Translated by Yona Landau
Men over age fourteen were placed in the area from the street of the synagogue to the area of the bridge; and women and children up to age fourteen were placed in the other part of the ghetto.
The crowdedness in the ghetto was unbearable. A number of families lived in one room. Despite the horrible conditions, they tried to maintain cleanliness and stay human. Food was very sparse: 150 grams of bread per person, a little soup, and a little bit of potatoes. Sometimes they would steal some food into the ghetto, but it was dangerous.
Everyone was totally silent and the atmosphere was heavy. In order to honor grandfather, the argument was not continued. Till this day, I remember grandfather from that night.
There were Ukrainian and Jewish guards on the gates of the ghetto. It was possible to steal out of the ghetto sometimes, and I did it many times, but it was very dangerous. There began the cutting of hair and the shaving of beards of the Jews. I remember that my grandfather begged that he would not have to do this. But when this did not help, he wrapped his beard in an envelope and asked his son, Moshe to bury his beard with him when the time came.
Suddenly they began to request from the Judenratt to send Jews to forced labor camps in Kostopol. The conditions in the camps were horrible. Jews tried to get out of this, but Yosef Wachs always sent the amount of Jews required in the quota.
My father, Mechal Tchor, worked in the forests and in a German grain warehouse in the village of Botiki. I fled from the ghetto and joined him in his work. One day the manager of the warehouse came to me and told me that we can't continue working there and must return to Stepan. Our hearts told us something horrible was going to happen. We had no choice and the next day we started walking to the town. On the way, we met a Ukrainian farmer, who knew father, and he said to us: Where are you going, yesterday they took all the Jews of Stepan to be killed. We were very stunned and didn't know what to do. We went to the forest, and it was father's intention to go to the village Sadliski, a Polish village. Many of father's acquaintances were from this village.
We came to the village and we entered the house of a farmer by the name of Lutzian Onichovski. He was a righteous man of the nations of the world. In his house, we found Yoel Baruch Becker, who worked at that time for the farmer in fixing his roof. It is clear that when we met him, it was very dramatic. Yoel Baruch was stunned to hear the horrible news of what happened to the Jews of Stepan.
Lutzian couldn't keep us for a long time and we went out to the groves in the area of the village and we hid there. One farmer saw we were there and informed about us. A policeman by the name of Grishchenko along with the informant farmer began to lead us to a cart back to Stepan. My father begged before the farmer and reminded him that he was once his friend. The farmer answered him wickedly: New times have come, and we no longer have a friendship
On the way, we jumped from the cart and began to flee. I ran first, then my father, and then Yoel Baruch. They shot at us, but we continued to run. I turned my head back and I saw my father on the ground, and the rifle of the farmer was pointed at him. I continued running with all my strength, a long time past, and in the end I fell with no more strength. When I awakened, I found myself lying in a swamp. I didn't know where to turn. In the end, I decided to return to Sadliski to Lutzian.
I didn't see my father again.
Lutzian Onichovski, after hearing our story, took me in, and hid me in a pile of hay. In the evening, he would take me into his house so I could get warm by the heater, fed me, and give me to drink. Lutzian had a cousin, his name Michko, and he wanted to turn me in to the Germans. But Lutzian threatened him with his axe and said to him, if he would turn me in, he would kill him and his family. As time went by, Batya (Becker) Scheinboim arrived from the forests to Lutzian. He took her in, and treated both of us with love and affection.
Later it became known to me about the extent of the destruction of the Jews of Stepan. The Germans and the Ukrainians put all the Jews of the town on carts and led them to Kostopol. There were prepared pits, everyone was shot with machine guns, and buried there. One a few escaped as they jumped from the carts.
The Ukrainians took over the Polish villages and destroyed them. I fled along with the rest of the Poles that were left in the area that was in the German's control. I crossed the railroad tracks by Antonobaka and from there I fled to the forests near Finsk, there the partisans were in control. I stayed there until the Red Army liberated the whole area. Since I was saved from death, it was clear to me that I couldn't stay on the cursed land of Poland, where all my loved and dear ones had been killed and I must some how get to the land of Israel. There was the only remaining member of my family, my uncle Yisrael Koifman. But before I left Poland, I wanted to see my hometown. I decided to return to Stepan.
On the way, I met a Ukrainian farmer and I asked him about the Jews of the town. He looked at me in a wicked manner and said: They are there, even too many
I arrived at the town, to a valley of death. I found a horrible destruction. The city was empty of Jews. I came to the house of Yoel Baruch, that was somehow not destroyed, and I found some youths and a few adults. This was all that was left of a town in which there had been thousands of Jews, full of life and Jewish culture.
A Jewish Soviet army officer wanted to turn me over to Deniprofetrobsk so I could learn a trade, but it didn't work out and I traveled to Sarny. There we found some Jews, and when the repatriation of the Jews of Poland began, I traveled to Bitom. From there, I got to Czechoslovakia, from there through Austria to Italy. From Italy, they placed us on the Antzo-Sirni boat and we came to Israel.
Translated by Yona Landau Pages 278-280
The economic situation of most of the Jews of the town became worse when the Soviets ruled the town. Small businesses, with which was what most of the residents of the town were involved, stopped. People didn't come to buy, and merchandise was not available. In order to get bread, one had to wake up early, to stand in line, and sometimes you would come home empty handed.
The real troubles began when Soviet identification cards were given, especially for those who dealt with commerce. They didn't have enough work and there were rumors that they were to be sent to the coal mines in Dunbas, in Russia.
In this situation, a group of men went to work in Milinsk, which was 18 kilometers from Stepan (a small railroad station between Rovno and Sarny). The type of work was cutting wood boards. We would work there during the week, and for Shabbat and the holidays we would return by foot. Along with me were fellows like Chaim Gershon, Pinchas Began, Pinchas Maggid, and others. The situation continued like that until June 1941, when the Germans attacked Russia. On that day, there was a huge draft. I was drafted along with many fellows my age.
I remember that many of the town accompanied us to the bridge. The draftees and those who accompanied us knew that this was not good news. Everyone was sad, with heart aches, and tears. For a few moments, I got away from the line and met with my parents; I worried about what would be. Would I see this poor town again, my parents, my sister, and the people of the town? (I didn't see them again, they were all annihilated.)
When we got to Sarny, we ran into German bombings. We were hungry and tired. We were put on a train to Kiev along with other draftees from the area and from there by foot, through the forests, in very bad conditions, including sleeping outside. Then they drove us to the Oral area. There we were organized into a work battalion, the Satroy Battalion, whose purpose was to supply supplies to the front. We lived in shacks. Later we were moved to metallurgy factories in Sabredelovsk. Up to this time, most of the Jews of Stepan were together, but now they separated us. A small group and I stayed in this area until the end of the war. From here I left Russia, through Poland, to Israel.
The Jews of Stepan who were with me in Russia were: Yaacov Harojnir, Zeleg Tenyes, Yonah Tenyes-Witznodal, Shmuel Sheinboim, Ben-Tzion Sheinbaum, Pinchas Maggid, Hershel Sanders, and Bryer from Milinsk.
Here is a list of the Jews of Stepan whom I met when I was wandering around in Russia: Nahum Leib, the shoemaker (today in the U.S.A.), Pialkov, Shrale the Gevetes, Chaim Dov from Tchertrisk, the two boys of Hershel from Korost, Yachniok from Korost, Vava, the son of the hatmaker, the Kerzner, Avraham and Label Morik (today in the U.S.A.).
Translated by Yona Landau The Jews of Stepan were depressed those days, the time of the retreat of the Russian Army and the rumors about the coming of the Germans to the town were greater.
A few of the youth who were active in the Komsomol left the town and retreated with the Russians to Russia. Most of them remained alive. The clerks of the Russian authority tried to convince the Jews to flee to Russia. But it didn't work and the Jews didn't want to do this. It was difficult to break away from a home, to wander, and to be a refugee.
Amongst the Jews of Stepan, there were a number of refugees who came before from a German controlled area of Poland. Most of them were of the opinion that life was not easy under the German regime, but annihilation was not to be expected. Therefore, they told us not to go with the Russians into Russia. This was the excepted opinion. But along with this, many had their doubts and they felt that a heavy cloud was approaching, and the Jews would become abandoned.
A few days before the Germans entered, the retreating Soviet lines were bombed and several Jewish homes were hit. Most of the Jews left on time from their homes to the suburbs of the town and were therefore saved. At that time the house of Altar Bass was hit. He, his wife Esther, his son Shabtai, and his daughter Freidel were killed. In the same house, Asal, the mute, Motel Koifman, the shoemaker, and his daughter Asal were killed. His son, Yaacov was saved at that time, but was killed during the annihilation. His oldest son, Shmuel, a smart boy, was taken prisoner by the Germans while he was serving in the Polish Army in 1939, and it was unknown what happened to him after that.
Another house was hit, that of David Bram. His two children were killed, his son Baba, and his daughter, Roza. Bram was hurt badly in his spinal cord, and was invalid until he was killed along with the rest of his family when the ghetto was destroyed.
Several days later, the Germans entered the town. The Ukrainians were happy, and helped to hurt the Red Army, they made ambushes and killed Russian soldiers. The Ukrainian villagers from the area of Stepan broke into the Jewish houses and destroyed and stole things of value. In some cases, the German Army guarded the Jews' houses so they wouldn't be broken into.
After three weeks since the entrance of the Germans, there was a decree that all Jews had to wear a Jewish star on their sleeve. Jews were attacked on the street -- hit and humiliated. On the evening of Yom Kippur, there was another decree, to put on a yellow patch. There were Jews who had to cut their beards.
On the day before Succot, Ukrainian authorities were picked by the Germans to measure the area of the Jews' houses on Shkoolna Street and the alleys nearby. The Jews were placed with minimum belongings in the market square, and were placed in the ghetto in very crowded conditions. There were two or three families in a room. The ghetto was divided into three areas: a camp for women and children up to age thirteen, and elder people above the age of 65. A third of Shkoolna Street turned into the men's camp, from the house of Yukel, the Shamash, to the end of the ghetto in the direction of the bridge. The houses of the craftsmen who were allowed to live outside of the ghetto, were in the alleys near the ghetto, from the house of Moshe Yosel by the bridge and to the house of Itzik Meir Kogot.
A few days after the Germans entered the town, several Russian parachutists were caught. The Ukrainian nationalists caught them. At this time, they said that three Jewish farmers near Stepan helped them and hid the Soviet parachutists. These Jews were taken to the German authorities, and along with the Ukrainians, the Germans tortured them.
Eicha to My Town Stepan
Translated by Yona Landau
Stepan, my town, a beautiful landscape, surrounded by wheat fields, forests, and plains for pasture.
Looks on to the Horyn River, that is the natural border from the east -
How do you continue to exist when my people were cut off from you with cruelty?
Generations of Jews were raised in you and in your surroundings to Torah and work,
They contributed from their capabilities and their knowledge to all the residents of the area,
With no difference to religion or race, --
How did you loose my brothers, my sisters, my people, their elderly, their youth, and their children?
How did you not hid them in hidden spots of your thick forests
and prevent the loss of my people?
How did you, the Horyn River, not wash in your great stream
the hatred of the thirsty for blood -- the predators?
Your roads are full of mourning and your houses are abandoned,
The synagogues are silent, defiled by the impure.
Is it possible that only the wind whistles the Orphan's Kaddish through the willows?
Translated by Yona Landau Aaron was a shepherd to one of the non-Jews of the area. It was in those days that youth went out of the ghetto in secret to be shepherds to non-Jews. The youth were fed and worked and even brought food to their starving families in the ghetto sometimes.
Aaron's mother with her children succeeded to escape from the ghetto when the Jews of the town were lead to the pits of death near Kostopol. The mother succeeded in getting to Aaron, and together they escaped to the forests near the village of Kaminka.
According to Aaron's estimation about 500 Jews fled from the ghetto and from the carts that lead them to Kostopol and fled to the forests. The Ukrainians lead by the Germans began searching and pursuing, and they were successful in catching most of the Jews who fled. Many of the escapees were turned over to the police or were killed by the non-Jews of the area, who were interested in gold, jewelry, and even uprooting gold teeth from the mouths of the dead. About 300 of the Jews of the town were caught within two days, who were in hiding in the ghetto, in basements and attics. Some were returned to the town council by the village and local non-Jews. This group was organized and killed by shooting near the forest of Hakolnia on the other side of the Horyn River. They were buried in a communal grave on one of the sand hills.
From the stories of the non-Jews after the liberation, several stories were known of sick, elderly, heavy, or those who refused to move from their houses, who were shot in their homes, some even in their beds.
In one case, a Jewish child was caught, the son of Minikal, Yosile Vashtzina. The child who was subject to pressure of threats and scared revealed the hiding place in the forest of the rest of the Jews of the area. Many of them were indeed captured at that time.
At the same time that Aaron's mother and her children escaped, but later they were captured and killed. Aaron, his sister Malka, and his little brother Avraham were successful in escaping at this opportunity. While they were wandering and hiding in the forest, they met their uncle, Yona Grossman, his son Yosele, and his young daughter. The uncle gave Aaron gold, and advised the children to separate from one and another in the hope that this way at least someone would stay alive. Thus Aaron, his sister, and his little brother separated from the uncle and his children. Another time Aaron, his brother, and his sister separated from one and another. His little brother was caught and killed. Aaron and his sister escaped from the fingernails of the murderers, because policemen were interested in their gold.
After several days, the non-Jews of the area told him that his uncle, Yona, gave all of his gold to one of the non-Jews, in order that they could hide and live together. The non-Jew shot Yona and killed him, and the little girl was wounded and died after three days of being seriously wounded. They buried her with her father in the same grave. Yona's son escaped, and after many tribulations, was saved.
There were only a few Jews left in the forests and in hiding, and when it became known to the Bandrovechim, the Ukrainian Nationalists, they tried in 1943, with all their force, to spread rumors that they are willing to take care of the Jews who were left and to give them a free and proper existence in Stepan, since they had rebelled against the German rule. The truth was different -- their real intention was to uproot and destroy in order that there would not remain any living evidence to the atrocities that they committed on purpose and with intention.
Aaron, his sister, and some other Jews, being desperate and suffering in the forests, even tended to believe the promises of the nationalists for a minute and began to move in the direction of Stepan. But by luck, they met a righteous non-Jew, who warned them that they mustn't go to the Bandrovechim, because their end would be bitter. Therefore, Aaron, his sister, and the other Jews listened to him, and stayed away from Stepan, and continued with their everyday tribulations in the forests.
One of the most terrible parts of everyday life was the lice. There were even some who suffered so much from the lice that they died. Hershel Maggid was one of the victims. Shaul, the son of Shmuel Zilbermen, also died from lice and from decay of his toes that froze.
Three fellows: Yaacov Rekes, Aaron Shenker, and a boy by the name Grover tried to get to the partisans, but on the way ran into the Ukrainians who tore them to pieces and killed them.
Translated by Yona Landau The hostility of the non-Jews of the area for the Jews of Volyn, Stepan, and the area was known, and the background for this hostility is well explained in The Ways of the Days of the World, Volume 7, of Dubnov, Chapter 1, Pages 6-7 -- The Tribulation in Poland and the Messianic Movement Between the Jews.
What stands out and is even painful is that it was not necessarily the simple people, but the intelligent Ukrainians in the town, those who were thought to be enlightened and noble, those who acted as educators and friends to the Jews, who turned their skin overnight and became haters of Israel. They had not patience and wanted to immediately see the town purified from Jews.
A personal example of this phenomenon was a senior educator, the principal of the elementary school in the town for tens of years, who raised and educated generations -- Harihu Damidiuk. He was one of the first and outstanding who signed the petition to the Germans, in which the Ukrainians, residents of Stepan, requested to get rid of, as soon as possible, the Jews in the ghetto in the town. Amongst those who signed the petitions were mostly the Ukrainian intelligentsia of the town.
It was known of additional Ukrainian intelligentsia who turned their skin, and sadistically enjoyed becoming the ruling authorities under the Germans. Sasha Karomaf, the head of the Ukrainian police and his helper, Kola Karomaff, the son of Tzatzik, who was on the police force, stood out in their sadistic actions toward the Jews of the town when he killed them with a machine gun with his own hands, and he was even in charge of this activity. There were many others.
Translated by Yona Landau Yitzhak, born in1918, in the small village of Vervecha, near Stepan, who grew up in a family of eight people, including five brothers and a sister. Yitzhak's father was a farmer in the village, and also had a factory of lime. We helped with running the farm in addition to our studies. We lived in peace and in good neighborly relations with the Ukrainian villagers in our area. There were three additional Jewish families in the village.
When the Germans entered our area, they stole from us cows and horses. Hooligans from the villagers began to hassle us and persecute us. At the beginning, there was a decree that we must wear a yellow patch on the front and the back of our clothes. In the beginning of 1942, we were moved to the ghetto of Stepan, which had 2,500 Jews in it. The conditions of the ghetto were very difficult: very crowded, rations of food, filth, and work for men from age 16 to55.
Since we were experts in making lime, they transferred me, my father, my uncle, Chaim Wachs, to work in the small village of Vervecha. We were there until August 1942. One day the Germans appeared in a car and took us to the ghetto. From the discussion amongst the Germans, I understood that the Germans intended to annihilate all the Jews of the ghetto. My uncle escaped to the forest, but was caught by the Ukrainian nationalists and killed.
When we arrived to the ghetto, I heard from everyone that the Germans intended to annihilate the Jews in the ghetto, and I began to plan possibilities of escaping with my family from the ghetto. My brothers, Chaim and Sheptel, were in forced labor camps in Kostopol. My mother and little brother Motel escaped from the ghetto and got to the area of the village of Vervecha by themselves. My mother and sister were caught by the Ukrainians, and hit to death. My brother Motel escaped to one of the friendly non-Jews, who was one of the few who still helped Jews with compassion and caring.
On the day of the annihilation, at dawn, I along with my brother Yaacov were put on one of the carts that led the Jews of the town to their death near the village Karchovila, ten kilometers from Kostopol. There the Ukrainians and the Germans had prepared huge pits, and the Jews were shot by the pits, and were buried in a huge brothers' grave, some only wounded and buried alive.
When the cart got near the place, Yaacov, my brother, and I decided to escape, and indeed we fled to the trees of the forest. Even though the Germans opened fire on us, we succeeded to escape. After wandering, we got near the village of Vervecha. We ran into an old non-Jew, Nalowyaika Vasil, who said that he was willing to help us. He hid us in his threshing floor, even though it was dangerous for him. After that, we found our little brother, Motel, and our other brothers, Chaim and Sheptel, who also succeeded escaping from the Germans.
The situation in the village got worse. The Germans along with their partners, the Ukrainians, increased the searching from house to house, from threshing floor to threshing floor, and we were forced to wander and hide all the time in inhumane conditions. My brother Sheptel was caught by the Ukrainians and the Germans, and was tortured in order that he would reveal our hiding place. But he withstood the inhumane torturing for four days, and didn't reveal to them anything, and in the end he died.
I got sick of life, and at midnight I turned to the head of the Ukrainian nationalist gang in the village by the name of Helkon Zinka, who had studied with me in school in the past, and I said to him: I have come so you can kill me. He responded: No, I don't want to kill you. But I command you and your brothers hiding in the village to leave today, because in the end you will be caught by my friends and they will kill you. At this period of time, the nationalist Ukrainians began to attack Polish towns, and thus most of the Poles were centralized in the area of the village, Hota-Stepanseka, and they organized themselves for defense. We fled from Vervecha to Hota-Stepanseka. Here we were taken in willingly by the Poles as an additional work force and for defending ourselves together.
After several successful Ukrainian attacks in which they burned houses and fields, the Poles had to leave their last fortress in Hota-Stepanseka and to wander to Rechavlobaka, a railroad station town, and to live under the German rule. We joined them with several other Jewish youths from Stepan and the area. Since it was clear that the Poles would be sent to work in other areas of Poland or Germany, my brothers and I decided to move over to the area of Minsk. After wandering, we joined the partisans. My brother, Yaacov zl, my brother, Motel, and I were in the battalion of the commander Kerokov. My brother, Chaim zl was in the battalion of the commander Tankov. Thus we acted until we were freed by the Red Army, and returned to Stepan and the village, Vervecha. My two brothers, Yaacov and Chaim, fell in their fight against the nationalist Ukrainians in their desire to avenge the Jewish blood spilled.
I reported to the Soviet authorities about all the collaborators amongst the Ukrainians murderers. Some of them were caught and punished.
After that, I left the area and moved to Israel. I live with my family in Ashdod. My brother, Motel, moved to Canada, and lives there with his family.
Translated by Yona Landau The Germans set up by the railroad track in Kostopol, on the way to Ferminka, a closed forced labor camp. They made a barbed-wire fenced area around the buildings of the clerks built by the Poles.
Yona Rassis, a son of the town of Stepan, was one of seven hundred young people who were centralized in this camp, and he tells this:
In the summer of 1942, the Judenratt in Stepan was commanded to draft 200 youths to the work camp in Kostopol. The Shotz Plolitzi Ukrainians filled this task and at their head Comisar Ginter. The youths walked by foot to Kostopol and were surrounded by Ukrainian horsemen. The policemen hit cruely anyone who stopped walking or walked too slowly. Some fell on the road because of lack of strength. In the end, we reached Kostopol. We were housed in a courtyard or in some buildings that were surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. There were seven hundred youths from Stepan, Lodvipol, Brizna, Osoba, Derojna, and Selishitz Zoota.
The discipline in the work camp was like in an army camp. Every morning they would wake everybody and after a quick washing, they would take us out for the roll-call. If we didn't get in order quickly and in the right order, we would be hit and we had to do hard exercises, and running.
Ben-Tzion Lipshitz, a man of Derojna, who was amongst the seven hundred men in the forced labor camp told that the people lived on the top floors of the clerk houses, and below lived the people of the Shotz Politzi. This arrangement prevented the people who lived on the second floor any possibility of going down to the rooms without seeing the Ukrainian policemen on the bottom floor. The major work place was the government track (the saw mill) that was run by the Ukrainians. The place was filled with policemen from the Shotz Politzi. The work was hard. The management saved money by not using machinery since hand labor was cheaper. They took apart and loaded boards and beams, brought wood to the sawmill machines, pushed empty and full cars of trains, and moved cars from track to track. They didn't have set work hours. They worked according to the orders of the heads of the factory, and sometimes even continued working into the night time.
Amongst the prisoners of the camp were Poles and amongst them stood out a Catholic priest on whose back the Germans placed a red patch, like they did with the rest of the Poles. Before the end of the summer, when the time to annihilate the Jews approached, the Poles were let out of the camp. When there was no need to employ all the seven hundred prisoners at the saw mill, they were sent to work in other areas.
Yonah Rassis worked a couple of days by Ginter and was sent a couple of times to work in the ghetto. When the prisoners of the camp worked in the city, they were brought to and from work in army order, marching in rows of eight. The food given to them was very little, twice a day thin soup and two hundred grams of bread. Sometimes their relatives succeeded in bringing into the camp a cart of food that all the prisoners divided amongst themselves.
From the stories of Yonah Rassis, it seems that guarding in this camp was not as severe as in the ghetto. When there was a fear of smallpox, he fled from the camp and returned to Stepan for two weeks until he was cured. The Judenratt of Stepan sent someone else in his place to work. After he healed, Rassis went back to work in Kostopol.
Ben-Tzion Liphshitz moved at the beginning of the German occupation from Derojna to Selishitz Zoota, the town his wife was born in, and was sent from there by the Judenratt to the work camp in Kostopol. He told that the Judenratt of Selishitz exchanged every couple of weeks its men in the work camp with other men. Near the time of the annihilation, the switching was stopped, according to German orders. The work quotas that were sent to Kostopol from the towns of the area were increased from week to week. Selishitz Zoota was required to send 25 men and later the quota grew. At the beginning, refugees were sent from Selishitz by free will, because in Selishitz they lived in very crowded conditions. When they finished sending the refugees, the senior members of Selishitz were sent.
Ben-Tzion Liphshitz had a head of the Ukrainian camp named Shvechinko. He was a kind of engineer who developed in the area of the camp workshops for metal shop work, carpentry, and other professions. Shvechinko was a moderate man and treated the people of the camp fairly. Ben-Tzion saw him only once go crazy. It was after the massacre of the Jews of Rovno. The Germans divided spirits to the Ukrainians after the killing. Shvechinko was drunk after the massacre, and when Ben-Tzion entered his area, he threw on him a bucket of coals, and it struck Ben-Tzion's head. But when he saw Ben-Tzion full of blood, he became sober and helped to put bandages on him.
Yonah Rassis told much about the abuse of the Germans and of the Ukrainians in the camp. Not only did they work very hard, but they were commanded, when they were exhausted, to dance in front of them in the market square, a sadistic hobby of Gintar, that the Ukrainians took upon themselves, and exaggerated even more so.
Translated by Yona Landau The forced labor camp was annihilated on Monday night and the next day the Germans and the Ukrainians destroyed several other concentrations of Jews in the area. A few days before the annihilation, we felt that something was going to happen. A reinforcement of the Ukrainian Shotz Politzi arrived. They had everyday intensive training sessions, the guard duty in the camp was reinforced, and our movement around the camp was reduced. The guards would torture us for the smallest offense, and they would hit us very cruelly.
We were young and even though the living conditions in the camp were difficult, we were still healthy. We would ask each other: Will we make the work of murder of the Germans and the Ukrainians easier and be like sheep led to be slaughtered? The answer was clear: We have nothing to loose. It is better that we try to save ourselves than give our necks to be killed. We didn't have weapons, and the policemen had weapons of all sorts. We decided to flee. There were thick forests in the area. If we would just get to the forest, we would be saved. We heard that lately groups of Russian partisans appeared in the forest, and we hoped that we would fall into their hands, and would be able to join them. But it was difficult to find the right time in the days we had left.
On Monday, we went out to work as usual to the government sawmill. The guard duty was increased, and our movement was reduced. Work was finished earlier that day, and we returned to the camp. That afternoon, additional Ukrainian policemen arrived, and immediately joined the other guards. In the late afternoon and the early evening, they were busy with training and order exercises. We decided to do all we could to get away from the murderers.
The man who initiated and planned the massive escape was Gedalia. I don't remember what town he was from, but there is no doubt in my mind that he was a man of great courage. It began around ten o'clock that evening. The courtyard of the camp was lit with projectors, and around the area, armed guards stood with their weapons cocked.
One unit of the Shotz Politzi entered the houses and began to take us downstairs to the courtyard. They did this with the anger of murderers, with hits and blows. We went downstairs, and according to command, we got in rows of eight. Another unit of the Shotz Politzi began to get near us, and surround us. We felt this was our only and last chance. I was sure all seven hundred prisoners felt the same. Suddenly Gedalia, our leader, screamed: Hura! Hura! We all joined him in calling Hura! All the pain and suffering that had accumulated in our hearts, came out in this cry.
The Ukrainians and their German commanders were shocked from this cry of seven hundred prisoners, which expressed terror. We took advantage of their shock, and we jumped from the rows, and we fell on the enemy, pushed them, kicked them, and ran forward toward the gates. Our enemies recovered quickly, and began shooting. But we were able to get out of the courtyard and spread out. According to Gedalia's orders, each man was alone to save himself.
I never ran so fast in my life. We jumped over fences, pits, and barriers, until we reached the forest. It was very scary; the shooting was everywhere and whistled over us. Men ran, fell. There were those who remained where they fell, and there were those who got up when they fell and continued running as fast as they could. We met farmers who were on their way to the ghetto at Kostopol to steal what they could. Many of them stopped us and killed some of us.
That night we ran around the forest and from time to time we changed direction in order to mix the enemy up. In the end, many succeeded to get out of the shooting and danger area. After we got away from the shooting, we organized ourselves in groups and after a short rest, we continued walking the rest of the night. At dawn, we arrived at the village Pankov. It was difficult to estimate how many succeeded to escape. I think many escaped, but after that the Germans began the big hunt in the forest. The Germans promised the residents of the villages that for every living or dead Jew brought to their headquarters, they would receive a prize, a kilogram of salt. The farmers were tempted, and many of us paid our lives for a kilogram of salt.
We were a small group of Jews. We met in the Chadnik forest Lazar Salfoi from Kostopol, his wife, his daughter, and his little son. We put up two booths that nights and slept there that night. After a couple of days, the Salfoi family and I were trapped in the forest by a gang of Ukrainians from Andra. They ordered us to raise our hands and they searched us. I was used to this from the saw mill. I lay down on the floor, jumped away from them, and began running. They shot in my direction and wounded my hand, but didn't catch me. I was saved from death. I saw how they murdered the whole Salfoi family one after the other. The little boy who remained asked for mercy, but they hardened their hearts and killed him.
When we were in the forest, it became known to us that on the night of our escape, the ghetto of Kostopol was annihilated.
Translated by Yona Landau There are survivors of Stepan who fled from the pits or the carts of death, and succeeded after many tribulations and hiding, to go through the war and be liberated by the Russians in the beginning of 1944. Most of them were youths or children that succeeded in escaping with or without their parents, to slip into the forests or to far off villages.
One group escaped instinctively to the direction of Korost, a Ukrainian village area, as they fled along the Horyn River. Everyone tried to stay away and flee, and there was no kind of communication between one and another. Many times one would try to stay away from another from fear of being discovered, if they were in a big group.
Many of the escapees were caught by the Ukrainian villagers and were turned over to the Germans, because of their hatred for the Jews or because they wanted to steal golden teeth, and gold of those murdered.
Part of this group met about the time of the Soviet liberation at the beginning of 1944 in the forest, by the Polish town of Kerchon, by Milinsk. They were: Yona Rassis, the son of Shmuel Rassis, the grandson of Rabbi Yukel, the Shamash; Shimon Bongrat, the son of the baker (After the Soviet liberation, he volunteered to avenge the Ukrainians who cooperated with the Germans. During his army service, he was lost track of.); Chana Shenker, the daughter of Rebbi Nahman, the glazier; Yeshayahu and his sister, Sosel (Sara) Prishkolnik from the Gotas family; Leah, Sonia, Devora, and Moshe Vashchina from Korost near Stepan, who are today in Canada though Devora stayed in Russia; the brothers Mania and Avraham Yabniok from Korost and their brother Yosel who fell to the hands of the Ukrainian nationalists though after freedom by the Soviets, and their brother Aaron who fell while serving in the Red Army; Nehemia Weinstein who stayed in Russia, his brother Chaim zl who was shot by mistake by the Polish partisans in the forest; Shoshana- Rezel, Rachel Sara, and Avraham Chait, and Avraham Binyamin who was killed by the Ukrainian murderers while volunteering to catch the collaborators of the Nazis, the Ukrainian nationalists.
Another group of survivors of Stepan who escaped from the pits of death or on the way to the pits of death were mostly youths and children who fled to the direction of the Hota of Stepan, in a Polish rural area. There many were caught by the Ukrainian police and by locals. A few survived, youths who were separated from their parents. There were those who from the beginning hid on farms that were far off from well populated areas, by friendly non-Jews, and paid them. There were those who betrayed the Jews for money or because they hated Jews.
Amongst the stories of the survivors, it is known of these cases of those who were caught and killed: the wife of Ben-Tzion Sheinboim and her children zl; the father of Michael Patshnik, Yaacov zl; the father of Avraham Tchor, Michael zl; the father of Yitzhak Vishchina, Dodla zl; the father of Hershel Maggid, Yosef zl, who hid amongst the non-Jews almost up to the liberation and in the end was killed by the Bandrovechim, as his wife Freidel and her sons Hershel and Eliyahu were saved; Yonah Grossman; and many others for whom facts about them are unknown.
Those who remained living in this group were close to Polish villages in this area until they were attacked by the Ukrainian nationalists. They helped the Poles to defend themselves at the beginning, and in the end they wandered along with the Poles. Some of them, mainly girls: Batya Becker, Feril Bebtchuk, and Henia who passed the war with Arian papers in work camps in Germany, and the rest of the youths were near the areas of the partisans in the area of the swamps of Finsk. Thus they went through the war until the Soviet liberation at the beginning of 1944, and went back to Stepan. From Stepan they continued to Israel via Poland. Some moved to the United States and to Canada.
The survivors of this group were: Rezel Kagan, Michael Patshnik, Shendel Bas, Avraham Tchor, Aaron Grossman, Malcha Grossman, Luzar Vasrashtrom, Shika Becker, Shlomo Greenshtein, Yaacov Greenshtein, Batya Becker, Ferel Bebtchuk, Motel Weisman, Heiyna Helnakas, the butcher, Sonia Winer, Beila Bebtchuk, Shmuel, the tailor (Korzak), who was killed when he volunteered to avenge the Ukrainian nationalists, Yitzhak Veshchina, the son of Dodel, Yoski Grossman, the son of Yonah, Shlomo Ronkas, the grandson of the Melamed Menibel (who remained in Poland), and Freidel Maggid with his sons, Hershel and Eli.
Translated by Yona Landau Batya, with her mother and her little sister Brendala, Bronia Sheinboim with her children, Henia Tchor, Batya Tchor, Sonia from the Tchor family with her baby, all escaped the carts that went to Karchovla, ten kilometers from Kostopol, the place of killing of the Jews of Stepan and the area.
Most of them jumped from the carts and tried to flee to the forests, knowing that death was near. They were caught in the shooting of the Ukrainian policemen and some were caught and returned to the carts that led them to their deaths. Henia Tchor and her grandchild were caught and killed. The rest escaped to the forests and got to the area of Kamionka. There they met Jews of other towns. The tribulations of the forest were many -- hunger, lice, fear of every leaf that moved, wandering from place to place because of searches by the Ukrainians in the German command who were accompanied by dogs, the danger of being murdered, or being turned over to the police by the same non-Jews who we turned to for help, for bread or for hiding.
It happened that a non-Jew turned against us because of his hate for Jews or because of the desire for money, gold, or jewelry of the refugees.
The feeling of being chased was very strong and people were very scared. In one case, Aaron and Brendala Becker hid in back of a pile of hay, and on the other side of the same pile, another Jew hid. When they heard a noise on the other side of the pile, both sides became very scared, until they found out about each other and they learned their real identities.
Aaron Grossman tells that the strong people had the ability to survive in the conditions of the forest and the hostile surroundings. For example, it is told of Brendala Becker, a thin girl with curly hair, that she was very brave and carried her burden in those crazy times. She would go to the houses of the non-Jews, even though it was very dangerous, and would return with a lot of food to the forest to the hiding place of her sister, her mother, and the rest of the people of the town. After a while, she was caught along with Sonia Tchor. They were taken to the town, tortured, and killed. The mother of Batya, Bonya Tchor, couldn't take the tribulations of the forest and died in the forest. Bronya Shenboim and her children were caught and killed.
After additional searches and living together with eighteen Jews from her area in the depths of the forest in inhumane conditions, with fear and terror always, Batya was left alone. She finally got to a righteous non-Jew, a Pole by the name of Lutzian Onochobaski, from the Polish village of Sadlisko. He hid her. The woman being very religious asked the priest from Virka, a near by Polish village, and he suggested to her to help the Jews even though it was dangerous. Within a short time, Avraham Tchor came to the same town and stayed with the same non-Jew, Mosik, along with Batya. One of the relatives of Lutzian who hated Jews and was very violent, tried to turn Mosik in to the authorities. But the non-Jew who was hiding the Jews threatened to kill the family of the violent relative. Thus the danger passed.
In 1943, when the Ukrainian uprising began in Stepan and the area against the German authorities and attacks on Polish villages began in order to annihilate the Polish residents, Batya and Mosik wandered together along with other Poles to nearby towns and cities. There Batya met two Jewish girls from Stodin, by the names of Fayeh and Etta. Together along with five Poles from the area of Recholovka (a railroad station) turned to the direction of the forests, in order to join the partisans. On the way, they ran into shooting by the Ukrainian nationalists and most of the group was killed.
Batya returned to Recholovka, and with the girl from Stodin by the name of Ita Shinis, they traveled as Poles to Germany by Sarny and Rovno. They fixed their papers and were on their way. They were scared that they would meet a non-Jew who knew them and would identify them as Jews. Thus they went through the war with double identities, and survived. In one case, Batya met a Jewish girl, Henia, the daughter of Helenka, the butcher. But each one didn't pay attention to each other because they were afraid that they would reveal that they were Jews.
Testimonies from the Death Pits
Translated by Yona Landau From one of the survivors, Sonia Wiener, it became known that she had succeeded to escape naked from the death pits, while she was placed there by the Ukrainian police under the German command. After many tribulations and wanderings, hiding in the forest and by non-Jews, she survived. She is in Canada today.
A similar story was heard from one of the survivors, a village Jew from Vorvachia, who escaped after he was thrown into the pit with the rest of the Jews. When it got dark, he awakened, being totally covered with blood, and escaped to the forest.
Translated by Yona Landau My husband, Yosel Maggid, worked as a professional miller outside the ghetto and outside of the town, and didn't return to live in the ghetto.
On the night of the massacre of the Jews of the ghetto, I succeeded with my little son, Eliyahu, to escape from the Ukrainian policemen who directed the Jewish convoy to get onto the carts. I lost my son Hershel when I escaped. I ran in the direction of the cemetery, in order to hide amongst the graves and bushes. Here I met a friendly non-Jew who suggested to me to get away from the cemetery because they would easily find me there and kill me. I continued fleeing along with my little son, and we got to a farm area named Polinka, isolated and far from the town. Here we hid in the threshing floor without the permission of the farmer. When the farmer found us out, he gave us food and asked us to leave the place because he was afraid something would happen to him.
We continued to flee at night, and we got to the village Komrivka, through the forest. On the way, we saw dead bodies floating on the Horyn River. They were the bodies of Jews who jumped from the carts to the river at the time the carts were lead to the death pits. There were those who jumped to the river in order to escape what was to happen and there were those who committed suicide.
When I arrived at Komrivka, I turned to one of the non-Jews. He was a religious non-Jew. He was compassionate to us and hid us in a pile of hay in his threshing floor. With the aid of this non-Jew, I made contact with my husband, and it became known to me that my son Hershel survived and was with my husband. After a couple of days, my husband, Yosef, joined me, and we spent a couple more days in the threshing floor of that righteous non-Jew who helped us when we were in danger.
One night, when the farmer brought us our daily portion of food, he told us that we must leave that night because the Bandrovechim arrived at the village and were searching for surviving Jews in order to kill them.
That night, we carefully left the threshing floor to the forest, and we arrived, after a night of wandering, to the nearby village Valoshin. Here we convinced a non-Jew to hide us and for gold that we had, he agreed to hide us in a pit in his threshing floor. The conditions in the pit were horrible. Water and food were given to us very sparingly. We mostly lacked drinking water. We developed a method of melting ice in our hands. These pieces of ice froze on the damp walls of the pit at night, and thus we had the addition of water for our use.
We were hid by this farmer for a couple of months, and when we had no more money, he told us to leave. We went to another non-Jew in the area, who was a very religious Christian and feared G-d. He thought that he would convince us to convert to Christianity. But along with this, he helped us with food and hiding. Every night, he would visit us in the threshing floor, and try to convert us to Christianity.
At the end of 1943, the Ukrainian nationalists threw out the last few Germans authorities from the town, and proclaimed an independent Ukrainian rule. They said that every Jew who would leave his hiding place would be given good treatment and would be allowed to work in his profession in order to make a living. My husband, Yosel, being needed in his profession as a miller of flour, believed, in all innocence, the Ukrainian promise. He left his hiding and came before the Ukrainians in rule at that time in the town. They indeed employed him for a period of time as the main miller of the heads of the town. We changed our hiding place closer to the suburb of the town, the colony, on the other side of the bridge. Here we were hid by a non-Jew we knew.
One morning the non-Jew announced to us that the Bandrovechim killed my husband along with some other Jews who were under their care. That was six weeks before the Soviets entered the town. The non-Jew suggested to us to flee immediately because the Bandrovechim will also look for us in order to kill us. Therefore, I took my two children and fled to the village, Voloshin. There we were hid by the compassionate non-Jew again. One day my little son noticed in a crack in the door of the threshing floor the uniform of a Russian soldier. Thus it became known to us the fall of the Germans and the Bandrovechim.
In the beginning of 1944, we moved back to Stepan, which was empty of Jews. We were amongst the few who survived. Within a couple of days, some girls and fellows joined us as they left their hiding places and were left refugees. Within a short time, we left our town, and traveled to Poland, and from there to Germany, and we immigrated to America, where I live with my two sons, each of whom raised a family of his own.
Translated by Yona Landau During the first part of July 1941, the Red Army began to leave Galilot, Volyn , and Polisia. During the middle of the month, they left Stepan, which was twenty kilometers from the train station Mokbin, and forty kilometers from Darajna. The hearts of the Jews trembled, when rumors spread that the Germans were getting near the town from the side of Lootzak and the village Tzoman. On the eighteenth of July 1941, the town was conquered by the Germans.
On the first days of the new rule, there was barely felt a bad relation by the Germans toward the Jews. If something happened, they said it was because of the transition of the authorities. But when the Ukrainians got close to the Germans and began to help them, we began to feel the cruelty and insolence of the Germans. The Germans and their helpers began to cut the beards of the Jews, to steal their possessions, to ruin synagogues and holy articles, and to hit Jews on the street. Within a short time, the Jews were forced to wear a yellow patch on their clothes, they were limited in their movements, and were forced to do forced labor in difficult conditions.
For half a year the situation continued the same way. But horrible news arrived about the acts of the Nazis toward Jews in other places. The panic and the bewilderment grew in the town. Life got more difficult from day to day. At the beginning of 1942, the Germans set up a ghetto in Stepan for the Jews and ordered the Jews of Stepan and the village Jews from the area to move into the ghetto. They were not allowed to take their possessions with them, except hand luggage. One cannot imagine the situation of those taken from their homes, leaving their possessions to be stolen, and locked up in the ghetto under strict control. There were those who tried to escape, hide, and not enter the ghetto, or even flee from the ghetto in the middle of the night. But many were caught, hit, and returned to the ghetto.
The ghetto was in existence until August 1942. Many got sick and died in the ghetto, and the rest -- were sick of living. On that day, Jews were taken out, group by group, and led, some in carts, some by foot, twenty five kilometers away, near Kostopol. There were already prepared pits, and the end came to the Jews of Stepan. Only a hundred Jews escaped on the way and from the place of annihilation. The rest -- elderly and children -- 3,000-3,500 souls -- fell to the impure swords of the wicked and were destroyed from earth. Amongst those destroyed were people of the town and their businessmen: Pinchas Goldenstein (from the committee of the community of Kostopol), Avraham Noz (a dedicated Zionist), Moshe Yosef Dargof (the head of the committee for craftsmen and the charity of the community), teachers, and others.
That was the end of Stepan.
Translated by Yona Landau
The little that was written on this subject was sorted out after continual consultation and discussions amongst the members of the editorial board and some additional Holocaust survivor friends who felt the events of this bitter period.
In the end, Yosef Wachs was described by those who knew him well before the wicked rule of the Germans, and by those, who perhaps didn't know him so well, when he was in the powerful position of the head of the Judenratt.
Therefore, the Jews of town congregated in the big synagogue and Avraham Goz was chosen to be the head of the Judenratt, and Yosef Wachs was chosen as his deputy. Yosef Wachs got up and proclaimed that he is not willing to be the deputy, but only the head. Avraham Goz, being a gentle and humble man, gave into Yosef Wachs immediately. The community accepted Yosef Wachs as the head.
Yosef was known to the Jews of Stepan as extraordinary, conceited, walked on the street with his head in the air, tried to stay away from relations with the Jews of the town, and was attracted to the groups of the Polish authorities and Polish intelligensia. It was known that he wasn't very sensible, even though he was intelligent.
When the Soviets entered and ruled the town, he tried to get a position, but was not accepted because he had property at the time of the Polish regime until 1939.
When he was chosen as the head of the Judenratt, it was as if he was satisfied, his personal ambition was filled. He had an absolute regime. He organized the Jewish police around him. Most of them did as he said (except a few, who kept humane). Baruch Krizler, Sheptel Yoklezon, Avraham Weitchnodel, the son of Korzek, were remembered for their humane behavior.
Yosef established as his holy goal to fulfill exactly, or even more than required, the requests and decrees of the Germans in all areas of life in the ghetto in that period, if it was turning over furs of individuals, fulfilling work quotas, or sending men to work camps. With this attitude, he made sure that there was a normal level of hygiene in the horrible crowding conditions that were in the ghetto, but made the living conditions in the ghetto very difficult because he went exactly according to the orders of the Germans. He punished those who dared to smuggle in food through the ghetto fence by hitting them and putting them in a jail hole. He also punished very severely those who dared to sneak food on their bodies when they returned from work outside of the ghetto.
From what some of the survivors said, he really believed that if his actions were acceptable in the eyes of the Germans, they would not destroy the Jews. But in the difficult conditions of life, decrees, and burdens too heavy to take, it seemed that Yosef's regime was not right. There were many cases where he played favorites. The Jews of the ghetto complained about Yosef's behavior, and viewed him as a collaborator of the Germans with regard to the decrees, the living conditions, and annihilation.
On the day of the annihilation, there were rumors that Yosef traveled to Kostopol to a representative of the Germans in order to try to prevent the annihilation, but he had no luck. When he returned that night to the town, he was shot in the back when leaving the building of the Ukrainian police.
He was the first victim that night of the destruction of the total Jewish community of Stepan.
The few who succeeded in escaping from the carts on the way to destruction were Mitak, his son, and the second wife of Yosef Wachs and a few other youths, among them Dotzia Goverman, who lost their lives when they jumped from the bridge to the river, as they guessed what was to happen to them by the pits.
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