by Meir Walkin
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
As far back as 1944, I found all around, piles of bones, torn clothing, worn out shoes, and yellow stars. Hundreds of those who were saved, who had the chance to flee from the [killing] field while they were still sound in body, even from them only few remained alive. Many of them, dazed and confused, wandered through the streets of the city, and there, they were seized and shot. Among these, was my friend Meir Gamerman. Even among those, who were able to conceal themselves, and afterwards found their way to the forests and the partisans only few of these remained alive. There were those, who attempted to hide themselves, but they could not maintain themselves without any support, and on their way to people they knew, they were seized and killed. Among these was Chaya Lifschitz and others. Only those whom fate dealt with kindly, and who were able to hide themselves with righteous gentiles, especially among the ‘Shtundtists,’ ‘Believers,’ remained alive. Individuals among them are to be found in The Land.
The elderly and the sick were shot in their homes, and buried by the threshold, as was the case of the fatherinlaw of Shlomo Walkin, Itzik Muszer, Baruch Gunk, and Teich. Korowoczka and Freed were provided with food by gentile neighbors for a short time, in exchange for a suitable price. In the end, they decided to take all the money in one fell swoop from these hapless people, arose, and killed them. Several of those who were saved lost heart, gave up, and turned themselves over to the Nazis, as was the case with the daughter of Spivak. Fishel'e Gamerman was seized by the Germans at an hour when he emerged from his hideout and killed him. His brother, Yaakov, was seized by farmers, who turned him over to the Germans, and after torturing him, they killed him.
There were instances of poisoning. The Germans fed a whole group with salted fish, after which they gave them poisoned water to drink. People died in terrible agony, among them Simcha Murik, and 6 other scions of Sarny.
The three mass graves, that swallowed up all the Jews of Sarny and its vicinity, were straightened out in the fullness of time. Only shoes, torn clothing, and lime that had been poured there to soak up the blood, served as testimony to what had happened there.
The Erection of a Monument
This is what those pits looked like in the summer of 1944. Over one of them, there was a road that led to the forest that the farmers would use. At the first memorial that was arranged immediately after the liberation, the remnant survivors from the entire area gathered, some already had arms in hand, and swore to revenge the spilled blood. They volunteered to join the Red Army, and of them, there were those that did not come back, among these Sholom Pinczuk from Rokitno.
After the memorial service, we decided to dig a trench around the location in order to prevent travel over these graves. This trench proved to be troublesome, and in time, it became filled with sand. Winter came, and the surviving remnants, most of whom were not Sarny residents, slowly accustomed themselves to normal life, and forgot the obligation that had been placed on them with regard to the martyrs. We raised money to erect a memorial on the mass grave, but the matter was not implemented, and the money also disappeared.
Occasionally, I would go near the graves, while armed, and I would shoot at the dogs that would be rooting around in the pit, pulling out corpses, and gorge on them, since there was only a thin layer of dirt that covered them. I decided to arouse the Jews of Sarny and demand of them that they not leave this mass grave in such a condition, because it is a shame on us. I also turned to the Sarny municipality, and demanded action, because the matter was one of their responsibility. I argued that the residents of the city had inherited much in the way of valuable goods from these martyrs, and their houses. The people of the city responded, that during wartime, is not the time to try and procure the necessary materials, and priority has to be given to other matters of greater importance.
The first undertaking that appeared to me to be important, was the matter of the grave stones, that were taken during the days of the Nazis, from the graves at the Jewish cemetery, for purposes of paving a road from the municipal hospital to the barracks. I saw in this an insult that demanded rectification. I thought that it was necessary to take the road paving apart, and to transfer the grave stones to the mass grave. The transfer of those grave stones, at that time, entailed a great deal of difficulty.
I consulted with my Heder friend, Joseph Wolf, how to carry out this mission. We turned to a number of the army units, that were billeted in Sarny, who possessed heavy transport equipment. In one of the brigades, they agreed to transfer the grave stones, in exchange for a high price, and an additional 1800 liters of oil, that, in those days, was virtually impossible to procure. We turned to a number of other sources, but with no results.
When all options were exhausted, we decided to turn to the Commander of the N.K.V.D. brigade, Kolkov, whom we knew, and asked him to help us in connection with this matter. We wanted him to get the impression that all the Jews of Sarny were asking for his help. Dr. Zweiman, Wolf and I, participated in this delegation. Without using many words, Kolkov promised to send, on a specified day with no compensation demand, 3 officers and 15 soldiers with three freight trucks for purposes of transferring the grave stones to the mass grave. On the designated day, I gathered the surviving remnants in Sarny, and together with the soldiers, we loaded the grave stones on the trucks, and transferred them to the three burial sites. During the time of the transfer, some of the grave stones were broken.
The Jews of Sarny After the Liberation
Those that had been saved, began to return from the forests, and a number of them even began to rebuild their lives that had been destroyed. When some time had passed, Jews also began to return, who had fled to Russia, or had served in the army. One of the gentiles had guarded a Torah scroll, and returned it to the Jews upon their return. The Torah scroll was placed in the Fabrikant home, in which a minyan gathered for prayer for an interlude as was the house of Pesach Borko [which served as] a meeting place.
Most of the Jews, who returned from Russia, were missing everything. It was necessary to arrange getting work for them, and to get them their initial necessities. The Jews donated generously, helping out, and taking an interest in the communityatlarge, but it was time that wrought its effects. Slowly, slowly, they began to forget what had happened to them. Letters began to arrive from The Land, to which I responded to a few. After a time, packages began to arrive from America. We would collect these and distribute their contents to the needy.
Life was tense. We heard shooting at frequent intervals. With the onset of darkness, everyone closeted themselves in their houses for fear of the Banderovtsy that roamed through the streets at that time. From timetotime, soldiers and police were killed outside the city. There were instances when trains were derailed. The solitary walkers at night, among the Jews, were my Heder friend Joseph Wolf, and I who were wellarmed. Periodically, during the first of the winter evenings, I would go off to the railroad station, look over everyone, and search to see if there was any Jew that I could help, or save (how I loved Jews at that time, with all my might!). More than once would I endanger myself, in order to avert trouble from a Jewish person whom I did not know previously. Occasionally, I would run into freight trains, whose cars were locked, with people in them, whose facial characteristics were similar to that of Jews, but I did not believe that after everything, they would bring Jews to the north.
A policeman once notified me, that two Jewish women, that had debarked from a train going to a coal mine in Central Asia, Karaganda, missed getting back on the train. I found them immediately, and for about two days they were with Zeigermeister. They did not know any language other than German. I began to doubt that they were Jewish. It was too difficult for me to imagine that Jewish women would be imprisoned, and brought to a mine after all that they had gone through. I began to suspect that I was offering protection to German women. I began by asking them what they knew about Judaism, and one knew a little of ‘Ma Nishtana,’ and the blessings after eating a meal. She swore that the second woman was also Jewish. I was convinced, because it didn't seem plausible that a gentile woman would know ‘Ma Nishtana.’ Not knowing any other language except German worked against them. I was called not only once to explain the status of the Jewish women in Sarny at the time they were sent to Karaganda, to the mines. I was once called to the N.K.V.D. in order that I translate what they said, during an investigation. I translated to the best of my ability, until I got stuck on one word. At that time, a second woman, sitting in another room replied, whom I did not see at all, That is to say, they were testing me as well, to see if I would faithfully tell everything they would tell, and not leave anything out. Despite this, I did not neglect them. After all, they were Jewish women.
I was once called by the authorities and it was said to me that if I did not send them away, they will be arrested and sent to a specified location. At the same time, matters became very serious. An emigration began to Poland. For this reason, I got in touch with Schwartzblatt from Rokitno, and on one fine day, I put them on board a train without permission, I paid whatever I paid on their behalf, to them into trustworthy hands, that would take them to Rokitno to Schwartzblatt, and together with the Jews they departed for Rokitno.
One time my Heder friend, Wolf came to me and told me about an abandoned child that they wanted to send to an orphanage, and we ended by taking him to us. The child remained with us until he emigrated to Poland, and from there to The Land to Kibbutz Masaryk.
The people in authority were almost all Russians. They were permitted to befriend only Jews. They looked disapprovingly on officers that had come in contact with Poles and Ukrainians.
The winter came to an end, and we discussed the fact that, after many years, it is time for us to taste the taste of matzos during Passover. In the year 1945, this was no simple or easy matter.
With the help of the army leadership, we brought in wood, and flour was brought to us from Rivne by train. We got together at the house of Fabrikant, we kneaded, rolled, baked, and after many years, we joyfully tasted matzos. For the first Seder, I sat at the table of Dr. Zweiman.
We began to receive news from The Land. People from Vilna in Lithuania began to travel by way of Sarny and Rivne on their way to the port of Constance. They would have to stop in Rivne and there was a need to change their papers, to prevent pursuers from apprehending them.
The principal source for these documents was Sarny. These papers would reach Rivne, and given over to Lidowsky. Occasionally, Jews would fall into the trap, and there was a need to extract them, with full dedication of heart and soul. Occasionally we would travel to Rivne, for a clandestine meeting of all the Zionists in the area, listening to news and making an assessment of the situation.
After many difficulties, I too left Sarny, and set my own way to The Land.
By Joseph Wolf
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
When I returned to Sarny from the forests and the partisans, in the year 1944 at the Passover season, I found a [small] number of Jews in the destroyed city who had begun to get themselves in order. I too began to look for a suitable arrangement [for myself] for the time that I was to remain in the city.
Since I was taken into the partisans and excelled in combat, earning all the medals for distinction I received a recommendation to the General Secretary of the province (Райсполком) in Sarny, asking for him to have me properly settled. The secretary received me genially, and appointed me as the officer in charge of food distribution to the office of the N.K.V.D., and to the army billeted in the city.
All natives of Sarny certainly remember the buildings of the military barracks on the Polesia side [of the city]. The Germans took the grave stones from the [Jewish] cemetery, and used them to pave walkways between the buildings of the barracks. In passing one time alongside the buildings, I sensed the Hebrew letters on the faces of the grave stones. At that place, I decided not to leave the city until the grave stones were removed and brought to the mass graves of the Jews of Sarny and its vicinity.
At the same time, Meir Walkin came back from Russia. He was alone, and bereaved, like the rest of us. I welcomed him with open arms and I helped to find local work as was possible. In the meantime, additional Jews arrived from Russia and the forests. At meetings, there was considerable discussion on properly taking care of the graves of the martyrs. We began by collecting money for this purpose, but the matter did not move ahead because a part of the surviving remnants began to leave the city and emigrate to Poland. It was already the year 1945, after the end of The World War. I understood that this was the time to act, because if not all of us would disperse and the deed would not be done.
First, it was necessary to obtain permission to remove the grave stones. After that, we looked for a means to transport the grave stones, in which the weight of any one was approximately 7080 pood. Of the things not available was freight equipment to lift loads, except what was in the hands of the army billeted in the city.
The Commander of the army in Sarny in those days was a Russian Colonel (Полковийк) named Kolkov. I stopped off at his house, in connection with my mission, and asked him to place at our disposal 3 freight trucks, and about twenty soldiers to help us in transferring the grave stones. Despite the fact that fulfilling this request was not among the easy things to do, he did not turn me away emptyhanded.
This was approximately on one of the days of the month of Av in 1945.
A group of Sarny Jews gathered on the field designated as the place to gather together. At eight o'clock in the morning, I put my energy to the task, with the appropriate permits in my hand. In somewhat less than an hour, I received the trucks, and the 20 soldiers for help. The Sarny Jews waited impatiently for my arrival, and then went to work without delay. Approximately 80 gravestones were found on the walkways. The work of moving the stones was completed by 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
As I indicated, Meir Walkin of Nemovychi worked by my side. He worked a great deal in providing order for the mass graves. I released him from work and placed a wagon and two horses at his disposal. We brought a mason from Zdolbuniv and a craftsman who built up three stone monuments, on which were etched the following:
14,000 Jews of Sarny & Vicinity
May Their Souls Be Bound Up In The Bond Of Life
After this, we put up an iron rail fence around the gravestones, with barbed wire.
The work was finished in the month of Elul. I decided to leave the city.
By Raya KramerHuberman
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
It is autumn of 1941. The war is at its peak intensity, and we, a small part of the scions of our city that managed to successfully escape at the last minute, could not tarry for any length of time in any one place, because the enemy pursued us, advancing and capturing large tracts of Russia. We melded into a large stream of refugees and continued to flee. After a great deal of difficult wandering, fate brought us to the heart of Soviet Russia, to Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Most of the area residents were Uzbeks, who did not conceal their animosity towards us. Their way of life and customs were strange to us and the climate was harsh. The days were very warm, and at night, the cold oppressed us. A few of us found work, and in exchange, received a ration card for bread, occasionally also a gruel made of water and groats. The standard per capita bread ration was 400 grams, and this was the core of our nourishment.
Hunger, and the absence of the minimal conditions for the sustenance of human life, took their toll. Infectious diseases, dysentery, typhus, fever all put an end to the wandering and the tribulations of many of us. Our dearest found their eternal rest in the maladies of a distant and alien place.
One of those, who could not withstand the exposure to hunger, was one of the dedicated community activists from our city, Mr. Tartakowsky zl. Who among us, did not recognize Mr. Tartakowsky in the ten years before the war? He was the progenitor of Keren HaKayemet L'Israel, in whose house the meetings and gettogethers of all the community activists took place. Despite his advanced age, he was always full of energy, like a young man. He was the one who organized the celebrations of Hanukkah, Purim and Tu B'Shevat, for the benefit of the KKL. We recollect him dressed in his black suit, circulating through the hall, as the master of ceremonies. At the moment that a circle was formed to dance the ‘Hora,’ he would join in the dance to the pleasure of everyone.
Our first meeting with Mr. Tartakowsky took place in one of the Sovkhozes in Uzbekistan. How much joy he took in seeing us! He told us, that his son and his bride were to be found in a nearby city. He works very hard in a Sovkhoz, and is lucky to still have the strength to work. He wanted us to stay with him, and proposed to us the use of space in his little room. We did not stay, because our faces were turned to the city.
After several months went by, which were very difficult, the memory of which will be permanently etched forever in our souls, I met Mr. Tartakowsky in the street. An old man stood before me, declining, and very scrawny, his clothes worn and torn, his cheekbones and nose very much sticking out, and his eyes deeply sunken in their sockets. It was difficult to recognize him. He was happy at the encounter, saying that he was looking for us throughout the entire city. The hard work and hunger had broken his strength, and he had come to live with his son and his bride. His circumstances were harsh. ‘Would it not be better for me to die in my house and my dear grandson would remain alive with his parents?’ he said, as tears rolled from his eyes. We knew that his grandson had remained under the Germans, while studying at Lvov. From that encounter onwards, we met at frequent intervals, speaking at length, and recollecting memories of our city and its people. I can recall how this man wept for not having made aliyah in his time, saying: ‘To you, the young, there is still hope, that you will see Our Land, and live, but my hope is lost.’ He could not be still or rest because the burden of his care had fallen on his son. He looked for every opportunity to earn some coins for sustenance.
After some time had passed, in the winter, I saw him in the market selling fragments made from bottles. ‘See,’ he said to me, ‘there are good things to eat in the market bread, raisins, but where does one get money?’ One day, he came to us and told us that he was compelled to enter the hospital. He was beset with intense stomach pains. He was hoping that an operation would cure him. We did not see him after that.
After a while, I circulated about all of the hospitals, from one to another. I looked for him, and asked after him, but did not find him. ‘He was just one victim of the war,’ I was told. They did not even want to exert themselves to find his name in the long lists. Had he remained alive, we surely would have run into him.
He went off to his final rest, as a dear and closely held man.
By Bruriah BegunZilberg
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
I visited Sarny after the repatriation from Russia, when the transport stopped in the city for a few days.
My first steps were in the direction of Ulica Narutowica, where the house in which we dwelt stood. Only a few small houses remained standing on their hillocks. It was by using these [landmarks], that I was able to find the place I was looking for. The house of my grandfather Zingerman (beside Friszkulnik's house) remained intact, but it was seized by ‘heirs.’ On opening the door, I encountered Feodor, the Shabbos Goy of my grandmother Nechama. The room was full of potatoes, and on the floor of the big kitchen tart apples. The kitchen, from which the scent of the foods for Jewish festivals wafted within, had been turned into a warehouse of the ‘heir.’
The ‘heir’ and his family were voluble in telling me about the slaughter. According to his words, he was to be found on the marketplace square that day. They told me that, several days after the slaughter, my uncles Zvi Zingerman and AharonGodel Gruszko were buried alive, with holy books in their hands. In their last minutes, they convinced others to give them a Jewish burial.
Brokenhearted, I left my grandfather's house. I ran through Ulica Sadowa, that had practically been unscathed, to the Wide Boulevard (Breyteh Gasse). The houses of the Jews were occupied by Christians who murdered and then inherited.
I passed by the Tarbut School, whose textbooks were used to educate hundreds of students in Zionism, the pioneering ethos, and the Hebrew language. My heart congealed when I saw that, in the school building, there were also Christian families living there.
Stunned and exhausted, bereaved and with an uncovered head, I returned to the train and the coterie of the returnees. Every street and every corner staggered me. I encountered the teacher Tendler, who had returned from Russia, and it was in his mind to settle down in Sarny for family reasons.
I rushed to get past the houses that in the past had served as a warm and bright corner. Here were the offices of HaShomer HaTza'ir and HeHalutz. I did not stop beside them, making quickly for the train, whose time to be at the station was not fixed.
On the following day, I returned to the city. At the train station, ran into a woman, who looked at me with a penetrating gaze, and began to shout in Russian: ‘Breinde'leh Begun! Give some money!’ Someone hinted to me about her in a derisive whisper: She's crazy! I recognized her as [name obscured] the daughter of the widowed seamstress. Her visage and eyes were terrifying. Here dress was in tatters, her breasts obscured, and she carried two babies in her arms, and she shouts: ‘Money! Money!’ I gave the pitiable woman 50 rubles, and made fast along the length of the Wide Boulevard. In the Borko house I found the families of: Dr. Zweiman and Dr. Steinberg.
Mrs. Zweiman was the most emotionally overcome. I reminded her of her son, Bunya, whom I served as a Hebrew teacher. Mrs. Zweiman escorted me on my return to the train. Along the way, she told me of their plans to make aliyah immediately after their son returned from the Red Army.
In my heart also, the decision coalesced, in the face of the destruction of my beloved city To The Land! All energy, and all life to the building of the Land of Israel.
By From the Testimony of Joseph Fabrikant & His Wife
(Recorded by Meir Walkin)
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
On our return to Sarny, before the Passover Festival of 1944, one of the lady neighbors told me that Polish lady Studinska has a Torah scroll in her possession.
It was Mendl the Shammes zl, who took the Torah scroll out of the synagogue of the Berezne Hasidim, and fled with it, [running] from his pursuers for the entire length of Ulica Topolova. When he reached the place opposite the Studinska residence he was hit by a bullet. He fell with his face facing the top of the Torah scroll, and the Torah was in his arms. It was in this way that Mendl the Shammes gave up his life in purity.
Afterwards, the lady, Studinska took the Torah scroll out from between Mendl's arms, and hid it a box that was in the attic of her house. The Torah scroll was stained with the blood of the one who was murdered.
Yitzhak Geller zl and I received the Torah scroll from the lady Studinska, who did not want to take any payment for her effort and we brought it to my house.
Mr. Feigelstein (Itzik I think) brought the Torah scroll to Rivne for an inspection. The scribe certified that the scroll was intact, and it would be possible to use it [for ritual purposes]. We washed the blood off and we used the scroll for the entire time that we were in Sarny at the ‘minyan’ that was formed in my house.
When I left Sarny, I wanted to take the Torah scroll with me, but at the request of the Messrs. Walkin, Dr. Zweiman, and Drakh, I left it in the hands of the Jews that remained behind. I gave it to Mr. Drakh, to whose house the ‘minyan’ was transferred.
I was able to assemble many panels from Torah scrolls, with which the Poles covered their windows and doors in various places around the city. When I left Sarny, I took these with me. In Lodz a complete Torah scroll was created out of them which served the worshippers at the ‘minyan’ in my house.
When I left Lodz, I turned over the Torah scroll and my dwelling to the Ritual Slaughterer and the synagogue of the community that was in Lodz.
At this opportunity, it is for me to also take note that the lady Studinska hid three girls with her. One Tzirl Mucznik, the second Szur, and I do not remember the name of the third one.
By Miriam Bergman
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
In 1945, I returned to destroyed Sarny, immediately after its capture by the Red Army. It was in my mind to continue on my way to the vicinity of the city of Pinsk, where I hoped to find someone or another from my family, who, by some miracle, might have remained alive.
A few Sarny Jews, who had collected themselves from the nearby forests, and who knew me from joint efforts we had engaged in as partisans, were interested in having me remain in Sarny. They informed the army command of my outstanding service as a partisan. I was immediately invited for a discussion at the N.K.V.D. office. During this discussion, they attempted to convince me that no Jews remained in the Pinsk vicinity and there was no purpose in me traveling there. [They indicated] that it would be better for me to remain in Sarny and work with them.
I still remembered very well those days of denouement of the ghetto, and its liquidation, that passed over me in Sarny, to which I had come from the city of DavidHorodok together with my mother Golda, and my little sister, Faygl'eh. After the men in DavidHorodok were taken out, in a pitiless way to be killed, after being taken to work on a daily basis, the women and children, that remained alive, were dispersed, and some of them reached Sarny. We took up residence with our relatives, Gildenhorn, whose house was inside the confined of the ghetto on Ulica Podolska. My mother and sister were exterminated on the Day of Slaughter, and I was saved at the hour that the fence was breached on the field where they concentrated us.
I very well remembered all the things that happened, and I recognized a number of the Christian residents who took part in the Nazi initiative during the days of the ghetto. The thought was that it might be within my capacity to exact revenge from the murderers, moved me to accept the proposal of the head of the N.K.V.D. and to begin work in his office.
And it came to pass, that with the passage of time, it became possible for me to find a few of these, who held Jewish assets in their possession, that had been plundered from the ghetto immediately after the Jews had been taken out from there. I succeeded in having them imprisoned, and at the time I left the area they were still incarcerated, waiting for sentence to be passed against them.
The leadership of the N.K.V.D. knew that my entire family had been cut down, and as a partisan, I had participated in many missions, accorded me full trust, and were diligent in assigning to me a post with responsibility for issuing residence permits (Паспортная Отделенне) and for the general archives that had been seized from the Gestapo during the capture [of the city].
In conversations with the Sarny Jews, I would frequently hear sentiments of pain, over the fact that not one of them had any memorabilia left of their relatives, not even a photo, or a card of some sort. I was reminded that in one of the armoires in the N.K.V.D. office I had run into passports that were tied up in bundles. I proposed that the disabled partisans should turn to the Head Commander, to ask if he might agree to turn over to them the pictures that remained on the passport documents.
When I saw the distress of the people on their return from their meeting with the Commander, who refused to respond to their request, and as one of them, their pain was my pain. I decided, despite the danger involved in the matter, to act on my own volition, and take out the pictures and turn them over to these saved smoking embers of the surviving remnant. I hoped that, among these passports, I might find a picture of my mother, my aunt Pia Gildenhorn, and the rest of the members of the family of my uncle, Abraham Gildenhorn who were exterminated.
On one Sunday evening when all the employees had gone off and the offices were closed, I entered my office, and approached the task with no little trepidation. I did not feel that my presence in the office at this hour would arouse a suspicion of sorts, because it was a usual occurrence that lights from the office would shine to the outside at all hours of the night, and especially since the interrogation of prisoners were mostly conducted at late night hours especially. Nevertheless, I was afraid of an accidental intrusion by one of the commanders. I worked feverishly all night, and managed to remove all of the pictures that were at hand. I retied all of the passports, and returned them to their original place in the armoire.
After examining if there was a picture of anyone from my family, or of relatives that were found in the package, I began to distribute the pictures to those who turned to me. All of the pictures that remained with me, I turned over afterwards to A.B. Feld, in order that he distribute them to the residents of the city who would turn to him. Our comrades Meir Walkin, Joseph Wolf, and Ber'l Bick knew about this also, and there were others, whose names I do not remember.
When I came to The Land, I discovered that Mr. Feld had already managed to make aliyah, and he brought along the pictures I had given to him.
I was very happy at the effort displayed by the Organization of Sarny Emigres, that had succeeded in making a permanent memorial to the martyrs in such a beautiful manner by printing them in the Sarny Yizkor Book.
By Yaakov Niemoy
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
Up to the German Invasion
I was 3 years old when my parents moved to Sarny. I was an only child. My father was a specialist
broker. He worked in the forest of the firm of Berezovsky & Lerner (Jews who owned forest property and largescale merchants, who lived in Warsaw).
By the age of eight, I belonged to the Zionist youth organization of HaShomer HaTza'ir. After completing the Tarbut School (7 grades), I learned carpentry for three years at the ORT school. However, I did not work as a carpenter. I went off for training in a Kibbutz run by HaShomer HaTza'ir. After three years of training, I came back home to my parents. I got work from the forest merchant Berezovsky, at the ‘Ostki’ train station, not far from Sarny. I worked as a board cutter in a factory, and became the overseer of the entire section, which was comprised of about 100 men.
At the beginning of 1939, my boss, the rich merchant Berezovsky, wanted to thank me for my good work. He decided to send me to the Land of Israel. I was to enter the Land of Israel illegally.
Several months later, I set out with an entire group on the way. We reached the Rumanian border before Czernowicz, but it was already too late, [this being] after the 1st of September when the Germans invaded Poland. After several difficult days of wandering, I came back to Sarny, and there, I already encountered the Soviets.
The Jewish populace received the Soviet forces enthusiastically. The youth was swept up most of all. I, myself, as a craftsman became a senior manager for all the forests of the area. Many Jews attained high positions. There were Jewish members of the [Municipal] Council, such as Dr. Zweiman, and Shmuel Muravinsky. The latter had been a prewar communist, who spent many long years in prison for political activity.
In the Nazi Work Camp
Immediately on the first day of the invasion on the 22nd of June 1941, our city was bombed by the Germans, and a week later it was taken. Many Jews went away with the Soviet military. Many of them evacuated themselves deep into Russia.
At that time, I could be found at my place of work, 70 km from the rail line. We worked up to the last moment. Our leader was a Russian by the name of Pinczuk. Despite the fact that it was difficult to evacuate ourselves from the place where we were, he did not succumb to panic. When I found out that the Germans had taken control of our vicinity, I went off to the forests of DavidHorodok, which stretched on for kilometers. In the forests, I met up with a group of Russian recruits, who had fled from the Germans. They came to trust me, and entrusted me with an important mission. They sent me to the shtetl of Lenin, where I had to meet up with a Russian officer Borisov, who had to give them further direction. When I arrived in Lenin, I no longer had any possibility to carry out the mission. The Nazis were already seizing Jews. As a first priority, they looked for Jewish members of the Communist Party, as well as Jewish members of Komsomol. They had already put to death many members of Komsomol.
The Germans seized me for the purpose of doing work in Gancewicz, in the vicinity of Pinsk. The work in this camp was gruesome. We were frightfully tortured. I decided to escape. In the camp, I began to organize people for an escape, but in the majority of cases I did not obtain concurrence. My comrades argued that the Nazis take a gruesome attitude only towards communists whom they kill, but they won't touch the simple, ordinary people. I then decided to organize a smaller group of people.
When I had finally put together a small group of selected reliable people, we declared to the rest that we were going to head into the forest, and whoever wants to, may come along with us.
Time worked in favor of our plan. The greatest majority of those working in the camp understood that the sword of the executioner was not going to pass over anyone. In the last minutes, all came to stand with our group.
Our plan was carefully conceived and risky, but all understood that there is no other way to find rescue from death. On a specified night, at my signal, the entire camp of 200 people, went away. We were not familiar with the area, and did not know the way. To our misfortune, the Germans noticed the escape from the camp early on, and they used the telephone to alert all the watch posts around. We felt that we were being pursued. Many of our group were killed on the roads, by camouflaged Nazi guard posts. Others, out of fear, decided to turn and go back. Their fate was the most gruesome the Germans put them to death by hanging. The dead bodies hung for an entire week on the scaffolds. The camp, where we had been, was liquidated by the Germans.
A small group of those who escapes, myself included, made strenuous efforts to find units of the Russian partisans in the forests. We went on for entire nights, and rested during the day. A few of us conferred on meeting up with peasants they knew, with whom our parents and relatives had done business. I did not agree with this plan, and I parted from the group and went off alone in search of the partisans.
I set off in the direction of the Pinsk vicinity. I learned from peasants where partisans come together. I waited for 2 days, in the grain near the village, where they would come. Suddenly, I took note of a wagon and a small group of people. By their clothing and by their Russian speech, I understood that these were partisans. I went out towards them, and asked them to stop. They immediately ordered me to put up my hands. They did not permit me to speak, searched me, and told me to lie down on the ground. They aimed their automatic weapons at me, and ordered me to say what sort of a mission the Germans had given me. They told me that I was a spy. I told them that I was a Jew, and how I had fled from the camp, and that my sole life's goal was to exact revenge on the Nazi murderers. The leader of this partisan unit was a Cossack named Khasanov. After many requests, he declared to me that they were on their way to carry out a mission, and through this, they will have the opportunity to immediately assess if I have the skills to be a partisan. The mission consisted of waiting for a small German contingent. Which had to according to information received pass through, not far from the village. They were to be driven off by gunfire, and not be permitted to pass through. I expressed my agreement, and we went off to the farm house ‘Kolki.’
Arriving at the appointed place, each of us took up his position, and needed to wait for the order from the chief, Khasanov. I lay not far from Khasanov. The Germans came into view, walking confidently, speaking loudly and of good cheer. Khasanov gave the order: ‘Огонъ!’ ‘Fire!’ All together at once, we opened fire and commenced shooting from all sides. Several Germans fell immediately, the rest scattered running to hide in the underbrush.
I told Khasanov that I was going to take the rifle from a German, and not waiting for an answer, I set off to the place where a fallen Nazi lay. My fellow combatants shouted after me that I should not go, because the Germans will shoot at me from their hiding places. However, by running, I came to my destination, quickly took the rifle, and immediately came back to my position near Khasanov. How great was my disappointment though, when Khasanov asked me what will I shoot, if I hadn't taken the cartridges for the rifle? He did not, however, suggest that I return to the dead German. I, however, yet again, ran back to the dead German. At that moment, a report was heard, and a bullet lightly grazed the skin on my forehead. The scar has remained with me to this day. I went to take the cartridge belt with the bullets from the dead German, and dragging myself on all fours returned to my position. Khasanov shook my hand with recognition, and clapped me on the shoulder, saying, ‘You are one of us.’
I was brought to the commander of the division, Komarov. This was a MajorGeneral. Khasanov told him about me, and I received permission to remain in the partisan division. For a period of time I was an ordinary fighter. I would often hear jokes being told about Jews, in the form of witty stories about fearful Jews. I decided that with my entire demeanor, I must demonstrate that Jews are not people who are scared, and they embody heroism within themselves.
A fire of vengeance burned inside of me, directed at the Nazis, and a sacred decision to take revenge for the death of my thousands of innocent brethren and sisters. When any opportunity materialized, I would be the first to volunteer for all missions assigned to our division.
My Brigade Commissar Smartov took an interest in why I volunteer for the most dangerous missions. He questioned me as to whether I had parents, whether anyone of my family remained alive. He was a good man, and showed strong sympathy for my fate.
One time, he asked me why it is that I treat my own life so cheaply. I then explained to him, that firstly, Jews are not scared people, and that there are very much more like me among Jews, and therefore all need to know that I am a Jew, and therefore with my entire positioning, I must erase the spurious way Jews are presented, which has become etched into the minds of nonJews. Apart from this, I underscored my burning desire for revenge. Which is no less intense than it is by every Russian person.
From that time on, I was taken in by the brigade staff. I went through a course on how to reconnoiter an area. I would be sent to designated areas, where Soviet airplanes would drop rifles, bullets and grenades for use by various partisan brigades. I was sent for arms and ammunition twice. Once, at the head of a partisan group to Mazyr; the second time to Rokitno, near Klesów. I also went through a course in how to blow up targets (blowing up transports with arms and ammunition, and military troops). I also had a mission to investigate local White Russian peasants who worked for the Germans, and turned over necessary information to us. In the last period, I was the director of such investigations, in connection with the battle against the Ukrainian nationalists the Banderovtsy.
Revenge Against the Murderers
In carrying out various missions, I would very often find out about Jews who were gruesomely killed by the Ukrainian nationalists. In this manner, for example, I became aware that in the village of Viotkewicz the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police seized the Jewish girl Szwiecky, beheaded her with her two long pigtails, impaled it on a staff and carried it around the village for an entire day, on Sunday. I verified in less than a half year afterwards as to how this transpired.
In this time, as the scout leader, I had 10 men under my command, all Russians. Our special unit had the right to carry out death sentences, on its own, against agents and collaborators with the Nazis. I went off, with my entire group of 10 men into the village of Viotkewicz. We stopped in the village for a day, and investigated among the peasants as to who it was that killed the Szwiecky girl. They pointed out 16 German collaborators to us Ukrainian agents from the Gestapo. We looked them up. Arrested and bound them. Then, we drove the entire village together in front of the church. I stood myself on a stone, and in a raised voice, read through the death sentence against the 16 murderers, in the name of the Soviet authorities, who bestially murdered the Jewish girl. I declared to those gathered together, that I, Jaszka Golovorez, a Jew, personally will carry out the sentence. My people set up their automatic weapons around, and with a series of bullets, I shot the 16 Ukrainian murderers.
My nom de guerre, ‘Jaszka Golovorez’ instilled fear in everyone, who most certainly had murdered Jews or turned them over to the Nazis.
A second very interesting incident from my life as a partisan happened not far from the shtetl of Olevsk, where a unit of Vlasovites was stationed. My unit was given a mission to agitate them so that they would reverse and return to the Soviet side, and they would be pardoned for their transgression. It is known, that especially in the last period of the war, many traitors returned to the Soviet army. I presented to the commander of the brigade, that I have a peasant not far from the shtetl, someone my parents knew, a certain Gavriliuk. I obtained six men to accompany me to go to him and to research the situation of the Vlasovites. I dressed myself in the uniform of a German S.S. officer, and my men in the uniforms of German police, and we went off to Gavriliuk. I entered his house alone, and my people, who remained outside, were ordered by me not to let anyone into the house without my order.
When I entered, Gavriliuk was sitting at the table eating. Seeing me, he leapt up and called out: Heil Hitler! I then took the German cap off of my head, and said to him in Russian: Don't you recognize me? His eyes bulges out of his head, and immediately recognized me. With a broken voice, and tears in his eyes, he began to question me about the fate of my parents. I then told him that I was a partisan, and that I wanted to know everything that he knew about the Vlasovites, who are stationed not far from the village. I entreated him, as someone who was known to my parents, who had been gruesomely murdered, that he quickly relate to me all information about the Vlasovites, because I do not have much time. Instead of answering me, he asked me to eat. He went to bring back whiskey and said something quietly to his son. The son went out, and Gavriliuk began to force me to drink. Seeing that I didn't want to, he wanted to forcibly pour a glass of whiskey into my mouth. At that moment, the door burst open, and my partisans (dressed as German policemen) threw Gavriliuk's son inside, bloodied and tied up. My contingent reported to me that he said to them that a partisan had come into their house, dressed over [as a German] who is Jewish, and he is running to present this to the German police, so they could come and arrest him. They calmly heard him out, winked at one another, gave him a couple of hard blows, and tied him up.
In listening to this report, Gavriliuk fell to my feet and begged for mercy, that we should spare his life and that of his son. I then declared to Gavriliuk, he can count on leniency only if he will exactly count how many Jews he murdered. I said to him, the question about the Vlasovites was only a side matter, and that I know exactly about their deeds, but that what I really want, is for him to confess everything.
He confessed that two Jewish families had lodged with him, but at night, the police took them away. He, himself, knew nothing of how the police came to know of their whereabouts. One of my partisans had a ‘Bezshumka’ gun (a gun that makes no noise when fired, having a silencer attachment on the front of the barrel). I took the gun, and shot Gavriliuk on the spot. My comrades shot his son and wife.
And another incident: A German unit was stationed in the village of Adamcy. I received an order to bring a ‘tongue,’ meaning that I should bring back a Nazi officer alive, from whom the brigade staff had to extract important information. I went away for a week's time in a nearby village. There were three men with me, all dressed in German uniforms as disguise. There was a pretty peasant woman who lived in this village who cooperated with us. At our behest, she had to befriend a German officer, and see to it that he comes to her house. She carried out this order precisely. The German officer came to her a couple of times. Finally, she let us know at what time she expected him to come again. We made an understanding that if she begins to twist the knot on the lamp, this will be a sign that the officer is at the table eating, and it was then that we had to go in.
The plan was carried out precisely. In the uniform of a German officer, escorted by two partisans, disguised in German uniforms, I noisily burst into the home of the peasant woman. The officer leapt up with a shout of Heil Hitler! I did not reply. My two assistants quickly went over to him, gave him a punch in the mouth, and began to drag him. He was strong and put up resistance. We tied him up, and began to pull him on our backs. It was night, and the darkness was absolute, and we had to exert ourselves, carrying him through field in the direction of the forest.
When we arrived in the forest, there was no longer anything to fear. We untied his hands and feet, and took the rag out of his mouth, and a partisan said to him: up till now we carried you, now you will carry us. We aimed out automatic weapons at him, and forced him to carry the Russian partisan.
When we came to the commander, it appears that we had brought an important persona a head man (Kapitan) of a tank unit. He was taken off to Moscow in a special airplane.
Encounters With Jews
From the experiences, that involved Jews, the images of two Jewish girls remain etched into my memory, whom I auspiciously encountered in a farm house with a peasant, not far from the village of Snovydovyci. These were two sisters named Berman. Their father was the owner of a brick works in Sarny. I gave them clothing, and instructed the peasant that he is personally responsible for their lives. I know that one of them today is in Israel. At that time, I could not take them into the forest. It was already the end of 1943, the front was near, and for them, they would be much safer with the peasant.
On one occasion, I met with Shlomo'keh Zandweiss. At that time, I was dressed in the uniform of the German S.D. and Shlomo'keh Zandweiss was the Commander of another partisan group. He was dressed in the uniform of a Vlasovist (The Vlasov army cooperated with the Germans). Neither of us knew of the other.
Shlomo'keh Zandweiss took note of our group, with me at its head, and took me for a German. He hid himself with his group, and wanted to capture me and my men alive. When, however, I got closer to him, he heard us speaking Russian. When I got even closer, he recognized me. We met in Ostki, the small train station near Sarny. There were many Jews in his Otryad.
He fell in battle with the Germans in the area of BaranovichBrisk.
I also met a Jew, El'yeh (I do not remember his family name). He came from the village of Tupik. He lived and worked with peasants. I gave him clothing also. Today, he is in Israel, coming after 1948, and as it happens, lives not far from Haifa, in a kirya.
I was in partisan divisions for three years, from the beginning of 1942 to the end of 1944. When I left the partisans at the end of 1944, after the arrival of the Soviet army, I was appointed as a full
service combatant as a director of the forest products factory in Pinsk, which in Russian is called ‘Direktor Liesnovo Khaziaistvo.’ I was the solitary Jew in this type of job in all of Byelorussia, because Jews do not pursue this line of work. I did my work well and developed into an authority. I also studied as an extern at the forest institute in Gomel.
In that time, I received significant medals as a partisan:
From the Heights to the Depths
A new period of my life comes here.
One time, I was sitting in the restaurant of the Society of the MilitaryCommandant of Pinsk
Luniniec, and of the 2nd secretary of the municipal party committee. We all were drinking on my account. At a certain moment, the already strongly drunken Nachalnik of the military, called out loudly: I don't drink with a Jew ‘Ya s'zhidiom nye piu!’
The blood rose in my face. I never heard such a thing at work, and also, nobody personally insulted me among the partisans. All of Pinsk knew of my accomplishments.
I stood up and proclaimed loudly: ‘I am a Jew, who counts himself as one. If this were wartime, I would settle with this Nazi the way I settled things with tens of others.’To this he replied: ‘You would have sent me to that place where you sent many Russians on behalf of the Jews.’ I gave him two slaps in the face, and poured a glass of beer on him. Being very agitated, I left the restaurant. I heard him shout after me: ‘You, and your children, will remember me!’
From then on, my comrades from among the partisans, who worked in the military, conveyed to me that the MilitiaCommander was looking at me to identify infractions I might have committed. I was certain that I had committed no such infractions, neither anything political or anything at work. My wife would ask of me that I should transfer to Grodno, where the same position had been proposed to me. However, I did not want to change location.
One time, in 1948, I was called for by the N.K.V.D. (The People's Commissariat for National Security). There, I was made to sit for six and onehalf hours. Then the Director of Interrogation called me in, not asking anything, and not permitting me to speak, only declaring to me no more and no less that I am a spy, and being in a partisan unit, and having the opportunity to go about freely, I was connected to the American ‘5th Column’ and was working for them. Secondly, they know, that before the war, I was a Zionist, and belonged to a Zionist organization. They had accurately verified this with Sarny Jews (I know that they had interrogated Reuben Drakh about this, who is today in Israel, and who turned me in). Third, he put before me, that a Soviet Jew had told them that I had said, that the Jewish Question throughout the Soviet Union was not resolved, and for this reason it is necessary to emigrate to the Land of Israel. This last accusation was correct I definitely said such a thing in a conversation with two Jews, and it never occurred to me that a Jew would immediately carry this over [to the authorities].
In Soviet Jails and Camp
I was arrested for a year's time, all alone in a cell, without a window, where everything else around me was asphalt. At 1 o'clock in the morning, I was permitted to lie down and go to sleep, but only with my face towards the guard, and by 5 o'clock in the morning, I was compelled to get up. For four months, I wore automating chains for two hours every day. In a year's time, the legal proceeding took place. It lasted for one hour. I was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment and lost my citizenship rights after ten years, with the right to live only deep inside Russia ‘Отделенне Края СССР.’
I served seven years, Many times I wrote to the Presidium of the highest council of the USSR, and to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, but all this remained without any answer. My wife and the small children no longer believed that I was ever coming back.
I also had some luck in the camp. I befriended the exiled professor of medicine Jezhieretz, a Jew. As the director of the clinic, he made me a sanitation worker and an aide to him. This significantly lightened my situation. I had light work and good food.
After Stalin's death, we began to sense a tangible lightening of our condition.
In the year 1956, a commission came to the camp. The campo was located in Bashkiria, and that place was not found on the map, because it was operated clandestinely. There were 8500 people in our camp. In 1956, they began to set many of them free.
The commission also called on me. In the commission, there were representatives of the Presidium of the highest council, from the Central Committee, and the Judiciary. Even before this conversation, the management of the camp the socalled ‘ПолитОтдел’ prepared the arrested people in how to speak with the commission. They told me that I should plead guilty, and that I should plead for mercy. If I do this they promised that I would be released in the year 1962.
While I promised to do this, I decided to tell the whole truth.
When I was called in and asked what it was I had to say, I called out: I am an innocent citizen of the Soviet Union, a former combatant against the Nazis, director of the Pinsk forest products works, awarded many medals and distinctions. However, I do not blame the council authorities, only those who turned me, an innocent man, into a lawbreaker. My partisans, and those who fought with me, my fellow workers at the forest products factory, my son who is a pioneer all those who know me, would not believe that I, a former partisan, am an enemy of the Soviet people.
I ended covered in sweat. Those who heard me out, and the investigators looked sideways one to another. Then I was asked what I am asking for. I said that I do not ask to be set free, that I am only waiting for justice.
I was asked to step out. The management of the camp, who heard what it was that I said, that because of this, I will remain in prison until 1970.
A half hour later, the commission called me back in. For the first time, they addressed me, using the honorific ‘Tovarishch.’ Up to that time, I had no name, I was only a number. I was called Arrestee 27781. I would answer: The Arrestee number 27781 is here.
They asked: To where do you want to travel? Not being prepared for this question, I answered: ‘I want to travel home.’ The Chairman of the commission then declared to me in a fiery tone: ‘Good travel home. You are not to be considered as someone who is sentenced. The accusation is being removed from you. You are a fullyfledged citizen of the Soviet Union.’
In The Land Of Israel
I came to Pinsk. I received 3,300 Rubles from the Soviet regime as compensation for the time I was imprisoned in the camp as an innocent man. I was supposed to receive more money, but I learned that former Polish citizens could travel back to Poland. I signed up, with the rest of my family to travel back, despite the fact that they had immediately given me back the position as the Director of the forest products factory.
I arrived in Poland on 1 February 1957. I arrived in Israel on 14 February 1957.
By Moshe F.
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
Let me begin with this, as I will recollect for you, I found myself, at the outbreak of the war, completely alone. On the 26th of June 1941, the evacuation train left Sarny. I left on this train. I was accompanied by my father, my sister Bella, a niece Chava, and my little brother Abraham. At that hour, it did not enter my mind that I would never see them again alive.
A first, I reached the northern Caucasus, and after that to the Stalingrad province, to a Sovkhoz where sheep were raised. There, I learned to operate a combine, and I worked for a full year doing this. With the Germans drawing near to Stalingrad, I left for Saratov. In the year 1943, I was accepted at the University of Leningrad, which had moved to Saratov. At the end of the 1943 school year, the university returned to Leningrad, but I was not given permission to travel to Leningrad. I lost about a year's worth of schooling in the process. It was only in the year 1945 that I was given permission to go over to Leningrad.
In the summer of 1946, I visited in Sarny, in the hopes that I would find some member of our family. To my sorrow, I did not find a single person. I found only three huge pits, in which all those dear to us, were buried alive, and all of the Jews of Sarny.
Our house remained intact, and I sold it for 12 thousand Rubles. The house in which my grandfather and grandmother lived, had been torn down entirely. The [olive] oil factory also remained intact. In the yard, I ran into Ivan, who worked in the factory. He told me in great detail, how Noah and Ber'l were killed. They had remained in the house when all the Jews were taken out to be killed, and hid in the straw in the stable. For whatever reason, a fire broke out in the stable, and they were burned up in it. The only thing that Ivan returned to me was a picture of Noah and Ber'l, and I am sending it to you. Brokenhearted, I returned to Leningrad to continue my studies. The money that I received for the house, I spent carefully, and continued to study at the University of Leningrad.
On the 25th of December 1948, when only 5 months remained until I could complete my studies at the university I was arrested. Together with me, 7 other Jews were arrested, all students and aspirants of the University of Leningrad. I cite here an excerpt from the letter of accusation that I guard with me to this day:
‘ P. Moshe Chaimowicz deliberately made seditious remarks against the national government of the Soviet regime praising the life of workers in a specific capitalist country, and made such remarks regarding the economic condition of the workers in the Soviet Union, thereby revealing an unsympathetic attitude to the Soviet Union, conveying biased outlooks on the level of the Russian nation, and expresses himself towards to worth of the Russian nation in a derogatory manner.’
‘ On the basis of section……. And relying on section ……. P.M. is sentenced, because of waiver of the death sentence, to a prison term in a labor camp, for a term of 25 years, with the cancellation of his rights as a citizen, and after a period of 5 additional years, and the confiscation of his assets, in accordance with section……’
For 4 consecutive months, I was under interrogation by the secret police in Leningrad, after which some sort of a trial was held, in which I was sentenced to the penalties described above.
It is hard to describe what happened to me in the jail, during the time of my interrogation. It was something terrifying that does not lend itself to description. I am referring not only to the physical suffering, but also to the offense to, and the lowering of the human dignity of, someone who was a member of the Jewish people. To my response to my question of my membership to a nation: ‘the Jewish people,’ I received a slap in the face, and they would correct it as ‘not the Jewish people, but Jews.’ Even in writing their expression was ‘Jews’ and no ‘The Jewish People.’
In August 1949, I was sent from Leningrad to a camp in Siberia. As to what happened to me in the camp I will write to you in my next letter.
After I was set free, I returned to Leningrad, and in December 1955, I got married to a young Jewish woman, a native of Leningrad. In November 1956, a daughter was born to us, and she is now a year and 8 months old.
A heartfelt best wished and regards to my cousins Joseph and Jonah, since I do not know their addresses.
And with this, I close.
By Tzivia NabozhnyWildstein
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
The Killing Field in Ponary
The Second World War found me, along with many other scions of Sarny, in Vilna. Sarny youth that sought higher education, concentrated themselves in this city. Because of the distance of the place, we would visit the homes of our parents only on holidays or during school breaks. A few, myself included, managed to put down roots in this city of learning, and after completing their studies, seeing that they had no expectation of a future in Sarny, continued to live in Vilna, if they were able to find a way to make a living.
I managed to finish university studies, to get married, and to serve as a teacher in one of the educational institutions until the coming of the Holocaust, when it became my fate to drink the hemlock, along with the Jewish people, and the Jews of the Vilna community.
Immediately after the outbreak of the RussianGerman War, with the capture of the city by German troops, my brother Yitzhak was taken from my house. A few days before the outbreak of the war, he had come for a visit from Rivne and I never saw him again.
On the 6th of September 1941, all the Jews of the city were concentrated in the ghetto.
Here I saw my place as being among the orphans of the Jewish people, whose numbers burgeoned. There were, among these orphans, cases where their parents, or one of their parents, were still alive. These parents abandoned their children out of the thought that perhaps fate will skip over them, and they will be saved and remain alive, while they the parents would be taken to the slaughter. It is difficult to describe the plight of these unfortunate children, who could not grasp that which awaited them.
At the beginning of September 1943, a transport of Jews from the ghetto was sent to Astunia. Among those sent was my husband, Asher Wildstein and his brother Aharon, and I never saw Asher again.
On the 23rd of September, the Nazi murderers began the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto. Part of the Jews were concentrated on Suvac Street, and from there they were taken to Ponary the place of extermination.
I stood there among as mass of mothers, children, and the elderly and beside the parents of my husband, Chana and Yaakov Wildstein, beside the edge of the pit that had been designated to swallow up the martyrs. In one arm, I held a little girl, who had fallen on my neck with here frail arms, and in the other hand, I squeezed the hand of a little boy that had burst out crying. These were two children that were among the ‘adopted,’ whose parents had left them with me.
‘Mama’ the boy screamed together with the sniper fire ‘Ma ma,’ and his voice fell still. I heard the sound of his little body that fell on the corpses of the others in the pit. At that instant, the arms of the little girl were taken from around my neck.
I, too, fell on top of the corpses of the two children into the pit.
At night, I awoke under the bodies of the dead. I understood that I had not been hit. With the falling of the two children, I lost consciousness before a bullet could hit me. Half asphyxiated, I pushed out and scaled upward among the corpses, to the air. In the immediate vicinity of the place there was not a single German to be seen. Their work, finished in this place, with nothing left to do, they went to a different place to commit murder. Without anyone being able to discern my presence, I ran for my life to the nearby forest. Compassionate people took me in and gave me a place to hide.
The Life of a Fugitive in the Homes of People of Good Will
On the way from the Ponary killing field to Vilna, I reached the house of a farmer, who responded to my entreaties, and gave me cover in the stable that was in his yard. He also helped me make contact with my friends in Vilna: the teacher Marisia Swianiewicz, and my Professor at the university Tadeusz Czaizhowski. With the help of the teacher and the professor, I was able to reach the owner of the parcel ‘Czerwony Dwór’ in the Nemencine area, the assistant, Marisia Zaikowska.
This parcel was located on the central main road, where the movement of German troops was substantial. Despite the good intentions of the owner of the parcel, I could not remain there for any length of time, and I was compelled to change my hiding place from timetotime.
At this opportunity, it is appropriate to underscore, that Professor Czaizhowski saved many Jews from death and helped them reach secure locations. Among these are the teacher Pess'l and the teacher Zlata Kuczerginska, both found in Israel. During my short stay at the parcel of Mrs. Zaikowska, I worked at different jobs: I harvested potatoes, gathered vegetables in the garden and stored them, and other things.
One day, I was sat beside the daughter of the owner of the parcel, and her friend, who were busy??? tobacco leaves. The girls students, at the secondary school, were discussing various subjects. Among other things, they quoted excerpts from the Polish literature, and from their lessons in Latin. I joined the conversation, and perhaps I corrected some inaccuracy among them. This brought them to the conclusion that I was not any ordinary working person and they told that to Mrs. Zaikowska.
That evening, I was invited to the owner of the parcel. It is understood that I was seized with fear, but it was not in my hand to correct what had already been done. Mrs. Zaikowska, asked me to be forthcoming with my story, without suspecting that anything bad would happen to me. When I told her my name, she recognized me, and asked me if at one time I had attended the seminar of Professor Masonius.
After conferring with Professor Czaizhowski, Mrs. Zaikowska transferred me to a more quiet and secure location, that being the ‘Skala’ parcel, also in the Nemencine area. Dresses in rural garb, I was accepted as a helper, without them knowing that I was Jewish. I was called by the name Jadwiga.
On one of the evenings, Mrs. Jankowska discussed her troubles before the parcel owner, indicating that because of the war, her little daughter, aged 10, is falling behind in her studies, and she practically cannot read or write.
Difficult feelings were aroused in my heart. On the one hand, I was compelled to hide my identity from any suspicion, to preserve my life. On the other hand, as an experienced teacher, I was drawn to assume responsibility to educate the girl.
I overcame my suspicions and proposed my services to teach the girl. During a short time together, I succeeded in teaching the girl to read, write, and an adequate amount of arithmetic, to the satisfaction of the student, and her parents as well. My success caused parents, in the vicinity, to turn to me with the request that I teach their children also.
As the teacher ‘Jadwiga,’ I was compelled, so you understand, to teach the children Christian prayers and ‘catechism,’ and when they reached the age of 11 years, it was up to me to prepare her for ‘Kommunia Swietna’ (Holy Communion, this being akin to a ‘Bat Mitzvah’). By myself, I had to master all the prayers, and articles of the faith, at night, and byheart, and then during the day teach them. It is not easy to describe my state of mind……
With a great deal of effort, I was able to stay away, using a variety of excuses, from the formal religious ceremony that was conducted in the Nemencine church.
One day, I found out that the family was waiting for a visit from the priest, as was the custom on the eve of the Easter holiday, for purposes of blessing the foods of the holiday. To my question of ‘what sign would indicate the pending arrival of the priest’, I was answered that bells would inform us. And as I was sitting with the children at a lesson, I heard the sound of bells getting closer.
An inner force drove me to leave the room and flee. I ran with no regard for my surroundings. In running, I fell into a depression full of water that had pooled from the melting snow, and I hid myself there.
For the entire time that the priest remained in the parcel, I heard voices calling me ‘Panna Jadwiga! ’ ‘Where are you? ’ ‘The priest wants to talk with you! ’
With the fall of darkness, when I returned to the house, I was exhausted and drenched. The members of the family believe my story, that because of a fainting spell that engulfed me, I fell into the hollow. They told me afterwards, that the priest was very impressed by the knowledge of the children in the area of religion, and wanted to be able to meet this talented teacher, who has succeeded so well to have integrated this lore into her teaching, and to bless her.
(In time, when I was the governess in an orphanage in Vilna, after the city was liberated from the Germans, Mrs. Jankowska visited me with her daughter. The meeting was very dramatic. I begged her forgiveness for the ??? on my part because of the pressure of my circumstances. I did not want to endanger her and her family in the event that I was revealed to be hidden and she knew of it. She, from her side, conveyed her happiness that fate arranged the possibility to help me, and to be helped through the education of her daughter. In the passage of time, her husband was imprisoned by the N.K.V.D. He was awaiting expulsion. I got involved, with the help pf Professor Ravelski and this led to his release).
I worked in this place, until the arrival of the Red Army July 1944.
With the arrival of the Red Army, I turned to Vilna, which was still at war, and in flames. Everything there served as a reminder of the calamity that had befallen the Jews of Vilna, and also me: my husband who was shot, the pit, and the crying of the children I had adopted. There was no trace of any of my friends, not one of my relatives, only me, alone, had the pit vomited out of its depths.
An Educator in Liberated Vilna
Slowly, slowly, the Jews of Vilna that remained alive, began to return and to gather in the city, in recollecting her glorious past, of this city of the Gaon, and the many institutional premises that were in it: seminaries, institutes of learning, etc. People came back in the hopes that with the arrival of a liberating regime, they will be able to rebuild their shattered lives.
On the Eve of Yom Kippur of 1944, before the Kol Nidre prayer, I burst between the worshipers, and from above the Bima of the Great Synagogue (partly destroyed), I turned with a cry of entreaty, to help me gather in those fled remnants of children to be found in Christian families, in the vicinity and in the city, and in Christian houses of worship. My cry of desperation was witnessed by soldiers and officers of the Red Army, who were among the worshipers.
With indescribable difficulties, I was able to engage in a number of steps to obtain permission to open a school and a kindergarten, into which, Jewish children began to be pulled together. The educational authorities of the Soviet regime appointed me as the governess of the orphanage. But this was only a façade, because deep inside them, the regime did not want this. They asked: ‘why do you have to establish separate schools anew, when all the Russian nationalities have to amalgamate and forget the past?’
The writers Peretz Markish, David Bergelson, Kushnirov, Prof. Joseph Ravelsky zl, helped us, each to the full extent of their capacity to do so. They took an interest in the children, visited them, gave presents to them, and wrote stories for them.
The exceptional help of the Jewish Chief of Psychiatry of the Third Byelorussian Front, General Prof. Joseph Ravelsky, stood us in especially good stead.
It was from the poet Sh. Kuczraginsky, that he became aware of a group of people, among them Dr. Bliudzh (who remained in Russia), Dr. Lebov, Sutzkever, Kuczraginsky, and this writer (in Israel), Abba Kovner, and others, who were taking an interest in these rescued children, and he asked of Mr. Kuczraginsky, that I should get in touch with him regarding this matter.
In my first meeting with him, he declared that since he had found out that I had accepted the role of being the ‘mother’ of these unfortunate children, he wanted to be their ‘father.’ He conveyed to me, that in the hospitals for the entire length of the front, there were many Jewish children assembled, sick and hungry, who had been rescued by one means or another. He was very worried about their fate, until he heard me, when I had appeared at the Great Synagogue on the eve of Yom Kippur, and this caused the idea to take form in his heart, to help with all his might, and to facilitate and carry out everything asked of him, for the benefit of the children.
Under wartime conditions, when the city of Vilna lay mostly in ruins, when every square meter of residential area was documented by the military authorities, it was necessary to be concerned about finding a roof to put over the heads of the children. It was here that the assistance of Prof. Ravelsky stood us in good stead.
As a result of our turning to the Red Army section responsible for allocating domicile, we received a threestory building for settling in the children. But this did not suffice. First the building needed to be maintained, since it was full of debris, and had been damaged from the battles, and to this purpose we needed skills in: furniture, medicines, food, clothing, etc. All that was required was generously provided by the hospitals and the military authorities, but only because of the intervention, effort, and approached made by Prof. Ravelsky. For his conduct, and his dedication, he was transformed into a celebrity to his close associates, the senior officers, and they expressed their applause for his work, by donating their own money for the benefit of the children.
In the end, the ‘Third Byelorussian Front’ adopted the orphanage, and provided for all that it lacked.
The fate of Professor Ravelsky was the same as the fate of the Jewish writers and scientists, he was executed in 1952.
A great irony of the cruel fate, lay in the fact that in the schools of ‘The Jerusalem of Lithuania,’ there was a dearth of textbooks. I traveled to Moscow to search for books, or the possibility to take out textbooks. At this opportunity, it became possible for me to visit my birthplace in Sarny. I hoped that maybe I would find someone from my family that had remained alive. But, in place of a city that seethed with and was full of Jewish life, I found mounds of wreckage. The day of my visit passed with my being immersed in threnody on the mass graves. I parted from the two families with a broken heart, those smoking embers saved from the fire, De. Steinberg and Dr. Zweiman, and I returned to Vilna.
During the school year 19441945, the condition of the orphanage grew increasingly more difficult. Nevertheless, the children did not come down with boils and other diseases, their state of health having improved a great deal, but they felt that they were stopping being Jews. We were constrained in the possibilities of their secular education, because of the pressure of the Soviet education authorities, who was alert to us, and followed up on what we were doing.
An ominous harbinger of no good was in the month of February 1945, when they surprisingly demoted me from my position to a deputy, and began to investigate my moving. I felt that I needed to leave the place quickly. I could not, however, reconcile myself to leaving the children on their own, who at great risk to life, had been gathered, one by one, from the partisan units, from the houses of Christians, and churches. I decided to try and get repatriation visas for them, as children of native Poles. For this purpose, I decided to leave Vilna by airplane, on which one of my students of the past was able to arrange a seat for me. However, after a flight of only a few minutes, the plane landed, and all the passengers me among them had their heads covered in sacks, and they were taken to the N.K.V.D. station, and from there to the notorious Lukiszki prison.
From Kolyma to Israel
I spent 10 months in this jail, until they let me know the decision of the ‘Osovya Suvshetznya’ (The ‘Third’ Trokia Court), which was to find me guilty of Section 581 (Treason against the Fatherland) and to have me sent off to a land of exile, to the hard labor camp Kolyma.
To my question as to which Fatherland I had betrayed, after having been born in Poland, lived in Lithuania, and dreamt of the Land of Israel for my entire life, the answer came back as: those words alone are sufficient to justify the charge of treason against the Fatherland!
I spent 11 years in Kolyma, from 19451956. This stretch of land is found in the northeast corner of Siberia, and its name is taken from the Kolym River which discharges into the Arctic Sea. The prevailing levels of temperature there are 5560 degrees below zero. In Russia, it is said of this piece of land: ‘Kolyma a wonderful place, there is 12 months of winter, and the rest summer.’
I lack the ability to describe even to summarize the 11 years of Kolyma, when I was given over to the whims of the satraps of the Soviet authorities. Prisoners served first of all as fodder, reserved for a variety of purposes until they met their end in certain death. Illnesses, the absence of even the most minimal of hygienic conditions, and absence of nourishment, that would permit the prisoner to withstand the hard labor in the gold mines and the endless forests these were the circumstances that led to the extinction of the lives of hundreds of thousands of prisoners.
The one who uncovered my fate arrived unexpectedly. In the summer of July 1956, I received notice from the Supreme Court in Moscow, that after a new review, and in accordance with the decision of the special Council of the N.K.V.D. of the USSR, in May 1956, they found that I was not guilty, and given a full rehabilitation. On the strength of this permission, I received the opportunity to return to Vilna.
Again, the authorities proposed to me a high position in the area of education. These proposals were accompanied by high praise, and appeals to my conscience as a citizen……
News of the possibility of the repatriation of Polish natives reached me. I made all the preparations in anticipation of this possibility, and the anticipated hour arrives.
And once again I reached my birthplace in Sarny. In standing by the mass graves, in which are buried my mother, Baylah and my sister Pess'l and her son Reuven, all those dear to me, my dear ones and friends, and before taking leave of them for the final time, and forever, the years of my live that had gone by, passed before my eyes: my childhood in Sarny, [Aramaic] in Heder, Vilna The Jerusalem of Lithuania the enlightenment that I received there, an active set of undertakings in all aspects of Zionist life. and afterwards, the days of that execrable Holocaust, and the loss of all that was dear to me, Kolyma for being innocent of all wrongdoing. I asked myself: Where did I get the emotional strength to withstand all these tribulations, and not to lose my humanity? The answer to this question, as I stood beside the mass grave, was: it is the burden that I took with me from the home of my father, and from the school in Sarny!
I took leave of Sarny, from the mass graves, and from those smoking embers pulled from the fire, from the families left solitary that were still there at that time, and I made Aliyah to The Land. Here I found the hands of brethren extended to me to help. And once again, I am standing on my own feet, in the field of education, and in participating in community Zionist endeavor, I memorialize the memory of our martyrs that fell on the altar of our renaissance.
By Bluma Zweiman
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
After the outbreak of the PolishGerman War, we were prepared to evacuate to Russia even if necessary by foot, just so we would not fall into the hands of the Germans. Except, that we were told the Soviets were not permitting the entrance of emigrants from the outside. But the Germans did not reach Sarny yet, and in the meantime during a number of days there was a case of ‘no sovereignty.’ The Polish attitude towards the Jews, during those few days, was malevolent. The Jews were suspicious of being out in the street at night, because there were incidents of beards being abused. Under the leadership of one of the officers of the Voievode (provincial leadership) a native group organized itself, and the motto of the antiSemites was ‘Svoy do dvigo fo svoya,’ (‘buy your own, from one of your own’) became a source of contention.
After a short while, the Soviets came. My husband immediately began to work at the clinic, and I as a teacher in the Polish public school, and after a period of time in the Russian school for the employees of the railroad.
In the course of the year and a half of Russian rule, I sensed no difference in their attitude towards Jews. It was like the attitude they had towards other nationalities.
In the first week after the outbreak of the RussianGerman War, while hostilities were still going on, my family was able to secure permission to leave Sarny. The responsibility was placed on my husband and cousin, both of whom were doctors, to accompany the train of the wounded, soldiers and civilians victims of the military actions in the area. On this train, we got as far as Kiev, and from their on the basis of our own personal initiative to Dnepopetrovsk, and with the approach of the Germans to that location to Stalingrad. At the end of 1941, my oldest son, Rekhaviah, was drafted into the army. He did not return from it, because he fell at Stalingrad. At the end of July 1942, we resumed our wanderings, and after several stops, we reached Kazakhstan.
It was only in the summer of 1943 we learned from the mouths of refugees of what had happened to the Jews of Europe in that period. In the news supplied by the Soviet regime, on the radio and newspapers, all that was discussed was the murder that was perpetrated by the Germans against nations, but only in connection with other nations. As to the fate of the Jews there was not a single word in the news.
In Kazakhstan, we underwent a year and a half of inhuman conditions: hunger, diseases, and the hardest, dirtiest work possible. And even there we suffered from antiSemitism. Those who carried it were the war wounded, who because of service, had left to return to where they lived, but never got there, because they had in the interim been captured by the Germans. These invalids argued against us, that we had hidden ourselves in gathering places of the location, to fight like them, for Russia.
At the end of the war, we set out on new wandering ways, this time in the opposite direction. Our way from Kazakhstan to Sarny stretched out over four months. We reached our destination on 1.9.1944 Sarny was almost completely destroyed by the war. On the place where, during the days of the Germans a ghetto stood (the streets of Jasna and Szokolna), a few intact houses remained, but they were entirely neglected, because no human foot had been set in them. The entire area was covered in brambles and grass as tall as a man.
We reached Sarny precisely at the time of the first memorial assembly in honor of those who were murdered. There, we already found a few Jewish partisans. All of us took spades, and we went to bury those who were murdered. In the meantime, several hundred Jews arrived, especially young people, from the entire area whose relatives had been exterminated in Sarny. We arranged a religious service. We collected skulls and bones, that had rolled around in the vicinity of the three huge pits, because many of those who were killed, that were still alive after they were buried in the mass graves, under a very thin layer of sand, made an attempt to extricate themselves from them.
We circumscribed the graves with a fence. Afterwards, we asked the resident commanding officer, to grant us permission to gather up the grave stones from the old Jewish cemetery in Sarny that the Germans and the Ukrainians had ripped out and used to pave roads, whose writings were facing outwards and to place them on the mass graves.
The commander was responsive to our request, and went so far as to extend assistance in the form of trucks and soldiers. The stone faces covered the graves, and we added suitable writings to them to bear witness to the mass graves. A great deal of outstanding work went into this undertaking performed by the former partisan Meir Walkin, who lives today in Haifa.
We lived in Sarny, and got into a routine: my husband got work in the clinic as a dentist and also hired himself out for ordinary work, such that our income was enough to sustain us. Our house had been demolished by a bomb, although we received a leftover residence beside the clinic. I did not take outside work after my youngest son was drafted into the army and I had no other purpose in life I engaged in volunteer work with Jews returning from Russia to their prior places of domicile. I had a permanent stream of passersthrough lodging at my house. I fed them and gave them lodging, and after these remnants generally didn't find anyone of their relatives in Sarny I advised them to continue on their wandering to Poland.
During the days of the purges in the fabric of the Communist Party and the trial of the doctors (19521953) my son was let go from his work, that he worked at after returning from the army, in the center for the distribution of merchandise, together with 16 other Jewish employees, My husband too, was pushed out of his important position, and relegated to the denigrated task of explaining the importance of prophylaxis. In line with the example set in Moscow, he was accused of wrongful and subversive conduct, to the detriment of his patients (the injection of tubercle bacillus, cancer, and typhus into cavities in teeth), and a rumor was spread ‘from above,’ that when someone was caught in the act, he ended his life by hanging.
Out of fear that they might accuse us of being ‘Jewish Chauvinists’ I burned up my library of Jewish paintings.
To our good fortune, the Moscow court was silences ‘from above,’ and as a result, the pressure on us also eased. However, in the course of time, we suspected a pogrom, and we lived in fear. The street conveyed its animosity toward us, and the local authorities offered a helping hand to the task of erasing Jewish uniqueness, using all methods.
Among other things, we were forbidden to tend to the mass graves of the martyrs of Hitlerism, the fence was taken down, and was given over for the use of some manufacturing establishment, and made a concerted effort to obscure the character of the location.
Even after the winds died down, my husband did not return to his previous position, but preferred to continue with his position in prophylaxis, and in this way avoid additional pressure and added surprises. In this connection, he expanded his private practice at home, as is understood not visibly, behind locked doors, and with blinds drawn over the windows. This was our living. Our son succeeded in getting out of the work that was allocated to him outside of Sarny, and served as a sop to his dismissal from his regular job because he was Jewish. He took his graduation exams and went off to Lvov for study.
Under these circumstances and with ceaseless effort of international communications (we listened to Israeli radio when the doors and the windows were locked down in their entirety) in great secrecy, and fear of possible consequences I lived with my family in Sarny until 1957.
I frequently ran into Jews, who in the course of time, I had thought were dead. This happened to me with Tzila Wildstein (Nabozhna), who in 1945, with the permission of the Soviet authorities, gathered up Jewish orphans in Vilna into a special orphanage. This transgression caused her afterwards to be exiled for ten years beyond the Arctic Circle. To my surprise, she appeared before me in 1956. I heard about her real experiences not from her mouth. Despite our longstanding friendship, she did not reveal what she did in exile, she just said to me, that out of her will, she worked there as a teacher. It was to this level that we were forced to conceal and lie about our national life in Russia. It is no wonder, that all the time, we dreamed of making Aliyah to Israel.
In the end, we obtained the opportunity to leave for Poland, where for a year, we hoped to continue our travels.
I reached Israel with my husband, my son Moshe and his bride Vera, and their son Boris today [called] Dov.
Blessed be The Lord!!
Finally, I wish to point out for the information of the entire Jewish people, the names of those individuals, noble in soul, and heroic in spirit who, at the risk of their own lives, saved Jews from the Hitlerist murderers.
Mrs. Aniszkewicz, a Ukrainian woman, a resident of Sarny, saved Leah Teich, [who is] today in Israel. She took her in before the liquidation of the ghetto and hid her during the most terrifyingly dangerous period in various hiding places. She didn't do this to get a prize, and did it possibly for religious reasons.
Mrs. Studzhinska, a Polish woman, a resident of Sarny, and a prosperous woman on Ulica Topolowa, saved Halla Zlotogurska (a maid by occupation), and hid her in her home thus endangering her own life. She did this not for the purpose of receiving a prize. Halla Zlotogurska left for Poland in 1944.
Mrs. Tatiana Nikiczuk, a Ukrainian woman, a resident of the village of Radzyz beside Sarny, saved the two children a boy and a girl of the Borko family on Ulica Ricrasko, a boy and a girl from the Wachs family. Mrs. Nikiczuk owned a khutor (a hamlet) in the thick of the forest. She hid the children there at the risk of her own life, and not to get any prize. All those saved are today in Israel.
Similar instances are known to me, but I do not remember the names. I know of a Ukrainian woman named Lusza from the village of Triskyny, who not only saved the daughter of her mistress Tzila Mucznik, today in Canada but also, during the days that the Sarny ghetto existed, would gather foodstuffs from Poles and Ukrainians who had some humanity, and would smuggle it into the ghetto.
By Chaim Guri
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
From that inferno, that incinerated your tortured and scarred bodies,
We raise up fire a torch to light our souls,
And with it we lit the flame of liberty,
With it we walked into the wars on Our Land.
Your pain, for which there is no liking among all pains,
We forged steel chisels and plows with sharpened teeth;
We transformed your degradation into rifles;
Your eyes into lighthouses for ships, like a host in the night
From the debris of your wrecked city
We have taken vengeance for your bitter and solitary death
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