A Townlet in the Forest
MANEVICHI 51°22' / 25°32'
POVORSK 51°16' / 25°08'
TROYANOVKA 51°20' / 25°17'
Translation of Ayara b'yaar
Written by: Jehuda Merin
Printed in Israel, 1980
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This is a translation from: Ayara b'yaar; A Townlet in the Forest, submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master's Degree in the Department of Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University.
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A TOWNLET IN THE FOREST
FAMILY-CAMPS OF JEWISH REFUGEES FROM THE
MANIEWICZE, POWORSK, AND TROJANOWKA
COMMUNITIES ALONGSIDE THE
PARTISAN UNITS OF "KRUK" AND "MAX"
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master's Degree
In the Department of Jewish History, BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY
IN MEMORY OF MY PARENTS, BROTHERS, SISTERS AND ALL MY RELATIVES
WHO PERISHED IN THE HOLOCAUST, IN THE GHETTOS AND FOREST
AND POLYSIA IN RANKS OF THE PARTISANS AND RED ARMY
Research project in the course of studies for the MA degree
of the Jewish Studies Faculty -- Israel History (New Era).
The research paper consists of the following sections:
- Background and purpose of the research
- The tragic events in three villages in Vohlyn, Manievicze, Povorsk, and Troyanovka up to departure to the forests and establishment of the "Townlet in the Forest"
- Summary of events in the forest, including partisan movements in the area
- Family camps
- Summary and conclusions (in Hebrew and English)
- Sources and bibliography
No sooner had operation "Barbarosa" begun, even before the German conquest of West Ukraine and Byelorussia, when Ukrainian and Byelorussian nationalists began preparing "a new order". Many Jews suspected for sympathizing with the communist Soviet regime, were taken from their homes and disappeared. After the Red-Army retreat, the degradation and murder of Jews began to serve as an outlet for Ukrainians and other inhabitants of the area. Later, according to a carefully devised German plan, ten percent of the Jewish male population was taken to forced labor. In this, the Germans were aided by others. Under this pretext, Jews were mercilessly slaughtered. The Germans also imposed a regime of terror, hunger, deprivation and murder on the remaining population. This state of affairs lasted from July '41 -September '42, until the final liquidation of the Jews. During this period, Jews were unable to organize any resistance whatsoever due to the sophisticated German propaganda system. They were led to believe that they were "indispensable" and that because of the essential nature of their work for the Germans, they would be able to survive. Other reasons for the lack of Jewish organization was the collaboration on the part of the Jew-hating (both active and passive), with the Germans in carrying out of the "final solution" of the Jewish problem. There was also a lack of Jewish leadership, as Jewish males were murdered immediately after the Red-Army retreat and the German invasion. Lack of leadership was disastrous for the Jewish population.
By the first month of the German invasion, a small number of fighting
partisans started to appear in the surrounding forests. They were communist war-prisoners, who had escaped from German prisoner of war camps. They tried--without much success--to organize into fighting units. This was unsuccessful mainly due to the hatred of the local population for this Communist regime and its representatives.
Only during the mass-liquidation of the Jewish population did some young Jews, despite enormous difficulties, escape to the forests. But even here, they were deeply disappointed as combat partisan groups accepted only those equipped with weapons. Those who were unarmed became simply "Jews of the forests", wandering from place to place trying to organize into groups, to obtain weapons somehow, and thus, survive.
By 1942, middle-aged Jews, women and children, who had escaped from the ghettos, also were seeking shelter. Accommodations, shelter, and food in the forest, especially in the winter, were extremely scarce. Food was obtained mainly from the surrounding villages; but all too often, there was no money to pay for it so the partisans took it forcibly or stole.
The situation was such that the groups, which had not been accepted by the formal combat units, had to keep themselves alive by force of weapons. Gradually, however, the "family-camps" willingly rendered services to the fighting units in return. They engaged in the manufacture of clothing and food and operated flourmills and medical services for the partisans. They also built workshops for the manufacture of explosives and repair of weapons. These activities justified their
survival and their life in the forests.
Within these camps, a kind of religious life was manifest, expressing itself mainly through the observance of Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. There were public prayer and marriage, according Jewish tradition. People reminisced around campfires about the past and dreamed of the future, after the war was won.
The "family-camps" were in constant danger of being attacked by the German police, in collaboration with the local police and SS units especially trained to fight the partisans. In times of danger, the partisans would mount their horses, take their carts and move to a new site, far from the former. The family-camps, however, which included many old people and children, were left to their fate; and everyone had to try to survive on his own. They usually fled into the depths of the forests, where many met their death.
A small number of Jewish families arrived in the forests before the end of 1941. Most of those who had left the ghettos and found shelter in the family-camps in the forests, were refugees from the towns and villages of Byelorussia and Ukraine, which had been destroyed in the spring and summer of 1942. Many of these refugees found shelter in "kennels" (shelters under the ground) prepared in the homes of peasants who were past acquaintances. These peasants were well paid, but sooner or later, most of those who had hidden Jews, betrayed, robbed, and murdered them. In the course of time, the lives of the Jews in hiding had become extremely tenuous; and some honest peasants advised them to flee.
The exact number of Jews rescued in this way is unknown. Neither do we know how many Jews found shelter in the family-camps. Many of them died during German comb-outs; and large numbers died at the hands of the various groups then living in the forest: Russian and Polish partisans (A.K. and N.S.Z.), Ukrainian Nationalists (the Banderov people, members of the Bolbov group and the U.P.A.1). A considerable number of Jews were murdered by their peasant neighbors or died of cold, hunger, and disease.
The number of Jews who arrived in the forests was, of course, much larger than that of those who survived. When the region was liberated by the Red Army in the summer of 1944, approximately six hundred Jews2 survived in family-camps in the entire Vohlyn area, including three hundred Jews from the three small towns of Manievicze, Trojanowka, Povorsk and their environs. These Jews created two family-camps, which were protected by the partisan-units under the command of Max and Kruk. The number of Jews, who survived in family-camps in the whole region of Ukraine and Byelorussia occupied by the Germans, probably did not exceed ten thousand people.
During the establishment of the family-camps, differences of opinion had arisen among the founders of the camps, the issue being the optimal number of people to be accepted into the camps and the acceptance of new families arriving in the forests. Those who held the view that the camps should be small claimed it would be easier to obtain food to hide and to
camouflage for a small camp. Such a camp also would be easier to transfer in times of comb-outs. Those who were in favor of accepting all Jews who had escaped the ghettos, irrespective of the size of the camp claimed that the rescue of Jews should stand above all other considerations.3
These differences of view were strongly held especially during the early period of the establishment of family-camps, i.e., late 1942, when the camps were located on the periphery of the forests, near villages were food could be obtained. The periphery of the woods became insecure from late 1942 onwards. German units, previously informed, easily found the hiding places. The large German comb-outs of the partisans were also very dangerous for the family-camps. During the years 1942-1944, the Germans carried out large-scale comb-outs throughout all the forests in which Jews had been living. Thousands of German soldiers surrounded the forests to prevent escape. The only possibly means of escape during the comb-out was through the almost impassable bogs and to the underground bunkers. Many family-camp inhabitants died during comb-outs of the forests.4
Stages in the Partisan Movement5
Conditions in the Jewish family-camps changed for the better during the second stages of the Soviet partisan activities, from 1943 onwards. The arrival of General Platon in Maliwokian puszcza, General Biegma in South Polesje and other partisan commanders and senior Party members in other places -- Djadja, Pietja or Fiodorov Czernigowski, brought about an improvement in the conditions of the Jews. At that time, they were no longer subject to the arbitrariness of the local Soviet partisans' commanders. In some regions, a regular supply of food to the family-camps even was arranged and carried out by the partisan units.6
However, even during this second stage of partisan activity, it was very difficult for the Jewish family-camps. Despite the reorganization of the partisan units and despite the discipline imposed upon them, the discipline was not of a strict military nature. Everyone wishing to harm Jews easily could find the means to do so. Murder, stealing of weapons, etc., which had been common during the first stage, occurred during the second stage as well, although less frequently as complaint became possible at that time.7
It must [be] born in mind that the aims of the Russian partisan movement were different from those of the Jews in the family-camps. These were
established in order to save all those thousands of women, children, and old people, who had escaped the liquidation operation, while the chief aim of the partisans was to fight the enemy.8
Under various pretexts, weapons were taken away from the young Jewish fighters who were transferred to the family-camps. This aroused bitterness among the Jews, who were being abandoned to their fate of hunger and lack of security. At best, the Jews were ordered to serve in combat units.9
In this work, three small towns are quoted as examples:
with approximately 4,000 Jews (including Jews from the surrounding villages and 1,500 Jewish refugees from western Poland
with approximately 1,500 Jews
with approximately 300 Jews
The Jewish towns were located within "a sea" of small villages, about one hundred, with a population of 50,000 people, mostly Ukrainians and Polish farmers, transferred to the area by the Polish government to "Polonize" the area. The villages subsisted mainly on cattle [and] pig farming and fishing. In the north were the Byelorussians, distinguished from the other nationalities by their poverty and humanity.
The Jewish partisans in the forest, in spite of their courageous fighting, were often the objects of contempt and mockery in the eyes of their Gentile comrades. This occurred mostly in the family-camps, which were made-up of old people, women and children. After the liberation, the
Jews learned that anti-Semitism and the same hostile attitude also had spread among the "eastern" people, who had arrived immediately after the Red Army, to impose order in the liberated area.
These areas were liberated in the spring of 1944. The Jews had lived in the family-camps for about two years. It had been a hard life, full of sacrifice and suffering. It was a period of great heroism. However, the Jews left the forests strengthened and filled with the feeling that they had not lost the dignity of man. When they finally obtained their freedom, they asked themselves where to go--to homes that had once existed or to families that had been killed? They did not have sufficient time to consider their plight. The few young Jewish men who had survived were mobilized into the Red Army, together with the Ukrainian Nationalists, and sent to the front.
Most of those mobilized fell on the battlefield. So, the few survivors of the family-camps disappeared too. Young boys who had gone in to the forests at age 12-14 and emerged at 15-17 joined the "Istrebitelny Battalion", whose aim was to fight the Ukrainian Nationalists who, even after the liberation, continued murdering Jews and communists. During this period, the Ukrainians entered the forests; and many of the young boys did not return from their mission to impose Soviet order in the area.
In Maniewicze, there is a memorial stone in memory of the Soviet soldiers, who fell for their country. Among them [are] many Jews from this town: Yehuda Malamedik (Gruzin), Jehuda Volper, Kos Finkel, Schmuel Gold, Siomka Biderman, Wolf Bronstein, Abraham Merin, Zacharia Winer, Pesach Melnik, Szmuel Lupa, Abraham Gorodecki, and others.10
In Rowno, a district city, there is a memorial stone in memory of a Jewish partisan, a hero of the Soviet Union, who fell fighting the nationalists after the liberation: Misha (Moshe) Edelstein, a refugee from Kalish, who arrived in Povorsk after escaping from the Germans. In Povorsk, he organized and led the underground and, with a group of young men, entered the forests. He was a brave fighter, a proud Jews, a modest and silent man. His wish was to revenge the death of his parents, family, and girlfriend Raja Plus whom he loved and who had been taken away from him by his Russian commander. The girl preferred death to betrayal of Misha.11
Many are the nameless graves scattered in the forests and field of Wohlyn and Polesye, the graves of the sons of three townlets: Maniewicze, Povorsk, and Troyanowka and the surrounding villages. One of them is a large grave in Maniewicze called "Peridshe Mogiles." Another one, in Povorsk is called "Strojka."
The names of those who lie there are engraved in the hearts of the survivors and commemorated in the Memory Book.
First, I will present the conclusions of the Partisan commanders Max and Kruk, who, in my opinion, were liberal toward the Jews.
Today the people from the 'forest townlets' are strongly tied to the fighting brigade. There is reciprocal aid. We take care of their security and guard them. [and] They pay us with love and with important work
but what is most important, we feel that we fulfill a simple human duty. The war will be over some day; and these people will become free. We shall be proud to have helped them to survive this horrible period."12 In this modest research paper, based on the testimonies of survivors and on Holocaust literature, I wish to show that when there was any possibility of escape, however minimal, Jews by the thousands took advantage of the situation. When necessary, the fought for their lives against the Germans and their associates. The Jews quoted from Maicewicze, Povorsk, Trojanowka, Leszniwka, and vicinity were no more heroic than were the Jews
"I have read the list of the names of the Jewish partisans. [and] There are few combatants and commanders in my detachment. This list can be extended and can become ten times longer."
"THERE WERE MANY OF THEM"13
from other areas, but the natural conditions of the vicinity were in the favor. The forest was their friend. There was a place to escape to and in which to survive, despite the enormous dangers. They could fight and take revenge. Therefore, ten percent of the Jewish inhabitants from this vicinity survived, including women, children, and old people. This contrasted with other areas (without forests) in which the communities were completely exterminated. In Wohlyn, only 0.8% (2,000) of the two hundred and fifty thousand population survived.
The family-camps are a chapter in Jewish heroism, a heroism of the simple people, who, unlike the leaders who preferred to plead in traditional Diaspora fashion, availed themselves of the possibility of rescuing tens of thousands of their fellow men by escape to the forests. This time, pleading with the Gentiles was useless. Many Jews were so disheartened that they did not even consider other ways of escape.
Those who did manage to escape, either alone or in groups, felt that, although they were fighting a losing battle, they at least had a slight chance of taking revenge on the murderers. It eventually became clear that the only way to rescue was escape. This became a necessity in spite of the dangers, the unpredictable future and the large number of casualties. Jews from different walks of life-- intellects, craftsmen, housewives, youth and children--came in groups with an enormous creative potential and tried to justify their existence by helping the fighting units. These people became the center of a community form of life in the forest, without any economic basis. Each one in the family-camps wanted to contribute toward the war effort against the Germans and their associates. They were also a factor in maintaining Jewish cultural values and family life.
As quoted in the "Townlets in the Forest", "The Eternity of Israel will continue" due to the amazing recovery of the people, the dynamic use of creative energy and their incredible power of survival after the war. Following the greatest disaster in our history, in the darkness of the deep forest and the impassible endless swamps of Polesia and Wohlyn, the Jews showed an outstanding ability for flexibility and adaptation and did not allow themselves to be submerged in the trauma of the Holocaust.
The citizens of the "forest towns" drew the necessary conclusions however and left the countries where they had lived for over a thousand years, most of the inhabitants emigrated to Israel.
It is obvious to anyone dealing with and studying the Holocaust that its consequences will effect the Jewish people for generations. Each generation might see the Holocaust in a different light; and many would see themselves as having passed through it.14
1. The nationalist units: A.K. - Armja Krajowa; N.S.Z.-Narcdove Sily Zbrojne; U.P.A.-Ukrainska Postancza Armja. Poles and Ukrainians who engraved on their flag "Death to the Jews!" Back
2. Yakob Bronstein, Yad Vashem, Testimony B-1431115 - 3190/03. Back
3. Itzchak Arad, "Family-camps in the forests--an original way of rescue", Rescue Attempts During the Holocaust. Pp. 278-279. Back
4. The Voice of the War Invalids, the organ of the war-invalids, 1976, Tel Aviv, No. 111. "An Image of a Criminal": Lombard Gustaw was in charge of a formation of cavalry whose main function was to kill Jews in Polyesia and Vohlyn. In the region of the river Pripec, his formation has killed 5,200 Jews. Back
5. Hersh Smoliar, Yad Vashem, Testimony M-115/3293-3605/03. Personal Testimony about the formal orders ("Direktivy") concerning the family-camps; issued by the Soviet government. Back
6. S. Zafran, ("Wierny"), Like Pines They Grew, pp. 132-137. Back
7. Aba Klurman, "Stages in the Soviet Partisan Movement," Like Pines They Grew, pp. 160-162. Back
8. Jozef Sobiesiak, Ryszard Yegorow, Wild Seeds, ("Burzany"), pp. 218-220. Back
9. Dob Lorber ("Malinka"), Like Pines They Grew, pp. 90.91. Back
10. Motel Gajer, Yad Vashem, Testimony, "My Last Visit in Maniewicze" ("Kewer Owes"). Back
11. S. Zafran (Wierny), Yad Vashem, Testimony, Z-1430/43. Back
12. Jozef Sobiesiak (Max), Ryszrd Yegorow, Wild Seeds, ("Burzany"), Warsaw, 1960, pp. 268. Back
13. M. Koniszczuk (Kruk): "There were Many of Them" in Partisans' Friendship. Moscow: "Der Emes", 1948. Translated from Russian by Benjamin West. Back
14. M. Dworzecki ("Ban Habtorim"), Jerusalem, 1967, p 67. Back
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