by Ahuva Handelsman née Novak
Translated by Esther Snyder
Almost forty years have passed since we left the house where I lived from the age of four, and the simple truth is that not many memories have remained. To my regret, the memories of even those who were closest to me have begun to fade. I sit and try to concentrate and retrieve from my memory what I can write, even just a few lines.
So, I decided to describe the escape from our home at the beginning of the war, because I will never forget this event until the day I die.
In June 1941, the Germans started bombing Raflovka. Of course, there was a great panic. People began to escape without knowing where to go. We hoped that within a week or two, the war would be over and we would be able to return home.
My brother, Hillel and my sister, Yentl went to Sereni. We decided that the rest of the family would leave the house and we would meet later in Sereni. So, the next day we packed just the necessities for a week or two and went to a freight train that was designated for people who wanted to escape in order to save their lives. My mother, zl, suddenly remembered that she wanted to take her manual sewing machine and returned to the house. When she arrived home she saw that the house had been broken into, the chickens screeching and running wild, the cow wandering around and mooing; she thought that even the animals felt a great disaster coming. She came back to the train and decided that she couldn't leave the house. We all went home.
A day later, my father, Dimentin, and, also I think Mottel Maniuk and several other Jews whose names I don't remember, who all worked in Reifotrebsviez, took a horse and wagon to travel to Rokitno in order to hand over the proceeds of the last few days to their supervisors. After I started to cry over the situation, as I mentioned above my brother and sister had already left. Now, my father will leave and the rest of the family will remain at home? My father comforted me and said, Come along with me. I took some pictures and my memory book, which was the most important thing to me at that time and actually the only memento that was to remain. I travelled with my father. The farewell from the rest of the family was difficult. No one imagined in his darkest dreams that this would be our final separation. When we reached Smolarnia, we suddenly heard shouts. It was my brother, Yankele, zl, who had run a long distance from our house to bring my father his winter coat (peltzl).
This scene hasn't left me all my life. My heart almost exploded as if to predict that we would never see each other again. A dark prophesy that was realized. This was the last time we saw each other. What was their destiny? Everyone knows.
by Masha Valspetel née Draitzen
Translated by Esther Snyder
It was, apparently, the end of 1943.
I saw Fania for the first time in the forest, on a winter morning when I was 10-11, a thin, helpless girl.
I was in the forest neglected and dressed in rags. I sat under a tree bundled up, a package of rags. We had fled Haleket another forest, fearing an invasion of Ukrainians and Germans.
I was alone because none of those who fled and continued on their way wanted to take me along. All my requests and pleas didn't help. And then, one cold morning, the unbelievable happened. Someone who looked like an angel wearing warm, pretty clothes like a non-Jew bent over and spoke to me in a soft, gentle voice.
I couldn't believe it. Could it be a dream or was it real. And it was real. Fania asked me about my family and from my replies, she understood that I was left alone. From that moment until today, I am Fania's child.
Fania gathered me in her arms, warmed me up and took me to a non-Jewish family Shtundists who would care for me. [Translator's note: the Shtundists were a small Protestant, evangelical group who often helped and hid Jews. The name comes from the German for hour shtunde as they prayed every hour.] These gentiles believed that Fania was a saint and fulfilled all her requests. From that moment, also I believed that Fania might be an angel. She was so good and pretty.
I stayed with the Shtundist family. I daydreamed and asked when Fania would come. She didn't disappoint. A smiling Fania would appear almost every Sunday.
I wondered what would become of me ! Fania didn't leave time for these thoughts. She came and took me to Raflovka.
It was towards the end of the war. Holocaust, destruction but also thoughts of we remained alive.
In Raflovka, Fania took me to a large house that was a pharmacy. Already there were Yaakov Bass zl, his son David zl and his daughter Rivka. Yaakov treated me as a daughter, and David and Rivka as a sibling.
The house was full of people: Partisans who returned from the forests, officers from the Red Army, people whom Yaakov took in and children who Fania found in the forests. We were one big family of survivors.
The school also began and we studied diligently. But we hadn't yet reached full safety. Wanderings continued. We heard rumors that many Jews were organizing into groups attempting to reach Eretz Yisrael. That was our objective, to flee from the country that had murdered our family and to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael.
Most of us travelled to Poland under false names and passports; everything was for the longed for aim, to go home to Eretz Yisrael. We pretended to be Greeks or Tatarim. We didn't speak a word of Russian.
During this whole time, we were together Fania, myself and the Bass family. When we reached Lublin, we heard about the death camp Maidenik. We travelled on to Bucharest in Romania. It was 1945, towards the end of the World War. In Romania, the children including Rivka and myself, were placed in various orphanages.
Fania, David and Yaakov continued to Italy. Rivka and I were among the happy ones who received certificates and we went to Eretz Yisrael at the end of 1945. Although we went different ways, after two years, also Fania, David and Yaakov arrived.
We had an emotional reunion yet I was happy in my place, as I was already living in Kibbutz Dafna. Since then, the home of Fania and Yaakov Bass, who had married, was again my home and the good, strong bond between us remained to this day. I will always consider Fania as a warm, loving mother and she introduces me as her daughter.
Also, my choice of work as a kindergarten teacher was influenced by Fania, because I wanted to be like her. Even my children feel close to her. They always smile when they meet her.
I can't write about the Bass family without mentioning David, zl, who was killed in the War of Independence. In my eyes and heart, he was like a big brother, always well dressed, tall, smiling, handsome and good-hearted. He would tell me the secrets of his many loves. Everyone loved him and I was so proud that he confided in me. What a pity he died and how painful our relationship ended.
There are so many memories, I could write forever.
by Hannah Vigdorovitz née Breznik
Translated by Esther Snyder
A week before the liquidation of the Jews in the Raflovka ghetto, there was a rumor that pits were being dug for us. Police surrounded the town and only very few succeeded in leaving the ghetto. The rest of the Jews tried to prepare a hiding place for themselves in the ghetto. Many families didn't want to split up and decided that either they all would survive or none at all.
On Friday evening, before the Black Sabbath, my brother Shmaya told us that he prepared a hideout in the cellar. My family my mother Raizl daughter of David Kaufman, my father Moshe and my brothers Shmaya and Ben-Zion entered the hiding place. We were joined by the Konshe Breznik family and Moussia son of Aaron Breznik. Other than a blanket and a pail of water, we were unable to fit in anything else.
We entered a tiny potato storeroom. My brother closed the opening with boards and covered it with dirt. We spent the night in this crowded place.
On Shabbat morning, Zlata Breznik who stayed outside with her sick father, reported to us on what was happening. Towards noon, we heard screams and knocks and then it was quiet.
Near midnight, my brother went out to check if the way was open, because it was clear that we couldn't stay another day in the hideout. Outside, non-Jews wandered around and they thought that my brother was one of the looters and showed him where there was more loot in the houses. When the locals left, he returned to the cellar and told us the way was clear.
We escaped through Frankl's yard, passed the train tracks and walked through the forests to Ojin, where Esther and Rahel Breznik were. At dawn, we reached the Polish village Halli. A shepherd told us that an hour before the head of the village handed over Shaindel Dichter (Weingarten) and her son to the Germans. My father started to walk and we continued to talk to the shepherd. Within a few minutes, my father disappeared. After a short search, because we couldn't shout, we continued walking assuming that he would reach Ojin. We found Esther and Rahel in Ozin and several more Jews joined us. We stayed in the forest near Ojin for five weeks. After some time, the lad Sender Lissak, came and told us that my father was in the forest near Halli; his legs were swollen and he couldn't reach us. We planned that the next day we would go and bring him. But, that same day we heard that the Germans caught the whole group sleeping by the campfire, and among them my father zl, and killed all of them.
During our stay in the Ojin forest, we stole potatoes from the fields and baked them before nightfall so that no one would see the flames or the smoke. That was all we had to eat.
From time to time, we were visited by Jews who were hiding with non-Jews. We were visited twice by Rivka Shnerer, wife of the school principal, and her daughter, the wife of Feibush Portnoy, with her daughter. Later they were murdered.
One night, three armed Ukrainian robbers appeared and wanted to take my brother to help them with their thievery. After many entreaties from my mother and me, we were able to persuade them not to take him.
Before morning, the thieves returned with the booty. They brought us food and one of them came back with a new coat and gave me his old one, which I used all during the first winter.
Another night, my brother went with another three young men, refugees from Poland, to a meeting with the head of the village to hear the news and get some food. They were ambushed and didn't return.
Early the next morning, a Jewish girl who worked as a seamstress in the town, came and told us that we must leave the area immediately, and so we did. We returned several days later to find out what happened to the young men. It was raining that night and we were totally soaked to our bones. At midnight, we entered a forester's abandoned barn and slept there. In the middle of the night, we heard sounds of wagons travelling on the path that crossed the forest and connected the Polish village with the Ukrainian village of Osnitza. We left the barn and fled to the forest. When it was quiet, we made a fire to dry off. My Aunt Esther and I returned to the barn to look for a blanket and scarf that she lost while fleeing. Haim Majluzak took a vessel and went to get water. The vessel broke and he immediately returned to the group. We stood talking at the entrance to the barn when suddenly we heard shots that came from the forest. We started to run. A bullet hit Esther and she was killed.
I kept running past the path. The forest was dense and full of high Paprutz bushes. I stopped and sat down in the bushes. Later, I learned that they searched for another body because they thought I had been killed.
I was left alone in the forest without knowing which way to go. After a few hours, I walked in the daylight to the village of Osnitza. There was a young man there who was connected to the Partisans; my brother had been in touch with him. He was very frightened when he saw me because they had searched for us in the village the night before. He gave me a piece of bread and showed me the way to go, as if that was the direction some of the young men from my group had gone. Of course, it was a lie and I knew it but I walked in that direction from a lack of choice. The earth was muddy and the rain drizzled continuously. I picked some forest plants that grew there. I met shepherds and sat around their campfire. They left and I stayed the night there all alone, covered with a blanket and cried.
Suddenly I heard a noise in the branches of the tree. I didn't go back. I decided to remain, no matter what happened. Then Haim Majlutzk appeared and told me that when the group was on the way to the barn, they heard gunshots and hid behind a tree and saw everything that happened. They were Ukrainian policemen. They killed Moussia Breznik on the spot and wounded Emi Bargel. Afterwards, they took everyone in carts to Raflovka and executed them in public. We were told that they were buried in the park yard.
Haim decided to move to a different area, close to Politz, a Ukrainian village where he had acquaintances.
We walked through the fields after the harvest and the thorns pricked my legs, which were now shoeless. On one leg, I had a serious sore with pus. We reached the Ukrainian village to ask someone to hide us for two-three days until the sore opened. We went into one house and in the entrance, my head touched the oil lamp that was hanging from the ceiling, and the glass broke. There was a commotion, and we escaped as fast as we could. We entered another house and the non-Jew agreed to hide us in his attic. After a few days, the sore opened. The owner came to tell us we must leave, as the people in the village already knew we were there.
At dawn, we left the place and again trod through the fields to the forest. We learned later that while we were still a short distance from the farmer's house, the Germans or police came to the house and severely beat him.
While on the road, we met Yidel Bart and Sonia Finklestein and their son, Penhas Majlotzk. We agreed to find a place to settle in the forest before winter and to build a bodke [shack]. We built a bodke like a doghouse, just a little larger. The opening for entering and leaving was also the opening for the smoke that came from the always burning campfire to disperse.
The forest was situated between the Polish village of Tor and the Ukrainian village of Politz. A friend of my grandfather, David Breznik, lived in Politz. When he heard that I had survived, he asked that I come and he would help me. He gave me a nightshirt that I used as a dress and postuli instead of shoes, and also some food. From time to time, I would visit him to receive potatoes and a loaf of bread.
Around Christmas, the group decided to go to Politz under the assumption that the gentiles were a little good-hearted at this time and might agree to hide us for a week so we could warm up and strengthen ourselves. And that's what happened.
Each one went to his gentile and I went to Felmer. During the day, I stayed in the barn, covered with straw and at night, I slept in the house.
On the third night, when I came to the house, Felmer told me that the Germans had visited him that morning. They were looking for pork in the barn and searched with a pitchfork in the straw where I hid but didn't find me. That means, he said, that it was G-d's way of telling him to let me stay until after Christmas.
The next night things changed. Felmer's son told me there was a rumor the Germans were looking for young people to work in Germany. Therefore, I must leave and the benefactors of the others in the group already knew about it.
The next morning we left. Everything around us was covered with snow. The snow continued to fall without stopping. We couldn't see any paths because the gentiles hadn't walked to work in the forest before the holiday. We walked and walked and went astray. With every step I took, my legs sunk above my knees into the snow. My coat and dress were wet and ice formed at the edges. The ice rubbed the exposed skin of my legs. Finally, I was unable to walk anymore and sat in the snow telling the others to continue without me. They tried to persuade me, unsuccessfully, to continue with them but I couldn't. Suddenly, a Ukrainian boy appeared from nowhere, dressed well (not like the farmers) and asked what was happening. We explained the situation to him and he started walking and told me to follow him and to put my foot into each hole his shoe made in the snow. In this fashion, he led us to our bodke and made a fire for us.
We didn't go to Politz, since the Ukrainians had started killing the Poles. They claimed that the lands belonged to them and every night the Polish residents from all the villages gathered in the central village where there was a civil guard.
A Polish woman from the village of Tor, who came to the village of Virka, met Sara Ems (Burko) zl and told her about me. Sara persuaded the gentile she was staying with, Father Marion (he was called that because he helped the Jews) also to take me in. And Marion agreed.
The Polish woman from Tor came to the forest to take me and bring me to Marion. According to the description of Sara and the Polish woman, I was a skeleton, skin and bones, with no hair on my head, yellow from many months of sitting by the campfire. I hadn't bathed. I looked like a cloth colored black, grey and yellow. They put me in a tub and scrubbed me. They fainted from the smells.
Weba Breznik brought me a skirt, Sara knit me a blouse and a girl from the village, who was thought to be Jewish, sewed me clothes and underwear. Thus, I was dressed except for shoes. After a few weeks, my hair grew, I put some flesh on my bones and began to look like a person. I learned how to knit and started to knit in homes in return for food and a bed to sleep in.
One Shabbat towards evening, while I was staying with a Polish family, everyone dispersed. Only a Polish girl of my age and her friend from the next village remained. The friend told me that a girl from Setpen named Idel was in the village. He told me that the following week he would bring her to meet me. While we were speaking, we heard gunfire and screams. We went outside. The village was burning. Cows, horses and dogs ran wild. We hid in the crops in a nearby field then ran deeper into the fields because there was a danger that they would set fire to the crops. After a few hours, everything was quiet. We left the field and started to run to Halli. There was a large underground shelter there. When we reached the shelter, we saw that hundreds of people were planning to go to Raflovka and from there to Germany. I didn't know what to do. The boy and girl suggested that I join them as if I was a sister of one of them but they first returned to the village to take a cow, horse, etc. Of course, I didn't go with them. I stayed there with no idea what to do. It seems that the head of the village recognized me and approached me. He gave me a note for his friends in a village near Raflovka (I don't remember the name) asking them to let me stay the night with them. He told me that in the morning I should try to meet other Jews and so I did.
In the morning, I met Weba Breznik, Sara Ems (Burko) and Reuven Portnoy. Weba told me to wait at night at the intersection in the forest (Die Fir Vegelach- The Four Roads) and he would come to meet me. Sara and I lay there all night but Weba didn't arrive.
The next day there was no choice but to go to Raflovka. It was in 1943. There were many refugees in the town. We didn't stand out. Sara went to a neighbor who had helped us escape from the ghetto and I wandered around the marketplace. I met two girls and a boy, Jews, and we stayed together. In the market, an old Pole recognized me and said that at the edge of the village, past the Jewish school, a group was forming to go into the forests where the Partisans were in control. We went there and joined the group. They rode in wagons and we ran after them 18 kilometers until we reached the village.
There was a large camp of Jews from Vladimertz in the village where I met a relative, Valla Breznik and his son Moussia. He wasn't too happy to see me fearing that I would become a bother to him. But, we didn't stay there very long. There was an attack of bulbubtzim and the Jews fled from there to the area of Dobjin, which was 35 kilometers from the previous village. In the forest near Dobjin, there were also Poles. There, I met a relative, Lipka and 3 children, from the area of Dombrowitz. I stayed with in her budke. In the next budke, was a Polish family. I knitted for her in return for food.
Meanwhile, I met another relative whom I had never met before they were from the area of Dombrowitz. They were the family of Itzhak Feigelshtein and the family Kurtzman. When we had to leave that place and continue on, they persuaded me to join them. I stayed with them. I don't know the distance to Nigovishtz, but I remember that we walked many days until we reached it. On the way, we stole potatoes from the fields and sometimes we went into the villages to ask for food. I also met Gershon Gruber and Yosef Breznik. Gershon told me that as soon as he would find a permanent place, he would come and get me and so he did.
In Nigovishtz, we found work knitting for a partisan who had many children, boys and girls. We knitted sweaters, skirts, pants, gloves, socks and scarves in return for food.
On Yom Kippur, we were in Nigovishtz. I will never forget the prayer Kol Nidrei chanted by Yitzhak Feigelshtein from Dombrowitz. Everyone cried and even the leaves on the trees trembled from his emotional voice and his prayer.
Meanwhile Gershon Gruber arrived and took me to Simhovitz. There were Partisans there and we got a room. We were a group of 7 people. Yitzhak Meir Zuke, Yosef Breznik, Gershon Gruber, a refugee from Poland, Sara Uzenfeld (the daughter of the shohet from Olizarka) and Polk Birenbaum from Chelm (today the lawyer, Shraga Biran in Jerusalem).
We spent part of the winter there. The Germans began to retreat. There was heavy bombing in the area. We started to return to our area and walked many kilometers in the cold and snow while starving. I must note that the most humane person was Gershon Gruber. He always managed to be the last in order to see that no one was left behind. On the way, we sometimes stayed in a village for a week or two or more. When we stayed a longer time, Sara and I found work knitting and we received wheat in return. We ground the wheat in a hand mill (jurna). Sara baked bread that we brought to the group. Once Yossel Weisman visited us and helped us grind the wheat.
In February-March 1944, Raflovka was liberated and we returned to the town. The Germans kept bombing every night but somehow we survived.
When the Russians liberated Poland, we left Raflovka and went to Poland. We celebrated the end of the war in Lodz. From there we went through Czechia, Romania and Austria until we reached Italy. In the first camp in Mestre, Italy I met Israel soldiers from the British army. The first soldier I spoke with was Zoler from Beer Tuvia.
Since I had family in Israel, Sosel and Michael Weisman and their four sons, I assumed that one of them might be serving in the British army. Therefore, I asked Zoler if perhaps he knew a Weisman in the army. It turned out that he and Yoske Weisman and Ben Zion Weisman were in the same unit. I sent a note to them and within a few days, they found me in the camp in Bologna. I reached Israel at the end of 1945 with the legal immigration. Here I started to re-build my life.
Even until today I can't comprehend why I was the one who survived and not my brother Shmaya who had prepared the hideout and organized the escape.
About that, I never received an answer.
by Arye Waisblat
Translated by Sara Mages
We, the Weisblat family, lived in the village of Sopachov. Father Avraham, mother, Chinka, and the children. I, Arye, the brothers Shlomo and Yakov, and the sister Ilana were born in this village.
At the beginning of the war, when the Ukrainians entered our village and the villages in the surrounding area, they passed from house to house. When they entered our home they lay the entire family, from young to old, on the floor and started to beat us with the butt of their rifles. I begged them to let my family go, but they continued to do so. I slipped away as they continued to beat us and fled through the window.
I hid in all sorts of places in order not to be caught by the Ukrainian murderers. Later, I learned that the same Ukrainians were caught in the city of Vladimirets and except for two, who were members of Bandera's gang, none of them returned.
In 1942, an order was given by the Germans to join the Rafalovka Ghetto. All the Jews in the village went to the station. I was the only Jew who refused to go to the station in Rafalovka. I escaped to the forest. I found a cave in the ground and lived there. At night I left for the village where I lived before. There, I searched for food among the gentiles who were friends of the family.
In 1942, on 16 Elul, my parents and the members of my family were murdered together with all the Jews in the ghetto. The gangs caught me and I was their prisoner. A friend of mine was the gang and he's the man who saved me. He told me when to escape and at the same time pretended that he was asleep. I escaped. To this day I owe him my life.
In 1944, before Passover, the Jews of Poland were liberated. In Poland I knew a person named, Antek Zukerman, and he said that I'm a young man and can immigrate to Israel. I joined kibbutz Dror in Poland and together with a few members we decided to immigrate to Israel.
by Shlomo Waisblat
Translated by Sara Mages
My name is Waisblat Shlomo and this is my story about the events in the village of Sopachov in the years 1923-42.
Six Jewish families lived in the village of Sopachov.
My family, Waisblat Avraham and Chinka and their children Shlomo, Arye Reizel and Yakov.By 1939, until the Russian invasion, we, the six families, lived peacefully and in cooperation with the gentiles and dealt mainly in trade. At the beginning of the Russian occupation I started to work as a laborer in the forest, and continued with this work until the German invasion in 1941.
The Waisblat family, Shimon and Chana.
The Waisblat family, Yona and Moshe and their children Dudik, China, Sonya and Eliezer.
The Rodin family, Yehudah and Bat-Sheva and their son Avraham.
The Deckelbaum family, Pinchas and Leah and their children Mana, Chain and Sara.
The Bret family, Shlomo and Bella and their children Dudik and Ajzik.
The riots against us started at the beginning of the German occupation. The Germans encouraged and also allowed the Ukrainians, to rob us and beat us. This situation continued until we were drafted by the Germans to work in the forest.
In 1942, our families were deported to the ghetto in Rafalovka. I, my father and my uncle Shimon, continued to work in the forests for the Germans and met the rest of the family only on Sunday. This situation continued until one day, in midweek, when we were ordered to go back to the ghetto, a matter that seemed odd to us. I felt what was going to happen- the murder of the Jews - and decided to escape. I escaped at the first stopover. Later, down the road, my father and my uncle Shimon also escaped.
The day after the escape the three of us met and found a hiding place inside one of the forests in the area. We built a bunker in it. We lived in the bunker for about a year and a half. To survive, we left every evening to ask for food from the gentiles in the area. This situation continued until my father was captured by the Germans. It seems that at the same time they arrested the gentile who gave food to my father. My uncle Shimon and I were afraid that the gentile would reveal our location to the Germans. We decided to escape inside the forest.
A few days later we returned to the place where my father was murdered to bury him. We took the body to the area where the soil was sandy because the ground in the whole area was frozen. We had to walk several kilometres. We buried him there and then we escaped inside the forest. We lived there until the gentile was released. We returned to the bunker and there my uncle and I sat for several weeks. Later, I moved to live with a farmer and worked as his helper in different jobs. I lived at his place until he threw me out because he feared for his life because of the Banderovtzim. I escaped together with a woman, her daughter and two sisters, and joined a large Jewish group that among them was my uncle Shimon. We left the area and moved to Ozarich's area, close to the partisans. When we passed through the burnt villages in the Ozarich area we were given information on the whereabouts of the partisans. We arrived to that place and they immediately stated to question
us about the gangs of Banderovtzim that because of them we had to reach the partisans. During our conversation we discovered that our friend, Simcha Bret, worked for the partisans. We tried to join them, but they refused because we didn't have weapons. We decided to leave the group. My uncle and I left to look for work in the area.
I was accepted to work in a farm of an old Pole named Fabletz Reschtnik. I worked there for eight months, until the area was liberated by the Russians at the end of 1944. I returned to Rafalovka and there I learned that my uncle Shimon was murdered by the gangs. I worked in Rafalovka for about two months to support myself and then I was drafted to the Red Army. I was released four months later because I claimed that I was leaving to search for my family in Poland. After the release I arrived to Warsaw, to 42 Poznanska Street. There, I joined Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta'ot which was under the leadership of Antek Cukierman and Zivia Lubetkin. We were in Warsaw for about three months and then we started our journey to Israel through Czechoslovakia, Germany and Italy. In the transition between Germany to Italy I met my brother Arye.
When we arrived to the shores of Israel we were caught by the British and taken to the camp in Atlit. It was two days before the Black Saturday. We were there for about two weeks and then we, the entire group, volunteered to help Kibbutz Yagour that all its men were arrested after weapons were found on Black Saturday. I worked in Yagur for a year and then we, half of the group, left to build an independent kibbutz, Kedma, in the Negev. From there I was drafted to the Israeli Defense Forces in 1948. During my service I was wounded in Ramat HaKovesh and lay for about two months in Beilinson hospital. After I left the hospital I continued with my military service. During this period, in 1949, I met Penina Shmulevitz in Haifa and later, immediately after my release, she became my wife. After the wedding we moved to live in Magdiel and today we live in Hod HaSharon.
by Zipora Zalzman from the Portnoy family
Translated by Sara Mages
I was born in Zoludzk to my parents Arye (Leibush) and Chaya Portnoy. We were seven children, the eldest Theodor, Feibush, and after him Reizil, Rivka and Zipora (Feigel). One of them died in childhood. My mother died when I was a year old. My grandmother, together with my aunt Malka, raised me. Later, we moved to live in Stuzin. My father had a flour mill together with partners from the family. Sometime later, my brother Theodor got married and took me to him. I lived with him to the age of seven.
When the war broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union, a rumor spread that they were going to eliminate all the Jews. My father took me to a gentile named, Ivan Freitzuk, who hid me for a month. After the Jews were exterminated in our area the gentile, who hid me, told me to leave his house. He did it out of fear of the Germans.
I escaped to the forest and there I met my sister Pesia who managed to escape from the valley of death
naked and wounded in her leg. My sister Rivka also escaped, but the Germans managed to hit her and kill her.
My brother Feibush lived in Rafalovka with his wife Ester and his two children, Yisrael and Chaim. My brother Feibush was among the workers who left for work. Most of them were killed. Feibush managed to escape and reached the forest. We met nine weeks later. We, a group of ten people, hid in a bunker. The farmers left to search for Jews and found the bunker. Three of us were killed and the remaining seven managed to escape. Among the survivors was a four year old girl whose father was murdered. My brother smuggled her and handed her to a gentile. We joined the partisans. When he went to bring the girl back, he was caught on the way by gentiles who murdered him. Later, he partisans managed to bring the girl to us, but she died of cancer.
My brother, Theodor, and his three children were killed in their home in the village of Stuzin near Kostopol. The gentiles chased us mercilessly. I was caught four times but I managed to escape.
After liberation, my sister Pesia and I returned from the forests and reached Vladrimets. In Vladrimets Pesia married Welfef Burek. We continued to wander throughout Poland and arrived to Leibnitz, Austria. I spent four months in Leibnitz and got married there to Yitzchak Zalzman. In 1946, we arrived to Atlit and joined Kibbutz Ein Harod. We spent seven months in the kibbutz and decided to leave. We arrived to Rishon LeZion.
Three children were born to us in Rishon: Arye, Yakov and Yehudah. My husband was drafted to the army at the beginning of The War of Independence. My sister Pesia lived near my house and had two children, Chava and Yakov. She managed to marry off her daughter, but after that she contracted a serious illness and died. Her fifteen year old son, Yakov, lived with us until he got married.
by Malka Lederman
Translated by Sara Mages
I'm Malka Lederman from the Koziol family, daughter of Lipsha and Yehusua. I was born in a town that was under Polish rule. We spoke Yiddish at home. My parents, who had a clothing store, spoke Polish with the gentiles and also Ukrainian. Usually, I understood the subject of discussion, but, as much as I remember, I wasn't able to speak the language. I remember very little from the period of the Polish rule in our town, but I remember unusual events like the theft in our store. It happened on a very rainy night. Suddenly I heard a very loud bang, my parents entered the store and it was half empty. Someone broke through the window and emptied the store. My parents were very worried. With this memory all sorts of memories begin to rise from the town, playing with the children of our street. I don't remember their names, but I remember their images. I had a very good friend named, Buba. I don't remember her name, but her last name was Freiatel. This name was given to me by my father who is very sick now but still remembers the name.
They had a candy store in the main street. They lived together with her aunt, Ita Beresniak, a very nice woman. She excelled in handicrafts and taught me how to knit.
In 1939, the Russians entered our town and another period began in our lives. As is well known, they eliminated the free trade and my father and mother were forced to liquidate the store. My father worked as a clerk for the Russian regime. I don't remember exactly what his job was. However, he told me that they were very satisfied from him. Until then I didn't study at school. I wanted very much to study, and in the second year of their stay with us I was accepted, not according to my age, to first grade. I studied with Chayale' Gorbetz and Buba Freiatel. There were a lot of gentiles in our class.
The Germans captured the area and entered our town. A pogrom was carried out during their entrance. The gentiles started to rob us. They hit my father's head with the butt of a rifle, a lot of blood flowed from the wound and a mark remains to this day. Yosele', the son of Sena Meniuk, was killed on that day and there was great panic. They were our neighbors and lived cross the street.
My childhood ended in those days. Polish Jews, who escaped from the Germans, lived in our house. A ghetto was established in our town and all the Jews from the nearby towns were transferred to us. We lived in the main street, but I wasn't able to cross to the other side. The store was a place of refuge for me. Through the door I was able to see how the Germans were marching and heard their footsteps. It was so quiet that every footstep sounded to a great distance. When it was quiet, I was able to contact the neighbor across the street and ask him to call my friend so we could say a few words from a distance. It was something for girls at that time
The economic situation deteriorated in all respects in the period that the Germans were with us. My father worked very hard for the Germans in the saw mill and returned dead home. Therefore, we didn't prepare a hiding place for the black day. Maybe that's why our entire family remained alive. My uncle, Senya Murik., the husband of my aunt, Rachel Resnick, worked at the police station in all types of repairs. He had hands of gold. He heard there that a big pit was being dug towards the liquidation of the Jews.
On that day my father didn't go to work, as if he felt the impending doom. In the evening many people gathered in the yard of the Murik family, Senya's father, and took counsel: to escape to the forests or maybe it's better to stay. My mother told us We have nothing to lose and we don't have a place to hide. Therefore, my parents decided to escape.
We made an agreement with a policeman that at nine o'clock in the evening we'll pass and slip away at the time that he was guarding between the railway tracks. And so it was. Ten people from our family: my mother, my father, my brother Shalom and me, my aunt Rachel zl, my uncle Senya zl, my cousin Shulamit, Gershon Gruber zl and two other people whose names I don't remember. I remember how we ran at the edge of the town and the dogs were barking at us. The gentiles came out of their homes, saw us, but didn't bother us. We passed the crossing place, where the policeman stood, and continued to run into the forest. A gentile told us later that other people tried to escape from Murik's yard, but when they reached the crossing the guard has been replaced and they were killed on the spot. I should mention that my grandfather,
Chaim Shmuel Reznik from Włodzimierz, came to us by foot, a few days before the beginning of the killings, and ordered us to flee at all cost, but he and his family didn't do so.
Now begins the story about the daily suffering and the fear after the escape from the ghetto. I must note that we weren't able to manage without the help of a good gentile, Vasil, a good Ukrainian who helped us in the first ten days. During the day he hid us in the attic of an unfinished house. From this house we saw the police station and also the Germans who traveled at night on the road near the police station. Vasil brought food for ten people. It was very difficult for him and we were hungry all the time. I especially remember that I was angry at myself that on the day of our escape my mother made dumplings, warenikes, and I didn't eat them. At Vasil's I thought, that if I ate the dumplings that mother prepared I wouldn't be hungry now. A childish thought that doesn't leave me to this day.
Vasil's neighbors noticed the footsteps of small children near his house - mine, my brother Shalom and my cousin Shulamit - and started to threaten that they would hand him over to the police because he was hiding Jews. Then, or before that, we told Vasil where we hid valuables in our house and if he wants, he can take them for himself.
We decided to move on. We arrived to a village of Poles and also hid there for a certain period. A few funny episodes happened to us there.
Towards evening we approached the houses and waited next to piles of hay which were arranged in the form of a big pyramid. Suddenly a number of shkotzim sprung up, shouted and scared us. My brother, Shalom, escape to the forest. We searched for him inside the forest all night, but he didn't answer us. We remained in the forest throughout the day until he returned to us.
The second story happened in the same Polish village. The children and the women slept in a barn that was attached to the cowshed. The men left for some village to get food. The story repeats itself: they scared us and I remember, as in a dream, that I fell on a cow. Mother threw us from the barn directly on the cows, and we ran away from there to the forest and stayed there to the following evening. I don't know how my father, Yehusua, and my uncle found us.
At that time the Germans searched for Jews who remained alive. On the day of execution they gathered everyone in the market, made a list, and knew who was missing. When we were in the forest we heard the loud cry of a baby but we weren't able to locate it. The gentiles told us that a woman was hiding with a small baby. My friend Buba escaped with her aunt Ita but we weren't able to meet with them. To my regret, they were caught and executed. Buba's mother and her brother, David, went straight to death. Her father hid with gentiles. He passed away just before liberation and that saddened us a lot.
At the same Polish village a gentile woman took pity on me and took me to her house for several days. I stayed with her for a day or two and was home alone because they left for work. She told me that if someone will knock on the door I should enter under the bed, and so I did. This gentile woman had a daughter. On the same night German soldiers came to search for Jews in that village. Her daughter traveled from the house and I slept on the trunk. Of course, they also entered her house and asked if she was hiding Jews. She said - no, and they asked about me, why I was sleeping on the trunk.
She said that it's too hot for her daughter to sleep together with them. They approached me and turned me around, but I pretended to be asleep because I didn't know to speak Polish but I understood every word, and in this way my life was saved that night.
But the night only started for me. The gentile woman's husband heard shouts and screams of Jews that the Germans killed in the village. He told me to get up and dress and we left to search for my parents. I told him that I know to which barn they enter to sleep at night. We walked from house to house. The distance from house to house was great. To each place we came I told him that it isn't here. At the end, he told me that there was another house at the edge of the village, across from the forest. We went there. Of course, it was the place where my parents, my aunt and uncle entered to sleep. We entered and climbed to the barn. We searched in the piles of hay but we didn't find anyone. I found a potato. We left with a heavy heart. I thought that I was left alone in the world. The gentile took me back to his house. It was Sunday. I lay all day under the bed. In the evening the dog started to bark very loud and he left to see why the dog was baking. From the doorway he said that a Jew was approaching. The Jew was my father who came to take me from there. There was no end to my happiness. On that night, my mother said that it was still possible to sleep in the forest. She was half a prophetess. They decided to stay and sleep outside and in this way they were saved on that night, when the Germans and the Ukrainian policemen killed many Jews in the area. Towards the end of the war the Germans killed all the Poles in the village and the surrounding area.
Winter was coming and we were at a loss. However, the contact with Vasil hasn't been severed. On a winter day Vasil came with a wagon full of hay, collected all of us, hid the children inside the hay and we left for the road. The road was very long, about forty kilometers. When we got closer to a village, we, the children, remained inside the wagon. The adults ran after the wagon until we arrived to a village that was empty from people, a ghost village. We entered a house and felt that it was warm in the house, as if the people left it not long ago. The same was in the second and third house until we came across a young man in uniform and then we hid. From there we continued to wander until we arrive to Oziritz, a large village. We continued and arrived to Khutor, a small settlement where there was a great distance from house to house. On the way we came across a man and a woman. The name of the woman was Anna and the man Ivan. They felt pity on us, took us to their warm house and kept my parents, my brother and me for several days. The reason was that the woman gave birth to twins who died immediately after birth, and with the act that she has done, she thought to atone her sins. She was a very good woman and kept me for a while. My parents moved to live in the forest, at the home of a forester where Jews who came from other forests lived. There was a widow there with four children from Manevichi, a son and his elderly mother and others. My father worked for the gentiles in Khutor, hard physical work, to earn wheat and potatoes to sustain the family. I donated a little from my knowledge of knitting and knitted sweaters for the gentiles. When I finished them the sleeves were always short because I didn't understand that you need to knit a sleeve with a head. I only understood that after many years, when I grew up. But that didn't bother me to earn some food that I gave to my parents.
I remember a house at the edge of the village. From the window it was possible see an unpaved road,
an entwined road which was lined with thick slabs of timber. On that road, on top of a wagon, I saw my uncle Murik from the window driving away from me until the wagon disappeared from my eyes. It was his last journey. We later learned that the partisans, with whom he left for action, killed him and buried him on the side of one of the roads leading to Rafalovka. When we returned to the town we were told by a gentile that he was buried in this road. We saw the grave, but there was no sign of a name on it.
In Oziritz I met Meir Goldorin. The Bret family was also there. Miriam was staying with gentiles. Pesel was with the partisans, Ziskind and his father zl, were probably with a gentile. I remember Fanya Rosenfeld, now Bess. I remember that I spent a few nights with her at the Baptists. It seemed that the situation was very tense. There were all kinds of periods, less peaceful and more turbulent. There were partisans around us in the forest. They didn't want to take my father because he didn't have a weapon and had two small children.
There were swamps in the area and the Germans couldn't reach us. But in the winter, when everything was frozen, rumors arrived that the Germans were getting closer to our area. My parents came to take me from Oziritz and we left the area. All the Jews who were in this location, the partisans included, prepared bunker in the young forest ahead of time. I've been told that the bunkers were prepared half a year before that. We hid there until the danger passed.
The young forest bordered a thick forest that its trees were very tall. The Germans passed the thick forest, but they didn't imagine to themselves that many Jews were hiding in the young forest. There, I met Sender Appelbaum and his father zl. We stayed there for a while and returned again to Oziritz. We stayed in the place until rumors arrived that the Germans were retreating and our area was liberated by the Russians.
I remember the way back to our town with my aunt Rachel zl and my cousin Shulamit. The Bret family and Meir Goldorin traveled in a wagon, or two, probably accompanied by partisans. We arrived to the town. Our house stood in its place, a little destroyed and completely looted. However, over time it was completely destroyed by German bombings, which bothered us from time to time, until Warsaw was captured by the Red Army.
During our stay in Rafalovka, a delegation of doctors left to open the mass grave and, of course, the survivors joined them. I was also among them. I was there when they dug and removed the bodies, which still remained intact, from the grave. Those present indentified the bodies. The hair and the fingernails grew. The bodies of the children were in a state of disintegration. I saw it, and I was a little girl. It was shocking. We saw them all laid next to each other.
The gravesite never left my sight and it's engraved in my memory.
by Sheindil Leiserov née Dichter
Translated by Sara Mages
It was the last night in Rafalovka. Several friends gathered at my mother's house after we decided to leave Rafalovka. From my mother's room we followed the police that was about to leave. We were afraid of what might happen. We were very tense. When the lights went out and the police left we also hurried to leave my mother's house. Each of us took his package and we moved slowly toward the field where the market was held. My mother insisted that I should take the camera. It might give you bread my mother said. Indeed, my mother was right, but her words stirred some thoughts.
When we arrived to the field there were already a lot of people there, but only a few made the decision to leave. We parted from our families and friends. The day before, I said goodbye to my sister-in-law, Sheindil Wiengarten, and her daughter Muska. My brother fell into German captivity and later perished in Auschwitz.
I said goodbye to my mother, my brother, Sanye, and his six children. I saw a lot of sadness in their faces. The children cried aloud. The eldest daughter, who was fourteen, asked to join us. I refused. I thought that she had to stay with the family to help her father and grandmother. What a pity, it didn't accrue to me that I would never see her again.
One of our friends came to the field together with his wife. He got a horse-drawn wagon from his place of workEach of us put his package and we started to move. From time to time we turned back and waved goodbye until they disappeared from our sight. On the way we came across units of the retreating Russian Army. We walked behind them. Good news came days later from the front. A few of us returned to Rafalovka and perished there together with everyone. Among them was David Rosenfeld. We stopped in Sarny and each of us went to his relatives. I, and my friend, Sender Leizrov, went to my brother, Shikl Dichter. During the Russian rule my brother was forced to leave his home in Rafalovka and settle in Sarny. In the evening we sat and talked and the girls sat quietly and listened. My sister-in-law, Hindel, tried to persuade us to stay with them in the hope that we'll get through the war safely together. None of them survived.
After a day or two, bad news arrived from the front. We gathered and moved on. The members who travelled with us were: Zoyek, Hershel, his wife, Tamar, and their cute baby girl, Rachel Zoyek, her sister Chana and their brother Avraham. Chana's father sent her back from Sarny because her mother cried and asked Chana to return. Mordechai Lisk, his nephew, Aharon Yosel, and Chasia Burko advanced with us through villages and cities in the wake of the Russian army. When we crossed the Dnieper River, we were stopped in a kolkhoz and asked to help them to harvest of the wheat in the fields. We helped them until the bombing got closer. Then we left and travelled until we arrived to Uzbekistan.
In Uzbekistan, Hershel and Tamar's baby died of pneumonia.
Rafalovka was liberated in 1944.
My mother was murdered by a Ukrainian neighbour, the murderer Ivan Pensiok. My family members are buried in the valley of death, in the mass grave between Rafalovka and Suchowola.
Without a place to return to, we made our way to Israel to join my brother's family, Yoske Dichter zl.
by Reuven and Leah Portnoy
Translated by Sara Mages
I was born in the village of Żoludzk not far from Rafalovka. We lived there all the time.
Our family consisted of four brothers, three sister and the parents.
My father usually engaged in trade and we also had land.
I got married at the end of 1939. A boy was born to us. His name is Sheraga Portnoy. Here, in Israel, we had two more sons, Yekutiel and Arye. Arye fell in the Yom Kippur War.
When the Germans came they collected us from the whole area to Rafalovka Ghetto and sent us to all sorts of jobs. The last time they sent me to work outside the ghetto, for the gentiles in the village. Six months later I found my wife, Leah, and my son and brought them to me. We were together with the gentiles. One day, the Ukrainians attacked all the villages and we were forced to leave and flee until we arrived to the partisans. We were in the partisan units for about two years. Afterwards, I returned to Rafalovka. From there, the Russians took me again to the army, until I returned to Poland. There, I met my wife, Leah, and my son. From there we travelled to Germany where we stayed for two years, until we immigrated to Israel.
I was born in Olizarka, in the Fuks family, to my mother Zlatka and father Shkhana. With a trembling hand and a broken heart I begin to write these lines. All my bitter and painful life is passing before my eyes when I remember my family and most of my beloved townspeople who are no longer alive. To our sorrow, only a handful of survivors remained from all the town's residents. The war caught me shortly after my marriage. When we were in the ghetto I was already with a baby. One day, when I stood in the street that crossed the ghetto, a Ukrainian soldier my age, who was in my class at the Polish School, passed by. He came from the famous Panisuk family. He stopped and told me: I feel sorry for you, you must know that on Saturday the Germans will count the Jews, don't tell anyone what I've told you and left. A few months beforehand they took out all the Jews to the field, where the market was held, and said: If one person is missing in the family, everyone would be killed. So, that nobody will escape. The hint was clear, what awaits everyone on Saturday. So I decided to escape. I told Reuven, my husband, not to return home. He was in forced labor. I went to my mother and told her what might happen and we decided to escape. My mother and I went through the ghetto's fence. My sister and my brother-in-law were brought back to the ghetto.
We arrived to a Ukrainian village and entered the house of a gentile acquaintance. He received us cordially. We stayed there for a few days, until it became known to our host that the end of each gentile who hides Jews is death. Then the gentile decided, with all kind of excuses, to kick us out. My mother went to Polonove, a village where we once lived, to find another hiding place. At the time that my mother was absent from the gentile's house, where we stayed, he took me out with the boy to the field. From there I turned to the swamps in the area because, according to common sense, I understood that they will not be able to find me in the swamp.
Several days later, the gentile's son, who was my classmate, followed my footprints and brought us food to the swamp.
A few days later my mother returned to the same gentile to take me to another village. The gentile guided my mother and when they got closer to my hiding place, and I heard their voices, I was convinced that the gentile came to turn me over to the Germans. When I saw my mother from a distance, I came out from my hiding place and we decided to cross the railroad tracks which were heavily guarded at night. At midnight we arrived to another village. The gentile, who received us, was the head of the village. We stayed there for a certain period of time. At the same time we brought my eldest sister, Sosil, and also my little sister, Rachela, by difficult routes. However, we weren't able to take my brother-in-law out of the ghetto.
We stayed with that gentile for quite a long time, until the night when the Germans arrived. They got drunk at his house and decided to sleep in the hay, in the stable not far from where we hid. The gentile didn't sleep all night out of fear that they might find us. On the next day he told us to leave. Then, my mother told him: Let us stay for a few more days. I'm going to bring you money. She left with my eldest sister to Rafalovka. The Germans caught her after a neighbour informed her and executed her in the town centre.
We arrived to another gentile, under the recommendation of acquaintances, and he hid us. At night we left to ask for food and hid during the day. But, as all good things end quickly, also this thing came to an end. Someone informed on us and we were forced to leave the place. Before we left we met a gentile woman, who lived among the Poles, and asked her to ask each Jew she meets to tell Reuven that his wife was alive. This gentile woman told us that she was hiding Jews. We, my eldest sister and I, wandered to a village whose name I don't remember. A day later, I was forced to tell them that I have a baby and I must bring him. I left for the road and during my walk I ran into Germans. They shot in my direction, but thanks to the thick trees and the great amount of snow, I remained alive. I arrived to the gentile woman, took my son, and then I learned that they tortured the gentile so that he will reveal where were. He didn't know.
That night, thanks to the kindness of a young man, we arrived to the place where my sister was. After the gentile saw that there were too many of us and he didn't have a hiding place, he asked my sisters to go to the previous place and he'll prepare a place for all of us. Fate was cruel to my sisters. When they arrived to the hiding place they were executed in great torture.
My letter arrived to my husband by difficult routs. In response, he sent a man to bring us to him. I had to pass through Rafalovka.
They laid me inside a wagon, as if I was sick, and in this way I passed the town. Here begins a new battle for survival. Ukrainian nationalists attacked the small Polish villages and, of course, the Jews were the first victims. The Poles, after their villages were burnt and some of them were slaughtered, decided to move to Rafalovka, to the Germans. Some Jews, whose Jewish identity wasn't known, were recruited for forced labour in Germany and the others escaped to the partisans. In this way we arrived, after many hardships, to the swamps of Pinsk.
At that time we were accepted to the partisans, to Fyodorov's division. The meeting with the partisans was exciting and unbelievable. However, my happiness didn't last long because an order was issued - It's impossible to stay with the partisans with children. Then, they took us out, accompanied by several security guards, to the village and promised to keep in touch with us and help us in time of need. We stayed in the vicinity of Pinsk until the liberation of Rafalovka. We returned to Rafalovka. The husbands went to war, to the front against the Germans, and we and the children escaped to the rear, to Białozórka, a city behind Kiev. At the end of the war we returned to Rokytno. A short time later, I moved with the boy to Poland and waited quite a long period of time until Reuven returned from the army. We traveled to Germany. We stayed in Germany for two years and then we immigrated to Israel.
Rachel Fligelman and Haya Meshulam
(Sisters nées Gorbach)
Translation by Rachel Zetland
Donated by Jay Snider
I was born in 1931 and my sister Haya was born two years later. We grew up in our town Rafalovka and were happy and fortunate. These were the most beautiful years of our lives. We grew up in a warm home with our parents and two sisters. The good memories from our short childhood are engraved deep in our hearts.
My father had a flourmill and I remember the long convoys of grain-packed carts waiting to be ground. Our house was adjacent to the mill. It was noisy and lively and full of joy. I remember the Jewish holidays, we celebrated them so fervently. I remember our studies at the Tarbut School. These were quiet and happy times until the enemy came and put an end to everything. Our parents, sisters a big family - were slaughtered. We came out of this hell, two orphaned sisters with no family or support. We wandered endlessly hoping we would survive and not knowing what tomorrow would bring. We had no roof to shelter us, we were hungry, dirty and miserable. It is hard to describe the sufferings of two lonely orphans in the forests of Ukraine. More than once, when hope had run out, I pleaded with my sister to give up and turn ourselves over to the Germans. But it was my little sister who would beg me no. She would yell, I want to live. I didn't go to the Germans on my own out of pity for her for I knew how she would suffer all alone in the world.
After a few years of wandering between the villages and the forests we ran into a good-hearted woman named Batsheva. She took care of us and made sure we had a place to sleep and bread to eat. Of course, we could not stay in one place for a long time. We wandered endlessly until we got to the partisans. They took care of us. We stayed with them until Rafalovka was liberated. We were drawn home hoping to find some survivors from our large family. But to our great despair, no one survived. The house and the mill remained intact. The Russians were working the mill. We met a bunch of Jews who began returning from the surrounding forests to their homes. But we were miserable without our family and support.
We met Simha Brat of blessed memory and his family in Rafalovka. They took care of us for awhile, but not for long. They decided to leave Rafalovka and go to Eretz-Israel. Simha Brat had a big family and he couldn't take us with him. They found a woman named Bella Renyuk who agreed to take care of us. We crossed the Ukrainian-Polish border with her. Zionist parties began organizing the surviving few in Poland and sending them to Eretz-Israel. After a long journey with many stops in various European countries, a battle with the English on the shores of Eretz-Israel, and quarantine in the camps in Cyprus, we finally reached the longed-for shores of Eretz-Israel. We built our homes here and raised children and grandchildren to love Eretz-Israel. He who went through all the torments of the Holocaust truly appreciates his land, his country and his People.
by Tzvi Kreizer
Translated by Sara Mages
We continued to live in Stara [old] Rafalovka until the spring of 1942. Each family lived in its home as before. It doesn't mean that the situation was good. In fact, the Jews had no livelihood except for the craftsmen, such as the blacksmiths, shoemakers and tailors, who provided services to the farmers. There was no work to make a living from. Indeed, we worked at various jobs: in the forest and in the sawmill in Bielsko-Bia³a, but those were forced labor without any payment for them. We lived in difficult conditions, with fear and concern for the future, and in constant search for minimal livelihood so that we can survive. Indeed, many of us suffered from malnutrition, and we were on the verge of starvation, but, as long as they allowed us to sit in the place and live in our home, the situation was tolerable. There was hope in the heart that - Netzach Yisrael Lo Yeshaker [the glory of Israel will not fail] and maybe God will help and salvation will come. However, according to the few reports that had infiltrated us, it turned out that the Germans were advancing on the Russian front and also in Europe, Greece and the Balkan countries. There was no basis for real hope. People realized that this is false hope.
How did we earn a living? After all, we were robbed at the beginning of the war. Armed Ukrainians passed from house to house in broad daylight and took everything they could. They left almost nothing of what they saw including clothing, furniture and household items. There was still some property left that the Jews hid in secret locations, in pits they dug in the ground. They gave some of their valuables to gentile friends until the danger is past. These valuables were later used to obtain basic food items, mostly bread and potatoes. Only a few had oil and dairy products.
Those who still had cows and horses had to hand them over to the authorities. Usually, every family in town had a cow.
Those, who managed to exchange the good cow for a worse one, got food for the family for a short period. The worst cow was handed over to the authorities.
I remember that in exchange for our cow we got a smaller cow and three sacks of potatoes. We had firewood from before. Of course, there were those who suffered from the cold because they had no firewood. The craftsmen - blacksmiths, shoemakers, carpenters, tailors - probably had income because they continued to work for the peasants in the area in exchange for goods (food items), but these were few. Most Jews suffered greatly from lack of means of support.
The mood was somber. News infiltrated us and passed by word of mouth that the Germans kill Jews. We began to worry. But life has its own rules. We believed that the pogroms might be accidental and it wouldn't happen to us. Rumors began to circulate about signs of salvation to come. People talked about dreams in which they were signs for the best. If so, they expected a miracle to happen, maybe God would have mercy.
I worked in forced labor, together with other, in the sawmill in Bielsko-Bia³a, a distance of about ten kilometers from home, and it didn't leave me time and energy for thoughts.
In the winter of 1941, the Judenrat was ordered to pay contributions to the Germans. We had to pay a large amount of gold in weight. Another time they demanded from the Jews pepper, perfume or other items that were rare at that time. Every Jew was required to give his share of what was left to him.
I remember a meeting of the Jews of Stara Rafalovka which was held on a Saturday night at the beginning of the winter of 1941. Even before that rumors had passed that the Germans demanded gold from the Jews of Stantzia Rafalovka, and also the Jews of our town, Stara Rafalovka, must donate their share. The amount of gold demanded, according to rumors, was very high, about twenty-five kilos.
In the towns's two synagogues a general assembly was announced on the Sabbath after Mincha prayer at the Great Synagogue by the river.
And indeed, most of the town's Jews arrived and the synagogue was filled to capacity.
I remember that after Mincha prayer, Motel Katzan zl, the synagogue's Shamash, got on the stage. He pounded with a book on the table to silence the crowd. After it had been quiet, he uttered a sentence in a hoarse voice which shook every chord in the heart. I remember the words that he said in a loud voice to this day. He shouted, Jews, we are burning. This Motel had unusually large eyes. The sight of his large eyes, which were wide-open and the harsh words that he uttered in a mighty shout, cast a chill in everyone's heart. I felt that something heavy and oppressive lies before us, and the situation was difficult, very difficult.
The idea of killing all the Jews had not yet occurred to us. We didn't know what awaited us, but I felt that something very serious was going to happen.
There was in an oppressive silence in the synagogue hall and great tension. One after the other a number of Jews from the town got on the stage and said a few words about our difficult situation, and that every Jew should contribute his share to the effort to collect the gold that the Germans demanded because our lives depended on it. Yakov Bass zl was unable to compose himself and burst into tears on the stage, a matter that greatly increased the tension. Yakov zl mentioned Zionism with pain, and the efforts that they had made for the future of the children and the sake of Eretz-Yisrael, and each of us must give his last penny so the children would be able to reach Eretz-Yisrael.
This is what I remember today, forty years later. Outside it was twilight. It was almost dark in the synagogue and so was in the soul.
Depressed and hurt I left the synagogue before the beginning of Ma'ariv prayers and went home. The fresh air revived me a little, but a strong winter wind blew outside and froze my hands. The sky was black and darkness seemed to close on us, a handful of helpless Jews in the town. My father came home a few hours later and I saw him conferring with my mother. Later, he took out from a hiding place a large gold chain that belonged to my mother, my father's gold watch and gold coins in order to hand them over to the Judenrat.
The next day, my father said that he was promised a sack of rye and potatoes in exchange for the surplus of gold that he contributed because it was above the amount required from him and our economic situation was bad. In the end, we didn't get anything. But, it was quickly forgotten because bigger and newer troubles came from time to time. We stood on the edge of the abyss. This situation continued until the spring of 1942.
After Passover we were ordered to leave the town and move to the ghetto in Stanzia Rafalovka. We didn't have a lot of belongings to take with us. I remember that my father zl rented a cart to transfer beddings, or other items that were left to us, and there was also space in the cart to take firewood from the stock that we had in our possession.
We walked, of course, to Stantzia Rafalovka. We received a room there and lived with three families in three rooms. Of course, it was very crowded but this matter didn't worry the people that much.
The ghetto was not sealed with barbed wire fences and guards as in the big cities, but we weren't allowed to leave the ghetto without a special permit. Very quickly there was shortage of food in the ghetto. People suffered from hunger and walked around with a pale and sunken face. They were willing to suffer in order to somehow survive the war, but this wasn't given to them, most of them found their death in a mass grave in Suchowola.
by Tzvi Kreizer
Translated by Sara Mages
All the Jews in the ghetto, who were fit to work, had to work. There weren't many jobs in the vicinity of Stantzia Rafalovka, therefore, we, a group of Jews, were sent to work in a forest, a distance of twenty five kilometers from the ghetto. Since we weren't able to return to the ghetto every day we were allowed to sleep in our town, Stara Rafalovka, each in his home that was empty and locked. Every day, early in the morning, we walked to the forest to work, a distance of about 10 kilometers, and returned in the evening to sleep. We walked without a guard and we were only guarded at work by two guards armed with rifles. Of course, we didn't receive any compensation for the work and no one cared to provide us with food. The work, which was imposed on us, was to lift felled tree trunks from the ditches on the side of the road. We were ordered to roll them up to the side of the road so that they could be transferred to the sawmill or towards another forest. We worked in small groups and the work itself was tolerable. Teamwork was needed to lift the heavy beams from the ditches to the side of the road. I found interest in this work. On the way to work, or after we had finished the work, we searched around for a way to get some basic foodstuffs like flour, potatoes and others in exchange for notions that we had smuggled from the ghetto.
On Friday, we packed the groceries in a backpack, loaded it on our back and walked a distance of twelve kilometers to the ghetto. The walk with the goods loaded on the back
was difficult and arduous, but we were young and we had great satisfaction from the fact that we can bring a little food home. In this manner we worked for about a month or six weeks.
One day, the guards abandoned us and we didn't understand the meaning of it. They were called somewhere and didn't return to us for a whole day. After we finished our work we waited for them so they would allow us to leave the place, but they didn't return. After a long wait we left without permission and returned home, to the home in Stara Rafalovka. When we were a distance of about two kilometers from the edge of the forest, on the way to the river, Hershel Shirman came running towards us and motioned us to escape, run fast, take everyone with you, he shouted in our direction and continued to run. Without any questions we turned back and started to run fast, as fast as we could, towards the forest. In a fast run we entered between the trees, panting and breathing with difficulty, bathed in sweat from the efforts of the run. In this manner we advanced a little into the forest. We sat to rest and immediately it became clear to us what had happened in the town of Rafalovka. On that day, craftsmen (blacksmiths, shoemakers, tailors and carpenters) who were needed to work in the area and allowed to stay in the town, were arrested and transferred to the ghetto. Hershel Shirman somehow managed to escape and ran towards us to warn us not to go back to Rafalowka. Thanks to him twenty Jews survived. Hershel Shirman remained in the Soviet Union after the war.
There was silence. We moved slowly into the forest and rested a little. The sun was setting and then one of the guys said: Jews, let's pray the Mincha prayer. We also prayed Ma'ariv there and then, Yitzchak Shirman who was the oldest in the group said: Jews, we cannot continue in such a large group. We must split into small groups and each group will take a different direction. Of course, we did so and without a word walked away from the area. I was left in the last group which consisted of five men, among them Hershel Shirman, Motel Goz, Yakov and Berel Gruber. In ordinary days Hershel worked as a shoemaker and since I was barefoot he suggested that we would go to Barles, the place of residence of the Polish forest guards. There, he said, he had a pair of shoes for me. We didn't know where to turn and went with him towards Barles. After hours of walking we reached Barles. In this walk I injured my foot from sharp spikes of tree roots because I walked barefoot in the dark and it was impossible to see obstacles on the way.
It was a late hour, after midnight. The dogs greeted us with loud barking. We moved towards the house. Herschel identified himself and asked, by shouting, to open the door, but the residents of the house didn't open the door and didn't answer us. Probably, they also lived in fear inside the forest. After repeated attempts we realized that there was no point to continue to ask for their help. We moved away from the house as the dogs continued to accompany us with loud barking. Berel Gruber suggested that we should go to Subasic, a village in the area where he had an acquaintance, and so we have done. We walked there and quietly entered the farmer's barn. Each one of us dug kind of a tunnel in the straw and we fell asleep.
To this day I remember a dream that I dreamed that night and it's so simple, but then it deeply moved me. All my family members are sitting in the room. The samovar is boiling and my mother
is serving tea to my father. A typical evening at home. I felt a supreme happiness in this dream, happiness at the fact that I was among the members of my family that I hadn't seen for many days. As the size of the happiness that flooded me in the dream, so was the difficult disappointment and the somber mood after I woke up. I knew that it was only a dream. The reality was unbearable. All thoughts were given to family members who may no longer be alive. And what will happen to us that we are still alive? All that we had repressed within us all that time, and didn't think about, suddenly burst out so brutally.
The emotions were mixed. A certain satisfaction, that I am outside the ghetto and I have survived, and the heart ache for the fate of my parents, my brothers and all the Jews of the town who may not be alive. And again, the thought, what will happen to us? What to do? Where to go?
When we woke the sun was already up in the sky. Berel Gruber entered the farmer's house and got some bread. We shared it, but I didn't feel any hunger. We got out of there and walked along the forest not knowing where. When we heard the sound of a wagon we entered the forest and hid. On our way a peasant woman warned us that only a few minutes earlier Jews were led from there to the ghetto. I was still barefoot, dressed in tattered clothes, work clothes, and an old sweater, which saved me a little from the chill of the night, was hanging on my shoulder.
We hid in the forest for a few days without lighting a fire for fear of being discovered. We were in a very difficult mood and cried a lot. Berel Gruber, the oldest among us, cried the most. He had lost a wife and two small children.
After a few days of wandering in the forest, I don't remember if we ate and what we ate, we found a place among the trees on the road between Hahota, a Polish village, and Bishleck, a typical village in the area. Motel Goz and Hershel Shirman left for the village and brought with them potatoes, a little bread and even a small iron pot, a knife and matches. I left to bring water from a natural pool that was a distance of two kilometers from there. I filled the pot with water but for some reason I couldn't find the way back to the group. I wandered for a long time with a pot of water in my hand looking for the place that I had left. I tracked them down only in the evening. They were afraid I might have been caught and therefore consider the possibility to pull away. We lit a fire despite the concerns that we might be discovered by the smoke, but we had no other choice. We were there for a few days. Sometime later Yakov Rabin and his family, who managed to hide inside a bunker and later leave the ghetto, arrived to the forest.
They told us that the Germans and the Ukrainians surrounded the ghetto. The rabbi gathered the Jews and told them about Kiddush Hashem. He asked the women to cut their hair in order to die in holiness and purity on Kiddush Hashem. We didn't ask many questions and they also didn't know the answers, after all, they hid in a bunker.
What did I think about in those days? How I felt in the first days after the liquidation of the ghetto? It's difficult to accurately reconstruct these feelings forty-six years later. I remember that I thought a lot about the family members who had been killed in such a cruel way at no fault of their own. We cried a lot at the death of our loved ones, we wanted to live, but we knew that we were outside the law
and a death sentence also hovered above us. I thought, we are still alive, are we going to live tomorrow? Another week? Another month? Are we going to get through the war and see the continuation of life? I remember that one day, at dusk, I watched the sun setting at the edge of the horizon and thought: there, the world ends beyond the horizon. There, is the infinite space. Our life may also end soon! How is it there, out of life? Is there something out of life? Also our turn to die may come, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe soon. And maybe There was also some hope in the heart. Hope that is actually a wish. To live, and no matter what, after all, we were still young! Over the years, in times of war, we lived between hope and despair. Will we survive? We wanted to live, to arrive alive to that day, the day after the war, and see the destruction of the German oppressors.
We survived and we also managed to reach the Land of Israel and establish families there. We survived, not because we were smarter or faster than the others. We survived because that's how fate wanted. By chance, we were outside the ghettos boundaries during the murder. Certainly, we do not consider ourselves to blame that our loved ones perished while we remained alive. But frustration arising from the tragic fate accompanies us throughout our lives and will continue to accompany us to our last day. Why it had to happen? and in the words of the poet - for what and why?
by Rivka Rozman née Swarcblat
Translated by Sara Mages
Rumors said that three pits were already ready for us in the village of Suchowola. Ukrainians walked around the ghetto and guarded that no one would escape. People wandered like living dead, looking for a hole or a crack to escape, but in vain.
We knew it would happen. When? - Today, tomorrow?
The sun shone on the 14th of Elul, an incredibly beautiful day.
That morning my older sister, Manya, came and brought me a piece of afikoman, a virtue to life. But, to her, the afikoman didn't help. I never saw her again. She, her daughter Malka and her two-year-old granddaughter, Reizale, were among those who remained there.
On that day my husband, Shmuel, was brought back to the ghetto from forced labor. His hands were tied with tefillin straps.
I decided to leave the ghetto at all costs. Since we had no chance of passing together I would leave in the middle of the day with the children and my husband at night. Among the leftover of merchandise in our store I found some peasant clothes. I dressed the children in Ukrainian clothes. I also deseeded that way. Of course, barefoot, with kerchiefs on the head, like the Ukrainian women, with the baby, Yisrael, ages six months in my arms wrapped in a small blanket. We started to walk. I wanted to stop on the way to see my sisters, to say goodbye to them, but, I felt as if a strong power was pushing me to walk and get out of the ghetto. Beyond the ghetto were fields of potatoes, we went in that direction as if to go to work, but policemen stood on the way.
Sheigetz, a Pole stopped us and said: the Jews want to escape! At the same moment a policeman called us and asked us to get closer to him. Sender, my son, who was three years old, walked about fifty meters after us so they wouldn't realize that we were a family. When the policeman stopped us he continued to walk as if he didn't have any connection to us and only passed in the area by chance. The policeman interrogated us for a short moment. Where to? - To the field. We spoke in Ukrainian. I felt that he knew, but he was silent. We moved from the place with fear and continued to walk out of the ghetto. We didn't believe that it happened to us, we arrived to the forest.
In the forest we saw Sender, two Ukrainians stood in front of him and they asked us: is he a Jew? My daughter said: he doesn't look like a Jew, and I added what do you care? let him go to hell. The Ukrainians left him and continued on their way and we sat down to rest in the forest.
Trees, birds and light. The baby, who was sad all the time in the ghetto as if he understood the magnitude of the fear there, suddenly started to smile and look. Smile and look around with interest. I told the children, if the baby is so happy it is a good sign, a sign that we will survive.
We sat until evening without knowing where to go. I thought of reaching the town of Stara Rafalowka where we previously lived. When I saw the shepherds in the distance returning with the herds from the pasture, I ran after an old woman and asked her: What's happening in your place? The woman looked at me and shook her head. Don't go there, she said, they catch Jews there.
We spent the night in the forest. Lying curled up on the ground. I wrapped the baby, Yisrael, in the little blanket, the only one we had. With one of its ends I covered my son, Sender, because the mosquitoes stung us. He started to cry and I said to him: are you crying already? who knows what else awaits us in the future. This is only the beginning
My husband, Shmuel, also left the ghetto on that night and we met a few weeks later in the forest.
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