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[Page 357]

A Motherly Poem

Miriam Aygas's Story

Translated by Ron N. Levitan

Miriam (nee Aygas) Tokarski was born to the Aygas family of Globokie (Vilna/ Vitbesk region) in 1919. Amongst the partisans from Minsk she was known by her nickname “Katia” She immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union in 1960. During the years 1963- 1975 she was the secretary of the union of the immigrants from the Soviet Union. She is a resident of the coastal town; Ashdod. David Cohen interviewed her for this story.

{Picture: Katia in 1970 as the secretary of the union of the immigrants from the Soviet Union.}

As soon as the Germans enter Minsk, they ordered that all the male residents of Minsk, with no specification for nationality, must come to a certain area. Every man from the age of 16 to 55 arrived and from there, they were all taken to the Drozdy camp not far from Minsk. There, they were split up, and the Christians and Jews were separated. All the Christians were free to leave while the Jews were imprisoned in this camp, outdoors and under the skies. During the daytime, due to summer, it was extremely hot and the men suffered greatly. At night they would light up the entire area with searchlights to make sure nobody would escape. The camp was located in the vicinity of a POW camp the German erected.

They didn't supply the men with any food, but they permitted the women and children to bring food to their family members. There were no restroom facilities and people were forced to relieve themselves outdoors. After sometimes, the Germans started murdering the POWs, and the few that were fit were taken to work. Some of the POWs were able to escape. Among them, was a Russian man named Mikhail Gromov. He was shot at during the escape and as soon as he arrived to the center of Minsk, he sat in a garden, wounded and exhausted. A woman named Helena (Lina) Vlasovna Balndovitz passed by and saw him. Since she knew all the residents who lived there, she realized that he must be an escapee and in great danger from the Germans and took him to her home. Some months later, these two people saved my little daughter from a certain death. I will tell about that event later. Amongst the POWs, there were also some Jewish soldiers who fought for the Soviets. A few of them succeeded in escaping by using women's clothes that the Jewish women of Minsk were able to bring with them. Together with the women who brought food, they escaped from the camp.

At one time, the German authorities announced that all the professional people among the Jews they held (in the camp for the Jews of Minsk) should register with the German authority and they would receive decent jobs. Many Physicians, Teachers, Engineers, Musicians and alike, registered. The Germans sent trucks that took them away, and that was the last these people were seen; they were immediately killed (aside from a few who were needed)

After six days in this camp, they transferred all the remaining Jews to a prison in town where they were held for a few days. Here, they were beaten up mercilessly. The Germans announced that they should go home and get their wives and children and together they would be transferred to the ghetto that was going to be established. In the ghetto, they established a Judenrat committee that was accountable to the Nazis. They served as connection between the Jews and the Nazis.

The first head of this committee was Eliyahu Mushkin, a bright and ethical man. Immediately after the committee was established, the Germans requested a “compensation”. They demanded that the Jews bring them money; silver, gold and jewelry. Mushkin came to the Jewish population and said “these are there demands, and since we all want to survive, then maybe by supplying them with there demands, they will keep us alive.” People greatly respected him and accepted his request and gave him jewelry and gold watches and other possession. Soon we realized that it was impossible to supply all the demands that the Germans kept coming with.

One time I was near the Judenrat committee building, I saw a German national (folks deutsche) who lived in Minsk by the name of Gorodski come with his car to the building. (He become the “owner” of the Jewish ghetto) Mushkin came to him with a beautiful Candelabrum. He handed him the Candelabra and received a merciless slap on his face and harsh beating that produce great wounds. After some time, the Nazis murdered Mushkin because he could not supply their demands that kept increasing.

Moshe Yoffe, who was also a very intelligent and talented man, replaced Mushkin. The Judenrat was divided into various subdivisions. A man named Rodizer, who was very decent, was appointed as the head of the craftsmen's department. He succeeded to secretly transfer most of the products that were produced by the Jewish craftsmen to the Resistant. Products included winter clothing, boots and soap. One day he with his wife and a daughter were murdered during an action in the ghetto. Sadly there were also some corrupt Jews in the ghetto and there were even provocateurs. One of them was a woman named Mira, who everyone knew to be very careful of and they avoided her like they avoid fire. In the end, the Resistance killed her. They were others; Rosenblatt who lived lavishly at the expense of the other Jews. There was also Mr. Epstein from Danzig who lived like “the God of Odessa” in the ghetto. Another one was Mr. Vinestein who would beat the heads of the Jewish women with rubber bats (He never touched the men out of fear of retaliation) All of these people were later assassinated by the resistant.

During the first days of the establishment of the ghetto, there were 92,000 Jews crowded in the small area. This was the official number of the registered Jews but many did not register. Originally there was no rule for participating in the forced labor troop in the ghetto, at that point you could sustain yourself without a job. You did not receive any food, but many still had possessions and the Jews would go to the barbed fence that encircled the ghetto and would swap their possession in exchange for food with the local Christian population. The ghetto was surrounded by barbwires. In each home, there lived a few families and after much difficulties, I found a small living space with the family of Zalman Rosenbloom on Shabtzenco Street. I lived there with my mother, sister and little daughter. As the head of the family, I was forced to go to the barbed wire fence and try to exchange possessions for food, even though the punishment if being caught was imprisonment or even death, but there was no other choice for me at that point.

These were the fears and horrors during daytime but the truly dreadful hours would take place during the nights when people would hide in the dark and lock themselves inside their homes and no one would go out. One night, the usual deathly quiet of the ghetto was pierced by the anguished screams “Save us!” followed by gunshots. We all ran for our hiding places and nobody came out to help the people who were yelling. The next morning, we found out that a group of Hitler tugs came in the ghetto and raped the women, tore their limbs and then shot them. Once again, there was days were they caught men and took them to a central location while beating them with rubber bats. Wounded and bleeding, they threw them in trucks from were they would never be seen again.

On November 6th, 1941 at dusk, the air was permeating with danger and once again there was a rumor of impending action in the ghetto. I looked at my mother helplessly, my little sister looked deathly fearful, but what was I to do? I held my little girl in my arms and ran to the Judenrat building to find out what was going on. In the yard of the Judenrat, there were many people, consisting of committee people with their families and professional people with their families. The folks Deutsche (of German descent) Gorodski announced that he would take the essential Jews to Shiroka street where they would be kept until the Nazis would finish the action. I hid amongst a group of men from the Judenrat. Soon I realized that every time that they announced the name of a man, a women and some children would join him. So I quickly whispered to the Jewish men, “Is anyone of you single?” and none of them answered. I stood there hopeless with my baby in my arms and finally someone pointed at a guy and said, “he's single”. I begged the single guy to tell me his name so I could pretend to be his sister and join him but he remained silent. When they called his name, I just followed him. When the policeman asked him if I was his sister, he replied “NO.” I started screaming to him bitterly,“You were never a good brother to me! And even now you wont come to the help of your sister!?”… I shielded my baby waiting for the policemen to beat me up, but all of a sudden I heard him scream to me “stop!” I stood erect and saw the Policeman with his beating stick motioning to me to follow the man who I claimed was my brother. I left with the group to Shiroka Street. Here, they took us to the barns and there were bunk beds stacked everywhere.

The next day, a young boy came running from the ghetto to his father who was with us in the Shiroka camp and told us that in the ghetto they killed many people. After three days, when the killing subsided, we went back to the ghetto where I was very happy to find my mother and sister alive. In this action, 15 thousand Jews were killed and two weeks later they killed another 5 thousand. Jews who survived the mass killings in neighboring towns replaced them in the workplace. We knew that death is eminent for all of us, so all the Jews started digging hiding places under their homes.

My situation was very precarious since most Jews refused to let babies come to the hide out because they feared that their cries would betray the entire hiding place. If someone at times of danger brought a baby to the hideout, immediately with the baby's first cry, the people would strangle him. For this reason, I never took my baby to the hideout. Every time when there would be suspicion that something would happen and people would run to their bunkers, I would take my baby, rip the yellow Jewish star off and with the help of my sister, I would crawl under the barb wire to the Russian area. Once I reached the other side, I would run to far away allies. One day, I befriended a Christian woman by the name of Lima Mazalska. I told her about my little girl and she said she would agree to take my daughter to her home which was near the fence of the ghetto. On March 1, 1942, in the evening when I found out something was going to occur in the ghetto, I took my baby and crawled under the barbed wire on Kolektorna Street through the cemetery to the Christian women Lima. I quietly knocked on the door and deposited the baby on the doorway and ran away quickly because I couldn't stand hearing the screams of the baby..

March 2nd, the Gestapo arrived in the ghetto and demanded to collect five thousand Jews for a 'Special mission”. Everyone hid and refused to come. The Gestapo members became enraged and marched throughout the ghetto and shot with pistols and automatic guns everyone whom they encountered. They went to the Jewish home for the orphaned children and murdered all of the children. This home for the children was established for the orphans of the ghetto on Zelona Street. Some kind-hearted women, who lost their own kids, took care of the children. There was no food supplied for them so the children became beggars. They would go to the homes wearing a necklace that had an empty food container tied to it and people would fill them with leftovers. It was heartbreaking to see the children and they could hardly walk from starvation. When I gave my child to the Christian woman where I knew she would be fed and taken care of, every time I was able to get bread, I gave it to those children. Many of them knew me and would run to me every time I came near by.

During that day, they also killed the poet/ artist Moshe Levin, who was known by his pen name; Ber Sarin. Moshe came to Minsk from Vilna with his wife and two daughters. He was a very talented teacher and artist, a graduate of the teachers' seminar in Vilna. In the ghetto, he headed a labor group and was planning to escape and join the resistance. One day, when he returned for work, there was an action in the ghetto. One of the German officers who Moshe was at the time drawing his portrait, wanted to save his life. But Moshe was very responsible and said, “I have a group of about 35 people who work with me and I must bring them to be saved.”

The German agreed to save the entire group and send him to get them. On the way to get the group, other Nazis caught him and killed him on the spot. His wife, Sarah Levin, stayed in the ghetto with her oldest daughter Aninka. The youngest daughter already died of illness at that point. Sarah was at work during that action, so the neighbors took her daughter Aninka to their hideout. At one point, there was one girl in the hideout who was very thirsty. After four days past in the hideout, the father of the girl looked outside and saw that nobody was around so he left the hideout and entered the house to bring water. A policeman saw him and followed him quietly until the father returned to the hideout. The Germans then surrounded the hideout and killed all the people who hid there.

In the ghetto I also encountered the two sisters, Dina and Tzesia Madiasker, who were the sisters of one of the heroes of the Vilna ghetto, Sonia Madiasker. Dina worked as a nurse in one of the hospitals for wounded soldiers. From there she will retrieve medicine and first aid supplies for the ghetto. Her sister Tzesia became the contact between the resistant in the ghetto and the Soviet resistant in the Minsk region. In July of 1942, she was caught in the ghetto with her baby girl who was one year old. They were both pushed into the most dreaded “gas truck”* where they were killed when monoxide gas from the engine streamed.

On the July 28th, 1942, after we were taken out to work, a ten-year old boy came to his father at the working place and said that the ghetto was surrounded. My head became dizzy with worrying what would happen with my mother and daughter (my sister was working with me). Since I didn't know that morning when I left the ghetto about what was about to occur, I did not prepare ahead for the situation. For four days, we were left in the workplace and they didn't let us go back to the ghetto and we could hear gunshots. We stayed in the university classrooms where we worked and finally on the fourth day, they returned us to the ghetto to a big yard on Republic Street. There we were met by dozens of people who were bitterly crying and they were amongst the few who were able to hide during that action., Already at the entrance of the ghetto, I encountered a neighbor and I asked if my family members were alive, he shook his head negatively. …. My eyes darkened and I lost the will to survive. I always told myself that I must be strong because my beloved are alive but now I lied on the ground holding my head in my arms in deep mournin---all of sudden I heard someone shouting to me, “Quickly, go get your mother and daughter, quickly run they are in my yard.”

I ran to the yard near our house, when I got there a policeman stopped me and said, “Don't move one step ahead or I will shoot!”. But when I saw my mother almost collapsing holding my daughter, I didn't pay any attention to the policeman and caught my daughter in one hand and pulled my mother out of the yard. After this action, it became clear to me that I cannot safely leave my daughter with my mother in the ghetto when I go to work. I suggested to my mother that she should wear a cross on her neck and move to the Russian side with my daughter. Both of them had blonde hair and could be mistaken for non-Jews.

My mother refused to listen to me and she said “I was born a Jew and I will die a Jew. Why should I look for death far away from you? Death will find me soon enough right here.” I was determined to save my daughters life and decided to leave her in the Russian area no matter what. My daughter was a beautiful blonde girl and she spoke Russian very fluently (for her age) and I was hoping that someone would find her and have pity on her. My friend of whom I told you about; Sarah Levin, the widow of Moshe Levin the artist, was the head of the “Kolona” (working group). Daily we would go out of the ghetto to work in small 'Kolonas” with policeman or German guards watching us. At the head of the group (Kolona), there was always a Jew who could speak fluent German, Russian and Polish. The German guard would only address the head of the group. The head of the group would translate the instructions to the Jewish workers. Sarah Levine asked the policemen who worked with her group to ignore the fact that their would be a women with a child coming from the ghetto who is planning to split from the rest of the group. At this point, there were hardly any Jewish children left alive in the ghetto. Early in the morning of September 1, 1942, I tensely walked carrying my daughter to the gate of the ghetto. At first, it seems like my luck was not with me since at the entrance of the gate stood some policemen and Gestapo. I was sure that we are lost and I approached the first row and held my daughter in her waist and her head was below my shoulder so they wouldn't notice her. It seemed like a miracle occurred! They did not discover my baby! When we reached Novo Moskovska Street I saw two burned buildings in the corner and escaped from the line to one of the buildings. I put my daughter on the ground and put a doll in her hand and ran and hid behind one of the buildings. I stood there for awhile and I could hear my daughter crying. All of a sudden she stopped crying. I looked from behind the wall and saw that a man who was limping carried my daughter in his arms and she hugged his neck in a trusting way. I wondered who this man was and where he was taking her. My first instinct was to run and take her back but I controlled myself and took off my yellow Jewish star, covered my face with a kerchief, and followed them for awhile from a distance. When they arrived to Radoshkovska St. they disappeared in one of the backyards. It was about 6 in the morning. I left and went back to the ghetto using backward alleys.

When I arrived in the ghetto, the group I usually worked with was ready to leave and I joined them and stood next to my sister who I always walked with and together (We had to walk in lines as pairs) we both cried bitterly. Days of starvation and Sorrow filled with a longing for my two-year old daughter followed. One day, A Jewish woman name Manya told me that a Christian woman who she bartered with told her that her husband found in the street a blonde girl who spoke very good Russian and appeared like she just arrived from “Moscow”. After some investigation, I found out that it is my daughter and tears choked my throat.

I told Manya and other people in the ghetto that my daughter had passed away, since I was afraid that someone would tell the “wrong person” out of jealously (most lost their children at that point). In a naive tone I told Manya that this Christian girl that she told me about reminded me of my daughter who passed away. I have a strong urge to meet her. One day I joined Manya and her working troop and she motioned to me which yard the girl lived in but there were four apartments there and I didn't know which apartment it was. Manya came running to me and pointed to the right apartment and I went through the hallway that took me to the room. I moved the drapes and I could see my daughter, and when she noticed me, she sat in her bed. The woman who was at the house thought the girl was afraid of me and took her in her arms. I couldn't stop myself and I started petting the leg of my daughter and crying bitterly and my daughter joined my cries. The woman immediately understood everything and she told her husband to shut the door, and this how I became acquainted with mother Lucia who saved my daughter.

min2_358.jpg - Valia with Mikhail and Yalena in 1942

Valia with Mikhail and Yalena in 1942

As soon as a realized my daughter was in good hands my will to survive increased, Mother Lucia suggested that during the actions I should run away from the ghetto and hide in her home. I refused and said “death is following me and your home is more dear to me then my own life. God forbid I should endanger the house to save my own skin”. Mother Lucia promised me to keep my daughter safe with her as long as she is alive.

On March 30th, 1943, my sister and I escaped from the ghetto. To explain the escape, I have to go back to November of 1941. In another part of the ghetto, Jews from Germany were brought. A German officer named Villy Shultz who was about 40 years old served there. He fell in love with young Jewish girl named Elsa who was from Frankfurt on the main. He decided to run away to the Soviet resistant with his Jewish lover. He asked her to get in touch with the Russian Jews in the ghetto who he assumed knew how to get in touch with the resistance. He promised that he would give the group that escaped a truck with a driver. Elza got in touch with Lisa Perlmutter, a Russian Jewish woman, and they organized a group of 30 Jews from Russia and Poland who could be trusted with the secret. On that day of March 1943, the German came with the truck and a driver and took all 30 of us. We were hiding in the truck and at first we were very fearful that the German officer would betray us to the Gestapo since we knew such things had occurred. As we left Minsk, we started believing that things will turn well. The German officer asked who knew how contact the resistant. We really didn't have a contact but there was one Jew named Motel Toyf who knew where to find the resistant. The officer put Motel near him, on the front seat, and continued on the road. We arrived at the river Patitz near the village Roskovitza and we found the bridge that would transfer us to the other side was burned. We couldn't stay by the river for too long since we knew the Germans would look for the officer who left with the Jews for work. We decided to send someone to swim across the river to find the resistance. We were lucky that amongst us was Zolia Tokarski who used to be a sailor. He jumped to the river with his clothes and pistol to his mouth. After a short time, he returned with a boat. The first person to be transferred was the German officer and we could see the people of the resistance waiting on the other side. They quickly realized that we were Jewish so they transferred us in a hurry and burned the truck. A short time later, the Germans arrived there and started shooting toward the village. After two days of walk, we arrived to the second brigade of Minsk. While we walked on the road, we had save the life of the German officer who the villagers wanted to kill. We explained to them that he saved our lives. We came to Osifovitz, Pochovitz and Stara Druga.

{Picture: Zolia and Katia Takorsky}

We stayed in the village Zamizania for a few days. One day when we were by the head quarters of the resistant village, we met with a partisan who was wearing a leather jacket with an automatic machine gun riding a beautiful horse. He went near us and entered the headquarter' building of the resistant. After a short time, a partisan came out of the headquarters and called Zolia Takorsky to enter. Before that, Zolia told us of the person on the horse, it was his Jewish childhood friend Israel Lapidot, the head of the fifth brigade. As soon as Israel found out about the heroic deeds of Zolia who swam across the river and saved us all, he demanded that he should join his brigade and Zolia was the first of us to join the resistant. In the fifth brigade, there was 30 Jews amongst 400 people. Despite the fact that there were only 30 Jews, the brigade was nicknamed the “Jewish brigade” since the Jews volunteered for all the most dangerous mission. Zolia became the commander of the explosives troop, His specialty became planting explosives on the railroads. They would go for missions carrying 16 kilograms of explosives on their back. Zolia was capable of getting very close to the German who were guarding the trains and right under their eyes put the explosives under the train tracks and then pull the rope until the train arrived. Then he would light the rope as soon as the train came near, and when the explosives would go off they would run to the forests not to be discovered by the Germans.

Even amongst the soviet partisans there were some that were anti-Semites and could not hide their hate of the Jews. With Zolia, there were also two young Jewish boys and one of them; Lyonka Gurfinkel, fell in one of the missions. As soon as I joined the partisans, I asked my commander to transfer my daughter Valia with her savors Mikhail Gromov and Yalena Vlasovna Baledovitz to this area. He kept asking why do you want to bring your daughter? I explained there that they are always surrounded with Germans and I believed they would eventually be discovered. The commander said here we are also surrounded by Germans but I explained its not the same because they are helpless and we have weapons here. Finally, they agreed and Mikhail and wife Yelena and her son who was 8 years old and my daughter arrived at the partisan. At first, the soviet partisans were very suspicious with Mikhail and were wondering why a soviet soldier stayed such a long time in Minsk and never joined the resistance. I defended him and said that the fact the he saved a Jewish girl know that if he would be found he would be killed proved that he was a decent person. Eventually, he joined the resistance in their missions and showed his bravery but to my great sorrow, shortly before the liberation of Minsk he was killed during a battle with the Germans. I would like to tell about my meeting with my daughter in the partisan camp.

One day, a partisan came to me and said “Katya, I came to say hello from your daughter.” I couldn't believe what I had heard. After a few minutes, I was told to come to the headquarters and there they told me that they had seen my daughter. I was so excited that I fainted. They spilled some water on me and woke me up and told me the name of the village where my daughter was located and which route to take to get there and the code words that I needed to say if I encountered other partisan units, This was about 15 kilometers away from the base and immediately I left. I arrived to a village where I slept that night, and continued in the forest to the next morning where I encountered some partisans. I asked them about the camp and explained about my daughter who they knew about. I arrived there that evening and met a woman guarding the area with a rifle. After I told her who I am, she explained how to find my daughter. As soon as I saw my daughter, I ran to her and said, “Velictcka, do you know who I am?” She said, “Yes, you are mother Katya”. I squeezed her to my heart and started crying and I felt as if the entire forest was crying with me, I don't know where all these people came from but I found myself surrounded by many people of the camp who joined my crying. As soon as Lucia who worked in the kitchen found out about my arrival she took me to the underground place where they lived and I spent the night there. When I returned to my headquarters, I asked to bring my daughter there. In my camp there was some children who was age 8 and 10 but there was no young children and my daughter at this point was only 3 years old. The commander said this is not a nursery school and your first priority is to be a fighter. I asked at least that my daughter would live in a village near the camp which they agreed to and they gave me a horse and a carriage to bring my daughter. This was my first time running a carriage with a horse and the horse was very stubborn and it took me many hours to arrive to the village, but my daughter was very excited to see and she hugged me as if we had separated. In a nearby village, they found an arrangement for her in the home of one of the local villagers. Twice a week, I received free time for four hours to see my daughter. The road to the village took about two hours since I had to swim across the river and hike thorough the forest so I only spent about two hours with her. I always brought a few potatoes and pieces of bread and sometime I even received some meat and a bottle of milk. The villagers were she lived was very kind to her and treated her like his own daughter. Whenever I had to leave her, she would cry so I pretended as if I was going to get some water and then I did not return. Sometime I would look at her and see that she would sit by herself very sad and her eyes would fill with tears and she would look to the entrance hoping that I would return. My heart would break and I would run crying to the camp hoping that I would not be late so they would give me another chance to visit. These things continued until June of 1944. The Nazis started a blockade against the resistant and a few German divisions surrounded the area where the resistance was aiming to kill all the partisans.

I was located with a resistant group who eventually had to retreat and we arrived to the center of the partisan area. Valia, my daughter, stayed in the village. Lucia who missed her came to the village and took her to be with her. During the retreat through the forest and the field, I saw my daughter Valia who was dressed in winter clothes walking in the fields. At first I thought she was all-alone but then I saw Lucia. Many of the local citizens of the villages were escaping from the Germans who were firing at the village. I said to Lucia our fate is joined, lets go together. I walked ahead with my daughter in my arms and Lucia and her son followed. My daughter who was already four years old was heavy so I tied her to my back and we walked and eventually Lucia and her son stayed with the villagers and I came to my daughter to my troop. The commissar the head of the troop said our situation is very bad. We will have to cross the marshes and we will be in water up to our necks and you with your daughter cannot walk with us because we cannot help you. I suggest you stay in the forest. I answered I am a partisan and I will go with my brigade and I will go with my daughter.. When they realized I was determined, they let me join them. We crossed the river in a raft and I walked with my troop and in the back of us walked another group led my Yankilevitz. Also with me, walked Henia Goldberg who was a widow of a partisan who was killed in action. She also had her daughter with her. There was also the partisan Asigotin who had his wife and daughter with him.. I joined all of them since they all had children. Shortly after, the partisans surrounded us with our weapons and said that we shouldn't go with them. Many troops went ahead of us and from far we could already head the dogs and the Germans but the soviet partisans did not let us go. We were about 14 people among us women and children and only two men. Yankilevitz stayed with us since his daughter was only ten years old. Only he and Asigotin had rifles. We started crawling from bush to bush until evening arrived and rain started. The two men went to the village that was nearby and found an empty of residents who ran away fearing the Germans. They brought back hay from there and we laid down under a carriage on top of the hay. While lying there with my daughter, I had an idea. Why shouldn't we dig a hideout here in the ghetto where we were guarded by Germans and we couldn't make much noise, we were able to build bunkers under the homes and here in the forest it would be much easier. I told my idea to the wife of Yankilevitz who lied next to me and she told it to her husband. We remember that on the road we saw an Axe and digging tools and many tree branches so the men went at night and brought everything where we hid. We started digging and took some of our clothes off and put the dirt that we dug and took it far away from the digging place so the Germans would not realize the earth was dug there. We dug along and narrow tunnel and camouflaged it. The tunnel was not that deep so we could only lie in there. My only trouble now was hunger because I only had a piece of bread that I gave to my daughter. I wet the hard part of the bread and gave it to her and I ate nothing. We stayed there for four days and early in the morning the men would go out to check the surrounding area but would return quickly because the would hear dogs barking and Germans yelling nearby. On the fourth day, I became very sick since i didn't eat anything and I started crawling out to breathe for air and people gave me water to wet my lips. Most of the water in the bottle was used for children. All of a sudden we heard a man walking out loudly and practically yelling to each other. What has happened to them are they crazy we thought.. Yankilevitz had a good sense of humor, he came to the dugout and said “you're lazy get out of there” As we found out later, the Germans stopped the blockage after 13 days and since there was a new soviet offensive in the Ukraine, we left our dugout and returned to the camp. I became very weak from the starvation period and couldn't carry my daughter on my back. Now she ran ahead of me and ordered me to rest and then motioned to me to come to her. As soon as I came near she would run form me again and this is how we walked. Most of our brigade already arrived except for me. A rumor spread that I was killed and everyone was very sorry. So when I finally arrived, everyone was cheering. Zulia also came out and carried my daughter in his arms and like this we returned to the brigade. The next day, the commissar ordered my to take my daughter to the village and give to Lucia who returned. After a few days, I came to see my daughter and she was swollen from starvation and tiredness and she developed some fever. I could not stay there, I had to return to my brigade. I was responsible for the food supply and when the female physician who checked the food came around, I stated crying. She asked me what was wrong and I didn't want to answer her because I knew she also had a child who stayed in one of the villages. She keep insisting I told her why I was crying and I told her about the situation in the village. She immediately went to the quarters and demanded that they send food. I was sent with some left over soup to bring to my daughter and Lucia and her son. And like this I fed them for two weeks. I had an assistant who was a political person and she was jealous of me that I who a political was above her so she lied to the people and said I was transferring meat to the village although I was only transferring only the leftovers. I was called to the commissar “Katya, you must know that if the soviet nation would exist, your daughter will exist, but if there will be no nation, you will have no daughter. You must not forget you are a partisan first” I abruptly left the room not wanting him to witness the tears that uncontrollably came out of my eyes.

Days later, after the liberation, I met the commissar, I encountered him on Nimiga Street, in Minsk. He was drunk and dressed in tattered clothes. He was happy to see me and he said “Don't you recognize me?” I said, “Oh, I know you very well.” I could not help it. I said, “During the war period the inferiors lead and the superior go under… but now each one of us is in his appropriate place. One who has a good character shows it in bad times as well as good times…”

{Picture: Daughter Valia and mother Katia Tokarski in the forest in 1944}

{Picture: Valia as a mother; 20 years later}

* Gas vans were sent to... [Minsk]. These strange vehicles carried spurious windows and curtains and otherwise externally resembled family trailers. Women and children were lured into them with the announcement that they were to be resettled and that they would meet their husbands and fathers in the new place. Once inside the truck, the doors automatically and hermetically closed, the driver stepped on the accelerator, and monoxide gas from the engine streamed in. By the time the van reached its destination, which was an anti-tank ditch outside the town, the occupants were dead. And here they joined their husbands and fathers who had been killed by rifles and carbines in the hands of the Einsatzgruppen.

Military Tribunal II
Palace of Justice
Nuremberg, Germany
8 April 1948

to Drozdy camp
Five strands of barbed wire surrounded the ghetto

Jews, under the penalty of death, were forbidden to buy or trade food.

A major pogrom took place on November 7, 1941. About thirteen thousand Jews were taken into Tuchinki and brutally killed there. Thousands of bodies were laid out in trenches that had been prepared in advance. The Jews themselves were digging the trenches as part of their work. On November 20, 1941, another massacre took place in Minsk. Seven thousand Jews were killed on that day.

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