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[Page 200 - Yiddish] [Page 286 - Hebrew]

Destruction and Extermination

 

Zvhil in the Years 1920 to 1941

by Meyshe Gildenman

Translated by Tina Lunson

 

Zvhy200.jpg
A celebration in the new section near the train station in Zvhil.
Received from the archive of “Yad v'shem” in Jerusalem. The picture was found by the Germans.

 

The borders between Poland and the Soviet Union were established in 1920 and consistent with that, the Jews from the so-called eastern Ukraine were cut off from the surrounding world. The Volhin Jews were impoverished both physically and materially after the First World War. The frequent changes of government and the pogroms by the Petluria bands, had driven the Jews to such a condition that they were not capable of getting themselves back on their feet by their own strength and they turned to their relatives and friends in the American lands for help. The American Jews were pleased to be called upon for such a request and, through the agencies of the “Joint Distribution Committee” and “HIAS” sent generous aid to their suffering brothers in Ukraine. The same organizations also appealed to their governments for affidavits in order to make it possible for the Volhin Jews to emigrate to America. As is known, the United States had an entry quota for every country. During the war the Russian quota was not filled and now one could receive a certificate for entry without great difficulty. Thousands of Jewish families used that opportunity for their relatives and friends whom they had not seen for years. There was much

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despair on the part of the American Jews whose relatives remained in the now-Sovietized territories and with whom they had no possibility of reuniting or even being in touch by letter. The American Jews wrote to their friends who lived in the present Poland that they should seek ways to get their relatives out from the other side of the border and promised large sums of money for carrying out such large and risky operations.

Around that time trade relationships were established between Poland and the Soviet Union in a very original arrangement. The Polish government gave concessions to “trade houses” which were located in the villages along the border, to open their stores of merchandise. The Soviet customers reported to the Polish border patrol, who stood guard over them in the storeroom of the trade-house. When they had bought the needed articles the same guard escorted them to the border. The Soviet border patrol generally knew about this contraband and tolerated it, because a large portion of the very rich earnings fell into the hands of the “pogronitshnikes”; those concessioners, who were Poles, former officers in Pilsudski's and Halier's armies, or wealthy land-owners whose estates remained in the Soviet territory, were sitting in Warsaw, Krakow and other large cities and led an extravagant life from the monies that they got from the Jewish merchants, the actual owners of the trade-houses along the border. Those merchants were Jews from the nearest of the border towns of Korets, Astrag, Rovne. But the largest percent of merchants were Zvhil Jews, who had fled from Zvhil after the big fire in 1919. That was for the following reason: In order to develop trade on a larger scale one had to have agents on the Soviet territory in whom one could have complete trust, and the best case was to have relatives of the Zvhil Jews who were employed in the “trade houses”.

When those merchants found out that there were certificates and large sums of money in the central offices of “HIAS” in Warsaw intended for Jews who were on the Soviet territory, they began to seek out those Jews and bring them out to Poland. This was not an easy task, because among those found Jews were old women and men and small children. And they had to be moved so as to avoid both the Soviets and the Polish border patrol. The work was carried out by contrabandists – peasants from the farmhouses in Korets whose farms were on the Polish side close to the border. There were instances when such a group was intercepted, arrested and taken to court. In order to avoid the border patrol the contrabandists led the Jews through swamps and streams. There were cases in the late autumn when they had to cross half-frozen streams and people got sick.

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Like, for example, the Zvhil resident Kupershmid who was in the Korets hospital for a long time and in the end had to have both legs amputated. Once those Jews got over the border while they were in danger of three months' jail time for crossing the border illegally. But the Korets Jews displayed much sympathy for the “refugees”: they hid them from the police and created opportunities for them to travel to Warsaw. Among the rescued Jews were also some residents of Zvhil and of the surrounding small towns.

The “trade-houses” were liquidated about 1927 and along with that every tie to the Jews in Zvhil was broken. A second opportunity to meet with the Jews in the Soviet territory was in the years 1931 to 1935, in the following circumstances: the river than ran around the edge of the village Starazshev [sic] was the border between Poland and Soviet Russia. Every January 6, on the day of the Christian “krestshenye”, prayers were offered to the ice on the river, according to Christian custom, the peasants from the villages of the Polish and the Soviet territories were permitted to go that area. Through various methods, with the help of letters or hired messengers, the Jews who were left in Poland let their relatives in Russia know that on January 6 they should come to Strazshev [sic]. After much finagling they succeeded in making the arrangements and also arriving at the river where under the eye of the many NKVD officers stationed there, they met relatives and friends whom they had not seen for a long time. Heart-rending scenes played out during those meetings; and especially during the partings, when each of the relatives could not know whether they would meet again in their lifetimes.

* *

What do we know about the life of the Zvhil Jews in the time period 1920 to 1939?

After the big fire of 1919 a large number of Jews left Zvhil. In the epidemic of typhoid fever that broke out in the winter of 1919-1920, more than 1,000 Jews died, so that about 8,000 Jewish residents remained. In the twenties the Soviet authorities built the so-called “voyene-garadok” on the north and east sides of the train station. This was hundreds of two-story buildings in which thousands of soldiers were quartered, those from the two infantry regiments plus the officers and their families, among which there were many Jews. Due to that the town was revived. Also private proprietors and various suppliers bought parcels of land from the local peasants and built houses there.

In that era one could divide the Zvhil Jews into three categories: One, the youth, quickly adjusted to the Soviet regime and benefitted from the privileges that the legislation offered to Soviet citizens,

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especially free education. They all began to study and graduate from the middle school in Zvhil so they could travel to the larger towns in order to enroll in the higher schools. Very few of them returned, after finishing their studies, to the town of their birth Zvhil.

The second group, middle-aged Jews, former merchants, mostly became employed in the cooperatives and in state undertakings. The artisans formed “artels” and through great effort earned a modest living.

Community and Jewish cultural life died out completely. People met only at family celebrations or funerals. The few shuls that were left in Zvhil were turned into clubs or libraries by the authorities.

The third group was the “izshdeventses”, as the old fathers and mothers were called, those who because of their inability to work were supported by their children. Those folks were the only ones who did not allow the spark of Yidishkayt in Zvhil to flicker out. There were times when those old and frail Jews revolted and opposed the orders of the government. One of those “Mexicans” with whom I met in the Spring of 1946 depicted the following episode: The Soviet authorities wanted to make a club for the Komsomol [Soviet youth] out of the sole remaining shul on Kortse Street in which the Ohr Torah yeshive was once housed. The interventions of various institutions were of no help and so early one morning a group of Komsomolists burst into the shul to throw all the shul property out into the street, including the Torah scrolls. The few dozen [minyonim] of Jews there, in their taleysim un tfilin placed themselves in front of the arn keydesh and declared that it would be over their dead bodies that they would get to the scrolls. The youths, among whom there was a large number of Jewish youths, possibly the grandchildren of those very old Jews who so effectively defended their holiness, were in a situation where they did not know what to do. When a few of them went to their leader and described the situation, he advised them to leave the old “fanatics” in peace. For several weeks after the episode the Jews spent all day and all night in the shul and only when they were satisfied that there was no longer any danger to the holy place, did they take down their blockade.

* *

The war between Poland and Germany broke out on the first of September 1939 and in two weeks the major part of Poland had already been taken by Hitler's armies. The Jews in western Ukraine awaited the German occupation in terror. But our amazement was great when in the night of 17 September instead of the Germans marching to Korets, it was the Red soldiers. According to an agreement between Stalin and Hitler, the Soviets occupied the western Ukraine up to the River Bug. Despite the fact that the occupied territory was now an integral port of the Soviet Union, they still did not reduce the border patrol on the former Polish-Soviet border and

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going from one side to the other required a special permit. But the permission was not very hard to get and from time to time the Zvhil Jews visited their relatives and friends who lived on the former Polish territory.

Soon after taking Ukraine the Soviets undertook the task of building an automobile highway that united Lemberg [Lvov] and Kiev. They opened technical departments in all the towns located along the length of the highway and Zvhil had the main warehouse for various materials needed for the bridges that would be built on the part of the road between Korets and Zvhil. The Soviets mobilized me as a bridge construction engineer and in connection with that I often happened to be in Zvhil. My first visit to Zvhil in 1939 left a heavy impression on me. In the space of the twenty years I had not seen the town it had changed so much as to be unrecognizable. The streets were dirty, the tiles on the sidewalks were broken, the houses along the street that had not been renovated looked neglected. One could see houses along the main street with plywood windows. The town looked especially sad in the evening. A streetlight was lit only in rare places. Only the entrances to the cinemas were illuminated and there were many young people standing in line to purchase tickets. In most of the streets one hardly encountered a passer-by. The same sadness as in the streets was also inside the houses that I visited. Winter was approaching and the sole concern of the Zvhil Jews was where could they get wood or coal to warm their cold houses. The fundamental life of the poorest class in that Poland appeared, in comparison with the poverty that reigned among the Zvhil Jews, like a luxury. The Zvhil Jews were very interested in the life of the Jews in the western lands and were very envious of the Zvhil Jews who had managed back then to emigrate to the west.

 

Hitler's Time

The Soviet-German War began on June 22. Taking one town after another Hitler's armies pushed forward with a lightning speed. And by the 28th of June they were already in Rovne. The panic among the Korets Jews was huge with the approach of the Germans, especially when in the night of the 28th to the 29th of June all the Soviet government organs left the town, leaving behind a few NKVD officers to keep order. The Korets Jews sought various methods of transportation to flee the town and somehow get to Zvhil where the hoped to evacuate by train. On 28 June I was in Zvhil in connection with the evacuation of a camp of Polish war prisoners who worked on the bridge that I was building. The panic among the Zvhil Jews was not as great as among the

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Korets Jews. Several things affected their calm delay: First, the government had put at their disposal a certain number of trucks and all the government undertakings, along with the employees, among whom were many Zvhil Jews, had evacuated in their own trucks on the highway to Zshitomir. Second, the Zvhil Jews hoped that the Germans would be delayed a long time at the “Stalin line”, as we called the fortification of reinforced concrete that stretched along the length of the Slutsh River. The Soviets had built the fortification soon after establishing the Polish-Soviet border in 1920. So the Zvhil Jews did not hurry to leave the town. On the 29th of June there was a powerful attack by the German aviators on the Zvhil train station, during which several dozen Korets and Zvhil Jews were killed. During the attack which lasted a half hour, four trains that were on the out-bound tracks and carrying the government possessions and evacuating the civilian population, were destroyed. The was the main reason why about 2,000 Jews did not manage to leave the town and remained behind with the Germans. The “Stalin line” could not sustain the storm of German artillery and airplanes for long, and on 10 June [sic] it was conquered by the Hitler armies. Almost that same day the Germans marched to Zvhil and from that day can be reckoned the beginning of the extermination of the Zvhil Jews.

* *

The Germans, in their well thought out plan to exterminate all Jewry, did not employ one and the same method in all the areas they occupied. They did not rush to exterminate the Jews in Congress Poland and they did not send out the last transport of Jews from the Lodz ghetto to Maidanek and Treblinke until April 1944. The Germans exterminated the Jews in western Ukraine up to the former Polish-Soviet border including Korets on two dates. The first big action took place on the eve of shavuyes 1942, that is barely a year after occupying those areas; and the second action, which was in fact the final liquidation, began on the first day of sukes 1942.

Against that, the German started to exterminate Jews who lived on the former Soviet territory almost as soon as they took that area. An exception were the large industrial centers where, because of a lack of workers, they used the Jews as a free labor force. For example the German took the town of Kharkov and its surrounds in November 1941 and quickly created two camps, one for Russian prisoners of war and the second for physically strong Jews. The Jews worked in the famous tractor factory. Only on the 15th of September 1943 did he liquidate the last 15,000 Kharkov Jews. It was the same in Kislovodsk and Krasnodor, how the German created improvised ghettos from which the Jews went out to forced labor in the surrounding factories and coal mines, and only on the 5th of July 1943 were the last 5,000 Jews liquidated.

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There were no big factories in Zvhil and the German did not need the Jews and so he proceeded to exterminate the Jews from the moment he took the town. To begin the slaughter, the first front of soldiers tore into the Jewish houses and robbed and murdered.

 

Zvhy206.jpg
A picture from the archive in Yad v'shem in Jerusalem notated,
“Those led to resettlement in Novogrodvolinsk”

 

The rumor spread quickly among the Ukrainians that the German was murdering Jews and goyishe bands from Zvhil and surrounding areas began streaming into the town, armed with hatchets and rolling irons. And they did not forget to bring along sacks and some came with wagons and after murdering they took the entire possessions, even the furniture, of their victims.

The great-grandchildren of Khmelnitski, Ganta and Zsheliezniak, of the Ukrainian bandits who in 1648 and 1649 drowned Volhin and Podolya in rivers of innocent Jewish blood, now had a further opportunity to slake their hatred of the Jewish people. And this they carried out in bestial deeds that they acted out on the unfortunate Zvhil Jews and on the Jews of the little towns around Zvhil. Those wild orgies lasted for three days, until a German “Local Commandant” was installed, instead of the military commandant. Then the Ukrainian regional administration was organized and a Ukrainian “security police”. The Local Commandant sent military patrols out over the town, that drove away the Ukrainian murderers and bands of robbers and gathered the remaining Jews into the wooden barracks near

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Polone Street. It took several days to locate all the hidden Jews; the local Ukrainian bands came to help in this effort. The gathered Jews were taken group-wise to Meznitsov's palace, which already had a tradition as an extermination place since 1919, during the Petluria pogroms. There the Jews were forced to dig pits, and then they were shot into the pits from the edge of the pits. Some of the Jews were shot in the valley between the banks of the stream Tsmolke and the others were murdered in the Palipovitsh forest along with some of the Jews from the small towns Yarun and Emiltshin. Thus some 2,000 Jews were murdered, Jews who had stayed in Zvhil. The Germans kept out several dozen Jews in order to take them for heavy labor, which the “fine” hands of the Germans and Ukrainians murderers did not want to touch. Those left-over Jews were kept by the local commander, under the oversight of a group of Germans who were led by the tragically famous German by the name of Bul, about whom I tell in my ensuing chapters.

* *

A Korets Jew by the name Bunek Gilderman, a chauffeur by profession, was, at the end of July 1941, driving into Zvhil with a group of Germans in his truck which the authorities had requisitioned. When he drove across Korets Street in town, a large crowd of people was blocking the road, civilians and military who flooded both sidewalks of the street so that he was forced to stop his vehicle. Bunek Gilderman witnessed the following gruesome scene: Out from Gutinsk Street near the former building of the marmurn came a wagon driving on two wheels, on which there was a barrel and a German, the German sitting on the barrel. The wagon was dragging a young woman. Her body was covered only in a torn, bloody shirt. The German held a long whip in his hand, which he continuously cracked over the bare shoulders and over the head of the unfortunate woman. The gathered Ukrainians accompanied the wagon with loud laughter and derisive remarks. Bunek knew that the name of the woman was Doktorman, but he could not figure out what sin could she have committed. One could guess that she had opposed the authorities somehow and thus earned such a terrible punishment.

 

The Liquidation of the Last 18 Zvhil Jews

These facts were given to me in January 1946 by the Zvhil resident Yoysef Guralnik, who had evacuated at the beginning of the war and after the liberation of Zvhil returned back: About the course of the just-described horrific scene, a Christian neighbor who was nearby depicted it to him. As I mentioned earlier the supervisor of the few remaining Jews was the German Bul. He was very strict with the Jews and for the

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slightest imprecision beat them murderously or had his constant companion – a large dog of the wolf race – attack them. There were also cases when Bul killed a few Jews while they were working.

In August 1941 announcements appeared in town with the following content: The next Sunday, August 12 during the day, there would be a folks-entertainment at the garadskai-sod (the city park) with the participation of the firemen's orchestra. The whole population was invited to attend. Entrance was free.

Just before the designated time the city park was packed full of Ukrainian men and women dressed for a holiday. At exactly twelve o'clock, through the main gate marched the firemen's orchestra and after them, with their hands tied behind them and under heavy guard, eighteen Jews. The procession was capped of by the German Bul and his huge dog. Bul ordered that the Jews stand in a half circle and that the orchestra should play a march. Then he released the dog from the leash and indicating one Jew shouted, “Bring me the nose of that dirty Jew!” The dog threw itself on that Jew and bit off a piece of his face. Then Bul ordered his dog to bring him the hand of another Jew; from a third Jew another limb and the dog obediently carried out the orders of the German murderer, to the great satisfaction of the gathered Ukrainians. The heartrending screams of the unfortunate Jews drowned out the sounds of orchestra and the laughter of the onlookers. Of the eighteen Jews, in less than half an hour all that remained was a mass of bloodied bodies. Then a wagon came in, onto which they laid the dead Jews and took them to a field behind the town and buried them.

 

Zvhil after the Second World War

Zvhil was liberated by the Red Army in January 1945. As soon as that news reached the Zvhil Jews who had evacuated to all corners of the Soviet Union, they set out to travel back to their hometown. When I visited Zvhil in the autumn of 1945 after the war, I encountered about 3,000 Jews there. Those Jews had settled in the center of the town for the most part, particularly in Zshitomir, Korets [streets] and on the left side of Gutinska Street. Jews were afraid to live on the periphery of the town or on the little side streets for the following reasons: First, bands of Ukrainians, or “bandarevtses” who had led a partisan war against the Soviets, “worked” that area of Zvhil. Those bands generally hated the Jews as much as they did the Bolsheviks and hid out among the peasants who lived in the outskirts of the town. The second reason was, there were those bandits from Susle and other goyishe streets who still lived in full Jewish houses and did not even consider leaving the houses in the time when they were moved from the central streets out of fear of the authorities. I recall this case: The brothers Kurliandtshik, both demobilized officers from the Red Army, returned to Zvhil after the war and found a peasant living in their house which was located in a narrow street near the former Pagel's cement factory. After numerous appeals for the peasant to leave their house, he refused. Then through an energetic intervention by the authorities the brothers Kurliandtshik succeeded in getting their house back. In a act of revenge for making him leave the house, the peasant broke out all the window frames and destroyed the oven, as it was winter. There were no construction materials to be found and the brothers could not move back into their house until spring.

The Jews felt lonesome and strange in their home place. Living in the homes of their relatives and friends were Ukrainian murderers who had taken a large part in the extermination of the true owners of those houses. The persecutors, with a clear conscience and without fear, took pleasure in the stolen possessions and looked with hatred on the “un-beaten-down” as they called the remaining Jews. The authorities reacted very weakly to the pleas of the Jews to free up their houses, or in general to the brutal behavior of the goyim. Those negative relations of the authorities combined with the spiteful attitude of the Ukrainian murderers completely deprived the courage of the Zvhil Jews and they regretted their coming back. The situation in the surrounding villages was even worse. There the goyim had become very aggressive and there were even cases of murdering entire Jewish families. This was the reason for the massive departure from the small villages and gathering in Zvhil. When I was in Zvhil the last time in April 1946, I met many Jewish families from Yarun, Ratshev, Horodnitse and other small towns.

The material situation of the Zvhil Jews was very bad after the war. They had to establish their proprietor's foundations anew because anything that they had left behind, the Ukrainians had robbed or destroyed and there was no place to earn anything because the state apparatus did not yet function as it should and all the former state-employed people were without jobs. The artisans gave themselves advice and organized themselves into “artels” and worked. The rest of the Jews literally went hungry. They began taking household goods and even their own clothing out into the street to sell. The buyers were the peasants from the surroundings who brought into town flour, butter, and exchanged it for clothing and shoes. That barter trade gradually changed into a stable occupation for the majority of Jews.

The territory of the former “Warszawnia” which was now clear of houses became the so-called “toltshak” where the Jews took their “merchandise” to sell it. At first the authorities pretended not to see this “black market” but when the market grew larger the town management set a fee for the right to trade in old things. Later they divided the whole area into numbered spaces, and for a certain fee any resident could buy a steady space, in which he was permitted to place a table or even to build a stall. The goyim did not begrudge the Jews their “easy livelihood” and also bought places and built stalls. They had plenty to sell, because each goy possessed many stolen Jewish things that they set out without fear and without regret. One could find among the goyim's tables silk taleysim, silver candlesticks and khanike lamps. To the question of where they had acquired the particular Jewish items, they replied that they had bartered it with the Germans for butter and eggs. The mood was always tense at the “toltshak”. The goyishe merchants terrorized the Jewish ones. They caused incidents and created many problems for the Jews. The Ukrainian merchants very often provoked fist-fights during which they broke the Jewish stalls. In various ways the goyim tried to make worse what was not an easy life, for the Jews. In this they involved soldiers from the Red Army who were passing through on their way from the former front to Russia. The Ukrainians got the soldiers drunk and incited them against the Jews; it was the winter of 1945 when a drunken officer burst in on a Jewish wedding and began shooting and wounded the groom and many guests.

The remaining Jews had imagined their life in their hometown differently. After four years of wandering in the far-flung regions of the immense Soviet Union, staying in strangers' homes, among peoples they did not know, they dreamed about the moment when they would return to the town where they were born and spent much of their lives. They would return to their houses and would begin a quiet life. But the reality appeared very different. Everywhere they encountered the hateful glances of the Ukrainian murderers who had now become even more blood-thirsty with more hatred toward the Jews. The authorities did not protect the Jews and responded very weakly to crimes that the Ukrainians perpetrated against the Jews. In official circles such handling by the authorities was explained as, they had a lot of trouble putting up with the “banderovtses” and if they defended the Jews, they might even further incite the Ukrainians, who sympathized with the Ukrainian nationalists. Possibly the poison that Hitler had left behind in those occupied had changed them, had extended to the authorities at whose head were administrators of Russian and Ukrainian origins.

As to how bad and repressive the situation of the Zvhil Jews was, can be seen by the fact that by April 1946 – one year and four months after the liberation of Zvhil – the Zvhil Jews had not undertaken any steps to eternalize the memory of the approximately 2,000 Jews whom the German had murdered, either by erecting some kind of gravestone or at least fencing off the mass graves with a temporary hedge. I am more than certain that to this day that has not been done. A few years will go by and those graves will be even with the ground and the Ukrainian plows will drive over them and there will remain no trace of the last generation of Zvhil Jews who were martyred to God's name in terrible suffering.

May God avenge their blood. May their souls be bound up in the bond of life.


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The Nazis in Zvhil

by Khaye Rozenshteyn- Firkis and her daughter, Miriam

Translated by Tina Lunson

Our family lived in Korets until the beginning of the Hitler war, not far from Zvhil.  On 1 September at the beginning of the German invasion of Poland we fled with many others who were pursued by the suddenly horrible airplane attacks in the Russian zone, to Zvhil, where it was still quiet. We stayed there until the beginning of the attack on Russia on 22 July 1940 (June 22, 1941).

At the beginning of that last invasion people started fleeing from Zvhil toward Kiev. People fled from the surrounding area and from farther places in Poland to Zvhil, from where they hoped to travel further and prepared to travel with the evacuating administration to Kiev, and farther places deeper in Russia. At first the administration promised to evacuate the fleeing population and concentrated the families of their officers and workers. But in a few days the German airplanes destroyed the train station, all the cars and trucks that were there and the authorities were no longer taking any citizens or even all the families of their officers, who were evacuating with them. It became chaos, everyone running on foot to the nearby small towns: Baranovke, Pulnoa, Sokolov, with the goal of getting to Kiev. We made many efforts to get crammed into the last military transport on 27 July, thanks to my two daughters who worked for the government. The train connections were very bad, always stopping somewhere because of the attacking airplanes. Luckily the roadway had still not been destroyed and we proceeded, dragging along for two days and nights to a station near Kiev. A few days later we were evacuated a little further on a chance, by a barge on the Dnieper River. A day later we reached Dnipru-Petrovsk (Yekatirinoslav) which was already smattered and we were not allowed to stay there. We were promptly sent to the Dan area and from there to Auzbekistu, where there were hundreds and thousands of fleeing refugees from the whole time of the war, simply starving and suffering all kinds of vagrancy. We suffered particularly from the established Ukrainian population, who

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ill-treated us. People were falling like flies right before their eyes and did not get any sort of help and not even any sympathy.

A lot of them, who ran off to the surrounding small towns with wagons and by foot, got near to Kiev and then were encircled by the German army, which had invaded that far and then drove them back to Zvhil and concentrated them in the lower part of ruined buildings near the old bath-house and then drove them to the plaza by the Zshitomir bridge, opposite Meznitsov's estate, and forced them to dig a pit for themselves, shot them and threw them in, alive. The mass murder of this group of refugees took place on the last day of July 1941.

The following incident took place during the murder: The daughter of Bentsien Segal the grain-grinder was captured in the town. She had for a long time been in love with a gentile and had a lot of children. The gentile neighbors around her told the German murderers that she was Jewish and the witness of her husband and children and others did not help, and the Germans threw her alive into the grave pit with all the Jews. Then she pulled herself out of the grave and screamed, “Hear me wild animals, you will never be cleaned of your guilt. I am proud to remain a Jewess and I laugh at your bestiality. God's curse will fall on you and you will not find any peace in the whole world. Our innocent blood will disrupt you and you will never find any relief from it.” Her outcry had a shocking effect and she was soon shot. In those days there was not one Jew left in Zvhil.

Some of the refugees who had succeeded in avoiding the German troops were captured near Kiev and the Germans needed to bury them there, in an open field – for them a grave. Among the refugees was also my one of the mother-in-law's sisters, one of Yitsik Kilikievski's daughters who had fled on foot with her two daughters, one, a sixteen-year old and a ten-year old by the name of Sheyne. When they shot the group at the edge of the pit, she grabbed her little daughter and placed her under her, and she fell separately into the open pit. The child was not touched and fell alive under her mother's arm. When the shooting ended the murderers sprinkled a thin layer of earth and left the pit half open in order to fill it up with fresh victims early next morning. At night while the murderers were gone the girl quietly scrambled out of the pit. She was completely naked and after searching found a little coat from a child which she threw over herself and set out running across the open field, not knowing where to, and soon she fell down in a faint. After a while she heard the sound of steps in the dark nearby. And a peasant approached her, who was going home from work and noticed her. She weepingly told him everything that had happened to her and he warmed to her and took her home with him.

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When they went into his house and the family heard what had happened to her they decided – not having any children of their own – to support her as their own child and care for her. The family fulfilled the promise and sent her to study in a school in Kiev. That went on until the beginning of the victory over Hitler in 1944. Then the refugees who had fled began to gather in Kiev in order to get home. The young girl began to strongly long for her old home and so began asking the peasant family to permit her to return to Zvhil to find out about any surviving family. At first, they did not allow her, especially the wife, who loved her and maintained that now she was their child and she should not look for her old family. But later, after much pleading, she agreed that she could travel to search for her family if she would promise to return to them. The girl set out to travel back and after many troubles and now broken, reached Zvhil and there did not find any Jews. The few that she thought were Jews from a distance turned out not to be in the light of day. The gentiles who had occupied the old empty Jewish houses insulted and bullied her when she asked about her family. In the end she managed to get the address of an uncle, a mute, one of her father's brothers, Yitsik, the son of Khaykil Kilikevskithe the fur cap maker. As soon as he saw his sister and her children being killed in the slaughter, he fled into the surrounding forest to join the mixed partisan troop near Zvhil, among which there were many Jews. The brave uncle distinguished himself in the troop with his heroic work, blowing up bridges, train and automobile transports and at the end of the war he received various citations and medals from the highest military office in Moscow. The partisan lived in a ruin on Zshitomir Street. He was greatly surprised by the sudden meeting of the little child and she quickly came to us (we had returned to Zvhil just a few days earlier). At that time we also heard news from one of our sisters who was traveling back and had already reached Kiev. The girl did not want to leave us, but she was determined to fulfill her promise to return to the peasants and to tell them of her decision. So she and the uncle went back with the intention of convincing them that they should allow her to stay in her old home in Zvhil. The peasant family was finally persuaded by her requests and agreed to her leaving and even sent her off with a few sacks of grain and vegetables. And she stayed in Zvhil.

When we returned there were no more than a few families in Zvhil. The first few families that came back were Leybl Balanurub (from the family of the tailor Yankev Hirshenhorn), Doctor Zunik and his wife, Oyerboykh and we Rozenshteyns from Zaydl the glazier's family and also a few from the family Srolis who had lived on Korets Street. For a while we had no

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place to live, because the goyim had occupied all the left-behind Jewish houses and did not want to leave them. They met the returning Jews with scorn and anger at their audacity to return. They thought that they had made an end to all Jews and were generally amazed to see Jews before them. The authorities who had just returned were not yet well established and did not want to incite them and did not bother to address the Jewish requests. However by the end of 1944 a couple of hundred Jewish families had gathered and they gradually organized themselves as private workers, in the government and cooperative workshops and also as government bureaucrats.

When we came back to the town there were no more than four shuls: the great shul, in which there was a large workshop; the small shul on Zshitomir Street by the bridge and on the Korets highway; and also the Shternobel shul on Gutinski Street in which the was a Komsomol club. All the other shuls including the entire Shul Street were in ruins, except for the house of the saint Reb Morkhe'le which was rebuilt by his grandson Yosele.

Several of Shmuel Dovid Marmer's large buildings were left; Leyzer Tsimel's stone one, Ben-Tsien Hofman's, the city park and the large building across from it where the police station was. And also a small part of one side of Gutinski Street.

The remaining Torah scrolls were collected and hidden well, because of the fear of gathering to pray. The remaining old Jews nevertheless gathered secretly in several secret houses and got in the morning prayers before going to work. Certainly that was known.

When we decided to steal over the border to Korets in order to travel to Erets Yisroel, we avoided telling anyone, even secret friends and relatives. The only one who encouraged us to travel was our aging father, who wanted at least one of his children to be in Erets Yisroel. The others in the family were terrified to move around any further.

It is worth relating the following fact. Before we left my husband met with an acquaintance, a high official in the NKVD (a Jew). At first, he very angrily held forth that he had heard that our family was going to emigrate from Russia – why, how could we feel that way, and where to? – he demanded. Then he suddenly calmed down his loud voice and quietly turned to him: “I know my friend, that you want to travel to Pa-le-stine – so go quickly before anyone finds out about it and be successful and set up a true happy Jewish family there, and live with your proud children for your new homeland… If only I can also do that… in a few years and meet you there,” he ended. And he offered him his hand and then ran away. The sudden change surprised him and pressed us even more to hurry out of there in order to reach Erets Yisroel as we had so well arranged it and now, we feel very lucky.


[Page 217]

The Hitler Era in Baranovke

by Arye Blavshteyn

Translated by Tina Lunson

When the Nazis came into Baranovke they organized a separate ghetto. They drove all the Jews out of their houses and crammed everyone into a few houses and forbade leaving them to go to another street without special permission. The non-Jewish population was forbidden to have any relation with the Jews. Jews were not allowed to trade with non-Jews. Every day there were new decrees – with the threat of death for not complying. They took all the valuable jewelry, gold and clothing for the army. Jews were forbidden to study or to pray. They were to do only what they were told to do.

Every day the Jews were driven to do heavy and filthy work. After a few days, the murderers gathered a group of Jewish men and pushed them into a narrow building where there was scattered a lot of broken glass and bottles and forced them to dance on it barefoot. Afterwards people saw a crowd of bloodied [Jews] walking under armed guards. Some had eyes or teeth knocked out and, exhausted nearly to death, they had to dig pits for themselves and they crawled into them.

After each slaughter the murderers promised the survivors that they would be left alive if they conducted themselves properly and fulfilled all the decrees precisely. There were many decrees and many slaughters. They did not want to kill everyone at once. They first wore out their victims, gradually taking away their self-worth, beating, roughing up and abusing them. They changed our best and finest people into shadows, turned them into shadowy automatons. And the last decrees were horrible, they took a child from its mother and murdered it before her eyes, tore it in two, or buried it alive. Heart-rending screams from the children, hysterical screaming

[Page 218]

from the mothers – some so devastated that they threw themselves into the pits with the children. And thus many ran and threw themselves alive into the graves, fulfilling the murderers' decrees.

Few were left, who were evacuated by the Soviet authorities who took the town and they are now scattered all around Russia. There is nothing to come back to. Only a few houses remain, which gives the impression of an old abandoned cemetery.


In the Zshitomir Region[a]

Translated by Tina Lunson

A Jewish officer from the Red Army described how the Nazis murdered all the Jews in Baranovke and Liubar. Children buried alive. The river was red with blood for two weeks after the slaughter.

“ ‘…not one Jew remained alive in the small towns Baranovke and Liubar, which had a significant Jewish population until the Nazis came in’”, the Jewish officer Major Ziame Ostrovski explained today, as he had just returned from the front, where he had visited the two Jewish towns and spoken with witnesses who were present at the Nazi slaughter of the Jews.” So reported the representative for the Jewish Telegraph Agency in Moscow on May 9.

The slaughter in Baranovke began on the 19th of July 1941 when the storm–troopers drove several hundred Jews outside the town and shot them dead. Among those victims in one day were the 68 year–old Miltsin, the cashier of the Baranovke savings bank; the 72 year–old Garfinkl and the 74 year–old Meyshe Ribalov. “The residents of the town told me,” Major Ostrovski reported, “that for two weeks after that, where the Jews were shot the river near the site of that injustice was still red with Jewish blood.”

The second slaughter of Jews in Baranovke took place two weeks later. The victims were packed into trucks and transported outside the town. Witnesses saw how a stormtrooper stabbed his bayonet into the old Jewish woman Sore Tsimashamskaya and flung her into one of the trucks.

On the 19th of August 1941 the Nazis transported more than 200 Jews seven kilometers outside Baranovke to a place left of the Dubrovke highway. The unfortunate victims were stood in rows and ordered to dig their own graves, and then were shot and thrown into them. After that they carried out raids in the surrounding villages searching for Jews who had hidden with peasants. On the 6th of January they caught 594 Jews. The captured victims were taken from the town to a place not far from the Zhvil highway.

[Page 219]

Naked children up to the age of 12 years were brought in wagons and were shot to death in their nakedness. A worker by the name Kovaltshuk told Ostrovski that many Jewish children were buried alive in the same mass graves with their murdered parents.


Original footnote:

  1. Excerpt from “Forverts” [newspaper], New York, 10.5.44 [or 10 May 1944] Return


The Partisan Detachment of “Dyadye Misha”

by Y. Kohanovits

Translated by Tina Lunson

 

Zvhy219.jpg

 

In the forests near Zshitomir, not far from Zvhil and the area close to Zshitomir the engineer Misha Gildenman was famous by the name Dyadya Misha [Uncle Misha] as commander of a mixed Russian–Jewish partisan detachment.

He was born in Korets. After the slaughter of the Korets Jews in the “great action” that took place on erev shavues sav–shin'beys (1942) – in which he lost his wife and only daughter – he was fortuitously left with his son, a small child Simkhe (he was called Lunke) – he decided to flee to the forest to join with the partisan group and awaited the opportune moment.

On September 23, 1942, it was noticed that several heavy trucks were approaching the police station, full of policemen who would set up guard stations at the ghetto gates; and seeing that he could not wait any longer he decided to flee and succeeded in walking out of the ghetto unnoticed with his child and another ten Jews. They crossed the Slutsh River at Aushtshe. At the time they had only one revolver with four bullets. They hid out in the deep forest near the village Aushakov. That group was the kernel of the so–called “Yiev group” – the Jewish division that was always under his leadership. In order to acquire more weapons they attacked the forest guards for the first time and got a Russian rifle and a revolver. Later,

[Page 220]

armed with a few rifles and revolvers they made an attack on a police detachment which was traveling with a youth group being mobilized for work service in Germany. They killed six policemen and acquired six rifles, two revolvers and three hand grenades. They further attacked small police stations in the area and enlarged their arsenal. In a few weeks they already possessed enough weapons to arm new partisans and accepted only Jews into their detachment, whom they found wandering around the local forest.

Because there were not any Russian partisan groups in that forest and the bands of pogromist bandits were running wild in that area, the partisans retreated to the Poliese area and were in the end encircled by the Germans on the way from Klasove to Rakitne. Many of the partisans were killed, only a few were saved and they were active in the region of Visotsk, and later came back to the Zshitomir area. Then the “Yiev–group” was founded (on the 13th of January, 1943) with the name of “Dyadye Misha”. Afterwards when they encountered the partisan division “Sovarov” by the village Ravitsin, the majority of the Jewish partisans went over to the “Yiev group” of “Dyadya Misha”. In 1943 the “Dyadya Misha” received an order from Moscow to mobilize Ukrainian youth into its detachment. And after a while the Jews became a minority, not more than 30% or 35% of the detachment. Nonetheless the name and also the leadership positions remained Jewish. The detachment “Dyadya Misha” attacked in many places and diverted the standing military at the town Vzviadaoy and the villages of Aleksndrovke, Mukhaide, Nurinsk, Vilednik. They blew up the bridge over the river Teterev at Brasilov (February 1943) and the cinema building in the village Naravlie (Avritshe Oyezd 21st August 43) where all the German military who had filled the cinema were blown to bits. They also smashed a bridge at Alevsk, the train line Kalinkovitsh to Pinsk (March 1943).

Before their liberation they attacked the town Nova–Sheflitsi, near Tshernobil. The battle lasted six hours and the town was liberated. The liberation then had a larger value, providing with it the opportunity for the Red Army to cross the Pripyet and assure its further attacks.

* * *

In the partisan group the young – 17 year–old – Sore Libe Zigman particularly excelled as a strong fighter. She was called by her shortened name, “Lyuba”. She was especially wellknown after she killed, by her own hand, the police regional commander of Karestin – Pioter Tsukanov – earlier a lieutenant in the Red Army who was in a German prison and completed a special “Gestapo school” against the partisans and took an active role with the German military.

Lyuba went through several incarnations in the war years. Born in Lemberg, before the outbreak of the Russian–German war in 1941 she was a student at a conservancy in Moscow.

[Page 221]

Because of a lack of field workers she was sent, as were all students in the higher schools, to a kolkhoz in the Briansk area. Meanwhile the Germans in their attacks hit the village and as a Jewish woman she was particularly fearful for her. She succeeded in procuring an identity pass in the name Lyuba Andarasuva, as daughter of the proprietor where she worked. She was mobilized, as were the other village youth, to work service in Germany. After some time she was released from work as not suitable for heavy physical labor. In her wanderings she turned back to the Briansk again to join the previous military detachment. On her journey she got off the train at Rovne and went into the forest in order to unite with the partisans. There she encountered the Dyadya Misha detachment and became active in its work.

In that detachment she fell in love with a Jewish partisan Yosele, who was known by the partisan nickname “the monk”. When her beloved was felled by the Tshukanov police department as he was leading an attack on the train line, she informed the leadership of the partisan group that she was prepared to go to Karestin to kill Tshukanov, who had just brought such losses on the partisans.

In the end she managed to penetrate the house of Tshukanov as a servant, as a Russian girl who had just returned from Germany to her village of Briansk. She devoted herself to winning his trust and fulfilled all his requests. In time she was in close contact with the police department against the partisans and protected them from many things. In one of her many messages to “Dyadya Misha” she reported that Tshukanov was traveling tomorrow morning at ten o'clock from Karestin to Emiltsina to meet with the leader of a Ukrainian fascist division. The partisans lay in wait for him along the way. As he was leaving Lyuba asked Tshukanov if she could go with him on the trip. Tshukonov – who had been waiting to take a pleasure ride with her – was pleased to fulfill her request. At the first shots from the partisans the automobile stopped and Tshukonov jumped out and ran with Lyuba into the forest and when Tshukanov yanked her behind him Lyuba pulled out the revolver that she had stolen from him earlier and shot him dead.

* * *

The “Dyadya Misha” detachment liberated more than 40 Jews, the remnant of 220 free workers who had worked in a sawmill workshop near the town Vilendik. The majority of the Jews died from hard labor and poor diet, or were shot by the manager of the workshop, the sadist Friedrich Kripal. The torment of the Jews was related by the partisan liaison Galia, who worked as a cook for the workshop guards.

Because of the low level of weapons in the detachment it was almost impossible to

[Page 222]

attack the workshop, which was protected by a large number of policemen. It was also certain that the local division of German military at Vilednik [sic] would quickly help those attacked. But when Galia let it be known that the Germans were preparing to exterminate the 40 Jews in the next days, the commander of “Dyadya Misha” decided to wait no longer and to put all his energies into freeing the Jews who were threatened with death. With Galia's mediation they spoke with a brigade of the Jewish workers and worked out a precise plan for an attack that very night.

At around midnight “Dyadya Misha” with a group of partisans approached, in the deep snow, the point not far from the gate of the workshop and stationed themselves there to wait in hiding for the break from work. At exactly 12 they heard the bell ringing for the break. And two shots from the “silencer” laid out the two police guards and two partisans took their places dressed in their warm greatcoats. Twenty minutes later the noises of the saws and machines resumed. The first four Jews who came through the gate related that the German manager Friedrich was punishing the Jews because they had not reached their work quota and had revoked their rest break. So they could only free the 24 Jews who were loading the carts that brought the wood to the machine and 16 would stay behind. But the partisan leader would not abandon the other Jews and a partisan sneaked in among the three Jews who were loading the carts, with a grenade intended for manager Friedrich to kill him on the spot. But they were already too late. Friedrich was killed by Shmuel the glazier, who had long thirsted for revenge on him, the murderer of his only son.

Shmuel the glazier was brought into the workshop from the town Baranovke near Zvhil along with his only son, after his multi–branched family had been killed by the Germans. When he and his son were laying wood on the cart, a piece of wood slipped off and broke his son's right leg. The sadist Friedrich, who was passing by this incident, pulled out his revolver and shot the unfortunate boy since he was no longer able to work. From then on Shmuel was in a terrible depression and whenever he encountered Friedrich he stood up, shouting, “Murderer, you will pay dearly for my unfortunate son”. When he had been told earlier of the escape he had said, “I do not have any interest in living anyway – I will stay behind to take revenge on him, give my life in peace and may God help you.”

That night, as despair gripped the 16 remaining Jews when they saw that they would be left behind, Shmuel the glazier said to his nearest neighbor, “Don't be afraid, I will free you”.

He quickly shoved the piece of wood aside from its position; when

[Page 223]

Friedrich saw it he broke out shouting, “Cursed Jews” and ran over with a piece of wood to beat Shmuel; and Shmuel suddenly grabbed him and with a shout of revenge threw them together onto the wood under the blade and a second later they both were gone: Pieces laying on either side of the cutting machine. Thirty–nine remaining Jews fled through the gate in the dark night with the partisans and into the forest.

The “Dyadya Misha” who acted as leader of partisans for two years after the escape in the Volin region also told us about the small number of Jews who were victorious against the Ukrainians: the majority of Ukrainians took an active part themselves in the murder of Jews. After each “German action” they went under their own initiative to leap to search out Jews who had managed to hide, to rob and kill them. More than once they turned over hidden Jews to the Gestapo for the reward of two kilos of salt and such.

After the liberation “Dyadya Misha” was given an audience with Marshall Vroshilov, who proposed him to the engineering office in “TIL”, far from the front. And he answered that he wanted to take revenge by reaching Berlin and there to pay Hitler what was he was due.

Then he completed an officers' course at the Pavlov academy, was mobilized in the engineering detail and ended the war in Berlin as a captain, with his son Simkhe who had been with him through all the events among the partisans and also displayed a strong sense and battle initiative. The father and son were honored with many medals and decorations for their significant work in the forests and in the Red Army.

Now they are both in Israel.

(Yiddish: E. A.)

 

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