The camp workers hardly believed these promises, and from day to day Ukrainian workers arrived at the camp; the Jews realized that they were already surplus workers, and that the work could already be performed without them. Everyone understood that they would be killed.
At that time there was a department of German air force personnel camped out in Radostov. Jewish girls worked in the department as cooks and washerwomen. The soldiers confided to them that their department was being assigned for killing Jews. However, they didn't use the department, claiming that extermination work was not their area of responsibility, but was to be done by the Special Department (SD) or the Gestapo. In addition, the Jews were needed for various types of work. After our departure the soldiers said that the Gestapo would surely arrive to kill us, so we should escape into the forest on time.
It was very easy to escape into the forest from Gorovitsa, the work site of the Drohitchin lumber workers in Radostov (these people would tie together logs in rafts, sending them down river to distance locations). All you had to do was jump off of beams right into the forest. Jews, therefore, believed that even at the last moment, when the shooting would start, they could flee. Until a certain point no one wanted to leave the camp, their home, and couldn't imagine living like hobos. Everyone was scared of the forest and the approaching winter.
It was understood that when the aktsia took place, all the gentiles in the area would be mobilized to hunt down the escapees, and it would be very hard for people who were unprepared to live in the forest to hide out there and survive. In addition, there were a few sick Jews in the camp: Kadish Greenstein, and the storekeeper Yaakov Gorodetsky and his wife, who could under no circumstances escape, and who warned the others to wait until the last moment, since in the event that someone managed to escape, everyone else would be severely punished.
[photo:] From right: Meir M. Hausman, Menachem Steinberg, Peretz Goldman, Henya Valevelsky, Zvi Levak, Asher Meshchanin, Mordechai Gottlieb. Standing from left, Berl Gottlieb and Moshe Goldberg. The Betar Organization.
[photo:] Leiba and Liba Feldman. May G-d avenge their blood!
Fear of the forest and concern for the ill who could not escape, and the hope that it wouldn't be too late to get to the forest prevented people from leaving. Everyone expected misfortune, and since the workers knew about the destruction of Ghetto A, the workers stopped sleeping at night. They spread around on the floors of the couple of buildings where they spent the night, and in the meantime kept their ears perked up for the slightest sound outside so they would be ready to escape to the unknown forest.
There were a few former village Jews in the camp Leib Feldman (son of Meir Yudel Feldman), Avraham Adler (from Tcheromcha), Zalman Orliansky (from Lechevitch) and Jews from the village Vietla. In the evening they visited their gentile acquaintances and negotiated with them about hiding out with them in the event things turned for the worse.
Misfortune struck on the morning of November 4, 1942. When the workers were leaving for work, they noticed Germans approaching them in cars. The Germans opened machinegun and automatic weapons fire on the workers, and yelled, Stop, damn Jews! Leib Feldman, Jews from Vietla and Dvoshka Spevak were the first casualties. Everyone started running without even knowing where they were going.
Of the 120 workers in Radostov, 40 managed to escape. The majority of them, however, shortly thereafter fell into the hands of gentiles and perished. Some died from the cold, hunger and exhaustion during the winter of 1942-43 in their hiding places. Only 15 lived through the first winter in the forest in various hiding places, without even knowing about one another.
The Russian army saves the Jews in the forest
In the spring of 1943, the lucky survivors found each other in the forest in Ozona, which was under the control of the Soviet partisans (near the village of Bilinka), and lived there in civilian camps (bunkers) until the beginning of 1944. In the beginning of 1944, with the approach of the battlefront, the partisans left for the other side of the border to meet the Soviet army. The Drohitchin Jews in the forest followed the partisans, and the elderly, the women and children stopped in the liberated towns near Rovno. The younger people were drafted into the Soviet army, and fought in their ranks, liberating towns and countries. They also took revenge on the German murderers while saving their own lives and not silencing their own suffering and wrath.
Almost all of the survivors visited Drohitchin after it was liberated, and absorbed renewed suffering and anger. The descendants of wicked Esau were sitting in the tents of his brother Jacob, were dressing up in Jewish clothing, and burning the pages of Jewish books. The streets of Drohitchin were paved with Jewish gravestones from both the old and new cemeteries. Swine on four and two legs were rummaging through Jewish property.
It was awfully difficult for me to see all this. People seeking revenge and the liberator of Drohitchin were broken hearted having escaped their hometown, and were only sorry that it wasn't devastated together with the god and bad heirs of the former Jewish community. The town of Khomsk shared the fate of its Jewish community, not leaving nothing behind.
Drohitichin, my hometown Drohitchin nothing of Jewish life remained with you. Drohitchin, why weren't you destroyed together with your Jewish children? Why?
WHERE IS YANKELE?
Save yourself, my child. Escape to the forest, is what Leiba Feldman of Drohitchin told his nine-year old son Yankele when they dodged the German bullets that had left dozens of Jews of the Radostov camp dead. Leiba and his wife Liba were shot, but little Yankele listened to his father's last words and escaped into the forest. (see pp. 223 and 302).
Yankele found other Jews in the forest. They had survived the German murderers and hid out together in an earth house in the forest, and lived on one potato a day. When the elderly Jews would go into the forest to look for food, Yankele would look after the fire that had to be maintained day and night like a synagogue oil lamp because there were no other matches available to make a fire. So the little orphan Yankele suffered along with everyone else until 1943.
Later, when the Radostov survivors were admitted to the partisan camp, the situation of little Yankele improved. Chaya Reider of Drohitchin took little Yankele under her wing and was a mother to him. In the summer of 1943, Yankele was hired as a shepherd by a village peasant. He learned the White Russian language, gentile dances and songs. He would perform dances and songs for the gentiles (who considered him one of their own), and looked forward to the time when he could go off to his uncle Yosef Feldman in Chicago.
Upon liberation in 1945, when all the Jews in the forests returned to their hometowns, they totally forgot about the little shepherd boy in the village. A Russian officer placed Yankele in an orphanage somewhere in Russian, and since then no one heard anything more about him. The Yankele affair was a terrible tragedy and heart rendering event for his uncle. Yosef Feldman complained about the fact that Drohitchin survivors forget about his little Yankele. They could have taken him along with them. Yankele would have had a real home with Yosef, who would have been his mother and father. Now Yankele was gone. Yosef wondered why this had to happen. D. W.
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