and ammunition. They managed to destroy only part of their archives; the remainder was to be made good use of by the Germans.
On the fourth day of the German-Soviet hostilities, the last of the Russian soldiers left Antopol. The Jewish section is drained of all life. Already the sound of the German airplanes overhead is to be heard. The first motorcyclists arrive. The frightened Jewish population looks out through the curtains as the killers come in.
The march of the German army took several weeks. As long as the Germans were marching, the power was in the hands of the gendarmerie (constabulary). After the gendarmerie came the Gestapo, which set up the civil police force, formed out of the local Polish and White-Russian (Bielorussian) population.
The first act of the police was to square accounts with those who collaborated with the Bolsheviks. They also handed over to the S.S. two Jewish men who bad escaped from a German camp and returned to Antopol during the Soviet rule. The men were taken to the S.S. car which arrived from Kebryn, where one of the brutes first beat them and kicked them with his feet and finally shot them dead.
This opened the blood-stained chapter of the story. The police invented an amusement for itself consisting of whipping Jews. They made use of the time when an S.S. car would stop at the market place. They would then catch Jewish passers-by, who were already wearing the badges on their sleeves with the Star of David, and bring them into the police station to be whiplashed. The crying and weeping of the victims would freeze the blood in the veins of the listeners. Whenever an unfortunate, released from under the lash, was not quick in making a getaway - crawling away, for that was all he could do they would punish him by calling him back, pouring cold water over him and submitting him to new lashings. Some of the victims would be confined to bed for weeks as a result.
Another amusement the Germans had was to order the Jews to wash their cars and use the opportunity to whip them as they worked and to make them run up and down like dogs.
By employing these barbarian methods, the Germans succeeded in making the Jew hate his life and lose his self-respect and his sense of human dignity.
A short time after their entry into Antopol, the German rulers called together the Christian population of the town into the local church and enlightened them on the proper way of handling their Jewish townspeople. The lesson was quickly learned by the Ivans and the Marussias.
Thus began the systematic cold-blooded implementation of the anti-Jewish plan: a strongly armed monster pitted against a handful of helpless men, women and children. No one asks why or when. Placards are hung in the marketplace with shocking medieval anti-Semitic slogans.
Then evil decrees begin to crowd one another in quick succession. The Jews are ordered to sew on a yellow badge on the breast and on the back. All Jews living on the right hand side of the Pinsk street are ordered to move out of their homes.
The letter-carrier Khrominsky is appointed Chief of the town and the district. He orders the Jews to form a Judenrat consisting of a Chairman and five or six members. At first the demand was for the two Jewish physicians, Dr. Sunschein and myself, to enter into it. But they later realized that if the physicians devoted any time to the sessions of the Jewish Council, the sick of the town and the surrounding villages would be neglected and they rescinded the order.
On a cold October morning formations of armed bandits in German uniforms appear in the fields near Antopol, with their guns trained. They surround the town and the Judenrat is presented with two demands: 1) an indemnity of gold, silver, jewels, leather, various foods and Polish and Soviet currency; 2) all able-bodied men to gather in the marketplace for work. Men scurry away to places where they can hide. I was hidden by the Russian priest in his barn. To be seen are only women and members of the Judenrat. Everyone is carrying what he has to the collecting point, at the home of the late sainted Rabbi Wolkin. The gold, the silver and the money are taken into the house, the merchandise - to a store in the marketplace.
Before the evening came, the Germans managed to capture about 140 men, including boys of 14 years of age and shut them all up in the Polish school on Pinsk street,
At the very same time that the wives, mothers and sisters of the imprisoned men were collecting their indemnity to ransom their nearest and dearest - as they hoped - the peasants of the village Proshikhvost were digging their graves in a nearby wood. (Of that we learned much later).
The day is done, it is dark and a thin dreary rain is falling. Everyone is seated in his house. The curfew forbids to appear outside. But the hearts are with them over there, with the imprisoned fathers and brothers.
In the houses which are situated near the school they hear the sound of approaching automobiles. The innocent victims are being led out, loaded into the cars and taken to a 'labor camp"... But they don't get very far. Others had a story to tell about the dull reports of machine guns, which took the lives of the male members of the despoiled families. Hearts were beating fast, but the minds refused to believe that such things could happen in an era of culture and civilization in the twentieth century!
The next morning an automobile arrives and the brutes report: everyone taken away yesterday is now at work in a labor camp and is entitled to receive a parcel of five kilograms of foodstuffs. A new sport for the demons! But mothers and wives make up packages of the best that they have left write the name of the addressee on each side of the parcel and hand the packages over to the messengers of mercy. An hour later, outside the town, the packages are opened, the best is taken out and consumed and the rest thrown away. In this vandal manner the assassins trample underfoot the dignity of Man and his culture.
A short time after the first liquidation the first ghetto was set up. At first we were assigned to one half of the town, on the left hand side of the Pinsk and Kobryn streets. For a few weeks things were quiet. It was the quiet before a storm. Then came a new decree: there would be two ghettos now, Ghetto A and Ghetto B, the one for skilled workers, useful Jews, the other for the useless. No one wished to be counted among the useless. The Judenrat, together with the Labor Office, had to make up lists. There began the bargaining for places on the useful list, which was believed to involve the difference between life and death. People pleaded, begged, gave presents, wept, anxious to be included in Ghetto A among the "useful" Jews, or to add to the roster and old father or mother. What next?
The Jews of the surrounding countryside were gathered into Antopol -
from the villages and towns of the Pruzhan district and the Bielovezh Forest
and other places. That resettlement had to be carried out within 24 hours.
Often people were just driven from place to place. After a day's strain
and tension in moving about, the newcomers begin to look for secret hiding
places, potainiks, where to hide out from the hangmen. A great deal of
ingenuity and technical skill had to be invested in that effort to
discover or contrive them. The potainiks - a new term coined in those years - were within the walls, under the floors, behind cupboards, under screened or curtained-off entrances, double walls and various dark holes. Men ran into such holes like mice, hiding from the brutes human and canine - the Germans employed specially trained dogs to catch the Jews, who pursued us as a cat pursues a mouse. In those days, we became the sympathizers of the mice.
It is an early summer day in 1942. The murderers surround Ghetto B. Their task is to capture over 1000 people. Whoever is caught is led to the market place. Old people and children are driven like sheep onto carts. From the market place they are all driven to the railway station. There a train arrives from Pinsk, Janowa, and Drohichin, filled with Jews from those towns. The Jews of Antopol are driven into the same train. There are gruesome scenes, accompanied by outcries, wailing and shouting.
Subsequently it became known that near Kartuz-Bereza, in the woods of Bronie-Gura, mass graves had been made ready among the tall fir trees and the sandy hills. The train arrived, one carload after another of human beings was thrown out into the graves while the machine guns were firing on without cease.
A woman who was wounded managed to escape from that inferno to tell us what had taken place. Petrified, dumbfounded, stunned, people listened to her story but even then a spark of hope glimmered in their hearts, and they thought the woman had gone off her mind, for how was such a thing possible?
After the second "operation" the ghetto became too large, and we were confined to a smaller ghetto, in the part of the town between the market-place, the Kobryn, Zhalov and Grushev streets. A tall barbed-wire fence was put up around it and guards were posted before it. Here the inmates were suffocated and eaten up by various diseases and by hunger. Every morning a group of workmen is driven off to some labor under guard to be paid in beatings and curses. The vandals could not tolerate the few survivors and organized a third "operation".
One night the ghetto is surrounded again. People are dragged out of their hiding places. 400 people were gathered together. More human tragedies are played out. Families are broken up, but who takes stock of such things?
The monster does its work. Here they take the rabbi and beat him. We hide on the garret and watch through a crack what is going on. A young shoemaker is running and crying "Let me live. I can work well". The German fires and evidently has hit the mark, for all we hear now is a feeble groan of the victim.
Following this tragic day and its events, come other sad days. Wet with tears, drained of feeling, each one is busy with himself alone: why has he remained alive? Why didn't he go with all the others? How long is one to suffer and to "fight" for one's life? is it worth it?
About 300 fragments of families, fragments of human beings, we remained. It was certain that the death sentence had already been pronounced over us, but when will the German bullet pierce us? We are isolated from the world and don't know what is taking place outside. We haven't even the small consolation that somewhere someone is thinking about- us. Usually a condemned man is visited by a rabbi or a priest and sees a face with an expression of compassion, knows that his relatives grieve for him. But nothing of the kind reached us through the walls of our ghetto. Sometimes one has an ideal for whose sake one is ready to lay down one's life. A soldier is ready to die for his country. We have nothing. We are surrounded by the full grinning faces of our Russian neighbors, headed by the letter-carrier Khrominsky, together with the beasts from the Land on the Rhine and they are all waiting for the time they can carry away what is left of ours after our death. They did not have long to wait. Khrominsky had already promised them they would soon be able to take a walk through the ghetto. A Christian woman doctor came from Brest-Litovsk and took up a house in the ghetto. My former patient Vera from the Kobryn street warns me to hand over my 10 month old child to her as quickly as possible, because we are to be done away with pretty soon.
It is early September 1942. Shadows rather than living human beings are to be seen in the ghetto. One has to search for a smile with a lantern. The sleepless nights are spent in prayer for a speedy end to the suffering by death or by some miracle. Some of the inmates consult with one another about building some hiding places outside its walls, where one could bide one's time until the Germans left. But where is one to obtain arms?
The bearer of the idea - the father of the project - was Markiter. As a capable electrical technician, be was often called by the Germans to repair their radio transmitters and thus had access to their arms. The day had already been fixed when Markiter would seize a few rifles and run into the woods. But we were afraid of the likely consequences in the ghetto and the plan was dropped.
One night six Jews escaped from the ghetto. They roamed the countryside for a few days but no one would help them. Emaciated by hunger and cold, they came back. It was during that time that we placed our little daughter at the doorstep of the Christian woman. Other people had similar ideas but could not bring themselves to carry out such a daring deed. Lipshe Wolowelsky, the wife of Meyshe Hershenhorn, had handed over her daughter, several years old, to a Christian who had a farm near a village. But the children playing with the little girl used to call her zhidovka, so the Christian woman became frightened and brought the girl back to her parents. At the same time Gittle Zeidel came to an understanding with a Christian woman in the vegetable patches on the road to Pinsk that she should hand her over her child of 7 or 8 months of age. But she found it difficult to part from her baby and she missed the opportunity. There were other such cases in which places had been arranged for the children, but the parents, unable to part with their offspring, were too late to save them.
On the night of October 15, the treacherous letter-carrier assembled the Jewish Council and the Jewish police and put them in prison. Simultaneously the S.S. surrounded the ghetto. The Jews in the ghetto had no knowledge of what was happening. I remember that at 6 a.m. Abramchik knocked on the shutters of our room to let us know the ghetto had been cordoned off. Now everyone realizes that the end has come. Our first reaction was: it is good that our child is not with us now. She may survive it all and remain as a living memory to us... Then a new feeling surged up: No, I will not let myself be done in! I leap out of the ghetto. I am caught and led into the gendarmerie and thence to the square from which the way leads to the grave. Is this the end?
I shall never forget that Place. Here is the young barber, smoking one cigarette after another and saying: "Let those killers hurry up and finish it!". Here is also the dentist Shogan and his wife. He says to me: "What, you want to flee? It is of no use!". At a distance I see the midwife Mrs. Weinstein and her son, the physician, who clings to her. I address him and ask him to join me in my escape. His answer is: "My mother cannot run with us. I cannot leave her." Here a boy is driven up, his stomach shot up by a gun, with his entrails hanging out. I take my blood-soaked handkerchief from my forehead (bloodied by the rifle butt of a German after my first attempt to flee), and stuff up the boy's belly. Who could dream of a bandage? At least, let him have some relief of his pain. The automobile has arrived. Just then I jump up like a cat on all fours, run out and in a few seconds I am on the roof of a nearby stable.
Every one of the eight survivors of the two thousand Jews of Antopol has more or less the same story to tell. Mine is one of the eight.
A will of iron was needed to merely wish to be saved, and still more luck was needed, later to survive in an ocean of hate, which had overrun our fair countryside of Lithuanian Russia.
The final liquidation of the Antopol ghetto lasted about four days. It took four days and four nights for the bestial Nazis to hunt down, the unfortunate Jews with the aim of destroying them.
After that there remained only empty pillaged broken down houses, filthy streets, a dead silence, polluted air but free of Jews, and the sun went on shedding its light on the place of destruction. Ivan and his girl friend, Otto and Wilhelma could freely stroll through the "battlefield" on the ghetto, after their gallant victory over the "enemy". Only eight emaciated and lonely creatures, deprived of all hope, were hiding in the fields, woods, marshes and bunkers in order to remain alive and be able to tell at least a part of the bloody story, of the days of monstrous evil done by fiends compared to whom Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Nero, Torquemada, Khmelnitzky and many other wicked rulers in history appear like angels of mercy.
Twenty-eight years have passed since those days. Time has somewhat healed the wounds. Memory has lost some of it. But this can be said of the community, of society, of our people. We, the individuals who lived through all that hell, can never forget it. We seek to dull our remembrances in work, to keep our minds busy so as to be able to sleep at night. A new generation is growing up, which has not witnessed it and will not be able to picture it or be willing to believe it. Let them at least read the record and keep in mind that the pen of an ordinary writer cannot describe everything. But the little that is poured out comes out of a bleeding heart. It is a mere drop of the anguish accumulated in two years of Inferno beyond the powers of a Dante to depict.
We, the survivors, are the mere small fragments that are left. Millions lie speechless in their graves or have gone up in smoke. Of those who are left among the living, some will never forgive or forget and wait for vengeance to come, they raise their fists to the skies and shout for the whole world to hear: "We remember, we will not forget what the wicked Amalek has done!". Others accept things as they are, nod their heads and make peace with fate. What can one do now to better things?
There are yet others who refuse to concern themselves with the brutes. They leave it to history to pass judgment. They bear too much of their own pain to have room for other people's worries. They know what mental anguish is, and they can appreciate the mental anguish of others.
We have been broken by our ordeal. Let now our murderers be broken by
their anguish. We must not help them become morally rehabilitated before
the judgment of history. Let them suffer if indeed their conscience awakes!
Prof. P. Czerniak
The operations are marked by unspeakable atrocity. The ghettoes are strongly guarded so that there is no chance to escape: the slightest attempt to get away brings a bullet in the head. The physicians were left to the last moment: they were still needed. So far there were no Aryan doctors to be found in the small out-of-the-way localities, and the Jewish physician was still in demand.
It so happened that in Horodec (Horodetz), where there was only one doctor, a fugitive from Brest-Litovsk, Dr. Sunschein, he was tolerated for three months after not even a single Jew was left in town. He was placed under a strong guard day and night, and was ordered to treat the non-Jewish population of the region. But as soon as an Aryan doctor was found, the Jew was liquidated. A motorcyclist with black insignia came down from Brest-Litovsk and, with the help of his local flunkeys, the doctor, his wife and his child were taken outside the town limits, were ordered to dig a grave and were covered with earth while still alive.
In Kobryn, Dr. Goldberg was to have a similar fate. But, unlike others, he prepared himself for it and decided to exact a high price for his life. He had succeeded in obtaining a few hand grenades and a loaded revolver. When they came to take him, he threw the hand grenades against the murderers, defended himself with his revolver and finally turned the last bullet on himself. Another fellow-physician, whose name I do not recall at the moment, threw upon his assassins a flask with sulphuric acid and leaped from the balcony.
There were many such examples in our parts of quiet heroism mingled with tragic resignation on the part of Jewish physicians. These facts deserve to be recorded for posterity. For the present I merely wish to dwell on some of my colleagues who, by some miraculous combination of favorable circumstances and their own courage, managed to break out of the claws of the brutes and become active in the ranks of the partisans. Each case is a miracle in itself. I knew six such fellow-physicians in our region who joined the existing partisan formations.
It was a long road from the ghetto walls to the freedom of the partisans in the woods and swamps; from the state of a hunted and condemned "fly" to the post of a physician or chief physician in the partisan units. In the environs of Antopol the first partisan ranks began to form as early as 1941. In 1943 a whole corps was active known as the Brest-Litovsk United Fighters. It consisted of a staff and brigades spread over the forests and the marshlands. Attached to staff headquarters was the Chief of the Partisans' Medical Service. He was one of the six Jewish doctors. The remaining five were attached to separate field units.
It is difficult to convey to the reader what each one of us did and under what conditions! In the midst of battles, of thousands of dangers, in the woods, fields, marshes, caves, pits, under the open sky, under a tree, in a primitive tent, or in a rural cabin, at best: under the hot sun or in a slashing rain, in a snowfall or hailstorm, here by day, there by night, and as often as not under the hostile looks of non-too-friendly strangers. Not to mention the lack of medical installations and instruments, an operating table, cots, medicines or bandages! We always had to improvise, to create something out of nothing. Not only were we called upon to take care of the health of our fellow - partisans, but also to look after the local civilian population to receive their sick and wounded and to combat epidemics.
How to convey or describe all of this?!
Here are some personal reminiscences.
Noontime of a sunny April day. A cart enters a courtyard on the Kobryn Street in Antopol. Two sacks are carried out of the stable and loaded onto the wagon. The sacks are covered with straw. Arcyszewski, who is under obligation to me for having saved the life of his wife, has taken pity on us - for it was my wife and myself who were in those sacks -and punctures an opening in the sacks to enable us to breathe. We travel for seven kilometers. Our hearts flutter, we hardly even wish to believe that we shall reach our destination. Night has fallen. We come to a threshing-floor. Here we are awaited by ten armed partisans. We experience our first friendly encounter with people at liberty after five months of hiding and constant fear of death. How good it is to breathe the free air of the forest! We walk. It is way past midnight when we reach a clearing not far from the village of Odrinke, That is our destination. For the time being, this will be my place of work my new quarters.
On the morrow, the first personal meetings of acquaintance. The work begins. First of all a general medical examination for everybody. Between two trees, overhead, they draw a coarse sheet for shelter and the inspection begins. It turns out that more than 20% of my comrades suffer from scabies; the rest are sure to get the itch soon. It is a highly contagious ailment especially under prevailing conditions of life. My first task is to relieve the suffering. I explain that since no medical supplies are available, it would help if they could secure some sulphur. Once animal fat is secured, the mixture would serve as an ointment. My wife prepares a pot with the ointment - 15-20% sulphur. For several days the odor of sulphur hung over the countryside. The laundry was boiled, clothes were changed, people bathed in the nearest swamp. Soon they were rid of that plague. There is no way to describe the gratitude of these people of the forest. That "partisans' ointment”, as it was known, spread among all the detachments of the brigade and among the civilian population as well.
But there were other ailments. Unfortunately I had to do my work empty - handed. I had nothing in the way of medicines or instruments, bandaging material or syringes. At a meeting I proposed a plan and asked for general co-operation, I asked that they collect: old unused medicines in every house and village where the partisans come to carry out operations; I asked the staff to set aside some lard which could be bartered in the Antopol pharmacy for the necessary medical supplies; that they should search out medical instruments in the loot of the robbers of the ghetto. It was done. Thus we set up the partisans' dispensary in the woods. A syringe was found as well as some distilled water. The machinery used by the peasants to produce home brew was put to work in distilling water. The work progressed.
June 20th. We play host to distinguished visitors. For the first time we were visited by the Chief of Staff of the United Partisans of Brest Litovsk; we discuss organizational problems. The Chief was accompanied by the head physician.
As we were seated on the ground, consulting with one another about sanitary problems we were suddenly apprised of the arrival of a car with 15 German military personnel in Hruszewo, two kilometers from our camp. The Germans came to look for eggs, milk and fowl. The session was interrupted and we quickly form a group, with the few arms at our disposal, to attack the enemy.
Before long we hear the loud reports of firing. Our men had ambushed the German party on their way back and showered them with a rain of bullets on all sides. Eight were killed on the spot. Five were seriously wounded and two, defending themselves with their automatics, managed to escape. Their automobile was no longer fit to be used but we found in it several cans of benzene and some arms and ammunition. This was quite a loot for us. We suffered two casualties in wounded, one of them seriously, in the -tip of his right lung. When be was brought to our station, I made use of the reserves I had built up. I gave him, instead of a transfusion 'injections of a specially prepared physiological mixture. I used up the only ampule of morphine I had to relieve his pain. Taking care of the light wound in the hand of the other casualty was a much easier task.
However, we were compelled to make a quick getaway expecting as we did a retaliatory expedition by the Germans. We set out for the Juchon woods, winding our way through little known hidden paths and by-paths. Carrying him on a hastily -improvised stretcher, we took our seriously wounded comrade with us and everything we possessed. We later learned that two hours after we left, several German armored trucks appeared in the neighborhood, cruising it up and down and unable to find any trace of us.
Time moved forward and the number of partisans grew. The engagements with the Germans took place more and more often and the Germans stepped up their repressions against the civilian population. The latter increasingly demanded of us medical assistance. It was impossible to find auxiliary medical personnel, and I began to train some in my unit.
My colleagues, doctors in the neighboring partisan detachments, were in a similar position. They did not have a moment to breathe and, in addition, there was not a single nurse or attendant.
I picked 16 women partisans and began to teach them how to handle a sick person, how to clean and bandage wounds. I trained them in the practice of first-aid. They were eager and capable and very devoted. They finally acquired the art and were assigned functions. Every small unit was allotted one nurse and two male attendants, chosen from among the partisans who had some idea about such work. This was the nucleus of each of the larger groups of First-Aid. The three members of the nucleus usually accompanied the group whenever there was a minor engagement in the area. The staff refused categorically to risk its only physician except in very important sorties.
November of 1943. Our detachment, in agreement with several other, smaller ones in the same area, undertook a joint attack an the town of Antopol. We concentrated our forces at night. According to the prearranged plan, each grouping was assigned its objective, to occupy this or that position, to carry out this or that act of sabotage.
I went with my group to seize Gody's Mill. The new owners of the flour mill were shut up by us in the cellar, while we converted the rest of the premises into a field hospital. I established myself with my assistants, ready to receive the wounded. In this place, behind Gody's Mill, I used to romp and play as a child and play pranks as a boy. Now I was here again, to treat the wounded partisans who were fighting to be avenge the destruction of a large Jewish community.
The longed-for moment has arrived. On all sides there is the din of
machine guns, automatic rifles, guns and hand grenades. Next the houses
are on fire. The first wounded have arrived. I am assisted by a young Jewish
physician from another unit and three trained nurses.
One man has
a bullet in his head, three have
their legs wounded, a few have light
wounds in various places, one has a broken leg. All of them receive first
aid. Two return to the firing line
immediately. Three will have to
be carried on
At daybreak all the fighters have reassembled worn
out, but pleased with the job well done,
courageous and inspired.
The Germans and their collaborators were taught a good lesson, their
"fortress" was destroyed and a large quantity of food and ammunition was
taken to last a long period.
In October, 1943, on the anniversary of a national holiday, we get an order from above to blow up the Brest-Pinsk railway line for a
stretch of four kilometers. Our unit marches towards its objective through woods, fields and hamlets. I go along. We have arrived, spread out, laid out the bricks with the explosives. Here is the agreed signal, and then come scores of explosions. Chunks of iron soar up and fall down groaning to the ground. The German watchmen wake up suddenly in their booths and open a wild fusillade with tracer bullets. One of our men has been hit in the back by a piece of fallen iron. We take him along. I give him an injection of morphine to relieve his pains. I do what I can under the circumstances. But could he be saved under ideal conditions?!
Early in 1944.
An epidemic of spotted typhus
fever is raging in the region of Antopol.
The partisans were infected and brought the disease to camp. There are
over 20 sick. They make it
difficult. We must be mobile and on the
alert, because the Germans are lurking for our lives.
patients are like lead on our feet while their absence from the battlefield
is keenly felt. There is no time to lose in fighting
The first thing to do is to exterminate the lice. Since there were no
chemicals to do the job, I invented an abattoir for lice: I
one of the dugouts used for hanging
the clothes in such a manner that it could be sealed hermetically and filled with hot steam two hours of such treatment killed the lice. At the same time I ordered close-cropped haircuts and two baths in the open air for each partisan. The partisans were ordered not to spend a night in any strange house and to bathe and steam their clothes after every contact with civilians. I also ordered strict insulation for the sick and suspicious cases. The partisans carried out all my instructions with remarkable promptness. The success was amazing.
Among the duties of a physician in the partisan forces was one of rendering assistance to the civilian population when it asked for it or when it was forbidden, for security reasons, to go seek medical assistance in a town occupied by the Germans. We were constantly approached by sick civilians and we helped them.
One hour after we had entered the village Derevnoye, a young peasant came to me and told me his wife was bleeding. I see her: she had a miscarriage. Her womb must be scraped immediately or she would bleed to death. I took some of the pipes used by the peasants for making home brew, the wiring used by the soldiers to clean the rifles and some other such obtainable materials and made my own instruments for the occasion, sterilized them together with the gynecological speculum and treated the woman. After half an hour the bleeding ceased.
March 1944. Six thousand Germans are assembled around our unit, armed with tanks and cannon, in order to put an end to us. I am laid up with severe pneumonia, and 39 degrees fever. I contracted it a few days earlier travelling in rain and wind to a distant hamlet to see a patient. On account of my illness the staff had to alter its schedule, waiting for me to recover somewhat, perhaps following the crisis on the ninth day. But when the German noose began to tighten around us, waiting any further was impossible. I was placed on a wagon and, traveling during the night, by hidden byways, we manage to break through the ring. It was a long way but finally we arrived at the Sporow marshes, where we were out of danger. While on the way there, I was visited by the doctor of a neighboring unit who gave me some treatment and helped me to recuperate somewhat.
A "hospital" was hastily put together in the marshes: trees were cut and chopped down, and a structure arose with a wooden floor. We had a sickroom with cots for eight patients, one for the sick who could walk and a physician's office. Out of here issued sorties into evacuated localities and the men returned weary and some wounded. There was plenty to do.
In June of 1944 we emerged from the marshes and went over to the Rusian army. On our way we engaged some of the retreating German units. My wife took gravely ill. I had to obey orders and leave her to her own devices. Fortunately I managed to contact a Jewish woman physician of a neighboring unit and she looked after my wife until she got well.
The last battle with the Germans took place south of Bereza Kartuzka. A larger unit of Germans took up some trenches and idled their time away, awaiting instructions. Meantime the Germans went out to pick berries in the nearby woods. Our woodsmen then attacked in full force. A strong fusillade ensued. Many Germans lost their heads and raised their arms, throwing away their weapons. Others defended themselves and ran for cover into the nearby distillery. None came out alive
When the first elements of the Red Army appeared, the men continued to fight the remnants of the fanatic Germans, but the task was much lighter.
On July 22 1 returned to my "liberated" home town, Antopol. It was a desolate place for Jews. Only seven Jewish souls were there. How could one bear it? How could I stay there for any length of time? Before leaving Antopol I made two calculations :
a) What did the partisans-doctor of Antopol do from April 1943 until July 1944?
Received 7320 sick partisans, treated while they could walk around; 2358 sick people of the civilian population spread over 46 different localities, which necessitated my making 152 trips. Treated 213 gravely ill partisans, requiring a total of 1278 confinement days; treated 58 wounded partisans of whom only two were unable to return to the line; performed 35 complicated surgical operations; treated 6 wounded civilians, delivered 7 children of civilian mothers, of which one had triplets; waged war on epidemics, lice and all sorts of plagues, and so on.
The total is based on diaries kept during work.
b) What did the German occupational authorities and their collaborators achieve in Antopol and its environs in the field of medicine and health?
Murdered 3 physicians, 1 dentist, 2 pharmacists, 2 medical attendants, 2 midwives, 2 nurses and 39 male nurses along with 2000 (two thousand) Jewish inhabitants of the town. Destroyed health centres (Detkowic, Torokan, Aniskowic, Berezno, Worotnic), the medical laboratory, the health department and the contagious diseases department in Antopol and more of such institutions.
It remains for the world to compare our total to that of the murderers.
Prof. P. Czerniak
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