Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov
Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch
Our town of Braslav [Braslaw] was a regional town in the Vilna district, which included several towns and villages. Most of the residents of the town were Jews. It was surrounded by pine forests and lakes. At its center stood a hill called Castle Mountain, a name that originated early in its history, so it's said --- when Braslav was a large town and at its center stood a castle on the hill. The castle was no longer there, but the name remained. Viewed from the top of the hill, Braslav appeared like a green, blooming island in the heart of forests and water. It was called a second Venice. The climate there was good and especially comfortable for people who were suffering from diseases of the lung. In the summer months, convalescents came to Braslav from large cities [elsewhere] in Poland such as Warsaw, Lodz and so on. There were two Christian churches in Braslav: Catholic and Pravoslavic [Eastern Orthodox]. On Sundays the town filled with Gentiles from the surrounding area, who came to attend prayers and to buy necessities. The Jews and the Gentiles in the town lived in a neighborly fashion, without major quarrels. No difference was felt between a Jew and a Pole. Life passed in an ordinary way. There were many stores in the town and most of them belonged to Jews, who dealt in trade and various crafts. Among the Jews there were also intellectuals: doctors, lawyers and the like. It's true that among the Jews there were some wealthy people, but the great majority weren't well off economically.
There were four synagogues in our town. Hasidim prayed in three of them, and the Mitnagdim in one. Three rabbis served us: the elderly Rabbi Abba Zahorie [for the Hasidim], whose parents and grandparents had been rabbis in Braslav; Rabbi Zvi-Hirsh Valin [for the Mitnagdim]; and Rabbi Betzalel Orlanski. Each synagogue operated according to its own customs and was managed by gabbaim [caretakers] and shamashim [sextons] and the congregation. There was a charity fund in the town, which helped the needy Jewish population. The poor of the town were helped with everything: clothing, food and medical assistance. This help was given particularly on the eves of our holidays.
There were three shochtim [ritual slaughterers] in the town: Leizer, Shlomo [Zilber] and Aharon-Zelig Singalovski. Reb Shlomo was also a leader of the prayers and a cantor. He was the leader of prayers in one of the Hasidic synagogues; everyone loved him. As in many other cities and towns in Poland, there were sometimes quarrels and disputes in Braslav between the rabbis and the shochtim, but in general our town was a town of peace, and events there didn't exceed the bounds of what was acceptable in other Jewish communities. In our town,
there was also a fire department. All of the firemen were Jews who lived there --- the pozharnikim [fire-fighters] --- and they had a large band that played wind instruments.
Braslav had many Jewish young people. Most of them were educated at Jewish schools, which included a Yiddish public school [the Folkshul] that saw many classes complete their studies during the years of its existence; a Tarbut school; a yeshiva and chederim [Hebrew primary schools], where many went for study. The town also had a Polish school, operated by the government. The Jewish schools got no support from the Polish government; only the Jewish community was concerned with their existence. Much was done by the Jewish community to ensure their continuance. A number of activities were organized on behalf of the school [referring either to the Folkshul or to all the Jewish schools]: theater presentations, raffles, flower days [when flowers, real or artificial, were given to people in exchange for a donation] and parties.
The Town Government Changes
In 1939, the Red Army entered Braslav and the town's way of life changed immediately. All of the stores and other businesses that belonged to the Jews were shut down, as if they'd never existed. Workers and those looking for work multiplied in the town. The property of many people was nationalized, and their homes were confiscated. Entire families were turned out of the town after they were found to be unfit by the new regime. From the outside it appeared that life was continuing as before, but in reality all had changed.
Yeshiva students began coming to town from places where they were now unable to do their Torah studies; they wished to continue their studies at our yeshiva. But we couldn't absorb all of them, and there was also a concern that the authorities would find out. So the people of Braslav would send them, group after group, across the border into Lithuania.
Occasionally refugees would arrive in the town from the region of the German occupation. They spoke of what was happening to the Jews since Hitler had come to power. The Jews of Braslav received them warmly and helped them with everything. Such refugees didn't stay for long in our town. Their fear of the approaching evil drove them onward, and they wandered from place to place.
We in the town had the feeling that a storm was approaching; it was hard to know what was likely to happen. Meanwhile, the relations between Soviet Russia and Germany were good. From Russia various necessities were sent to Germany, and in the town there were theater shows, concerts and cultural life. But this continued for just a short time longer. On the morning of June 22, 1941, Germany attacked Russia.
War Breaks Out
Fright took hold of everyone; the situation changed overnight. It was impossible to recognize the town. The Jews wandered about in sadness; we began to understand more clearly what was coming. This we knew from the stories of the refugees who'd come from the zone of German occupation. But no one knew what to do. The Christians in the town were busy hoarding food. Many of them celebrated openly and waited for the Germans' arrival, so that they'd be able to steal Jewish property. The authorities announced the drafting of several age groups into the Red Army. German bombings had started immediately, from the first day of the war. German airplanes flew right over the roofs of the houses, bombing indiscriminately. As a result of the bombings, it became impossible to carry out the
draft. People scattered in every direction. On the evening of the first day, we saw that men of the Red Army and officers of the local soviet were leaving town and heading for the Soviet Union. Braslav was left defenseless. Panic in the town was great; no one knew what to do. Jews began fleeing in every direction, to put distance between themselves and the Germans. Many set out on foot toward Soviet Russia [to the east]; this seemed to be the only sure way of escape. Some people obtained horses and wagons, and there were also a lucky few who succeeded in boarding the train out of town before it stopped operating because of the bombings. But most people remained where they were, among them the wealthier ones. They were happy to be rid of the Bolsheviks. And there were also some who dreamed that the Germans would return to them the keys to their businesses that had been confiscated. For some reason, they saw the Germans not in their present incarnation but as they'd been in the days of World War I. Christians who had cooperated with the Soviets also left town. But there were also those who looked forward to the Germans' arrival, with the aim of collaborating with them.
Evacuation wasn't easy. German airplanes flew over towns and roads, shooting at every vehicle and person they could find. Movement on the roads became impossible. Many bodies lay scattered on the roads and in the ditches alongside them. Bodies of people lay in the grass and scrub, together with carcasses of horses and broken vehicles, the result of the bombings. After much effort, some lucky people arrived at the old Russian border, but here they encountered a problem they hadn't foreseen: The Red Army soldiers wouldn't allow them to cross to the Russian side. The refugees were told to return to their homes. Disappointed, people began to panic. With no other way out, they turned around to go back to Braslav. Other refugees, at the end of their strength, remained at the border. After three days, these were given permission to cross, and they moved far into the Soviet Union.
Amid the confusion in Braslav, the commissar and several officials had remained [for a time]. Many government workers there had turned to the commissar, asking What will happen to us? Acting on his authority, he'd given an order to evacuate as many of them as possible from the town. I'd been working as a teacher, and so they saw me as a propagandist [government supporter]. My adult sister also worked in a government position, and therefore the authorities wanted to join us to the evacuees from the town, together with our children: my son and my sister's three children. But we had parents in Braslav and two sisters with their families. How could we leave them to certain death?! So we dropped out of the planned evacuation and on our own we acquired a wagon, onto which we loaded valuable possessions and set out on the road. We encountered many pedestrians who were proceeding with difficulty. We knew them all and had grown up with many of them. We wondered: How much longer can they keep walking like this? So we loaded their suitcases onto our wagon, and all of us continued on foot. The wagon, with its suitcases and children, looked like a wagon loaded to the brim with hay.
After going several kilometers, we found that the horses had grown very weak and there was no hope of their reaching the border. At each farmer's house that we passed, we asked them to rent us a wagon at any price, whether for money or valuables, but none of the farmers agreed to come out on the road with us, out of fear for their lives. After great difficulty, we arrived in our wagon at the town of Podbrodzh. We decided to leave most of the people there and return to Braslav on foot with a small group, in the hope that we could succeed in obtaining another wagon back in town. We set out, I, my sister, my brother-in-law, and Yankel Amdur, son of
the elderly shochet [sic]. His wife and children remained in the town. As we sat down to rest from walking, we saw an engagement between Soviet and German airplanes. A few of the planes burned and then exploded. The air battle was taking place over Dvinsk in Latvia, not far from Braslav [Dvinsk was actually 42 kilometers northwest of Braslav], but to us it seemed like it was happening above our heads. On the way, we met our neighbor Yoska [Yossel], the son of Yitzchak Peretz. He and his family had traveled from town to town in a wagon, behind which they tied a cow. They told us we were returning to Braslav for nothing; not a single person from the government was left in the town. In his opinion, we wouldn't be able to get a wagon and the farmers were already robbing the homes of the Jews.
With no other option, we used our last bit of strength to return to Podbrodzh, where we'd left the others. There we found many people who'd returned from the Russian border. Yossel, the son of Yitzchak Peretz, was a militia man for the commissar, and he set out for the border to learn the situation. After some effort, he succeeded in contacting the ispolkom [executive committee], where by chance he found his son Meir, who told him that he could do nothing except return home. The Germans, he said, had already surrounded the entire region; the commissar himself and his people didn't know if they'd be able to escape. When we heard this news, we returned to Braslav. After we'd gone some distance, the son of a farmer acquaintance, Vanka Balufka [or Balopka], came out to meet us in his wagon. He'd heard about our situation and came to take us to his house, to his village of Madinki, 14 kilometers from our town. We stayed in his house for a week.
Since I'd been a teacher under the Soviet regime, the Communist Party had asked me to serve as a propagandist. I'd refused, for obvious reasons [not being a Communist], but I did appear on their list of such people, even though I'd never carried out such a task for them. If the Germans saw my name on the list, my fate would be sealed. Since I'd finally decided to return home, those I was with all joined me. We set out on foot [for Braslav] because our good Gentile didn't want to take us there. The reason for his refusal became clear to us only later.
Under German Rule
For a week, Braslav was without a government. Then a motorcycle unit appeared, passing through all the streets of the town and then going away. Just a few days later, the German army entered the town in full strength. Immediately it began to issue one decree after another. The first was that the Jews had to choose a committee [Jewish Council, or Judenrat] through which the Germans would manage the Jewish population, and which would carry out the German orders. The members of the committee were people from Braslav: [Yitzchak] Mindel, [Eliezer] Mazeh, [Gershon] Klioner, Leib Valin, and others.
The first decree was that all the Jews had to wear a yellow patch on which there was a Magen David [Shield of David]. It was forbidden for a Jew to appear outside without the yellow patch. It was forbidden for Jews to come into contact with non-Jews. Bread would be sold to Jews and rationed, at a place set aside for them, to 150 grams per person per day. A night curfew was imposed; it was forbidden to leave one's house after six o'clock in the evening.
Once more, refugees from Latvia and Lithuania arrived in Braslav. The situation grew difficult. Occasionally the Germans would ask for more workers. Each day, the committee had to supply a large number of them, for work without wages. SS men urged the workers to work quickly. Whoever didn't find favor in their eyes they killed on the spot, by shooting. The jobs involved construction, work on the railroad, knitting sweaters, manufacturing gloves, ropes and other kinds of services. One day, the workers on the railroad returned but 13 of them
were missing. These had been taken to another place, and later we learned that all of them had been killed.
The Gestapo Begins to Operate
Every Friday, there was a new decree. Once they took all the Jews of the town from their houses and concentrated them in the square next to the church. They arranged them all in rows, separating the men, women and children. The sight was shocking. The heart cried out to see our elderly rabbi, Rav Abba [Zahorie], with his long beard and holiness radiating from his face, among those who were standing there. They put the refugees who'd come to Braslav in separate rows. All those who stood there thought this was their last day. Mothers began to hide their children near themselves; they wanted to die together. The men of the SS took their time, enjoying the helplessness of the Jews. From a distance, laughing, they looked at their victims and set their dogs on people to boost their enjoyment.
After several hours, which to us seemed like forever, they began to count the people in the rows. They counted, and repeated, and counted. They began shouting at the rows of refugees, Why did you flee your homes? Don't you like the Germans? After much effort, the men from the committee [the Judenrat] succeeded in explaining to them that the refugees hadn't fled from the Germans. Here too, they said, was a German government. The refugees had come here, they explained, because their homes had been destroyed by the bombings and they had nowhere else to live. This time, the committee succeeded in rescuing everyone. First the women were sent home, and after some hours the children. The men were held for many more hours. In the end they too were freed, and all of us were glad when they returned home.
One day, a large army arrived in Braslav and seized the entire shore of the lake. We were told they intended to establish an airfield with a length of several kilometers. The Russian air force began to bomb concentrations of Germans, and this continued for hours. After several days, the German army left and moved onward. In the area remained only several heavy vehicles that had been damaged. We didn't know about these losses in the German army. After this event, the Germans accused a hunchbacked Jewish woman, Beilka Deitch, of summoning the Russian airplanes. They tortured her severely, and in the end they murdered her.
Braslav was bombed. Our house stood near the electric power station, which became a target for the bombs. After a difficult night of bombings, we left the house and entered the forest, several kilometers from town. In the forest stood a lone house in which fishermen sold their catch; the house belonged to Shneiur Aron, a wealthy Jew from Braslav. Our family had business ties to him, and the guard stationed at the house knew us well. When we appeared, he gave us a key to the house. We'd fled the town with nothing, not even food; now we had to get something to eat, at least for the children. I set out with my sister to retrieve food from our house, while my other two sisters traveled to other villages. The husband of one of them had been taken prisoner by the Russians, leaving her with three small children; the second sister traveled to other villages looking for food with her husband and their three children. Her oldest son had been taken by the Red Army when Braslav was evacuated. We walked along the shore of the lake, which was full of Germans, but they didn't harm us. We arrived at our home, took all we could carry, and returned to the forest. While we were walking outside, we heard that the Germans were driving everyone outside, out of their homes. We quickly dropped everything and ran to the shore, which had already emptied of soldiers. We continued to run toward the forest. From afar, the shouts
of the Germans could be heard. We ran to the house where we'd left our families. They were standing outside and didn't know what was happening in town. With them now were more Jews, who'd succeeded in getting away. We told them briefly what we knew. When we looked toward the town, we saw a large line of people moving toward us. We quickly entered the dark room inside the house and sat quietly. The Gentile guard hung a lock on the door of the house from the outside, to show that no one was in the house, and returned to his own house. A short time later, we heard motorcycles approaching. The guard emerged from his house and took his cow out of the cowshed to lead it to pasture, acting as if he didn't know what was happening. The Germans asked him where the road led and if any Jews were there. When I looked outside, I saw my sister and my brother-in-law with their children among the Jews in the procession. After speaking with the guard, the Germans continued on their way.
A number of days later, we learned that the Germans had gathered the Jews [of Braslav] in order to kill them, but they'd been prevented from doing this by the locals, among them Dr. Baretzki [Barecki], who protested vehemently to the town authorities. The Gentiles argued that they knew all of the residents of the town; all of the Jews were locals and there were no Communists among them. In this way, that day they succeeded in rescuing the Jews.
From day to day, the decrees and troubles multiplied. From time to time, the Germans demanded larger sums in ransom. They also took gold, silver and copper. They even took the copper handles off the doors, and clothing. They confiscated everything.
Despite the strict prohibition against Gentiles visiting Jewish homes, they occasionally came anyway. In exchange for the little bit of food they brought with them, they took valuables. After some time, when the houses were empty of all valuables, they began to take furniture. Why do you need furniture? they said, they'll kill you in any case.
The Jewish committee received an order from the Gestapo to concentrate all the Jews in a ghetto. It was determined that the ghetto would be on the main street, which was two kilometers long: Pilsudski Street, whose name had been changed to Lenin Street under the Soviets. One side of the ghetto, where people lived who were able to go out to work, was called the live ghetto; the other side, populated by the elderly, the weak and children, was called the dead ghetto. Much crying accompanied the ghetto's establishment [formally, on April 1, 1942]. Everyone felt that this was just a temporary step before utter destruction. Rumors circulated that in Lithuania and towns near us, all of the Jews had already been killed. Still, everyone lived with a hope in their hearts, which they didn't express openly, that maybe they'd succeed in escaping this hell.
The problem of food in the ghetto was very serious. As mentioned, before the ghetto was established, Gentiles would come with food to the homes of the Jews. They weren't allowed to enter the ghetto freely. And Jews who went to work outside the ghetto were able to get a bit of food and bring it into the ghetto, at great risk. More serious was the situation of the people who weren't taken for work; they simply died of hunger.
Our house stood on the edge of the live ghetto, so we were allowed to stay where we were. We were near the lake, and there were times when Gentiles brought us a little food by making use of the lake. These were the parents of students I'd taught. My father sat for entire days and ground seeds of grain in a coffee grinder, and from the little bit of flour they baked
bread. The mutual aid in the ghetto was comprehensive. All the food that arrived was divided equally. The poor of the ghetto weren't charged when ransom was paid to the Germans. On the contrary, they were provided with help.
News reached the ghetto about large excavations that the Germans were making in the nearby forest. This news shocked everyone. The mouth couldn't bring itself to express what was in each heart. In this way, things had continued for nearly an entire year. It wasn't clear to anyone what should be done and what it was possible to do. Many began to divide their possessions among their good Gentiles for safekeeping, in the hope that they'd succeed in remaining alive with the help of the items they'd entrusted.
But in fact, most of the Gentiles turned into beasts of prey. Even the good ones, who we trusted, saw the Jews of the ghetto as superfluous. Those who'd been given Jewish possessions to safeguard wanted to rid themselves of the Jews as quickly as possible. Among the Jews of Braslav, Zelig Ulman, of blessed memory, gave all of his possessions to his Christian friend, who he'd known for many years. Sometime later he asked the friend for one of the items, and this friend drove him from his house and informed the Gestapo that Ulman was a Communist. The next day the Gestapo arrested Ulman, his wife [Leah] and their daughter [Chasia], took them to the forest and shot them. Their son Borka [Boruch] wasn't in the house at the time of the arrest, and so he was saved and survived. He married a girl from Braslav, Tania Karasin, and today they live in America. Our good Gentile, Vanka Balufka, whose family our father had supported for many years --- they were poor, like all the families of their village --- when we told him that we wanted to return to Braslav, he wasn't prepared to drive us in his wagon, so we went on foot. His behavior surprised us. We didn't see at the time that his dream was to take everything from us; this became clear to us only later. Each day, he'd come to our house in the ghetto with stories: Why should you live here? In other places, Jews have already been killed. Come to me, I've prepared a hideout for you. We didn't go with him, but he'd always return home with the good things that we gave him. We were four sisters, each of us with her own family, and with parents of good standing. Everything we had was passed to Vanka to guard. We believed sincerely that the possessions were only being safeguarded, up until the time when we asked him, Vanichka, tomorrow bring us a bit of sugar from our sugar, for the children --- and he didn't bring it.
On June 10 [sic], 1942, all the Jews of the region had to concentrate themselves in Braslav. For some time, the residents of the ghetto had been preparing hiding places and bunkers. We heard that the ghetto in Miory, a town 44 kilometers from Braslav, was being destroyed. The Judenrat sent messengers to Miory to investigate, and they returned with the bitter news that it was indeed true. The men of the Judenrat turned to the Gestapo [in Braslav] for clarification but, as always, the Germans denied everything. To Braslav, they said, nothing could happen, because its people were quiet, disciplined and good workers. The day before the destruction of the Jews of Braslav, they gathered a group of young girls and sent them to work in Slobodka, 10 kilometers from Braslav [actually 11 kilometers to the northeast]. That same evening, there arrived in Braslav large vehicles covered with tarpaulins, which the Germans hid in a garage near our house. Nobody knew what these vehicles were. They were vehicles of destruction that people called dusha-gubki [soul-destroyers, in Russian].
That night, there was great unrest. The heart guessed that something horrible was about to happen. I suggested that we sleep in the bunker the next night; we'd take with us into hiding only medicine, nothing else. But by the next night, it was already too late . . .
Destruction of the Ghetto
On June 3, 1942, the 18th of Sivan, toward morning I heard shouting. I looked out the window and saw that Germans were surrounding the ghetto. And I saw Germans dragging by his feet the little child of Lubka Veis, our neighbor across the street; now and then, his little head was striking the pavement. The Germans began to drive Jews out of their houses and concentrate them in a number of places; among others, next to the building that had once served the militia and been a public school. All around, Germans and [local] volunteers were standing guard. After that, they took the Jews, group by group, to the area of the pits in the forest [north of Braslav]. They ordered them to undress, and they shot them.
Many victims fell in the streets of the town and in the yards; all those who didn't manage to enter the bunkers, or whoever ran into the street. The Germans demanded that Jews gather the dead in wagons. There was great confusion; many became deranged. Our neighbor Maishke, when he heard what was being done, burst out of his house, leaving his wife and children inside. His wife ran after him, searching for him in the streets of the town. The Germans immediately killed Maishke, his wife and his children. This wasn't the only such incident. People who failed to reach their own hiding places entered the bunkers of others. Many hiding places became filled with more people than they could hold. Mothers suffocated their children so that their crying wouldn't reveal the bunker's existence. Before the destruction began, many people tried to give their children, mainly girls, to the Christians, thinking that in this way the children might survive.
This didn't go well. The children were returned to their parents by those same Gentiles. Such an incident happened with Beilka Gens. She dressed her daughter in nice clothes and left her next to the house of a Polish Christian, but the Polish woman recognized the girl and returned her to Beilka. All of them were destroyed.
The Gentiles robbed the homes of the Jews. If they found Jews inside, they handed them over to the Germans. Most of these Gentiles were known to the Jews. The destruction of the Jews of Braslav and the surrounding area continued for a long time.
In those days, there weren't yet any partisans in our area. The local [Jewish] youths had just begun to organize themselves, but it was impossible to get any weapons. It had been thought that organizing such activity required extreme caution, otherwise it would accelerate the destruction.
Right at the start of the ghetto's destruction, the chairman of the committee, the Jew [Yitzchak] Mindel, who was beloved by us all, went to the Gestapo and asked them why they were killing the Jews. They replied, This is an order. Mindel then asked them to shoot him first, and they killed him on the spot.
I will tell of other acts of bravery.
There was a man from Braslav, Moshe-Baruch was his name. He wasn't a young man, but he was learned in the Talmud and accustomed to crossing the Lithuanian border with the yeshiva students. For a time, he cleaned the stables in our town. He was strong. When local farmers revealed to the Germans the location of their hiding place and they broke into it, Moshe-Baruch fell upon one of them and bit his thumb. Furious, the Germans tied 20 women to each other; among them was my elderly aunt, Riva-Dina. Moshe-Baruch himself they tied up last and, lashing them all with a whip, they made them run to a pasture and there they killed them all.
Another incident, in which a young Jew was involved: When the Germans broke into their house to expel
them all, he fell upon a German, strangled him, and put on his clothes. He ran outside with the German's weapon in his hands, shooting in every direction. Until the Germans understood what was happening, he managed to kill several of them and their escorts, the farmers. In the end, they surrounded him and shot him and his family.
Moshe Barmapov and several young men from Braslav hid in an attic near the church. From above, they saw the daughter of Yakobson the dentist running toward the church; a bayonet was stuck in her back, and local Polish hooligans were with her. The priest came out to meet her, and the girl --- saying that she could endure no more --- begged him to kill her. That's how she died.
On the morning [of June 3], when we heard the shouts of the Germans, we understood what would happen. I and my two-year-old son immediately went up carefully into our hiding place. My mother also wanted to go up with my father, but they couldn't manage to do so. The Germans were already inside the house and drove them outside. Our mother begged them to let her take a head scarf and the murderers replied, No need, you won't freeze from the cold. My mother's last words were this request.
I was left alone with my child; my husband had died at the start of the war. We didn't go down into the bunker. I didn't think I'd remain alive, and I didn't want to see, nor my relatives to see, how they'd murder my child. The Germans were killing the children in an extremely cruel way: they'd strike a child's head against a tree or split it in two. Against children, they didn't use ammunition. A good German would shoot into the mouths of the children when they cried. I thought that if they found me, they'd kill me first and then I wouldn't have to see the death of my child. So we sat for an entire day in the attic. We were very cold, even though the sun was shining. We'd had no time to dress, and the boy neither ate nor drank. Fear took hold of him as well. We heard everything that was happening around us: the shouts, the running, the shooting. Next to us lived a childless woman, Dinka [Dina] Dagovitz. She was ill with the final stage of tuberculosis and unable to speak even a syllable. When the Germans entered she shouted, Mama! and they killed her immediately in her bed.
For an entire day, they robbed and murdered. They failed to find us, even though a German came up to the attic where I and my child were hiding.
In the evening hours, it grew quiet; the Germans were afraid to move around at night. Near our house was located a German guard post. Suddenly I heard people calling my name. I looked outside and recognized my cousin [Benyamin Movshenzon], with two of my sister's children. They came up to us, and we all entered the hiding place. There were six loaves of bread there and a container of drinking water. Nobody touched the food or the water. Fear silenced hunger and thirst.
My cousin [Benyamin Movshenzon] lived in a small town, Rimshan [Rimszan], in the Braslav district [about 45 kilometers southwest of Braslav and now in Lithuania]. This place had also been under Soviet occupation. Formerly, he'd dealt in trade and the rental of lakes. He knew the farmers in the area; he had good relations with them and would buy their products. His wife [Liba] was a seamstress; they had four children [Eli-Yakum, Sara-Ela, Rachel-Leah and Yehuda]. Their family had lived for many years in Rimshan. Since my cousin was accepted by the local men, [before June 1941] they chose him and his Polish friend for the local militia.
Once [during the Soviet occupation], the two of them saw a German parachute into an open field. They took him prisoner and turned him over to the Russian authorities. When the war broke out [in June 1941] and the government authorities began to evacuate, together with the men of the militia, my cousin and his family left their small town in a wagon. On the way they passed Braslav, where
my cousin's sister [Batia] lived; she was married to Chaim-Yisrael Reichel. This brother-in-law advised my cousin to stop traveling and to remain in Braslav; the security situation on the roads also made it difficult to continue. During those days, more Jews arrived in Braslav from Rimshan. After some time has passed in Braslav, my cousin's wife [Liba] demanded that the family return to Rimshan. We did no harm to anyone, and everyone respects us, she said, why shouldn't we return home? So they set out on the road. When they reached Rimshan, they saw German notices and orders on the walls of the houses. One of the notices stated: Anyone who succeeds in apprehending Benyamin Movshenzon --- my cousin's name --- will receive a prize of 3,000 German marks. He can be brought in alive or dead. Benyamin was a brave man, tall and strong, but this wasn't enough at the time. He was forced to flee the area, while his wife remained in Rimshan. A few days later, the Germans drove all the Jews of Rimshan from their homes. The Jews scattered here and there, to places where they had acquaintances, but this reprieve lasted only a short time. One day, the Germans gathered all the Jews from Rimshan and the surrounding area and took them to one place --- Zarasai, in the heart of a tangled forest in Lithuania --- and murdered them all. In this place were buried 8,500 Jews. The length of the killing pit was half a kilometer. Farmers in the area said that for days after the cruel massacre, groans were heard from the pit.
After Benyamin fled for the second time from Rimshan [leaving his wife behind], he went to his sister in Braslav. It was his intention to stay in Braslav for a while until he was forgotten, but this proved impossible. One day, Germans came to his sister's house to arrest him. They were taken there by a Polish woman from Rimshan whose husband, a Polish policeman, had hidden from the Germans after the Polish-German war [in 1939]. In defaming Benyamin, the policeman's wife sought to gain two things: to clear her husband's name and to get the bounty that had been promised for Benyamin's head. Luckily, when the Germans arrived with the Polish collaborator, Benyamin wasn't in the house.
After this, Benyamin felt that he couldn't hide in Braslav, he'd be captured if he stayed there. So he fled, wandering from place to place, avoiding every acquaintance. Many people from the villages were busy searching for him, attracted by the size of the bounty. At last, after many days of wandering without food, he had to sneak back into Braslav. He was also plagued with worry about his family's safety, and later he decided to go out to the area [around Rimshan] to search for his parents, wife and children. In this way, he arrived at the home of a farmer, one of his father's friends, where he found his father hiding in the bathhouse. On seeing his son, the father --- who was 70 years old --- took off his four corners [tallit katan or small tallit, a four-cornered undergarment with ritual fringes attached to the corners], gave it to his son together with a prayer book, and said to him, My son, you'll remain alive, but flee from here. Benyamin found his wife and children at the home of another farmer, who was also a friend of his father. His wife begged him to leave the area, because people were searching everywhere for him. She gave him the names of farmers who were their friends, to whom she'd given property to safeguard. She lived in the hope that both of them would be able to make use of this property. Benyamin set out to find a hiding place for himself and his family. It wasn't easy. And then, on a day when he was searching, he learned from a farmer that all of his dear ones had been lost. The Germans had gathered all the Jews of the area, among them his wife and his children, his parents, his sisters, his brother and their children, and killed them all [in the massacre in the Pazemis Forest already described at the beginning of this page]. Anguished and broken, Benyamin returned to Braslav and lived with my sister Raizel Ulman. The roof of her house was attached to the roof of ours. We'd spent many days together before the war. So he also knew the location of our hiding place, and he came to us.
Adults weren't the only ones who were traumatized by this terrible period. [This passage jumps back in time, to the period when Benyamin Movshenzon was living with the narrator's sister, Raizel Ulman, before the massacre of the Braslav Ghetto that began on June 3, 1942.] Children too were wounded in their very souls. Once at midnight, my sister's young son began to feel bad. He began to writhe in convulsions, and white foam appeared on his lips. His condition worsened by the hour, his life was in danger. Where could we find a doctor, especially at this hour? The curfew forbade Jews from going outside before six o'clock in the morning, so who could go? The children were small, their father was a prisoner of the Russians, and only their mother [the narrator's sister, presumably Raizel] was with them. Despite the danger, I ran outside and made my way to the house of the Polish doctor, Dr. Baretzki. Dogs guarded his house, it wasn't easy to reach him. I knocked on his door, and he came out. He listened and understood, but didn't want to go with me to the child. It's still night-time, and the sick boy is a Jew, he said. But he didn't send me away empty handed; he explained what I should do to ease the boy's suffering. This I did, and the boy improved and passed out of danger.
Another night, Benyamin had a dream. In it, his father, who was no longer among the living, said to him, My son, this week and perhaps for two weeks more you'll remain here, but after that you must flee from this place. And you'll remain alive. Greatly agitated, Benyamin woke up. He wanted to leave the place immediately, and only my sister's words stopped him. For the time being, she said to him, they aren't attacking the Jews; who knows what will happen? A lot can change in one minute. So Benyamin remained.
Two weeks later, it happened [that is, the massacre of the Braslav Ghetto, which began on June 3, 1942]. Suddenly the shouting of Germans was heard. My sister told Benyamin to go quickly to the hiding place in the attic, with two of her children. The third boy, the oldest, ran outside, while she ran outside to tell us and others. Outside, the Germans shot her. Benyamin and the two children were nearby, but in the dark the Germans didn't see them. In the evening, when it grew a bit quieter, they got down from their hiding place and came to me. They'd had no time to take anything, and we too were without clothes, because there had been no time to dress when we fled. The homes of the Jews were robbed and looted. In our house everything was packed up, and Benyamin went there to get clothes and some valuables that had been hidden among the clothing. We dressed ourselves and remained sitting in the bunker for three days and three nights. In the daytime, we heard the voices of local Gentiles who were busy looting; one would go inside and two would come out. When we were in the attic, we held our breath out of worry that they'd sense our presence. In those three days, none of us, neither adult nor child, touched any food or water. On the third night, it grew quiet. Benyamin left the hiding place and entered the house to see whether anything remained and to check if the German guard was still there. He didn't see the guard. When we learned that the German guard had gone, we quickly left the hiding place and ran toward the lake, which was nearby. On the way, we approached my sister's bunker, but there we found no one. So the most terrible thing became clear: In this Aktion [of June 3-5, 1942], I'd lost my parents, three sisters, a brother-in-law and, with them, six children.
Exit from the Pit
We continued to run toward the lake. We hoped to find a boat on the shore that could take us to the other side, eight kilometers away. We ran along the shore. How happy we were when we saw, in the distance, a boat lying at anchor. Benyamin pulled out two boards from the fence around the power station, to serve as oars. Without anyone noticing, we got into the boat, but to our great disappointment we found it punctured with holes. So we left it and kept running along the shore. From afar, we saw a bridge that crossed the road leading to Braslav, with men standing nearby. We understood that they were guarding the train tracks and the bridge. We had to get past the road without them seeing us. We continued along the fields, not far from the train tracks. After going a great distance in this way, our strength began to fail and we decided to enter the house of a farmer who was a good acquaintance of ours, Anton Patkovitz. On seeing us, he burst into tears and told us that he'd traveled to Braslav for the market day and seen how the Germans were leading the Jews to destruction. He hadn't continued into the town, but had returned home immediately. Anton took us to his own field and put us in a pit that he used for storing potatoes in the winter; he gave us food and a pail of water, and went away. Meanwhile, the day had dawned.
When he gave us the food, he'd also given me several printed pages and asked me to read them. This surprised us. Long ago, I'd been the teacher of his children. Now he wanted me to give them lessons. I saw this as dangerous and I objected, but asked myself what he intended with the pages. I looked at them and saw that they concerned the trial of Jesus the Christian. Strange, I thought. Later, after it got dark, the farmer took me into his house and said that he couldn't keep us any longer. He was afraid that if the Germans found us, his brother's children would tell them who was keeping us and they'd shoot us all [including the farmer and his family]. A hint of what he said had been in those pages about Jesus, who was likewise judged after being denounced.
We saw that there was nothing for us to do but leave. The farmer's house was a lone house in the area, built in the Polish style: a white house with a red roof. On each side of the house was a main road. One led from Braslav to Opsa, and the other from Braslav to Drisviati [Dryswyaty] [Opsa was 18 kilometers southwest of Braslav, and Drisviati was 24 kilometers west of Braslav]. Half a kilometer away was a German army base, and Germans, together with the volunteers who served them, were continually loitering on these roads. The Jews and prisoners they captured were shot immediately. That same evening, we left Anton's house and went to the farmer Vanka Balufka, who I've already described. All of our possessions were at Vanka's, and he was continually begging us to come and shelter in his bunker, which he claimed to have prepared for us. To be honest, we doubted the truth of his statements, but at the moment we had no other choice. The path to his house led through a forest, which was near the German base. Several times, in the utter darkness, we lost our way. Toward morning we arrived, tired and exhausted, at Vanka's house and I was overjoyed to find there my sister's son, the oldest of her two children who'd been with us, a 13-year-old boy. In contrast to me, Vanka wasn't at all happy that we'd come. He put me and my son behind his barn, and he took Benyamin and my sister's three children away, to a place unknown to me. His actions displeased me. I asked myself where was the bunker he'd prepared for us, the bunker he was always telling us about. While sitting next to the barn, in the distance I saw Benyamin with the children walking toward me, pale as whitewash and full of fear. They told me that Vanka had taken them far from his house and put them in a deep ditch that dated from the time of World War I. While sitting in the ditch, they'd overheard above them a conversation between passing farmers about searching the ditch to see if any Jews were inside it. The farmers had peered in, and their eyes had met
those of the children. On seeing the children, the farmers had left immediately. Benyamin and the children got away from that place and came to me as fast as they could. All of us entered the barn and hid under a pile of straw; there was no time to ask Vanka's permission. Once again, we were all together. From what had just happened, we understood that our friend Vanka, after acquiring all our possessions, now wanted to rid himself of us. The situation was very dangerous, we had to get away from there and find another place. The destruction of the Braslav Ghetto was still continuing; even now, we could hear the echoes of gunshots. When we left, who knew who else we were likely to encounter?
In the evening, after he couldn't find us outside, Vanka realized that we were in the barn, and he came in to us. We spoke to him and gave him something else that we had with us. We wanted him to understand that all of our possessions in his hands now belonged to him, and we asked him to only give us bread in return. We just wanted bread. The next day, we saw Vanka harness his wagon and leave with his son. This alarmed us; we didn't know where they were going. When they returned in the evening, we saw the wagon piled high with booty. All day long, they'd been robbing the homes of Jews in the town. We worried that one day Vanka was likely to hand us over to the Germans. In exchange for all our possessions that he was guarding, he gave us a few slices of dry bread, for which we thanked him a thousand times. We continued to sit in the barn. Every so often, he'd come to us with news: In one place all the Jews had been killed, in another place they'd been destroyed, until one day [shortly thereafter] he told us that his neighbor had come and accused him: Why was he hiding Jews in his house? We knew his story to be an utter lie; none of the village residents had seen us there or knew of us. All these stories were intended to make us leave his house, and this happened sooner than we expected.
On the third day of our stay at Vanka's, we heard how the wife of his oldest son was having an argument with her husband and Vanka about vulgar things the two had said of us. This caused an enormous quarrel in their family, leading to blows. Afterward, the younger son entered the barn and ordered us to come with him, even though it was still daylight. We followed him into the forest, and there he told us, You must keep going into the forest, and there you'll find a place with tangled brush. After saying this, he left. Later we learned that when he returned home, he found Germans waiting there.
In the Forest
We continued into the forest. We looked for the tangled growth the son had described, and indeed we found such a place. Benyamin tied the tops of the brush together in such a way that the place became a kind of sukkah with a roof. We went inside it in search of calm after all the tension we'd been feeling, especially the children. From what we'd heard, we knew the Germans wouldn't come this deep into the forest, but shepherds from the village were a big danger, and we had to be on the lookout for them. We sat in the undergrowth, saying nothing. The children understood the seriousness of the situation and kept wonderfully silent.
Somehow we organized ourselves in our new surroundings. But where could we obtain a sack of food to stay alive? Around us was only forest, stretching for some distance. Even here, however, shots from the ghetto could be heard, and more than once it seemed to us as if the bullets were flying over our heads. We could also hear shooting from the German base that was near the forest. The birds in the forest were our only true friends, it was a pity they couldn't help us. Benyamin moved about as if he were sleepwalking; the surroundings were strange to him. He knew no one nearby, and he was depressed. We could see no way out of our situation. I told him that he shouldn't think of us or see himself as responsible for us. I knew he was the only survivor from his entire family and he was strong; if he were on his own, maybe he could
save himself. As for me, I was a mother to four children [the narrator's son and the three children of one of the narrator's sisters, presumably Raizel] and I'd never leave them, no matter how small the chance of survival. I thought all of this over, without saying a word to him. I didn't want my words to influence his decision to stay with us. I told myself that if he decided to go we'd divide our small amount of money between us. In the end, he refused to hear of leaving us and we remained together.
In contrast to Benyamin, who was a stranger in this area, I knew all the local farmers. There'd been a bakery in our house, and my father, of blessed memory, had also traded with the farmers, and they respected him a great deal. Many of them also knew me, because I'd taught their children. So there was less danger of my being caught by the farmers and handed over to the Germans. I went to ask for something to eat, and several of them gave me food out of pity. I could go out only at night; they couldn't see me in the darkness, and so they couldn't see which of them I went to. The trees in the forest were tall and thick, and cast heavy shadows; it was very dark. More than once, while walking on swampy ground, my feet sank into the earth and I got out only with difficulty. Vanka Balufka knew that we had a few more valuables with us, and this brought him to us every few days, to get his bribes and take the opportunity to frighten us with things he said. Once he told us that the local farmers were very angry with him because of our presence in the forest. Especially, he said, the farmer Fyodor, who blamed Vanka for our being there. One day, while looking for food, it happened that I came face to face with this Fyodor, who'd been orphaned and had grown up in our house, together with his brother. Now, years later, he was married and lived on his own land like all the other farmers. When we met, he was surprised to find me there, and I asked him, Fyodor, what harm did we ever do to you that you're so angry now at our being here? Would it be easier for you if they killed us? He crossed himself and began to weep. How can you say such things? Come to me, and I'll guard you as if you were my sister. I didn't go to him, but said that soon we'd be leaving the place and going away. I didn't mention Vanka's name. I didn't want a quarrel to start between them, lest we become its victims.
One day, Vanka brought to us our former neighbor, a Jew named Maishke [Moshe] Goldin --- the son of Avraham-Yossel. He'd been a trader and had acquaintances among the farmers, among them Vanka. He'd learned from Vanka that I was alive and staying there. Maishke stayed with us. Very dirty and full of lice, he hadn't washed himself in a long time.
At this time, the things that we had included a pot, a tin cup and a small military spade which we'd gotten from Vanka. Benyamin used the cup to wash the children. We didn't have clean water, only moldy water in a pit swarming with insects. We strained this water before using it. Benyamin dug two pits. In one of them we put water for drinking, and in the other we warmed a pot of water for washing and laundry. For the time being, we were clean. I washed Maishke's clothes to prevent the lice from spreading. Maishke would look at the children with pain in his eyes. I understood his thinking and ignored his behavior toward them. He simply couldn't see the point and was angry at us for keeping the children with us. Because of them, he argued, all of us would be lost. Parents were strangling their children, he said, but we paid no attention to what he said. After he'd been with us for some time and gotten familiar with the area and its residents, he'd go out with Benyamin to ask the farmers for food. What he brought they divided in two: Maishke took half, and the other half was for the rest of us: six souls [the narrator, her son, Benyamin, and the three children of one of the narrator's sisters, presumably Raizel]. In the end, Maishke ate from our share and would hide his own among his possessions. This behavior caused me much aggravation.
The farmers gave me permission to take potatoes from a field. Benyamin and Maishke went out to do this job. The night was long, and they were able to go far while covering their tracks. Benyamin worked quickly and managed to take out more than half a sack of potatoes in a short time. During this potato season, we had plenty to eat.
When Maishke saw that Benyamin knew no fear, he'd turn to him and say, Why should a man like you risk his life for a woman with many children? It'd be better for both of us if we went somewhere else. We two men would lack for nothing. These things were said to Benyamin when they went out together to look for food. And when Benyamin went out alone, Maishke would turn to me and say, Why are you acting like a gypsy, running around to get food for him? His intention was clear: to bring about an argument between me and my cousin and cause a break between us, so that the two of them could go somewhere else together. But his attempt didn't succeed.
Our happiness with the potatoes didn't last long. The farmers harvested the rest of them, taking them from the field. The problem of food grew even more severe, and we became very hungry. We felt that because of the hunger and the cold, we couldn't remain in this place any longer. Maishke would disappear for days before returning. Jews wandered the forest like lost sheep. More than once in the forest, a Jew would encounter another Jew and each would flee, in fear that the other was a Gentile hunting Jews. Once Benyamin and I saw a bonfire in the forest. We went closer and recognized a young man from Braslav, Idel [Yehuda] Rusonik, standing next to the fire, and on the ground next to him lay other people. We couldn't recognize them from a distance, but certainly they were Jews from Braslav. When they heard our approaching footsteps, they quickly fled deep into the forest. It was dangerous to run after them and call them out loud. We never saw them again.
One day, Vanka came to us and said that he was traveling to Opsa, a town where many of our relatives were living; we also knew other people there. We paid him, and he took with him two of my sister's older sons; one was 10 years old and the other was 13. Both of the boys had light-colored hair and didn't look like Jews. We sent them to learn how things were with our relatives. After they left, Benyamin and I went out to get food for us all. In our sukkah hiding place, we left my two-year-old son with my sister's son, a boy of eight. We made signs on the trees so that we could find the way back. And when we left the forest, Benyamin made a large sign on one of the trees, so that we'd be able to see it at night on our return. Beyond the forest lay a valley. From a distance we saw a number of houses, and beyond them another forest. It was dangerous to go near the houses, but we had no choice. I asked Benyamin to wait so that I could approach one of the houses alone. And I told him that if anything happened to me, he should return immediately to the children. I went by myself but, as I neared one of the houses, who did I run into but Benyamin. He'd regretted agreeing to my going alone and had run to catch up with me. Both of us entered the house and left it safely with a bit of food in our hands: bread, grain and milk. We were very happy, but our happiness quickly evaporated. We'd just started walking back when a heavy storm broke out, accompanied by pouring rain. A veritable flood spilled over us. The roofs of the houses were lifted upward in the wind, and branches broke off from the trees. All around, there was utter darkness. Only occasional lightning lit up the way. It was impossible to keep walking, but we had to go on, because we'd left the children in the forest sukkah. We reached the forest, but not even a trace remained of the signs we'd left. Suddenly we heard the voices of people approaching, riding on bicycles and speaking German among themselves. We
quickly hid ourselves in the brush at the roadside, and the Germans didn't notice we were there. After they went away, we got up fearfully from our hiding place. We entered the forest and pushed ahead, not knowing where we were going. After a long walk, somehow we arrived back at the sukkah. The children sat inside it, hugging each other and soaking wet to the bone --- a very sad sight. Still, we were happy that we'd found them in spite of the storm and the rain. We celebrated: Benyamin managed to light a fire, and all of us sat around it. We dried ourselves out and warmed up a bit, while the fish cooked on the fire. After the meal we lay down to sleep, but I couldn't close my eyes. I was worried about the children who'd gone with Vanka and not yet returned. Given the time that had passed since they'd set out on the road, they should already have gotten back. We waited another night and another day. When at last we asked Vanka about it, he said the relatives hadn't allowed the boys to return to us, but we doubted what he'd said. Despite the danger, we asked another farmer if he'd heard anything about children being seized by the Germans. Farmers said they'd heard nothing. The matter of the children was a great worry. I turned again to Vanka and paid him to travel to Opsa --- if he found the children there, he should bring them back. But once again he returned empty handed with the same answer as before, and not even a letter. My worry about the children grew.
Maishke now returned to us, bringing with him my brother-in-law Leizer, who he'd met in the forest. They too hadn't heard of any children being seized by the Germans.
After leaving Vanka's house, we stayed in the same place as before [the sukkah]. The forest was large and overgrown. It continued for kilometers, and it was hard to pass through on foot. We were alone, with only the visiting birds to keep us company. But by now a path leading to our sukkah had become visible, created over time by our going out occasionally to get food and return to the sukkah. This path was a great danger. Once, hearing footsteps, we quickly left our shelter and hid in a new place. Our birds moved with us.
One evening, Maishke and I went out to search for food. We decided that he'd go to his acquaintances among the farmers and I to mine, and we'd meet up at the home of my farmer. When I got there, the farmer's family told me that if I wanted to wash myself I could go to their bathhouse. To this I gladly agreed. The bathhouse was quite far from their house; I entered it and undressed. Suddenly I heard the conversation of people passing by. This frightened me so much that I didn't notice which language they were speaking. I was convinced that they were coming to get me. Their footsteps drew nearer. Now they were next to the bathhouse. I prayed to G-d that they wouldn't torture me a great deal. As I prayed, I heard the footsteps pass by and disappear altogether. I dressed quickly and ran to the farmer's house, thanking him for the bath. When I left his house I found Maishke, who had arrived breathless. He told me that several Gentiles had chased him and tried to catch him. With a great effort, he'd succeeded in escaping them. We quickly returned to our sukkah in the forest. That night, I grew very cold and a hard swelling appeared on my back, which made it difficult for me to move about.
I wanted to go to Opsa to find out what had happened to the children, my sister's sons, but everyone objected. Several days later, after my fever subsided, I got up determined to go to Opsa, no matter what. Maishke said that he too would go, and we both set out on the road. We didn't know that this day was a Christian holiday and there were many people on the roads. We had to hide, but how could we do this in a field where there was only low-lying grain? Somehow we succeeded in hiding from the people who were passing by. This cycle repeated itself several times. After great difficulty,
we arrived in the Opsa Ghetto toward morning.
The boys (my sister's sons) and the relatives were happy to see that I was still alive. More than once, Gentiles had come to them and said that the teacher (that is, I) had been killed, even adding details about where and when. After resting a bit, I began to ask why the boys hadn't come back with the farmers to join us, as I'd requested. I learned that the relatives hadn't allowed them to go. The older boy was prepared to come to us on his own, but the younger boy was afraid and so the older one kept delaying his departure from day to day. In light of the horrors that took place on the roads, maybe it was a good thing they'd stayed with the relatives. I was very happy to find them alive and to see them again.
I prepared to return to the forest. To this my relatives objected strongly, but on the other hand they knew that my cousin and the other [two] children were back there [meaning the narrator's own two-year-old son and her sister's eight-year-old son, referred to on page 178]. I was worried myself; I couldn't easily find a way back to the forest that was relatively safe. But I had to reach a decision. I told myself, Since the Gentiles know I'm alive, they'll certainly try to catch me again. It's before the holidays at the beginning of our year [in 1942 Rosh Hashanah fell on September 12-13], and the weather has already grown colder. Soon the winter will come and with it rain, snow and severe cold, and we have almost no clothing, nor a roof over our heads. The food is getting used up. It's hard to see how we'll be able to keep ourselves in the forest --- and why should we die alone somewhere out there? Here [in Opsa] our fate and that of other Jews will be shared. So I promised my relatives and friends that I'd return to the forest only to bring Benyamin and the children back to Opsa.
Before I set out on the road, my friend Rachel Shneider, of blessed memory, with whom we'd stayed when we were in Opsa, advised me to take the opportunity to wash myself thoroughly, something I hadn't been able to do for a long time. I washed and enjoyed it. Unfortunately the hot water aggravated the swelling on my back, turning it into one huge sore.
The Germans posted notices in which they ordered all the Jews from around the area to travel to Glubok [Glubokoye] and enter the ghetto there. (Glubok was a town in Belorussia.) In their notices, the Germans said that they'd no longer harm the Jews. Every Jew knew that these words were lies; their purpose was to deceive and delude Jews who'd succeeded in escaping from the ghettos that had been destroyed and who were wandering the roads and forests.
Despite my bad health, I decided to go to the forest. Maishke said he'd stay in Opsa [for the time being]. The relatives gave me a sack of bread and other necessities. I tied it onto my sore back like a backpack and, early on the morning of the next day, I set out on the road. Benyamin Shneider, of blessed memory, accompanied me the entire length of the town, which I had to pass through to leave on the best road. Between us, we agreed that if we were stopped and asked about where we were heading, we'd say we were going to work. When I left the town, I continued alone. To any question, I intended to reply that I was going to Glubok.
The farmers were already in their fields. When they saw me, certainly more than one of them must have been surprised: What? A Jewess remains? As I approached a large village, I heard someone calling my name from one of the houses. I came closer and went inside. The owner of the house was a Christian who I knew quite well. In the house I found a young man from Braslav: Shlomo Shteinman. He and his family had lived in my sister's apartment in the ghetto. We were happy to find each other. Shlomo didn't want to part from me and decided to go with me to the forest. When we got there, they told me that my little two-year-old son had asked only once, Where's mother? He'd been sad all the time and hadn't
eaten, drunk or slept at night. He hadn't cried, just looked continually in the direction I'd gone when I set out on the road. I told them all about what had happened in Opsa. I told them the opinion of the Jews of the town regarding our stay in the forest, and added my opinion about the coming winter, rain, snow and cold. I finished by saying I'd decided to follow the wishes of the relatives in Opsa and move there. Whoever wanted to, I said, could come with me, and whoever didn't want to could do as he saw fit.
That same evening, Maishke arrived in the forest. My brother-in-law Leizer suggested that my cousin Benyamin go with him to the front, while Maishke too asked Benyamin to join him. Meanwhile, Shlomo countered these two by suggesting that Benyamin go with him. Each of these men wanted to go with Benyamin, because he was brave and strong, but in the end Benyamin went with none of them. He wouldn't agree to leave me alone with the children.
The farmers of the area were accustomed to travel to Opsa to do their marketing. I succeeded in sending my sister's eight-year-old son with one of them. [This left her two-year-old son, Luba, with her in the forest.] Then, while the bread that I'd brought from Opsa lasted, we sat and argued about what to do. Each of us tried to change the others' minds, but everyone stuck to their own opinion. The bread got used up. My cousin [Benyamin] would go only with me, and I was firmly set on going only to Opsa, where the children remained. At night, Benyamin put my son Luba on his back and I loaded onto my sore back a sack containing all that remained. With the three other men [Maishke, Leizer and Shlomo], we set out for Opsa.
The Road to Opsa
The road was full of dangers and obstacles, especially for me, not just because I was a woman but also because I was ill. The possessions I was carrying on my back worsened the pain until it grew unbearable. The three men walked ahead, light handed, with the idea that if anything happened they'd be able to get away easily. Many farmers' wagons were traveling on the road. Each time they approached, we had to hide from them. Maishke was our guide. He knew the area but in the end he made a mistake, which caused the distance we traveled to nearly double. When we got to the town, the three men went off in another direction and we [the narrator, her son and Benyamin] continued on, not knowing the way. We knew it was dangerous for us to pass through the town, so we went around it and approached the ghetto that way. We were tired and worn out, and it became necessary for us to rest a bit before entering. We sat on the ground; it was completely dark. Suddenly we heard people approaching. We were sure that these were Germans who'd noticed us, and there was nowhere to hide. I was sure that our fate was sealed; our end was at hand. We sat quietly. The footsteps approached, and then we saw the three men who'd parted from us when we'd reached the town. All of us entered the ghetto together, and I went to my relatives to see the children.
In the Opsa Ghetto
The Jews of Opsa had been divided into two groups. Most of them had been transferred to the town of Vidz, 20 kilometers away [actually 22 kilometers to the southwest]. The remainder had been concentrated on the side streets of the town [of Opsa], the boundaries of the ghetto.
After the destruction of the Braslav Ghetto [on June 3-5, 1942], the Germans had needed various types of professionals [expert craftsmen]. They demanded that the ghetto
supply them with such workers. But the Jews of Opsa, knowing the fate of the Jews of Braslav, refused to travel to work. Once in a while, when the Germans arrived, people would panic and run to their bunkers. For us, survivors from the Braslav Ghetto, it was extremely dangerous to be seen outside, because we'd already been included in the list of the dead. Among the survivors of the Braslav Ghetto were also Chaim-Reuven [Blecher] the baker, his son David, and Zerach Bogomolski, the watchmaker. They were hiding in an attic of one of the houses. Bogomolski was very sick; his legs were so swollen that he could no longer stand. He was also depressed and had lost his self-confidence. He wept continually and spoke of his wife and daughter, saying that it was certain they were no longer among the living, and he seemed to expect the same fate. He worried about his two sons, Moshe and Yisrael, who'd fled from the Germans. G-d knows what happened to them, he said, adding, It wouldn't be hard to die if I knew they could survive this war and remain alive.
We had a Jewish doctor come and see him in the attic. After examining him, the doctor told us his condition wasn't good, and it was impossible to obtain medicine.
During our time in Opsa, Benyamin and I would visit him, bringing food and drink, and we tried to comfort him.
There were other people from Braslav in Opsa: Yisrael Kort, Shlomo Shteinman, Mashka Biliak, Dveirka Goldin, and others. When Germans appeared all of them would flee, scattering in every direction. With the children, we'd run to the nearby forest and wait. After the Germans left Opsa, we'd be called back. This cycle repeated itself a number of times.
Benyamin and I [eventually] decided that there was no point in staying in the ghetto in Opsa. Destruction was approaching. If they caught us, we had nothing with which to redeem ourselves, and before dying we'd have to endure severe suffering. But every time we began to speak of leaving, our relatives would burst into tears. Where will you go with the children? Whatever our fate, we should face it together. In this way, we kept putting off our departure. The situation became extremely difficult.
Mashka Biliak wept in front of me. She thought she was pregnant. If she knew her husband was alive, the pregnancy wouldn't have worried her, but there was no news of him. Immediately at the start of the panic in the Braslav Ghetto [presumably the Aktion on June 3-5, 1942], she'd fled with her infant to a large hiding place where there were many Jews. Because the infant was crying, they'd forced her to strangle him. At night, they'd taken him out to a vegetable garden and she'd put him between the rows, and now she was alone and expecting a baby. I gave her some money, and she went to see a doctor.
In Opsa, we suffered three weeks of fear and mental agony. One day, great confusion arose in the ghetto. A woman who'd escaped from the Vidz Ghetto and reached Opsa said that the Germans had concentrated all of the Jews in the ghetto in order to take them all out to be killed. Hours later, Germans came from Braslav and asked for many Jews to go to work. For us, this was a sign to leave Opsa immediately. We took the children and a few possessions, and once again we fled to the forest. This time, we thought, it would be the last time. We fled despite our great doubts as to whether we could succeed in reaching a village and finding there a farmer who'd shelter us in his house. When we heard that the Germans had left Opsa, we returned there to say goodbye to our family and friends.
We decided to head for villages in Lithuania [the Lithuanian border lay about 15 kilometers to the west and north of Opsa]. Benyamin had many acquaintances in these villages, with whom he had longstanding trade connections. But most of the Lithuanians were collaborating with the Germans. And there was also this: Lithuania was the first country that had become Judenrein [cleansed of Jews, in German]. So we had great doubts about finding
a farmer who'd shelter a Jew. As always, our relatives and friends were opposed to our going; we decided to go in any case. But what would we do with the children? After much discussion, we decided that Benyamin and I would go out to look for a place for us all, and for the time being the children [meaning her sister's three children, including the eight-year-old son the narrator had been caring for] would remain in Opsa with the relatives. They didn't want to take responsibility for my two-year-old son, so we had to take him with us.
We Leave Opsa
We set out on the road. We were joined by Chaim Ulman, a young watchmaker from Zarasai in Lithuania [about 44 kilometers northwest of Opsa]. I won't describe the moment we parted from the children; I don't have the words to express it. Was this a final goodbye? I didn't dare to mention such a worry. We embraced for a long time; crying, I promised to come back soon and take them with us. This was a difficult parting for us. The relatives fainted from sorrow.
After leaving Opsa we headed toward the forest, to get a bundle we'd left there sometime earlier. But before we could reach it, we heard many shots echoing all over the forest. We thought maybe the Germans had sensed our presence and were shooting at us. We waited for a while to see what would happen, and then continued on the path that left the forest. We had to go onto the main road, despite the ever-present danger. On the road we saw many cars filled with Germans, as well as many people who were on foot. From time to time, we hid near the roadside. In great fear, after much difficulty, we reached a farmhouse where Benyamin hoped to find a hiding place. After we got inside, I discovered that I too knew the farmer well. He and his family received us willingly; they even agreed that we could stay with them. When we came in, we immediately told the farmer that we'd left our three children in Opsa and were prepared to pay him to bring them to us. He agreed to this but unfortunately, before he could harness his wagon to get them, we learned that it was too late. Another farmer reached Minkovitz [Minkowicze, about 12 kilometers northwest of Opsa] and told Anika Beilov (the farmer whose house we were in) that he'd just now returned from Opsa; some of the Jews there had been transferred to Braslav and the rest had been taken to Postov [Pastavy], a town farther away from Opsa [50 kilometers to the south]. As far as he knew, there were no Jews left in Opsa.
This farmer's story hit us like a hammer blow. We were stunned and didn't know what to do. Where had the children been taken? How could this have happened in just a few hours? We wanted to believe that there was still enough time to get them from Opsa and bring them to us. From the farmer's words, the meaning of the shooting we'd heard on leaving Opsa became clear. What should we do now to find the children and bring them to us? To learn where they were, we'd have to send two wagons: one to Braslav and one to Postov. I wrote two identical letters. I gave them to two farmers who traveled to these towns and asked them to give the letters to the first Jew they met when they entered each town. In these letters, I begged the recipient to find our children and tell us in a return letter, to be sent with the same farmer.
From Braslav, which was closer to where we were staying [Minkovitz, their presumed location, was 22 kilometers west of Braslav], the farmer returned that same evening with a reply from Shlomo Shteinman, who I'd met in one of the villages when he left Opsa. In his letter, Shlomo wrote that the second ghetto in Braslav was being fenced in with barbed wire. The work hadn't yet been completed. There were many Jews in the ghetto, and he suggested that we come there as well. To my question about the children, he said not a word.
Sometime later, the farmer returned from Postov with ominous news: There are no Jews in Postov. All of them have been killed. This burned three deep new wounds into our hearts.
For a week, we lay under a pile of straw in the barn. Anika the farmer would bring us food and water, but we didn't touch this or that. The tragedy of the children [her sister's three children] had depressed us greatly. Now, everything looked different. We felt that we should leave this place immediately. Our barn was near the church; many of the Christians who came to pray would lean their bicycles against the walls of the barn. People walked nearby during the hours of prayer, and they could find us at any moment. A light cough from one of us might give us away. After that, not only would we be tortured to death but the farmer and his family were likely to pay with their lives. Before the farmer could think about all this, we went out to find a different hiding place.
Connecting with the Partisans
We found another hiding place for all of us a great distance from Minkovitz, in a large village called Pasovitz [Paszewicze, four kilometers west of Minkovitz and just north of the town of Drisviati; on the eastern side of Lake Drisviati, now called Lake Druksiai]. The village was divided into hutorim (separate, isolated farms). Every house was surrounded by rich vegetation for several kilometers. Here in this village, we found several more Jews who'd escaped from the ghettos, along with some prisoners of war. In a spread-out village like this, it felt more comfortable, because the Germans were afraid to enter such places. Here too, we arranged a hiding place for ourselves in a large pile of straw. During the day, we'd emerge from the hiding place to meet with our companions. Those who sat in bunkers in the houses of the village knew each other. After we'd stayed in the village for some time, the place became oppressive to Chaim Ulman, who was with us. He wanted to explore the surrounding area, which was new to him, and he wanted especially to get some tobacco for smoking, at any cost. We objected to his plan to go out. Why, we argued, should he put himself in greater danger, especially when the local farmer's family had no objection to our remaining with them? We tried to convince him not to go, but he insisted and he left us. After a few days, the farmers told us that Chaim had been seized by the Germans next to the town of Drisviati, not far away [about three kilometers southeast of Pasovitz], and they'd shot him immediately. So Chaim Ulman too was no longer alive. We were sad, very sad.
One evening, when we were sitting in our hiding place, we heard shots from all directions. We didn't know what was happening in the surrounding area, and we didn't dare leave our hiding place to find out. A few hours later, after the shooting stopped, about 20 men arrived --- partisans. They'd come from Belorussia to carry out a mission. The Germans had sensed their presence and opened fire. The partisans had succeeded in getting away without suffering any wounded, and now they entered the house of the farmer near where we were hiding, to rest a bit. While we were all sitting together, the partisans told us that they had to go into Lithuania. There, in one of the forests, lived a forester who'd killed a Soviet general, 18 prisoners and 140 Jews. One of the prisoners had succeeded in escaping, crossing the front lines and reaching Moscow. There, he told of the forester's deceit and evil deeds. The mission of this group of partisans was now to reach the forest and kill the forester. The forest was called Grazuta [Grazutes], and it was 18 kilometers away [the forest's eastern edge was roughly that distance west of Pasovitz, inside Lithuania], in an area that Benyamin was very familiar with; he knew every path. When the partisans heard that Benyamin knew the place, they asked him to serve as their guide. Benyamin agreed, on condition that if the mission succeeded and they came out of it safely, they'd take me and my son back with them to their base. This the partisans promised to do. One
other Jew who was with us, Moshe Okun from Turmont [Turmontas, 40 kilometers west of Braslav and in Lithuania] (today he lives in Kovno), asked to join Benyamin and the partisans. They agreed. After resting a while, they left to carry out their mission.
Every day of our stay with Nikolai Barila [or Varila] we worked at various jobs, as payment for our food and also because we didn't want to sit doing nothing when the farmer's family was helping us. In the morning, after the partisans set out with Benyamin, I went to the field with the farmer's family to gather potatoes. Luba, my child, remained in the house. Outside, it felt like autumn; the trees and undergrowth had already shed many of their leaves. The wind was strong. Soon winter would arrive. [The time was late in 1942.] Outside it was dark, just as the soul was gloomy. Only the work in the field progressed very nicely. While I was caught up in the work and thinking about our situation, one of the prisoners who were hiding in the village ran up in a panic with the shout: Get away from here quickly! The Germans are in the village and searching every house. With my hands covered in mud, I ran to the farmer's house, grabbed my child and fled deep into the underbrush in the field. There was nowhere else to hide. Among the bushes, in the place we arrived at, I found a little girl of about 12-13 years; her name was Itta, from Drisviati, the daughter of Benyamin the tailor. She asked for my help and protection, and stayed next to me. We sat in the tangled growth, to which I added more scrub to camouflage the place. We sat together, hugging each other, and waited to see what fate had in store for us. I wondered to myself what kind of death awaited us. Gloomy thoughts came to mind. From what had I fled, and where had I got to? Did I know what was in store for my child, after all this? I envied our martyred dead, who were already beyond suffering and torture. My heart cried out, but I didn't want the children to sense my feelings; that would increase their fear.
In this way, we spent an entire day in the tangled brush. When night fell, all of the Germans left. As we'd heard, they indeed searched all the houses of the village, as well as inside burning stoves. Happily, not a single Jew was found. When night fell, they stopped searching. This time, we were saved from death.
The Partisans Return
A number of days passed. From the front, there was news of German victories. The news encouraged our enemies; they turned into beasts of prey, prowling the villages and forests in search of Jews and partisans. For the survivors wandering from place to place, the situation worsened. Every day, we heard of Jews and partisans who'd been caught. Out of fear of the Germans, the farmers who'd given shelter to Jews did all they could to get them to leave. There were cases where farmers had been executed after Jews were found hiding in their homes. In situations like this, the local police did the work of the Germans. They were able to capture Chaim-Yisrael Reichel from Braslav, who'd succeeded in fleeing the massacre when his entire family was destroyed. They tortured him cruelly until he revealed the name of the farmer who'd hidden him. The police killed Chaim-Yisrael as well as the farmer's family. Each moment, we were afraid of what was likely to befall us. Then another fear was added: It was several days
since my cousin Benyamin and Moshe Okun had gone out on the mission with the partisans, and they hadn't returned. They'd had to go a long way, full of danger. Had they been caught, G-d forbid? After a week Benyamin and Moshe returned, and all of the partisans with them, happy that their mission had succeeded. The partisans protected Benyamin; he'd shown bravery and initiative in the operation and taken them on a relatively short and safe path. When they reached the Grazuta forest behind Salok [Salakas, about 34 kilometers west of Pasovitz and at the forest's southern edge], where the forester lived, Benyamin had been the first to burst into his house. In the house, at the table, sat the forester and another man, a German. They were taken completely by surprise. Benyamin ordered them to raise their hands, and he cut the telephone cables. The partisans killed the forester right there, and they took the German with them as a prisoner. Russian prisoners [who had just been rescued by the partisans] exchanged their clothes for ones they found in the house and then left the place. On their way back, the partisans had to cross the train tracks. A villager who was working there told Benyamin that at night a train loaded with weapons was supposed to pass on the way to the front. The partisans hid in the area, and that night they blew up the train, preventing the weapons from reaching their destination. In addition, two local policemen who showed up there were killed. After this, the group continued on its way. They passed a small town named Tilz [Tilze], which was next to Lake Drisviati [on the lake's northern shore, about seven kilometers northwest of Pasovitz]. There, Benyamin suggested that they all rest a bit at the home of a farmer they knew. When they were got to the man's house, the farmer told them that there were police at his neighbor's house. Benyamin and three partisans entered the neighbor's house to take care of them. The neighbor's wife hinted to the partisans where the police were located. Benyamin ordered them to come out from behind the stove, and he killed them all. Afterward, the wife said to Benyamin, You really look to me like Benyamin, but that can't be, because he was killed. To which he replied that he was indeed Benyamin and he was still alive. She asked about his family, wife and children, and he told her that all of them had been lost. She burst into tears and thanked him for rescuing them from the police, who had caused them many problems.
We celebrated their return by resting in the farmer's house. When night fell, we all set out on the road, together with the partisans. Just before we entered a forest, we nearly walked into a German ambush. There were very many of them, and they surrounded the entire forest; it was impossible to pass through the forest in one group. The officer Sarokin, who commanded the partisans, told everyone that there was no option but to separate, and each person would escape the siege on his own.
We Separate from the Partisans
It's hard to describe the barrage of firing that we heard around us. We had to run quickly to escape; Benyamin with the boy on his back, as always, and me behind him, partly running and partly walking. After much difficulty, we arrived out of breath at one of Benyamin's acquaintances who lived in an isolated farmhouse (hutor); his name was Chit Beilov. He gave us permission to build a hiding place far from his house, in swampy ground that belonged to him. At its center was an area whose bottom was stone; it appeared like an island in the sea. The stones had to be uprooted and a pit dug, and after that the pit could be covered by a roof. This would be our house. It would be hard work, but we were happy the farmer had agreed to give us the place. Since we were tired and worn out, we decided to rest and start work the next day. We sat down near a small bonfire to warm ourselves. While we were sitting, suddenly some Jews appeared: Nachum Kasimov, with his wife and three children. They told us they'd been with several Poles, and after a short time
the Poles had asked them to leave. They too had been in the village of Pasovitz and had left when the partisans went away. Recently, Nachum told us, the Germans had been blockading Pasovitz from time to time and searching for Jews and partisans. As long as the vegetation was dense and green, this had kept the Germans from entering the area, but now that the leaves had fallen the Germans were appearing from time to time. At the last minute, said Nachum, he and his family had succeeded in escaping. The farmers hadn't wanted to endanger themselves for Jews.
Nachum was happy to see Benyamin. He told us that once, while sitting hidden in the cellar of the house of a farmer, they'd heard a conversation among members of the farmer's family on the need to rid themselves of the Jews by killing them. During one such conversation, he'd heard the farmer's wife tell her husband, Don't do anything to them, because the news will reach Benyamin and he'll come and kill us all. They were afraid to hurt us, Nachum concluded, and so they'd asked us to leave.
The next day the two men, Nachum and Benyamin, came to build the bunker. My help, and the help of Musia, Nachum's wife, was nothing in comparison to what they did. The work was hard, but when it was finished and we entered the bunker we were the happiest people in the world. We could lay down our heads and relax. From time to time, the farmer's family came to us. They were very good people and took care of us. Seeing how cold I was, the farmer's mother gave me a pair of old felt shoes, and this helped a lot. When we sat in the bunker, we believed that now we could rest for a while. The farmers in the area were acquaintances of Benyamin and Nachum, and both of them were getting food for us. Without saying anything to one another, each of us thought: If only we can stay in this bunker for a long time, G-d will help us and we'll be able to see the Redemption.
But matters didn't develop that way; change came much sooner than expected. One morning, the farmer came to us in a panic and asked us to immediately leave the place and his land. He told us that the Germans were searching the entire area, and if they found us on his property they'd burn down his farm with his family inside it. In tears, we convinced him to let us stay until it got dark.
Where would we go? Nobody knew. In such a situation, we needed to get far away. In the region, certainly all of the farmers knew about the searches by the Germans. One person would tell another, and not one of them would open his door to us. We had no choice but to set out on the main road, despite the danger that we were likely to encounter Germans or others who were hostile.
We Part from Nachum
To avoid arousing too much attention, we had to divide ourselves once more into two groups. Nachum and his family, despite all the pain we felt at separation, turned in one direction, and we in the other. (Today, we know that Nachum and his family remained alive, and they live in America.) Here I write We went this way, and they went that way, but actually we crawled on all fours at the roadsides, over barbed wire, stones, scrub and other obstacles. Our hands and feet were scratched, wounded and bleeding, and more than once we lost track of each other. More than once, we thought of meeting a good German, who'd kill us without torture. But our fates were otherwise. With our last bit of strength, utterly exhausted, we arrived at a village called Malki [presumably Mialka, on the northeastern shore of Lake Drisviati and about 3.5 kilometers north of Pasovitz]. Benyamin approached a small, isolated house, whose owners he knew. This was the farmer Koschuk.
Koschuk immediately took us into his house and agreed to give us shelter. After resting, Benyamin entered the barn and made a pit next to the wall, under a pile of hay. Toward morning, we went down into the pit. It was small, and we arranged ourselves inside it with difficulty. A beam of light came through a narrow crack under the wall of the barn, which was enough for us to distinguish between day and night. We lined the bottom of the pit with straw; we had nothing else. We were happy to have found a hiding place. The farmer took everything from us, worst of all our shoes. His excuse for this was to prevent Benyamin from visiting other farmers in the vicinity. All of the locals knew the farmer and it wasn't desirable for them to know that he, Koschuk, was keeping us in his house. Outside it was already cold; winter had begun and snow had already fallen. Inside the pit, it was very cold. The clothes we wore were torn and worn out, and they failed to keep us warm. All day we sat hugging each other, to warm up a bit. What saved us in such weather was the forester's large fur coat, which Benyamin had taken with him when he returned from the mission with the partisans. At midnight, Koschuk would bring us into his house to warm up a bit next to the stove. I used this time to wash the boy, but it wasn't possible for Benyamin or me to remove the dirt from our bodies. The farmer's bathhouse was far from the house, and it was dangerous to go there; we had to return when it was still dark outside. One day, I felt that the boy's head was covered entirely with swellings, apparently because of the cold. What to do? The boy still had his golden curls, which he'd had since birth. When we were wandering in the open, it had been possible to keep him clean and I'd wash him occasionally. But now it was impossible. I had no comb. Scissors? Even the farmer had none. The boy suffered from severe pain and couldn't lie down. He'd sit during all hours of the day and night, and I held his head and told him stories that I made up by myself. He loved the stories, and this eased his pain.
Despite the good growing season, the farmer didn't want to give us any of his food, which was plentiful that year. He brought a little, only from what he prepared for his dog. The amount wasn't enough to keep us alive, and we began to feel hunger. Nor did the farmer agree to let Benyamin go out to get food for us. Despite this prohibition, Benyamin went out on the day of a blizzard, in my felt shoes, to ask for food. The falling snow covered his footsteps; in the morning, no trace of them could be seen. Occasionally he'd go searching in this way. When the felt shoes became torn, he'd wrap his feet in sacks and go out to get food. And Benyamin did something else at night without leaving any footprints: every night he left the pit and got half a cup of milk for the boy from the farmer's three cows in the barn. Only half a cup, so that the farmer wouldn't know that the cows had been milked. This small amount of milk helped us to keep the boy alive.
One night, Benyamin succeeded in bringing bread: food we hadn't eaten in a long time. He sliced a piece for each of us, and I put what was left in a sack under the boy's head, for him to use when he was hungry. Without our knowledge, the boy found the bread and ate it all. The next day, when I wanted to give
him something to eat, I found that the bread was gone. And then I did something I shouldn't have: As a punishment, I slapped the boy. First of all, why did he take the bread himself without asking? And second, he'd broken some of the bread into crumbs without eating it, and this was a terrible waste. A minute later, I was sorry I'd slapped him. Certainly the conditions were abnormal; everyone did things that weren't always logical, and all of us were affected by our terrible situation. But to harm him? To this day, I can't forgive myself. Since then, I haven't lifted a hand to him. He really was a good boy and he understood the situation very well, despite his young age.
During one of his nightly outings, Benyamin went far from our pit, to one of the farmers who, right at that moment, had taken bread out of the oven. Benyamin described our situation and the farmer, a truly good man, gave him two loaves of bread, which were still warm. Very happily, Benyamin ran back with the bread and he reached us at the pit while it was still dark.
That night, we ate until we were satisfied, after days of utter hunger. The swellings on the boy's head began to heal. Luba was a lucky boy. At nine months old, he'd already known how to walk. He was like a grown man! At the age of one year, he spoke freely and clearly. My mother, may she rest in peace, had 14 grandchildren from five daughters; Luba was the youngest. He isn't an ordinary child, my mother said. He'll grow up to become either one of the most important people we've got or, G-d forbid, one of the worst.
I thought the farmers must have owned scissors for shearing sheep, and so I asked a farmer to lend me a pair. With the help of these scissors, I gave my son his first haircut. Outside it was already warm enough, and we were able to go out of the pit. We sat the boy on a pile of straw and I began to cut his golden curls that I loved so much. For the first time in a long time, I saw the boy's head in daylight, and in disbelief I saw that it was crawling with lice. I was so alarmed to see this that I let out a big scream. Benyamin came running to learn what had happened. I showed him the boy's head. What to do? Lacking any of the chemical methods that are used today, we took a clothes brush and with it we brushed the boy's head, and after that I washed it thoroughly. Several hours later, I repeated the action. The boy's mood changed completely, as if he'd woken up, after the great suffering he'd endured without our knowing the reason. His health changed completely for the better.
The Incident with Koschuk
The troubles we'd passed through up to now were dwarfed by the difficulties that awaited us. Koschuk's house was next to a main road, and the Germans passed along it day and night. In addition, next to one of the windows stood a telephone pole, which the Germans visited from time to time to check if it had been sabotaged. During each inspection, they entered the house to warm up a bit and to eat and drink. It happened that one time they glanced outside and saw that their horses, which had been outside, were no longer there. They shouted and ran out, together with Koschuk, to look for the horses. A short time later, they found their horses standing next to the barn where our pit was located. When they ran toward the horses to take them, for some reason the horses grew frightened and began to gallop around the barn. The Germans chased after them with shouts of Halt! This continued for some time, until they succeeded in catching them. The whole time, we sat in the pit not knowing what was happening above our heads. We heard
German voices shouting Halt! and were certain they'd found us. Since we hadn't been warned, we didn't know if we'd left anything that pointed to our presence. We sat with bated breath, waiting. After a long hour all grew quiet, and we understood that this time the danger had passed. We breathed easily.
The incident, as I've described it, was told to us afterward by Koschuk. We sensed that the Koschuks had been shaken by it and wanted to get rid of us. Each day, the farmer's wife came to us and told of a new dream she'd had about Jesus the Christian. These dreams continued for several days, until finally they told us that they were afraid to shelter us any longer and wanted us to leave immediately. I was ill at the time and couldn't stand on my feet. I begged them to let us stay for just a few more days, and in this way we put off our departure.
One night, Benyamin went out as usual to get food. He arrived at the house of a farmer, not far from where we were staying. The farmer gave him some bread and warned him not to come again, to either the village or his house. He didn't explain why. Benyamin took the bread and returned hurriedly to the pit. At night, when we lay down to sleep, suddenly we heard the sound of gunfire. We asked ourselves: Is it possible that the front is approaching? We knew there were no partisans in the area. All night we sat in great fear, not knowing the reason for the shooting. The next day, Koschuk told us that farmers in the neighboring village had killed three Jews. This was the same village where Benyamin had received bread the night before, together with the warning. The three victims had been three brothers from Braslav, and the background to their murder was this: The Germans, knowing that Jews and partisans had been coming to this village, had wanted to punish the villagers by setting the village on fire, together with all its possessions. The farmers had succeeded in getting the decree canceled, but in return the Germans demanded complete cooperation from them, including first and foremost the capture and killing of all the Jews and partisans. The villagers had promised to cooperate, waiting for the moment when they could prove their loyalty to the Germans.
The three brothers didn't know about the agreement the villagers had made with the Germans. Tired and exhausted, they'd arrived in the village the night before, to rest a bit. The villagers surrounded them, beat them, and opened fire on them. As they began to flee, two of them were killed immediately. The third was seriously wounded and asked his attackers to kill him. Hearing all this, we were amazed that the villagers hadn't harmed Benyamin, who'd been in the village that night; he'd only been warned to not return.
Now we knew that to stay in this place was very dangerous. Occasionally, when Koschuk or his family opened the gate to the barn, we thought that now they were coming to kill us. We stopped inventing excuses to delay our departure from there. But --- where to go? There were no Jews anywhere in the surrounding area. In the villages in Belorussia, the Germans were preparing to hunt for partisans. Benyamin decided that we'd head toward the villages that recently belonged to Lithuania, despite the fact that in these villages the Gentiles knew of the bounty the Germans had put on his head. To reach the Lithuanian zone, we had to cross Lake Drisviati, a very large lake. We decided to follow the shore of the lake, on the chance that we'd find a deserted boat.
On May 5 , still in winter weather, barefoot, in torn and worn-out clothes, we left Koschuk's house. When we left, we wanted to give Benyamin's fur coat to Koschuk, because we had no other possessions, but he wouldn't take it from us. His conscience wouldn't allow him to do so. Without
the fur coat, we would have frozen from the cold. We cried when we parted, and the Koschuks cried too. Would we ever find a place of safety?
On the Way to Lithuania
Benyamin's hunch was correct. On the shore of the lake we found a boat locked with chains, and in it were two oars. We succeeded in breaking the lock, and we immediately rowed away from the shore. The distance to the other side of the lake was great and involved many dangers. How would we find a proper place to anchor in the dark? We put our trust in blind fate, setting a course straight for the other side of the lake. Suddenly, a comet appeared in the sky, falling over us. We were sure that the Germans had sensed our boat and were lighting us up with a rocket, and we sensed that all was lost. Benyamin --- who'd always been the strong one --- had a moment of weakness. He suggested that we throw the boy into the lake, maybe without him we'd be able to get away. I answered that I was prepared to jump into the lake together with the boy. We didn't speak of it again; I knew that Benyamin loved the boy very much. We continued to row toward the other side. Quietly, as quietly as possible, we reached it and arrived happily at the place where Benyamin wanted to go. Having been a fisherman on this lake, Benyamin knew its shores very well.
After hiding the oars, we left the place. Benyamin knew that the forest, which once had been very dense, was now thinned out and unrecognizable. The Germans had thinned out the forest due to fear of the partisans. In front of us, from a distance, we saw the beam of a pocket flashlight; certainly a German was holding it. We couldn't return to the boat; maybe the Germans had already noticed it. So we hid in a nearby Christian cemetery, behind the gravestones. After a while, we continued walking in another direction. When we approached a house, the boy and I remained behind, next to a tree. Benyamin walked up to the house and listened to hear if there was any talking inside, as well as which language it was in. After a few minutes, he knocked on the door. The farmer who came out and saw Benyamin nearly fainted. How, he asked, did you succeed in escaping? He advised Benyamin to quickly leave the area. This morning, he told him, a German was killed in the forest. In response, the Germans are preparing to search the entire area. Benyamin returned to us and sadly told us what he'd heard. I said that we should go back to the lake and, if we found the boat, return to the other side. Here we were in the mouth of a wild beast; there was no hope of escaping alive from their clutches. I didn't know a single person in the area. In contrast, Benyamin knew every path, road, tree and bush. He was closely acquainted with many of the farmers; in this area there also lived the farmers to whom his wife, may she rest in peace, had given all of their possessions to guard. Benyamin said he'd try his luck with one of these farmers. We kept walking. Benyamin, with the boy on his back, led me across a swampy path, into which we sank from time to time. After much effort, we arrived at a house. Benyamin knocked on the door. Through a small window, the farmer looked out and when he saw Benyamin he shouted [in Russian], Nye osiroti moikh dyetei --- Don't orphan my children --- and closed the window. We continued onward. I felt sick, and my temperature rose so much that I couldn't take even one more step. Suddenly, I bent over and fell. I told Benyamin to leave me there and keep going, because I'd surely die in any case. I managed to ask him to take the boy with him, maybe they'd succeed in surviving, and then I fainted. I don't know how long I was out. When I opened my eyes, I saw my cousin with the boy next to me; the day had already dawned. Around the place where we sat, there were no
trees or bushes. It was an open area with no place to hide. In the distance, Benyamin saw a lone tree with some bushes nearby. With his help I got to my feet, and after much effort we succeeded in reaching the tree. We hid among the undergrowth and waited again for the dark. Fortunately, the shepherds in the area, with their sheep and cattle, didn't sense that we were there. The calls of the shepherds and the whistles of the train that passed not far away shook us each time we heard them.
When night fell, after resting a bit, we went out on the road again. The chances were almost zero that a farmer would let us enter his house. Suddenly, not far from the road, we saw large bushes and tall trees, and between the trees was a small stream. We reached it and sat among the bushes. There was nowhere else to go, we said, so we'll make ourselves a hiding place here amid the undergrowth. And we'll scatter among the trees the earth that we dig out.
As we began to consider how to prepare the bunker, suddenly we were frightened by the shouts of Germans who were coming out of the forest. One of them blew a whistle and called a dog that ran before them, directly toward the bushes under which we were sitting. We were certain that the dog would smell us and head straight for us. But just as the dog approached the bushes, a wild goose rose up from them in flight, capturing the dog's full attention. The dog began to chase the goose and apparently lost the scent of our footsteps. Once again, chance saved us from certain death.
After this, we decided to start digging a hiding place only after I felt better. Meanwhile, we hadn't eaten any food for two days. The chill and the rain penetrated our bones, and our teeth chattered from the cold. Benyamin decided once more to approach one of the farmers who were holding our possessions and ask for at least a pair of trousers, while I remained behind with Luba. The farmers weren't happy to see him, but they let him come inside and heard out his request. They didn't give him any trousers, however. Their excuse was that if it became known then all of their families would be executed, but they did promise to prepare some bread for the next day. They'd put the bread --- they said --- in their bathhouse, and Benyamin should come and take it.
At this time, it was dangerous to trust what farmers said. More than once, their words had set a trap for people. What should we do? Benyamin risked his life, going at night to the place one of the farmers had showed him. Usually it took Benyamin half an hour to reach the place, but this time, because he crawled and moved carefully, it took more than two hours. After much hesitation and careful listening to what was happening inside the bathhouse, he entered and found a loaf of bread and a bit of milk.
We hadn't yet begun to dig our pit. I was unable to help, and Benyamin couldn't do all the work by himself. We'd been sitting on the ground, and this harmed my health. Again Benyamin went to try his luck with one of the farmers --- maybe he'd find someone who still had some human feelings and would let him hide in his house. The boy and I again stayed to wait. This time, Benyamin had to travel a long distance and it wasn't certain that he'd succeed in getting back to us on the same night. We chose a signal: A whistle from him would let me know that he was coming back, and a whistle from me would tell him that he was going in the right direction. The first night passed, and Benyamin didn't return. All night I listened tensely for the sign. The next day, I thought, he certainly wouldn't return to us in daylight. The second night passed the same way. My fear about Benyamin's fate increased. Every so often, the boy asked me: Where's my uncle? Had
he been caught, G-d forbid, by the Germans or the farmers? The third night, I was alert again to every sound, and then --- I heard a whistle like the signal we'd chosen. I answered as agreed, but heard nothing more. Terrible thoughts passed through my mind: he'd been caught and tortured, and he'd revealed our password. No, I told myself, Benyamin wouldn't do that. I was so afraid that I closed my eyes and waited for the end. When I heard a rustle next to me, I opened my eyes and saw two men standing there. I didn't scream, because I was too frightened to speak. The two felt this and turned toward me. I heard Benyamin's voice. He'd returned with another man, Avraham Kasimov, the brother of Nachum Kasimov, who'd been with us earlier. Avraham had been in our group at the start of our wanderings, and had lived with us once as a neighbor. Today Avraham is in Israel, and he lives in Kiryat Ata [near Haifa].
At the Kandzhelevskis
Benyamin explained: When he'd left us the day before yesterday, he'd gone four kilometers to the tiny village of Ilishki [Iliszki, at the western end of Lake Drisviati]. The village was surrounded by forest, underbrush and swampland. Only one road, from Turmont, led into it [Turmont was eight kilometers north of Ilishki, away from the lake]. On the other side of the village was Lake Drisviati, into which flowed a small river; over the river was a narrow bridge of wood. This bridge was the entrance to the village. Strangers didn't go there, and they didn't pass by the village. In this village lived three brothers and their families. The oldest of them, Kazimirzh Kandzhelevski, had been the village head under the Polish regime; Benyamin had business connections with this Kazimirzh. That night, Benyamin approached one of the houses and knocked on the window. This was the house of the youngest brother, Mitzislav. When Mitzislav looked outside and saw Benyamin, he immediately opened the door and brought him inside. All the members of the family got out of their beds and stood around him. They were happy to see him alive. An old grandmother was also in the house. When she saw Benyamin, she crossed herself and kissed his head, with the blessing, G-d will help you remain alive. They fed him, and after that they laid him to sleep in the barn. All night he didn't close an eye, worrying that they intended to turn him over to the Germans. Toward morning, Mitzislav brought him food. Benyamin was hesitant to touch it. Sensing this, the farmer told him, Eat, don't be afraid. In the morning, he took Benyamin outside and showed him a path leading to the forest. Keep going straight, he said to Benyamin, and there you'll find a 'rabbit' like yourself. Benyamin walked as Mitzislav had directed him, and there he found his good friend, Avraham Kasimov. The two were happy to find each other, as if they'd come from another world. Benyamin told him about me and my child, and about where we were.
Benyamin worried about how to bring me there. The villagers knew his wife and children, and they knew that all of them had been lost. He hadn't told them about me and my child. Who knew, he wondered, if they'd agree to let us join him. Avraham advised Benyamin to not ask for too much, but Benyamin didn't want to lie and he decided to ask for their agreement. In the evening, when all of the Kandzhelevskis gathered to talk in their large dining room, Benyamin told them about me, his sister, and the boy (for them, a cousin was treated like a sister). The three brothers agreed that he could bring us to them. Benyamin and Avraham were very happy and immediately left to get us.
Now all of us set out on the road. Tired and exhausted, we arrived at the home of Mitzislav Kandzhelevski. We stretched out among the bushes and fell asleep. Toward morning, we decided to build ourselves a hiding place from logs tied
in bundles. The bundles we placed one on top of the other, like a pile of hay, and in the center of the pile we left an empty space, where all of us could sit. We worked until our strength was gone. Now we had a place to lay our heads.
I don't know exactly why, but at this time my health took a serious turn for the worse. Swellings full of pus appeared on the joints of my hands and feet. The pain was strong, and we had no medicine or other means to lessen it. And of course there was no doctor there or nearby. I had to suffer in silence and pray that the illness would quickly go away.
One day, the old grandmother brought us a live chicken for us to cook for ourselves. I kissed her hands and asked her to take it back. We don't ask for any luxuries, I said to her, but only bread and potatoes, which will keep us alive. I begged her to take back the chicken, but she didn't listen. She called Avraham and ordered him to cook the chicken. While we stayed with the Kandzhelevskis, we were well fed and satisfied. We received as much bread, potatoes and fish as we needed.
Yanush Sees Luba for the First Time
My son, Luba, knew many Russian songs, and he sang them in a pleasant voice. One day Yanush, the oldest son of the brother Kazimirzh, came to visit us and met Luba for the first time. What a nice, quiet boy, he said. Avraham asked the boy to sing a song, and Luba sang about an orphan boy who was among strangers. Yanush was emotionally affected by the song, and burst into tears. He told everyone in the house about the boy and his sweet voice. The next day, the entire family came to us to see the boy and hear his song. For this, the boy received sweets and a new name: the nightingale.
At the Kandzhelevskis, we recovered completely. Here we cleaned ourselves in their bathhouse, washing off all the mud and dirt that had accumulated for months. More than once, we stayed to sleep in the warm bathhouse. More than once, we wished for ourselves at least a small house like this one, in which we could live without fear.
We tried to help our benefactors by working as much as we could. The men chopped wood for heating and also helped to make home-made liquor (samogon). I helped by plucking feathers to make pillows. Once in a while, we went out to the field. So that their children wouldn't pronounce our Jewish names in the presence of strangers, the Kandzhelevskis called us by Gentile names: Avraham they called Adamka, Benyamin was Petkovitch, and I was Petkovitchova. They called Luba Spivak.
That year, the winter [of late 1943/early 1944] was very hard. More than once, the temperature was more than 40 degrees below zero. The farmers' sons would come to see that we hadn't frozen from the cold. The forester's fur was what saved us. We'd sit hugging each other under the fur. During this season, the air was already getting warmer during the day; it was very cold only at night.
One day Yanush came to visit us as he did from time to time, but this time I saw that his face didn't look normal. It was obvious that something was bothering him. What happened, Yanush? I asked. He hesitated a moment and said, Mother's very sick. There's nobody to clean the house and prepare for the holiday that starts tonight. I immediately got up and went with him to the house. With his help, by evening the house was
organized and ready for the holiday. I drew not on physical strength, but on strength of will. I even put paper in the corners of the rooms, as was customary with them. When the entire family gathered, they were very excited and didn't know how to thank me. After that, I went to their house every day to help with something. There was always work for me. The three brothers lived in three houses and an additional large room that they used for cooking and eating.
In Mitzislav's house, moss stuck out between the boards. I asked them to bring thin boards, and with them I covered all the walls. I plastered them with material that they had in the field, and in the end I whitewashed them. Now the house looked like new.
After living in poor conditions for so long, we lacked even a change of clothes. Everything was torn and worn out; it was necessary to try to sew something. I asked the farmers for thread and a needle, and was given a needle for sewing sacks. With it I was able to sew a pair of pants for Luba from a torn dress, and a shirt from another old garment. These two items were so successful that Mitzislav's wife asked me to sew pants for her son from an old garment. I couldn't refuse her, but I was very reluctant --- worried that if I failed it would damage our good relations. But having no choice, I took on the job and succeeded in sewing not just one pair, but two lovely pairs of pants. Mitzislav and his wife didn't know how to thank me.
Sometimes they'd bring us something to eat. We very much appreciated their commitment to us, and we didn't want to upset it. They knew the great danger they faced, sheltering us in their household. Once one of them hinted at this, saying that they were 17 souls and concluding: G-d said, 'You should love your neighbor as yourself.' All of us are in G-d's hands. What happens to us is His will.
I became a daughter of their house and helped them as much as I could. At night, I'd go to sleep in our hiding place. They appreciated my help very much and said so many times.
I want to tell of an incident that appears funny now, but more than once such a laugh could kill a person. One day, when Benyamin and Avraham were chopping wood in the forest, the boy was alone in the stable and I was in the farmers' house, the middle brother --- Michal --- traveled to Turmont to sell the whisky that they'd recently made. Michal was a simple, straightforward man. On the way to the market, some Germans met him and asked what he was bringing to market. Michal made no excuse, but said that he was bringing samogon to sell. The Germans asked him to return to the village, and they followed so that they could confiscate the whisky together with the equipment used to make it. When Kazimirzh saw them approaching the house, he understood immediately what had happened. He calmly took the Germans into the large dining room, set the table for them, loaded it with many good things, and said, Why hurry? Eat and drink, after that you can take everything you want. Kazimirzh put me in the bed, wrapped in a scarf, and next to the bed he stood a cradle, in which there was an infant four months old, as if I were his mother and I was very sick. The Germans were afraid to go near a sick person. Yanush succeeded in rescuing the boy from the stable, and Avraham and Benyamin went into the hiding place. Only Stefa [not mentioned before, presumably a woman with the Gentile family] became a bit hysterical as always and said that this time the Germans would shoot everybody. The sisters-in-law got angry with her and drove her from the house.
Kazimirzh fed the Germans and gave them drink until they were drunk and couldn't tell the difference between left and right. Then he gathered all kinds of pots and old wheels and put them in the Germans' car together with some pork, and they went on their way without making a search.
Another time, Mitzislav asked one of us to help him harvest the hay. He would cut the hay with a scythe, and it would be heaped up in haystacks. Benyamin went out to help him. A short time later, Benyamin came running from the field, pale as whitewash. All of us immediately closed ourselves up in our hiding place, and he told us: They'd been harvesting in the field near the lake. Suddenly they saw a fishing boat approach the shore, and in it was a group of men, among them someone who was a known collaborator with the Germans. All the fishermen of the lake knew Benyamin. He ran immediately from the field toward the bridge, crossed it and ran through the open field to our hiding place. From a distance, he could see the Germans approaching, along with some collaborators. While listening to this we remained sitting, waiting for what would happen. But no one approached us except Mitzislav. He too had seen the men and understood the danger, but he hadn't seen Benyamin leave the field. Mitzislav thought the Germans had caught Benyamin and taken him away, and now he came to tell us this. When he saw Benyamin, he crossed himself and said, How did you succeed in escaping? You were right next to the Germans.
We stayed with the Kandzhelevski brothers for 10 months. There, we felt as if we were in paradise. We wanted to believe that G-d had had mercy on us and we'd be able to stay there until the days of horror came to an end. Unfortunately, things developed otherwise.
The Turning Point
The Kandzhelevskis secretly kept a radio receiver. Occasionally, they'd listen to news from the front. Recently they'd heard that the Germans were suffering heavy losses and retreating. German officers were patrolling in the vicinity, and they were planning excavations and protective trenches. This meant that in the forest and in the Kandzhelevskis' swampland, strange men were wandering around. In light of all this, the brothers called us to their house and explained the situation. We weighed what could be done under the circumstances. It was clear that our situation there had grown dangerous. The men wandering around would surely discover our presence; we had to start making plans to leave. We supposed that somewhere in Belorussia there were organized partisans; Benyamin and Avraham should try to reach them, as long as there were no great numbers of Germans present. Meanwhile, the boy and I would remain with the Kandzhelevskis and share their fate, whatever happened. But after several days, it became clear to us that our original assessment of the situation was correct and all of us needed to set out immediately.
Like a good father preparing his children to leave their home, that's how the Kandzhelevskis took care of us. They made a small sleigh for the boy, so that we wouldn't have to carry him in our arms on the long journey ahead of us. They told us how to take precautions on the road and gave us bread, meat and sausage, as well as samogon vodka for the partisans, who we hoped to meet.
We Leave the Kandzhelevskis
After Christmas night, we left the Kandzhelevskis and set out on the road. Their three families, from the oldest to the youngest, stood outside and cried together with us. They understood very well the risk we faced. We also knew that the chances of reaching a safe place were very small. Death threatened to ambush us at every step. We walked along the length of Lake Drisviati, to arrive as quickly as possible in the territory of Belorussia [the border between Lithuania and Belorussia ran north-south through the lake]. Outside, there was
deep snow. The little sleigh in which the boy sat was unsuitable for snow that deep, but we held onto it, hoping that things would improve. In the forest Avraham and Benyamin found a rifle and pistol, rusty and covered with leaves and unfit for use. We had no ammunition, but they decided to take the weapons with them, and they came in handy even though they weren't usable. After great difficulty, we arrived in the deep snow at the village of Malki [on the eastern shore of Lake Drisviati and about 10 kilometers east-northeast of Ilishki] and the farmer Koschuk, where we'd stayed for half a year previously. He was happy to see us alive. He brought us into his house and served us some food and a hot drink. All that day, we rested at his place. In the evening, we set out again on the road, in a hurry to meet the partisans.
On the Way to the Partisans
For some time Benyamin had had a long beard, and people could no longer recognize him. He wore the large fur coat and had the rifle on his shoulder, while Avraham belted the pistol on his hip. We hid the boy in the sleigh. In this way, we passed through the village of Malki. Benyamin knew the farmer who had raised the best horse in the village, and he knocked on the door of his house. The farmer opened the door and Benyamin told him that we were partisans and needed a sleigh with a horse. In general, the farmers trembled when they saw the partisans, and Benyamin wanted to take advantage of this. Without any discussion, the farmer harnessed his horse to a sleigh and we quietly got in it and set out on the road, while the farmer led the horse. On the way we spoke not even a syllable, so that he wouldn't know we were Jews.
Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse. A heavy snowstorm began, and it became impossible to see the road. We progressed slowly with much difficulty, until the horse grew weak and unable to continue. By this time, we'd reached a farm settlement. We got out of the sleigh. Benyamin told the farmer to go home, and we approached one of the houses. Benyamin knocked on the door. When the farmer came out, the partisan officer [Benyamin] asked for a sleigh with a horse, and this was supplied immediately. We continued on our way, but the journey became harder from hour to hour. We knew that we could travel only at night. We continued to another settlement, and again it became necessary to change horses. The farmer returned home with his horse and his sleigh, and again Benyamin turned to one of the houses to ask for a vehicle, and he received one. This time, the farmer looked like a partisan himself. Because of the deep snow, the horse was advancing now with great difficulty. After traveling for two hours we saw a house in the distance, and we headed for it. As we approached, it became clear that this was the house of the farmer who was leading us; we'd been circling his house by mistake for two hours. We decided to enter the house to warm up and rest. We couldn't stay for long, because dawn was approaching. By this time the distance to the forest wasn't that great, and we decided to finish our journey on foot.
We walked. We passed large villages in which not a single house remained intact. By this time, we were in great fear; not a living soul was to be seen. We reached another village and found a similar situation; everything had been burned. The Germans had burned the villages. At each moment it seemed to us that a German would jump out at us from somewhere, but no one appeared. We kept walking. Outside it was already full daylight; the blizzard was over. We were tired and lacked the strength to go on. We could see nothing in the distance, so we decided to sit down and rest a bit. We ate something and then set out again on the road. Then, in the distance, we saw a sleigh approaching, and in it were many people. We were sure that they were Germans, but there was nowhere to escape to or hide. We were in an open field without a tree or even a bush. We thought we were lost: Come, let us go to meet death. Then we saw people getting out of
the sleigh, rifles in their hands, with their faces turned toward us. As they approached, one of them shouted, Stoi! (Halt! in Russian). We understood that they were partisans, and we calmed down. They approached and asked who we were and where we were going. We replied that we were Jews and wanted to reach the partisans. Without speaking, they confiscated the rifle and the pistol. Then they ordered us to get into their sleigh, and they returned with us to the forest. On the way, we talked with them and learned that they were originally from Ikazna [Ikazn], a village 14 kilometers from Braslav [to the east of Braslav]; now they were partisans. They didn't understand how we'd succeeded in arriving from such a distance. The forest, they said, had already been surrounded for days by a large German army. As far as they knew, the army was planning to attack the partisans. As a native of Braslav, from their region, I felt close to them and thought that we were now among friends. Unfortunately, they didn't share this opinion. When we reached the forest, they stopped the sleigh and ordered us to get out and walk toward a gypsy camp inside the forest. They burst into laughter and went on their way.
We remained where we were. The area was very overgrown. What should we do now? We were stunned. We hadn't expected this kind of treatment from partisans. We understood that we couldn't stay there. But --- where to go? Benyamin said that he and the boy would remain there, and Avraham and I should go to look for the partisans' camp and ask the officer to take us into his unit. I disagreed. To me, it wasn't proper for a woman to go looking for the partisans and a man to stay behind and wait. I don't know why it didn't occur to him that we should go together to look for the partisans; exhaustion must have dulled our thinking. In the end, I remained with the boy and Benyamin and Avraham went to look for the partisans.
I sat with the boy under a large tree. We sat and waited. Outside, it was very cold and our nerves were very tense. Hours passed, which seemed to me like many days. Once in a while the boy would ask, Where's Uncle Benyamin, and where's Avraham? Come, he said, let's go and meet them. I'm cold here, cold. I calmed him, saying, Don't worry, Luba, they'll return in a little while. But in my heart, I thought: Who knows what's happened to them? What are they doing? Night is falling, the frost is growing stronger. My child will freeze from the cold. But if we go away from here, what'll happen if they return and can't find us? Who knows whose hands they fell into, and whose hands I'm likely to fall into? Sunk in such thoughts, I suddenly heard the ringing of a little bell: this meant travelers. I woke up. Without thinking, I began to run toward them, ready for anything: life or, G-d forbid, death. The sleigh approached and I saw that in it was sitting a young man wearing a Red Army hat. This must be an officer, I told myself. He stopped next to me and questioned me. Quickly I told him about my situation and the danger to the boy's life because of the great cold. I asked him to rescue us, and if he couldn't do this, then he should shoot and kill us. He calmed me down and told me that he'd send someone to take us away from there. Then he continued on his way.
We Remain in the Forest
I had to stay there and wait; maybe he'd send help as promised, and maybe Benyamin and Avraham would come back. The group of partisans that we'd met earlier passed by again. They looked at me and smiled. Night fell. Around us, it was completely dark. The boy continued to ask about going and looking for Benyamin and Avraham, while again and again I said to him, They'll come in a little while. Then I heard a sleigh approaching. I ran immediately
to meet it. In it sat an older man with a beard. I told him my situation, as I'd explained it previously to the officer. The man ordered me to get into the sleigh with the boy and our bundle. I was happy to leave. I didn't even ask about our destination; the main thing was to get the boy out of the freezing cold. We set out. The driver didn't turn to me with even a single word, but I knew that he was from the partisans. He kept quiet while I spoke, asking him what was happening outside the forest, were the Germans there? I told him about Benyamin and Avraham, and how they'd gone to find the partisans and left me to await their return. He didn't answer. We traveled onward. On the way, another man got into the sleigh. Occasionally we passed a guard. These would ask for a password and then receive it. We continued in this way until we arrived at a small clay hut built into the ground. They brought us inside, told me to wait there, and then went on their way. I was excited by all that had happened: An hour ago we had been about to freeze, and now the boy and I were in a warm hut that looked like a palace from a children's story. Little by little, I calmed down. People were living in the hut. I began to talk to them, and they told me that there were other huts like this one in the forest, in which lived the families of the partisans: the parents and the children. They received food from the unit's headquarters. The man who'd brought us there was from a different unit. He'd asked them to host me for one night; tomorrow they'd decide what to do with me. I told them of my worries about Benyamin and Avraham, and they calmed me. They said that there were partisans throughout the forest and partisans patrolling outside it. They served us some food. They also promised to help so that I could remain with them, because two daughters of theirs, they said, were about to join the partisans and so some space would be available.
The Partisans' Meeting
While we were talking, the partisans came to call people to a meeting. A representative from Moscow was going to speak on the political situation. I too was invited. At the head of the table sat the representative from Moscow. Next to him I recognized the partisan officer who'd promised me in the forest that they'd come to get me, and indeed they had done so. The only speaker at the meeting was the man from Moscow. He discussed the situation at the front and the tasks facing the partisans. After the meeting, I turned to the Muscovite and said, As you see, I'm a Jew. With me were two Jewish men. The Germans killed our entire family. After much effort we obtained a rifle and a pistol, and we've traveled a long and dangerous path to join the partisans. All we want is to fight the Germans. When we arrived here in the forest, our weapons were taken and we were directed to a gypsy camp. The men have gone to look for the partisans, and I don't know what's happened to them. Calm yourself, said the representative. They'll be found and everything will be all right. The local officer, who was listening to our conversation, told me to go tomorrow morning at nine o'clock to the watchmaker's hut, not far away, and then the two of them went on their way. While I'd been talking with the Muscovite, people had gathered around us but I paid them no attention, thinking that I knew no one there. The next day, however, it became clear to me that I'd made a mistake. People from our region came to find me. They told me how I should present myself to the officer --- as the wife of one of them, not his sister. This was because members of the partisans' families were given some consideration, and they had rights as specified by orders from Moscow. Whereas a mother and her child wouldn't be accepted into the partisans, they said.
Several hours later, several people from Braslav came to me: Esther Rusonik and Yerachmiel Milutin. Both of them were serving in a unit nearby. They told me that the man who'd ordered me to go the next day to the watchmaker's hut was the officer of the brigade. They also told me that the Muscovite representative had given an order to find Benyamin and Avraham, as well as their weapons. And indeed, after some time they told me that these two had been found in the partisan regiment named after Kutuzov. The weapons taken from them had been found in another unit. The brigade officer asked that the weapons be returned to Benyamin and Avraham, while the officer whose unit held the weapons asked that Benyamin and Avraham be handed over to him. I was happy to hear all of this and calmed down. At last, I knew that Benyamin and Avraham hadn't fallen into German hands.
The Meeting with the Officer
I came early to the meeting. In the watchmaker's hut, many partisans were coming and going. The watchmaker's wife understood that I was new to the place, and she treated me very well. While talking with me, she pointed out the officer of a division in the Kutuzov regiment. I looked at him and saw Leibke Kaplan from the town of Yod [Jod a.k.a. Jody, 25 kilometers southeast of Braslav] (today he lives in Israel). I was very happy and immediately approached him. I told him about Benyamin and Avraham, and asked him to tell Benyamin to register me as his wife, because then I could be accepted into the partisans. Before he could reply, the commissar from the Kutuzov regiment arrived. Before leaving, Leibke hinted to me that this man wasn't among the lovers of Israel. The commissar called to me and told me that Benyamin and Avraham were in his unit, and then he went on his way. I returned to the hut.
My Meeting with Benyamin
The next day, an elderly partisan came to the hut and turned to me: If you want to see the men you're looking for, come with me. I'm going to that unit, my two sons are serving there. Eagerly, I joined him. When I arrived at the camp, I asked them to call my cousin Benyamin; we were happy to find each other alive. Benyamin told me about the difficulties they'd faced to get accepted into the unit. At the beginning of their interrogation, they'd been shouted at, suspected, and listened to with disbelief. Benyamin and Avraham had asked that the officer keep them in the unit and promised him that within a short time they'd prove their dedication and loyalty. They also told the officer that if he didn't accept them into the partisans, he should order them to be killed on the spot, as the Germans did. Benyamin told the officer how we'd come to the forest and about the place where they'd left me with the boy, and the officer said that he was the one who'd sent for me.
While we were talking to each other, the guard saw that Benyamin was talking with someone who wasn't theirs [that is, with the narrator, who didn't belong to their unit]. He approached me and drove me out of the camp. Because of this, I wasn't able to find the old man who'd brought me there along a path that was unknown to me. Despite this, I set out on the way back. While walking, I suddenly encountered Germans on horseback, who gave me a great fright. Only after I got near them did I see that they were partisans disguised in German uniforms, who'd gone out on patrol. Somehow I was able to return to my hut.
The Germans Attack the Forest
I'm happy, I'm with my child. These were my thoughts on my way back to the hut. Unfortunately, when I entered the hut my happiness received an immediate blow. My child was sick. His temperature was rising, and he was burning up all over. Speaking in Russian, he told me that he had a headache. Before I could think how to ease his pain, a great tumult arose outside the hut. I stepped outside to learn the reason for this and saw the commissar of the battalion surrounded by many men who were arguing with him: What can we do? Don't be afraid, you won't be left behind; a solution will certainly be found. I asked the officer, And what about me? He replied, You'll be treated like everyone else, and he left. Everyone returned to their huts, and I returned to my sick child. After a short time, five sleighs harnessed to horses were brought and put next to the huts, in case evacuation became necessary. I was worried. Even though all of them had promised to come to my aid if needed, I was afraid that if panic broke out and people ran to the sleighs, no one would remember me.
The next day, we saw that one of the units was preparing to move out. The Germans had attacked its section of the forest. The partisans with children turned to their officer and asked what they should do, and he replied that children who were able to walk should join the partisans; taking the others would only make things harder for the fighters. What was happening in the camp is difficult to describe. Everyone was running about. I sat next to my sick boy; I couldn't help him. He suffered greatly but said not a word, something he'd learned to do in the course of our wanderings. In silence, I awaited the worst. For many hours, we tensely awaited the unknown. Fortunately, this time as well, we were saved. A day passed, and the people congratulated each other and were happy again. We were told that the Germans had penetrated into part of the forest but not encountered any partisans there. In great fear, apparently of falling into a trap, they hadn't dared to go any further and had withdrawn. Again, a spark of hope was ignited in us.
Benyamin and Avraham Are Partisans
After the officer of the Kutuzov unit finished his interrogation of Benyamin and Avraham, he decided to accept them into his unit. At the time of the German attack on the forest, their conduct was tested and trust in them rose a great deal. The officer saw that they could become good partisans. This was told me by Benyamin when he visited our camp for a few hours, with the officer's permission. A few days passed; Luba was still sick, and our hut was very crowded. The commissar ordered me to move to another hut, where an elderly man lived with his wife; their two sons were serving in the unit. Many regarded this old woman as a shrew and warned me against joining them. Nevertheless, I moved there and relations between us were good enough, but it was hard for me to see her going out at night from the forest to gather clothes from dead Germans. She'd undress them completely and take everything. This simply repelled me.
Some weeks passed. The young daughters from the hut where I'd spent my first night in the camp joined battle units, and the residents of that hut invited me to return and live with them. This I did. One day someone from Braslav, Moshe Milutin, came to visit me. He'd served as a partisan in one of the units. After
being wounded in his hand after a partisan action, he learned in the camp that I was there. When we met, there was no limit to our happiness. For an entire day we sat and talked, and even this wasn't enough for everything we had to tell each other. He had no more time because he had to return to his unit. (Today he's in Israel with his wife Malka [née Shteinman], the doctor; she's also a daughter of Braslav and they already have grandchildren.) They told me that Zusman and Chana Lubovitz and their children were living in the forest not far away. Also with them were Pinchov from Zamosh [Zamosz, 16 kilometers south of Braslav]; two brothers, Yankel-Velvel and Shlomo; a woman and child from Zamosh; and a few more families. They were living separately in the forest, with no connection to the partisan units. After some time, they all visited me. My cousin Yitzchak Reichel from Braslav, who was a partisan in the Lithuanian unit, also came to visit. I told him all that had happened to us and about my conversation with the officer. My cousin revealed to me that this officer was his officer, and he knew him well. Both of us went to him, and he received us very warmly; we became friends. He praised me for the help I'd given to the unit in various jobs and in laundering the partisans' clothes, but to my request to join a fighting unit he answered no: A woman with a child couldn't join the partisans.
This was an elite unit that won many battles. Not many Jews served in it. They took only those with special skills. In this unit served Leib Kaplan from Yod, who was the unit's quartermaster (today he lives in Israel); Pesia, a seamstress (after the war she got married, lived in Riga, Latvia, and passed away there); my cousin Benyamin, who worked at first in administration; and Avraham, who did every kind of job. After that, Shneiur Ritz from Drisviati joined the unit. They accepted him after the recommendations of Benyamin and Avraham, who'd transferred into the ranks of the fighters. Both of them took part in all of the most dangerous operations.
|Partisan certificate of Benyamin Movshenzon [of the Klimchenko unit of the Zhukov brigade]|
Weapons for the partisans arrived from Russia; large amounts of them were brought by an airplane that landed from time to time in a temporary airfield next to Disna [Dzisna, 72 kilometers east of Braslav]. The unit for which the weapons were intended would send men to pick them up. Once, it was decided that 100 men from the Kutuzov unit would go and get the weapons. Among those who set out were Benyamin and Avraham, who always stayed together. The men had only 10 rifles among them. Their officer was a good fighter. After several hours of walking, all of them reached a large village and decided to stop there to eat and rest. When they entered the village, they divided into several groups, among the houses of the farmers.
The farmers fed them and served them alcohol until they were drunk. Benyamin, Avraham and the officer didn't touch the samogon vodka, and this saved their lives. During the celebration, one of the farmers revealed to Benyamin a secret: A villager had set out to call the Germans. Benyamin immediately told his officer, who went to the village head and demanded several sleighs harnessed to good horses, or he'd kill him and burn the entire village. With much effort, they succeeded in getting the men who were drunk into the sleighs and escaped the village.
After traveling for hours, the drunk men awoke. The officer ordered them to get out of the sleighs. He sent the farmers with the sleighs back to the village with a warning not to tell anyone who they'd transported or where, otherwise their punishment would be severe. The partisans turned once more toward the temporary landing field. They went all the way to the field without resting, and there they entered only the houses of partisans who were already waiting for them. For a week they waited for the airplane, which was late in arriving. While staying there, they learned that the Germans had indeed entered the village where they'd been earlier, but hadn't found even one partisan.
Returning with the Weapons
When the airplane arrived, the partisans loaded the weapons onto their shoulders and set off immediately to return to base. The job of getting the men back to the base with their equipment was given by the officer of the battalion to a young Georgian officer, a brave man with a lot of initiative. The problem facing him was how to move the men without passing through the same village, where the Germans were now staying. He took them through fields and forests until they reached a river, on which large chunks of ice were floating. They found a place where they could cross, although the water reached up to their necks. The officer ordered them to cross quickly, with full equipment. When they came out of the river on the other side, their clothes froze on them. The men found it difficult to move and asked to be taken to a place where they could warm themselves and dry out, but the officer wanted to keep going no matter what, and he told them that whoever couldn't walk would be shot. Everyone kept going until they reached a large village. There the officer again divided them into groups, putting them into several of the village houses. In front of the houses he set up a guard, and he ordered that no stranger could enter the house and no one could come out. In the evening they continued on their way until they arrived, with all of their equipment, back at the base.
Partisanchik the Pony
One day, when Benyamin was busy helping Shneiur [Ritz], Leib Kaplan approached and ordered him to go out to help transport partisans to their destination. After Benyamin had traveled for an entire day, the officer of the operation turned to him and told him to take all the sleighs and horses back to the base. Benjamin asked, How will I do this alone, since I don't know the road? But the officer insisted: Get going. Benyamin was bewildered; how would he accomplish this? He stood there, not knowing what to do. An elderly partisan, seeing Benyamin's dilemma, approached him. Don't worry so much, he told Benyamin. Take the little pony, the one we call Partisanchik, and harness him at the head of the line of horses. You'll see, he'll take you safely to your destination.
With no alternative, Benyamin decided to do as the old man advised. He tied Partisanchik in front. He drove the first sleigh himself, and they set out on the road. They traveled a long way without knowing if they were on the right path. During the trip back, Benyamin noticed several things that he'd seen on the way there, and this calmed him a bit. He continued in the same direction until they reached the first guard in the forest, who from a distance ordered him to give the password. Benyamin answered with yesterday's password, from the time that they'd set out on the road. In this way, he continued from one guard to the next, until he arrived back at his unit. When he reached his destination, he kissed the pony, who'd brought him back safely to the base.
The Officer Falls
The Kutuzov regiment was an elite unit, to which the most difficult missions were assigned. Their officer was a good, strong-hearted leader. On missions that were difficult to fulfill, he'd go out himself at the head of his men. To his soldiers his word was sacred, they'd follow him through fire and water. In one of the toughest battles, which continued for many hours, he fought a large German force that was accompanied by many volunteers. The partisans succeeded in destroying a large part of this German force, taking 40 prisoners back to the partisan base. The partisans gained a big victory, but their revered officer was killed; a German who'd been taken prisoner shot at him, killing him on the spot. This was too great a price for the partisans to pay; every partisan unit mourned him. After interrogating the German prisoners, they shot them all.
As a sign of appreciation, they called the unit that had taken part in the battle by the name of the beloved officer --- Klimchenko. Before each battle operation, the men of the unit would declare that they were setting out for battle in the name of Klimchenko. He would help them win.
In the Forest
I became a tried-and-true partisan and carried out a number of jobs, among them the task of a nurse. For this, people respected me a great deal. The women would also gather wood for heating, and I was always first among them. I volunteered continually for difficult tasks; people shouldn't say that a Jew was shirking work. As mentioned, when we'd reached the partisans we were barefoot, in torn clothing and worn out. The fighting men had been given clothes and
boots, while I remained without a change of clothing. Once, a partisan brought a pair of shoes for the boy; this made him the happiest boy in the world. Unfortunately, the shoes were in his possession for just for a few hours. When he went to sleep he took them off, and when he woke up the next day they'd vanished. They simply disappeared . . . Benyamin received a military coat, and I made pants from it with the help of a tailor from another unit.
I don't know who told the unit that I knew how to brew samogon vodka. After they heard this, the partisans gathered all that was necessary, including the required tools, and asked me to make vodka for them. In forest conditions this was no easy task, but Benyamin and Avraham also told me to fulfill the request. So I took all the equipment and the boy, and went to find a suitable place in the forest, far from the huts. After finding it, I dug a pit and put all the equipment in it. After several hours, I had samogon of sufficiently good quality that was ready for drinking. To thank me for my work, the partisans brought me some fabric and leather for shoes, and with the help of Sonia Pinchov from Zamosh I sewed some clothes for Benyamin and the boy.
One day, confusion arose in the camp. Near us, in a meadow in the forest, a partisan and his wife who were traveling in a wagon had been killed. A German airplane appeared above them, bombed the area and murdered them. It became clear that the Germans were resuming their flights over the forest, something they hadn't dared to do for a long time.
A number of days passed, and the matter was forgotten. Once more, I took the boy and the equipment to prepare samogon, and went out to my place in the forest. While I was busy preparing the dough, I heard the sound of an approaching airplane. Since I'd learned to distinguish the sounds of different planes, I knew that it was a German plane. Flying low,
|Benyamin Movshenzon (first on the right) with his wife Sara and their son Luba|
he began to circle. I assumed that the smoke from the fire where the samogon was cooking would show him our exact location. How could I put out the fire without producing smoke and steam? I began to pour earth on it. Working slowly, I put out the fire and the pilot's target was lost. Frightened, I took the boy back to the hut, and that was the end of samogon production.
Cows for the Partisans' Families
The battalion's commissar ordered that a milk cow be given to each partisan family, so that they could enjoy real milk. At this time, the boy and I were living with the elderly Russian woman and her husband, and so we received only one cow. The woman asked that she be allowed to take care of the cow by herself and do all of the necessary work. (To tell the truth, I didn't know how to even approach a cow.) In exchange for taking full care of the cow, it was decided that she'd receive two-thirds of the milk and I'd get just one-third. I accepted this with gratitude. But here too, the evil in the old woman revealed itself. Instead of milk, she gave us water mixed with just a tiny bit of milk. I didn't want to give the boy this water to drink, and so I gave up the entire business and told no one. But on one occasion, after seeing the milk the old woman had brought me, our neighbors went and told the commissar. He came the next day, together with the quartermaster. They both became angry and threatened to take the cow away from her. After that, I received real milk from milking that she did in my presence.
Each day, the cows were taken out to pasture. Two people did this, taking turns. When my turn came to go out to pasture, I took Luba with me. The other person that day was an older man. The job of the shepherds was to watch the cows so that they wouldn't wander deep into the center of the forest; there was enough pasture for them in the meadow. When the noon hour arrived, the boy and I remained alone with the cows. Unfortunately, a German plane reappeared. Before I had time to grab the boy and hide behind a bush, the plane was already over us, flying low. I clearly saw the pilot's face, and it seemed to me that he saw me too. He flew over us several times and then left. I remained with the boy next to the bush for some time, to see if he'd come back, and after that I got up to shepherd the cows. Suddenly, some distance away, I saw something shiny and sparkling. When I approached, I saw a large toy, in the shape of a man riding a horse. How had it got there? I didn't touch it until the second shepherd came, and both of us concluded that it was certainly a bomb which could explode at the touch of a hand. We gathered the cows and returned home. The partisans threw the suspicious object into a fire and, indeed, it exploded.
The Klimchenko unit was given a large and difficult mission: It had to pass villages and towns and reach a very important train crossing. From there, trains went out to all sections of the front. The unit's mission was to blow up the station and the train tracks. The day before it set out, the officer sent a unit to patrol the area and check the road leading to the forest. After the patrol returned to base, the entire force went out on the mission.
Benyamin was included in the mission and with him, as always, was Avraham. Both of them were in the advance patrol, which moved some distance away from the main force, an entire squadron. They approached the large village of Pelikan [Pelikany], three kilometers from Opsa [and to the west of Opsa], in the center of which stood a church surrounded by a wall. As they approached, Benyamin turned to the officer and said that they shouldn't enter the village, lest they encounter an ambush. There was
a good road that bypassed the village. But the officer just laughed at him. Only yesterday a patrol of ours was here, he said, the enemy isn't around and we're a large force, and he ordered them to continue. As they approached the wall surrounding the church, heavy fire opened up on them from rifles and artillery. The main force of the partisans returned strong fire and the men of the patrol, who'd gone ahead, were trapped in the crossfire. Many were injured; Benyamin was wounded in both legs. He took eight bullets in one leg and one in the other. Despite this, miraculously he wasn't crippled. The partisans carried him from the area, thinking he was dead. Avraham was wounded in the elbow by shrapnel, but he succeeded in escaping the area.
The partisans took Benyamin and Avraham to a field clinic, and after rapid treatment they came out of danger. But to this day a bullet remains in one of Benyamin's legs, and one of Avraham's hands is a bit weaker than the other.
The Red Army Is Approaching
The front was drawing near [the Braslav region would be liberated around July 1944]. On the roads, we began to see soldiers from the Red Army. The happiness that filled everyone's hearts at this sight cannot be put into words. Everyone burst out of the forest, some on foot, some in vehicles, to see the soldiers. At first, people couldn't believe their eyes: Wasn't it a dream? They surrounded the soldiers, kissing them, covering them with flowers and even more with questions. People cried with joy. Even Benyamin, who still found it difficult to walk, was taken in a wagon to the road so that he could see the soldiers. Later, after some time had passed and Benyamin could walk again, he turned to his officer and asked for some leave, because he wanted to avenge the blood of his wife, his four children and his parents, brothers and sisters. He knew their murderers very well. The officer approved the leave and sent another partisan with him: Shneiur Ritz, who'd expressed a wish to accompany him.
The front line was very close. The Poles began to return from the camps to their homes, and the partisans were sent to fight at the front, near Braslav. In the nearby forest, Germans who'd fled from the front were wandering about, and volunteers who'd served the Germans were hiding in the forest. Many people fell victim to the fleeing murderers.
In the camp of huts, only my son and I remained. The danger was great. I turned to the brigade officer to request a pass certificate to Braslav. This angered him and he shouted, We've guarded you and your boy all this time with great difficulty. Now you want go and get killed? Stay here and wait until the situation stabilizes, it's safer. After calming down, he asked me where I wanted to move, and I asked to go to a camp where there were people from Braslav. To this he agreed. When I reached the camp, I found only women; all of the men had gone out to Braslav to look for work and arrange their release from the army. In the camp were four children; Luba was the youngest.
Benyamin knew that his childhood friend, Semyon Labotzki from the village of Kumraz [possibly Kiemerezy, on the southern shore of Lake Drisviati], had helped the Germans to gather all the Jews: men, women and children, among them the members of Benyamin's own family, and take them into the Zigod [Deguciai?] forest, where all of them were shot. In a huge mass grave, half a kilometer in length, 8,500 Jews from Lithuania had been buried. [This appears to be the same massacre that was described on page 173.] People from the surrounding area said that for days after the massacre they could hear moans from the grave. Benyamin captured Labotzki and had him put in jail. Many Gentiles also had complaints against Labotzki, but unlike Benyamin they didn't seek his execution. But the days of leave that Benyamin had received
weren't enough time for him to see Labotzki executed for his crimes; he had to return and report to his unit. So his trip wasn't able to accomplish anything. And he couldn't take care of Labotzki by himself; he would've been put on trial for taking the law into his own hands and received a heavy punishment. So he handed Labotzki over to the NKVD, but to the dismay of many, the man was freed on the basis of an order that had been issued by the Soviet authorities. In the order, it was stated that every man who had collaborated with the Germans could report to the police and receive a pardon. Labotzki reported and received a pardon. In the eyes of the authorities he was now a decent man, but in fear for his life he left for Poland.
We Return to Braslav
The leave ended, and Benyamin returned to the forest and his unit. He found that in his unit the arrangements had changed. The partisans were transferred to Braslav, and from there to the front line. Only a few of them survived. Among the fallen were Avraham Bik, Bitzon and others.
When he returned from his leave, Benyamin divided among his unit all the items he'd brought back with him. From one of the farmers, in whose hands he'd left many possessions to guard, he got back only a small amount of his property. I asked Benyamin not to divide everything among his unit, but he wouldn't heed my request. He was also reluctant to talk with the officer about his release from the army. And so I turned to the officer and told him our troubles. He listened and said, Benyamin will take his weapon and travel to the villages on the shores of the lake, and he'll prepare a list of all the fishermen who fish in the lake. In the future, a fishery factory will be built there and Benyamin will be its manager.
We received wagons and set out for Braslav; Chana Lubovitz and her family traveled with us. In Braslav, all of the Jews from there gathered in a house whose owners had all died in the war. There we lived like a commune, sharing everything. I didn't go to see the remains of our house; fear of the horrors that had occurred there was still like a fresh wound in my heart.
With the officer's permission, I brought to Braslav the cow that had been with us in the forest, and it provided plenty of milk for everyone. Benyamin also obtained some meat. All of us cooked and ate together.
After several days, Benyamin took his weapon and set out for the fishermen's villages, while I stayed in Braslav with the group. The roads were dangerous, and when Benyamin was late in returning I began to worry. My anxiety increased when, one day, Shneiur Ritz and Masha Ring from Drisviati came to our apartment and told us that Benyamin had been arrested. Why? They had no explanation. I immediately knew that I had to go and look for him. I left my boy in the house, with the others, and I set out. After going a short distance by train, I'd have to go a long distance on foot. When I stepped off the train at night, I didn't know in which direction to turn. I walked up to one house and knocked on the door, asking the residents to tell me the way to Drisviati. They told me nicely, but advised me not to keep traveling at night. They said that many terrible things had happened recently on the roads. They invited me to sleep that night at their house, and the next day they went with me for part of the way. I thanked them from the bottom of my heart.
I arrived in Drisviati [24 kilometers west of Braslav]. I knew that Avraham's brother Nachum and his family were already there. From what Shneiur had said, I understood that Benyamin had traveled with them. I sought them out, but none of them were in the house. Then I found Benyamin; he was standing and repairing his bicycle. What happened? I asked
with impatience, Why were you arrested? He explained: On his way there, he'd met Nachum and his wife Musia, who were traveling around to gather the possessions of Jews that had been given to farmers in the area to guard. Knowing that Benyamin was a brave man, Nachum and Musia had asked him to come with them. After this, they encountered some soldiers, who stopped them. The soldiers wanted to confiscate the bicycle, but Benyamin hadn't wanted to hand it over. While Benyamin and the soldiers were arguing, Nachum and his wife had continued on their way without waiting for the conclusion. Shneiur [Ritz] and Mashka [Ring] had also passed by at this time and seen Benyamin standing there with the soldiers, but they too continued on their way. This is how the story got started that Benyamin had been arrested. After this, I accompanied Benyamin to several villages, where he registered the fishermen. The fishermen were happy that he'd come, and they registered willingly. Benyamin continued alone to two more villages and I returned to Braslav and my boy, feeling much better. The registration of the fishermen was completed, and all that remained was to present it to the officer.
Benyamin prepared to travel to Braslav. In Duksht [Dukstas, about 25 kilometers southwest of Drisviati and in Lithuania] he met his friend Hershel Aron from Zarasai. Benyamin told him about his work organizing the fishermen and his appointment as their manager. The matter didn't please his friend. Why should you be the one who has to trouble yourself with farmers? he asked. Hershel told Benyamin that he was a member of the NKVD and was ready to try to persuade them to let Benyamin join them. Benyamin agreed, seeing this as a chance to bring to justice those who'd collaborated with the Germans. He traveled to Zarasai [about 25 kilometers north of Dukstas and in Lithuania] and was accepted into the NKVD.
Braslav after the War
Our town had been destroyed. Many houses were razed down to the foundation, with nothing else remaining. Many others had been bombed from the air and remained only partly standing. The few houses that survived in their entirety, here and there, looked like orphans, torn away from something that no longer existed.
The house of one of my sisters was utterly destroyed. The house of another sister had survived the war, but the Gentiles had then stripped it to its foundation and looted its contents. The house of my parents stood with its furnishings intact; it had been closed and locked up. With weeping eyes and pounding heart, I saw my parents' house standing undamaged. The house of my third sister was still standing, but not even one person from among its residents remained alive. An unconscious inner will had brought me there. Would I find a photograph or some other item, as a keepsake? I didn't have anything from them. I found nothing but a photograph and torn pieces of photographs lying under the stairs. I thought my heart would be afflicted, that I'd lose my mind. I fled the place and didn't return.
I went to see the family graves in Braslav. But it became clear that the old Jewish cemetery had been destroyed by the Germans and the Jewish monuments that had stood for generations had been uprooted to pave the sidewalks of the town. The old cemetery was converted into a public park. The [new] Jewish cemetery was now located in the place of the massacre, where there were two mass graves in which were buried the holy [martyrs] of Braslav. Next to them were a few lone graves of Jews who died or were murdered after the war.
We Leave Braslav
The municipality imposed on me the task of preparing lists for it of the names of the Jews of Braslav: One listed those who'd survived and were in Braslav; the second listed those who'd left the town; and a third was a list of Jews who'd been lost. The preparation of such lists was beyond the ability of one person, and many people came to my assistance.
Once, while walking in the street, I met someone who'd been the manager of the education department in the municipality [before the war]. He was happy to find me alive and asked if I'd [also] compiled a list of teachers. I was stunned: Could I really become a teacher to their children, after the Germans and their Polish collaborators had murdered ours? And he himself, the manager of the education department, was known to be a great hater of Jews. I answered his question positively and immediately turned away.
When I returned to our communal apartment, the kolkhoz [collective farm, in Russian] as we called it, I found Benyamin, who'd come to take me with him to Rimshan, where he'd gotten a job in the NKVD. I had few doubts about leaving Braslav. Given my feelings about seeing the manager of the education department again, I was ready to set out immediately. But I also agreed with Benyamin, who said that in the NKVD he'd be able to catch the murderers and criminals who were in hiding and bring them to judgment.
The next morning, we set out on the road. We had almost no possessions. With pain and sadness, we said goodbye to our friends in Braslav. We left them the cow that we'd brought from the forest, and we traveled in a wagon to Rimshan. In a village near Braslav, a farmer came out to meet us. He gave us a pillow filled with feathers and said, This belongs to you, I received it as a deposit. This farmer even gave us bread, butter and eggs.
I was leaving Braslav. I was parting from the town, from Jews who had lived there and now were no more. I was leaving there the good years of my younger life, and taking with me the bitter memories of the ruin of all that had been dear to us. I was parting from Braslav forever.
We reached Rimshan [about 45 kilometers southwest of Braslav and in Lithuania]. Once this had been a small Jewish town, exciting and full of life. Now it contained only ruins. Most of the Jewish homes no longer existed. Of all the Jews of Rimshan, only Benyamin remained alive. His house, which had outlasted the war, had been dismantled by a farmer, who transferred it to his own yard and rebuilt it there. In our wagon, we approached a house that had belonged to Jews and was still standing. It had been turned into an office building of the NKVD. A Lithuanian named Birolin came out of this house to meet us; he'd been sent there with his wife to work with Benyamin. They were very happy we'd come, because they knew no one in Rimshan. Until that day, they'd been hungry for bread, not knowing where to get any. Benyamin calmed them, saying, You won't be hungry anymore.
We found living quarters in an apartment where only the floor and peeling walls remained. There wasn't a single piece of furniture. We were visited by a Jew from Drisviati, Hershel Zilberman, who was a good acquaintance of Benyamin's. He'd survived, together with his wife and their two children, his younger brother and his wife, and their father; all of them had hid in a bunker in the forest. When they learned that Benyamin was in Rimshan, they came to ask for his help, because
they had no work or means of support. Since Benyamin was the manager of the local NKVD, he suggested that Hershel stay and work with him. Hershel was happy to hear this. Benyamin got food from a farmer, and we sat down to eat together, hoping that better days lay ahead.
The next day we woke up early, because the apartment also served as an office that people could visit about various matters. Likewise, I had to return to Braslav and legally change my address: Braslav belonged to Belorussia, and Rimshan to Lithuania. When I got back to Braslav, I found no changes. There I found [Sasha] Tempelman, a good acquaintance from Vidz [about 40 kilometers southwest of Braslav], who was a teacher. He'd been wandering about and now asked me to take him to Rimshan. He'd look into the situation in Rimshan and then decide where to live. After arranging all of the formal matters in Braslav, we traveled together to Rimshan. There, Tempelman was our house guest. I introduced him to Benyamin, who listened to his problems.
Because we'd decided to stay in Rimshan, we urgently needed a separate apartment; we couldn't live in our office. We went to look for an apartment nearby, but everything had been destroyed and it was dangerous to live further away. The work that Benyamin was doing, catching war criminals, would definitely bring a reaction from them. After searching further, we found a closed-up apartment that belonged to a Polish policeman. Acting on the instructions of the chief manager of the NKVD in Zarasai [28 kilometers northwest of Rimshan and in Lithuania], we entered the apartment to live there. The desire for revenge gave us no rest. Benyamin knew many of the criminals personally, and he received a lot of information about many others. Although he lacked a police force to back him up, he didn't want to delay the start of his work. With the help of several workers and gypsies that he armed, he'd go out to conduct arrests, to bring the criminals to trial. But it was hard to capture them with the tiny number of men he had available. More than once, there weren't even enough men to guard the prisoners. I'd take a rifle and guard the entrance to the jail. Weeks went by until the ranks of the staff filled out and it was possible to operate normally.
The search for the criminals brought results. Many now sat in jail, but many more were still running around freely. It wasn't easy to jail an entire village. Nevertheless, Benyamin was putting his life at risk to arrest the men against whom there was clear evidence. He worked hard and used a number of tactics to find the criminals. More than once, there were large operations in which men from the army came to help him. We knew very well the dangers faced by Benyamin and his men. More than once, we, the women and children, had to go to sleep in the home of a Gentile out of concern about the danger to which we were exposed.
Generally, men of the police guarded our apartment with machine guns. Once in a while, the officer from Zarasai, Smirnov, would sleep at our house. This too required a careful watch. Sometimes, Benyamin would get letters in the mail containing threats of murder. At the NKVD center in Moscow they hadn't known Benyamin, but his signature on the arrest warrants of people who were then transferred to Moscow aroused interest in the name of Movshenzon. He became known there as a brave man.
Several local men and several Jewish survivors helped Benyamin with his dangerous work. We lived together as one family. These were the two Berzon brothers, Chaim and Pesach. When I was in Vidz, I'd met the father of Pesach and Chaim Berzon, and he'd told me about them and added that both of them were tired and worn out. When I told him that both of them could live with us, he was very happy. Both of them indeed came and lived with us. Benyamin told his superior that in men like them, who had served with him in the partisans,
he had complete trust. They carried out their responsibilities to the full. After that, Benyamin received a free hand in accepting men into the local police (militia). This enabled him to bring in Yankel-Leib Maron from Vidz and Shalom Katz from Duksht. All of them lived with us like one family.
One day, after great difficulty, Benyamin and his men succeeded in arresting a war criminal known throughout the area. After his arrest, this man gave up the name of a Polish citizen, Stramchinski, who he claimed was the leader of a group of criminals. The arrested man didn't say directly where the Pole was, but acting on various hints in his statements they succeeded in finding Stramchinski and arresting him. At his interrogation, the Pole revealed that an entire gang was hiding in a house in the village of Ilisk[?]. Benyamin checked with people in the area, and they confirmed this. Benyamin now understood that the matter was serious. He called for the army's help in carrying out his mission and soldiers came, accompanied by their senior officers. After learning the location and the way to it, they set out under Benyamin's orders. When they reached the house in the village of Ilisk, the house of the farmer Michal Sokshtol, Benyamin was the first to burst into it. To his question, Where are the men of the gang? the farmer crossed himself and said that his house didn't contain such people and never had. It was clear that he was lying. A search was made of the house and the farm. In the sheep pen Benyamin sensed that the floor was hollow, and he began to look for an entrance outside the pen. He found it and ran up to it. At that moment, two soldiers approached and told him, We're younger than you, let us open it. This they succeeded in doing, but just as they prepared to descend shots were fired at them from inside the hiding place, and they were killed on the spot. The shooter then shot and killed himself. An army officer pulled out his pistol, killed the farmer Sokshtol, and ordered Sokshtol's wife to go inside and order the men to come out, otherwise the soldiers would throw hand grenades inside and kill all of them. The men came out of the bunker in a long line, 40 gang members. Nobody had expected so many. A search of the bunker revealed a large room with pictures of leaders on the walls. It was assumed that this was the base of a regional national council with connections to London, from which the gang had received its equipment. Nine wagons of assorted equipment, including weapons and ammunition, were taken from the hiding place. The booty and the prisoners were sent immediately to Rimshan.
The bodies of the farmer and the gang leader who'd shot himself remained under guard for a number of days, next to the local police, as a warning to criminals everywhere.
The farmers who suffered from the Germans and their collaborators would come day and night, despite their great fear, to give news about the criminals: which of them lived alone and who was hiding with an entire gang. These farmers had known Benyamin before the war, and knowing now that he was managing the investigations, they had complete trust in him.
In Rimshan lived a Lithuanian by the name of Jan Foiksta, who'd been a teacher in the Polish school in the days of the Polish government [before September 1939]. In 1939, as the Polish army prepared to evacuate the town, many weapons had been distributed to the residents. Later this Foiksta gathered all the weapons and hid them in a secret place. When the Germans arrived, they saw him as the man for them and appointed him mayor of the town.
It's hard to describe how much Jewish blood was spilled by this murderer. He tortured and killed Jews as well as Polish and Russian prisoners. He traveled to his friends in the towns of the region, who were mayors of towns like himself, telling them, Why are you still playing games with the Jews? I already got rid of them.
When the Germans fled, he disappeared. Nobody searched for him. It was as if he'd been forgotten.
The First Passover as Free People
On the eve of the holiday, a number of Jews came to us to celebrate the first Passover in freedom. At the Seder [ritual feast marking the start of Passover] the Jews of Rimshan and friends from Duksht dined with us. We were happy that we were alive and free, and we spoke of memories of our parents' homes that were no more. On the first day of the holiday, several young men from Vilna came to visit: Yisrael Salitan, Shmuel and Chaim. In the numerous conversations, which lasted for many hours, Yisrael Salitan told Benyamin, among other things, that Foiksta, who'd been the mayor in Rimshan during the German occupation and killed many Jews, was now in Vilna [about 125 kilometers southwest of Rimshan]. Benyamin jumped up and began to ply Yisrael with questions: Where had he seen him? In what street? What house? Yisrael remembered the street, but not the house number. After hearing the details, Benyamin got up and announced that he was leaving that day for Vilna. He refused all requests from me and the others to delay his trip until the holiday had passed. Taking two policemen with him, he set out on the road.
The Arrest of Foiksta
When Benyamin reached Vilna, it wasn't easy for him to find Foiksta. There was no point in searching for him at the population registry office, because he'd certainly be under a false name. Benyamin decided to look for him on the same street where Yisrael Salitan had seen him. When they arrived at the place they asked no one, because of the danger, but they set up an ambush for him next to the house he'd been seen coming out of. They sat in ambush until midnight and then the next day, before dawn, they renewed it. On the third day, Benyamin saw him. He immediately jumped him, together with the two policemen. Foiksta didn't even understand what was happening. They took him to the train and transported him to Rimshan. Soldiers who were traveling on the train and had heard about his murderous deeds were ready to kill him on the spot. But Benyamin explained to them that this criminal had also led a gang, and so he had to be interrogated thoroughly and brought to trial.
Benyamin and his men succeeded in bringing Foiksta to Rimshan and putting him in prison. The news of his arrest spread quickly. People from the town and the surrounding area began to come to our house, and each one spoke of how Foiksta had killed his dear ones.
The men of the police brought Foiksta, in handcuffs, to the regional center of the NKVD in Zarasai [about 140 kilometers northeast of Vilna, in the same general region as Rimshan and Dukstas]. The police wouldn't let Benyamin bring him there, out of concern that Benyamin might kill him on the way. We went on with our day-to-day lives. Then one day, some men came and told us that Foiksta had been released from jail. We were alarmed and set out immediately to find the manager of the NKVD in Zarasai, Comrade Smirnov. Benyamin told Smirnov why he'd come: Where's the criminal Foiksta, the murderer of
hundreds and thousands of people? Why was he freed? By what law? He was brought to you together with many documents signed by people who testified about the suffering he caused them. If that's not enough, more testimony can be provided. We put our lives at risk to capture him. Smirnov, the head of the NKVD, listened to what Benyamin was saying and his face grew pale. It turned out that he'd known nothing of the matter, it had been done without consulting him. The existence of the prisoner hadn't been reported to him. It was the detective Genichov who'd contended that the material at hand was insufficient to put the prisoner on trial. Smirnov and Benyamin went to the office. A short look at the documents showed Smirnov what a terrible mistake had been made without his knowledge. He shouted at everyone, ordered the arrest of the detective, and turned to Benyamin with the request that he return to Rimshan and try to recapture Foiksta.
We Plan to Leave
Many murderers were still running around, collaborators with the German conqueror, frightened that they'd be captured and tried for their criminal acts. With the publication of the order that everyone who reported to the police and admitted his collaboration with the Germans would be pardoned, there was no more point in our working or endangering our lives. We began to look for ways to be released from the work that we were doing and to leave Rimshan.
Benyamin needed some X-rays, which could be taken in Vilna. Both of us traveled there. In the city, we went to Jewish friends who worked in the local police. The officer Hershel Aron from Zarasai worked there, the one who'd convinced Benyamin to join the NKVD. We were like family with each other, and the meeting was very happy. All night we spent talking in friendship and recalling old memories.
Foiksta Is Caught for the Second Time
In the morning, I stepped out to accompany Benyamin to the hospital for the X-rays. As we left the gate of the yard, Benyamin immediately saw Foiksta across the street, on the opposite sidewalk. Quick as lightning, he ran to him and grabbed him with all the strength he could muster. It was impossible, as well as dangerous, to take Foiksta to the NKVD office by himself. So we returned with him to our friends' yard, and I entered the apartment to get help. Hershel ran with me to the yard, which by now was full of curious onlookers. At their center stood Benyamin, holding Foiksta, who was shouting, What do you want from me, I have to go to work! Among the onlookers was an army officer with a lot of medals on his chest. He asked Foiksta for his papers. I suspected that this officer was one of the murderer's men and would likely release him. The officer looked at the papers, looked at Foiksta and again at the papers, and finally told Foiksta, You must go with them. To Benyamin and Hershel he said, in Yiddish, Halt im shtark (Hold him firm) and went on his way. Benyamin and Hershel held onto Foiksta and, with pistols drawn, took him to the local police. I walked behind them. At the police station, they'd already heard of the arrest. When we arrived, they took us into a courtyard between high walls and locked the iron gate. While Benyamin was in the station discussing the matter, Foiksta kept shouting, What right do you have to hold me, I must go to work in the education ministry! To this I replied, Your job is truly a nice one, but how did a scoundrel like you get such a position? After a
telephone conversation with Zarasai, they put Foiksta on a truck and, accompanied by 12 policemen, he was taken to Zarasai.
All the material evidence against him had already been prepared, and he was tried immediately. His sentence was also carried out immediately. Foiksta was no more.
Benyamin Is Released
For health reasons, Benyamin was released from the NKVD. All of them were sorry to lose a dedicated man like him, but for us it was difficult to continue. After four years of effort, tension and danger, only now did we feel that we were free. In 1947, after Benyamin received his release papers, we went to Riga [about 235 kilometers northwest of Rimshan and in Latvia] to start a normal life. Luba began to study at school, and he was a good student. Despite difficulties with his health, he matured and succeeded in finishing high school with high grades. Benyamin worked at various jobs. Finally I decided not to teach another nation's children anymore. I did various jobs to assist the family with its livelihood, and in the evenings I took an accounting course, which I completed successfully.
In Riga too, our house was an open one, always full of people. A day with no guests was a sad day for us. Many people who needed assistance of some kind would come to us and receive the necessary help.
We Leave Riga
In 1957, we left Riga. We traveled to Poland with the thought of immigrating immediately to the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, at that time the aliyah of those who'd returned from Russia was stopped [presumably this means that former Polish citizens, who'd wound up in Russia during the change in borders at the war's end, were no longer allowed to return to Poland]. None of our efforts to leave the country bore fruit. For 10 months we remained in Poland under difficult conditions, in danger and fear. After that, we were able to immigrate to Israel, having been recognized as war disabled. We arrived in Israel on February 4, 1958 and were sent to Tiberias by the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Absorption.
In the Land of Israel
During the first part of our life in Israel, we lived in difficult conditions. More than once, we felt we'd gotten off to a bad start. A lot of time passed until we felt that we were standing on solid ground. Benyamin began to work as a fisherman on Lake Kinneret [in northern Israel], and there too we experienced problems. For example, each day a portion of the fish was stolen from us and we didn't know how to prevent it. We lived far from the shore, and it was impossible to guard the fish. Some time passed until we found a solution to the matter.
Immediately after our arrival in Israel, Luba filed a request to be accepted into the Technion in Haifa. He was called to the entrance exams, took them and was accepted as a student there, but because of our unstable financial situation he decided to study instead at the school of military electronics in Haifa. His studies there could be finished more quickly, he said, and then he could help with our finances and join Benyamin at work immediately. We didn't see
a solution to his future, nor did we see a future for him as a fisherman. Not having a choice, I went out to help Benyamin. After the job of spreading the net and gathering the fish, I'd sit and repair the nets, which sometimes became torn. Everyone thought this was strange; they said they'd never seen a woman working at fishing on the Kinneret. The news reached the ears of reporters, and they came to ask for permission to write an article about it for the newspaper.
We experienced many things in Tiberias. We didn't complain; we asked only that the housing authorities change our dwelling place to an area where both of us could work and find a roof under which to lay our heads. Unfortunately, they didn't come to our assistance. We faced our troubles like Jews who understood the situation, accepting everything with gratitude. The representatives of the Jewish Agency always described us as exemplary, saying that with people like the Movshenzon family It's possible to build the Land.
Years passed. Luba married, and he has three children. He has been in the army since we came to Israel. His wife works. We're already at an advanced age; our experiences have left their mark on us. Our health is imperfect, but we're happy with the young and beautiful generation, healthy in body and soul. We can be proud of them.
At the end of May 1942, an SS officer arrived in Miory, setting in motion the massacre of the Miory Ghetto, which began early on the morning of June 2. On that day, 680-800 Jews were killed; it's thought that a small number of inmates might have succeeded in escaping. The massacre of the Braslav Ghetto began the next day, early on the morning of June 3. Return
According to a source on Jewish communities in the region (Preserving Our Litvak Heritage, Volume II, published in 2007), the Jews murdered in the forest on August 26 included those from the surrounding region: the Dusiat (Dusetos) Ghetto, a small ghetto in Salok (Salakas), Ezhereni (Zarasai), Turmont (Turmontas), Antalept (Antaliepte) and Rimshan.
Sources disagree on the number of those killed in the forest on August 26, ranging from 2,569 (German sources) to 5,000 (Preserving Our Litvak Heritage). But the postwar memorial at the massacre site says that the victims numbered 8,000. The site is about 70 kilometers west of Braslav. Return
According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, the Vidz Ghetto had been formed in early 1942. In subsequent months Jews were added to it from Drisviati, Druysk (Drujsk), Opsa, Dubina, Kozian (Koziany), Ignalina (Ignalino) and Sventzion (Swieciany). By August 1942, the official population was 1,505. Sometime around October 1942, most of the Jews in the Vidz Ghetto were transferred to the Sventzion Ghetto, about 45 kilometers southwest of Vidz and in Lithuania. Only about 80 Jews (craftsmen and their families) remained in Vidz at this time, but later they too were sent to Sventzion. The majority of the Jews in the Sventzion Ghetto were taken to Ponar outside Vilna and murdered on April 5, 1943. Return
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