Translated by Selwyn Rose
The youth leave for the open spaces
In the year 1939, when the Germans conquered Poland, the Red Army conquered eastern Poland. Since then those areas (Polessia, Wohlin and Podolia) were called western Ukraine. From 1939 until June 1941 Dubno was a Soviet town and we Soviet citizens. Most of the Jews, especially the younger ones, adapted themselves to the new way of life; but there were many to whom the new way of life did not appeal, especially the wealthy. For how could they be satisfied when their property was confiscated and they themselves exiled to Siberia? But as is well known: It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good and many of those among the dissatisfied were saved from certain death under the conquering Nazis by being in far distant Siberia, and saw nothing and perhaps even heard almost nothing of the horrors of the terrible war. After the war many returned to Poland and from there scattered all over the world, some of them to the State of Israel.
The middle-classes, the wealthy, also grumbled and complained because the authorities closed their shops, requisitioned their homes and permitted the owner of two or three properties to occupy only a single room for an entire family. If the once-Jewish owner of a large flour mill was forced to work as a clerk in that same mill, now owned by the State and his obedient employees now government workers it is no wonder that he and his family were disappointed with the new regime, grumbling and complaining and cursing, hoping for its fall.
But the youth, at least most of them, were satisfied because they saw opening before them the gates of a new life of which they had never dreamed. For them everything was available - for example: until 1939 there had been one High School in our town that accepted about eighty pupils each year of whom only eight percent were Jews while Jews represented about sixty percent of the general population. Only the wealthy were able to study in the High School as the fees were quite significant and one also needed influence to have a pupil accepted. A Jewish lad who eventually managed to be accepted in the wished-for High School was considered very happy and all the other children envied him when they saw him on the street wearing the school's uniform. There were also rich parents who sent their children to study at the Jewish Tarbut high school at Równo (many of Dubno's children studied there), something that clearly required significant expense.
The Soviet Government immediately founded several High Schools simply by adding appropriate classes to existing elementary schools and every child that completed the sixth grade continued on into a High School seventh. With that, the Tarbut School, which taught in Hebrew, was closed and two national schools, teaching in Yiddish, were opened. At first, village children who had completed elementary school in their villages entered the higher grades to continue their studies. For these children, residential schools were created but that was an innovation that rarely occurred. Also, during the days of the Polish administration, the children of rich families learned piano or violin with private teachers; they were not especially gifted but simply the children of parents who could afford the fees. Talented children went to study at the School for Music only after passing a suitable qualifying test. The Pioneers palace was also founded with playing fields and a school for folk-dancing and ballet but - again only for the talented.
All of them, each with a liberal dose of publicity, attracted the youth who distanced themselves from the complaints of their parents who had been burnt by the flames of the new regime. At the same time it is necessary to emphasize that the young Zionists were bitterly disappointed when their clubs were closed and contact was lost with their friends who had immigrated to Palestine. Every letter that arrived from there strengthened and encouraged them and became the topic of the day.
Students who had completed High School received a grant and went to study in Lwów (Lvóv), in the University or Technical College. Even during Polish rule there were few students who studied in Lwów because of the rampant anti-Semitism there made it difficult at the higher institutes of learning, so the wealthy parents sent their children to study abroad: Brussels, Paris or London.
The German Invasion
On 23rd June 1941 German aircraft began to bomb the town. The office staff, teachers and all the Russians that came and settled in our town during the previous two years hurried to send their families away from the Front; they too began to leave. Jews also had the opportunity to flee but they were mostly the younger people. Among those that fled was a family that had worked for the Russians, fearing the Germans would suspect them of being Communists. In the
same way members of the Communist Party fled with their families. Many young men who had been mobilized and sent for training retreated to inside the Soviet Union. In all about 3,000 people fled; the escape lasted for two days and the town mourned. There were parents who strongly objected to their sons' self-imposed exile stating there is no devil like the one you are describing, saying that if they managed to get along with the Bolsheviks they could certainly do so with the more highly cultured Germans. But there were also those who foresaw the coming Holocaust; although they were in the minority, while the majority gave credence neither to a doom-like outlook nor to the rumors of what was being perpetrated in central Poland. A son who separated from his parents and went to the Soviet Union had no idea that he was seeing them for the last time.
There wasn't much time to consider whether to run or to remain because on the third day after the declaration of war it was already impossible to get out of town; the battle was getting closer and people who left that morning either returned or were killed.
That same morning, just four kilometers from town a battle was raging between a Soviet army unit and the German army. We all sat in our cellars because shells were falling ceaselessly all over hitting some houses and killing a number of people. The Germans defeated the defending army at the approaches to the town having held the Soviet soldiers under siege and killing all of them and on the fourth day of the war they invaded the town.
I sat in the cellar together with all the other residents of the surrounding houses. The atmosphere in the cellar was terrible: one woman was seriously ill with heart problems and another was paralyzed and both would break out in moans and groans of terror at the sound of every grenade or shell-burst. We the children laughed at the groans, one of us even mimicking the funny voices of the two sick women with great hilarity while the adults tried to keep us quiet and explain to us the seriousness of the situation, though I was sure they felt a little relieved that we introduced a little life and levity into the otherwise heavy and frightened atmosphere.
Through a small thick glass skylight we looked outside. Silence reigned and not a living soul could be seen. At about twelve o'clock we heard the rattling sound of tanks and other vehicles driving past and the voices of people coming closer. Because the skylight opened in the direction of the main street it was possible to see the German invasion of the city in its entire splendor.
As if out of the ground people began to appear from both sides of the street: Ukrainians, Poles and others, who had been waiting long for this moment, all dressed in their finest and carrying bouquets of flowers to welcome the invaders. A shudder passed through me at the sight: these were the same people who, less than two years earlier had greeted the Red Army with fictitious gratitude and shown them esteem and respect for liberating them from the yoke of their Polish masters. Now they stood receiving the Germans with cries of Heil Hitler, scattering flowers in their path as they went by.
At the front was a large tank with two Nazi flags fluttering followed by a black luxury limousine with presumably the Commandant sitting inside. After him two soldiers on motor-bikes and after them an endless convoy of armored vehicles tanks and various artillery pieces. Within a few minutes the soldiers spread throughout the town. The sound of artillery was silenced. From the vehicles, which travelled in all directions, loud-speakers announced in German, Polish and Ukrainian, that all the residents should return to their homes because the German army controlled the town and their orders are to be obeyed. There was more: the German army was continuing to advance eastwards and after the capture of Moscow the war would end.
We continued to sit in the cellar for another few hours. We noticed people, including Jews, moving about outside and decided that there was no point in continuing to sit in the cellar and we needed to go home. We felt terrible. We knew that if the Ukrainians were given a free hand their deep hatred towards us would break out and then it would be the end for the Jews. There were already some, even in those first few hours, who said that we had to go, even by foot, leaving everything behind and flee to the Soviet Union. There were others who said that it was possible to buy the Ukrainians with money and presents.
The Ukrainians plundering and beating
We went up to our house. It was already about six o'clock in the evening but it was still light and we looked around. The streets were full of German soldiers and Polish girls were trying to befriend them. We went to bed late. We awoke early in the morning to the sound of shutters and windows being broken and the shouts of rowdy people. We went outside and it immediately became clear what was happening: the Germans had given orders to the Ukrainian Police that had been created during the night, to break into all the Russian warehouses and government shops and allow the mobs to take whatever they wanted. It was the first scheme of the invaders to capture the hearts of their new subjects. To further that program they sent cars to the suburbs and the local villages to bring the villagers to share in the plunder, given to them by the good-hearted Germans. And indeed it was a ploy that hit the target and awoke in the robbers'
support for the new regime. I have no doubts that it was probably the first time in their lives that the villagers had ever ridden in a car and that experience in itself, together with the promise that in a few weeks, with the further movement of the Front, it would be possible to rob and kill the Jews was enough to encourage them in the wholesale robbery. They arrived in town with the cars decorated in the yellow flags of the Bandera faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, and Nazi flags. When they arrived at the warehouses they were already half-crazed and fell upon the booty immediately.
Shock and breath-taking horror gripped me. They grabbed sacks of sugar weighing a hundred kilograms and dragged them to their wagons and the cars, sacks of salt that had been torn mixed with the sugar; soap-powder thrown into flour and large piles of unprocessed skins, bolts of cloth and other materials dragged along the ground; barrels of oil and kerosene were tipped over and spilled and the sidewalks in front of the shops turned into quagmires of trash. Arguments and fights broke out among them over a lady's leather purse that one of them took. The conflicts worsened and eventually blood was spilled.
Suddenly I saw a terrible sight: a young man about sixteen years old, from the Poltorak family, living in our neighborhood apparently decided that if everyone else was stealing then he, too could grab some of the booty but a Polish man fell upon him shouting: You filthy Yid, your reign is over, now we're in charge and we'll show you Hearing the shameful language others gathered round and began beating the Jewish lad and other Jews who by chance happened to be standing around. An older Jewish man who courageously dared to say he would call the police if they don't stop attacking innocent by-standers was also seriously beaten up while being told that they were the police and the masters now and the Jews had no rights to call the police no one would come to save them.
The first edicts
It is superfluous to state what an impression all these events and disturbances made on me, all of which occurred in the very first few hours after the invasion. But the coming days would show that they were absolutely nothing compared to what the future held for us.
The tumult continued until late at night and then there was silence. Armed soldiers patrolled the streets and all night long we heard their noisy footsteps. I wondered: what is likely to happen tomorrow if on the first day of the conquest they have already given us such a surprise!? And indeed, the following morning we found large posters in Ukrainian and Polish informing all that Jews must wear a white arm-band with a blue Star of David on their left arm so that the authorities could distinguish between Jews and Aryans. The posters also detailed what size the arm-band must be its width and length and the size of the Star of David. The poster also warned that any Jew caught not wearing an arm-band will be shot on the spot without warning. The order was signed by the town Commissar and a Municipality that had already been created on the first day of the invasion. The Jews lowered their heads. It was now clear to everyone that this was only the beginning. And who knew what to expect in the coming days? There was no longer any doubt that those who had advised fleeing from the advancing murdering Nazis had been right.
The devastating incitement was conducted by the Christians against the Jews. The belief that the Jews were the source of all their troubles and woes was deeply embedded within them. Therefore it was necessary to destroy them and put an end to their own sufferings. Announcements and posters with similar messages signed by the Andeks and other veteran anti-Semites made their appearance in town. It was enough for the common people - and it was a mental preparation for what was to come. Later came announcements from the Municipality and the new military authorities about inspections and with them a new edict every day. Jews were also ordered to surrender any radio in their possession by a certain date, any Jew found with a radio after that date would be shot on the spot - and every edict against the Jews concluded with those words.
On the fourth day of the conquest, bread rationing began: the Jews in certain shops and Christians in others. The Jews' ration was one-hundred grams a day and the Christians two-hundred and fifty grams. The bread allocated to the Jews was black and intentionally moist to increase the apparent weight. Many, many people would get up at midnight to line up and queue in order to be sure of getting their meager ration and then they would finish eating it by the time they got home. Many times they would return home empty-handed because there was not always sufficient bread available for everyone. The supply of food that we had stored got smaller and smaller and slowly we began to feel the hunger. Entry into the market was forbidden to the Jews and in order to obtain anything we were forced to sneak in by way of little-used lanes and alleys that led to the market square, stop the farmer on a corner and buy something from him. The farmers quickly caught on to the situation and immediately began to demand higher and higher prices compared to those in the market. For the time being the Soviet money remained in use but it was rumored that it would be discontinued and replaced by Marks. It was clear that those most affected by the exchange would be the Jews who would be forced to buy their necessities from the farmers with the new coinage whose value would certainly be higher than that of the Soviet's.
Jews, both with and without a profession or trade were ordered to report for work, taken out of their houses by force and beaten by the Ukrainian militia who invaded their homes, and taken to the central square next to the theater and the Greenberg House, where German officers and soldiers were waiting to divide them into groups and dispatch them to dig ditches and clear forests, etc. Old people who were there in the square were abused; they were beaten, their beards were ripped out by force, their legs were kicked and they were forced to crawl home on all fours because they were not seen as fit for work. Families separated from a man who went to work as if forever and if he did return there was great joy because, indeed, there were many who went out on forced labor and never returned.
The first Aktzia the Eighty
Early in July 1941, two weeks after the invasion, the first Aktzia took place.
At 11 o'clock in the morning, the Militia suddenly broke into the homes of the Jews, took about eighty men for urgent work supposedly for a couple of hours, loaded then onto trucks and took them straight to the Jewish cemetery. Christians who lived close by later related how they were executed.
A platoon of armed soldiers was waiting for the men in the cemetery. When the trucks arrived, the men were ordered down and told to throw all their documentation to one side. They were then stood alongside an already prepared trench, shot and thrown half-dead into the trench one on top of the other. The trench was then filled in and the papers burned. The local residents were warned not to tell anyone what they had seen.
Apparently this Aktzia had been an experiment but two days later the Jews of the town already knew that the eighty young men had been executed. The day after the Aktzia a Jew died and people who went to the funeral found some of the charred remains of the documents blowing in the wind. They collected them and examined them; grave suspicions arose about the fate of the eighty men. The family members of the victims spoke to the local residents promising money and presents and begged them to tell what happened and the tragedy fell upon them as a ghastly shock difficult to bear. On previous occasions a few men sometimes two or three, sometimes a few more had been taken and after they had not returned the relatives went to the authorities and were told that they were found fit and had been sent to work. It was now clear to everyone that if someone didn't return home in the evening from work he was no longer alive.
A search began, seeking ways to escape work and thus began the trade in release from casual labor and obtaining regular work with an Ausweis promising exemption to the owner from other work. People paid enormous sums of money for a doctor's certificate of illness, signed by a doctor of the arbeitsamt exempting the holder from labor; Poles who posed as friends of both the Jews and the Nazis made a good living out of the situation.
The Jewish people became poorer and poorer by the day. The farmers began to demand higher and higher imaginative prices for the most essential produce an overcoat or dress for a loaf of bread, a suit of clothes for a sack of potatoes, a carpet for a kilogram of butter. They began to acquire items for themselves that even in their dreams they had never imagined possessing. Their hardness and cruelty reached such proportions that they would likely demand from a Jew that he actually take off the clothes that he was wearing as payment for the food he needed. Babies especially suffered from lack of milk. A neighbor of ours, for example, was forced to give an excellent wardrobe with three doors for two fluid ounces of fresh milk a day for one month.
The victimized families demonstrated at the offices of the Judenrat established by the authorities a few weeks previously, demanding an explanation from the council members who, fearing the anger of the crowd disappeared from the building. In fact their hands were tied but the embittered community saw the council as the intermediary between them and the authorities and put the blame on the council, certain that if they had wanted to they could have prevented the tragedy.
Wild and organized theft
About a week before the murder of the eighty men two Gendarmes with drawn bayonets appeared at our house. They demanded all the money we had in the house warning us that if we withheld as much as a cent and they discovered it by a search, we would be killed on the spot. My mother, terrified, gave them everything we had. After they had it they laughed and gave us a note saying the money would be returned at the end of the war. We were ordered not to leave the house for one hour and then they disappeared. We later learned that we had been robbed by a gang of Germans that was operating in the area and demanding money from the Jews using dire threats. The theft hit us hard because it left us with nothing to exist on.
A few days later notices appeared ordering the Jews to surrender all their silverware, gold and any dollars and jewelry to the authorities giving the last date for depositing it under penalty of death, as usual, for anyone found still possessing anything of the above after that date. The operation was organized with impeccable German efficiency and precision: every day according to an alphabetical list, the people stood in line to hand in their valuables. It was easy to guess the mood and feelings of the people regarding the constant flow of daily edicts not knowing what the following day will bring asking each other: What's new? meaning what new misery will fall upon us? And since one got used even to that state of affairs, people began to look for ways of evading every new edict, to obstruct or avoid obeying every order. Thus it came about that many people came to the decision to hide their valuables with Christian friends if they agree to pay fifty percent of the value for their assistance.
The Judenrat and the Jewish Militia
At the head of the Judenrat stood Mr. Tojbenfeld, who when Poland still ruled, had been the teacher of Geography and Polish history in the Tarbut school. Although he was highly educated the Polish government did not permit him to teach in the gymnasium. He also gave private lessons in German and during the Russian regime taught German in the high school. He was apparently chosen to head the Judenrat because of his knowledge of German and being a man of some standing.
The secretary of the Judenrat, also a teacher, was Margolis. The rest of the members of the Judenrat were Jews from western Poland who had arrived in 1939 fleeing, at that time, from the Germans, and a few from our town, and all together thirteen men.
Next to the Judenrat was the Arbeitsamt obliged to put into effect the orders of the Municipal Arbeitsamt headed by the German, Hammerstein.
The Judenrat was also obliged to replace the functions of the disbanded Jewish Community institutions: control of the Jewish hospital, the orphanage, old people's home and so on. Although in protecting the Jews from the murders and depredations their hands were tied because those atrocities were perpetrated by the authorities themselves with the participation of the Ukrainian Militia and incidental thefts and murders by individual volunteers.
In the meantime a Jewish Militia had been formed. In order to be accepted into the Militia two things were essential: influence and money. The men of the Militia wore distinctive blue hats with a yellow stripe and a yellow arm-band with a number. They carried a thick stick about half a meter long with a leather loop. Their function was to ensure that the people went to work as scheduled, that they deposit all cash resources and precious metals in their possession and that they didn't leave town, that they didn't sneak into the market to shop and that they didn't leave their homes after six in the evening. From the moment of the creation of the Militia, there was an intense hatred against them from within the Jewish community; they were seen as the lowest of the low, fawning upon, and aiding the murderers. Even the non-Jews themselves mocked them and said Only Jews would betray their own in time of stress. But the drive to survive whatever the cost was so strong that for the sake of that Ausweis that promises the Militia exemption from being taken for labor they were prepared to erase the Image of G-d in which they were created and commit acts of cruelty against their brethren and betray their own people.
The Jewish militia was housed in the Kraulnik house, a two storied building from which the residents had been evacuated. It set up a special room for punishment. The Militia showed itself to be eager in fulfilling the Government's wishes and orders. They searched for those attempting to evade orders and were not satisfied with simply ensuring that they were sent to work but instituted punishment sometimes causing a loss of consciousness.
Above the entrances to cinemas, coffee-bars, restaurants and other public places were signs Entry to Jews forbidden.
The workers would go out in organized groups and as Jews were forbidden to use the sidewalks, walked along the side of the road, arranged in ranks of three and accompanied by men of the Militia. Artisans and others with a trade such as engineers, welders, builders, glaziers and so on, were holders of Ausweise and worked for the Germans as wage-earners; but the wage was minimal. But on the other hand as holders of the Ausweis they were able to exit the town and purchase food.
A knitting factory was established for the Jewish women and for the purpose they too were issued Ausweise. Only the younger women, who had some kind of influence with the Judenrat, were accepted in the factory. Parents who managed to arrange for their daughter to work there were happy knowing never again would she be in danger of being sent to a German military camp or the Ukrainian Militia where she would likely be a rape victim or the victim of simple physical bullying by the Militia.
There were rumors that the members of the Judenrat were enriching themselves at the expense of the Jewish public from the money being collected by them as bribes to the authorities, but no proof was ever found of this.
On one occasion the Judenrat carried out a collection of blankets and bed-linen for the Ukrainian Militia. They said they wanted to bribe them to prevent them sending people to labor camps. Everyone began hauling blankets and bed-linen to the Judenrat store rooms and from there everything was transferred to the authorities. Aktzias of this nature became a daily occurrence and the Jewish population became more and more impoverished.
Christians who saw what was happening understood it as an opportunity to do it for themselves: in the attics and cellars of their homes they prepared small hiding places for Jews of their acquaintance in which they could hide when the time came to round up people for labor and for this they received good money and expensive gifts.
At the same time anti-Semitic incitement continued without interference against the Jewish capitalists who had always exploited the farmer and the communists who wanted to force them to organize Kolkhozes.
Abuse and maltreatment
The Jew was like a gateway that everyone could run over and trample on with his heel. He was forbidden to walk on the sidewalk and any German could approach a Jew in the street and order him to bow down to him with his face on the ground, slap his cheek just for the pleasure alone, instruct him to crawl several hundred meters and so on. Later the order went out that every Jew had to bow down and doff his hat to every German passer-by. The Jews began to avoid the Germans, hiding in nearby entrances to houses or escaping down lanes and alleys.
The Ukrainian Militia saw Germans' actions and followed suit. They would usually copy all the actions of the German behavior in relation to the Jews and sometimes even exceed the cruelty and savagery of their teachers. Thus they would incite children to throw stones at the Jews on the street while they stood and laughed at the Jews' attempts to flee for their lives.
In September 1941 a school was opened for the Christians but not even one for the Jewish children. Because even under these terrible conditions they were in, the Jewish people could not ignore the study of the Torah they returned to the Cheder system with a Rabbi and thus there was no break in the religious education of the young children even in the terrible days when each day was worse than the preceding one.
Eye-witnesses to events relate that a Ukrainian Militia man met an old man whose beard matched his age and who had no Star of David band on his arm. He cursed him. The Jew began to explain his error that he had changed his coat and had forgotten to transfer the band to the second coat and was prepared to return home immediately and put it on. The Ukrainian began to beat the old man with the old man begging for his life. Passers-by attempted to approach and help the old man and awaken some pity in the Ukrainian but they too were attacked and warned to move away or be shot. The Ukrainian then wrapped the man's long beard round his truncheon and dragged the Jew by his beard along the street. Crying out the Hear, O, Israel affirmation of faith, the old man finally collapsed and fainted. Then the Ukrainian shot him and walked away.
That event carried with it the rumor that a second Aktzia was to take place. People began to arrange hiding-places in cellars, toilets and in any place where it was possible to build a double wall. The main idea of the adults was to save the young children because as yet they were far from believing that the Germans intended to exterminate everyone. The Judenrat was helpless; its members continued without pause to collect money and gifts for the Nazis and the local authorities but without a guarantee from their side that it would help to save the lives of any Jews
to say nothing of what little personal property they still retained in their possession. They said quite openly that they don't do a thing without an order from the higher command and the complaints about hooliganism from soldiers and the Militia didn't even penetrate their ears.
Oberleutnant Hammerstein, who was the Arbeitsamt manager, would appear in the work-places to check that everything was in order and the fear of death fell on everyone. He would call one of the men to him and start beating him with his baton and kicking him about the legs. The injured man was forbidden to cry out in pain and if he was unable to bear his agony and did cry out he was shot and killed on the spot. Hammerstein was an Austrian, evil and sadistic and he vented all his rage on the Jews.
All the many elements that went into preparing hiding places and obtaining Ausweise for fixed employment, etc., were intended only to safeguard the youngsters. No one thought that there was a need to prepare hiding places for the women, children and old people. When there was a rumor of a man-hunt the men hurried to hide while the women remained at home in order to explain to the searchers that the men were working or weren't at home thus preventing searches.
Occasionally it could happen that a soldier would enter one of the homes and announce that he had heard from reliable sources that an Aktzia was about to take place and demand money for the warning and of course he was paid. Within hours the information would spread to the entire Jewish community and great anxiety would fall upon them. Then it would become clear that it was a false alarm that was used only to extort money from the Jews. Although fear was always present in any case. The Sword of Damocles was permanently suspended above their heads, carrying with it a negation of traditional Jewish values resulting in selfishness, ignoring entirely the possibility of assisting the individual even in the threatening circumstances in which they found themselves. The moral degeneration continued to spread.
There was a family in Dubno by the name of Hoffman. The father, a lawyer, was of German extraction and the mother pure Russian. For generations the family had been considered Russian: Russian was spoken in the home. The children studied in the high school and had friends among the Jewish children. At this time the father received a high appointment in the municipality and the senior son, Vania became the assistant and advisor to the town Commissar and the second, who was about twenty, was a commander in the Militia. They became Volksdeutsche serving the Germans and wreaking vengeance on the Jews. One cannot imagine how these human beings can execute such horrific and cruel acts against other human beings cast in the same Image of G-d in general and the Jews in particular recently their friends.
The High School teachers, Reibek and Kolomowycz obtained positions in the Municipality and organized endless anti-Semitic incitements.
The second Aktzia
On Thursday 21st August 1941 at 10:00 am the second Aktzia began during which nine-hundred people were murdered, among them seven women.
Men from the Militia and some Gendarmes spread throughout the town and began taking Jews. Many Jewish men, who had gone out to work that morning were sent home on the pretext of being given a day-off so that nearly all of them were in their homes. Suddenly, like pouncing wild beasts, they broke into the houses taking the people out to where trucks awaited them. A major panic arose: the people began to run and hide, escape, running hither and thither, the women crying and the children's begging the captors for the lives of their dear ones rent the skies. I was witness to the round-up but I was later given the details of the Aktzia itself by Pinchas Steinberg, who was also captured but managed to escape. He related: They took the people by trucks to the prison in the suburban town of Surmicze. There were long lines of Militia and Gendarmes lining both sides of the road leading into the town. When the trucks got to the gates the Jews were ordered to get down and one by one to run or crawl along the rows of guards as far as the courtyard of the prison. Whether running or crawling according to an arbitrary decision, they were beaten by the murderers wielding their clubs; those who succeeded in getting as far as the prison were bruised, injured and covered in blood while those who were beaten so severely that they lost consciousness under the blows were shot to death where they lay and dragged to one side. Within the courtyard the unfortunate people were ordered to sit in a large circle on the ground. The murderers walked among them, counting them and registering their names while continuing to beat them while the men huddled together with the certain feeling that their fate was sealed. Many began praying, many who could not tolerate any more blows begged the murderers to kill them outright and without more ado and put an end to their misery. From time to time more trucks appeared until there were about nine-hundred souls there. Apparently that was the number of people allotted in this operation because the Militia left the town and came to join the Aktzia in the prison. At two o'clock in the afternoon the town fell completely
silent. Those who were hiding continued to sit in their hiding place while the families of those taken ran in the direction of the prison although they were not permitted to approach, and full of despair they returned home as they came. They began running to all their Christian friends in their distress, who knew the Germans, asking for their help, all to no avail. The Judenrat was closed and sealed-off; people knocked on the doors and windows of the building but were dispersed and sent away.
At one o'clock in the afternoon, about twenty or thirty men from the prison were taken to the Jewish cemetery. There, they were forced to dig a large trench and when they were finished they were shot by the murderers. Between four and five o'clock all the people from the prison were brought to the cemetery in trucks and there, one by one, they were shot dead and either fell or were flung into the trench. The murderers worked until late at night covering the grave and when they finished they went out drinking until they were drunk.
Christians living in the vicinity of the cemetery related details on the Aktzia. The people arrived at the cemetery badly injured, covered in blood with their clothing torn. They were weak and exhausted, falling down and helpless. They offered no resistance.
Pinchas Steinberg himself was shot at the prison after he had fainted but the bullet didn't hit a vital organ. The murderers supposed that he was dead and left him where he lay. During the night, he recovered consciousness and crawled home. What had been done that night is indescribable.
In that Aktzia my mother's brother, Eliezer Horwitz was killed; he left behind his wife and two small children. The woman tried several times during the night to kill herself but after they sedated her with an injection they were able to treat my grandmother, Eliezer being her third sacrifice since the revolution of Petliura after the First World War. It was difficult to watch the old lady's great suffering and anguish; she was the very personification of pain and despair. She became deaf and confused during the night to the point of total unawareness of her surroundings.
Mrs. Deibog, whose husband and only son were killed in that Aktzia was seen the following day in the streets behaving erratically. She accosted every youngster in the street, biting him and shouting:
Why are you alive when Lusik is dead? The Militia ordered her family to keep her in the house, if not they will kill her but it was impossible to stop her; she would escape from the house running around the streets threatening everyone. After a while she calmed down but her clarity of mind never returned. All the great, deep Jewish tragedy from hell gazed out of the eyes of that unhappy figure.
Most of the people never left their hiding places that night for fear that the murderers would continue their horrific work. In their despair many busied themselves with digging fresh hiding places, shaking from the slightest sound in the street and speaking among themselves in whispers like thieves in the underworld. But the following day nothing happened; the Judenrat announced that everyone must report for work and life returned to what was normal for those days. The topic of the Aktzia and the nine-hundred killed was never mentioned and conversation was diverted away from it someone spread a rumor that some of the victims were sent to work and only the weak ones killed. Many people from those families rushed to the Judenrat demanding from the chairman that he clarify which of them was still alive and who not. The reply was for the Militia to disperse them all saying it wasn't yet known. It was supposed that the rumor was started by the Christians as a ruse to squeeze money from the mourning families with false promises of clarifying where the survivors had been sent.
A slight recovery
Most shocking of all was the sight of the womenfolk whose husbands had been killed. They congregated every morning outside the Judenrat building with their children until they were sent away by force. While the families who had not been involved up to this time recovered quickly in spite of the generally tragic situation and the permanent fear of tomorrow, and they tried to continue with their daily lives with their most personal worries, pushing from their minds what had happened yesterday and the day before. Nevertheless they were far from serene and had no false illusions because every day there were fresh rumors about another Aktzia that was to take place; but since these rumors proved to be false, people ceased to believe them.
The winter of 1941/2 passed in relative quiet although new edicts and persecutions were not lacking and the economic situation was also very difficult: shortage of food, shortage of coal and firewood, and robberies with an occasional murder occurred every day but there were no more organized Aktzias and people began to relax and become accustomed to the depressed situation. The survival instinct was very strong and everyone was concerned to hang on at all costs until the anger passed and better days arrived. The Jewish people dreamed of the return of the Red Army whom they saw as their only hope of salvation. Rumors spread of Red Army victories but they were only wishful thinking yearned for heart-felt wishes far removed from reality.
In November 1941 an order was given to change the blue and white arm band with two yellow patches, one of which was to be stitched on to the upper back of the coat and the second on the chest it was a return to the days of the middle-ages and the sense of insult was overwhelming and hateful but it was impossible to ignore and anyone daring to do so paid with his life. The Jews in the street provoked both laughter and pity when walking at the edges of the street with the yellow patch on the arm and back. The Christian population became crueler from day to day towards their Jewish neighbors. The milkman, for example, who brought milk to my uncle for years, said to my aunt that she can give him my murdered uncle's clothes since he no longer needed them, for milk and butter for the children
The Ukrainians become crueler
In one of the suburbs of the town was an immense prisoner of war camp for captured Russians, about ten thousand of them. They were treated horribly. They were under the control of the German army and Ukrainian Militia and the Jewish and non-Jewish population was forbidden contact with them. They were hungry and bare-foot. Many died from the cold, thousands from hunger. Every day they brought their dead through the town for burial at the other edge of the town. Eight of them were harnessed to a trailer full of the dead and others walked alongside bare-foot in the snow, without a coat since most of them had given their great-coats for a crust of bread. The weak among them would lean on the shoulders of their comrades and were helped along and those that were unable to keep up were shot on the spot and half-dead thrown onto the trailer hauled by their comrades. There were events when some Jews tried to throw bread to the prisoners of war and were shot for their crime. Once, one of the prisoners managed to sneak a beet from a farmer's wagon as he walked past and was shot by a Ukrainian Militia. After he had shot him he stooped down to take a gold ring from the dead man's finger and recognized his own brother who was serving in the Red Army and been taken prisoner. His parents and friends wanted to beat him to death for killing his own brother but he ran away to the forests and became a thief and murderer. The incident found an echo in the Ukrainian population of the area and their blind devotion to the Germans was somewhat undermined, seeing the extent to which matters had come, that a brother kills a brother and for what! The awakening within the Ukrainian population against the Germans didn't bring with it any change in the attitude towards the Jews. Their hatred of the Jews knew no bounds, and it was permissible for them to kill all the Jews even before the next Aktzias.
A witness related that a few of the prisoners became cannibals, eating the flesh of their dead comrades. The Germans used the horrible fact for their vile propaganda pointing to the Bolsheviks as wild men and it helped them to increase the hatred of the Ukrainians towards them.
During the winter, the camp itself was liquidated. A few of the remaining prisoners of Ukrainian origin managed to escape to surrounding villages and acquire some civilian clothes and to hide: others of Asians and Russian extraction the consideration to help them or not was based on their appearance: If they were recognizable nobody wanted to help them (it carried the death penalty) and they either died or were shot.
Aktzia of robbery
In January 1942, during the days of one of the Orthodox Christian festivals an Aktzia of organized robbery took place. The farmers received permission to come into town with their wagons and carts, enter the homes of the Jews and take out whatever took their fancy: clothes, furniture, kitchen-ware and bedding everything. The Jewish people began to hide things in their cellars and other places but it didn't help because in the light of day the robbers were able to find everything. Most of the looted articles were pieces of furniture. From morning until late evening carts left the town laden down with furniture taken from the Jewish homes. After this Aktzia the Jews began to give their furniture in barter for food because it was clear that whatever remained of their furniture was not theirs after the first robbery a second will come and everything will go without any return. So it was better to get some essentials for the articles like food and fuel rather than just let everything go for nothing. Thus the Jews of Dubno passed the winter of 1942.
At the beginning of March rumors about the creation of a ghetto where already multiplying. The people who had long been accustomed to misfortunes appearing every day received this new information without any special emotion. There were even those who greeted the idea with the thought that from the point of view of security it would be better for them that the ghetto
would be closed and the thieves would be unable to rob them. The majority tended to think that concentrating the Jews in one place was a way of making it more difficult for the murderers to liquidate them completely. In March notices appeared detailing the parts of the town that would be included in the ghetto: the Jewish neighborhoods alongside the River Ikva. The Jews lived in all parts of town even those sections where the majority of the residents were Christians and also in the suburbs. According to the notifications all those whose dwelling-place was outside the designated area were ordered to evacuate apartments and move into the ghetto. Thus the question of accommodation became desperate for most of the ghetto area was inhabited mainly by people of little means or were even impoverished and overcrowding was prevalent even before the establishment of the ghetto. The Judenrat managed to confiscate some of the properties and distribute them among the neediest but mostly it was necessary to pay extortionate sums of key-money to obtain a room. Because we now had no money at all, we dwelt in what had been a shop. The front door of the shop faced the Aryan side and was secured with planks of timber and tin and we used the back door that opened on to the main street of the ghetto. For the first few weeks, until about Passover, the ghetto remained open but afterwards they began to close it in on all sides with a fence of barbed-wire the poles of which were about three or four meters apart. It was built according to the instructions of authorities from Judenrat money and erected by Jewish workers An ironic joke of the Devil! The Jews imprisoned themselves within the walls of the ghetto with their own hands! Movement in and of the ghetto was controlled at the two ends by gates incorporated into the fence. On both sides of the gate were little trenches; in the outside trench two Ukrainian Militia men stood guard and in the inside one two from the Jewish Militia. In addition guards were stationed along the entire length of the fence surrounding the ghetto.
With the completion of the ghetto the economic situation became even worse. All contact with the farmers was lost and it became impossible to acquire supplies of food. The only opening that helped save the situation was the side of the ghetto backing on to the River Ikva. Here the Jews and non-Jews smuggled food and other necessities into the ghetto. The smugglers were risking their lives to make money but it eased the terrible conditions of those enclosed inside the ghetto and helped them to survive. The river was, for all that, well-guarded and the Ukrainian Militia-man were bribed to allow boats to pass to and fro. Indeed there were not a few cases where the Militia accepted the bribes and then reported the smugglers to the authorities and the smugglers were shot and killed. Only owners of documented permission were allowed to leave the ghetto.
Christian children would gather along the fence and throw stones over the fence at the Jews inside shouting cat-calls and insults and laughing at those inside while adults outside took no notice. Those few who showed - if not support - at least not hate towards the Jews under siege in the ghetto, were the Czechs. There were about ten Czech families in Dubno and the villages close by were also settled by Czechs. Most of them were wealthy and some even substantially rich and compared to the Ukrainian population their standard of living very high and the relationships between them and the Jews had always been very good. But with the coming of the Nazis, they, too, were influenced by the destructive propaganda and some of the younger ones joined the Gendarmes. Nevertheless many of them continued to maintain excellent relationships with their Jewish friends and acquaintances, supplying them with food and even hiding them in times of danger. A few of the survivors of the Dubno ghetto owe their lives to their friends among those Czechs.
The division of the ghetto
After Passover, an order appeared informing all the Jews working outside the ghetto who were master-craftsmen in one or other of the essential trades, that their work permits must be renewed because the ghetto was going to be divided into two sections: in one section would live all those with the special work-permits and their families and in the other all the rest of the population. It was not known at this time that the Germans intended to liquidate half the Jewish population in one fell swoop but it was clear that it was better to remain living in the section reserved for those with the special permits as essential workers, in spite of the already overcrowded situation that would get even worse. Our hearts told us something bad was ahead and everyone began to try and get one of the work-permits. A black-market opened up for these documents and even fictitious marriages took place where a man who had one would marry a woman whose husband had been murdered in one of the earlier Aktzias or had fled to Russia, if the woman could afford to pay a fair price for marrying her. Both bachelors, who had such a permit and the authorities, did a good business out of the situation.
Again the Jewish people began carrying their meager possessions from one dwelling-place to another within the ghetto. We that is, my family and I, remained in the section of the unprivileged and placed the burden of our fate on hope that this was not simply another trick to extort more money from the Jews. The transfer from one section of the ghetto to the other was free and even that fact perhaps was only in order to lull us into a false sense of security. But all these things were merely illusions because the heart didn't want to believe that the worst of all nightmares was about to unfold without any interference. In fact the entire episode had been carefully planned by the murderers ahead of time.
I am saved by a miracle
On 27th May 1942 the big Aktzia began in Dubno in which more than 4,000 Jewish souls of the town were exterminated. During the night our section of the ghetto was surrounded by hundreds of soldiers, Gendarmes and Militia and early in the morning they began their terrible work. We awoke to the sound of loud knocking on the door and insulting cries directed at the Jews, windows being smashed and the terrified cries of children. Then it was the turn of our street. The murderers went from door to door, knocking on the doors with batons and kicking the doors with their feet and if they weren't answered immediately they smashed the doors open and dragged the people out throwing them into the street where they were formed into groups at the street corner. Within seconds, before we had time to grasp what was happening outside, we already heard them knocking on the door next to ours where there was a family with two children and we immediately heard the knocking on our door. My mother dragged me at the very last second and hid me under a table standing in the corner, covered me with a blanket and some old newspapers before the door burst open. At that same moment as she replaced the table and opened the trap-door to the cellar in the other corner of the room, then the door burst open and three Gendarmes broke in, got hold of my mother and grandmother and dragged them out. I heard my mother begging them not to hit my grandmother. A shower of curses accompanied her words and then she was gone. That was the last I ever saw of my mother. Whenever I am reminded of those moments my throat closes up as if a bone is stuck there. The murderers searched the cellar (my mother had opened and shut the door deliberately to mislead them into thinking someone was hiding there), opened and searched cupboards and then left the house.
From the shop next door we heard shouts and the cries of the six-year old girl who begged of the murderers: 'Uncle' please don't hurt my mother and sister. They tried to pull the baby from the arms of her mother who resisted with all her strength. One of them got hold of the little girl's legs and with an immense pull dragged the baby out of her arms and swung the baby's head against the wall. I heard the most terrible shriek from the mother, then a shot and then - silence
When they had finished their work in our street, I stayed lying down in my hiding place for hours and when I heard footsteps approaching my heart stopped beating. I kept counting to myself and said if I count up to a number I fix for myself and nobody comes, it's a sign that I am saved but several times as I arrived at the number I heard footsteps and I was sure my fate was sealed now they will find me but in my heart I felt that I would not die. I remembered my grandmother's words and her promise to me that they will not kill me, because I hadn't begun to live and every person is entitled to live a little. That's why I was born. After some time I heard footsteps. Two Germans entered apparently to confirm that no one remained. They searched everywhere. First they went down to the cellar. Afterwards they lifted the table I was hiding beneath. I was trembling all over lest they discover me. It was the only time in my life that I prayed with all my heart. But they replaced the table without finding me. I heard them go down into the cellar a second time afterwards coming up and saying to each other: It seems there were Jews living here but they have already been found and taken the door was open.
I felt a little relieved when they left. My mother had saved my life for the time being, at least by opening the cellar door at that last critical moment
For now, I could hear the sound of voices from outside the ghetto. I slowly approached the door of the shop opening onto the street outside the ghetto and saw groups of girls about 200 people, surrounded by Gendarmes, urging them to hurry along in the direction of the cemetery. The people were shouting in pain from the blows that were being rained on their heads and the murderers shouting threats. I couldn't watch any longer and felt dizzy. I got back to my hiding place, covered myself with the newspapers and up-ended the table on myself but at one edge I put my shoes so that I could let a little air in. Apparently I must have fainted because I heard nothing more.
I awoke when I heard someone calling mother's name and mine. I looked out of a crack and saw it was already dark. I was very alarmed and decided not to answer; I thought they had come to search once more and I only imagined that I heard the names. But again I heard the names being called and this time I recognized the voice of my uncle Moshe Horvitz, my mother's brother. I answered him. He helped me to lift the table and climb out. He didn't ask about my mother and grandmother there was nothing to ask: According to what had been done to the house and the door, the upturned beds, he could see there had been a thorough search and that I had been spared by a miracle
I could hardly stand on my feet. He sat me on a chair and gave me some water to drink and he told me that he had lost his wife and son while he and his daughter Bracha, had survived. His wife had closed him up in the special hiding place they had prepared thinking that the murderers were only looking for the workers while she and the little boy of seven stayed at home. Thus they took her and the boy while he and his daughter remained undetected. Since he lived close to the border between the two parts of the ghetto, he moved with his daughter to the other, somewhat safer zone after the murderers had left the area where the Aktzia hadn't been carried out. All that had occurred about three hours previously. He left his daughter in a safe place and went looking to see if he had anyone left.
We decided to crawl to the other side of the ghetto on all-fours from fear that there might still be Gendarmes wandering around who would certainly shoot us if we were spotted. But no one was to be seen and silence reigned. When we went out, we peeked into the shop next door: we saw the body of the little girl, whose skull had been shattered, laying on the floor and next to her the body of her shot mother. Petrified with fear from so many horrifying sights I was no longer shaken by anything but the sight of this little girl, a victim of a vendetta against a tiny
little child could only be created by the Devil and to this very day the vision of that little child with the shattered head has never left me; and when I wake up at night with silence all around me I get out of bed and go to look at the beds of my children bend over them and listen to their breathing and only then can I return to my bed and sleep
We crossed all our section of the deserted and silent ghetto (we were living at the farthest end), and arrived at the first street of the still-populated area. We met no one on the way and the streets that yesterday were bustling with life, running around frightened, were empty and as quiet and as silent as a grave-yard. Movement in this area of the ghetto was minimal because the people were still apprehensive that the murderers may start their work again here and they didn't relax until information was received from the Judenrat that the decree was over, that is the murderers had drunk their fill of blood and had no need of further victims
In all a total of some tens of people managed to evade the destruction and escape from the destroyed half of the ghetto. A platoon of Ukrainian Militia stood guard around the area making sure that there was no looting of the abandoned property by Jews and non-Jews alike. From our family another aunt had been saved Neora Horvitz and together with her I passed the entire period of the occupation in various hideouts in the nearby villages. Her husband and daughter were the only members of our family who had escaped to the Soviet Union. She remained with her son Naphtali who was my age and studied together with me in school. In that Aktzia the son was killed and she, like me, was saved by chance. In her great despair and distress she thought it better to commit suicide after losing her son and knowing nothing of the fate of her husband and daughter whom she was sure had perished at the beginning of the war. But I was so sad and miserable that everyone was moved to have compassion on me and she gave in to their requests and took me under care in place of her lost son. She was a qualified nurse and found work in the sanitation department of the ghetto. She registered me as her daughter and I was able to receive meals at lunch and in the evening in the kitchen of the Jewish institutions.
The following day everyone had orders to start work as usual. The Judenrat also restarted its operations. It was now clear to everyone that gifts and bribes were of no help because the Judenrat and the Jewish Militia's hands were tied and were helpless to assist in anything and everyone had to do everything to save himself in time before the next wave of liquidation took place. Feverish activity took place especially by those who had means, to acquire documentation as Christians or to obtain work in the nearby villages and farms with a work-permit and place to sleep. But only a very few were able to use that method. A few doctors and dentists succeeded in getting permits to live there.
My own situation was difficult: everyone felt sorry for me but pity alone without real help to back it up only angered me and hurt. I cried day and night. I had nothing to wear and I had no shoes because I had escaped without them and I hadn't been able to get any others.
A thief in the night
One day, I was walking bare-foot and trod on a piece of glass and hurt my foot. That same night I decided to sneak into the deserted part of the ghetto, get to our house and bring back some clothes and shoes. We had seen they had begun removing everything from the houses and taking them to a store-room for sorting before sending everything to Germany. Jews were engaged in the sorting areas and we were told by them that our street had not yet been reached. I left my room one night without my aunt knowing. I knew she would refuse to let me go because of the great danger for if I were caught I would be shot on the spot. Indeed I knew she also suffered a lot because of me, that I didn't have anything to wear and that if I should be successful in bringing some essential articles she would be happy and relieved. Most of the way I crawled. Complete silence reigned in that part of the ghetto, only the heavy tread of the Gendarmes and the Militia coming and going up and down on their guard route protecting the empty houses from looting, broke the total silence of the night. I crawled through side-streets keeping as far as possible from contacts with the guards close to the walls of the buildings and avoiding moonlit areas
As I went on farther and farther, my early fear diminished and I began to feel like a dauntless heroine. The mere thought that tomorrow will find me dressed and shod and that I wouldn't appear crushed, depressed and miserable like today, encouraged me and sped me on. I arrived safely at our house. The door was wide open but inside everything seemed normal and in place. I could see that the houses on the other side of the street were already empty and at the front of the houses piles of rags and papers and so on trash; everything good had been taken. I went inside. Fortunately for me a lamp-post in front of the shop facing the Aryan side had a powerful light that shed light through the cracks in the shutters
I saw that our beds were still in place and complete with the sheets and I trembled only two or three days ago we were all here together and now only I was here, alone. Thoughts ran wildly through my head but I quickly recovered and reminded myself why I had come. From outside I could hear the echo of the guard's footsteps from the Aryan side. I knew I
must do everything with the utmost care without arousing the suspicions of the guard. I waited until his footsteps got fainter and then began to look for the things I needed. When I heard the guard's footsteps coming nearer I lay down on the floor and waited. In the end I gathered together a few dresses, shoes, a pillow and a blanket. I placed them all on a blanket and wrapped them up in a sheet. The bundle was big and heavy but I decided to risk it. Then I decided to take a few mementoes from the house as it was the last opportunity I had to see them. I took a large photograph album, a few things I had received for my birthday, a head scarf of my grandmother's that she liked to use in the winter and a leather purse of my mother's. All those I tied up in a small bundle in a brown cloth. I swung the large bundle on my shoulder and the small one I carried in my hand and started out. I didn't dare to look behind me and began to hurry on fearful of the smallest sound of a wind-blown leaf.
I got half-way without a problem or raising suspicions but it didn't last all the way. The large bundle wrapped in a white sheet made me quite visible; one of the guards noticed something white and began to come towards me. I threw the large bundle on the ground while holding on to the smaller one and began running. I heard a shot and the bullet sang past close to me but didn't hit me. I didn't stop but continued running. I heard no more shots but the big bundle was left behind and all my efforts that were at the risk of my life had been in vain tired and disappointed I arrived back went into my room lay down and went to sleep. I didn't think about the fact that I should be glad that I had again played with my life and yet again saved from certain death. I was just very sorry about the lost bundle though I was pleased that my aunt knew nothing of my escapade - that I went out and came back in again. I was unable to relax for hours and I was shaking all over reliving the experience of what I had been through. In the morning I told my aunt everything and showed her the photographs and mementoes. With the passage of time and our many wanderings virtually every item was lost except my grandmother's head scarf that has stayed with me as a reminder of the life and home that was
From the ghetto to freedom
The situation in the ghetto was very tense. In spite of the fact that the authorities had promised there was no Aktzia in the near future we didn't believe them and people's thoughts turned to the preparation of good hiding-places for the time of need. They worked at night: digging holes, preparing bunkers and equipping them ready for a long stay.
My aunt had grievances against the Judenrat: As a nurse working in the sanitary department she needed to obtain a valid work-permit allowing her to live in the workers' ghetto. If they had done so her son would not have been taken and killed. A public enquiry was set up and it was found that her permit had been sold to someone else and he was saved together with his family. To compensate for the injustice caused to her as if it were possible to compensate her for the loss of her son to say nothing of the terrible conditions she endured, they promised to send her to work in the village of Studinka about 28 kilometers from Dubno. There were peat-bogs there and they were creating a work-camp for Jewish youth from the surrounding towns and villages but not urban centers. Just one nurse and two Jewish Militia-men were scheduled to be sent there. Many would jump at the chance to work there and it was with great difficulty that it was my aunt who got the position to travel. Then arose the question what about me? I was too young to work in the mines and to remain alone in the ghetto can it be done? It was true I was registered as her foster-child and she was my provider but to obtain an entry permit to Studinka for me was very difficult.
Up until now I had been working in the clothing-stores in the deserted area of the ghetto. These were the clothes that had been left behind in the deserted houses and tens of Jewish women under the control of guards sorted the clothes for quality, size and so on. Physically the work was not hard but mentally it was unbearable. The sorting of clothes, especially those of the children many of them with the embroidered names, was heart-breaking and depressing and haunted us. Occasionally we found photographs, books and documents of relatives and acquaintances. All these things we arranged for destruction or dispatch.
Every day we met at eight o'clock at a fixed place and accompanied by guards taken to work. Baskets and purses that we had with us were taken from us so that we would be unable to sneak any articles. At four in the afternoon when we were ready to return from work, we were carefully checked by the Militia-men who made us undress to make sure that we had taken nothing. Incidentally, thus they would laugh at us and also touch us. While I was no longer afraid having got used to the situation, the shame, embarrassment and degradation gnawed at my heart once a guard ordered a young woman to take off her dress and walk home half-naked because he thought she had come in an old dress and changed it for a better newer one and one woman was punished with forty-eight hours imprisonment because they found a pair of woolen gloves in her pocket. In spite of all, I managed to take home from there quite a few dresses and a
pair of shoes. I would walk to work with a torn dress that I had taken from someone and return in one I had taken. Terror filled me at the search because it always seemed to me that they remembered the dress I had worn in the morning coming to work. Only when I got through the search did I breathe more easily.
In the meantime there were again many rumors about another Aktzia and people would try to get hold of documents as Christians at any price. A few of the members of the Judenrat sent their families to other towns with documentation as Aryans but it didn't often work and most of them had to come back again. A few guaranteed themselves a place with Christians in the villages and suburbs for a very high payment but most remained in the ghetto, close to their hide-out or take their chance at escaping at the last minute
In August 1942 I received the permit to go to Studinka. The people who worked there all the time were the villagers and from around harvest time they had to go back and tend to their fields so the Germans who were interested in producing large quantities of peat, built a work-camp for the Jewish youth living in the surrounding towns: Mlyniv (Mlinov, Młynów), Ostrozhets and Demydivka (Demidovka). My aunt, as I said, was installed there as nurse and inspector of sanitary matters while I was sent to work half a day in the peat bogs and half a day to help my aunt in the clinic. Two Jewish Militia men Moshe and Leib Kagan with their families were sent to control and regulate the work. They needed very strong influence to be sent to Studinka.
We were nine people: Moshe Kagan with his wife and two sons, Leib Kagan with his wife and daughter, my aunt and me.
We rented a cart and started our journey. The journey that would normally take a few hours took us a whole day because of searches and examinations made from time to time by German soldiers. But we went through one stop and after having our documents examined we started up again but then heard Halt! and were commanded to raise our hands above our heads and remain like that until we were allowed to move on. The farmer, the owner of the horse and cart was very angry at the many stoppages and now and again threatened to leave us half-way and return home because he felt sorry for his horses (for us, of course, he had no pity). With every threat he made of that type we would thrust a present at him a watch, a ring, money and he would calm down for a while.
Late in the evening we arrived at the approaches to the village. Because it had rained the previous night the road was very muddy and we were forced to go by foot, to spare the horses from pulling the heavy load through the mud. About two kilometers from the village we arrived at a place where the road was so very muddy that we had to remove our shoes and go bare-footed. To make matters worse it began to drizzle with a light rain, the horses stopped and wouldn't move. Here the patience of the farmer was gone and he forgot all the presents and cash we had given him for the journey. He simply threw all our belongings in the mud. The horses felt the lightening of the load and immediately began to move and the farmer took himself off. Despair hit us: we were unable to carry all the things and neither could we leave them where they were. Not only were they all that we had left in the world but we were also carrying on trust articles that parents had entrusted to us for their children who were working in the peat bogs. With no alternative we remained stuck there in the mud and rain until morning, chilled to the bone and shivering and fearful of every sound we heard or of a dog barking in the distance. Thus passed the first night of our exit from the ghetto to freedom.
The village of Studinka
With the dawn we began to move, dragging our possessions with us. We made slow progress and at about eight o'clock arrived at the village. The yellow patch on our clothes told everyone who we were and they welcome us with shouts of Yids! At last we arrived at the work camp.
They were all youths, boys and girls, who welcomed us warm-heartedly. They lived in old unused barns with thatched roofs that dripped water all over the piles of straw that were their beds. Nevertheless their spirits were relatively good because they were happy to be out of the ghetto. They felt themselves somewhat freer, nobody troubled them about wearing the yellow patch and they had plenty of food from the farmers for helping them in the fields and at home; they chopped wood, picked fruit, and did their laundry and the girls who knew how to sew received butter and meat for their work. All these extra things they did after their day's work in the peat bogs that began at six in the morning and lasted until two in the afternoon because the peat they harvested had to be dried before it could be loaded and moved.
When the youngsters heard that there was a nurse among us who would be looking after their health, their joy was great; many had injuries on the hands and feet that were badly infected from the work in the peat bogs. In the whole village there was neither doctor nor nurse. The villagers took their sick people to a nearby Polish hamlet of Smyha (Smiga) six kilometers away while the Jews had been entirely without medical aid until now. When we told them that we had to report to Khamalniczenchor with a letter from the Arbeitsamt, that he must provide us with a place for the clinic and also accommodation for us, they told us that he was the work manager, a rabid anti-Semite and a drunkard and had two sons in the Militia. He would appear unexpectedly at where they were working call a couple of people to come to him hit them a few times and send them back to work. Those below him in the chain of command would copy him and do the same thing.
It was a pleasant surprise for us when he received us with reasonable courtesy and kindness, went with us to one of the farmers' house and commandeered one of the rooms for the clinic. In one of the corners of the room we arranged a bed of planks and a mattress of a sack stuffed with straw. The two men of the Militia with their families were quartered in another part of the house that was not yet completed and the doorway and windows were gaping holes.
My aunt started to work immediately while I was busy preparing bandages from old sheets we had brought with us from Dubno from the Judenrat store-room. We gave the farmer's wife some of the things we had brought for her (for all sorts of reasons we made sure of preparing suitable hidden gifts that open hearts). She was very pleased and in return gave us two good meals that day after months of hunger for simple bread. The following day, early in the morning, I went to work in the peat bogs. The work was hard and performed primitively. There were some mechanical diggers that removed the earth and extracted big piles of peat; the boys cut the peat with special knives into rectangular slabs and the girls arranged the slabs to dry. The exposed holes were very wet and only a few had rubber or leather boots, everyone else worked barefoot. The two Jewish policemen and eight Ukrainians oversaw the workers. There was a brigadier to each group of three. The Ukrainian police wandered around all the time among the workers urging them on, not sparing the blows whether necessary or not. I could see that not all the girls were treated rudely on the contrary, some of the girls even received smiles and cigarettes and were allowed them to rest and even return home early. I learned afterwards that these girls were enjoying a relationship with the Ukrainians who promised to hide them in the event of an Aktzia
At ten o'clock they would bring breakfast: bread and milk. Everyone received a mug of milk and a chunk of fresh black bread. It was wonderful. For the first time since the outbreak of war I ate good bread!
My aunt also treated the residents of the village; she performed injections according to the directions of the doctor from Smyha (Smiga) and also treated their emergencies. The farmers knew her well and she made friends with a few of them. These promised her she would be hidden safely in the event of an Aktzia
In an atmosphere of seething hatred it was inevitable that not everything would go smoothly and so it was that one day a Jew was murdered by a Ukrainian. The Ukrainian, who worked as a mechanic on one of the diggers, ordered one of the Jews to lubricate the machine. The moment that the Jew bent over the machine the man drew a knife and stabbed him! The Jew died on the spot. Panic ensued, all the workers and the guards came running to the place but the murderer had fled afraid of revenge. Khamalniczenchor was alerted and immediately restored order: he commanded one of the farmers to hitch up a wagon and with a few Jewish friends of the murdered man, to take the body fifteen kilometers from the village and bury it, After that he ordered the murderer to return to work and instructed everyone to forget the incident. But we couldn't forget it and the camp became a volcano waiting to erupt: It was decided not to go to work. The following day the guards waited until ten o'clock and when they saw no one had appeared they spread out and began to bring the people to work by force. Khamalniczenchor also ordered that if there was ever a similar breakdown in discipline everyone will be sent back to the ghetto and other Jews will be brought in to replace them. A warning such as that was enough to suppress any action from us.
In October 1942 the final Aktzia took place in Kremnitz (Kremnica), where all the Jews remaining in the town were exterminated. The killings took place in Poczajów between Studinka and Kremnitz. The distance between Studinka and Poczajów is about six kilometers and we could hear all that was going on as the Aktzia took place. A few managed to escape from the killings and hide in holes left from peat mining.
A few days after the Aktzia in Kremnitz Khamalniczenchor informed us that in a few weeks with the approach of autumn and the rains, the work in the peat bogs will stop and we will be returned to the ghettos or towns we came from. He also warned that no one should consider escaping because anyone found in Studinka or the surroundings will be shot on the spot. The majority chose to return and whatever befell their families would also be their fate too. But a few men decided to escape to the forests and all of them were found and shot during a sweeping search carried out there. Others succeeded in securing for themselves hiding places with the Christians in the village but those too were nearly all killed. I knew of seven people in the camp in Studinka who remained alive.
The final Aktzia
On Simchat Torah (the Festival of the Rejoicing of the Law), 5th October 1942, the final Aktzia began in the ghetto of Dubno. About a week before we, the group from Dubno, received an order to return there. Moshe Kagan and his family returned there after he had failed to find a secure hiding place for himself and his family. He also thought that no danger awaited him there because for some time now he had been in the Militia. At that time it was still thought that members of the Judenrat and the Militia were relatively safe. After some time I heard that Moshe Kagan and all his family had committed suicide when their bunker was put under siege. Leib Kagan hid his 4-year old daughter with farmers and he and his wife returned to the ghetto where they were killed. The daughter was saved and survived and lives with her aunt in Paris.
A hiding-place in the forest
My aunt decided that we would not return to the ghetto because there, everyone would most certainly be killed. We had an acquaintance in Smiga - Stefan Savchuk, a forester. He was Ukrainian and his wife a Pole. My aunt had treated their daughter who had fallen ill with Scarlet Fever. The mother made a good impression on us and once said, in passing, that if anything was going to happen, they would be ready to help us. There was no explicit promise to hide us in what she said but as we know a drowning man clutches at straws. We decided to try. For two days we were busy with preparations to return and we told everyone that we were going back to Dubno. We informed Khamalniczenchor officially that we were going and to his wife, who that same day went to Dubno, we gave some of our belongings to deliver to some of our acquaintances and tell them we would be returning the following day. We did all that in order not to raise suspicions that we intended to remain in the area. The following morning we started on our way with just a few packages in our hands as if to look for a wagon going to Dubno. After we had gone about two kilometers from the village, we entered the forest and stayed there until the evening. When it was dark we turned towards Smiga. The route was very dangerous because the forest was full of all sorts of people: Ukrainians who had run from the Militia, escaping Soviet prisoners, Jews, gangs of thieves and even deserters from the German army itself. All these were fighting each other and local residents locked themselves up in their homes as soon as evening came, allowing no one to enter. We arrived safely and knocked on the door. The people were a little scared but when they heard who it was they opened the door. As soon as we entered we realized that the promise that had been made was not entirely reliable because they were not able to keep us at home. Savchuk explained that the area was teeming with Militia and Gendarmes making searches day and night and if they get to know we were there, they would kill them as well as us. After the Aktzia in Kremnitz he told us notices were posted everywhere that for anyone hiding Jews the punishment was death and their property confiscated. Even food he was unable to give us because he barely made a living himself. We asked him to allow us to stay a day or two and if during these two days nothing happened Dubno, we would return there. In the end he agreed to lead us into the forest and his wife would bring us food there. He also promised to find a place for us far from any path or forest road and to dig a trench for us in case of rain. He demanded from us that we promise should we by chance be discovered we would say that we had got here entirely on our own and that no one had helped us or even knew we were here. For the time being he prepared a place for us to sleep in his barn.
Two days later we were informed that an Aktzia had started in Dubno and there was no point in returning there. In Studinka they had liquidated the work camp and those who had not returned to the ghetto were transported to the nearby village of Werba (Verba) where they were taken out and slaughtered. Savchuk understood that if he sent us away we would be killed and he assured us didn't want to be responsible for our death. After we had been there a couple of days he felt a certain responsibility towards us and his wife also convinced him to keep us another couple of days saying perhaps the immediate German anger will pass and we can go out freely. They didn't know that this was the final Aktzia and the aim to liquidate the last remnants of the Jews that remained as refugees from the previous Aktzia. And indeed we knew very well our situation but we couldn't force him.
We considered returning to Dubno but we have plenty of time to walk knowingly towards our death so why hurry there's time! We left for the forest and the spot that Savchuk had chosen for us was dense with bushes so that it was very dim there the whole day and we could see virtually nothing beyond three or four meters around us. We were at the beginning of November and it was rainy. The ground had no time to dry out before it was raining again. Good clothes and shoes we didn't have and just one blanket; the cold and damp troubled us a lot; all that was in addition to the ever-present fear. Our ears were alert for the least whisper of sound whether from shepherds with their flocks just outside the forest or from people picking mushrooms and we were fearful in case they came close to us and discovered us. Savchuk had warned us that if someone comes very close to us we should run immediately and that if we didn't there was a real chance that they would kill us. Towards evenings his wife brought us some potatoes and bread and sometimes tea or milk. She would cry with pity at our situation and we used to comfort her.
After we had been two weeks in the forest the first snow came. The cold at night was intolerable. In addition no one brought us any food. We understood why: the tracks in the snow would lead anyone and everyone to where we were and also to those who were helping us. We fed ourselves for two days on a few nuts that we found and drank water from the snow that melted on our hands. On the third day the weather warmed up slightly and the snow melted and towards evening Mrs. Savchuk arrived. She had with her a full basket of food: two loaves of bread, plenty of boiled potatoes in their jackets, and some apples. She cried while telling us that her husband had got a little drunk at a wedding party they had attended and told where we were hiding and that we should leave here as soon as possible. But because night was coming on and the farmers were afraid to go out at night because of the gangs roaming around, we should stay here until morning. My aunt, who had suffered heart attacks since her son was killed, now suffered a serious attack. We did everything we could to help her relax and Mrs. Savchuk parted from us and went her way.
In the farm of the Evangelists
We dived deep into our thoughts. Time was pressing and the clock was ticking and we had to get to some sort of a decision. We were almost certain that the wedding story was nothing but a story they simply wanted to get rid of us and used it as an excuse. But be that as it may, we now needed to get out of here and soon, or die of starvation and exposure. We began to sift through the names of all our acquaintances in Studinka and match them with the chances of them helping us to find shelter for ourselves. We could think of no one. On the contrary it was more than likely that they would give us away to the police. There was only one family that lived in a tiny isolated far distant hamlet and they were Evangelical Christians. The man was ill with Tuberculosis and my aunt had injected him several times. His condition was beyond hope. They had tried to explain to us the basic tenets of their faith and it was clear beyond doubt that they would not to kill us. They were desperately poor but had food. More than that: the farmer needed help and perhaps because of that they were willing to keep us there for a while. The place was well-suited for hiding, the house was far from any settlement and bordered by a forest.
We started on our way keeping all the time on forest paths and away from any highway or frequented road. We arrived at the hamlet very late. The dog began to bark. Hearing the barking, the woman, Domka, came out. Fearful that perhaps a gang was closing in on the house, she unleashed the dog and went back inside closing the door. The dog rushed at us angrily, ready to tear us to pieces. In addition, our fears grew that patrols patrolling the area would hear the barking and come to investigate what was happening and that would be the end for us. We gave the dog bread and some sugar and he became quiet. We stood in the bushes and waited. After about an hour Domka came out again and saw us. Fearfully she asked us what we wanted. We know that anyone caught helping Jews paid for it with their lives. We told her that we knew but nevertheless she had to help us because we had nowhere to go.
We stayed with them. They prepared a place for us in the loft of the cow-shed. The children represented a serious problem, because they couldn't understand why we had to hide. We explained what the situation was and explained again and after a week they learned to keep quiet about us.
About a kilometer away from where we were, they found a Jewish woman with her child living with a Christian family. They were taken out and executed. The Christian family as well could expect the death penalty but in the end they commuted the sentence: the father and one of the daughters were sent to a labor camp in Germany and the livestock horses and cows, impounded.
We now waited to be told to leave the place but the farmer did the opposite, filled with anger against the Germans and also the hamlet authority for submitting itself entirely to the orders of the Germans he promised us that as long as he was alive he will not desert us. And indeed he started at once to prepare an additional hiding place for us, safer than the one we had, in the event of a sudden search. It was a small cave under the edge of the house where we could barely sit down even stooped over. The entrance was small and concealed and we could get in only by crawling very carefully because the walls were very thin and fragile and likely to collapse and bury us under a landslide. The children learned to guard us from everyone. They would try to keep visitors adults and children alike, from approaching the cow-shed so that we wouldn't be discovered. We received enough bread and a hot meal at least once a day. When there were no strangers in the vicinity, at least one of them would come to us and comfort us and when the snow came and there was no fear of anyone coming to the house, they would let us come down to the house to bathe and warm up by the fire and also launder our clothes. When that happened, one of the children would always be outside keeping watch and warn us in case anyone approached the house. Many times there were false alarms that only caused panic. Out of caution they milled flour on mill-stones in the house in case someone questioned why the family needed so much flour.
When there is no air to breathe
The Germans laid a heavy burden of taxes, especially on farm produce, on the villagers who began to bury their produce in pits they dug at night in their fields.
In February 1943 the Germans ran a search in the village. In our house there was a double problem: to hide us and to hide the produce which was, in fact, what the Germans were searching for. We had to hide in the little cave under the house. The children closed the entrance and there we sat for a whole day doubled-up and cramped without being able even to straighten our back because the place was less than a meter in height. We also suffered from lack of air to breathe although we opened just a little the hole we came in by. The searches continued all the day and throughout the night into the following day. It was cold and my legs felt like two lumps of ice. The mice scampered all round us and there were moments that I thought it would have been better to remain in the cow-shed even if we got caught, rather than freeze here in this hole. At last I fell asleep. I awoke in the morning to a slight rustling sound: the children had come to bring us some hot food. They were very careful because the searches were still going on. They told us that the searchers had reached the edge of the village and would probably soon be here. The child closed the entrance with planks and sprinkled a thin layer of earth over them. Indeed, from the point of view of security the hiding place was perfect but our situation inside it was terrible. We had the feeling of complete suffocation.
During the afternoon hours three Germans came accompanied by two local Militia men from Smiga, to search the house of our benefactor. They stood all the family against the wall and told them to raise their arms. The searches were exacting: They dug up random parts of the courtyard and in the buildings in the barns and stables, the chicken houses and the cow-shed and after they had found nothing they took for themselves a fat pig weighing about 100 kilograms and went. Domka was very sad about the pig but when we heard what they had taken from others in the village we were pleased we got rid of them so cheaply.
With nightfall Domka came and told us to come the house to bathe and warm up because after a day like that it was certain that no one would come to visit. My legs were frozen and I couldn't move from my place. With an effort of desperation I managed to crawl out but my aunt was unable to do so: She was weak and frozen and couldn't push herself. After much effort she fainted and lay down with her head outside and the rest of her body still in the cave. We dug a sort of small trench underneath her but we couldn't drag her out. The children cried and Domka got angry and started shouting towards the house: After a day like that troubles like this and because of who? Because of the Jews. And her husband was guilty of it all! Her shouting brought her sick husband from his bed and he dragged my aunt up with all his strength. We took her into the house, warmed her up with warmed towels and she regained consciousness. That same evening the farmer suffered a hemorrhage from his lungs and bled from the mouth, something that hadn't happened for a long time. He was very ill and it could easily have happened even without the effort of raising my aunt from the cave but both Domka and the children saw in us the cause of the trouble and their faces showed that they had suffered enough from us. We went up to our loft in the cow-shed but I was so tense after two nights of suffering the cold and the fear that I couldn't sleep. The thoughts chased each other through my head and left me restless. According to the mood in the house we needed to go and leave these people in peace but where to go? The following morning no one came to us, only at mid-day the daughter came up to us and brought some food hidden in her clothes. She said that everyone was angry with us and wished that we would go, only the father wasn't angry, and we should wait until he felt better.
That same day it became known in the village that the searches and the robberies carried out by the Germans without talking first with the village elders angered all the farmers intensely and the council decided to cancel its affiliation with the Ukrainian Militia and collect weapons for self defense in case they should come again to steal. They also decided not to allow their youngsters to go to Germany to work there. They became aware that the Germans simply tricked them although they killed the Jews but no Ukrainian authority had been founded and they didn't distribute Jewish property among the farmers. When they invited us into the house that same evening, with two of the children outside on the look-out we sensed a different attitude in the atmosphere: Domka asked for forgiveness from my aunt for her behavior of yesterday regarding her attitude towards us, explaining that her outburst was the result of the many months of high tension under which she had been living.
She told us what had been happening in the village. Rumors were beginning to come in of victories by the Soviet army over the Germans. Our farmer, who had been a member of the village council in 1939-1940 was one of the few who didn't object to the Russian regime (we didn't know that until now), and was very happy to hear these rumors. They decided to allow us to remain with them but to be careful not to let our presence be known to the villagers because they were likely to attack us. Look, they said, winter is coming to an end, summer will be easier for us and by next winter perhaps our salvation will be here.
But still the days were hard to bear: The Germans carried out searches nearly every week and more than once we had to retreat to the cave under the house. Food was scarce because
the family sold everything in order to buy medicines for the sick man. The children, who had been ordered to Germany to work refused to obey the order and escaped to the forests. Chaos reigned and it was impossible to know who to be careful of and who not; who was dangerous and who not. German pressure got stronger but so too did the resistance of the farmers.
One day, we suggested to Domka that she should go to Dubno, to the Czech family where my aunt had hidden many belongings and bring as much as she could. She went and the family was overjoyed to know that we had survived but they warned her to be careful and not to come there to them because their daughter is friendly with the Germans and the son even helped in some searches in the ghetto after the last Aktzia. They are likely to notice that a farmer's wife from a distant village is visiting their house. The family gave Domka many things belonging to us. They also gave her some sugar for the sick man and medicines that they had acquired, with some influence, from the dispensary. They told her to come again but only in June when the children will go away for holidays. Domka returned impressed and full of admiration for these good people, for their generosity, their courteousness and their good-hearted kindness. The happiness at home was great: we took nothing but gave everything to the family and stayed only with our own worn dresses
The yearning for freedom grew stronger day by day. Sitting in hide-outs became more and more irksome and depressing and our patience shorter and shorter. Thoughts ran ceaselessly through our minds concerning every one of our friends and acquaintances that almost certainly were no longer alive; round every child I had studied with at school, and now where is he?
Sunny days and spring came. The condition of the sick man gradually worsened. During his last days he said to his wife that she should try to keep us in the house until the liberation, or until she can have us help her with the difficult days that will come after his death. He understood that the Soviets would not forgive the villagers their service to the Germans and also the Russian prisoners of war who betrayed their country. While she, Domka, will be her own best proof by the fact that she kept us safe in spite of the very real, ever present threat of death for not obeying their commands and not serving their needs.
In April 1943 the farmer died. For many days before his death and also afterwards, Domka didn't come to us. The children's visits also became rarer, only Nadia didn't forget us and brought us food from time to time. Domka was very attached to the sick man and all the heavy chores about the farm now fell upon the children and they had little time to spare for us. For weeks we were unable to bathe or change our clothes and lack of cleanliness that troubled us was now so bad that it caused us much suffering. About two weeks after the death of her husband Domka came to us. She said that she would very much like for us to leave the house because her nerves are completely shattered. The busy season on the farm is approaching and many strangers will be wandering around making it very difficult to prevent them discovering us and she was more afraid of the villagers than of the Germans. We didn't know what to do. We began to plead with her, persuade her and remind her of her husband's last words before he died and promising much after the liberation which was clearly on its way.
The surroundings burn with hatred
In the meantime there was open conflict between the village and the Germans. In July, with the beginning of the harvest, the Germans surrounded the village on every side searching for deserters from the Militia and those evading going to labor camps in Germany. They stole fruit, horses and everything they could lay their hands on accompanied by threats of blowing up houses in the village if there was any resistance or argument. Most of the residents of Studinka escaped together with their livestock to the peat bogs that spread over an area of four kilometers. Grouped together in one place they prepared to resist the Germans by force. Domka and her children also fled but we couldn't join them because the villagers themselves would have killed us. We had no alternative but to stay where we were and trust to fate. But we knew we couldn't stay in Domka's house for fear of giving an opening to the Ukrainians and Poles to put her and her children in danger because of everything that they did for us. We left the house crawling and got to the closest field and hid there among the standing wheat that had not yet been harvested.
The Germans began blowing up houses and in some places smoke and flames reached high into the sky. The Germans passed close to where we were, shooting in all directions and bullets flew above our heads; so far without hitting us. After a while we heard them leaving the village. They took a lot of cattle, pigs and horses and a few deserters that they had caught, with them. In the evening the villagers returned to their homes with their hatred of the Germans burning like fire in their hearts. There was no way peace could be made between them.
We sent Domka to Dubno and again she brought a large package of things with her: this time with many precious articles of my aunt: furs, woolen blankets women's suits and underwear. Domka had never seen such things in her life and thus we had the possibility of again buying time from her for a while and she promised to let us remain until the end, providing we weren't discovered.
At the end of the summer of 1943 all the rumors of Russian victories began circulating again and the collapse of the German army. Again we were raised up and carried on the wings of our imagination that the liberation was coming closer and closer. But the residents of Studinka weren't happy with the Soviet victories: they expected that the Germans and the Russians were bloodthirsty and would exhaust each other with long drawn-out battles and out of it all would arise an independent Ukraine. They joined the national Bandera movement that was striving to rid the country of the Germans, to expel the Poles and if somewhere a single Jew was found to exterminate him.
There were a couple of Polish villages in the area and a couple of mixed villages with Ukrainians. The Bandarists killed the Poles cruelly, burned their homes and stole their property and belongings. A Pole who managed to escape with his life to town or the forest joined the Jews hiding there. The Germans no longer dared to enter the village in small groups. They came to collect taxes only as a full corps; at night the Ukrainians were in complete control and they burned Polish property and murdered Poles with all the cruelty they could. It was some small consolation for us in revenge for all that they had done to us.
The approach of the Soviets
Between August and December 1943 there were four searches conducted in the village and we were forced four times to hide in the forest after Domka and the children escaped with the villagers to the bogs. I was full of festering sores; especially my legs and we had no bandages or medical ointments to treat them. I was also troubled with my eyes from hiding in completely dark places and then coming out into the bright sunlight. I could see nothing and became dizzy. It recurred several times and my aunt was very worried about me. I saw much better at night than I did during the day and I was frightened that I would go blind. My greatest wish was to survive to see the day that the Soviet army returned and redeemed us and more than the redemption to see the fall of the German army. Then came the winter of 1943-44 and salvation was still not here. Disappointed with the slowness of the Soviet advance we almost stopped believing the many rumors of the German collapse. Although the fact that even the Ukrainians, haters of the Soviets, spoke all the time of the Russian victories, encouraged us and kept our faith up that the end was near for the oppressive regime.
Again it was time to suffer the snow and cold. Domka and the children were forced to restrict their meals in order to pay a large amount from their seeds towards the workers in the harvest season. The yield was not good and part of it was destroyed by fire caused by the Germans and was not harvested. There were doubts if there would be enough bread to last until the next harvest. Nevertheless the relationship between Domka, the children and us changed for the better: the mutual fears and problems we shared tied us together and we were like one family in suffering and hopes for better days. Anya, the older daughter, was already seventeen years old and received a travel order to work in Germany. Domka decided not to let her go and Anya took our place in the hideout under the house. There was a fear that searches for her would discover us. We sat for a week in the forest because every day they came searching for her until at last they believed her mother's explanation that she had run away without permission with a boy friend and she didn't know where. When they stopped coming for her we returned to our loft above the cow-shed. Now Anya was together with us in the underground.
The last time we hid in the forest I became ill with a bad attack of bronchitis. The cough was severe and choking; I was afraid that my constant heavy coughing would be heard outside. Everyone in the house tried to help to ease my suffering: they brought me hot milk, hot water-bottles to warm my legs and the son Wassia walked twelve kilometers in the snow to bring me aspirin and cough syrup the only medicines easily available. There was also some concern that I might have pneumonia and the temperature was 20?F and we had no fuel to fire the heater and even if we had it was too dangerous everything around us was straw. Eventually I began to improve and overcome that illness as well but I was so exhausted that I didn't even have the strength to sit. I dedicated myself to knitting; I knitted woolen shirts, gloves and ear-muffs for all the family.
January and February 1944 passed in relative quiet. Then artillery-fire rolled around the heavens and could be heard in the stillness of the night.
Cooperating with the Russians
One morning it was January or February 1944 we heard the sounds of many wagons coming closer and the sounds of people. We listened carefully they were speaking Russian, We rejoiced with great happiness, quite certain that they were Russian Partisans dressed like Germans who had stolen their uniforms after killing the Nazis. If so, it was certain that the Red Army must be following along close behind. My aunt said to go down to them and ask them to take us with them to Dubno because here we were in danger from the villagers themselves. A few of them came into the courtyard to water their horses and one of them turned to Domka and asked if she knows of any Soviet Partisans in the area, adding that they had been sent by the authorities to liquidate them. It all immediately became clear to us: they were soldiers of the Russian general Vlasov who cooperated with the conquerors. We were lucky not to have rushed down and avoided putting our own heads in a noose
Domka worried about us and told us to be more careful and not be in so much of a hurry. In the year and a half that we had been in her house we became attached to each other and she protected us until the day of the liberation. She couldn't go to Dubno again to bring sugar, salt and kerosene and we had to be satisfied with what we had. In the meantime farmers had arrived in the village from other areas where battles were raging. Three families of refugees from the area of Rovno were guests in Domka's house. We were forced to be very careful of these people each of who was famous for heroism in the killing of Jews. These were the hardest of times for us that same winter of 1943/44. We couldn't move from the place and the children couldn't come up to us and only when they came to milk the cows they would bring us a few slices of bread. During the first two weeks of March the Germans bombarded the village several times. All the people fled to the forest and the bogs; only we remained alone up in our loft above the cow shed. The Germans never appeared again in the village while the Ukrainians were armed and ready to defend themselves against both sides at one and the same time.
The Red Army liberates Studinka
In the middle of March rumors circulated that there were battles in Dubno. A few days later that Dubno had been liberated. But the Germans were still in control where we were and they were digging defensive trenches in the peat bogs. The morning following the announcement of the liberation of Dubno, the Soviets laid a heavy bombardment on the area but the Germans took no part. We were located somewhere in the middle of the Front. The Russian lines were on the approaches to the village on the Smiga side and on the edge of the village on the way to Verba the Germans were arrayed. The bombardment went on for hours and we were frightened that now, right at the end, on the eve of liberation, it was going to be the end for us. Why, then if it were to be so did we have to endure, we asked ourselves, these many, many months of suffering?
On the 26th March 1944, as evening approached, silence came. Then there was a loud explosion and we learned the Germans in their retreat had blown up a bridge. The night passed quietly but the people didn't return to their homes and everywhere silence reigned. Early in the morning of 27th of March the Red Army took the village. We were the first to see them. My hand is not capable of describing our feelings and our excitement at that moment. It was like walking out of great darkness into a great light, something bigger than life itself. To know that your fate was sealed two years previously with no possible chance of reprieve from the clutches of death and yet for all that to struggle against a bitter death every single day and through will-power alone subdue it; to hope to see and wake up to the day in which the murderers are vanquished and to see, too, the realization of the hope to breathe the air of freedom, nothing can bring greater happiness than that!
At the same time we knew: not to get too excited and not to be too rash lest the village discovers who we are and will take vengeance on Domka after the liberation. Indeed, as I later learned, some Jews were killed in Dubno after the liberation they came out of hiding to greet the liberators and the Ukrainians murdered them.
The soldiers came and started searching for gangs of Germans, asking the head of the family and after they received explanations from us they left. In the meantime people began to return to the village and we saw the need for us to hide from them until a more settled time. For a few days the sounds of artillery and explosions were heard and on 29th March there was also a heavy German bombing. Two German bombs fell on the village causing two big fires. No one was killed. The 30th of March was completely quiet and we decided to return to Dubno.
We return to Dubno
On the 1st April we started out for Dubno. We got up at dawn so that no one would see us leaving the village. Wassia led us through the fields and forests as far as the highway avoiding every village and house out of caution for Domka and her children. We parted from the youth amidst great emotion. He took a small photo of his father from his pocket that he had asked to give us as a memento when we go free. He had signed it two days before he died
The distance from the village to Dubno was twenty-eight kilometers. According to the season it should already be springtime in the country but the weather was still wintry. Damp snow was falling that melted underfoot. There were puddles of water and mud all along the road. Our shoes were completely ragged and tattered, totally wet and freezing our feet but the feeling of freedom sped us on our way. After we had gone several hundred meters we saw a military vehicle and waved him down for a ride. The driver stopped but told us it was absolutely forbidden to pick up people on the road. We continued onwards. After seventeen kilometers a car stopped for us and we were allowed to climb on.
We arrived at Dubno around mid-day. The town looked almost destroyed as a result of the battles that had been fought there. The people who had fled the town had not yet returned and
half the population of the town the Jews was no longer alive. The houses in the ghetto seemed mostly destroyed and those that remained standing had been appropriated by Christians. We wandered around the town for a while among the houses without seeing anyone we knew but in the evening we decided to go and visit the Czech family, Shakuda. They received us very warmly and were happy to see us. Their home had been destroyed; three shells had hit it but they had managed to salvage one room and the kitchen and in those they lived. The parents were living on their own: the daughter had gone to Prague a year before and the son to Germany against his parents' wishes that he remain with them. We got everything at once clothes, shoes, comfortable beds and good food aplenty. We heard from them that there were about thirty Jewish survivors in town from Dubno and from other places as well. All the neighbors crowded in to see us and everyone tried to prove that he had done much to help the Jews in the ghetto and for certain he would have hidden Jews in his very house had not the Germans been right next door
Among our callers I met a friend from school Polina Muller (she is now in the United States) and our happiness was boundless. We both endured a period of terrible years in our short lives and withstood the most terrible of sufferings. In the meantime we had grown and become young women. There was no difference between us except one: she had survived together with her parents and sister, while I was left alone without my family
The following morning my aunt began the search for her husband and daughter who had fled to Russia. She found work with a clinic and I wandered round the town all day long among the rubble, around where our house, near the school where I had learned and before my eyes passed the ghostly memories of those good days that had gone and will return no more. Food we now had in plenty and also suitable medical treatment; the injuries to my legs formed correct scabs and after a while completely disappeared. Life began slowly to become organized, and even registration for school started suddenly
Again the town is bombed
The Germans began to bomb the town night and day for weeks. In one of the attacks the military hospital close to our house was hit and all the patients and staff were buried underneath the rubble. We stayed lying on the floor in our room because we had no time to go down to the cellar and the blast shattered all the windows in the house leaving me with a light wound from one of the flying shards of glass. Clearing the debris from the military hospital in order to get at the victims buried under the mountain of rubble took days. Men to do the work were virtually non-existent in town so the women-folk were mobilized for the job. I too worked there for six straight days. The bombing continued throughout all the time. They were the last bombings the area suffered from the Germans.
For a short time there was a German prisoner-of-war camp in Dubno. They worked in clearing up all the debris in town but their appearance was much different to that of the Russian prisoners of 1941/42. They didn't die of starvation and they weren't barefoot; all that was required of them was discipline at work. Indeed, the fact that our murderers and oppressors were now prisoners and they had to obey the orders of the Soviet soldiers among who were quite a few Jews, gave me great pleasure. Among the Jewish people in town were those who threw insults at the prisoners releasing some of their hatred of the murderers but to injure them was forbidden. One Jewish man who threw a stone at one of the prisoners was arrested and fined. He said in his defense that he recognized the German who had murdered his father. He was told that he can press charges against the man but he could not take the law into his own hand.
The return to school and studies
On the 5th July 1944 the school opened and there were special classes for children who had not studied throughout the war. Studies were conducted intensively in small groups and every one of the pupils could receive extra explanations after school hours. The teachers were polite generous and patient and did everything they could to help the children absorb the material being taught. There was not one single book to hand and all the subjects were taught verbally by the teachers and written down by the pupils. I was dedicated to learning; using the opportunity to drive from my mind all that had happened to me and what been and was being done at the battle fronts that were still actively engaged with thousands of casualties every day.
At the New Year festival of Rosh Hashanah of 1945 that was to be held in the school they intended to distribute to war-orphans: parcels of clothes from the Red Cross. I knew about this and I told my teacher that I didn't want a parcel and I didn't want my name mentioned or included among the orphans receiving aid, in the presence of the teachers and pupils. I was revolted at the feelings of pity that everyone expressed to me and I tried to hide from my class-mates the fact that I had no home, that my aunt and I lived with a Czech family in only one small dilapidated room. I suffered from an inferiority complex and strove to overcome it.
In the meantime I received a letter from a cousin and her husband and I was pleased to know that they were well and would shortly be coming to Dubno. I succeeded at my studies and was encouraged and it added to my efforts and even awakened within me the ambition to continue my education.
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