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[Page 462]

Thanks to a Righteous Woman in Sodom

by Sarah Bronshteyn-Gevertzman

Translated by Ala Gamulka

It was 27 July, 1942. After the first “actzion” the Kovel ghetto was in anticipation of its final elimination. On that day I managed to escape from the ghetto with a group of Jewish workers and I went to my apartment on Monopoliova Street. This is where my neighbor, Elsa Kamitova was living.

I begged her to help me because there was no one else to ask. She did not hesitate and did not ask for any reimbursement. She gave me documents belonging to her relative.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, her mother-in-law, Karolina Kamitova was visiting from Holova together with her husband Mikolai. He placed a kerchief on my eye to make it look as if I were ill. He brought me in his wagon to their farm near Holova.

The Jews of Holova were still free. I settled in the house of the Kamitova family pretending to be a relative -Wanda from Kovel. On September 2, 1942, after the first “actzion” in Holova, four Jews came to us. They dug a trench and we all sat in it. Grandma Kamitova brought us food, water and even clothes.

A few days later the other people left to go to their acquaintances and I was left alone. Until November 11, 1942 I stayed in the Grandmother's house in the daytime and at night I returned to my “catacomb”, i.e., the trench.

On 15 November of that year an order was given to cleanse Holova of Jews. The last few Jews were thus eliminated. It was very dangerous to remain in the Grandmother's house because the Ukrainian police roamed the streets in search of Jews. There were even times when Polish families were slaughtered because they had hidden Jews.

The family opposed my hiding in the house, but Grandmother Kamitova did not want to abandon me. She brought me to a field, far from the house and covered me with hay. I lived in this field for a week. At night Grandma would bring me food. She would crawl to me so that no one would see her.

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kov463.jpg
Grandma Karolina Kamitova

 

The dear and gentle grandmother who risked her life to save mine. “You should love thy neighbor as you love yourself”. Daily and hourly, she showed deep religious belief, was simple, was devoted heart and soul and made certain not only to save me, but also to make my life better.

When the family was sure that I had left the village. Grandma brought me back to the trench. I “lived” in it all winter and spring of 1943. I never left my “home”. Around 3:00 am Kamitova would bring me food through a small opening.

When the police of Holova left and ran away to the forests, making life easier, Grandma told her family about me. I returned to their house and I hid in an attic. Others hidden by this family were Dora Katz (now Dr. Devorah Drutman-Katz – here in Israel) and Rachel and Pinie Bunis who live in the United States.

Grandma also helped other Jewish families with food or clothing. She did all of this not to earn a medal, but out of humanitarian caring and love of others.


[Page 464]

In the Maw of the Lion

by Rivka Shtern-Goldshteyn

Translated by Ala Gamulka

 

When the war between Russia and Germany broke out, I was in Lutsk, in the Pedagogic Institute. One day, the town was overcome by a barrage of explosions that descended upon us on a clear day.

I rushed to return home because I heard that there were many bodies lying on the side of the roads. The way was not clear and I feared that I would be stuck in Lutsk.

The teachers tried to calm me down by telling me that these were only manoeuvres and that the bombs were not real. Everything would be peaceful again in a few days. I listened to this talk and I filled my knapsack with books in the hope that I would stay quietly in my father's house in Kovel. I could prepare my assignments in the meantime.

In Kovel the devil had not yet started its work and the streets were calm as before a storm. However, there was no doubt that the murderers would come to town in a matter of days or even hours.

I had studied in the Moshtchitsky School in Kovel and there I heard from the History teacher there were periods in human life when Mars, the God of War, “waves his weapons”. At that time, terrible blood baths occur. It was clear to me that we were going through such a time and that we would all be annihilated.

However, especially in this angry time when the entire country was a killing field, we felt the desire to live as the animals in the fields, the birds in the skies, in the lakes, on a lonely rock in the sea- but to remain alive. I told my father, z” l, to let us escape from Kovel where the Nazi killer was on the doorstep. I had a sister in Persefa and we went to her. We spoke Polish and no one suspected we were Jewish.

In Persefa there were only five Jewish families and the Germans did not bother them. They shared information. These were elderly Germans, not the Gestapo, who had served in WWI. They promised to help us.

Unfortunately, they were not able to help. One fine day the Gestapo appeared and took us to Rozhishets where there was a ghetto for Jews from the surrounding area.

I stayed in the ghetto, with my family, for two weeks. An event occurred which helped to save my life: Between Kovel and Rozhishets there was a settlement called Brishtseh. Germans inhabited it. When Volyn Province was taken over by the Soviets, all the German residents were evacuated to Siberia. Their homes were occupied by Poles who had lived on the

[Page 465]

banks of the Bug River. They grew beets in the fields and needed workers.

One day, a representative of the Gestapo came to Rozhishets and demanded from the committee to send 200 young, healthy women to work in the beet fields of Brishtseh. I was advised to be included and I did go. These young women were among the best Jewish youths of Poland. Most of the girls were not girls from Rozhishets, but refugees from other parts of the country.

We walked about 10-12 km. They placed us in a large hall and spread hay on the floor to serve as beds. A hut was erected near the hall and a large vat was put in. This was to be our kitchen. We received 150 grams of bread and 30 grams uncooked oats per day. We worked in the fields from 6 am to 6pm, eating this meagre allotment. The Ukrainian murderers would whip the slower girls who could barely stand up. At 12 noon they brought us in for lunch. Since there was not enough time to boil the oats, three girls were left in the kitchen to prepare the food. I was one of them.

In time, we managed to develop good relations with the manager of the farm- a Pole. We told him not to treat us like animals of burden because we were school girls. The manager took pity on us and promised us, in the name of the Triad, that he would not only treat us with respect, but that he would also try to save us.

One Friday in August 1942, at dawn, we saw a young Jewish boy running towards us with his last breath. He told us that during the night all the Jews of Rozhishets were taken to deep hole, but he had managed to escape.

We hid him in a safe place and we went to speak to the manager. With tears in our eyes we begged him to save us from the death trap. He calmed us down by saying there was no truth to the rumors. He thought he would know about this happening if it was really so.

As we were arguing with him, we saw in the distance swirls of dust growing stronger and closer. We also heard the sounds of hoofs. Very quickly, a large contingent of Ukrainian police officers appeared. They were riding wild horses. We told the manager that they came to take us. The good man hid us in the barn and instructed us not to go our until he returned.

The Ukrainians police officers spread in the fields and battered the Jewish girls with their guns. They took them to Rozhishets. On the way they passed a large, thick forest. Many girls were able to escape and to hide in the bushes. Some were shot as they were getting away. Only half were brought to Rozhishets.

[Page 466]

Not far from the manager's house there was a large fenced area for cows as well as a milking station. The manager knew the guard of that area, Boyko, and at night he took us there in secret. The guard was a good man and he took us to his house, 2 km from the fenced area. We hid in his barn almost the entire winter. The good man would bring us food and water.

Once the guard came to tell us, tearfully, that he could no longer hide us because the villagers were whispering that he was keeping Jews. He took us back to the milking station and we hid under the roof. It was a cold winter and one night there was a snow storm. It caused the straw roof to fly away. There was only a little straw left and it barely hid us from passers-by. We were subject to the elements. One Sunday, two young locals were approaching. We heard one of them say: I heard there are young Jewish girls hiding here. The second one replied: It cannot be that in this terrible storm someone is still alive. Let us at least look in all the nooks and crannies. If you are right, we will do with them whatever we want. We listened to the conversation and our hearts stopped. We were certain our end was near.

The local boy went upstairs and looked here and there. He did not find us. His friend was angry with him and said: this is how you check, you donkey-head? Take a rake and poke away with it. If it is covered in blood when you remove it, this will be a sign that living people are here.

The murderer listened to the instructions and went up to the attic with a rake. Fortunately, the rake only poked my boot and not any other part of my body. This is how we were saved from the evil man.

The Germans ordered all residents to move to the village of Rokinia since in Brishtseh they were resettling Folksdeutch. Our situation was dire. The guard told us that he could not take us because he was afraid for his own life. He said we should simply join the caravan and mix among the people. We arrived in Rokinia and we hid in the first barn we found. The guard promised to bring us food in the evening. Five days passed by and he did not appear.

When all hope was lost, we went out and gathered some snow to satisfy our thirst and break our hunger.

Finally, the guard came and told us he could not hide us in his house because his Antisemitic neighbor would inform about us to the police. He advised us to go to the fields, dig a hole in a haystack and hide there.

In the meantime, my girlfriend left me and went to search the for her nanny's house. She had worked for her parents for many years. I was left all alone in this menacing world. Everywhere someone was looking to kill me. In the middle of the night I went to the haystack. Dogs attacked me.

[Page 467]

They almost tore me to pieces. I was afraid to say anything because I did not want to be overheard. I fell into a hole as I was running. It was January 1943.

I tried very hard to create an opening in the haystack to be able to hide my entire body. I finally fell asleep with my head hanging out of the haystack. In the morning, the guard came and was surprised to see me still alive because I was visible. He brought me bread and a bottle of milk. He told me that at night there are groups of Ukrainian police officers circulating there. It must have been “Christ” that saved me because I am holy. For that reason, he must guard and save me.

I will never forget what this man, this non-Jew did for me. If there is a God in heaven, he must allow Boyko into heaven among other good people.

This is what happened: During the time of the Soviets, there was, in Rokinia, a young Russian girl from Kiev, 17 years old, who was a teacher. Her name was Evgeniya Botovits. When the Red Army retreated, she escaped and left all her documents behind.

Boyko found out about the documents and he scoured the entire village to find them. He put his life in danger for doing it. When I received the birth certificate of this young woman, I became Evgeniya Botovits.

Now, my dear girl, said Boyko, everything is open to you. No one will touch you. He wrapped a scarf around me- one that the local girls would wear and I became one of them. I walked aimlessly on the roads. I planned on returning to Persefa, but I had to pass a bridge guarded by German police. I came to the village of Michaelovka and I knocked on the door of one of the farmers. I asked if anyone needed a shepherd for the cows.

I was employed on one of the farms, but my skinny body was my undoing. The Ukrainians who worked with me suspected that something was wrong with me. They joked and said I was either a princess or I was sick. Finally, they said I must be Jewish.

One evening, a messenger came from the farm to inform me that the manager wanted to see me. The manager was known as a hard man. He was a Folksdeutch. I felt in my heart that the end was near. I was prepared for a certain death.

The manager asked me who and what I was. I replied that I was Russian, born in Kiev where my parents still resided. I showed him all the documents. My name is Evgeniya Botovits. He said, in a sarcastic tone: the voice is that of a Soviet girl, but I am certain you are one of those who are not allowed to be around here. The hint was quite clear.

[Page 468]

The manager continued: I will give you a letter to my elderly mother who lives in the village of Demitrovka. She is looking for a maid and you will remain there.

I came to his elderly mother and the woman was surprised that her son sent her a maid. She did not need any help. However, since her son sent me, she could not fire me without any reason and she would send me to her neighbor.

That is what happened: I worked for the neighbor and I milked 8 cows daily. I worked in the fields, I baked bread. I became a professional farm worker.

One day I went to the barn to take hay for the horses and I saw a Jew hiding there. I calmed him down and told him that, I, too, was Jewish and that I would take care of his food. When my boss found out that a Jew was hiding on his premises, he threatened him with a pistol and told to leave immediately.

Two weeks later the Jew reappeared and told me that this time he did not come to hide, but he came to save me. He was hiding in a house of Seventh Day Adventists and he heard that everyone knew that I was Jewish. I was to leave the village because I was in danger.

I went to the neighbor and told him I wanted to work somewhere else and perhaps he knew of an opening. He told me his daughter was married to a German and she needed a maid. He took me to his daughter's house. On the way I recognized the road. When I reached the village, I realised that I had returned to Brishtseh. I had escaped from there.

I was liked by the Soltis and I worked for him. Once time, when the harvest was finished, he made a party and he invited all the important villagers. Among them was the German commander. It was in July 1943. My employer put on a white dress on me and I served the guests. At the end of the party, the commander informed Soltis that he wanted me to work for him because his maid was stealing.

The commander lived in a large palace. The village school was also located there. Behind it was a prison heavily guarded by the army. I was truly in the maw of the lion. My job was to clean the rooms, work in the kitchen and to bring food to the pigs.

It was vacation time in the school and I was temporarily housed in the room usually occupied by the teacher. He had gone to spend his vacation with his parents. When I entered the room, I became very frightened. On the wall there was a picture of the teacher. I had studied with him in Lutsk. I knew that when the teacher would return, he would inform my employer who and what I was. How would I escape death?

[Page 469]

I did not lose my cool. The commander received many Germans from Lutsk and I told them I was afraid to stay there because of the partisans in the area. They listened to me and took me to Lutsk. These Germans provided food to the German army. I was employed as a secretary.

I worked for them until January 1944. That is when the Red Army saved me from the maws of the lion.


[Pages 469-471]

My Escape from the Ghetto

by Lola Friedman-Ingber

Translated by Iddo Amit

Donated by Phil Friedman

 

The Germans were drafting Jewish girls for different labour projects. I was taken to work at the train station. There, I got to meet one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a Baptist by fate, Mr. Berilko[1]. The entire family were Baptists and were secretly visiting the Ghetto.

When I was banished from my labour, because I refused to do menial[2] work, the Berilkos suggested that I hide at their house until the matter subsided. Indeed, I hid with them for a whole month.

During one of the nights, Mr Berilko told me about the horrors happening at the Ghetto. The Germans were running wild, shooting indiscriminately, and forcefully dragging Jews to hard labour.

The Berilkos were worried that one of the Nazis would show up at their doorstep and catch me. Then, we will be all doomed. Therefore, they suggested that I return to the Ghetto and gave me a clear promise that they would prepare “Aryan” papers for me.

I simply cannot describe what I saw that night in the Ghetto. I was shocked and terrified. I saw them frantically digging bunkers – to escape from death. But no one was fooling themselves, they knew that death is close, certain, and help is beyond reach.

It is a wonder to me, and will always be a wonder that I was strong enough to watch these horrors. To hear the cries of those walking to their deaths and not to be petrified. People were falling into each other's arms, hugging, saying their farewells in cries that reached the heavens. They asked for forgiveness, said the Viduy prayer together out loud. Mothers were parting with their new-borns held in their arms. Brothers split from brothers, a man from his wife, a groom from his bride, teachers from students. The entire Ghetto was flowing with the stream of tears from the miserable and lost.

At dawn, the Ukrainian police stormed into the Ghetto, mercilessly murdering every bystander. Whoever could, ran into the bunker. A group of 20 men and women hid in our bunker, which was only 2 1/2 metres long and 1 ½ wide.

While sitting underground, we heard terrible cries. Those were the death cries of people, being dragged to the death camps.

This horror took two whole days. After that, it was quiet. The Ukrainians were looking for hiding places. When we heard the sounds of hammers our hearts nearly stopped. The murderers found the bunker next to ours and destroyed its inhabitants with the rage of preying animals.

We sat in the bunker for six weeks without going to the surface. When we learned that the Ukrainians were no longer conducting their nightly searches, we surfaced, to look for food in houses and in other bunkers. We received information about the fate of the Ghetto and the other bunkers. We learned that the Gubermans, who were all in one bunker, took poison during one of the nights.

In addition, they told us that the Germans had told doctors and other professional men that they were willing to let them live, but them alone, without their wives or children. Dr. Zyskind ZL[3] rejected the offer discussed. He would not buy his life back by paying with the life of his family.

We had a few moments of happiness in the bunker. It will sound strange to you, because where would this happiness come from? However, there were – when we heard the echoes of Soviet bombers, when we heard the thunder of the bombs carrying through the air. We regarded the bomber as our angels of salvation. SHFOCH CHAMATCHA[4] our lips formed without sound. The day of destruction of our murderers will soon come. The time for vengeance for the rivers of spilt blood will come. If there is a God in the heavens, he will dip his arrows in the blood of the unholy. The shovels will turn red with the blood of the damned, as our hands turned red from the blood of our pure children, and the blood for the poor mothers, who were shielding their babies with their bare hands.

I'm sitting in the bunker and thinking dreary thoughts. Has my day finally come? I am so young, and yet my feet are nearing their grave. Will they lead me tomorrow to the gallows for my final descent?

The life in the bunker is unbearable. There is no food and no water. We dig with our palms into the dry soil, to find moist dirt with which we can wet our lips. The moss is delicious for us. It calms us down, sooth us and quenches our thirst.

Our nerves are on end. We have taken the decision to get out of the bunker, no matter what. We are facing our doom no matter what we do. What would be the point of prolonging our dying?

The Ghetto is surrounded with a wooden fence from all sides. Above it, a barb wire. On the riverside, there are only barb wires. A wire cutter was our only weapon. We decided to cut the wires, cross the river and escape.

We waited for a dark, rainy night. But as if to spite us, the nights were clear and bright. One dark night, we left the bunker and were faced with a horrific sight: the Ghetto was deserted. Destroyed. The silence was heavy. The doors were broken, the houses stood in ruins – there was anxiety in the air.

We crawled towards the shovels and waited for the guards to leave. When we started cutting the wires, some gunshots were heard, aimed at us. Fortunately, they missed us. For safety, we lingered for two hours. We crossed the river at its shallowest point and found shelter at one of the ruins in Ludimir Street. We were torn, tired and hungry. The next morning, we unfortunately discovered that the ruins were being used as a play area for Ukrainian kids. When they saw us, the threatened to reveal our hiding place to the Ukrainian police. We had one guy with us who knew the kids, and he calmed them down.

I started walking to the Berilkos. It was 8AM. I dressed up as a Christian girl and put a sweater around my face, as if my teeth were aching and I was headed to the dentist.

The road was very dangerous. I had to cross the entire Ghetto and be careful of the Ukrainian police. I managed to safely reach the Berlikos on Lutzke Street, and their happiness knew no bounds. They were sure I had been executed.

The papers were ready. The Berlikos gave me a train ticket to Kiev, where they had relatives. I changed my clothes and went out to catch the train. The situation outside was still very delicate. Mrs. Berliko walked me to the train leaving for Kiev. I said my goodbyes to this wonderful woman, found my seat on the train car, and I was saved.

 

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Originally ברילקו, I am not sure about spelling here.Return
  2. Contemptible work? I assume it means something to do with the lavatory. Return
  3. The late Dr Zyskind – literally “blessed his memory.” Return
  4. A sentence from the Passover Hagada. I'm not sure how to properly translate it. Literally, “pour your rage on the gentiles.” Return


[Page 472]

I Struggled With Death…

by Sima Pantorin-Reichstol

Translated by Ala Gamulka

 

Several days before the final and total elimination of the second ghetto in town- beginning on July 22, 1942- I arrived in the German “cantine”. It was located in the house of Dr. Vitman. I had worked there as a laborer and I found the gate locked. My heart was pounding and I feared the worst… I had no choice but to return to the ghetto. There I found my family members who had been moved from the first ghetto in the “sands”. They were upset and depressed, crowded together, afraid and waiting with despair for the tragic end to all the holy ones. The latter were awaiting their preordained fate. We tried to find a solution to our predicament and, like many other inhabitants of the ghetto, we decided to build a bunker under the house. We were hoping to escape immediate extermination. Perhaps, who knows? Perhaps G-d will take pity on us…

In the meantime, I joined the laborers who had been transferred from the first ghetto. We dug out potatoes in the fields across from Monopoliova Street. That day, when I was in the fields, a young woman with her younger brother approached me and begged me to give them some potatoes as hunger had truly seized them. I realized, from her speech and her looks that she was Russian. I wondered about her and I asked how they came to be here. She explained that she was in the Labor Camp staffed by Russians. They had been brought to Germany to work and were sent back with those who were unable to work and who were to be exterminated. She wanted to run away from here as she did not wish to die with the Jews…

Our bunker (in the house of Jezembecher), was ready and was well camouflaged. We: my husband Leibel Stock, our ten-year old daughter, Hela, my mother, Pessel, my brothers: Shmuel Reichstol, his wife and their two children; David Reichstol, his wife and daughter, Dr. Vidra's wife and another 20 people. We went down into our underground “residence” and we lived there in constant fear knowing we were unable to stop the terrible fate that awaited all of us.

Above our heads we heard the footsteps and the unruly yelling of the Germans and their helpers- the Ukrainian police. They had come to exterminate the ghetto completely. It was dangerous to go outside to obtain bread and water. Sometimes it was impossible. My brother Shmuel's young boy became quite ill and was dying. He begged for water, but there was none in the bunker- not even enough to wet his lips. I could not stand the suffering of this child and I decided to find water for him, no matter what would happen to me. I got up, took the pail and stole in the dark towards the wire fences. The fences designated the borders of the ghetto. I pumped water from the well and I tried to go back. At that moment an armed policeman loomed in my path.

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I saw certain death facing me. My heart stopped. My will to live was very strong. At that moment I remembered meeting the Russian woman in the fields. A great idea popped into my head. “Leave me alone”- it was not my usual voice- “I am Russian. I lost my way from the Russian labor camp and now I am trying to get back. I don't want to die here”. The policeman, who must have been Russian, stared at me and lowered his gun. “Fine, if you are Russian, the road is open to you. I can't help you right now because the camp is surrounded by the Germans. Run away and hide and tomorrow come back here. I may be able to help you.” He watched to see which way I would go to hide. I did not know if I could trust him. Perhaps he was just misleading me. I was confused, but I knew I could not go back to the bunker and expose my dear family and friends.

I began to run and a little further I found a destroyed house. I went inside and hid under the sagging boards. I lay there for a night and a day holding my breath. Through the cracks I could see the Germans and the Ukrainians running like wild animals with their guns drawn. They were searching for bunkers and planning to exterminate anyone they found there. The houses had been broken into and the belongings of the Jews had been stolen.

My hunger was really bothering me. I thought to myself: in any case, I am doomed to die. Let me try my luck. In the dark of night, I came out of my hiding place and I came closer to the area where I had pumped water the previous day. With inhuman strength I began to dig with my fingers under the wire fence until I was able to make a hole. I pushed my head through it and I somehow managed to drag the rest of my body. My dress was torn and my entire body was hurt and cut from head to toe. However, I did not feel any pain. I was simply petrified when I saw the same policeman marching with his drawn gun. To my great surprise I discovered that he was sincere. He recognized me and allowed me to escape.

I began to run with any strength I still possessed towards Monopoliova Street- along the columns-. Fortunately, I did not meet anyone until I reached the small wood near the Polish section. There I found a pile of straw. I put my head in it and I fell into a deep sleep. I woke up in the dark of night in the middle of a scary nightmare: My late father came and pushed me off the pile of straw…

I regained my strength and wiped the blood of my injuries. In the morning I arrived in the home of my Polish friend Lussya. We had worked together in the cantine and I had left some of my clothes with her before we went into the ghetto. In them I had hidden my savings. When she saw me, she glared at me and said: “You, too, are alive?” She pretended to feel my sorrow and threw to me one of her simple dresses (this actually helped me to save myself). She quickly locked me in and she left the house.

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I saw through her evil scheme. I immediately climbed to the attic and I hid among the discarded pieces. Soon the Ukrainian policemen arrived. However, when they found the front door locked, they believed the neighbors who asserted that there was no one inside and that the “conniving” Polish woman had led them astray.

When Lussya returned home she was again surprised that I was still alive. I chose the right moment and I escaped from the house. I went to the Kushar area dressed as one of them.

In the Kushar area I roamed the streets and many of the residents, mainly Poles, believed the story I told them. (Even I began to believe it…). I was a deserter from the Russian labor camp. They would give me bread in exchange for work in their homes. However, the Ukrainians mostly looked at me with evil and examining eyes. They would whisper: “Perhaps she is a jewess?” Another would add more remarks and the rumors would change from ear to ear. It did not take long for the Police commander to come and arrest me. He questioned me about my name, my family ,where from I came from… He threatened me that if he would not find my name in the list of Russian labor camp workers he would cut me into pieces. I stood my ground in spite of the threats and beatings during the inquiry. They kept me in jail for two days. When I was freed, I had to crawl on all fours. My successful improvisation and my strong stand finally convinced the murderous commander. He gave me a note saying that “Anastasia Ivanovna Kavali” from the Russian labor camp was allowed to remain in the village. I was offered a job in the home of Roman Semeniuk. He and his wife were elderly and needed workers on their farm. I began a new life. I learned and was able to do all jobs related to the farm. I milked the cows when the milk would freeze and I was bare-footed in the snow… (My bosses had figured that I did not need shoes…). I carried the milk in jugs to town (12 k”m away)- together with the other young women and I sold the milk in homes. When I went to the house of Prozhmuvsky, the pharmacist, (we had left some of our belongings there), his daughter recognized me and was kind enough not to denounce me to the authorities. She paid me with items that we had left with her. I brought the item to my employers and they thought very highly of me.

This life continued until the spring of 1943. I worked very hard. Even the near past seemed distant and clouded over… Sometimes I thought I was really the Soviet Anastasia. However, the war was swirling around me and there was great danger at every step.

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My instincts did not allow me to believe I was safe. The dim hope that I would make it to the end of the war and still find someone alive in my family gave me the will and the strength to suffer in silence and to manage my bitter fate.

In the summer of 1943, the Russians advanced to Kovel and there were fierce battles. The front changed constantly and there was great tension. At the same time the Ukrainians wanted autonomy and they revolted against their German lords. There were battles between Bulbuvtzis and the Germans and, at the same time there were massacres of Russians and the wives of the Russian officers. Again, I was in danger from the Ukrainians as a Russian. One of my Russian acquaintances in the village offered me a secret job with the Ukrainian partisans in the forests near Kovel. I remembered everything I had gone through and what I had seen in the ghetto. My heart was full of revenge. After some hesitation, I accepted the spying role for the partisans. I used my daily visits in town as a milkmaid. I gathered all possible information and I gave it to the partisans. The Ukrainians began to suspect me and one of them began to follow me and to bother me. I informed the partisans of this event. They did not hesitate and one night they came to his room and killed him.

All the village people, the neighbors, came to the house of the victim and paid their condolences. They crossed themselves and cried. I, too, tried to come and I even crossed myself. However, I could not cry…This was noticed by others…

The following day two Gestapo men came- an officer and a soldier and they began to question me. The officer decided that I should be killed, but the soldier was against it. He did not think that there was enough proof as to my guilt. The officer took out his pistol and aimed at my heart…

This was the second time I faced certain death. At that moment a strange thing happened: the soldier pushed the officer's armed hand and the pistol fell down. They began to fight. My employers intervened and they were able to make peace. Roman Semeniuk, my employer, brought drinks. I avoided death again.

However, the suspicion of my cooperation with the partisans did its deed and the Bulbuvtzis declared, in secret, a death sentence on me. My elderly employer who really liked me while I was in his house, was afraid of my fate. He quickly prepared a hiding place under the standing grain in his field. I spent two months lying there and the old man provided me with bread and water. The spot was tight, suffocating and damp. I had enough and I decided to leave my hiding place.

[Page 476]

Two days later a couple of Bulbuvtzis arrived and took me out. They stood me next to the wall of the barn, lit cigarettes and asked me in an evil tone: “How do I want to kill you, with a pistol or a gun?” This was the third time I faced certain death. I did not believe that I would escape this time. I truly did not want to see death. I waited for the right moment when they- so confident- looked to the side and I jumped with all my might to the back of the barn. I began to run. I was certain they would shoot me and kill me and my troubles will come to an end. However, fate intervened. When I began to run, I immediately fell into a deep cache of potatoes. I landed inside the straw covering the potatoes. I could not be seen. I heard shots above my head. My tormentors went in the other direction. I stayed in that cache until night fell and it was quiet. I climbed out and left the village. I ran non-stop until I reached the forest. There I found the commander of the partisans and I begged him to let me join their unit. However, the commander convinced me that I was more useful to them on the outside than inside. He furnished me with a deck of cards and sent me to the various villages as a fortune teller. I began to wander among the villages again. I told fortunes and I found information for the partisans. When I reached the village, I discovered that the Germans had surrounded the forest and eliminated most of the partisans.

On July 22, 1944 the Russians came. I left the village and returned to town. It is difficult to describe my feelings when I saw the complete destruction of the town. There were only some piles of stones where the houses had stood. They looked like gravestones. There was so much ruin and no people…I wandered among the remnants of the ghetto. I looked for a sign of my family. I found nothing. My strength left me. The strong will to live that had kept me going until now dissipated. I believed that I had no reason to stay alive.

At the same time refugees arrived in Kovel. Among them were Shieke Goldstein and Pinhas Pantorin. Their friendship helped. I remembered my brothers in Russia. I was offered a job and thus I returned to normal human life.

* * *

The tragic death of Ruth (Rusia) Dashevsky z” l

I heard about the tragic death of Ruth (Rusia) Dashevsky from Pinhas Pantorin. She had escaped to the Soviet Union at the beginning of the war. She worked as a veterinarian in central Asia. In 1944 Pinhas met her in Alma Ata. They spent three days together. Rusia told him of her wish to return to Kovel. Pinhas was then on his way back and he promised to help her. When I heard about it, I immediately wrote her a letter describing the horrible destruction. Rusia was not scared by m descriptions and she replied that in spite of everything she truly wished to return. She wanted to live in Kovel even among the ruins. I contacted the mayor and he offered her a job as a veterinarian. In November 1944, a woman came to my house and told me that Rusia and her mother had arrived in Kovel and were on a freight train.

Pinhas harnessed his horses and we drove to welcome them. When we arrived at the train, we saw a horrible scene. Rusia was lying in the wagon on a straw mat. She was very skinny, filthy and burning with fever. She could not even speak. Her mother was sitting next to her and told me that Rusia had contacted Typhus on the road. They wanted to hospitalize her in Kiev and she refused. She wanted to be back in Kovel. We immediately contacted the authorities and asked for her to be admitted to the hospital. Perhaps we could still save her. Rusia went to the hospital in Liuvitov.

When she was taken down from the train and placed on the cart, she opened her eyes. After a serious attempt she said: “Sima, Petya, why are you trying so hard? Everything is lost. It is too late. I am dying. Where are you taking me? “These were the last words of Rusia. She died the next day in the hospital in Liuvitov. She was buried there.

When I arrived at the hospital with Pinhas to find out about her condition, we found out from the doctor, to our great sorrow, that she had died and had been buried. Rusia had a ring and her mother gave me her ring as a memento. I would thus remember my dear friend until my dying days.


[Page 478]

How was I saved from Destruction?

by Miriam Goldstein

Translated by Selwyn Rose

 

Brukhovychi, not far from Holoby, in a small house, surrounded by cherry-trees that seemed from a distance to bury the entire estate – four Jewish children were hidden: me, Leah Katz, her brother and their cousin, a little girl of three, Bilha.

It was difficult to understand why the old Polish couple – Jakob and his wife Kaczyna endangered themselves and hid us for two years in their home. He, a strict Catholic, believed perhaps that the four sinful souls had been sent to him by Heaven in order to convert them to the covenant of Jesus. His wife Kaczyna had mixed feelings: worldliness, mysticism, faith and superstition were all mixed-up together inside her. Perhaps she was bewitched by the money that we offered her for our safety would give her the possibility of freeing herself of her internal pressures or perhaps it was the support and respect that she acquired for the Jews that she had served as a maid or home-help before the war. She saw saving the children of the Jews as an act of heroism and believed it would bring her a reward. She often repeated that it was desirable to save more Jewish souls and her favorite expression was: “I'm likely to go to the gallows for one – why not for twenty!” How her reward would come to her, she didn't know, neither did we. One thing we all believed during these terrible days of hunger, cold and fear, that eventually it will come to an end. But when?... It was spring 1943. We were hidden in a ramshackle structure that served as a barn, silo, cow-shed and pig-sty. The roof was rickety and the pillars supported both the walls and the roof.

In one of the corners of the barn, where the cows stood, we dug a trench and covered it with hay and dung. The trench had been made with such precision that even the experienced Ukrainian murderers were unable to detect it. (By the way – we prepared other trenches for ourselves in the farm-yard just in case we should ever need them). A spring day… Daylight outside, quiet, trees are budding. The serenity of spring penetrated our own beings and awakened within us a feeling of nostalgia and the hope for freedom, for a tranquil normal life. Perhaps this spring will bring us redemption? The circumstances seem to indicate that during this period the search for Jews in order to execute them has somewhat relaxed. Hitler's wild animals performed their work well. The important thing was that no one saw us and no one informed on us to the Germans and Ukrainians. The Ukrainian murderers wandered around about us like dogs and never missed the opportunity to enjoy murdering a Jew. We were standing along the side of the barn looking out through the chinks and were happy to see people in front of us although at that same moment we forgot that more than one of this people could easily be our killers. At that moment there appeared in the field ahead of us, at about 30 meters away, 4 or 5 Ukrainians armed with rifles loaded

[Page 479]

and ready to fire. Like lightning. frightened and petrified, we scampered into our trench from where we could hear their shouts: “Ha!! Jews' shoes; where are the Jews?” We heard their boots passing to-and-fro above us running around, climbing on the roof, standing almost next to us, we actually heard their breathing…the noise and confusion continued. The dog barked incessantly. Suddenly everything stopped and went deathly still and quiet…what can have happened? It is hard to describe what we felt then. We understood that these were likely our last moments… we clung to each other and held our breath. I cannot know exactly what my brother's feelings were but I, even at the moment of greatest danger, if only a wisp or handful of hay separated us – I held stubbornly to the thought: “I must survive.” I had learned by heart the words: “The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace!” Other prayers I knew not. Neither did my little cousin Bilha but she learned from me these same words and repeated them in times of danger.

We didn't move from our hiding-place, and waited…How long we sat there, threatened with death, in our damp trench, along with frogs and other vermin it is hard to say. For us it seemed like forever. We were certain that they had taken the old Polish couple somewhere. Perhaps shot them on the spot…

Suddenly the silence was broken by the dog barking. This time it was not a threatening bark like the previous one but more of a murmur of satisfaction suggesting a person known to him. (In the time that we had been on the farm, we had learned to distinguish between the dog's different barks). We felt that something had happened in the yard… “Thank G-d, they've gone.” Suddenly we heard the happy voice of Galyankova. With her special sense of humor she told us what had happened: When the Ukrainian hooligans entered the animal enclosure they immediately sensed that there were people there. They found a pair of shoes on the ground (we mostly went bare-foot), a few bowls and spoons that had been forgotten. In fact they were searching for a Jewish man who was wearing a belt with a money-belt who had escaped from them. They were saying in the neighborhood that he was hiding-out at the Galyanovka farm. Kaczyna was unfazed. She found a reasonable explanation for every situation. “All the items belong to my daughter-in-law and her children who are afraid to stay in their house because it is near to the Germans.” The truth was that the Poles were afraid of the Ukrainian hooligans and most of them had left their farms and gone to live in Holoby.

The situation then was terrible for us as well as for our saviors. The hooligans demanded from the Galyanovka family to bring out the Jews they were hiding or their blood would be on their won heads. Galyanovka understood that even if she surrendered us it wouldn't save them and she stubbornly insisted that it was not possible that she would hide Jews because she was so poor that she didn't have enough to feed themselves. The hooligans turned the house upside down but found nothing. Then they commanded the old man Jakob to dig a grave for himself. That broke their spirit. Jakob took a shovel in his trembling hands and began begging the murderers to allow him to go into the house and get his Missal – he wanted to pray before he died. That saved them. The murderers saw it as proof of the honesty of the old couple and released them. Before they went the hooligan promised the couple that if the Jew, who wasn't there now, was later found there, all of them will be killed.

After all that we had to leave Brukhovychi. We wandered around from place to place around the village of Nowyzishel(?). Hungry, exhausted, hunted and desperate, expecting every minute to be killed…When it was winter we returned to the old Polish couple and there we stayed until Kovel was liberated by the Red Army in March 1944. Thus were we saved from death.

 

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