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Under Seige (cont.)

The Jews of Sverzhna

In the second half of January 1943, I became seriously ill. In those days, Possessorski came to me to take counsel on the matter of the fate of the Jews of Sverzhna. This was the only place in the whole area – except for Minsk – in which Jews were living. According to our estimation, the Germans were likely, specifically with the failures on the fronts, to take revenge on the isolated camps that remained. It was impossible to wait until I recuperated. I gave him the addresses of a few contacts known to me, and he went out on the way. Until now the connections between the forest and the Sverzhna camp were maintained by means of letters between contacts. The decisive majority of the camp, meanwhile, was on the side of the underground.

Possessorski entered the labor camp dressed in farmers' clothing, called Simek Zlotovitz, his brother-in-law, to him, and Yoselevski from among the men of the underground, and said to them: “Today we must go out of the camp, go and organize!” The underground activists gathered immediately, planned the exit in all its details, so as not to fail, and informed the rest of the men to prepare the weapons, for they were going out in the evening. The signal for the exit: stones that would be thrown into the houses. In the evening before the exit, Vilitovski and Partzovitz went and cut the wire fence. Before the agreed-upon signal, the men moved quickly in the direction of the wire fence. There were also those who didn't go out and remained in the camp. A few minutes after the departure of the men from the camp there poured a barrage of fire – but no one was wounded. Some of the men turned in the direction of the forests of Kapyl, in the direction of the village of Pogoreloye [53°21' N 26°48' E]. The snow was deep. The men grew tired from walking. From an abundance of excitement, they began to walk around for a full hour in one place without knowing how to continue. With their exit from the forest, they were forced to cross a small stream. But it happened that they got their feet wet in the water and it caused their toes to freeze. Possessorski worried for the men with great devotion and patience. The great purpose that was his responsibility: an address for where to lead. With the strength of one rifle, 20 sleds were recruited. The men sensed the change that was taking place in their hearts: suddenly they were changed from tortured men to free men, and even to givers of orders. They reached Yevitsha and from there by way of the Moscow – Warsaw road in the direction of Urliki. The first encounter with Partisans was a deep experience for all of them. They stood at the edge of the forest and suddenly a Partisan unit passed by the place. In their imaginations, they always imagined that the Partisans lived in caves and were afraid to come out in the light of day from within pits in the earth, and they grew beards, like cavemen.

Suddenly, a great army emerging from the forest was revealed before their eyes, in broad daylight, dressed and armed well, with kubankas (a kubanka was a hat whose upper cover was red) on their heads, armed, riding on horses, with great pride and self-confidence, command personnel on sleds. In short, lords of the land! And all this within the maw of the enemy!

On January 29, 1943, 120 Jews of Sverzhna arrived in the Urliki region. Shtopblov, the Brigade Commander, and the Jewish Commanders, went out to greet them. First thing, it was said to them, they were obligated to turn over all that they had in their possession to the authority of the command, money and jewelry, for the purpose of acquiring weapons. The people turned over all that they had in their possession. In Urliki the veteran Jewish fighters received the newcomers with joy and with open arms. They invited them to their “houses,” and approached them with advice and help.

Many among the arrivals were young, members of youth movements and Hebrew Schools and underground activists. We encountered acquaintances from adjacent places.

“There is no describing in words” – relates Binyamin Vilitovski, one of the organizers of the Sverzhna underground – “the enormity of the joy that we felt when we met with the Jewish Partisans. Jewish youths were revealed to us, rulers of their new profession, and proud of their ability.”
The joy of the veteran Partisans that received us was unbounded, from the first minute that they tried to squeeze into us the entire Torah on one foot[1]. First, they wanted to develop in us the feeling of independence and self-confidence, for they knew well how much that was lacking in us. Thanks to their advice and thanks to their personal example, we were able to integrate quickly into the new life. They had more army experience and life experience than we did. When we saw, likewise, the relationship of respect and the status that they had in the battalion, the desire to resemble them, and to do as they did, was aroused in us. The veterans took the newcomers under their wing for every action. The commanders that they gave us were: Cholavsky, Rozin, and into their faithful hands were transmitted the guidance and the entry into the new way of life.”

On one of the first evenings of their arrival a campfire was lit, around which the veterans were gathered: Farfel, Harkavy and his friends, Rozin, Possessorski, Meirovitz, and me, with the newcomers, and especially with the youth that were among them. The men did not speak, did not preach, they only sang. At first a few sang, and slowly the song swept up all of them in a storm and in enthusiasm. It was possible to sense that with the song, the backs of the newcomers were straightened, they stood at full height, growing into fighters. This was a medley of songs, Russian, Yiddish, and Hebrew. These last they sang with trembling and devotion, as if they played the same chord, and the most precious that survived. And from within the singing there slowly arose, with clarity and purity, in a silence that prevailed, the words that came from the mouth of one of the assembled, whose gaze was distant into the flames of the campfire:

“It was told to me on a fall night on a wandering bed that my mother died,
And my brother with the bright gaze, and upright, fell plundered,
And did not merit a grave in Israel…”[2]
The song died. The sorrow again penetrated to the bones. They continued to sit by the campfire, but the song was quiet and sad, touching the depths of the soul….

The meetings around the campfire continued during the whole period of the forest.

“I am reminded of the prolonged nights in which we could light a campfire, in order to warm our bones and to “iron” our wet clothing. The conversation flowed by itself and the longing burst out. We lived more in the world of the imagination, and our hearts were always with the distant land – near… We did not feel afraid even once to sing Hebrew songs, and if there once arose in us dreams of an ordered and human life, they were firmly attached to the land of Israel. Also, in the Russian Jews, there was then kindled a hidden spark for life of the future.” (Binyamin Vilitovski)
Most of the people of Sverzhna were young, but some of them were old people and adults. Among those arriving was Posarsky's sister, Henya, the little brother Pinek, and his brother-in-law Zolotorsky. In the first week they settled in, rested,

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and received a larger amount of nourishment, in order to return to their strength. A few of them already went out to actions.


The Ambush in Zaostrowiecze

On the 7th of February, I went out with a group of veteran and new Partisans to the village of Loktishi for an economic action. The road passed Khominka [editor note: cannot locate a specific place], which was a distance of 2-3 kilometers from Zaostrowiecze – a police station that was larger and more fortified than any in the area. On this road there fell at the beginning of February a group of Partisans from Doniev's unit.

On the way back, when the convoy was approaching the area of Khominka, the scout on horseback, Shalom Katznovsky, passed the grove in peace. However, the convoy of sleds that travelled behind him at some distance, when it reached a distance of 10 meters from the grove, was attacked by an ambush that was camouflaged with a white covering, with heavy fire from machine guns and sub-machine guns. Across from the grove in the direction of Loktishi lay a field with an outcropping in the middle of it. Beyond the field lay the forest. The only exit that was left to us in these topographical conditions and the ration of weapons and ammunition, was to reach this outcropping as quickly as possible, crawling, under the cover of the loaded sleds, and there to take a position if the enemy began to pursue. From there it was possible to retreat to the forest in the event that the enemy surrounded us. The shooting was very heavy, and the many rockets lit up the area from time to time. In addition to that, dawn began to rise, and it was necessary to crawl with skilled crawling in order to deceive the enemy, and move the 300-400 meters to the outcropping, while the bullets were whistling and passing through the clothing. 7 people, 5 Jewish Partisans and 2 Russians, among them one officer, fell, most of them next to the sleds, and some of them who didn't even have a chance to descend from them.

The Jewish Partisans who fell: Siyomka Farfel (a HaShomer HaTzair man, one of the organizers of the underground in the Nesvizh ghetto, wrote poems in the ghetto and in the forest, one of the first of the Jewish unit and one of its best fighters), Koenigstein, Aharon Yoselevski, Botvinik, and Burk. The first two were veterans of the unit, among its first and best fighters, the last three were more mature, of the men of Sverzhna. With skilled and calculated crawling, we succeeded, Avraham Veinberg, Yitzchak Partzovitz, and me, to deceive the enemy and reach the outcropping, and from there to the forest.

After running around in the dangerous area for several hours, and amidst a population that was steeped in hatred for the Partisans, we emerged into a clearing in the forest and under armed threat we forced one of the farmers who worked in tree cutting to transfer us on sleds in the dangerous area in broad daylight in the direction of Morocz [52°52' N 26°52' E] (in the area of Morocz, our protective ambush was posted). The farmer was warned that if he betrayed us, his blood was on his head. He transferred us on his sled, between the dense undergrowth of Zaostrowiecze, but the farmers who were partners to the action immediately called to action the police of the area to pursue us.

When the matter of the ambush reached the Jewish unit, all of it was immediately enlisted and it went out the area of Khominka to collect the bodies. But Zaostrowiecze and all the villages adjacent to it, and among them Khominka and Moritz, were surrounded by large German forces and it was impossible to reach the place of the ambush.


The Hunt

That same day, February 9, 1943, information arrived that one blow after the next had descended: in Semzhova, large German forces; in Krasna-Sloboda, mechanized German forces; many thousands of Germans besieged all the villages of the area. The ambush in Khominka was, if so, the beginning of the German attack on the Partisan forces in all the area – the beginning of the hunt. It was clear that the Germans, on the heels of their failures on the front, began to purify the rear. Maybe they were intending a hasty retreat? Or a renewed attack on the fronts? Their intentions on the front were unclear, but their intention here was absolutely clear.

On February 10, 1943, the great hunt began. The entire battalion on a caravan of their wagons moved southward, to the interior regions of Polesia[3]. The Jewish unit went out on the way, and with it the family camp and the elderly people who had arrived not long before from the labor camp. The march was especially difficult for the Third Company, which lacked means of transportation.

On the evening of that first day of the exit, the Partisan units took battle stations and stopped the enemy from advancing and from following behind us. The purpose of this defensive battle was to stop the attack, to give an opportunity to the units and the convoys to move away in the swamps, and to cut off contact with the enemy.

It was known that the Germans were preparing a general attack, but the Partisans assumed that it would come in the spring. To the “luck” of the Partisans, the Germans began the attack in the winter, while the swamps were still frozen and it was possible to move on them with the sleds. The Germans had not yet broken through to the Partisan area, but they had already surrounded it. Their intention was clear: to push the Partisans into a trap. Within a few days, the Partisan tactic was clarified, the intention of which was to create difficulties for the Germans: 1) to delude the Germans that they are pursuing and trapping; 2) moving in the Germans' rear and walking behind them; 3) to strike the enemy by surprise in the area in the most desirable conditions and the most effective fashion. This situation was made to be absolutely amusing were it not for the emergency situation, that the Germans with their heavy equipment were attacking, shelling, outflanking and “destroying,” while the Partisan units were moving in their rear.

The people moved and dozed. And when hours of rest occurred by chance, it was not easy to fall asleep on the cold wet ground. But also for that, a stratagem was found. They would light a campfire, scatter its coals across a few meters, on the embers they would scatter ash, and on that a “bed” of soft branches. And if there was in someone's hands the satisfaction of “ironing” his undergarments a little, he slept the sleep of kings. Compared to these conditions, life in Urliki seemed like – the Garden of Eden. The wandering in the forests and desolate wildernesses, in order to avoid encounters with the population (which was extremely sparse in these areas), over the course of many weeks seemed endless. The mechanized German forces mostly moved on the paths and roads, while thousands of Lithuanians, Valsovitzes[4], and Belorussian policemen, which constituted a kind of infantry, were penetrating into the area of the swamps.

Also, within the Jewish unit, relationships sharpened. It happened more than once that one of the Russians would put out a comment as if all the troubles came because of the Jews. They would especially insult the adults and old Jews who lagged behind the unit. Anti-Semitic slips of the tongue like these more than once caused very sharp exchanges of words between the veteran Jewish fighters and the Russians. The latter, and even those who were respected among them, claimed of the Jews of Sverzhna: “You gave the gold and the silver to the Germans, but why didn't you flee from them?” The speakers were mostly men whose faithfulness to the Russians was rather dubious, but the anti-Semitic-Nazi poison had managed to be absorbed very deeply into them.

And meanwhile we hurled at them: “How did it happen that millions of communists and Komsomols turned themselves over to the Germans, while their weapons were still in their hands, and they were not confined to ghettos?!”

The physical conditions in which the fighters were immersed began to leave their marks, especially among the adults. Even Epstein, who was appointed to officer of the Sverezhnis, caused more than a little suffering. He was an arrogant Soviet-Jewish officer, strict and devoid of any understanding of human relations. Therefore, he did not “lick honey” in his manners, and it was even hinted to him by Jewish officers that if he continued in his ways he would be eliminated. But he merited “backup” from the Russians in the staff.

After six weeks of wandering, the Shostopblov brigade and the Jewish unit reached Chuchevitch [52°35' N 26°51' E], north of Luninitz, at the beginning of April. Kovpak's unit camped not far from us, but the contact

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with them was very minimal. The unit camped here for an extended period, temporary huts were erected, wells were dug, and about 10 cows, and potatoes “were acquired.” The kitchen began to operate again.

When they reached Chuchevitch, the people were worn out and completely broken. More serious was the hygienic situation (from the testimony of M. Yoselevski):

“On that day, I went out of the camp. I decided to get away from it a little. I encountered one of the bravest and strongest young men among us in complete exhaustion. He lagged on the journey and he could no longer lift up his feet, and he was entirely a nest of lice. He was no longer able to lift his hand to clean the lice off of his nose and forehead. After they offered him the appropriate help, he recuperated.”
After a rest of a few days, the people recuperated a little, and many groups went out on the way.

At the end of February, a group of people went out with Possessorski to the Kapyl region in the area of the Neman [River], in order to gather weapons that the Soviets threw, according to the rumors, at the time of their retreat. Another group went out with Ozer Maza to search for weapons for the new people from the Sverzhna camp. A group of Partisans, and among them Vilitovski and Yoselevski, went out to bring cattle. They returned to the camp and brought about 30 cows with them. I too went out with a group of fighters, and among them Segal as the guide, to the Mashuki region in a search for foodstuffs for the unit. On this way, Michael Fish also went out with a group of people for an economic action. On their way back, the group was surrounded by an ambush. On the “Wood Road” that crosses the swamp, Michael Fish, the officer for economic matters, and the Partisan Sofer from Lachovitch, fell.

In Chuchevitch, Morozov's suggestion again came up, that we be supported by the head of the Shtopblov brigade, to send the old people, the women, and children (whose numbers at the time reached about 10 people), to the family camp. Giltzik strongly opposed the suggestion, in their reliance on the Jewish fighters, but Morozov succeeded in expanding the family camp to about 50 people. At that time, Jews from the area of Svecha, who had fled from the murdering Zorkints Partisans, reached the unit.

The days of rest in Chuchevitch did not last long. After about a week of days, a sudden attack on the base was conducted by the Germans. Since the brigade wanted to save its transport, it was forced to move on the road. The Jewish Zhukov unit was the brigade and family camp, the only “combination.” However, the road was blocked by the Germans on both sides. No choice was left except to go down to the fields of the swamp, which had begun to thaw and to leave the transport to the graces of destiny. The other units were also forced to abandon the four cannons, to scatter their parts, and sink them in the mud.

But the old people and the sick took courage, jumped into the swamps, submerged in them up to the chest, and advanced. Miknovsky, a converted Jew from Warsaw, who was old and sick, was left on the road, and within the swamps, a weak lad, when his father and brothers and others were carrying him until their strength ran out. The people made supreme efforts in order to not be cut off from the convoy of walkers, since it was clear that the laggards would fall into German hands.

Very difficult days awaited the fighters in the forest. The melting ice cut into living flesh. The nights were cold. The chill penetrated into the marrow of the bones. The people slept in wet clothing, which froze and resembled a kind of tin clothing. But people didn't catch cold, and didn't even become ill with rheumatism. The hunger bothered them so much that people began to eat pine cones and drink swamp water like frogs. No one died from hunger or diarrhea. The opposite – the sick got well. A ten-year-old boy could still stand on his feet because they froze. With great difficulty, he crossed 100s of kilometers by himself on his tiptoes, until his feet returned to their strength. Hidden but heroic powers are stored in the human body, and are revealed exactly when one's life is placed in danger!

On one of the days, 4 Valsovitzes were caught by the Jewish fighters and the people of Yereminko [prob. Yeremiche 53°34' N 26°20' E], and brought to the camp for interrogation. All the fury that had accumulated in our souls was “poured out” on them. They were stabbed in front of everyone, and burned.

As the burden of the troubles, so was there the tension in the relations within the unit. They did every deed of villainy. Those responsible for this were the Russian commanders in the unit. Morozov and Karlovitz, Bilosov and Patpenko, made themselves loathsome to the fighters. Their behavior in matters of food, their worries for their own stomachs, aroused contempt among the people of the unit. Only afterwards did the “act of heroism” that Bilosov and Patpenko carried out in those days become known. In their going out for a “special function” they caught two Partisans from the Vasilov unit, shot them, and took away their weapons. Only by a miracle did the Partisans remain alive. The “heroes” returned to the unit full of arrogance and fabricated stories.


In the Sign of the Split

In the area of Mortshenka [unknown location], which was quieter, the unit remained for temporary encampment. Morozov again brought up his plan to completely separate the family camp from the battle unit. This “idea” he had pondered for a long time, and only now did the conditions seem “suitable” for putting his plan into operation. The separation was a cruel act that lacked conscience. The protestation of all the Jewish fighters were ineffective. The brigade command with the support of Shtopblov approved the plan.

In this tense situation, every insignificant event served as a cause for conflict. One of the Jewish Partisans took a loaf of bread from one of the farmers. Patpenko, “a man of pure honesty,” saw in this an act of robbery and was about to punish him. At this point, Giltzik got involved, and the exchange of sharp words came to blows between them.

The Partisans sat in Mortshenka for a few days. The Germans put out feelers and discovered the location of the camp. In a surprise way, they penetrated into the location of the fighters' camp. However, one warning shot from the guard summoned the Partisans at the last minute, and the unit had time to slip away into the swamps, without sustaining any losses. The unit passed Urliki. Again, a small group of elders and ill people moved to a distance. Epstein approved of this and did not reveal an iota of responsibility for its fate. The distanced ones set their steps towards the Lavy and Yevitsha forests.

In Urliki, the staff member Voloshvitz “suggested” to the third company, which was composed of people from Sverzhna and was unarmed, to temporarily leave the unit and accumulate weapons for its complete arming. The meaning of this suggestion was a dismantling of responsibility and burden for the arming of the third company, and especially the elderly that were in it. Therefore, this company turned towards Lavy-Yevitsha. And a group of its people under the leadership of Weinberg went out to find weapons to arm itself.

The entire unit went out of the area of the swamps, and at the beginning of May 1943, reached Mashuki [52°53' N 26°31' E] in the region of Kletzk. In their emergence from “the sea of swamps,” to the “coast” at the time of the warm spring, within dry pine forests, the fighters breathed full lungs of healthy air and even recuperated a little. Rays of the spring sun warmed their frozen bones, and the Partisans began to pay more attention to their external appearance and to their dress.

Also, the food, whose quality improved in the area, restored their souls. After months of troubles in the swamps of Polesia, the breath-taking view of the Belorussian forest in the days of spring poured refreshing strength onto their exhausted bodies. Here the unit met with my group, which emerged from Chuchevitch and which was cut off from it for more than a month. The group accumulated food, mostly by conducting acts of sabotage, taking revenge on the farmers who participated in actions, and thwarted Partisan robbers' plots by the Zorkints, who wandered around the area in order to destroy the Jewish group. These Partisan-murderers got their just rewards.

The group that acclimatized well in the area made it easier for the unit in its assignments in its new place. Especially excellent were Segal's many contacts with the farmers in the area, who he knew well even before the war, in his working as a tree selector. Segal knew every trail and path in this area, revealed initiative, and acted successfully in economic operations. On one of the actions,

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when they came to a farmer's house in one of the villages, a few men from the group were surrounded by the Germans. They were summoned by a spy from that village. The Jewish Partisans threw a grenade towards the Germans and escaped from the house. But the Partisan Stoklitzki was badly wounded in the leg. He was taken out of the field of fire. After the unit reached this place, Stoklitzki was transported to Luben [53°45' N 26°40' E] by the Jewish Partisans Monik Yoselevski, Yoel Mazurvitz, Stoklitzki's brother, and Natan Sobelman, and from there he was flown to Moscow. Stoklitzki died of his wounds.

The Jewish unit then obtained a number of rifles, ammunition – leftovers from a shipment of arms that had reached the airport. Rozin and a group of fighters went out on the road that led to Zaostrowiecze, to destroy the phone line. My group and I also went out to sabotage the telephone line on the Moscow-Warsaw road. Other groups likewise went out for ambushes. Meirovitz and a group of people went out to blow up a train.

Also, in those days, a selection was again expected. The Russians were jealous to see unarmed Jews and women within the unit. Following the instructions from the staff, a group of more than 10 unarmed men, and women, was separated from the unit, and a number of armed Jewish fighters joined the group. Segal was given responsibility for the group. This group of Jews remained in the area of Mashuki and afterwards turned to the forests of Sovititza [unclear; possibly Sovetskaya Moroch 52°35' N 27°36' E] in northern Polesia. According to the instructions of the brigade, the unit was obligated to reach the area of Kapyl in the month of June.

The third regiment arrived here while it was still the month of May. It benefited from the good connections that were made in the middle of the year 1942 between the Partisans and the local population. With the few weapons that it had in hand, the regiment managed to support itself. To organize itself, to form ties with the farmers of the area, and most importantly for the people who had arrived tired and sapped of strength from the swamps of Polesia, to recuperate. A few Russian Partisans, who were cut off from the Jewish unit during the hunt, joined this regiment.

When Veinberg's unit reached the Kapyl area, it encountered the regiment of Martinov, who had previously been the Commissar of the Jewish unit, as well as Possessorski's friends. From them it was learned that Possessorski was murdered by Russian Partisans. And this is what happened:

Possessorski's unit camped next to Yevitsha. One of the Russian Partisans, who belonged to Romenko's brigade, noticed Possessorski's German pistol and demanded it for himself. Possessorski answered: “I will give my head first.” (A living Partisan does not turn over his weapon). At that same moment Anantshenko drew his pistol and shot Possessorski. The man fell dead.

Before he went out, Anantshenko warned the people of the group that lacked weapons: “If you wander around in this area, we will murder all of you!” Martinov, who was passing in the area, arrived the next day, gathered his regiment and the people of the group. When the first of the third regiment reached Yevitsha, they visited the place of Possessorski's murder, dug a grave for him on the road to Lavy, and erected a monument to his memory. In this way Possessorski, who endangered his life for the saving of Jews, fell. He had a noble soul; helping others was a fundamental value of his character. May his memory be blessed.

Possessorski's death stirred up emotions. The Jewish fighters didn't stop hurling rage in the presence of the command. The non-Jews and the Russian fighters in the Brigade Staff tried to cover up the event of the murder.

In those days, a Moscow man visited the unit by order of the Komsomol. I asked him about the reaction of the staff to the murder. He stuttered an answer, that now was not the proper time to do justice.

Anantshenko moved or was intentionally transferred to another place, but a judgement was not given.

Regiment 3, which for about two months was separated from the unit in the area of Kapyl, took advantage of the time for better organization, for arming and improvement of the health condition of its people, after the decline during the journey in Polesia. The Partisan Kadshitz, who was an expert in diving, found a machine gun in one of the lakes, which, according to the farmers, had been thrown there by one of the soldiers of the Red Army in his retreat. The regiment became well-acclimated in the area, and things improved a little for the people.

In the Kapyl area, the third regiment joined the unit, which was again unified with its three regiments. It had two branches: the family camp in the Mashuki forests, at whose head stood Segal, and a group of unarmed young people under the leadership of Veinberg, in the Kapyl region. The family camp in Mashuki numbered about 50 people. In this area there was much food, and the people healed after the troubles in Polesia. Over the course of time, they obtained about 10 rifles and engaged in patrolling the area. In time, a small group of fighters who were cut off from the Baranovitz unit joined them, among them Ogolnik and Moshe Top.

They camped in Mashuki until the fall. In one of the economic actions, two fighters who remained with the family camp fell: Domnitz and Mendel Rozengaim (Domnitz arrived as a refugee from Congress Poland. He was a man with a temperamental spirit, who was always ready for battle. Mendel Rozengaim was also a refugee, his good friend and comrade in wandering and in battle.) A group of the unarmed also did not return to the fighting group. Their number reached 25. Their weapons: a rifle without a bolt, sticks, and iron rods. The group grew over the course of time. Units from the third regiment joined the group. This group existed also without weapons, thanks to their Partisan experience, and the village population in this area, which welcomed the Partisans more than other areas. Over the course of a short time their number reached about 50 people.

In the Jewish unit, only the armed Jewish fighters were left. The number of Russians grew (prisoners of war, families of local Partisans, etc.).

An additional matter was added to the sharp tension: Giltzik was removed from his role, and Baranov, the previous Russian officer, came in his place. The explanation was very simple: that this was an order from the brigade command, which was subordinate to the Belarussian Partisan staff. In the eyes of the command, the connections and the feelings that tied the Jewish unit to the family camp were not seen.

The separation of the family camp and the unarmed group, the absence of a reaction to the murder of Possessorski, and the dismissal of Giltzik, constituted a clear line that the command adopted, aroused rebellion and induced a depressed spirit in the Jewish fighters in the unit. Units and groups began to speak about the departure of the Jewish fighters from the unit. But the separation at that time was more difficult because of the establishment of a Jewish unit, especially in the region, which was populated entirely by Partisan units, which were subordinate to the division command, while the line that was still held in the hands of the division command regarding the Jews was known to all.

Giltzik joined the unarmed Jewish group in the Kapyl region. Together with him went Geller and Smukler. Likewise, Rubek also went with them, the welder whose help in assembling the weapons was important. Giltzik took on himself the role of arming those who had no weapons. Not a long time passed before most of the people were armed, and the group was recognized as independent. It camped adjacent to Shtopblov's unit, in the Kapyl region. In those days, Neifeld's children, who had been hidden for a long time with Zovovitz, arrived from Nesvizh. He was a good and kind man, but with the increase in danger, he moved them in a wagon filled with straw to the forest. Henke Veinberg took care of them with devoted maternal care.

Baranov understood the sensitive situation in the unit and acted with understanding. His relationship to the Jewish fighters was one of respect and great appreciation. Many efforts were made by him to smooth things over in the unit. The number of fighters in the unit was at that time about 150. The number of Russians was greater. Among the Jews were 12 young women: Manya Mazorska, who worked as a medic, Sarah Shidlovitzka, Leah Fish, Esther Vaks, Ada Plotek, and others.

At the beginning of September 1943, a group of 8 people went out from the Lavy forests for an action. At its head stood Harkavy and as guide, Oginski. The group had two tasks: blowing up the sawmill in Stolpce, and acquiring additional weapons.

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Twice they tried to get near the sawmill, and did not succeed, for the Germans continuously surrounded it with ambushes. This sawmill supplied wood for the manufacture of German planes. When they did not succeed in carrying out their mission, they concentrated on acquiring weapons. In their quest to cross the railroad tracks in order to return to the Jewish unit, they were attacked four times by heavy fire, and were forced to surrender their plan. Then they turned to Perchomenko's unit, and were accepted into it as a group.

In those days, the Polish units received instructions to fight against Soviet and Jewish Partisans, and when the group went out to one of its actions in the area of Nalibok, it was attacked by gangs of armed Poles. The Jews fought to their last bullet. Then fell: Yosef Harkavy, Boaz Akselrod, Moshele Veinstein, Altman, and Shneur Bronstein. The treachery of the Poles and the battle with them became known in all the forests of Nalibok, and from then began a fierce struggle with the White Poles.

In a sabotage action in the Kapyl region there fell at the time the young woman Paula Veinberg, a refugee from Warsaw, a brave woman with decisive power. She volunteered to blow up the electric station there, and for that purpose made contact with a resident of the city of Slutsk. She went out on the way and did not return. It became known that she was caught in Slutsk and was hung in the market square.

A group of people from Sverzhna went there to blow up the sawmill in the labor camp. In the group were Binyamin Vilitovski, Yitzchak Partzovitz, Shmuel Nissenbaum, and others. But this sawmill was important to the Germans; it provided wood to the front and for the manufacture of planes. At the time that the Germans were absent from it, the fighters succeeded in penetrating into the sawmill, set fire to the sawdust, threw into it the explosive material that only worked at a high temperature. However, after the Partisans retreated, a guard in the sawmill extinguished the fire. The sawmill didn't burn, but the Germans began to fear sudden attacks by the Partisans.

The summer months were relatively calm, but full of disappointments. The news from the front was also disappointing. The days of Stalingrad were exciting, but the great hopes that the German army had begun to collapse after the defeat there were not realized. The Red Army did indeed advance, but at a snail's pace. But at this rate of their advance, it was possible to wander around in the wide Russian plains for years. The German army revealed great vitality and conducted counterattacks all the time, even though it was in retreat. The mood in the unit itself was also cloudy. The tense relations on the heels of the distress and the suffering at the time of the wandering left behind a heavy depression in all of their hearts. With this, the relations among the Jews grew tighter. Jewish solidarity became greater. At the hour of action, in a mixed group, the Jewish fighter felt that his friend who walked beside him was a Jew, even though they had not met beforehand. The feeling and the recognition that a member of your people marched beside you inspired confidence and encouragement. From here came the deep self-sacrifice and the great comradeship among the Jewish Partisans. This was a three-fold comradeship of Jews, of brothers and sisters in arms, and of the persecuted. The lives of the Jews were more intensive, and the Jewish fighters began to be more diligent in being close to each other, sitting together and discussing Jewish topics. The Soviet Jews from Kapyl, Minsk, etc., also clung more forcefully to their kin “the Poles.”


Not by the Rifle Alone[5]

Once when I went out to an action, I found the writings of Gorky in one of the houses. In my browsing in the book, I found an article about Bialik[6]. I tore the two pages out of the book and I brought them to the unit. That evening, when we were sitting together, I read the two pages aloud for my friends. It was a breeze of humanity, and encouraged our spirits and our faith. The pages are kept with me until this day. The people were spellbound, even the Soviet Jews among us, who had never heard the name of the poet. Their hearts were open to the words of the writer. And these were his words: “Bialik is a great poet. A complete and rare embodiment of the spirit of his people. He resembles Isaiah the Prophet, who is greatly respected by me. Like all Russians, I know little of the literature of the Jews, but since I know it, it seems that the Jewish nation has not established from within it, in no way in the 19th century, a poet of such strong intense expression and as beautiful as this.

In Russian, Bialik's poems certainly lose much of the intensity of expression and descriptiveness, even though in the translation you are made to feel the beauty of Bialik's angry poetry.”

It is doubtful if there exists another poet who gave such trembling and strong expression to the whispering of our broken hearts, on the rivers of Jewish blood that flowed in the fields of Gehennom [hell]. And it is doubtful that some time Bialik had readers like these. And sevenfold precious to us is Gorky, then, in the nobility of his soul, and in the strength of his spirit (sections of Bialik in their Russian translations, the language of our fighting and our vengeance, strengthened the impression with greater vigor).

In time, there fell into our hands a small book of Heine's[7] poems in Russian translation. These were sarcastic poems, and sharp as a scalpel critique of Prussian Germany. We frequently read aloud poems from this book and sometimes it passed from hand to hand. We greatly forgave this important and tragic Jewish poet, for we found in these poems reliable testimony to our Jewish souls.

Every relic and reminder of Jewish life carved a deep mark in our souls. I went out with a group of Jewish fighters. Among them were Nissenbaum, Vilitovski, Yoselevski, to an action in the Nesvizh region. In one of the houses, I found an illustrated parchment[8] made out of the parchment[9] of a Torah scroll. We continued to search and we found a handle of a Torah scroll and also plundered Jewish property. There was no reason to suspect treachery of that farmer, the owner of the house. I brought the parchment and the handle to the unit. Clumsy hands of the Jewish fighters caressed the displayed items with love, with longing, and tears flowed from their eyes (these displayed items have been kept).



The feeling of Jewish comradeship grew and now[10], the hidden competition between the Jewish and Russian fighters in the carrying out of battle and sabotage actions. More than once a struggle was conducted over the composition of Jewish groups for specific actions, in order that credit be attributed to the Jews.

At the beginning of the fall, the unit moved to the area of Ruzhany, in the Kletzk region. The rainy autumn, and the winter that was felt more and more, forced the unit to move towards the swamps, which granted greater security.

Not far from the swamps stretched the Ruzhany forest. It was possible to retreat to it in case of an emergency, and adjacent to the villages were based, but less than in the Kletzk region, the sparse but more reliable villages in the region of Vizhna-Krasna Sloboda [52°51' N 27°10' E], territories of the Soviet Union.

In this forest, the unit established its base over the course of about four months. Shacks were put up, a summer camp at its beginning, and afterwards a winter camp – really a settlement. Kovpak[11] returned to this area from his travels in the west. However not every Jewish unit maintained connections with Kovpak's regiment. Our people met with his people from time to time, and were even helped by them. I remember that once I even bartered an exchange with a group of Kovpak's Partisans. As compensation for horses that I confiscated in the villages, I received from them explosive material and ammunition. His people had explosive material and ammunition in large quantities, and even at the time of their encampment in the Ruzhany region, they continuously received weapons and ammunition from Moscow. More than that, they even received superior cut clothing, threads, and buttons, and in the villages of the area they sewed and finished them. They would go out on economic actions in broad daylight, but in large, well-armed units. They would attack the village and collect food taxes. Tchekmorov's, Perchomenko's, and Pronza's units camped in the area. The actions of the Jewish unit included acts of sabotage in transportation connections and the telephone in the region of the Moscow-Warsaw road. These actions were carried out by Stragleski, Rozin, me, and a group of people from various companies. Once the Germans tricked us, and we paid a blood price for it. They would bury mines around the telephone poles. The thing was known to the Partisans, and they learned to uncover the mines before carrying out an act of sabotage. But this time the mines were buried within the telephone poles. Then

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Kadshitz and Yaakov Peres were severely wounded and died from their wounds. Binyamin Vilitovski, a skilled saboteur, together with 4 people went out to set fire to the bridge next to Uzda [53°28' N 27°13' E]. This was a complicated operation, since strict patrol was placed on the bridge. They approached in the dark of night, crawling, and set it ablaze.

Most of the economic actions were carried out in the Kletzk region. The road from the camp to the region went by way of the village of Moroch [52°52' N 26°52' E]. It was difficult to avoid the village, because swamps stretched throughout the area. In this village, which was adjacent to Zaostrowiecze, the Germans placed ambushes. It was impossible to depend on the trustworthiness of the residents of the village. But their caution, resourcefulness, and knowledge of the area saved the Partisans from falling into a trap, and with this there were unavoidable losses of life. The matter especially worsened during the rainy days of the fall, when the only dry road that remained to the village of Kletzk was from the village of Moroch.

The police station in Ostrowczyce [52°54' N 26°44' E], which was on a dry hill, greatly harassed the Partisans. The police of the area, who knew every dry passageway in the area on which the Partisans crossed, caused them many troubles.

On one of the trips at the end of the summer, the unit was forced to cross in the area of Khominka next to Zaostrowiecze. A wooden road cut through a swampy “clearing” within the forest (a wooden road was built from cut pieces of wood). When they entered the forest, heavy fire poured from a small distance. Only thanks to their resourcefulness were Mishka Neimark and Chanan, two of the daring and experienced young Jewish scouts, saved. Under the fire that poured onto him, Mishka took the saddle off his horse and with it succeeded in returning both of them to the unit. The two of them, Mishka Neimark and Chanan, 19-20-year-old youths, were the most talented scouts in the unit, and were prominent among the brigade scouts.

But the Germans, in their leadership of local police officers, were very insolent. They discovered the unit's defensive ambush within the burnt village of Kolki [52°50' N 26°55' E], surrounded it, and cut off the road that connected to the unit. Paula Lip was caught alive and put to death with many tortures. Many attempts were made to make connections in the underground to the Polish with the Zaostrowiecze police, and to blow up the police in a combined internal and external action. But the attempts were not crowned with much success. Once, two policemen went over to the Jewish unit, and another time three policemen went. Two of them, Tzachan and Zhokovsky, joined my division, but it was necessary to keep a close watch on them. It is even possible that they participated, even though they vigorously denied it, in the ambush next to Khominka, in which 8 Partisans were killed, among them 5 Jews.

With the approach of winter, the unit command began to worry – after the experience that they had the year before in assuring material existence if the siege on it was renewed. The function of the economic base was to see to food, flour, fruit, in one of the distant places in Polesia in the time of need. Rozin was appointed as base commander. He went out with a group of 15 people, among them: Meirovitz, Lip, Katzenellenbogen, Chava Tunik, Liza Fish, Ginzburg and others. The center of the base was near the town of Lenin, which was in the center of western Polesia. The group succeeded in accumulating much food, and sustained itself in an independent way until the liberation. After the abandonment of the area of Ruzhany by the Jewish unit, there was no longer reason to hold on to the distant base, and it was transferred to the supervision of the Pronza unit which camped in the Ruzhany area.


Nights, days, weeks go by. The situation, relatively calm, but also in a “quiet” period the nights were dedicated to patrols, to actions, and the main thing – to wandering. The nights of wandering, and mainly the long and rainy fall nights are etched in the soul of every Partisan. Forest, fog, rain, and sometimes – no road. On a night like this, when a glimmer of light is revealed at the edge of the forest, it is as if life in the wilderness is revealed. The glimmer of light whispers: People live here! Life! To a ray of light that erupts from a solitary wick, the Partisan would walk many kilometers, sometimes in great danger. (The guard dogs that were next to the farmers' houses, whose barking aroused the barking of all the dogs in the area, were a great nuisance.) To the informers and the participants in actions, the barking served as a clear sign of the Partisans' presence in the area. Many fighters paid with their lives on account of the barking dogs.

And how strong was the desire to enter a warm house and eat one's fill. An encounter with a farmer, with people, was like a breath of air to the fighter. But the welcome in farmers' houses varied. One would start grumbling that they were giving him no rest. A “reception” like this would infuriate the Partisan, and entry into the house would be accompanied by a Russian “Misheberach.”[12] [13] And when the farmer would refuse or avoid giving something so he could eat his fill, the atmosphere in the house became “heated.”

As usual, the language of the Partisan was peppered with various “spices” (and the truth of the measure of “one needs to know how to speak” was bound to the amount of spices like these). For every dozen words, there were at least 3 words of cursing and “words of connection”[14] which were created in groups of three. But when the anger grew, this language “was improved” even more, and the regular words in it were like specks of grain in paltry soup. The contents of the “speech” were like this: “You (and here come a few “gentle” descriptions that specified the “you” well), sit in a warm house, stuffing yourself, drinking, lying with your wife, and enjoying life. You left the war with the enemy to others, and you still save on a little food for the Partisan?!” The content was little, but the speech was… long.

At the end of the matter, the farmer would become reconciled and would extract from the hidden places enough food to restore the soul. And if not – the search began in the house, and there was nothing left for the farmer but to request lovingkindness and compassion.

On many occasions, the farmers spoke words of flattery and sweetness, when in the depths of their souls they plotted, more than once, bad conspiracies. These would throw back hard against the Jewish Partisans: “so, you need to eat to survive, there's nothing to talk about. You are running around in the forests, fighting – but these zhidim[15], they are simply murdering robbers.”

And while the Russian Partisans would only infrequently react to these words of contempt, since it was their opinion that it wasn't worth it and wasn't “healthy” to stick their heads into a Jewish matter, whenever a farmer like this encountered a Jewish Partisan, whose face did not testify that he was a Jew, he would cry and puff up like a baby in an effort to erase his sin. But there were also other encounters with farmers, which, even if they were rare, were like a ray of light. Encounters like these bore witness that there was within the population a human being whose spark of humanity had not entirely been extinguished in his heart. An encounter like this, in the dark of night, was saturated with worry, loyalty, and fear. When they heard of the Jewish fate of the fighters, they would express deep and sincere participation[16] in their sorrow and their fate, and this was then very much.

As was said, meetings like this were very rare, but specifically because of that, they were etched very deep. We asked ourselves: “from where are these drawing, the only ones, their courage? What protects them in the raging sea of hatred, so that they do not lose their humanity? Where are their roots?

The meetings with the Baptists, the religious sect that clung to the Holy Scriptures and the messianic mission of the Jewish people, were special. Every encounter with them aroused admiration for them. They were as if steeped in another world – not in this one, full of the hateful, the cruel, and the murderer.

In every place where the Partisans appeared, they aroused appreciation. Mostly, the appreciation was for the expression of strength that they represented, for the weapons, for their personalities as fighters. But not so the Baptists; they did not give their hearts to weapons, but to humanity.

For their part, the saying: A guest in the house – God is in the house, was put into practice for their Jewish guests. In their hosting Jews they saw a great privilege for themselves. These revelations very much moved the Jewish fighters.


Propaganda Among the Population

The meetings with the farmers became a pipeline for great influence on the local population's rebellion against the enemy. These meetings were replete

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with anxiety and tension, and succeeded in exciting young and old for the struggle for liberation.

The farmers were gathered at night in one of the houses. One of the fighters was analyzing the situation on the front, telling about the operations of the Partisan movement, and explaining the reasons for the unavoidable defeat of Nazi Germany. The words were brief but influenced more than one to tip the scales for the Red Army and the Partisans.

In November 1943, the Red Army forded the Dnieper. On November 7, Kiev was captured. Before the Red Army, the plains of Ukraine and Belorussia “were opened.” In January-February 1944 the Red Army reached Rovno, Sarny, Kovel, Romen, in the famous invasion by the name of “the Sword of Vatutin.” The Partisan front now spread along the length of the border between Polesia and Wo³yñ. Convinced of the advancement of the Red Army, the Partisan movement was obligated to define its role. A few units began to tail the enemy's rear and to strike it in its retreat (Kapusta), and some of the units remained in the regions in order to organize control in the underground, until the day of liberation.

The trend in this role that the Partisans took upon themselves was in the role of local administration after the liberation. With this, the Partisan movement significantly lightened the load for the Soviet State. The Partisan unit was obligated to get to know the reliable local people in the villages, and to gather information on every participant in actions who would be punished in the future. An additional role was placed on the Partisans, therefore: to be the “coming government.” The newspaper and the announcement, which were disseminated by the Partisans, had the role of educating and training the hearts of the citizens of the region, and to fight German propaganda. In Ruzhany, a printing house was established for the Kletzk region. Viener, who was accepted by the Jewish and Russian fighters, was placed at its head. Yoel Mazurvitz served as his helper, and, as radio technician, Shalom Katznovsky. Yarutzki was editing assistant. The printing materials, including the letters, were acquired by Viener in Vizhna and Krasno-Sloboda. A Russian youth from Vizhna was drafted for printing. However, they encountered difficulties in obtaining paper. Over time, letters and printing materials were obtained from Moscow. A newspaper appeared weekly, bringing news from the front, the radio, and articles. The staff of workers remained in Ruzhany until the liberation. After the Jewish unit was transferred from the region, the staff was attached to the Pronza unit, which was put in charge of the region. Within Ruzhany, there was an airport. The air connection with Moscow was tightened in the winter of 1943-44. Sometimes German prisoners, or “tongues” (“catching tongues” – that is to say, the capture of an enemy soldier in order to extract information from him) were transferred in planes.

* * *

The meetings with captured Germans in the forest were interesting. Once I served as a translator at the headquarters for the interrogation of captured Germans. As was known to the captives who fell into Partisan hands, their spirits were very enraged at them. Stories of atrocities went around, according to them, about the cruelty of the Partisans. The director of the “Special Unit” of Tchekmorov, took the captives out to a camp without an accompanying guard, with hidden watchful eyes guarding them. He fed them an evening meal, in order to calm them. One of them was a military chef, and, in his civilian profession, an artist. The second was a battle soldier. It was impossible to squeeze any information of value from them, since they themselves did not know much. But it was possible to get a picture of the way of life, the mood, of the German soldier. They mentioned with great pleasure the gift packages that contained chocolate, dried fruit, juices, etc., that the soldiers would receive.

In order to find favor in the eyes of their interrogators, they told jokes and jests that went around secretly among the Germans, and here is one of them: Goering, Goebbels, and Hitler were invited to the heavenly retinue to be called to account. The Creator asks Goering: How many times did you lie to the nation and the world? 7 times, Goering answered. The Creator ruled immediately: Run 7 times around the sky. March! And you, Goebbels? I lied 20 times! 20 times around the sky! March! Said the Creator. Before Hitler was asked, he approached the Creator submissively: Creator of the world, please have mercy on me and give me a bicycle, I will not be able to do so many circuits on foot.

When they were asked if they were prepared to fight against Hitler? they answered: Against Hitler – yes! But not against Germans. It was promised to them that they would be transferred to Moscow by plane to the army of General Paulus. They believed it and were happy. On the next day, they were transferred to the world of truth.


And Again Polesia

In accordance with instructions that arrived from the regiment headquarters, a new brigade in the name of Molotov was established, number 19. The brigade camped in the region of Baranovitz. Our unit was attached to the Lachovitz district and the place of its encampment was in the south of the district, where the territories of the northern swamps of Polesia sprawled. In accordance with the instructions, Zhukov's unit went out at the end of February for a winter trip. The trip went by way of the Mashuki forests, in the direction of Shatzira, by way of the Moscow-Warsaw road to the area of the villages of Novosyolki [possibly 53°01' N 26°54' E] and Svyatitsa [52°45' N 26°03' E]. On the way, in the estates of Mashuki, the young courageous fighter Yitzchak Partzovitz died suddenly of an illness. His death was straightforward but weighed on the unit. In the new place, a lack of food was felt. This region had become impoverished over the course of a year and a half by various units that passed through the territory, and among them Tzignekov's unit, which was known for infamy in its relation to the Jews, especially in the days of the great hunt in the winter of 1943. It was necessary to seek food in distant regions, which sometimes took a week or two. We were forced to tighten the belt. The main lack was felt in bread and salt. Frequently, we ate bland food, without salt. “Private property,” if there was such a thing, was a pinch of salt, a snuff box for smelling, on the side the weapons and ammunition, and the remnants of reminders from home, that were more precious to the fighter, in their contributing a little taste and additional soul[17] in peaceful moments. Frequently we ate meat and potatoes, entirely flavorless, without salt. The people gathered various vegetables, like garlic, onions, in order to spice the food a little and as a stimulus to the dry palate.

At the end of March 1944, I went out with a group of 10 people, Yosef Peker, Ginsberg, and others among them, towards the Lipniki [52°28' N 26°11' E] area, the villages of Motal [52°19' N 25°36' E], Logishin [52°20' N 25°59' E]. There, in the depths of Polesia, units from Komrov's regiment were camped. On the long way, broad areas of swamp spread out. Here and there were scattered the sparse and far-flung villages of Polesia. In the houses – poverty – something never seen before. Not a drop of milk for the children, and no bread or potatoes for the adults. It is hard to know how the people were sustained in such a condition of hunger. Occasionally, it was possible to encounter people who were nourished by mekucha (press cake)[18], which served in the normal days as food for the cows. In days gone by, the farmers were sustained by their cattle. A farmer, even the poorest, raised 20-30 cows, inadequate for milk, but designated for meat, while the Polesian oxen were large and fat, even though they were fed by the grasses of the swamps. They also served as a means of transportation. The farmers' plots of land were very small, since their fitness for sowing was extremely limited, but fertile, since they were fertilized by the cattle manure that the farmers had in their possession. Sometimes the farmer would sell a cow or two to the butchers of the adjacent village and buy salt, matches, kerosene, a few bottles of brandy, and sometimes a piece of fabric for a dress for his wife, salted fish and cakes for the children, and return to his house drunk on brandy. These necessities lasted him a whole year.

In the days of the war, the region was turned into the sphere of Partisan action and constantly placed under siege. It was forbidden for the farmer to leave his village, his cows were confiscated by the Germans and the Partisans. He was left with only one cow. And anyone who never saw a farmer who fought for his last cow, never saw a person fight for his own. But this too was frequently confiscated, and then there remained only one shared cow for 2-3 families.

From the area of Lipniki, we brought 20-30 cows whose meat served

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as the primary food of the unit. Sometimes the Partisans would discover potatoes in the villages, in a dry region, in camouflaged pits covered with dirt. In the region of Svyatitsa, a distance of a few kilometers from the village, was the family camp, which was separated in Mashuki.

In the fall of 1943, the camp moved from Mashuki to the area of Svyatitsa. Segal served as guide for the group of the paratroopers of Orlovski – Nikoleski, which camped in that place. Vishnir remained the one responsible for the family camp.


The Family Camps

Over the course of time, the last Jews from Koldyczewo [53°17' N 26°03' E ] reached the forest. These were part of the last 96 Jews who fled from the Koldyczewo camp next to Baranovitz. The rest of them wandered to Naliboki. On the way, next to Svyatitsa, within a unit of saboteurs, they encountered Partisans who took their shoes and boots from them. The group of Jews from Baranovitz, Byten [52°53' N 25°30' E], and the rest of the forests, who wandered in the region, were joined to the unit.

The families of the Belorussian Partisans and those connected to them also began to reach the forest; they were afraid of German retaliation. They too were settled adjacent to the Jewish family camp. In accordance with the instructions of the Partisan command in the region, the two Jewish camps and the Christian camp were joined into one family camp, which numbered about 300 people. Jews constituted most of the camp. Vishnir and a Belorussian farmer were appointed to be responsible for the camp. Order prevailed in the camp, and clay huts were put up. The residents of the camp succeeded in obtaining food to sustain them and even to accumulate for the coming days. In their possession were about 20 rifles that served for guard duty and economic actions (from the testimony of Karshetzki).

Over the course of the days, the young people were transferred from the camps to the battle units, to Zhukov. To this one, Grizodovov, and to the paratroopers' unit of Orlovski-Nikoleski.

There also arrived at this family camp Jews from Baranovitz, from the family camp under the authority of Misha, which numbered about 200 people, and only a few of them were armed. Some of them transferred to Vishnir's camp. The people of the family camp obtained millstones for grinding flour, processed hides, and soap. In their possession was a herd of milk cows (about 30 heads), a chicken coop, and a large stock of potatoes.

In the camp three babies were born who remained alive. About 200 Jews from Baranovitz, Kletzk, Byten, and Meyetch [possibly Mstizh 54°34' N 28°10' E] were able to be liberated from this camp.

The Jewish fighters in Shtopblov's unit provided food to the family camp. The situation of the Jews in this camp was such that had it not been for the help of the Jewish fighters, more than one of whom endangered themselves and violated the orders of their commanders, the families would not have been able to hold up. When a Jewish fighter appeared in the camp, they all received him as a savior, and he felt as if he had returned to the bosom of his family.

Giltzik did not find his place in Shtopblov's unit, and after some time transferred to Doniev's unit as a reconnaissance commander. And it is worth pointing out that with the scattering of most of the people of the camp into the battle units, the anti-Semitic incitement weakened. The Russian fighters appreciated the battle ability of the Jewish fighters. And see, this too is strange: people who at first seemed “unsuccessful” merited appreciation as excellent fighters. Pashpiurka was like this, one who appeared “unsuccessful” in Bilosov's company, in the unit of the Commissar Martinov was one of the most excellent saboteurs, who everyone appreciated.

Yet there also occurred events that stirred up the emotions of the Jewish fighters. For example, the event of the Belorussian Partisan who promised his cousin in the police to turn over to him a Jew who they would turn over to the Germans. This traitor on whom the Jewish Partisan Smolovitz relied trapped him. This happened at the time of a joint action. Then, when Smolovitz saw that he had no escape, he took out a grenade and blew himself up. In the unit rumors spread: Smolovitz turned himself over to the Germans. An anti-Semitic storm arose. The next day Smolovitz's body was brought. The agitators and the destroyers shamefacedly lowered their eyes. Bouquets of flowers were placed in his honor. His body was placed on a cannon covered with bouquets of flowers and in full military ceremony was brought for burial.

In a clash between two groups of Partisans due to a mistake, Ozer Maza and Mishka Eitzer, a Soviet Jew, fell in battle, in an assault over enemy plunder. Shtopblov's unit operated all the time until the liberation in the Kapyl region. Among them there also operated a regiment of Polish Partisans, which was not subordinate to London's instructions.



Svyatitsa was a burned village. Its residents lived in earth huts within the forest under the protection of the Partisans. All around there spread foul-smelling swamps and the odor of decomposition carried in every direction. Only infrequently was a “path” made of pieces of wood or branches revealed on the face of the swamps. One of the amazing things was the adaptive ability of the Polesian resident to live in this area, and even to walk in it. In great amazement, you followed a resident of Polesia while he walked in the swamps and the forests. They excelled in exemplary agility and a deep instinct, natural, really animalistic, to discover in the territory every protrusion and hummock, without the body's losing balance. Their movements were measured and restrained, with a minimum of effort and momentum, and even without a moment of consideration as is usual with a walker, who asks: “to here, or to here?” The shoes of a resident of Polesia were “laptis,”[19] woven from tree bark. These were excellent, with great flexibility, and they granted balance to the sole of the foot. And an additional wonder: his shoes almost do not get wet in the mud. And more: the forest, which to the Polesians is like the back of their hands, they know every path in it, every secret, sign and enigma. The moss on a tree is a sign of the points of the compass, or birds' nests, like an open book on the paths of the thick forest. But after hours of wandering in the depths of the forest, the place of his exit from it will always be adjacent to the place where he entered it. In an open field – the Polesian loses his sense of orientation, as a person from the settlement loses his orientation in the thick forest.

At the beginning, Partisans were aided by the local Polesians in becoming oriented in the territory. With the coming of spring, the water increased and the plague of mosquitos spread unbearably, especially in the evening hours. There was no escaping them, and there was not a square centimeter which was not conquered by these blood suckers.

Even when you were entirely covered up within your army coat or in a blanket without an open crack remaining, they reached the flesh of your body. And was it possible to sleep when they were flying about around you and sucking your blood? In the unit, furuncles[20] spread. The crowding and the hygienic conditions in the earthen shacks contributed greatly to the spread of this affliction, and there was no medicine for it. The abscess afflicted all parts of the body, the chest, the arms, etc. The people got used to this plague too, and so they went out to actions while their bodies were still entirely covered with furuncles.

With the spring came the typhus. The sick were laid down in isolation, but there was a great lack of medicine and doctors. Among the medicines were many of Polesian production: various leaves, dried blackberries, etc. A medic or a medical student sometimes took the place of a doctor. And the people battled with the cruel enemy, in the condition of the forest that did not have mercy on anyone, and the diseases that exhausted them, and overcame all of these! Indeed, many fell, but many were able to reach the day of redemption, despite all these!

In the winter, after a night of patrol or operation, the group retreated to the forest that was adjacent to the area of operation, resting and falling asleep in the snow, when the fatigue even overcame the cold and the ice. In the fall, there was not always found a bed to lay on, and then the roots of a tree became a pillow for sleep. And when there was an opportunity for a real bed, as in an occurrence in one of the villages, when the unit moved at the end of the winter from Ruzhany to Svyatitsa, it was given to the fighters to relax a little in one of the houses in the village. There they offered beds to the fighters. When they lay their heads on the large Belarussian pillows, they felt themselves not at ease. It was not comfortable for them to sleep, however the swamps and the forest also

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were not ideal dwelling places for people. And in addition to the mishaps of the place the region was blessed with one more human plague: the Zorkints. This gang that called itself Partisan, ruled in the region, plundered, murdered. The men of this gang would attack even the farmers who dwelt in the forests, stealing their horses, or their last cow, and the remnants of their property. Sometimes the stolen item would be returned in exchange for samagon (home-made alcohol). But in the main they rejoiced to murder Jews. Many who escaped from the northern regions to the swamps of Polesia were destroyed by them. A division of Jews from Baranovitz and Slonim camped next to the Vygonovo [probably Vygonoschanskoye] lake. In their possession were a few weapons that they acquired with great difficulty in the ghetto and on the paths. The Zorkints looted their weapons from them and tens of Jews were murdered by them. The Lupnik communal grave was dug next to Svyatitsa.

At the beginning of 1943, when Orlovski's group of saboteurs arrived, he summoned the commander of the Zorkints, about whose deeds he had been warned, and demanded that he return the weapons.

Orlovski brought the Jews close to him and attached a few of them to his group. The Jewish group named for Zhukov met Orlovski's group in its regular place next to Svyatitsa.

The presence of this group positively influenced the region as a result of its great authority, even if it sometimes acted justifiably in cases with overly strict discipline. In the region there also camped a unit of the Grizodovovs – which was largely made up of the population of the region. In this period – spring 1944 – when the victorious Red Army chased after the Nazis, the cruelty of the invaders increased and the movement of the folk to the forest increased. The farmers did not see themselves as desperate: their soil was eternal, while their sheep, their cattle, and their property moved with them to the forest in wagons. In the forest, they built large and extensive huts for themselves in the ground and in an optimistic note they added: if our huts will be burned, we will build new fine houses in their place. The exit to the forest was credited to their merit when peace came.

The exit to the forest included great masses in those spring days, and therefore additional Partisan units were established, even if most of them were included in Russian family camps. These “last minute” patriots constituted most of the people of Grizodovov's unit.

Together with a stream of these farmers, many German spies arrived in the forest. These were the last attempts of the Germans to increase their intelligence activities, in order to make it easier for the army in its retreat. It was also their last “card” in joint actions to be saved from revenge at the hands of the approaching Soviets.

Many were the women in the role of spying. With their arrival, most of them were quickly joined to a chevre[21], easily bonding with their friends among the Partisans. The personal biographies of the spies were various and different, and their outlooks increased the tension within the unit.

The role of the Jewish unit named for Zhukov in the Lachovitzi region was not only to completely destroy the spies in the forest – but also to expose the participants of the actions in the forest, to get close to trusted contacts, and to act among the population. And indeed, this was an extensive and responsible activity.

The Jewish Partisan Olivenstein and his friends went out to one of the actions in a village that was on the Moscow-Warsaw road. One of the German participants in the action summoned policemen, and in a clash in the middle of the night between the police and the Partisan group Olivenstein fell.

At the time of the German retreat, the unit camped adjacent to the Moscow-Warsaw road, the central transportation artery, and to the Shchara River that crosses it from north to south, whose right bank the Germans were able to fortify as their defensive line (in the First World War the Germans did that when they established a defensive line for the length of the right bank of the Shchara. This defensive line was held by them for three years).

In this situation, there were many opportunities for sabotage and the Partisan ambush. But for that they needed weapons, ammunition, and explosive materials. An instruction came from headquarters: to cross the front and bring equipment and ammunition across the line. The front at that time spread from the southern side of Polesia. 60 people from Zhukov's unit, Lazo, Grizodovov, went out in the middle of March for this assignment. Among those who went out from Zhukov's unit were Shmuel Nissenbaum, Stoklitzki, and others. In their crossing about 120 kilometers, Stoklitzki became ill with typhus and Nissenbaum received instructions to return him to the camp. He transported him for five whole days in the forests and swamps to Svyatitsa. The group infiltrated by way of the front line and at the end of April returned with many weapons, machine guns, anti-tank weapons, explosive materials, and crates of ammunition.

The unit began to conduct daring battle operations on a broader scale. An armed force was stationed as an ambush for the German unit next to Krivoshin [52°52' N 26°08' E], which was in close proximity to the Moscow-Warsaw road. Heavy losses were caused for the enemy, and for the Partisans there were no wounded. The Jewish unit mined the German paths of transportation, while Germans launched “investigative teams,” horses with harrows, on the roads.

On one of the days in May, 40 fighters went out to an ambush. The road was mined. After a short time, a unit of Belarussian policemen appeared accompanied by a group of Germans. The policemen were in a happy mood and sang:

On mountains and plains we will go marching,
Jews and communists we will send to destruction.
They were struck a crushing blow, many Germans were killed, but reinforcement by a few German vehicles that happened to pass on the highway forced the fighters to retreat.

The command assigned the Partisan units quotas of sabotage, bombings and ambushes. A group of saboteurs was assembled in Division A that went out to mine trains and to conduct other acts of sabotage. In this group there were a number of Jews. Outstanding among them was the saboteur Tunik. Likewise, a group of Jewish saboteurs was organized under my command. This group included veteran fighters and experienced saboteurs, like Shmuel Nissenbaum, Binyamin Vilitovski, and others. And also one Russian, for intelligence operations among the hostile population. The group “settled” in a small and sparse grove next to Baranovitz. From this, base patrols went out over the course of many nights, to learn the territory properly. Between Baranovitz and Zaleshany [53°02' N 26°29' E], the group mined the train tracks, the transportation paths, and sabotaged German warehouses. After every action, the group was forced to change its location. After some time, the brigade named for Molotov reached the area of action of my group to carry out the bombing of the train tracks according to instructions from the Staff Head of the Partisan movement. In one night, a short time before the beginning of the big attack on the Belorussian front, many tens of thousands of Partisans went out for an operation to explode the train tracks throughout the area of the conquered territory.

The Jewish unit was greatly aided by the sabotage group that learned the territory, recognized the location of the German guard posts, and helped the command to successfully carry out the action. The unit's area of action spread over 4-5 kilometers. The Germans who sat fortified in guard posts next to the tracks began to cover the tracks with heavy fire along its entire length, but they were late by several minutes. The people had already retreated from the tracks and the explosions began. As it became clear that night, Lazo's people had not completed their work. Jewish Partisans from our unit volunteered to go out under the enemy's fire to complete the bombing in the section of Lazo's unit. The group of Jewish saboteurs remained in the area to carry out additional operations that were planned by it. When the sabotage groups returned to the camp, their actions were raised on a banner for a special day of instruction in the formation of the unit.


With the Liberation

The attack on the Belarussian front began. Baranovitz was bombed each and every night by the Soviet air force. The thundering reverberations from the front came closer and closer from day to day, from hour to hour. A high officer from the Red army arrived at the brigade command. The army patrols in partnership with the Partisans put out feelers in the area. It was clear that the brigade command had

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been assigned an important battle mission – a mission to aid the plan of the Red Army – to conquer the bridge on the Shchara on the Moscow-Warsaw road, on the main retreat artery of the German army. It was clear that this was an extremely heavy assignment. On the last watch of the night, the units took firing positions on the right bank of the Shchara. With dawn the battle began between us – the Partisan forces and the retreating German infantry. Losses were caused for the Germans, then German light tanks broke through by way of the bridge and began to cover the Partisan posts with heavy fire. We could not stand before the many German armored forces that broke through by way of the bridge, and we retreated. To our happiness, the Partisan posts were on outcroppings, behind which stretched the forest. This situation was to our benefit. It was clear that it was impossible to hold the bridge and barricade the main path of the German retreat with the Partisans' weapons alone. That day, a new mission was assigned: to build a new bridge, to the south, at a distance of a few kilometers from this central bridge – on the posts of the previous bridge, which was burned. And indeed the Partisans carried out the mission and at night a great number of Red Army infantry began to move light tanks and abundant anti-tank weapons.


Evening of Liberation

From right to left: the Partisans Kantorovitz, Shalom Chalowsky, Simcha (Sabak) Rozin


In a circumventing movement, the main bridge on the Moscow-Warsaw road was captured, after there remained on its eastern side only a few German forces, who mostly were taken prisoner. On the next day, the Red Army tanks passed in the forest near the camp. Who knew how to express the emotional hearts of the Jewish fighters at the sight of the Red Army soldiers?! With the wave of deep joy that flooded the heart there blew chilly winds: they retreated only for “two-three” weeks, the army officers expressed with their retreat, and returned after three years. But who would they save now?!

One and only thought nagged and gnawed at the heart without rest – if only they had come two years earlier! Why didn't the miracle occur?!

The unit arranged its last assembly in the forest. The thundering shouts of the fighters reverberated for the last time among its trees. The parting from the forest was difficult. The suffering and the troubles, the battles and the victories, formed strong spiritual bonds to the forests – to these dark settlements that sometimes cast fears and now provided a feeling of security. It seemed that we were abandoning home and going out to an empty void. Indeed, empty and also the world was full. Empty – of all that was living in the depths of the heart that was precious to our memories – houses and people, whole families with their parents and their children, as if nothing happened. What very much crushed the heart when you passed by the house standing on its foundations and the laughter of children was heard from it! We walked around as if burned by scalding irons.

On July 12, 1944, the unit moved. We went out of the forest into fields of ripe standing grain awaiting harvest. The forest continued to disappear on the horizon, and occasionally someone would stop, turning his gaze backwards with longing. This was a parting forever.

Next to the groves and the hills camped divisions of soldiers of the Red Army, who were preparing for an assault on the city of Baranovitz. From between the trees of one of the groves a Soviet captain appeared, mature and with a voice choked with joy and tears he called: Yidden[22], Partisan! He hugged, clung to us like a father with children.

The unit came near Lachovitzki . We passed the streets of the town. Silence all around. No open arms, no shouts of joy. The residents sat hidden in their houses. Only a few were seen on the streets. Exchanges of fleeting glances between them and the Partisans were full of suspicion and distrust. A grudge, and a false smile.

The unit settled in the churchyard. Before we had time to change our shirt and to shower, the induction into the army had already begun. A liaison sergeant from the army came, with instructions from its commander. He appeared in the yard with the instruction: to induct the vast majority of the Partisans into the army.

Most of the 150 men from the unit who were sent to the front were Jewish. Many were sent for the clearing of land mine fields. A few, individuals, returned.


Across from My House

After a few days I went out to Nesvizh. I put on my belt and my weapon and turned in the direction of Kletsk and from there to my town. Part of the way I went by wagon, and part on foot.

In boots and clothing from the forest, with my weapon in its belt hanging from my shoulder horizontally, and my hands holding tightly to the barrel, I stepped into the entrance to the city.

My heart was full. I knew that I was walking to a cemetery. I even knew the names of the Jews that I would encounter. They were few. It was possible to count them on the fingers of the hands.

I passed by the houses of Charlap, Anglovitz, came near to the quiet, enchanting lake; the heart was sealed to its beauty, and to the appearance of the castle that was across it.

The quiet struck in astonishment. All was standing as before. Nothing was changed, as if it was possible to jump across to the reeds, or to the waters of the lake, like we used to jump in the days of our childhood.

I crossed the gateway of the wall of the “Nei-Stadt”[23] (Slutzker Gate). There were no people in the street. I turned right to the end of Studentska Street (afterwards, Pilsudski) which was full of fine buildings.

This was Sunday of the week, in the morning hours. I stepped on the left sidewalk of the street. A large community of local people, young people and adults, walked on the sidewalk that was on the other side of the road, to the Catholic church that was at the end of the street and to the Pravoslavic church that stood in the middle of it, not far from my house.

I walked straight, and did not turn my head to the sides.

I was the only one on the long empty sidewalk, and “they,” all of them across from me on the second sidewalk - it was as if someone's hand directed the movement.

I walked straight with my hands grasping the barrel, erect, sad, and proud.

For a moment it seemed that many were stepping with me, the many who would never step.

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Many gazes were fixed on me, I felt them, they were stuck into me like pricking needles. They recognized me well.

Many cries of amazement that terrified in their calling: “Alive?” “The teacher?” “Partisan?” “They are still alive!”


Shalom Cholavsky and Chedva Lachovitzky
– After the Liberation (Summer 1944)


I did not look at them.

I felt as if I was walking behind the coffin of a friend, a dear fighter. I came near to my house, I saw it from a distance – standing on its foundation. The “Maccabee Fire” building, the “Boulevard,” behind which I stood on the sidewalk which was across the street facing my house. The house of my parents and my brother, the house of my family with the tall “porch.”

I knew that no one was waiting from me inside it, but in the heart a faint hope whispered maybe the miracle will occur and the window will be flung open, a door will open and somebody will yell: “Shalom!” No miracle occurred.

A tear welled up in my eye. I felt a compulsion to go. I turned towards the other side of the city with hurried steps. I came to the two houses in which Jews were living.

The meeting with Reb Moshe Lachovitzky, his daughter Freidl, Dovid Farfel, Elke his wife – members of the Damesek family, Yishai Mazin, was moving. We stood silently, drenched in tears.

We went out to the graves. Silently we walked there. Silently we stood at the place and silently we walked back. A small handful of Jews. There was no strength to weep.

We went out to the ghetto. We passed next to the mounds of dirt that were in it. And they remained as I had seen them that early morning with our departure.

I went to visit a certain person, Tomeka, a teacher in the Polish gymnasium. He had given his own money for the “contribution”[24] that was imposed on the Jews. When he would encounter me in the days of the ghetto walking in the middle of the street[25], he would come down, embarrassed, from the sidewalk onto the road, like me, saying “hello” with human warmth, with damp eyes.

When I entered his house and presented myself across from him, he wept like a child.

In my return to “my” street, I went up the stairs of the “porch” of my house. I knocked. I heard a voice from inside. I opened the door and stood next to the threshold: everything in it was like it was. The brass lamp was hung above the table. The beautiful carved “buffet” is standing in its place. The same table, everything stands in its place. I stood paralyzed. An old Polish woman approached me confused. I recognized her. She was our neighbor in the past. She also recognized me. She stuttered something to me, I glanced at her. With my gaze I caressed the walls, the oven, the brass lamp, the buffet, the corners of the floor that were painted red, I stood. Maybe someone would appear. Maybe… I waited, I hoped, and… I went out.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a: “…a gentile who came before Shammai and said to Shammai: Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot.” Return
  2. From the poem “Masada” by Yitzhak Lamdan. Return
  3. A large region including southern Belarus and northern Ukraine Return
  4. General Valsov's men who defected with his men from the Red Army and fought alongside the Germans Return
  5. A play on the words in Deuteronomy 8:3 “…Man does not live by bread alone…” Return
  6. Chaim Nachman Bialik, a well-known Hebrew and Yiddish writer, one of the fathers of modern Hebrew poetry. Return
  7. Heinrich Heine, a 19th century Jewish German poet. Return
  8. This word, klaf, generally refers not to paper, but to the specially prepared kosher animal skin that is used to create scrolls of the Torah, mezuzahs, and tefillin. Klaf is the outer portion of the hide. Return
  9. This word, gvil, refers to the inner portion of the hide. Return
  10. This seems to be a typographical error. The text reads אתה “you,” while the word עתה “now” is what seems to make sense. It is a difference of only one letter, and is an easy mistake to make. Return
  11. One of the Russian Partisan commanders. Return
  12. A Jewish prayer for healing. Return
  13. Possibly an idiomatic euphemism for a derogatory remark Return
  14. Literally, prepositions, but probably a colloquialism for rude phrases. Return
  15. A strongly pejorative term for Jews. Return
  16. A standard modern Hebrew form of expressing condolence is “I participate in your sorrow.” Return
  17. “Additional soul” is a belief that originates in Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, believed to be received by a Jew on the Sabbath. Return
  18. A press cake is the solids remaining after pressing something to extract the liquids. Their most common use is in animal feed. Return
  19. Traditional Russian shoes made from bast, a fibrous part of a plant. Return
  20. Boils. Return
  21. A group of friends, from the Hebrew word chaver, friend. This has a different tone than the word “group,” kevutzah, and cannot really be translated into English. Return
  22. Yiddish for “Jews.” Return
  23. The New Town Return
  24. A ransom imposed on Jewish communities by the Nazis, who held members of the community hostage until it was paid. Return
  25. Jews were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks. Return


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