In this small town of Kartuz Bereza, I was born in December, 1917. My father was Yehuda Z"L (blessed his memory). My mother was Batia Zacharov. We were six children. I was the second. Before and after were born my five brothers and sisters. Our house was in "Oliand", which began at the house of Shloime Vainshtein and ended at the house of Yehuda Potak. At the age of three, my father took me to study in the "Cheder", and later I began in the Talmud Torah. Then I passed to fourth grade to the "Tarbut" school where I finished my primary studies.
When I finished my primary studies, I began to help my father and mother. I want to emphasize that there were no factories in our town and the surroundings. There were some sawmills, flourmills, and lime mines. For these companies gentiles generally worked. Wages were low, and the main economy came from agricultural farms. Because of low wages, to be allowed to work in these places was an "additional source of income". There were government offices in K. Bereza, but they didn't allow Jews to work there.
My father, Z"L was a merchant, and he missed his home a lot. Mom Z"L was a dressmaker. In our home worked a maid whose name was Tania. She lived in one of nearby villages, and worked almost 13 years for us. She had a room at our house and did all the work. She was in charge of the boys and saw to it that every morning we prayed the "Mode Aní", and each evening the "Kryat Shma". We had cows in the stable; Tania milked them and for that reason we always had at home much milk and cheese. With cow manure we fertilized my grandfather's, Leibe Tuchman Z"L, field, in which we cultivated potatoes. In autumn we harvested; a portion was brought into the house and the rest was "buried" in the house orchard; we covered it with straw. In spring we harvested them. We had meat in abundance and from an economic point of view my family didn't have problems.
During a clear day in 1935 my mother became sick and was taken to the city of "Otvotzk" near Warsaw. Expenses were high. We had to sell the land that was to the side of our house to Moshe Aron Goldberg who built his house there. The illness of my mother gave the children more duties and responsibilities. I remember that I traveled once to visit her in" Otvotzk" with my uncle Moishe Tuchman. My sister Reizel also traveled with us and there she married a person named "Matat". Two years later mother was healthy and returned home. We were very happy.
During 1939 I was mobilized into the Polish army. Most of the Christians were sent to serve in places near their homes. We Jews were sent to the German frontier, 600 km. from our town. I remember that on March 21 a group Jewish soldiers were taken to the train that led us to the city of "Birgushatz". In Warsaw a Pole boarded, and when he recognized us as Jewish soldiers, began to scream and to offend: "You Jews will fight? You are always the first ones betraying the homeland!" Of that group of Jews almost no one is alive. All died in the Second World War. I am for sure that neither did the Pole survive who offended us.
We made very strong maneuvers during three months. Then all in our group began to occupy positions on the German frontier. On September 1, 1939 the Germans attacked Poland; it was the beginning of World War II.
Our group suffered terrible losses. We began to go back toward the East. On the night of September 17 we arrived at the river "Bezura". We undressed to be able to cross the river by swimming. The Germans began to fire intensely and I was hurt in the back and on the palm of my right hand. Somehow I arrived on the opposite bank with other soldiers, and we ran until we found a car. We got into it and the driver drove us to Warsaw. On the road we were bombarded. The driver left the car at the side of the road and he jumped, but I and the other wounded who were in the car could not do the same. Finally we arrived to a Polish military camp named "Fortress Morlin". The Germans continued attacking. On September 26, 1939 Warsaw fell, but in Morlin near Warsaw fighting continued. I remember that Polish soldiers crossed themselves and prayed. That day was Yom Kippur. The group of Jewish soldiers and myself, hid behind a destroyed wall and we prayed. Some of the soldiers who didn't know how to pray asked that I pray aloud, and they repeated my "by memory" prayers.
On September 28, two days after the fall of Warsaw, Morlin fell also. They informed us that from that moment we were free. We had just left the camp and began to walk on the road when the Germans stopped us and took us to a prison camp. The conditions there were very hard. We hardly received food. Luckily, after a short time we were transported to another area in Russian hands. We arrived at Brest and a Russian official received us. We traveled by train to our own homes. From the station we continued by bus. My siblings had heard that prisoners had been liberated, and waited for all the buses that arrived. When I arrived, they screamed with happiness because I was alive. It seems that a gentile who had been with me when I was hurt believed that I had died and spoke of this in the town. Suddenly I appear at home and there was a mixture of happiness and crying. My mother told me that during the days of the German attack, she went out with one of my sisters to the road to Warsaw hoping I would arrive.
Very soon I became fond of life under Soviet system. I received Russian citizenship, and began to work in the state office. My function was to provide meat for the Red Army. I traveled a lot because I had to buy livestock in the villages, and I was also in charge of meat shipments to different cities.
On June 22, 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. They bombarded the airport that the Russians had built near Kartuz Bereza. Bombs fell in the town. During one of the bombings Simcha Fridenshtein died. There was a lot of fear. Roads were filled with transports. In the afternoon we tied the horse to the car together with the cow, and we took some food. Hody, my sisters and I, traveled from Kartuz Bereza to the village called "Bataraia-Dorihitzin".
In this village we had a Jewish relative called Zelik. We arrived at night at his house, and we slept there. On the following day we found out that our town, Kartuz Bereza, had been conquered by the Germans, and Jews had escaped toward the fields. The Germans requested them to return to their houses. Hody and my sisters returned to the town, but we suspected that the Germans would take the horse, the car and the cow so we left them in Zelik's hands.
The third night we passed at Zelik's. Some Russian soldiers hit the window. They seemed tired and they were in retreat. They requested our car and horse, and I told them that I could transport them. I did it. We traveled toward the West, and when we arrived near the river "Yasulda" between Chomsk and Kartuz Bereza, a German airplane discovered us and fired upon us. Soldiers jumped off the car and left their weapons. There were machine guns, two rifles, and many bullets. I covered all this with a blanket and hid them beside an anthill, in order to find them again without trouble. I traveled to the house of another Jew and I stayed there some days.
Meanwhile, the Germans continued ordering that each one should return home. I exchanged the horse for a smaller one plus a bag of flour and other groceries, and sacrificed the cow. I returned to the town with all these things plus the meat. Immediately upon my arrival, I had to stick on my clothes the shameful symbol of the yellow Mogen David.
The Germans concentrated the Jews of Kartuz Bereza in two streets: from Oliand Street which started at the house of Vainshtein and ended at the house of Potak which ended at the street May 3rd. The other began on the street of Mendel Rabitz and ended at the river beside the house of Shepsel Langer.
They placed two doors at the ends of the streets and Jews were forbidden to go beyond there. The hardship inside the houses was terrible. German police with the help of local volunteers (who were pleased with any position that was given them, such as squashing Jews) inspected every movement. Every morning all Jews, from youths up to 60 years of age, were presented to German authorities. They sent them to do all types of mandatory work. Many returned at the end of the day with signs of blows on their bodies. Many didn't return. I worked in the Construction Department. Our function was to build a construction in the Market Place (where Pisetzky and Chanania Aizenshtein had lived) and transform them into the German soldier's house." I can still picture that German who gave me that mission.
Immediately upon my return to the town I arrived at the place where I kept the weapons, and I told it to two gentiles, Boris and Vilodia, since they were part of the Russian "Komsomol", the youth movement of the communist party. Therefore, after giving them the exact description of the place where I kept the weapons, they transported them to the house of Vilodia in the village "Karpushi".
At the same time in the Ghetto, some Jewish youths and I began to obtain weapons from military camps where the Germans put all the weapons they captured from the Russians. We hid weapons among firewood, and I was able to bring to the ghetto some rifles, bullets and mines. Weapons were hidden in the attic or the barn, and I taught youths how they worked. We decided that we would use them at the right moment.
We could have escaped from the Ghetto and disappeared from there, while we went to work. But, where to? Gentiles were happy to be liquidating all Jews, and partisans began to act only at the beginning of 1942. Not only that but there were rumors that partisan bands killed everyone they found in order to take weapons from them. On the other hand, the situation in the Ghetto worsened day by day.
We were ordered once by Judenrat that we should inform them where each one worked. According to this registration, they divided the Jews into two Ghettos. We lived in Ghetto A and continued living there. One morning agents of Judenrat surrounded the Ghetto, and many families (among them all of my family) went to Ghetto B. I prepared for my sister Masha a hiding place in our grandparents house, but she preferred to stay in Ghetto A. Jews who arrived at Ghetto B were tossed out into the street, and from then on were under strict custody and were transferred to the Bluden train station. They asked: "Where are they going to take us?" The Germans' answer was "to Bialistok" because there was a lack of manpower. There were rumors that some Jews tried to escape and they were shot and killed.
Of course, Jews were not transported to Bialistock but to the death valley of Brona Gura. There, they had prepared the sepulcher wells, and with great cruelty Jews were shot. This same day we knew in the town about the terrible German cruelty.
Yudel Pilshetzik from the town of Selcz and I decided to escape to the forest. I said goodbye to my sister Masha, when I had decided to try to escape from the Ghetto. Yudel PILSHETZIK and I came out that morning to work, equipped with axes like everyone else. We put ourselves last in the line. We left the hall door of the Ghetto, walking down Pruzhany Street in route to the military camp. When passing near farm land, we jumped aside toward a wheat field and we hid among the harvest. We removed the symbol of the yellow Mogen David. At that moment we were seen by Avremel Shabrinsky and Moishe Eli Epshtein who worked in carpentry. They found us among wooden carts and they asked to join us to escape into the forest. I asked them to call also Eliezer Kolodner who worked next to them in electricity.
Eliezer arrived and he told us that Feiguel Krinski had escaped from Ghetto B and that Boris, a gentile friend, was hiding him. I told Kolodner that our objective was to go to the gentile peasant Demian's house in the vicinity of the fields where my grandfather worked. I met peasant Demian. He hated Germans, and his son was a communist and he lives in Russia. I asked Feiguel and Boris to join the group and they did.
At night I went out with Yudel Pilshetzik to the house of Demian, and in the morning we arrived, tired and battered, at their barn. We fell asleep on the heaps. Demian woke us up. We were happy to see Boris and Feiguel. He took us to the barley field because, according to him, it was a safe place. We hid there, and his wife brought us food and drinks. In the evening we said goodbye to Demian, and we left toward the village "Karpashi". Near the mount, at the entrance to the village, Boris went to the house of Valodia, also a gentile, and both returned with weapons.
Valodia was afraid of coming with us since he worked for an agricultural peasant from whom the Germans had requested taxes and food. If they found out that he was in the forest, they would kill his mother and sister who had not yet escaped to Russia. We entered the village. It was evening, we shot several shots to the air and we asked the agricultural peasant: "Who is the one among your people who accused people and reported them to the Germans? He answered that apart from his family, there was a Russian worker who could not escape because the Germans had already invaded the area. We got the worker, tied back his hands, and told him that we would take him to the forest to judge him. We ordered the agricultural peasant not leave the house.
When we left the village, Valodia told us that in the house of a peasant not far from there were weapons. We hurried there. The peasant answered that he didn't have weapons, but we took his son and we put him against the wall, saying to him that we would shoot him if in ten minutes he didn't bring the weapons. The peasant brought two rifles and a metallic box containing many bullets. The peasant and his family were full of fear. They suspected that we were policemen, but I knew their daughter-in-law (she worked for Shmerel the shoemaker, our neighbor) and that calmed them. They gave us food. We hurried to go to the forests between Kartuz Bereza and Selcz.
We looked for partisans there but we didn't find them. Valodia decided to go to the forest near the village. He was sure that we would find partisans there. He was caught by the Germans, and he committed suicide by jumping from the upper floor of the camp.
We found two partisans. They told us that in that forest a unit of partisans acted under the control of Ganka. All who were found were shot and their weapons were captured. They suggested to us to go the forest "Rudziniar", near "Michalin", a distance of 10 kilometers from there; upon our arrival there, it was necessary to shoot twice into the air, and wait.
We did it this way, and suddenly we were surrounded by partisans. "Leave the weapons on the floor", they ordered us. We told them that we came from Bereza and that our objective was to fight against the Germans. I also told that I was in the Polish Army and that I knew very well the whole area. We also commented to them that other youths wanted to join us. The commandant told us that since we had weapons he would receive us into his group. We ate well and the commandant sent us with another partisan to get a radio.
We went to the house of a peasant who was our contact. I gave him a letter for my friend the electrician Kolodner, to whom I wrote that we had been received by the partisan groups in the forests "Rudziniar", and that youths who had weapons would be received. I asked him to tell my sister Masha and the rest of my friends that they had to get weapons and come. In a hiding place, deposited with my grandfather in the Ghetto, there was a radio. I asked him to take it and give it to that peasant. Indeed, after several days the radio arrived, and a group of Jews, among them my sister Masha, Alter Konotovsky, Donie Berkovitz, Nachum Frydman, Yankel Aharonovitz, Dovid Bakalach and Abraham Apelboim, arrived, and were received into the partisans group.
Our group had several departments and levels. There was, for example, a level whose function was to obtain food in the villages. Another group cooked, and a third group watched over the camp. They placed me in the group with other eight men whose function was to sabotage and assault. I remember that we went once to a village called "Zoba" beside the rail station of Bluden. We collected there winter clothes and boots for the group. In another house we saw a peasant who had a list and receipts in his hand. He was responsible for receiving grain in Bluden. Our commandant ordered the five of us to take the winter coats that we picked up, cross the lake, and then wait.
The commandant, I, and another from the unit went on foot with this peasant, and arrived to a land walled with barbed wire. The peasant and the commandant waited beside the entrance door. I and the second partisan set on fire the heaps. The peasant ran to his house and we ran to the forest. The gendarmes shot us but we were able to cross the lake, and to get together with our friends. We found out afterward that Germans killed the whole security personnel responsible for the surveillance of the area. A group of our unit went to meet with the partisan group commanded by Ganka. Our men killed this entire group. The peasants of the villages were very happy because Ganka and his group had been cruel. They drank strong drinks and violated women.
On August 2 we made a combined action, with the group of partisans of Dimitrov who inhabited the forests between Brona Gura and Kosova in order to conquer the town of Kosova, and to acquire weapons and other things for our fight. Previous to this action, we set on fire all the bridges that lead to Kosova. The group of partisans called Shuris of the forest of Vlotsha Gura also participated in this action.
Our attack failed. The Germans and the police answered with strong fire. We had wounded and dead, and among the dead was our friend Dunia BERKOVITZ Z"L (blessed be his name). We reported that we were in retreat with the intention of attacking again more fiercely.
We hardly retired when the Germans abandoned the town. We entered again and we removed a great quantity of weapons, and all the flour that was there. The Jews of Kosova were forced to escape to the forest Vlotsha Gura, but the partisans didn't accept them and the gentiles didn't help them. In the end all were annihilated by the Germans in Vlotsha Gura. G-d avenge their blood!!
Then, the Germans decided to annihilate partisans; they bombarded the forests and they tracked the area with trained dogs. Partisans were generally Russian, and they went toward the West, toward the forests and swamps. But when commandants of the Russian armies found out, they ordered that all return to their original places and from there they should fight against the Germans.
Before going toward the Russian frontier, partisans sent me toward Kartuz Bereza to bring several necessary things. I met Kolodner and other people. A shoemaker called Guershon KABRAN prepared for me a couple of leather boots. I also received new equipment. I returned to the forest with Guershon Kabran, Chaim Zubinsky, and another young man from Kobrin who was in the Ghetto of Bereza. Now we had weapons.
When we arrived at the forest, the partisan camp was not there, but we discovered footprints. Over our heads flew a German airplane. Quickly, we left and went toward houses still inhabited by peasants. We hid in the forest several days, and one afternoon we entered the village "Mormishova". There I found members of my group who told me that some had left to go to the Russian frontier. We wanted to stay with them but they told us that it was easier to operate in small groups so we left them.
Two youths who were with me, after several days, decided to return to the Ghetto of Kartuz Bereza. "It may be" they told me "that we would continue toward Pruzhany." which was in the frontier of the Third Reich. I said goodbye to them and I returned with partisans to the village "Mormishova" where I was well received.
One evening we were cooking in the village, and suddenly we saw an intense smoke coming from Bereza. We heard shots, but we didn't know what had happened. Later we learned that the Germans had liquidated the Ghetto. Jews had set it on fire and using their weapons tried to escape, but Germans liquidated them all, young and old .
During autumn my group returned from the eastern frontier, and with other members, we joined them. "Where is my sister Masha and her Jewish friends?" I asked to the commandant of the group. He answered that while they were walking west they found a group of Jews, and she and her friends were in the group. I was very anxious to know what happened to my sister. We brought our wounded to the village of Sabrin . They told me that near the village in a partisans group was a Jewish youth from Kartuz Bereza named Karbatshik. I asked to meet him. In spite of every effort I made to learn my sister's destiny, it was not possible. I believed that the Germans or Russians had killed her. Be blessed her memory!
We received explosives from Russia in metallic boxes. We loaded railroad tracks with dynamite. The Commandants gave this work to each group, and there were among us a competition to see who could explode more German trains.
Germans took a lot of care of the railroads. They felled trees on both sides of the tracks, at a distance of 300 meters on both sides. At a distance of every kilometer was built a control tower equipped with reflectors and an armed soldier. I belonged to a group of eight partisans; the boss of the group was Siroza Rotits. Before the war he lived at the Bluden train station; he was a communist. I loaded a rifle and a gun, and my assistant had a handbag with mines. During the cold winter nights we dressed in long white shirts that covered our heads. We sometimes walked the whole night, in spite of the bad conditions. We could explode 13 trains. The Germans decided not to send any more trains at night.
During one of these actions my assistant died, and he was replaced by Abraham Epelboim. He told me that when his group went toward the west, he had dug a well in a mount near the village where he was born, called "Yazbits" and there he hid during every winter. A gentile relative of his brought him some food from time to time. He also told me that Kolodner, the electrician, tried to escape from the Ghetto, but he died on the way to the village of "Darhitzen".
News from battlefront was encouraging. We listened to rumors that the Russian soldiers arrived at the city of Kovel, only 100 Km. from us. Let us remember that Russian soldiers knew that if one of them fell into German hands they would be killed, and for this reason they fought with bravery
One day the commandant sent me to the village of "Raphalovka" to find the Red Army. While on the road, we entered the camps of rural families who had escaped into the forest; and they received us very well. We ate and we slept there. I found Tania who had worked as a maid in my house; she was very happy to find me alive and gave me a bowl of soup, and soap with which I washed myself. They brought me a clean blanket. The following day we were able to be integrated into the Red Army and they mobilized us in their service.
They transferred us to Kelt. We had to carry out difficult maneuvers. Then they integrated us to the division "Gvarskaia" which was famous for its success in the battlefield and in many conquests. All the men who completed their basic training, and I was among them, were designated commandants. We were sent to the battlefield. Shots and bombs filled us with fear. I thought: will I live? Soldiers wrote letters to their dear relatives, but to whom could I write? I remembered an aunt in New York and her address. I wrote her in Yiddish, telling what happened to Jews. I added that, thanks to the Russian army in whose service I was, we could destroy the Nazi army and get the victory for the world. Years later, I knew that the letter arrived to the addressee and was published.
Some time later, a great offensive began against the Germans by the Red Army. Our division also attacked and conquered Kovel and Radna. We crossed the river Bug near Brest and we conquered Shedlitz. We stopped in front of Warsaw. The Germans resisted and we suffered many injuries. We sometimes received men of the rearguard as reinforcements to take the place of the wounded. Then we conquered Warsaw and we came closer to Germany.
When the war ended our division was tired and broken. They sent us to Poland. I filled in an application to leave the army in order to travel to Bereza to look for my sister. My order was granted, but instead of traveling to Bereza, I went on foot to Lublin, thinking that I could cross the frontier and travel to Eretz Israel. In Lubin I found a Jew who suggested that I travel with him to the city of Chelem. There I met many Jews who had a house in which they met. On one of the walls was written the names and addresses of survivors.
Among them was the name of a gentile who lived in Otwosk. I went to his house, knocked the door and my sister Reizel opened it. In her arms was a young child. I almost fainted with emotion. We hadn't seen each other for seven years since 1938!! The small child asked: "Who is this man ? Maybe he is also a Jew?" My sister answered: "He belongs to the good Jews who didn't kill Christ". Reziel and her husband Mats gave me good clothes and they suggested that I should live with them. I thanked them and I told them: I fought for Poland and for Russia; now I want to find the road to Eretz Israel, because I want to fight for the Jews.
Some time later I found a Jew whose last name was BAS and who was a refugee from Raphaluvka. He told me that his family was also getting ready to emigrate to Eretz Israel. I stayed in contact with him, and after some days, we traveled to Lublin. My sister and her husband said goodbye, and they gave me some American dollars. In Lublin we spent the night with a Jewish family whose last name was Ryback from Volyn. There, we received from the Red Cross and false documents, indicating we were Jewish Greeks, survivors of the fields. With these documents, we arrived in Rumania and there we passed through Northern Italy, where soldiers of the Jewish brigade received us and they transferred us to a camp of refugees near Milan. There I met my wife Rivka, born in the city of Libau in Latvia; I married her.
From Milan we were transferred to Margenta. I was in charge of the provision of foods for emigrants on illegal ships going to Eretz Israel. From Italy I wrote my uncles Zeev and Henia Miller (Z"L, blessed their names) that I was alive and hoping to arrive in Eretz Israel. Their answer was" welcome, you could live in our house". I requested of my superiors that they liberate me from this work and allow us to emigrate. On a clear day, they transferred us to a closed cargo truck to the port of "La Specia". On the road, the Italian police stopped us, asking if we were Fascist Italians trying to escape toward Spain. When they saw that we were Jews, they allowed us to continue.
We boarded two ships, but suddenly the British tried to remove us. We refused and we proclaimed a hunger strike. During three days we didn't eat nor did we drink. Many fainted and the people in Eretz Israel identified with our issue. Minister Harold Laski arrived at the port and asked us to put an end to the strike. We accepted with the condition of receiving permission to enter the country. They gave us the certificates and with happiness we went aboard toward the port of Haifa. At the port I was transported by Elizaf Tabulitzky, of the family of my uncles. It was May of 1946. From then on, and from the depths of my memory I remembered the names of all the martyrs of Bereza who were annihilated. I drew the map of the town, their streets, institutions and their houses. With all that I remembered, I presented the map and all this valuable material to Yad Vashem when it was established.
The home of Uncles Zeev and Henia Miller (Z"L, blessed their names) was always open for other immigrants, especially if they were from Kartuz Bereza. They emigrated to Eretz Israel in 1933, and their only son Israel (Z"L, blessed his name) who died during the independence war while he defended "the caravan" ("Iechiam") [Translator's note: that protected Jerusalem]. My uncles created a fund to help emigrants from Bereza, and they contributed an appreciable amount of money for this objective. With the money from the fund was erected a monument in the cemetery of Cholon for the martyrs of Bereza. Be his name be remembered for good.
My uncle Ytchak Elchanan Tuchman (Z"L, blessed his name) whose relatives were annihilated in Brona Gura, arrived later to Eretz Israel as a refugee. He married, had two daughters and lived in my neighborhood. My relationship with him was like that of a son with his good father.
At the beginning I worked in Eretz Israel in the construction industry.. Then I worked as official of "Kupat Cholim" (sanitary service) in Haifa. I joined the organization of the Hagana (militia for the defense of Israel), participating in the liberation of the city of Haifa. I lived in Haifa nearly 40 years and from 1985 I have lived in Ramat Aviv. I am the father of two children. The older is married and has three charming daughters. They also live in our vicinity. The younger is single and lives with us. I have a pension from the "Kupat Cholim". Now, I have the pleasure of seeing the arrival in Israel of youths from the Soviet Union.
It was the typical Jewish town with synagogues, Jewish institutions, a small hospital, Yiddish schools, Talmud Torah (for males) and Bet Yaakov (for girls), and a Hebrew school called Tarbut, where I studied until the Russians came. There was a big field where we played soccer. The spoken language was Yiddish; also gentiles mostly spoke it. We, the boys of the Tarbut school, spoke Hebrew amongst ourselves so the gentile boys couldn't understand us. With the coming of Saturday, it was clear to the whole town the difference between sacred things and everyday things. Businesses closed; at most of the homes candles were lit, and synagogues were filled with people praying. Certainly, it was the place were people met. In Bereza you felt more of a "Shabbat" than in some cities in Israel.
All this happened until the Russian army came! . With their arrival in this area of Poland in 1939 everything changed. The change was unilateral and it was expressed through the propaganda against the religion and against the Zionism, the expropriation of businesses, the nationalization of businesses, and the coming of the Russian officials' families to the houses of the inhabitants.
In school we studied Yiddish instead of Hebrew and Russian instead of Polish. Instead of Zionist youth movements, it was the "Komsomol" movement.
Still, before Second World War, a concentration camp had been established in our town. I believe that it was the first in all of Europe. It was to the north, near the route that comes from Brest. On one side was the prisoner's camp, and of the other side were the housing for policemen and their families. There was built for the army schools, kindergarten, and a great tavern. I remember that the camp impressed me when I was a boy.. The care of kindergarten and flowers, the paved paths, the sport machines, and of other things was something that we were not used to in our town.
I have pointed out some of the details of my youthful memories until summer of 1941 and the invasion by the German army into the Soviet Union and the beginning of my wandering with my mother Z"L (blessed her memory) and my sister, through Europe and Asia until I immigrated to Israel in 1949.
For many years I had hoped to visit Bereza someday. I wanted to visit the tomb of my ancestors. In June 1991, I achieved my dream and during a visit to Warsaw, I received at the Soviet Embassy a visa for a visit of 6 days to Brest and its surroundings. I hurried and rented a car to go to Polish frontier in Tarsopol. I was lucky because there was a Pole who was traveling to Brest and he took me downtown. The truth is that when we went up the bridge on the Bug river, my eyes began to shed tears of emotion and the whole vision of my childhood stepped before my eyes like a fantasy movie. Much fear consumed me, a fear about what was awaiting me.
I was born in the Jewish hospital of Brest. During my childhood I visited many times my three aunts in this city, my father's sisters Z"L (blessed his memory). The city was very well-known to me. In fact I didn't find anything of what I remembered. The city changed so much that I could not recognize it. Routes were wide and paved, houses were of several floors and neighborhoods were populated.
This city, once a great Jewish center, did not have any Jewish institution, neither a synagogue, nor a meeting place. Only about a thousand Jews now lived there and only three of them had been born in Brest. The rest arrived here from different places in the Soviet Union. An outstanding number of these Jews have intermarried, that is to say the father or the mother are not Jews. I found Shlomo Vainshtein in Brest , born in Bereza, who lives now in Brest.
I rented a car from a person born there and we traveled to Bereza and Brona Gura. The route to Moscow passes near Bereza and all the surrounding towns. I observed the signs with the well-known names of past times. The road was the same but signs were different. Suddenly "Bereza". I trembled with emotion and requested of those traveling with me that they give me the chance to enter the town. I was hardly off the route, and suddenly houses of four floors appeared. To the sides, there were villager's small houses that were around the town. From the north access, we arrived at a traffic light. Traffic lights in Bereza! Who could imagine this! To the right was the old Warsaw-Moscow route. A little north of the concentration camp near where the wooden old houses that were completely burnt during the war, houses of four floors appeared and instead of the stony road, there is an asphalt road with sidewalks on both sides.
I was moved thinking what it was, in spite of my understanding, that it would not be different. Deep inside me I hoped to see Jews in the streets, but the bitter reality faded the dream and the hope. I could identify the streets before, places of the days of my childhood like the synagogue and fire house. Now, on the other hand, high grey buildings rose. We arrived to the crossing of the streets Moskovskaya and the market. There was also a traffic light.
Where the house of my parents was there is fallow land, and to one side there is a kiosk for the sale of ice creams and drinks. Continuing on the street where the market was, there is a great park. On our street remained only the houses of Reznik, Pomerantz and Lisitzky, because they were built with bricks, they didn't burn. In this place the town became like those in the stories of Sholem Aleichem.
The building of "Tarbut" school had not changed, and today it is a kindergarten. I asked the residents nearby, if they knew what function this building had and who lived in those houses. These people were not born in Bereza, but rather they came from near villages and they didn't know how to answer. Only an old man remembered that the Germans had thrown out the Jews here. When I told him that I was born in Bereza, he asked my name and he remembered the place where we sold sweets, and then he returned home. I wandered the streets, and in each place I felt the sensation that I was stepping on the bones and the blood of my family and of those born there.
We returned to the route near the building of Klinitzky in which there is a small market of vegetables and flowers. I bought from an old villager a bouquet of flowers and we went to Brona Gura. I remembered that when in the past we went there, we passed two bridges. Now, before the bridge, there is a railroad station and the central bus station. I remembered that the train station was then in Bluden, a small town near Bereza, and I arrived there in the car and parked near the house of my parents. Also, in this area, are high houses built with the idea of constructing new neighborhoods. Nowadays Kartuz Bereza is a city district and has 35.000 inhabitants approximately, and instead of the small Jewish town it is a city of Belarus.
We passed the railroads, and we entered the forest. The Germans built a side path that led to the valley of the death. The earth is sandy, and that why the Nazis chose it in order to dig quickly. There is a pastoral silence in the forest. Who can imagine that here ended the lives of dozens of thousands of Jews of Brest, Pinsk, Kobrin, Antopol, Kartuz Bereza and other towns.
I walked through the trees until I came to the humble monument that Soviets erected, again I felt that I was stepping on the cadavers of my dear beings, and my feet refused to move. There is no identification on this monument that here were murdered and buried in this place nearly 100,000 Jews. There is only an inscription in Russian that says "here rests citizens of the Soviet Union victims of Nazis". I recited the Kaddish next to the monument, we left the flowers and we lit candles. I cried and spilled tears. My heart bled and a cold perspiration covered me.
I visited this place at other times, and in my later visits to Bereza I found different activists especially from the Zonal Secretary of the Communist Party. One called "The King" was a young man, of pleasant aspect, and he showed respect for the victims. He was committed to building a different and appropriate monument, and I gave an architect the project of the monument. He also had commitments from institutions and the local Catholics, to raise the necessary money for this objective. He also requested from me the contribution of money for this purpose. They would use stone and brass to sculpt in letters in Yiddish and in Russian. One month after my return to Israel, regrettably this man died. Moshe Bernshtein went there to meet with him to discuss this issue, but this man was no longer.
Today, in Bereza live three Jews an engineer, a medical doctor and a lawyer who arrived after the war. All the other inhabitants are from Belarus.
I hope the day will come when will be built in the valley of the death of Brona Gura, a monument to the victims murdered so cruelly. It would be fair that it would be sculpted in the language for which and why they were annihilated!!!
We lived in Ghetto "B" in Kartuz Bereza. I worked near the station of Bluden, in Rybnik. There was an enormous pool where fish were raised. There also were big cement deposits, from Russian times. Our job was to build blocks that were used to pave roads. Myself and another youth were entrusted with controlling the water bomb that worked with the fuel to clean the pipes of water and to supply fuel to the bomb.
I believe the day was July 14 1942. It was a pleasant summer's day. I went to work as usual very early. I took with me a piece of bread and two boxes of matches. Maybe luck would smile on me and I could exchange matches and receive something of the peasants' food from those who lived near the pool. I came closer to the exit of the Ghetto, and saw a group of people stopped there. They told me that this day we wouldn't leave the Ghetto to work. The Ghetto was closed and no one could enter or leave it. We were very tense and nervous. As the time passed more people arrived. Suddenly, we paid attention and we observed that the Ghetto was ringed with guards.
Guards concentrated around the market businesses, and to the side down the street of Russian orthodox church. The other sides of the Ghetto were the river and the buildings of the church. We all foresaw that something bad was about to happen, and that it was necessary to leave the Ghetto. But how?
We began to look for possibilities. Among the houses of the Ghetto, through the orchards, there were paths leading away from it. We met some people in the orchard of the family KABRAN, which was the last house of the Ghetto boundary. If we crossed this point we were outside of the Ghetto. There were bushes to both sides of the fence, and since we could not see, we could not know if there were guards. The fear was terrible, but more terrible was to stay in the Ghetto, because the danger of death was immediate.
I will never understand and know what pushed me to jump the fence to an orchard full with grasses and flora. I began to run as if they were hitting me, jumped another fence and another fence, and I was near the wall of the church. The wall was too high to be able to climb, but close to the wall was a shack. I climbed it and jumped to the land of the church. I rested on the earth among grasses and thistles high to my waist.
Fear made it difficult for me to breathe. I tried to listen if they were pursuing me, but didn't hear anything. Strange! Suddenly I felt myself removed from the Ghetto and from everything happening there. I knew that I was in immediate danger of death. From my surroundings among the thistles I saw many sepulchres, and each one had a great cross and surrounding it iron bars. The sepulchre near me had rusty bars. I thought it was convenient to hide among the thistles on the surface occupied by the sepulchre. I bent over a little and crawled so that the high grasses covered me.
After several hours Ukrainian guards came to inspect the area. I did not know how many they were but I was very afraid, a fear of even breathing. They passed to my side but they didn't see me because I made myself as small as I could. I listened while they spoke among themselves and they said: "Here we won't find anything, they don't know what is waiting for them." This gave me a fear of death.
The whole day I hid in this place. Far off to the other side of the wall, I listened to cries and screams. I understood that they had grabbed somebody. In the afternoon again appeared a danger. The big hall door of the church opened up and some gentile children came to play hide-and-seek in the yard of the church among the sepulchres. Again I was afraid of being discovered, but with my luck, it began to drizzle and they left.
In the evening, the priest left the church to walk the yard forth and back. I thought if it would be convenient to leave the hiding place and to request help, but I didn't trust him. Finally, he closed the great hall door again and disappeared.
It darkened and I calmed myself a little. I began to think of what to do, and of something I was sure: I should leave, but where? Maybe it would be okay to return to the area where the Ghetto was to learn what had happened there. I was not afraid of guards because at night it was not very secure. I should leave the land of the church. Suddenly I heard a murmur: somebody stepped on the dry leaves. I was afraid, maybe someone comes from outside of the Ghetto. Of the dead in the sepulchres, I didn't suspect, but if he were a guard, I was lost. I got up and I left. I didn't listen to the word " STOP ". But, he was not a guard. Who he was I do not know to this day.
I came closer to the wall that enclosed the area around the church in order to be able to leave, but not to the side of the street. The wall was too high. I tried to climb, and I could not pass over it. Luckily, I saw a wooden big cross close by on a recent sepulchre. I came closer to it and with difficulty I took it out from its place. I placed it diagonally to the wall, made a great effort and climbed. I was wet with perspiration, but got there and jumped. I thought that it would be better to wait for the arrival of the dawn to go to my workplace in Rybnik to see if other friends of the Ghetto also arrived.
I began very early to walk toward Rybnik by a dirt path that I knew. I had to cross the tracks of the train and when I came closer, I could see two German soldiers who controlled the tracks. It was already too late to escape. I saw them and they saw me. I passed next to them, I said to them "good morning" and continued. I arrived in Rybnik very early. I found two girls who were sisters from Selcz. Their father was a shoemaker, and he stayed in his place. But the girls came every day to work in Bluden. I told them what I knew about the Ghetto and I asked them if when they returned from work, they could tell me if the youths of Bereza had worked.
I went into the house of a peasant to request some water. He asked me why I had come so early. I told him that there were problems with the bomb of water, and for that reason I will have to control it. I stayed there. Suddenly, the peasant's son came in and he told us that while returning from Bluden he saw many Jews in the station. The peasant served me a piece of bread, and he asked me to get out of the house because he suspected that I was a Jew. I left their house and I felt that my head shaking, and my legs didn't want to hold me. Where will I go?
I sat down in the yard, and I felt that I was a traitor who had abandoned his family, his parents and his sisters. Why didn't I stay with them? If I could not save them, at least, I could die next to them! I sat down and I cried. Suddenly a cart driver arrived and entered the front yard. The peasant invited him into his house, and asked me to leave. I left.
It was a pleasant summer day, the surroundings everywhere was green, but where to go? The youths of Bereza had not arrived for work, and I saw the sisters from Selcz again. They came closer running and then cried. I asked them what happened? And I didn't receive answer. I ran behind them and asked again what had happen. With difficulty they told me that all the people of Bereza were in the station. The Germans were beating them and many of them were thrown to the floor. They were shocked, and they decided to return to their house.
I was stunned. I saw that the cart was to leave the area. I came closer to it and asked
the peasant where he was travelling to. "Far, near Pruzhany", he answered. "Maybe, you may take me because I also go in that direction" I told him. "And why will I take you, you are a Jew" he answered me. Then I remembered that I had two boxes of matches in my pocket, and when I offered them to him, he allowed me to get into the cart. At once, I removed from my clothes the yellow Mogen David, and I pretended to be sleeping. The cart advanced slowly on the dirt path. We passed by some villages, and near one of them, the peasant showed me that the Germans had murdered a Jewish family, and he told me that they buried them there near the tree. At evening he stopped and notified me that we had arrived at the village, and it was not convenient for me to continue with him. If I wanted to arrive in Pruzhany I should continue on foot for many hours. I began to walk dominated by fear that it would be discovered that I was a Jew!
It was hot and after so much walking I was thirsty. I went into the first house to request some water, and to ask how to continue on my way. The woman who offered me water explained to me that I was near the frontier. The area on the other side of the frontier belonged to the Reich and it was forbidden to pass through there. The next morning, she was going to Pruzhany because her husband worked in a bakery and I could accompany her. I agreed. She sent me to the stable/ barn, and told me to wait there until the dawn. I was very tired and I fell asleep. She woke me up, and told me that her husband had returned and she was not traveling to Pruzhany, and that I should leave. She noticed that I was very afraid and she explained to me how I could cross the frontier.
Behind the houses was a very large field. The peasants cut the grass. They lived on the other side of the frontier. The border was a channel and the Germans allowed them to cross the channel to cut the grass. At evening they returned to their homes. There was no surveillance. Nearby, there was a bridge and a man stayed there with a telescope. She told me that I should take off my shoes, roll up and raise my pants up to the knees. She offered me a stick of some meters length, and told me that I should come closer to the peasants as if I belonged to them and follow them.
With the stick on my shoulder I came closer to them, I greeted them in their rural language ("G-d helps me") and I continued with them toward the channel. They washed their feet, and I imitated them. After the bath they went aside, and I followed them. I came closer to a couple and I asked them how to go to Pruzhany. They answered me saying "meanwhile continue with us and then we will show you." After a short time, they stopped near a dirt path and they explained me that the Russians had prepared it for a future railroad; if I continued on that line, I would arrive in Pruzhany but not until evening.
I began to walk along the road. No a soul did I see in the area. It began to darken and to walk at night was very dangerous. It was already dark when I came close to an abandoned house. Near the yard there was a cabin that was a deposit for logs. I sat down in a corner and I waited until the dawn. I was terribly nervous.
I thought of my house, my family, and I didn't forgive myself for having abandoned them and only thinking of myself!
With the first light of day I continued walking and began to see the houses of Pruzhany. I didn't know what to do and where to go. On the streets were a few people, but it was dangerous to ask where the Ghetto was. I took off my shoes as the rural gentiles did (Jews never went barefoot) and I continued walking street after street. I was near the river, which runs parallel to the street. Beside the sidewalk there was a fence with barbed wires. From my experience in Bereza I understood that a fence inside the city meant a Ghetto. I walked along the sidewalk and when I was arrived at the bridge, I saw a poster that read "Forbidden, the entrance to the Ghetto". There was not any barrier and I decided to pass over the bridge. I arrived at the first house, knocked, went in and I saw that I was among Jews. I became dizzy, I wobbled and then they told me that I fainted.
When I recovered the first question was "where are you from?", "how could you enter the Guetto if constantly there is a guard?" It seems that the guard fell asleep and since I was barefoot, he did not hear my steps. For sure, the angel of good had watched over me, and didn't give me away during the three years of suffering in concentration camps to which
I was sent. But, why did he take care of only me?
I hoped to go there since I knew Vilna because I had studied there. I decided to return to Vilna with the hope of finding my survival. During 1940 I arrived in Vilna, and was there for a year and a half. At the beginning I stayed in a boarding school in which there were writers, journalists and refugees from Poland. I was also given refuge because when I abandoned Rovna, I left behind all my belongings. I packed only my poems in one piece of luggage, including those published and those that had not still seen the light. I took them with me to Vilna.
In spite of the conditions in Vilna, I was able to have published a collection of my poems.
I thought: "I do not know when will be my end, maybe I will die, but at least will survive my remembrances. The collection of my poems is called "Red Skies". To my astonishment, this collection was successful, it spread out beyond Lithuania, and some copies arrived in Eretz Israel. The Writers Central Union went to the Jewish Agency and requested that they send me a certificate to emigrate. The certificate arrived.
In Vienna there was an emigration office. I spoke with the Director, showed him the certificate and asked him if I could use it to go via Russia. He didn't give me an answer. Several times I asked again and again until he told me that if I would receive a transit certificate through Turkish borders, he would also give me a certificate to cross through Russia. I immediately sent a telegram to the Turkish consul in Moscow and requested that document. I received a positive immediate answer (I still have with me today the consul's reply). The "pioneers" (chalutzim") of Vilna also made it in the same way.
With the help of joint efforts we left Vienna for Moscow, from there to Odessa, and then by ship to the Black Sea toward Istanbul. Then I went by train to Vichy Syria, and we arrived in Beirut. Here were waiting for us buses to Eretz Israel.
On January 7, 1941, my feet stepped on Eretz Israel and a new chapter of my life began, the chapter of my life in Israel.
I remember that before escaping I came to the home of my mother where my parents, siblings and sisters lived. My dear mother asked me to enter the house because it was late. She had no idea that we were getting ready to escape, but I did not tell her anything. In those moments I thought if only I could see her face again. But from then on, I never saw my dear mother again.
When the guards of the Ghetto were occupied in washing themselves, my friends and I crawled under the spiked fence toward the outside area. We crossed several fields and we arrived at Yasolda River. We crossed the river swimming with weapons in hand. German guards constantly illuminated the area with reflectors and when they heard a murmur they answered with many bullets. We swam below the water, and we left the river when shots ceased.
On a road, which was not even a road, we crawled among swamps and we arrived at dawn in Marmazova village, about 7 kms from Kartuz Bereza. We entered and met a stranger, whose name according to what I remember, was Alek. He worked for the Germans but he had contacts with the partisans. After many difficulties, we were admitted into the groups of partisans in the forests of Marmazova, and we fought against the Germans with them .
I fought with the group of partisans until April, 1944. That month the group of approximately a hundred men penetrated towns and we fought in front of the River Pryft near Pinsk. There I joined the Red Army. During the fighting, we lost a third of our group.
Then I joined the group called The 38th Guard" under the orders of Marshal RAKASOVKSY and fought against the Germans in White Russia. I participated in the conquest of the part of Germany near Baltic Sea.
During June, 1945 I finished the Under Officials Course in the Red Army, and was sent to the School of Officials in Siberia until 1947. That year I was liberated due my delicate health. For my services in the partisans and in the Red Army I earned many badges.
In next lines I will tell the important facts of my biography. My name is Kalman Karbachik. I was born November 11, 1917 in a Polish town called Kartuz Bereza. My father was Eliezer of the village called Chulitz, and my mother was Chaia Potak. She was born in Bereza. When I was two and half years in 1920, my mother died. It was after WWI.
In those years it was difficult to get doctors because they were few and they lived in distant places. My father was a widower with five small children. The oldest was called Ziske, 11 years old, the second was Perl, the third was Reizel. Then followed Rivka, and the last and youngest one was Yona Kalman.
From my father's second wedding were born three children: Miriam, Israel Chaim, and Asher. We were eight children, and life necessities were very difficult to get. When my older brother Ziske was 18 years old, he went with a group of Jews to distant Argentina, and because of this he was not murdered; the only of a numerous family who didn't die in World War II.
Ziska lived in La Plata, Argentina, and married Hodes Shlosberg also from Bereza. They have two children, who at this moment live with their families. My brother Ziske died in 1988 and I am the only survivor who can write these memoirs.
During 1939 when I was 21 years old, I was mobilized into the Polish army and I served about eight months. On November 1, 1939, began World War II. The fighting was hard and difficult, and the Polish army surrendered because it could not overcome the German conquerors' overpowering force.
When Germans overran the Polish army, I was taken prisoner. I was one year in Germany, and later I was transferred to Lublin with prisoners who belonged to the German area. Jews from Russian group were rejected and we, therefore, had to organize ourselves and plan our escape. We contacted the PPD and from our homes we escaped to the forests of Pertzab and joined Jewish partisans under the leadership of Yechiel Greenspan.
I then wanted to come closer to the town in which I was born, to my house in Kartuz Bereza. I tried to arrive to the unit "Kalanin", but then I found out the worst of all: the murder by Nazi of all my family and of all those of my town, pious Jews, respectful of tradition, and clean of all sin.
Continuing the roads of life until ends of 1945, I understood more and better than our place it is not Russia or any other place, and decided to emigrate to Eretz Israel. When concluded war in 1946 I married Miriam Shivbitz, of the city of Sint in Hungary. In Italy we found survivors' groups that went up to the ship "Chaim Orlozorov" and arrived via Sweden to Eretz Israel. We joined the group, but English Government that was in Palestine didn't allow us to descend, and they transferred us to Cyprus. In Cyprus we waited one year and there in 1947 my daughter Rachel was born. After two years, in 1950 in Israel, my son Eliezer was born.
I have nowadays five grandsons: Tania, Asaf, Eitan, Ma'ayan and Oren. I am sure that my contribution of telling the memoirs of our community, enriched the world of my grandsons, and I closed a new chapter in the war for the existence and survival of Jewish people.
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