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[Page 334]

In the War for Rescue and Life

 

How I Was Saved
from the Killing Valley in Sarny

by Israel Pinczuk

Edited by Karen Leon

On 13 Elul 5702 (26.8.42) I was brought, along with the Jews of Rokitno, in a freight train, to a field fenced off with barbed wire, opposite the Sarny railroad station.

The entire field was pervaded by intense heat. We were guarded by men of the S.S. and Ukrainian militia. We had no food or water for the entire day, and many fainted. We had been pursued and oppressed. A short time after we arrived, the Jews from Dabrowica, Bereznica, Klesow and Tomaszgorod were also brought to the field.

We suffered from severe thirst. A few people were able to obtain water from the locals by bartering gold and jewelry. They gathered beside the fence, getting a bit of water in a hat or a shoe. Everyone wanted to benefit from a swig, and many were pushed against the fence, causing the guards to shoot into the crowded mass of people. Many Jews fell at that place. In the end, the guards forbade the Christians to approach the fence.

Rumors and news spread that they were going to take us to another place to work. For this purpose they were going to break up families and take only the stronger ones. The day and night passed in fear, and with no sleep. Word spread that the community of Sarny was dealing with us, and this gave us encouragement, However, on the following day, after noon, the Jews of Sarny were also brought to us. That ended all hope.

We sensed that something terrible was about to happen. At three o'clock in the afternoon, the Jewish militia informed the Jews of Rokitno to prepare to go out on the road. We understood that we were being taken to slaughter, because along with us, they brought wagons filled with the dead and wounded. On the way to this killing valley, the Nazis photographed the death march. I will not forget the extent to which I was dazed when I first laid eyes on the pits from afar. My mother Z”L said, in a silent whisper, “These, my dear son, are our last minutes. There will be no one to say Kaddish for me once I am gone.” I replied to her that my brother Sholom in Russia and my brother Baruch, in The Land, yet remain alive (Sholom Z”L fell subsequently in the capture of Berlin, and Baruch Z”L in the Israeli War of Independence).

We reached the pits, around which stood the murderers, prepared and armed with all manner of weapons and machine guns. An order was given for us to take off our clothing to our naked skin, the women and children separately, and the men separately. I was separated from my mother with tears, and began to undress. At that very moment, a Nazi struck me in the head with a stick. As I stood naked in the fourth row from the pits, four by four in each row, suddenly I had the idea to flee! I whispered to those standing beside me in the row, “there is nothing to lose. At least we won't see the murder!” We looked about us and decided to flee to the right, to the hills and dales of the sparse forest. We sneaked away at the reading of Shema Yisrael. We would fall and get up, because they rained fire on us from all sides. And it was as if by a miracle that I was saved, since I was as naked as the day I was born.

I encountered the two sons of Abraham and Chaim Blozhowsky in the forest. One of them gave me a shirt, and the second, trousers, to cover my nakedness. They had escaped from the field at the time the fence was breached. Along with them was the daughter of Chana Minimowicz, covered in the blood of the wounded and killed, beside the barbed wire fence.

We entered the underbrush of the trees in order to cover up our footprints. The Blozhowsky sons went off to the side and whispered among themselves, and I got the sense that they wanted to abandon me. They decided to approach the forest watchman, an acquaintance, to procure some food. The young girl remained with me. We waited for them the entire night, because all around us armed forest watchmen were searching for those who escaped, in order to turn them over to the Nazis. The young men did not return.

The next day, three days after the slaughter, when we were oppressed by thirst and hunger, we found beets in the field and ate them with relish. On Shabbat, the fourth day after the slaughter, we ran into a farmer. We asked him for directions to Nemovychi. The farmer trembled, and begged us to go back into the forest. We returned there, suspecting that he would bring murderers to exterminate us. After about two hours had passed, he came back to us, with bread and tomatoes, gave us encouragement, and told us that two boys from Sarny had been seized and killed beside the house of the forest watchman. We understood that the Blozhowsky sons, who had parted from us, were no longer alive. We stayed until evening, and headed out in the direction of the village of Nemovychi, whose citizenry were known to the young girl. A shepherd who we met, and who we asked for directions, replied, “For you there is no way!” However, he took pity on us, and showed us the way to go. Along the way I fainted from exhaustion and tribulation. We ran into farmers returning from the city loaded with packages. We had the temerity to ask the last one what had transpired in the city. He replied that there were no more Jews in Sarny. He personally saw a Nazi chasing two Jews who had escaped a place of refuge, and he killed them.

We waited in the grove of trees until the evening. Once it grew dark, we approached a nearby house, and asked for food. The farmer gave us potatoes and milk. He calmed us by saying that the people in that vicinity were Baptists. The next day we met a different farmer, who the young girl knew. He received us graciously, and advised us to spend about an hour in the nearby grove of trees. A day after this, shepherds sensed our presence, and began to shout, “Jews, Jews!” We did not manage to flee, because the forest watchman detained us, and threatened to kill us if we did not follow him. Along the way, an additional watchman joined up with him. They took us to Sarny in order to turn us over to the Nazis. Along the way, we passed a settlement of Baptists. The people there begged the watchmen to turn us over to the community elder so that he would deal with us. The residents gathered by the house of the community elder and attempted to confuse the watchman, while hinting to us to flee. The young girl succeeded in fleeing. I could not run because I was too weak. The women of the village came to my aid by detaining the watchman. Because of this, I got some breathing space, and was able to flee.

By now I knew the way to the home of the farmer, Khavidur, and I returned to him. The members of the household were certain that we were no longer alive. They received us with joy, and I remained with them. The young girl went to another place. That evening, I met her brother.

I stayed with Khavidur for three weeks. He built a temporary dwelling out of branches for me, about three hundred meters from his house, and provided me with food for the entire time. On the eve of the festival of Sukkot, Khavidur approached me and said, “The rainy season is approaching, and you will not be able to reside in this temporary dwelling. In addition, the Germans are coming to this area since partisans have appeared in the vicinity.” He proposed to dress me in farmer's clothing, and to take me in his wagon as far as Rokitno. This proposal appeared to be more dangerous than I would have liked. I decided to set out on foot to the Rokitno forests, in the hope that I would find remnants of my family there. Khavidur proposed that I leave on Saturday night, because on the eve of Sunday, all would be resting at home. Before I left, he gave me a jacket (switka) so that I would not be immediately recognizable, and also provisions for the road. He escorted me as far as the railroad tracks and showed me the way to Straszow. He advised me to walk along the railroad tracks, and taught me how to ford the Sluch River. I will never forget my parting from him! Khavidur hugged me, kissed me, and blessed me, “May God be in the service of your help and bring you to the front of your desire, and protect you from all that is evil.” His blessing gave me courage.

On that night, I traveled 70 kilometers and reached Polesia forests and its swamps. These surroundings were familiar to me, and I wandered through them for several weeks. On one of those days, I encountered my sister, Chaya Walkin, and after that, the remnants of my family who remained alive. After extended tribulations, all of us were taken into the camps of the partisans.


[Page 336]

The Extermination and the Rescue

By Leah Teich–Minkowsky

Recorded and Edited for Publication by – Ari Moor

Edited by Karen Leon

 

On the Threshold of Sorrow & Suffering

The German–Soviet War broke out on June 22, 1941. On Thursday, July 3, 1941, the Soviets retreated from Sarny. We were overwhelmed with mixed emotions. We were happy that the bombing stopped, but we were seized by a fear of the unknown. While under Soviet occupation for a period of 21 months (October 1939 – June 1941), we heard a variety of tales about the cruelty of the Germans from refugees who came from Poland. Yet there were refugees who calmed our spirits. They told us that while there was evidence of brutality against the Jews by the Germans, in general, the Jews in Poland were able to continue to live and earn a living. This was explicitly stated in a letter from a relative in Poland who wrote during the entire time they were under German occupation.

In addition to the conflicting reports, the Jews, and the communists who were sworn into the Soviet police, were apathetic. This tilted the scale, and the Jews preferred, by and large, to remain in place, and not flee deep into Russia, ahead of the Germans. There were also Jews that wanted to believe that despite the fact the Germans brutalized and killed Jews, it was inconceivable that the Germans would kill all the residents of the city. And, if it was the fate of some to die, better to die at the hands of the Germans, than trail after the Soviets who were retreating to their “Garden of Eden.”

During the two days that the city remained without an authority in power we feared the predator farmers from the villages in the vicinity. Despite this, these few days passed peacefully, and the German army arrived on July 4, 1941.

The order to wear a white armband with a blue Magen David on the sleeve was the first decree issued to identify the Jews. We put on the band and wore it with great national pride.

Our radios were confiscated, and there were no newspapers. We were cut off from the storming world, limited to meager snatches of news that passed from person to person that managed occasionally to reach us. Movement outside of the city came to a halt. Economic life was silenced. Jewish commerce was limited to barter transactions. The Jews bartered their clothing, effects, and jewelry with the local farmers, and obtained food items in return. Only the Judenrat officials had permission to move about, and through this, they also had access to the authorities.

Community life came to a halt with the absence of movies, libraries, or learning. Individuals stopped reading books almost entirely, though some did exchange books among themselves. People remained in their homes on festival days. Youth meetings took place in very limited groups due to the lack of specific agendas. Children and young people lolled about, free of the obligations of study, as they had no school. The synagogue remained the community gathering place for the Jews, and for prayer.

Celebrations in the city ended. Wedding, births, and other occasions, which, customarily in previous times would have been reasons for family celebrations, were now conducted modestly and surreptitiously, as if the people were ashamed. In these unspeakable days, the community suppressed their circumscribed lives into their inner depths.

Yom Kippur of 5702 arrived. True to the custom of the Nazis of levying more tribulation on the heads of the Jews during holiday and festival times, here too, the Deputy Commissioner ordered the Jews of Sarny to assemble on the Sakhalin sports field on Yom Kippur. We sensed that the pretext of this order hid the malevolent intent to exterminate us. However, all they did was take a census to count us, and send us back to our homes. This was a well–known strategy meant to conceal their intentions in order to reduce the alertness of the Jews and hide the bad intentions of the murderers.

On that same day, a decree was issued to exchange the armband for yellow stars, one to be worn on the breast, and one on the back. We wore the armband with the Magen David with pride. But the enemy did not hide its purpose with the yellow insignia. We were wounded deeply in our souls, and we saw ourselves regressing to medieval times. This was literally the emblem of shame.

The Festival of Passover of 5702 arrived. The ghetto was established and surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Those Jews whose homes were outside the borders of the ghetto were transferred inside of it. Between five and six families lived in each house and crowding grew unbearable. Life grew more difficult, the insult grew deeper, and the rumors regarding our fate grew more oppressive and worrisome.

The Judenrat did everything in its power to meet the demands of the authorities. The Judenrat provided laborers for all sorts of work. It collected clothing and footwear from the Jews in accordance with the demands of authorities. It provided payment of levies, in gold, demanded from time to time by the Deputy Commissioner. We saw a way to spare our lives through these demands for labor and contributions, notwithstanding the rigorous, heavy burden that was placed upon us. Through this, we hoped to buy ourselves more assurance that our fate would not be the same as the fate of other communities in our vicinity, in which partial liquidation was already underway. We suffered physically and emotionally from the work that we performed under the watch of the SS. Workers were often beaten by the Germans for no reason at all.

This was the way we passed 14 months under Nazi rule (July 1941 – August 1942), including five months in the ghetto (April – August 1942), until the bitter and awesome day of extermination.

 

At Forced Labor

The first day of conquest by the Nazis, even before the creation of the ghetto, was also the first day of going out to work. We gathered beside the old municipal building on May 3rd Street, at the home of Klein. Almost the entire youth of Sarny assembled there, including boys and girls, and also a few adults. Three Germans came over to us, with Kazik at their head. Kazik was the Ukrainian Burgomaster, city head, after Mariniuk. He was, at that time, the coordinator of work. The three Germans began to walk through the rows and selected a few of the young girls by pointing them out to the call of “This girl, over here!” The young women knew that they faced a very difficult moment since it appeared that the three were selecting the best looking of them from amongst the Sarny youth. After this, Kazik gathered all of those selected by the Germans, approximately twenty young women, and ordered them to follow him.

Among those who were selected were Leah'leh Parvoznik, Bruszka Kamien, Rosa Derlachter, Rula Maturin and others. I remained attached to Bruszka Kamien for the entire time. We did not know where we were being taken to, and we thought we were going to be forced to have sex. Each of us tried to raise the spirits of her comrade, stand our ground with all of our might, and remain together.

We were brought to the barracks not very far from the railroad tracks, and admitted into a large yard, where the German army was billeted. The soldiers came out onto the porches of the houses that surrounded the yard, and called out in loud voices, “This girl, over here!” Each one of us held onto our comrade as we did not want to be separated. As I have said, I walked with Bruszka Kamien. In the end, we were brought into a house and asked if we knew how to clean windows and doors, and how to keep the houses in order. If that was all, well thanks to the Lord! We heaved a sigh of relief and worked for an entire day. The situation was not a bad one. We wore our armbands with a Magen David on a blue and white background.

Our mothers waited for us to return in an abject state of worry. When we returned, my mother came out to greet me and asked, “Leah'leh, are you well and whole?”

That was the first day. After that we were subject to hard labor working on the bridge. A rampart was erected beside the bridge. The work was hard in and of itself, but on top of that there was a Nazi SS man there who assaulted the workers to the point of drawing blood with the whip that he held in his hand. The work itself was not a problem for us, but the beatings by the lash of the guards was terrifying. Both young men and women went to do the work on the bridge, while adult men and women were sent off to do work of a different kind.

This was several months after the establishment of the ghetto. The ghetto was not established at the time of the occupation. From June to Passover we lived without a ghetto. We went out to work and returned to our homes. We were ushered into the ghetto during Passover.

The borders of the principal ghetto were as follows: The side of May 3rd Street with the odd–numbered houses, including the community house, up to Mucznik's house, from there to the soda factory, and up to the sands. After this, the border went down the length of Central Street, encompassing the side of the road with houses on it, but not including the park. After that, the whole of Kashiva until past Barmaka, up to the sand dunes and Obwodowo. The sand dunes were surrounded by a fence.

In addition to this, there was a small ghetto for craftsmen where the smiths, carpenters and all other craftsmen dwelt. The expert craftsmen among them were allowed to leave to go to their work for the Germans. Each one of them had a special pass that permitted them a measure of freedom of movement.

We would go out for our work on the bridge walking in rows. Beside the community office, there was a labor office located in the house of Baral. We gathered there each day to be sent to work. The director of labor was Portnoy, who was Goldman's father–in–law.

 

A Charitable Deed

A few months after the Nazi occupation, yet before the establishment of the ghetto, approximately fifty families reached Sarny from David–Horodok. The families consisted only of women and children because the men had been exterminated before the expulsion. Some of the other wandering refugees remained stuck in the surrounding villages, such as Stolin, and others. The fifty families who reached Sarny were naked, and had no possessions.

The Jews of Sarny willingly received these families from Horodok into their homes. There were instances, however, when it was necessary to persuade the local residents to take people in and not evade responsibility. Some of the families were settled in the synagogue, and the Jews of the city looked after their needs.

My father, Aharon Teich, and my sister Fraydl Fishman, were among those who organized assistance for these expelled people. It was not only the last slice of bread that was divided between the donor and recipient, but also my father would collect firewood from the Jews and drag it by hand into the living quarters of these displaced people.

 

Until the Fire Passes

News started to reach us about the slaughter of the Jews of Rivne, Luck, Kovel, and other places. The Jews of Sarny received this news with fear and trembling. However, they deluded themselves in the hope that the compulsory contributions that they paid to the Deputy Commissioner would serve as a way to redeem their lives and save them from the bitter fate overtaking the other Jews of the vicinity.

Some of the Jews set about locating places to hide. According to the news of the extermination activity in the area, everyone who was able to hide until the fire passed emerged afterwards from their hiding places, and continued with life in the ghetto.

One or two families would prepare such hiding places together and in great secrecy. Our family, and the family of Abraham–Moshe Gruber, jointly prepared a hiding place in the barn in the Gruber yard, by putting up a double wall.

We were aware of an unusual level of activity around the ghetto fence a few days before the liquidation. A Ukrainian militia surrounded all sides of the fence. When the news spread around the ghetto about the order that we would have to gather on the field the following morning, we sensed the reality that the Holocaust was drawing upon us, and had arrived. At that same moment, we lost our sense of reason, and everything we did was solely by instinct. There were families and individuals who hid themselves in places that they had previously prepared. But there were also those who passed up the chance to hide this way, and presented themselves at the gathering place together with the entire community. They hung their hope on God, and said, “Whatever will occur to all of Jewry, will also occur to us.”

On the first day that the militia surrounded the ghetto, my father suggested a specific plan. He said, “Simcha (my sister's husband) and I will break through the cordon of the ghetto, and we will flee. When we are on the outside, we will be able to extend the required help to the women.” He directed the woman into the hiding place.

Afterwards, I learned that the Ukrainian police shot at them. My father managed to escape and hide in the attic of Zelig Scheinman. He waited there until nighttime and then continued on his way in the direction of the village of Liszyc. My brother–in–law, Simcha, ran in the direction of his house on Gorodska Street, where he was shot and murdered in the yard of his house by a Ukrainian policeman who pursued him. He was the first victim.

 

From Between the Boards

Abraham–Moshe Gruber did not want to go into the hiding place he had prepared in the stable in his yard. He had powerful faith in the oversight of The Divine, placed his faith in “He Who Can Do All,” and strode at the head of his family, to the gathering place on the field, with a volume of Psalms in his hand. Following him were his wife, his son, his daughter Esther, whose fate had summoned her from the Land of Israel to make a short visit to her parents. She was seized there, along with all those who were exterminated, and was buried in the mass grave in Sarny.

Four of us went into the hiding place including my mother, my sister Fraydl with her son, Shlomo'leh, and I.

We saw the gathering field that was beside the bath house as we looked between the boards of the walls of the hiding place. I left the hiding place for a minute to go to the field and observe what was taking place there. I encountered someone I knew who was aware of our hiding place, and he convinced me to leave the gathering place, immediately. It was not possible to return in the direction from which I came, and accordingly, I jumped fences sprightly from one yard to the next, until I reached the location of the hiding place. At that same moment, I saw my mother approaching the gathering field, from afar. She could not rest from the thought of having given me the permission to go out onto the field. She followed me there and did not return. Shlomo'leh did not want to remain in the hiding place with only his mother, and his complaining did not stop until I returned.

The noon hour arrived. We began to detect the sounds of gunfire that were coming from the direction of Poleska out of the deathly silence that pervaded the area around our hiding place. This is it! they are liquidating them!

Through the cracks in the wall of the stable, I saw peasants from the nearby villages scouring through the wide open houses and hiding small items they plundered underneath their clothing. The Germans placed a stringent prohibition against such despoiling, but they themselves were occupied in plundering lives. In the meantime, the peasants managed to break into the ghetto to begin looting Jewish homes.

I saw German and Ukrainian police bringing “remnants” of Jews to be slaughtered. These Jews went into hiding on the day the order was given and were subsequently discovered by the murderers.

I saw a Ukrainian policeman bring forward three young Jewish girls dressed in native Ukrainian clothing. They were discovered in their hiding place or were seized in the street as they attempted to flee the city, disguised in Ukranian clothing. They walked arm–in–arm together with death hovering on their faces.

 

In the Hideout and Outside of It

We sat in the hideout for five days and nights. The only food we had was dried bread which we didn't touch, in order to save it for the child. We had no water. We performed our bodily functions in a corner of the hideout.

Shlomo'leh could find no peace for his storm–racked soul for the entire time we were in the hideout. His yearning for his family intensified minute by minute. He didn't think about his father, just his grandfather and grandmother. He demanded one sort of food or another, to go outside to play, and not to have to stay in the stable.

He could not be tempted to stop howling. His mother lost her senses, and her lips whispered prayers. At times like this I spread myself over the child in order to muffle the sound of his groaning so as not to be heard on the outside.

The child fell sick on the fifth day in the hiding place and ran a high fever. We were compelled to find some way to get out. We wanted to exit while it was still daytime, but my sister delayed the exit until Tuesday of that week. On that same night, in my dream, I saw my sister and myself standing beside a deep, camouflaged swamp. On the other side of the swamp, my Pole was extending his hand to me, from the days in the ghetto, urging me to leap over the swamp. I jumped and succeeded in getting across. I turned to my sister, extended my hand to her, and urged her as well, to jump across. The extended hands did not touch one another, she stepped onto the swampy surface, and began to drown and disappear before my eyes.

At four o'clock in the morning on Tuesday, we came out of the hiding place, and entered the yard of Mucznik's soda factory. There, by surprise, we ran into the watchman of the factory, a Sarny gentile. We thought he would turn us over into the hands of the police, but he hid us in the yard, and went out into the street to see if the Ukrainian guard had already passed by. At that precise moment, the guard actually passed by in the street.

After the guard left, we went out of the yard dressed in native Ukrainian clothing, and we set out in the direction of the village of Sarny. Along the way, we ran into Ukrainian policemen, who asked us from whence we were coming. I answered, “from Nemovychi.” At that precise moment, a shepherd who recognized us appeared, and informed the guard of our identity.

The guard took us to the Gestapo on the Poleska side and placed us in a jail cell.

 

In the Jail Cell

We found about fifty Jews in the jail, among them Shlomo Murik, Zlat'keh Pearl and her daughter Manya, Sternfeld, Itzik Rubinstein, Ber'l Swarinsky with his wife Pessia, and their nine–year old son, Shimon, Moshe'l Cirulnik, Furmin, and others.

As we entered the jail, Shlomo Murik approached me and said, “I have already buried my family, and who will bury me?” He added that the murderers took out about twenty men from the assembly to be the victims. It was his fate to avoid what befell the entire community.

The Swarinsky boy sensed that he was waiting in the jail for certain death. This feeling brought him to a state of hysteria, and he moaned without stopping. I cannot free myself from his cries that echo in my ears to this day.

The rest of the jailed were apathetic with regard to what was going to happen. The feeling was that this was the fate that awaited us and there was no way to flee from it. In what way were they any better than the entire community who found death at the hands of the murderers? This apathy actually engendered isolated moments of humor.

One of the Ukrainian guards who watched over us peered at me with burning eyes and gleefully proclaimed, “Tomorrow, we will see your beautiful naked body.” I replied that it might be possible for him to see my body, but only after he murders me, because there was no way he would see my naked body while I was still alive.

Then the idea to escape hit me! My sister attempted to dissuade me from such a daring step accompanied by the danger of certain death. She was particularly worried that if I were apprehended during an attempted escape, the police would assault and torture me before killing me. I pointed to the pipe, stained with blood, hanging on the barbed wire fence, and told my sister that this would then be the way my life would end.

While I was going over the fence, I stole a brief glance at the Jews in the jail yard, handcuffed, ashen, and confused. I did not want them to see me if I was caught, or if I fell from gunfire. To my good fortune, it appears the police did not sense my presence, and did not shoot at me.

 

The Escape

Jumping down from the fence I landed on a rock and wounded my heel. I didn't feel it because I needed to make another jump from a second high fence. I leapt from the second fence, fell into a garden and fainted.

When I came to, I found myself covered in blood. I thought that I had been shot and wounded. After feeling all over my body, I realized I had a deep, bleeding wound in my heel. I remembered the dangerous jumps I had made from several high fences.

I was seized with remorse. Why did I flee, and to whom did I leave my sister and her son? For whom, and for what purpose did I remain here, alone without a family, and without Jews. I decided to return to the jail and cast my lot with those who were awaiting death. But I was so thirsty, and I knew that those back in the jail were suffering from thirst. I decided to try and reach my Polish lady acquaintances, the Aniszkowiec sisters, who lived nearby, on the other side of the street, to slake my thirst, and to take some water for the other thirsty people in the jail.

I tore out a piece of linen from my underwear to make a head kerchief. This was the way that I managed to sneak by, passing through the street, and reaching the house of my acquaintances.

I went inside. The people in the house were startled to see me, and the daughter immediately left. I was certain that she was going to call the militia and turn me over to the police. I asked the others to call the daughter back so that she would not call the police. I didn't wish to impose my presence on them. I came only to be able to drink and to get water to bring to those still thirsty in jail. I would return to the jail with the water.

It was only after they recovered from the shock and surprise of seeing me there, that they were able to talk. They calmed me by saying that if no one had seen me enter their house, they had no intention to turn me over to the police. They gently urged me indoors, to one of the side rooms, and immediately began to plan for a way to rescue me.

 

The Tribulations of Being Rescued

The elderly mother, Anna Aniszkowiec, took charge. She brought me to her sister in the village of Rudnya. I covered a distance of 50 kilometers on my wounded heel that was leaking blood. We had to take an indirect route around settlements. We reached our destination late at night. I remained with the sister of the elderly lady for five days. On the fifth day of my stay there, the old lady returned and retrieved me from her sister's house. She sensed that this out–of–the–way village would swallow me up, since its environs were rife with Balabovists.

The old lady gave me suitable clothes to wear, and signaled to me, that I should present myself as being dumb. On the ferry that took us across the river, the old lady intentionally began to speak about the need to exterminate, kill, and wipe out all the Jews. When she was asked about me, she answered that I was a dumb orphan who was going to the nearby village to harvest potatoes there. The old lady brought me to the home of her in–laws, the Jankowski family, where I stayed for approximately three weeks.

 

The Redeeming Angel

The son of the old lady, Sasha Aniszkowiec, brought his friends from the Ukrainian police to a party, while I was in the nearby room, with my life in my hands. According to the names that I heard from the party room, I recognized some of the gentile thugs from Sarny, and among them, the murderer and chief of slaughter, Notkin.

They ate and drank at the party. While inebriated with whiskey, they discussed the main subject upon which they all agreed, which was the extermination of the Jews. I heard them bragging, and taking pride as each one recounted the number of Jews they had killed on the day of the order, and during all of the ensuing days since that “joyous” day. Notkin concluded the discussion by saying that if he had accumulated all of the Jewish blood that he had spilled, he could have filled a bathtub, and bathed in it.

The host, Sasha Aniszkowiec, was drunk, and suddenly remembered my presence. He entered my room and shouted, “Paraska (that was my name in their house), bring out some food to the table!” As a guardian angel, his brother–in–law Jankowski suddenly appeared, and gave him a strong bump into his face with his chin. The drunkard immediately relented, and then Jankowski whispered in his ear, “Don't you know who Paraska is? Now go back to your friends and hold your tongue!”

 

At the Last Minute

In the meantime, the old lady persuaded her daughter, Lid'ka Nowakowski, to receive me at her house. After a short while, I moved over to Lid'ka's house. One day, while looking out the window, Lid'ka saw a figure approaching the house. She told me in a panic, “Notkin is Coming!” She grabbed a baby out of my hands and told me to run to save my life. However, it was too late. Notkin had already entered the house. He came to find Lid'ka's brother, Sasha Aniszkowiec.

Lid'ka spoke with him in the front room, and swore that her brother was not in the house. However, Notkin said that he was going to search all of the rooms. This man knew me and the members of my family very well.

I had an idea at the last minute. I laid down in the bed, covered my face with a pillow, and began to snore loudly. He and Lid'ka entered my room, opened the closet, looked inside and incidentally threw a glance at me, asking Lid'ka, “And who is this Baba?” Lid'ka replied, “Someone we know from the village of Rudnya.”

 

Christmas Day

On Christmas Eve of 1942, I was invited, along with the old lady, to celebrate Christmas at the home of the Jankowski family. There were many preparations in the house for the holiday. The lady of the house taught me the song of praise of Jesus, the Christian Messiah.

In the evening, at the side of the festive table, I thought back to the gathering field, the stable, the jail, and the mass grave. Four months had already passed since that terrifying day. What am I doing here, alone, anticipating a bitter end any minute? Perhaps the dead are better off than I. They have already met their fate, which awaited me today or tomorrow.

The lady of the house sensed my despondency and offered me encouragement. “Sing my daughter, with a full heart, to Jesus the Savior, he will bring you a final and a complete redemption.”

 

Leibysh

The Christian neighbors on Jaglonska Street called the five year old boy, Leib'l Frumin, Leibysh. The Frumin family lived exactly across the street from the house of the elderly lady Aniszkowiec. How Leibysh reached the village of Jarinowka, I do not know.

On one occasion, the elderly lady went out to the marketplace and met with another gentile woman she knew from the village of Jarinowka. This village resident told the elderly lady, that the boy, Leibysh, was left in her house, and that she was compelled to let him go to his own fate. If the child was seized in her home, then she and the members of her household would be taken as well. The elderly lady said to bring the boy to her house. The following day, the gentile lady brought the boy in a sack thrown over her back, and deposited her “load” at the elderly lady's house.

The body of the child was covered in sores, oozing pus, and his hair was full of lice. The black hair on his head was stiff as bristles, and his black panicked eyes struck fear into everyone. The elderly lady shielded the condition of the child from her daughter Lid'ka. They lived in a two–family house. The elderly lady lived in one apartment, and in the second, over a flimsy partition, lived her daughter Lid'ka Nowakowski with her husband and child, to whom I was a trusted friend.

The elderly lady gave me the task of eliminating the lice from Leibysh's head and treating his sores. I cut the hair off of his unkempt head, bathed his body, and put him to bed in the elderly lady's bed under the bed cover. Leibysh fell asleep in the middle of the bed.

Lid'ka returned from her work, and just on this day, she got the idea to take a break in her mother's house. She went over to the bed, took off the cover, and something began to move. Lid'ka burst out into a frightened scream, began to cross herself, and fainted.

When she came to, she severely criticized the elderly woman and threatened to turn over both of us (Leibysh and me) to the authorities, and be rid of these Jews. The elderly lady transferred Leibysh to the Jankowski residence.

On one day, there was a sweep throughout the streets. The Germans went from house to house, from room to room, searching. What is to be done with Leibysh? Mrs. Jankowski took to bed and pretended to be dead. She put Leibysh under her legs, cleverly camouflaging him. Her sister lit candles above her head. and began to mourn and weep for her.

When the Germans entered the house, they crossed themselves, and went out the way they came in.

 

The Slaughtered Pig and I

The sweep came as a surprise, and Lid'ka had her hands full of the flesh of a slaughtered pig. She was at a loss for what to do and didn't know how to hide the meat. If she didn't hide it, the Germans would confiscate it. She decided to find a hiding place for the meat and let what will be, be! In the midst of this concern I appeared before her, and without saying a word, but only with a glance, I asked for her to save me. My life was hanging before me!

The meat of the pig prevailed and Lid'ka drove me from her presence, as she said, “Don't you see that the meat of the pig is in danger?” I jumped into the yard, and from there I saw the SS men in the neighbor's yard. With one leap, I jumped over the gate of Jankowski's yard. He was standing there at that time, cleaning the yard.

“Father, take pity on me, and save me please!”I said as I turned to him. He covered me with an empty box that was beside the stable, and began to toss more boxes and boards onto the box that was over me, until a large pile was formed. At that moment, the SS men entered the yard, and Jankowski said in a loud voice, half to them and half to himself, “There must be order, there must be neatness!”

 

An Ill Wind Blows

The elderly lady decided that the atmosphere around their house and street had become dangerous. I had to leave the house because of this and head to the huts, farm shacks spread out far from one another, in Janowka and Kostyantynivka, and to seek refuge among the homes of the Polish peasants. She offered the name of one peasant to find, and said that he would take me in for a time. Incidentally, she told me that a number of other Jews were already hiding there.

I was depressed as I left the house, in an unknown direction, to confront death that lay in ambush for me on the roads. I was resigned to what might happen and decided that it didn't matter what I would encounter.

I crossed from the yard of the house to the street, and from there, the road took me to the street leading to the Poleska side. Suddenly, I ran face–to–face into a Polish woman who was a neighbor of my father, and who knew me from the time I was born. I avoided her, and went off quickly, but the surprise in the eyes of this gentile woman, who no doubt recognized me, stuck in my back, and penetrated it. After putting some distance between us, I turned my head back and saw the gentile woman, standing stuck and frozen to her spot, crossing herself without pause, her lips muttering silent prayers.

After I returned to the house of the elderly lady, she told me that she had run into this gentile woman in the marketplace. The gentile woman revealed to her that she had seen the daughter of Aharon Teich in the street, and she had the impression that the dead had risen for the resurrection. She then offered a prayer to the Holy Mother, to spread her wings over this tortured soul, and protect her from all trial and tribulation.

I reached one of the houses in the Polish farmstead. With great difficulty, I obtained permission to enter the house of one of the Mazuri (the nickname of the Polish peasants). I met up with Manya, the wife of Ber'l Cipurin, and Henik, the refugee from Lodz, in this house. I stayed there for approximately a week.

The first cold of the winter arrived. The ponds became covered in a thin translucent ice. The clumps of earth made up of the autumn plowing, soaked with rain, froze, and became a dangerous obstacle to anyone who trod on them.

At seven in the morning, we were surprised by a sweep. A Volksdeutsche was already standing in the house, with his pistol drawn and aimed at Henik. But broad–boned Henik knocked him to the ground, and leaped outside through the window. Manya and I also jumped out the window after him, underdressed, with only our shirts covering our skin, and we began to run, with the Germans after us. Manya, who was pregnant, found the running difficult. She took her hand out of mine and said to me, “My dear, run faster, run for your life, and don't die on account of me.”

After releasing her hand from mine, I began to distance myself from her. I glanced behind me, and I saw her pursuer latch onto her. I heard a shot, and a deep groan.

The pursuers intensified their pursuit of me. I ran, underdressed, on the frozen clumps of earth, with the autumnal wind blowing and spreading the hair on my head, and the edges of my shirt. It seemed to me that an ill wind was blowing between heaven and earth.

And here I was in front of a storage facility. I jumped inside into the yard, and hid myself in the straw inside the barn. After a short minute, the pursuers arrived and began to search in the yard, sticking their rifles with bayonets into the straw. I saw the bayonet penetrating to the right and left of me.

The noise in the yard awoke the owner. The Mazuri woman was accused by the Germans of hiding Jews. They paid no attention to her swearing that she had not seen any Jewess, and continued to threaten that they would torch all of her possessions if she did not immediately bring out the Jewess from her hiding place. The Mazuri woman managed to convince my pursuers, while weeping bitterly, that she knew nothing about this, and that the noise in the yard that had awakened her from her sleep. After a few additional stabbings with the bayonets into the straw, and a search of the corner of the yard, they departed.

Some time later, I emerged from the straw, with my hair wildly unkempt, shivering from the cold, hunger and fear. The Mazuri woman was terrified by what she saw and burst out into a scream. I calmed her down, telling her I would leave the yard immediately, but I asked her for some sort of covering to warm my frozen body. The gentile woman gave me a woolen dress to wrap around my bare body and pointed me in the direction of the Osty farmstead.

 

Water Came Threatening Life

I wandered from one farmstead to another. A night here, a day there. I reached one such farmstead, and found the woman of the house by herself. She refused to allow me into her home out of fear. I begged her to take me indoors for at least one night. In the end, she relented. She left me alone in the house saying that she was going to find her husband in the field, and encourage him to invite guests to come for a harvest festival that was to take place in their home.

The house appeared to be neglected. I polished the kitchenware, got rid of the filth, and established a remarkable and basic cleanliness. Afterwards, I cooked up a variety of delicacies, suitable to the gentile taste, and when they returned from the field, the homeowners were astonished to see what was before them.

During the party, the peasant praised all of the dishes and said that in all his days he had not tasted food like this. Because of this, they permitted me to spend the night in their house. The peasant said that I would stay with them until the end of the war. This hope lit up my face for a minute. I breathed easily, and I grew at ease, lying down with the gentile woman to sleep. The peasant went outside to guard his possessions from the various bands that roamed the land.

We had not even fallen asleep when the peasant came into the house in a state of agitation and urged us to get dressed quickly because Bolbovist brigands had surrounded the farmstead. We went outside and moved away from the house. From a distance, we saw all of the huts going up in flames. After a short time my hosts' hut also burned down. They were left without a roof over their heads, not a piece of bread, and with only the clothing they were wearing. But they had identification passes, and I did not. I moved off to the side, broke through the barbed wire that formed the fence, and skirted the roadblock. By various indirect ways, I reached Sarny, and once again, went to the house of the elderly woman.

 

Beside the International Table

It is Christmas 1943, about two weeks before the liberation. Winds were telling us that bad news was blowing from the front toward the German army, which was in full retreat. In a few days the summer will come for my troubles as well.

The whole family of the elderly woman and a few invited guests surrounded the holiday table. One guest, invited by one of the daughters, was a German officer, who was feeling embarrassed as a result of the retreat. Another guest was a tall Hungarian officer, who came and went among the houses of the young people from the elderly lady's family, and who did not conceal his deep–seated hatred for the Germans.

In a way, this was a sort of international table. The family of the elderly woman was mixed with people of Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, German, Hungarian, extraction, and for a bizarre international ornament, myself, a Jewess, a camouflaged representative of the exterminated nation. We were “celebrating” Christmas together.

 

The Day for Which I Hoped

January 11, 1944 arrived as Liberation Day, the day I long hoped for. The house of my hosts and rescuers was sunken in a state of oppressed spirits. As for me, my heart beat with such force, it burst from my chest.

As evening arrived the family members entered the house, each one deep in one's own thoughts. Sash'ka was certainly taking stock of his excess zeal with regard to his relationship with the Ukrainian police who were murderers of the Jews.

There was a knock at the door. The members of the household were afraid to open it. Now, I was the strong one. I opened the door wide, exactly the way I would have done it as a little girl at my father's house on the night of the Seder, when I opened the door in honor of Elijah, the Prophet. Soviet soldiers entered the house and asked for something to drink. I gave them water and the soldier ordered me to drink first as he suspected the possibility of being poisoned. I understood his reasoning. At that instant I broke down and burst out in tears that had been bottled up inside of me, ossified and suppressed, for 500 days of torture to my soul. The life of a sole surviving person in the world, and a life sustained through the kindness of good people.

The soldiers were taken aback. The people of the house explained who I was.

On the following day, Soviet Army personnel began to stream to the house, especially Jewish officers and soldiers, in order to observe this great miracle, because in their journey from Stalingrad to Sarny, they had not encountered a living Jew.

I became the conversation piece for all of the units that were billeted in Sarny.

With each additional passing day, the saved “smoking embers” began to emerge, some from the forest, others from hiding places.

We had not yet managed to breathe the air of freedom deeply, and Sarny became the target for heavy German bombings. Jews, who in the course of 500 days had gone through every fire of hell, who in the end emerged from darkness into light, and were saved from the talons of the Nazis, met their end in this Nazi bombardment.

And those whom these Nazi bombs could not reach, and managed to avoid this danger in one piece, began, by whatever means they had, to take revenge on the gentiles, who had murdered our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, and to acknowledge those who did good by us, and who saved us.

But the revenge and the gratitude, and even the tears that ran down our cheeks on the mass graves, did not fill our lives with substance. We saw ourselves walking through some giant cemetery. Every stone in a wall screamed out about the life of people that were cut off, including the elderly, women, children, youngsters and newborn, alike. The killing a Ukrainian murderer, or handing over gentiles to be tried in court, paled beside the spilled blood of a murdered people that cried out to us.

Those of us who survived felt compelled to live not only our lives, but also the lives of those who were murdered. But you cannot live out a life in a cemetery. Because of this, we turned our faces to the Moledet, the Land of Israel!


[Page 347]

In a Partisan Division

By Zalman Perlmutter

Edited by Karen Leon

During the time of the liquidation of the Sarny ghetto, it became possible for me to flee the extermination place at the moment that the barbed wire fence was breached. I ran to the village of Lyukhcha, near Sarny, where I knew all of the peasants, and all ways to get out. However, I could not remain here, and I wandered about in the forests for several weeks, hungry, naked and barefoot.

One time I entered the home of a peasant I knew, who informed me that a few Jews were located in the forests of Karasyn. I set off to the vicinity of the Karasyn forests, to meet up with the Jews. Upon arriving in Karasyn, I met up with Ber'l Bick, Aharon Teich, Shimon Feikov, Yoss'l Olshansky, Yudl Kracman, Lieb'sheh Langer, and others, approximately one hundred men, together with wives and children.

One time when I came to the home of Semyon Bandera in Karasyn to discuss provisioning matters, he told me the Germans sent a Ukrainian teacher into the village, who spied on all matters, and turned over information to the Germans. Using the information obtained from this teacher, several days previously the Germans seized two girls from Rokitno, and a young man, Shapiro, from a hut. The Germans took them away to Klesow and killed them there. The peasant, Bandera, said that if we did not get rid of this teacher, and remove him from the village, he would turn over all of the Jews to the Germans who were found in the Karasyn forests.

We decided that we would get rid of this German spy, at any price. We followed him for several days, until we found him in the home of the peasant, Lavrem. This was in the evening. Looking through the window, we spied the teacher carrying on a conversation with two gentile girls, while the owner of the house was circulating about the house. When they extinguished the fire, and went to sleep in the stable, we, that is, Shimon Fykov, Simcha Duisenberg from DabrowicaShmulik (son–in–law of Khmareh) and I, surrounded the stable. One of us shone a light through a crack, and with a well–aimed shot, Shimon Fykov, dispatched the Ukranian teacher, the German spy.

At the end of the year 1942, I left Karaysn together with Joseph Olshansky, with the objective of finding and joining partisan divisions. We found a division of partisans when we arrived at the village of Vezhytszya. The commander explained that if we brought our own weaponry, he would take us on board. Neither of us had arms, and our situation was problematic. Yoss'l Olshansky turned back to Karasyn, and I remained alone.

About a day later, I met up with Herschel Olshansky (now living in Israel), who came from the village of Stare–Selo. He was the commander of a mining Otriad. When he became aware of my plight, he immediately gave me a gun, a little ammunition, taught me how to manage firearms, and informed me about the protocols of the partisans.

Several days later, an Otryad of about 400 men was organized, and we joined up with the Otriad named for the General Suborov, under the direction of Plaskunov (sent by a Desant from Russia). The Commissar of the Otriad was a Jew from Russia, Mikhail Palinsky.

We occupied ourselves with laying mines under trains transporting German troops, ammunition and provisions, and we blew up bridges, military camps, etc. Later on, it was reported through the ‘prikaz dnya' of the Otriad, that the division of Herschel Olshansky was responsible for the destruction of 26 echelons, and many other military objectives. Several times, Mr. Herschel Olshansky was awarded high military awards for distinction.

A couple of months later, Yoss'l Olshansky returned to us from Karasyn. By this time, I was an established partisan, who had received a medal. I went to the commander with a request for him to take us into the Otriad, including Yoss'l Olshansky. He was taken on, and began to implement a variety of military missions. In this way, we both went out together with the objective of attacking the German echelons. By that time, it was impossible to get close to the rail lines. The Germans had chopped down the trees and growth around the rail line, 150 meters deep, for security reasons. Our partisans would shoot up the trains with automatic weapons. Yoss'l Olshansky was wounded in one such sortie. Herschel Olshansky carried him away from the fire in his own arms, and administered first–aid, but a couple of hours later, Yoss'l Olshansky died of his wounds.

I believe it to be my obligation to recount the great feats attributed to Herschel Olshansky. He was a heroic partisan, Jewish hero and a good man, who risked his own life to save and help Jews. Under the most difficult circumstances, he did not forget that we were Jews. When the day of Yom Kippur arrived, he provided us with a Mahzor, and we recited our prayers in the forest.

It is also appropriate to recall the heroism and loyalty of the partisan, Shimon Feikov (living in America). His heroism knew no bounds. He made extraordinary efforts on behalf of the Jews in the forests and for his fellow partisans. He was severely wounded in one of our missions. A special airplane from Russia transported him to a hospital, where he recovered from his wounds. He was decorated with high military medals a number of times, for his heroic actions. May they both be blessed for their deeds!


[Page 349]

In the Soviet Army

By Issachar Bastus

Edited by Karen Leon

After the outbreak of the war and the Soviet occupation, I received permission to attend the local manual trade school which had not accepted Jews while under Polish control. It was a three–year school, and the Soviets also offered a year–long course relating to railroad work. After finishing this course, I worked at the railroad.

Many refugees arrived in Sarny from the German occupied territories during the Soviet occupation. These refugees practically doubled the number of Jews in the city. After the outbreak of the German–Soviet War, very few Jews left with the retreating trains. The refugees cautioned against fleeing as they felt there was no great difference. The Germans first entered on July 3. Until then, many of those who did flee decided to return as they were not given permission to enter Soviet territory. I too, left, with my sisters Gittl and Chana, and was unable to cross the old Polish–Soviet border. At the end of June, an ‘echelon' (train–transport) was organized, which consisted of railroad workers, and I left with them.

Along the way, on the outskirts of Kiev, the echelon was struck by bombs. Some of the young Jewish youth fell. I was able to find my way into another echelon with two other comrades from Sarny: Joseph Lifschitz and Shabtai Voroneh. They had remained to work at the large railroad station in the city of Rtishchevo, between Moscow and Saratov, for a half year until the end of February 1942. Living conditions were extremely trying. I volunteered to serve in the army and was twice rejected as a Westerner. On the third attempt, I presented myself as a Soviet Jew, and I was accepted. I was sent to Officers' School, graduated, and was sent to the front, took part in many battles, and was severely wounded.

I arrived at a hospital where my left foot was amputated. I was in the hospital for 6 months in the city of Irbit (the Sverdlovsk area). When I was released from there in August 1944, I began to write to Sarny, which, in the meantime, had been liberated. The letters came back with a note appended that the addresses were no longer found. I searched for relatives in the registers of the evacuees (in the Soviet Union), and was indeed able to locate a relative in Tashkent and traveled to see him. I stayed with him for two months, after which we both set out for Sarny. We got there at the end of October. We encountered about 100 Jews in the city. The greeting from the Ukrainians was: “You are still alive?”

I looked for another female cousin, exhausting myself for yet another year in Sarny, and in August 1945 went to Poland. I was in Poland for a month, in Bytom, afterwards crossing the border and arriving in Germany, residing in the Landsberg Displaced Persons' camp for three years, where I learned the watch making trade. In 1948, already after The State of Israel had been established, I made aliyah to Israel. After spending a month in a residence for immigrants, I settled in Ramleh, set myself up in a shop, and in 1951 married Rachel Weinshall from Campulung, Rumania.

 

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