First row from left to right: Yerakhmiel Likhter, Shloimele Shifmanovitch, the next three are unknown
Second row: Russian partisans
Third row from left: Aron Rozovsky, Fiags, unknown, Borukh Vismansky, Dovid Noyekh Rozenfeld, Russian partisan, Gertzovsky
Many of the Jews of Zhetl escaped the holocaust on the 6th of August, 1942 to the nearby town of Dvoretz. Others went to the woods. From these refugees, the troop of Zhetl partisans came together in the Lipichen [Lipichany] Forest.
News of the troop's organization spread incredibly fast. From the nearby forests, from the labor camps in Dvoretz and Novogrudok individuals and groups began making their way to join the Zhetl partisan troop. After a short period of time the troop numbered 120 partisans, aside from hundreds of older refugees, who gathered in family groups.
The Zhetl troop was made up of three companies. The first company was commanded by Hershl Kaplinsky, the second one by Yona Medvetzki and the third by Shalom Ogolnik. At the head of the troop was a staff composed of the company commanders and the partisans: Pinchas Grin and Shalom Gerling.
The first task of the troop was to gain arms. In various ways, the Zhetl partisans fulfilled their mission. In ambushes they set for enemy forces, from foresters and with cash money, a supply of arms was collected and saved. Then the troop began to clear the nearer area of enemy forces. Many of the local farmers, who were collaborating with the Germans and their helpers in the destruction of the Jews of Zhetl, felt the force of the Jewish partisan troop taking its revenge.
Over time, the Zhetl troop integrated into the general mission: to clear the garrisons of the enemy forces from the surrounding villages and to sabotage the means of transportation. In both missions they achieved results and respect.
The troop faced a difficult test during the general attack the Germans launched on the partisan forces in December of 1942. Forty thousand troops of Germans and their arms bearers were enlisted for this mission. This attack caused bewilderment in the ranks of the partisans. In daring battles many of them fell, including the commander of the Zhetl troop, the courageous partisan Hershl Kaplinsky.
The attack had barely ended and the survivors of the troop, broken and ill, began to regroup. And then they were overtaken by the fury of the Christian partisans, who even in resistance conditions, did not hide their hostility towards Jews. As a result of this state of things, the independent Jewish troop was broken up and attached to a troop of Christian partisans. However, even in this organization situation, the fighters of Zhetl were notable in their courage and the fire of their vengeance.
As the German armies began retreating a second German attack began on the partisans in the Lipichen forests. This attack was seven times more difficult and there were many losses of Jewish partisans, but following these the liberation arrived. At the beginning of July 1944, the partisans advanced to the liberating Soviet armies and joined their struggle against the animal Hitler. Many of the survivors of the Jewish partisans, who had been liberated by the Soviets, fell as heroes in battle at the front.
This is the history of the Zhetl troop, that fought and avenged bravely and with courage for two years and wrote a glorious page in the chronicles of the Jews of Zhetl.
Translated by Janie Respitz
Jews from Zhetl who were saved from the great slaughter in August 1942 escaped to Dvoretz and the forest. Those who escaped to the forest organized the core of a Jewish partisan detachment in Liptchanska forest. The organizers or the detachment were: Pinye Grin, Sholem Gerling, Motke Gontchorovsky, Mayrim Golansky, Nosn Funt, Hirshl Kaplinsky and Velvl Rozovsky.
The news about this newly created Zhetl partisan detachment spread quickly. A group of young people came from the Nolibok forests and joined the detachment. They included: Yosl Bitensky, Sholem Ogulnik, Binyomin Yarush, Khaim Slamke and Shaul Shakhnovitch.
From the remaining labour camps in Dvoretz and Novogrudek, Jews from Zhetl, in various ways, thanks to superhuman efforts, under a hail of bullets, escaped to join the Zhetl detachment. In a short time the Zhetl detachment consisted of 120 armed partisans.
The Zhetl detachment was divided in three platoons. The leader of the first was Hirshl Kaplinsky, the head of the second was Yoyne Medvedsky, and the head of the third was Sholem Ogulnik. The general staff of the detachment consisted of the three platoon commanders and the following: Pinye Grin and Sholem Gerling. Indirectly, the Zhetl detachment fell under the command of the Christian Orliansky detachment commanded by Kolya Vakhanin.
The first task of the detachment was to find weapons. They organized ambushes and took the weapons of the forest guards. A lot of weapons were purchased for money from the peasants who had kept them after the retreat of the Red Army.
In order to move freely, the detachment decided to clear the area of undesirable elements, who collaborated with the Germans and who participated in the spilling of Jewish blood.
We will provide here a few characteristic operations of the Zhetl detachment:
The Operation in Muleri
During the extermination operation in Zhetl, many Jews escaped to the neighbouring labour camp in Dvoretz. In the dark of night they would sneak out of the cellars and head toward Dvoretz. Those escaping would pass the village Muleri where two peasants waited for them: Madjey and Anton, who, with weapons in their hands, would stop the Jews, rob them and hand them over to the Zhetl gendarmerie. This is what they did to the rabbi and his wife. They robbed them, stripped them naked and brought them to the Zhetl gendarmerie.
On September 10th 1942 a group of partisans decided to take revenge on these two Christians. Yekhiel Yoselevitch, Sholem Ogulnk, Khaim Slamke, Yehoshua Shakhnovitch, Yisroel Busel, Aron Leyzerovitch, Pinye Grin, Avrom Magid, Aron Gertzovsky, Leyzer Savitzky and Zavl Mordkovsky went to the village Muleri. After they surrounded Madjey's house they realized he was at a neighbour's distilling whisky. The partisans went to the neighbour and found a group of 18 men. They commanded: Hands up in the air and took Madjey out. He admitted to his crime, asked for pity and asserted that Anton betrayed the rabbi. He betrayed other Jews. He received his judgement from the partisans on the head.
After the sentence was carried out against Anton. Simultaneously they explained to the village magistrate and the inhabitants of the village the reasons for the death sentence.
Our Victory in Mirayshchine
In October a squadron of Lithuanians occupied the Mirayshchine estate (5 kilometres from Zhetl). The same day a group of our partisans received an order to block the road Luditch Mirayshchine. A red rocket served as a sign the fight was starting. The Lithuanians put up a strong resistance but in the end they ran away. The first to tear into the estate was the small, under aged Iziye Rabinovitch who called out: Comrades, onward, they ran away. The enemy garrison was destroyed and this fortified the partisan's region.
Our Successful Battle in Zhikovchizne
At the same time the Germans began an operation to occupy the region to disrupt the partisans. They sent a larger group of military to the estate in Zhikovchine (8 kilometres from Zhetl). Our detachment and the Russian detachment decided to annihilate the German garrison in Zhikovchine.
We broke into the estate at midnight. All the German reserves fell into our hands and the German garrison was smashed. From then on the Zhikovniche estate remained under our control and the Germans did not dare return.
Our Success in Nakrishok
A few days later the Germans came with reinforcements to Nakrishok. Four of our partisans were in that village, among whom was the heroic Dr. Markus. Two partisans succeeded in escaping and warned the detachment of an attack. Dr. Markus and his comrade began a rough fight with the Germans. The Christian partisan was immediately shot dead and Dr. Markus was seriously injured. Not wanting to fall into German hands he shot himself with his revolver. A little later auxiliary arrived and with great losses chased away Hitler's servants.
The death of Dr. Markus tore from our ranks a heroic, bold partisan.
Our strength continued to grow in Liptchanska, Dubrovchin and other forests. We ruled the large region from Shtchare until the Nieman and from Zhetl until Kazlaytchine where a German foot would not walk without large military forces.
There were many villages in the region which cooperated with the partisans. The Germans decided to take revenge and eradicate these villages. One bright morning they crossed the Nieman with a few trucks into the village of Dubrovke (Nakrishk district). They surrounded the village, fired upon the entire population, burned the houses, and took the cattle, pigs and all their possessions.
When we learned about this our detachment left on horse and by foot to attack the criminals. When we arrived in the village we opened fire with artillery and machine guns and forced the Germans to run away. We also succeeded in saving a few cows which we distributed among the surviving peasants.
The Battle in Matzevitch
In Matzevitch, on the right side of the Nieman (Zhaludka district), the Germans consolidated in order to make our movement difficult on the other side of the Nieman where we would go to get our food and set up ambushes. At the end of November 1942 we brought our artillery to the shores of the Nieman and shot at the German garrison.
The first platoon of the Jewish company volunteered for this attack with the two spies, Sholem Ogulnik and Shaul Shakhnovitch. The Germans opened heavy fire on them. At first our fighters turned back, but then they returned with a larger group from the first platoon on the right side of the Nieman where they found footprints of Germans who tried to run away.
We Blow Up Bridges
At the same time we began a big operation in order to destroy enemy communication lines: blowing up bridges, disconnecting telephone connections, cutting telephone poles and making it difficult for the Germans to get food.
In this operation we burned the bridge over the Malchadke, which connects the highway Slonim Zhetl Novogrudek. The bridge near the village Halavli Zatshefish, Orler Bridge over the Nieman which connects Lida and Slonim and many other bridges. We destroyed 10 kilometres of telephone poles and many railway tracks. At the same time we captured the supply of prepared agricultural produce for the Germans in Yanovishtshe estate, Rahatne estate and Miendzigure estate.
The heroic Dr. Atlas from the Jewish detachment also took part in this operation along with Jews from Deretchin and Zelv. Thanks to their initiative, the Bieltz Bridge over the Nieman which connects Lida and Slonim was also destroyed.
The bridge over the Nieman was strategically very important for the Germans. After the destruction they built a ferry which they only used at night. During the day, they hid it since they were afraid of the partisans.
However, it is hard to hide such a thing from the partisans. The Zhetl detachment took on the task to destroy the ferry. After we found it, we destroyed it.
The flames of the burning ferry gave the Germans the opportunity to feel the punishing hand of the Jewish partisans. They did not dare to put another bridge or ferry at that spot.
We Provide Weapons
Thanks to the initiative of Dr. Atlas and Bulak's detachment an operation began to remove weapons from Shtare which the Soviets sunk during their retreat. Our tank drivers and machine operators succeed in removing three tanks from the water. The following people from Zhetl helped in the repairs: Yisakhar Berman, Yisroel Busel, Shloime Mnuskin, Sholem Reznitsky and others. Within a short time they were repaired and prepared for battle.
The Germans were convinced they had a lot of losses in people, technical and agricultural products, so they decided to paralyze the activities of the partisan groups. To achieve this they positioned, in the heart of the forest and in the partisan village Ruda Yovarska, a garrison of 300 Ukrainians and Lithuanians with German leadership.
This is when a large consultation took place with all the following commanders: Kolya Vakhanin, Bulak, Dr. Atlas, Boris Bulat, Hirshl Kaplinsky, Pietke from the Lida detachment and Maximovitch from the Slonim region. They decided to annihilate the garrison.
The Battle in RudaYovarska
In the second half of October 1942 each detachment took up its predetermined position. At dawn, the partisan Avrom Magid, with nine other men went out on reconnaissance and returned with a report on the situation.
At eight o'clock, when it was already light the first shot from our group announced the start of the battle. It quickly turned into a 20 minute fight. After, Bronevik came from Bulak's detachment with the Russian tank driver Fishchulin and called upon the Germans and Ukrainians to capitulate. The Germans opened fire on Bronevik who while shooting retreated and gave three shots which was a sign that the Germans were not giving up and we must attack. This is when the artillery began the attack on the German headquarters.
After the artillery was prepared, and under its cover, we tore into the garrison. The rest of the partisans were lying in ambush to ensure a safe way for auxiliaries to arrive. Our partisans opened heavy fire on the confused Germans.
A few Germans surrendered, a few were killed and some ran away from this chaos without weapons. Fifty Germans were killed, many were seriously or slightly injured and 10 were taken prisoner. Trophies: 60,000 bullets, 2 maxim guns, 12 rifles, 10 machine guns, 15 pieces of short weapons, lots of grenades and food, horses, wagons, saddles and the like. From our side, two were killed and 6 wounded. We immediately took our trophies and distributed them among the detachments.
By noon help arrived for the German garrison, a few tanks and trucks with Germans. They simply established the garrison had been liquidated and quickly returned to Slonim.
The battle in Ruda Yavarska became renowned in the entire region. Shortly after, the first liaisons came from Nolibok forest, 200 kilometres from Liptchanska forest. From the groups and detachments they created one brigade named for Lenin, which was also registered through radio dispatch at the central White Russian partisan headquarters. The Russian captain Sinitzkin was chosen as commander of the brigade. The following were united: Bulak's, Fishchulin's, Dr. Atlas', Abramov's, Lebedyenka's groups creating one detachment called Pobyeda.
Kolya Vakhanin's (from Orliansk) and Hirshl Kaplinsky's Zhetl detachment created one detachment which they called Barba. Within the composition of this group were two Russian companies and one Jewish company with separate commanders of platoons: the commander of the first platoon, Hirshl Kaplinsky, commander of the second platoon, Pinye Grin, commander of the third platoon, Yekhiel Yoselevitch.
The Big Raid
According to the commands from the central partisan headquarters our detachment began an intensive military action. Feeling on our own shoulders how the strength of the partisans was growing and the surrounding garrisons could not cope and were regularly sounding an alert for help, the Germans decided for once and for all to destroy the partisans. To achieve this goal they withdrew 45,000 men from the front (4 divisions) and
armed them with heavy artillery and tanks. On December 10, 1942 they began their first raid in the Lipitchanska forest where they succeeded in disorganizing the partisan camps.
The Big Raid of December 1942
The first group of Germans came out of Deretchin to the shores of Shtchare, attempting to penetrate the village Big Valye (Zhetl district). Bulak's and Dr. Atlas' detachments were situated on the right bank of the Shtchare in order to block the road to the forest. The other detachments were lying in ambushes on the highways which lead to the forest along the Nieman.
On the night of Thursday, December 12th, Dr. Atlas and Bulak led a heavy battle against a large German force heroically defending the river banks and raising the mood of the Jewish group. Always fighting on the first line, to set an example for all the other partisans, Dr. Atlas took a bullet to his leg. They carried him off the battlefield and on the way, he died. His last words were:
Friends! I'm dying. Continue fighting for our unjustified spilled blood. Bury me beside my mother's grave.
The three Jewish platoons of the Barba detachment lay in ambushes in different directions.
The second platoon left for the road which leads from Zhetl to the village Refitche with Pinye Grin as commander.
The third platoon led by Yekhiel Yoselevitch was lying on the Nakrishk road which led to the camp.
Hirshl Kaplinsky and the first platoon were lying on the highway from Ruda Yavarska to Kzlaytchine. Waiting for the enemy from Kazlaytchine, the first platoon was attacked by the enemy from an unexpected direction. 20 metres from our position, the Germans opened heavy fire from automatic weapons and machine guns. Some of our platoon had to retreat.
The commander Hirshl Kaplinsky with 10 men among whom were: Sholem Ogulnik, Yisl Bitensky, Avrom Magid, Zelik Kovensky, Dovid Likhter, Aron Leyzerovitch, Dovid Noyekh Rozenfeld and Mrs. Krisiye Gerling gave an order to open a hurricane of fire on the Germans and at any price recover the machine gun which fell to the enemy. Sholem Ogulnik, Zelik Kovensky and Dovid Likhter volunteered to fight. Protected by heavy fire by the remaining 7 comrades, they removed the Katyusha from the enemy's field.
Arom Leyzerovitch was wounded in his left leg in the battle. They lay him on the Katyusha and when they were one kilometre from the shore Hirshl Kaplinsky gave an order to retreat. They waited at the meeting point for Pinye Grin to bring food for the group.
Unable to wait for Grin, Hirshl Kaplinsky sent Avrom Magid and Dovid Noyekh Rozenfeld to find out why he did not arrive. When they realized Pinye Grin was not going to come they returned to the meeting point. Hirshl Kaplinsky and Yosl Bitensky were no longer there. The others explained they went to headquarters to find out more about the situation and to receive instructions on how to proceed.
On their way they fell upon a German ambush. Bitensky died immediately. Hirshl Kaplinsky was seriously injured, but he managed to drag himself to a Christian by the name of Yablonsky. He asked him to inform the partisans of his wounds and in the meantime he hid in the barn where he would eventually die.
We later learned the peasant brought Christian partisans, but instead of helping a fellow fighter they took his automatic weapon. Before he died he managed to ask:
Comrades, what are you doing? They ended his life with a bullet.
The Germans later burned down the barn with his dead body inside. We later learned this, in secret, from the peasant who was afraid to talk about this event, because of what the murderers told him.
The third platoon which was on the road to Nakrishk was divided into smaller groups. Two groups of five men with Leyzer Savitzky as leader left for the Ludzhitch road. Another group went to the Fatzavshchine road. Their assignment was to control the movement of the enemy and signal with machine gun shots.
The first group of five came across German tracks. Wanting to know the exact situation Leyzer Savitzky sent Motl Bushlin to a group of Christian women wearing white kerchiefs on their heads, which he believed were returning from Fatzavishchine. He barely walked a few metres when these white, innocent kerchiefs
opened a hurricane of fire. They began to throw waves of white kerchiefs and our guys managed to get away.
The pressure of the military divisions forced the partisans to divide into smaller groups, and leave the forest.
After the Big Raid
After the majority of Christian partisans left the forest, unable to withstand the heavy attacks from the German forces, they headed for Nolibok forest. The Jewish partisans gathered in Ludzhitch forest to decide what to do next. We decided to divide into small groups to make it easier to get out of this predicament.
One of the groups which succeeded to break away from the German predicament met the commander of the Barba detachment, Kolya Vakhanin, who ordered us to remain in the forest until he could make contact with Zhetl and find out the exact situation in the forest. A few days later we connected with him and he informed us that a part of the military had retreated from the forest, and the rest were slowly leaving. That is when we received the order that all the small groups should gather in the forest.
The two weeks of encircling in the swamps, without food and without footwear did not destroy our mood. We gathered once again, organized and set out on operations.
One of our comrades, Shaul Savitzky, being totally barefoot during this operation took a pair of boots from a peasant. On the command of the brigadier commander he was sentenced to death, motivated by the fact that such acts are forbidden in partisan villages. All efforts by the Jewish partisans to annul the sentence did not help. Shaul Savitzky tried to run away but as he ran he was shot by Grishka Kozak. This was the 30th of December 1942. He was buried at the Ludzhitch lighthouse. With this sentence the Jewish partisans lost a good machine gunner and a brave partisan.
This was not the only expression of anti Semitism. At the time of the raid for example, the Christian medic Fedya from the first company did not make contact with the wounded Jewish partisan Lipeh Glikman. They also treated Jewish women badly, leaving them in God's hands.
There were grave consequences after the raid, both moral and physical. The difficult living situation resulted in various contagious diseases such as typhus, scabies and abscesses. Around 10 Jewish victims fell during this siege, besides the many victims in the family camps.
At that time a diversion group arrived from the other side of the front led by captain Kovalyov who was a very liberal man. At a general meeting of the commanders he demanded order and equal treatment of every partisan. The commanders brought to his attention that many partisans were neglected and filthy. Kovalyov agreed to take all the partisans who were still standing, approximately 50 men, a large number of whom were Jews. Time showed that all those standing under Kovalyov's leadership, were good fighters.
A short time later, after we prepared our winter huts, we left for a new place, in Podiyaverke, not far from Refitche.
We were better organized in this new place and at the same time showed our strength. The military front was slowly retreating, only the local police remained who realized that even with military forces they did not succeed in destroying the partisan camp. The partisans once again felt free and began to renew their activity.
We Take Revenge on a German Servant
At this time there was the slaughter of the Dvoretz camp. These were the last days of December, 1942. Many Jews managed to escape but as they were running toward the forest they were killed by local Christians who handed them over to the Germans. This happened to 10 Jews who escaped the slaughter. They were hiding in a barn which belonged to the peasant Bortko which was on a farm near the village Nahornik (Zhetl district). The peasant took them into his barn, locked the door and calmed them saying in the evening they would be able to leave for the forest. But he quickly went to the gendarmerie and informed them about the 10 Jews. Of course, the Germans came immediately and shot them all.
We decided to take revenge on this shameful murderer and his son who had helped him. A group of 7 Jewish partisan, including
the Russian commander from the third company, Lieutenant Sergei Flag, climbed onto sleighs and rode toward Bortko's farm, which we surrounded.
Three partisans went inside. The commander Sergei began to question the peasant, keeping his hands on the end of his gun. The peasant responded, and being irritated, he banged the gun which went off tearing the palm of the commander's hand. The partisans made him a provisional bandage, took the peasant and his son out onto the road and shot them both like dogs. All of their finer possessions were confiscated from their house.
Nine Jewish Partisans Attack Zhetl
Due to severe cold and lots of snow our fight against the Germans was weakened. We had to be satisfied with cutting down telephone poles. Later, when the frost and snow subsided the eastern first company from Nolibok which had left us, returned.
Before the first company arrived from Nolibok, our detachment, thanks to the commander Kolya Vakhanin, made contact with the oldest Ukrainian garrison in Zhetl. A group of around 20 Ukrainians from Zhetl joined us, fully armed. We accepted them, but with little trust.
The officer of the group, Shakhneh, decided this was the time to attack the Zhetl garrison which was in panic mode. The plan of this Ukrainian did not arouse trust. This is when a group of Jewish partisans received consent from the detachment commander and decided to go to Zhetl, open fire and create a panic among the Germans allowing the Ukrainians from the Zhetl garrison to escape and free their lieutenant who was arrested by the Germans.
A group of 9 Jews led by Yekhiel Yoselevitch left for Zhetl. They divided into three groups who were supposed to open machine gun fire at the same time from three sides. The group at the Jewish cemetery was supposed to give the signal.
The signal was given at the decided time by an automatic weapon and the shooting began from all directions on the gendarmerie. We noticed the electricity in Zhetl was turned off. The Germans panicked and ran to their hiding places. After 10 15 minutes all the groups met at a designated place in Miraytchin forest. Here we met 6 Ukrainians wearing police greatcoats. When we spoke to them we learned they were among those arrested and sent to the Zhetl jail. They took advantage of the panic and ran toward the partisans. We took them to the detachment of Ukrainians who had previously escaped.
Our Detachment takes Revenge on Koske Lubetsky
After the eastern company arrived the commanders decided to take revenge for the deaths of the brave partisans: Avrom Rashkin from Zhetl, Yoyne Arzhekhovsky from Bielitze and for the wounded Lipe Glikman from Warsaw (he had been in Zhetl ghetto). We were ordered to take Koske Lubetsky alive as a prisoner. He was the leader of the attack in the village Ayvitch, 300 metres from Zhetl. We were to take food, horses and cows away from the whole village as punishment. It was decided to carry out this plan in broad daylight.
The entire detachment left for this operation. We arrived in the village during the day. We surrounded the house of Koske Lubetsky and ordered him to come out because we wanted to take him alive. However he stretched out on the floor and opened fire from his gun. Once again we ordered him to open his door but he shouted he would not let the dirty Jews in. This is when our commander joined the game. He threw down his gun and said he is not a Jew and suggested they come to an agreement.
The peasant did not allow him in either. At this time we tried to set his house on fire. The peasant was terrified, opened the door and said to the commander:
If you are not a Jew, come in! At that moment a few of our partisans entered. We tied up the peasant and took him with us, 300 metres behind the village, beside a large cross, where we stopped and our commander explained to the peasant:
You will receive your earned punishment for killing 2 partisans here at your holy cross.
A series of automatic bullets settled the account.
The First Platoon of the Jewish Detachment Organizes and Ambush against the Germans from Ruda Yavarska
At this time there were big changes in the leadership of our detachment. From both Jewish companies a third Jewish company was created from the Orliansky detachment. One of the changes was that officers must be properly trained. At the same time many Jewish partisans were divided among Christian companies in order to weaken their influence. Our detachment was now made up of two Christian companies. The commander of the third company was Lieutenant Fantchenko from the Zhetl Ukrainians.
In order to instill fear among the surrounding German garrisons, our leaders decided to carry out a few tasks. In May 1943 the Jewish company the first platoon was sent for an ambush ½ a kilometre from RudaYavarska. They added 5 Christian partisans to the Jewish platoon with the Christian commander Orlov. The ambush was placed at a spot where the Germans would pass every mooring as they went to Kurfish to buy produce.
We arrived at the designated place at 3 o'clock in the morning. Everyone was very tired from the trip. According to the orders given by the commander we set up battle positions and sent two spies in both directions.
We lay there until 6 o'clock in the morning. That is when our communications man, Itche Savitzky informed us the Germans were approaching. We all lay there. As the first German wagons approached a Christian partisan unintentionally let off a shot. The Germans immediately jumped down from their wagons and took up good positions in the ditches on the road. The premature shot caused delayed fire from our ambush. Few Germans were killed.
One of the Germans did not manage to jump in the ditch and was lying in the middle of the road protected by little hills. This German was very close to our position and began to shoot.
Wanting to liquidate the German, Pinye Grin got up on one knee in order to get him from that position but at that moment he was hit in the forehead by a bullet and died. Yekhiel Yoselevtich, protected by a tree, tried to liquidate the German. At that moment, his wife Hadasa Yoselevitch, who was taking part in the ambush, grabbed him by the collar to make sure he lay down and she was wounded in her leg. Besides her, the well known machine gunner Khaim Slamke and the commander of the ambush were also wounded.
Under the cover of the left wing we removed the wounded and brought them to the forest. Retreating to the forest we were fired upon by the arriving German auxiliary form Rada Yavarska. On the way Khaim Slamke died. His last words were:
Comrades, I'm dying, take revenge on the German murderers and bury me in Mayak near the grave of Dr. Markus.
The remaining wounded were brought to the central partisan hospital under the direction of Dr. Miesnik. Thanks to his devoted help, the seriously wounded Sholem Gerling survived.
The Attack on the Zhaludke Garrison
A short time later we settled 3 kilometres from the village Demyanovtze.
The Barba detachment and the Lida detachment Voroshilov were given the task, with the help of the commander of the Polish police, to attack the Zhaludke garrison. This was the second half of May, 1943.
We were transported by boat over the Nieman and stopped ½ a kilometre from the Zhalduke estate where the leaders of the gendarme lived. We laid ambushes nearby in order to cut off the arrival of eventual help. A large group with automatics went to the estate.
The first guard placed there by the Pole let us in. As we approached the house the Germans detected us so we quickly broke into the first floor. With a hurricane of bullets we killed more than half of the Germans. The rest managed to run down in the house and defended themselves with hand grenades. We decide to set the estate on fire. We brought wood and kerosene with us and burned down the house together with the Germans. We took away many trophies: live inventory from the house: horses, cows and wagons of grain.
After, the ambushes tore into Zhaludek where they annihilated all the German accomplices who had escaped from the villages and were hiding in town. We took away all their possessions and left together with the Polish police commander.
We brought three German policemen alive to the forest. We later shot them. We locked up the Polish police commander and a few policemen in the camp where we checked out the new partisans before their acceptance into the detachment. However, after a short time (the White Poles broke off relations with the partisans), they used the opportunity to escape.
After this operation we began collecting shells. We removed the explosives and made mines. The following mechanics excelled in this work: Yisroel Busel from Zhetl and Borukh Levin frm Zholudek. They would prepare the mines themselves and then go and blow up trains. They belonged to a group of the most heroic, bold mine layers not just from among the Jews, but the Christians as well.
Later Borukh Levin moved to commander Garelik who had his base in the Nolibok forest. Eliyahu Kovensky left with him. They were among the best known mine layers and earned the title Heroes of the Soviet Union.
All this attention (in accordance with the commands from the centre) were given to diversion work: exploding trains, burning bridges, cutting telephone poles etc…
The Attack on the Nakrishok Garisson
The Nakrishok garrison was one of the most important strategically for the enemy and the partisans.
We tried a few times to destroy it, but without success. The attack we are talking about was done by the Barba detachment in April 1943.
We arrived at dawn in the vicinity of the Nakrishok garrison. We laid ambushes on the road which goes from Zhetl to Nakrishok. The ambushes were made by a Jewish platoon led by the commander Pantchenko.
The Germans managed to escape and barricaded themselves feeling very secure. Just as we were beginning to cheer the Germans opened a hurricane of fire from all types of weapons. At the same time, help arrived from the Zhetl garrison and they began a violent battle with the Jewish ambush. The ambush brought about the death of a few Germans.
During a second attack on the Nakrishok garrison we brought in an armoured car we had confiscated. The following mechanics excelled in fixing the armoured car: Yisroel Busel, Yisakhar Berman, Shloime Mnuskin and Yosef Kravietz. Due to lack of gas and ammunition we had to remove the armoured car from our battle. When we returned to camp we mined the armoured car in fear it would fall into the hands of the enemy. This resulted in a horrible event. One of the partisans, not knowing the car was mined, opened the door to remove discs for the machine gun. The armoured car exploded and the following partisans who were on guard duty were blown to pieces: Yosef Yudelevitch and Isar Likhter.
Anti Semitism in the Barba Detachment
At that time antiSemitism was growing in the Barba detachment. The leadership tried as much as they could to defame the Jewish partisans. Jews were being shot more and more for the smallest things. For example the two partisans, Avrom Magid and Avrom Blakhman were accused of making a bomb and because they took a few things they were sentenced to death. At the last minute before their sentence was carried out, Avrom Magid managed to escape the bullets. The second, Avrom Blakhman, dropped dead and was buried in the swamps. This was described to us exactly by Avrom Magid in a special story.
These anti Semitic incidents embittered us. A group of 25 partisans including: Leyzer Savitzky, Nyanye Shelubsky, Aron Gertzovsky, Alter Kagan, Shloime Goldshteyn, Leyzer Leybovitch, Itche Mankovitch, Khaye Magid and others who could not bear the anti Semitism, attempted to express their protest against these shameful deeds. One fine morning they left the forest with their weapons, leaving behind a letter for the political director Stefan Pietrovitch where they gave their reasons for leaving. They pointed out all the antiSemitic events and demanded the management fight such shameful stances. The group then joined the newly created detachment in Nolibok, the Ordzhenikizde Kirov Brigade.
The Ambush for the Partisan Tank
At the end of July 1943 we moved to a new camp not far from Ruda Lipitchanska and Zatchepish. This is where we began our plan to destroy the garrison in Ruda Yavarska, which was fortified with protective walls. To achieve this we began to refurbish the Russian tank we had confiscated. We mobilized mechanical specialists and had others worry about getting gasoline and batteries. Diversion work had been strengthening. The main task was to destroy the enemy's communication with the backcountry. Each company had its mine experts who were specialists in blowing up trains.
At the same time communication with the headquarters of the partisan movement was restricted. Airplanes began to arrive from Moscow which would throw down explosives, weapons, medication and literature. Partisans arrived who had been sent to the front lines or were parachuted down. They brought greetings from the back country and a lot of explosive materials for our partisans. The small group of trained mine specialists, together with the partisans from the local detachments (who knew the area well), created new detachments which specialized in diversion work.
In August 1943 an airplane from Moscow dropped a parachutist in our camp. She was a young member of the Komsomol who brought with her a lot of explosives and told us about life in the Soviet cities during the war years. The large quantity of explosives she brought was distributed among all the detachments. They mobilized all the partisans who were able to fight and each group was assigned a specific communication line they had to destroy.
The Jewish company also played an active role in this assignment. The destruction was supposed to take place throughout White Russia at the same time, two o'clock in the morning (Railroad War). The Jewish company carried out their assignment perfectly.
After the Railroad War, the work to refurbish the tank increased. This was known in all the neighbouring garrisons.
The local Germans were overcome with fear. They informed the higher authorities that a partisan attack was being prepared aided by a heavy tank. The Germans began to prepare ambushes to destroy the tank. In the first few days of September 1943 larger military divisions came to the garrisons in Ruda Yavarska, Zhetl, Deretchin and others. We began to prepare for the ambush.
On September 2nd 1943 Bulak's well known detachment carried out a large battle with the enemy at Shlizi Podgrebilna. They killed 40 policemen and took a lot of trophies. A few White Russian police prisoners at their interrogation, admitted that the ambush was because of the tank, but only with local forces.
On September 4th 1943 the reconnaissance team advised the Germans were approaching the forest from the direction of RudaLipitchanska. A day earlier, German spies were near the village Perekop near the Nieman. This is where the Jewish partisan Hirsh Robetz was killed along with a few Christian partisans.
On the morning of September 4th 1943 the border patrol of the partisans at Perekop was attacked. Two Jewish partisans were killed: Motl and Aron Kaminyetsky. These cousins were from Stutchin. The other two posted managed to break away from this predicament, ran to the detachment and informed them the Germans were approaching from all sides.
We sent the whole detachment out for ambushes. ¼ of a kilometre from RudaLipitchanska we placed mines on a bridge the Germans were supposed to cross. The ambush was set up on the edge of the forest very close to the highway.
Finally, we waited for our guests. The first to arrive was a motorcycle with three passengers. The ambush opened fire and shot them immediately. A second truck filled with Germans drove up to the bridge, however the mine did not explode. After a short battle the partisans retreated to the forest. In this battle both Jewish machine gunners were excellent: Dovid Likhter and Yosl Gershovsky. They fittingly inserted a few discs in the truck and killed a few dozen Germans.
The second company lay in ambush at another place. Later we all gathered at the headquarters of the brigade and together with other groups arrived at the shore of Shtchare where we found a portion of Bulok's detachment and together under the protection of the tank we crossed the Shtchare.
After crossing the Shtchare we removed the motor from the tank and mined it. Then we all ceded our places in order to arrive at the old camp of Bulok's detachment where we were going to rest for a day or two.
However, they did not let us rest. Already the next day we received an order to leave. During the day, for the second time we crossed the Shtchare near Tchorni Bur (Zelv district) and headed toward Slonim where Zaytzev's detachment was situated.
We rested during the day and at night we marched 40 50 kilometres. We moved through the regions of Slonim, Maytchet, Baranovitch, Polanka and later in the direction of Novogrudek. We had to cross a highway and some railway tracks but we did this safely.
When we arrived in the village Botchkevitch we sent out reconnaissance in the old region to learn what was going on. The first spies informed us the Germans had burned the village Moskoli and destroyed a few peasant farms which they suspected were protecting partisans. The main thing our spies told us was that there no longer were any Germans there. The brigade decided to return to the old region. After 11 days of marching through villages and forests we cut through the train line Yatzuki Lida.
On the 15th of October 1943 we arrived again in Lipitchanska forest. We settled into the camp not far from Ruda Lipitchanska, not far from the partisan airfield. Once again we began to organize, renewing the administration and erecting tents.
Revenge on Police Families
At that time, according to an order from Moscow, there was permission to take revenge on police families. Jewish partisans had been waiting for this moment for a long time as they had a large account to settle with them. We must realize that earlier such acts of revenge were forbidden and partisans were shot for taking these matters into their own hands.
In order for the police families not to know what was going on we decided to carry out all these acts of revenge in one night.
We were divided into groups of eight. Each group with its commander had to kill police families, burn their houses and confiscate their possessions. All the groups carried out their tasks perfectly.
However with one group there was a tragedy where the Jewish partisan Yehoshua Haydukovsky of blessed memory was killed by his own bullet. The commander of this exercise was Yitzkhak Kravetz from Zhetl.
When the partisans arrived in the village Khatki, 3 kilometres from Ruda Yavarska, and went to the police family, they were all so nervous about taking revenge on the bloody murderers, they forgot about certain military precautions. After they lined up the Christians to be shot there was a lot of screaming. When the commander Kravetz shot, the lights went out in the house and in the darkness the Jewish partisan was shot.
These shameful German accomplices behaved differently. They fell to the feet of the Jewish partisans begging and kissing their feet to let them live. They lost the heroism they displayed in the Jewish ghettos during the slaughter of helpless unarmed Jews. The Jewish partisans felt no pity for them. They remembered very well the time when their dearest cried and the police laughed cynically and sent the unfortunate to the graves.
We Fight the White Poles
Meanwhile we began to prepare for winter. We sent out groups of partisans to prepare huts and on the 11th of November 1943 we moved to our winter camp, 3 kilometres from the village Golubi where we organized provisions, baking ovens, a bath etc…
At that time, White Polish bandits were gaining strength on the other side of the Nieman. They would lie in wait for the partisans as they returned from diversion work and ambush them. In many respects they were as dangerous as the German garrisons, because we never knew where they were and who they were. During the day they were regular peasants, and at night they would carry out acts of revenge on Christians who provided protection for partisans and Jews. Many partisans and Jews were murdered by these White Poles.
During one such attack the partisan from the Barba detachment, Dovid Hirsh Mekel, the leader of the third company, was killed. This occurred during a farm operation in the village Zatshefitch near the Nieman. While everyone was resting the guard on duty noticed they were surrounding the village. He immediately gave
a signal with one shot and everyone except Dovid Mekel, with weapons in hand tore through.
The White Poles greatly restricted the movement of our partisans. The commanders of the Barba detachment with captain Davidov decided to destroy the Polish village where the headquarters of the White Poles was situated.
In the second half of November 1943 the entire detachment together with Davidov's group, armed with highly calibrated machine guns which were left on the left side of the Nieman, arrived in the Polish village Voltchki. Awe were met by fire of the White Poles who had been hiding. In accordance to an order we received from our commander we lay prepared for battle and a larger group went in the direction the bullets were coming from. We opened heavy fire during which time 10 White Poles were killed. We also did not spare the village.
The Jewish Company is Liquidated
At the beginning of 1944 a new detachment was created under the name of Krasna Gvardaysky, as a part of the Lenin Brigade. All detachments had to send some partisans to the new detachment. The anti Semitic commanders of Barba once again used the opportunity to get rid of Jewish partisans and gladly liquidated the third Jewish company. In their selection they did not even spare the old partisans who had participated in many praiseworthy actions in the detachment. Among those sent out were the former platoon commanders Yekhiel Yoselevitch, Sholem Gerling, Yoyne Medvedsky, Motl Gontdherovsky, Aron Leyzerovitch and others.
Comrade Shulman from the Vilna ghetto (a communist before the war) protested energetically against the way things were handled and showed how this was blatant anti Semitism. They arrested him, but he was later released. The protests did not help and all the Jews were sent to the Krasna Gvardaysky detachment.
It turned out to be a good thing for the Jewish partisans. The commander of Krasna Gvardaysky, Lieutenant Kolashayni did not discriminate according to race. He evaluated each partisan according to his fighting ability and accomplishments. This encouraged the Jewish partisans to fight, and many who were expelled and not allowed to fight in Barba, excelled and even received government recognition. For example: at the ambush set up not far from the German garrison in Mielkovitch.
The Ambush against the Mielkovitch Garrison
We received information that the police from the Mielkovitch garrison were setting up an ambush. Our partisans also set up an ambush ½ a kilometre from the German garrison.
Being close to their garrison the Germans were feeling secure. The partisan ambush was very close and opened a hurricane of fire where 15 Germans were killed. Then the detachment commander ordered us to chase the Germans who were running away. The first one to attack was the young partisan Khaim Shapransky from Zholudek. Shooting the escaping Germans he encouraged the other partisans by example. They totally destroyed this German group capturing many trophies, and taking 6 policemen alive. The other Jewish partisans played an active role in the ambush and the commander expressed his gratitude.
A New Enemy: The Vlasovtzes
The German military began changing their fighting methods with the partisans. The experience taught them they cannot destroy partisan camps with more forces. So they decided to create, from the Russian masses, folk traitors, the famous Vlasov Army. The Germans began to occupy the villages with these Vlasovtes and created garrisons near the partisan zones. This was a big blow to the partisan movement since it made diversion work more difficult as well as farm operations.
The Barba detachment carried out an attack on the Vlasov garrison in Zatcheptich but the Vlassovtzes already managed to fortify and the partisans had to retreat with small losses.
The large victories of the Red Army forced the Vlasovtzes to think about their future. A few of them began to make contact with the partisans, providing us with information. In the garrison on RudaYavarska there were a few policemen who connected with the commander of the Lenin detachment and helped us destroy the garrison.
At the end of April 1944 the entire Lenin detachment left on assignment. The guard of the enemy was
one of the police connected to us and he let us in. The Lenin detachment began immediately to fight. They threw grenades into one bunker and set fire to another. Two bunkers with 72 men surrendered.
The headquarter's Russian official who was supposed to occupy the German headquarters began the operation a bit late. During this time a German went out on the street to warn the other Germans who managed to run into the bunkers to open fire on us with machine guns. The commanders decided to take the bunkers at any price. Our partisans crawled to the opening of the bunker and threw in grenades. This was a life threatening job.
During this operation those who excelled were Yerakhmiel Likhter, the machine gunner from Zhetl, a young partisan from Deretchin and the brave young Shloimele Shifmanovitch form Zholudek. He crawled right up to the bunker, but was seriously injured and later died in hospital. In this assignment three Jews were killed and 5 injured. The attack was of great significance. It weakened the spirit of the German collaborators and things became calmer on the road to the forest.
The Last Ambush
In June, 1944 the enemy began its last big ambush against us. A few Vlasovtses searched for partisans where no human foot had walked. Our situation was hopeless.
The amount of wounded increased, we lacked ammunition and we hardly had any food. We began to eat dead horses as we could not undertake any farm operations.
We began to look for a way to break away from this tight ring and make our way to the Dubrovchin forests, but no success. Every attempt to break away resulted in many casualties. Our headquarters now commanded two detachments: Krasna Gvardaysky and Barba to break through the blocked roads back to the forest in order to evade attention of the enemy from the Dubrovchin forests. A few attempts ended without results.
Finally we received an order to break away at all cost. At night we approached the highway. Receiving a sign from a reconnaissance we all began to run forward. We were immediately fired upon by all types of weapons, but thanks to the plan of the spies (one was a Jew Nosn Funt), to shoot in the opposite direction, we diverted the enemy's attention which allowed the detachments to reach the other side of the highway.
At four o'clock in the morning we crossed the Podyavark small river and approached the old, former camp near Karshuk. 25 partisans died that day including the girls from Zhetl: Henie Gertzovsky, Miriam Levenbuk and Maliye Kravetz.
At this time Marshal Rakosovsky began a lightning speed attack on the White Russian front. This saved our situation after a long, difficult six week ambush. Individuals from the Vlasovstes began to retreat and we returned to our old camps.
We cannot describe the joy we felt at our meeting with the first swallows of the Red Army. Under a hail of bullets we kissed them. We were finally liberated!
800 Jews From Zhetl Escaped to the Forest
Dvoretzky's seed in the Zhetl ghetto did not fall on empty soil. Right after the second slaughter (August 6th 1942) over 800 Jews succeeded in leaving under the cover of night to the Lipitchanska forest.
It is clear, without the activity of Alter Dvoretzky and the Zhetl partisan organization so many Jews from Zhetl would not have been saved. The resistance organization prepared the Jews of Zhetl psychologically to join the partisans.
Excerpt from Jewish Participation in the Partisan Movement in Soviet Russia by Moishe Kaganovitch, p. 83.
by Eliyahu Kovensky, Petach Tikva
Translated by Janie Respitz
April 30th 1942 people were being sent to the left and right at the Zhetl cemetery. Everyone sensed the scent of death. We just did not know from which side it came: right or left.
The Germans took 1,800 men one kilometre from town. Here, the unfortunate Jews found prepared, large graves which the inhabitants of the village Kurfish dug during the night.
The Jews of Zhetl were shot in groups or twenty but there was no space for the last 60 men in the graves, so the Germans brought them back to Zhetl.
When they returned they told about the terrifying execution and how before dying Jews tore their hair out of their heads and Germans knocked out their teeth.
The air around the graves trembled with wailing and spasms. They told how one of the rabbis was standing and praying, reciting psalms and asking for his congregation. But seeing how Jews were being shot and thrown like slaughtered calves into the graves, with great rage he raised his hands to the sky and blasphemed the Almighty. With his last bit of strength he shouted:
This is Justice? This is our God of mercy and compassion? How did our congregation sin?Then he tore the hair from his head and beard and tore the shirt off his skin. The machine gun interrupted his bloodied screams. With clenched fists toward heaven his life ended and he fell into the grave.
About my uncle, Eliezer Kovensky, a happy clever man, among the most respected in town and my other uncle, Shmuel Kovensky, we were told, before they died, they drank a bottle of whisky which they took with them, said the confessional prayer lay down together and were shot together.
This terrifying execution lasted two hours. Those who remained returned to their houses without husbands, wives or children.
Barely a few months passed and the ghetto was surrounded again and once again the Jews had to go to the old cemetery.
My family and 50 other Jews hid in a bunker. However this time the Germans found us and led us to the marketplace.
I Lost my Wife and Child
At the marketplace we found 500 men, barefoot with their faces to the ground. They commanded us as well to remove our shoes and lie face down.
We lay like this for half an hour. Then they commanded us to stand up and walk to the graves.
The men parted from their wives and children with heart wrenching sobs. Some actually went mad. On the way to the graves we saw bloodied bodies lying in the gutters. The S.S. commander was standing on the edge of the road which led to the slaughter. I was among the few Jews they removed from the group. When they saw me they said:
A saddle maker! Come here!My wife and child hung on to me tightly and did not let me go. Suddenly a shot filled the air. They shot my wife she fell like a sheaf at my feet My son cried and begged:
Don't shoot me, I'm only eight and a half years old!A bullet ripped through his clothing as well. The hangmen threw me and 30 other men into a stall. Everyone else was shot at the graves. Peasants told us the soil moved for three days and blood did not cease to flow.
There were no Jews left alive in town. The hangmen sent me and 212 other Jews to Novogrudek where there were 4,000 Jews divided into work groups.
After one week I realized the camp was in despair. They were not feeding us and beatings were not spared. In the middle of the night 14 of us crawled through the barbed wire and escaped to the Zhetl forests.
We Arm Ourselves
When we escaped we only had one automatic pistol. During the day we lay in the forest and at night we left to look for bread and something with the bread.
We knew the area well and we knew which peasants had hidden Soviet weapons.
In the middle of the night we would wake a peasant from his sleep and force him to give us his weapons. Whoever refused had to take a shovel and dig his own grave
It is important to note that we received food easily but we had to fight for the weapons until children would beg their fathers with tears:
Give them your gun, if not, they will shoot you!This is how we all were armed. After 14 days in the forest we sent 5 men to make contact with the partisans.
At night we visited one of my peasant acquaintances and asked if partisans would come to the village. He showed me the way to the partisans.
We Join a Partisan Group
We followed the dirt roads deep into the forest. After trudging around for a few hours we found an armed Jewish patrol. When he saw us he aimed his gun at me.
Stop, Jew! I cried out. After I had seen so many slaughtered Jews, you are the first ready to shoot me with a bullet. I ask you, tell me, how can we reach your commander?I told him who I was and that's when he gave me the password for the commander.
Deep in the forest, sitting around a fire, there were a few hundred armed people, Jewish partisans, soldiers from the Red Army, and among them a commander, a Russian lieutenant. I introduced myself, told him where I was from and informed him I had 14 men with me, all armed.
I permit them to come here was his response.Two from our group returned to bring the remaining 9 friends.
Together with Dr. Atlas
Next to us a group of Jews from Deretchin were operating under the leadership of Dr. Atlas. They did not want to join us. They were well organized and carried out their battles independently.
One day Dr. Atlas came to us with another 5 men and suggested we blow up a bridge on the Nieman. Our commander agreed and sent me and another Zhetl Jew, Yitzkhak Medvedsky to help Dr. Atlas.
We pulled out shells from the river and dried them. Then we got hemp from the peasants and 6 bottles of turpentine and in the middle of the night left for the Bielitz Bridge.
As we approached the bridge we threw the German patrol into the water so he could get to know the roaches in the Nieman, and as we said the blessing for fire we set fire to the bridge.
Dr. Atlas was very pleased with our work. It did not take long for him to approach my commander to allow me to command one of his groups. My commander agreed and I took on my new post.
Coincidently, there were many Jews in the group from Kazlaytchine who were burning with the desire to seek revenge for their brother's blood.
We decided to run an operation. We gathered all the commanders in the forest and decided we had enough strength to attack the town.
At dawn, before the sun rose, we attacked Kazlaytchine and fought for 4 solid hours. The Germans put up a strong resistance. But we tore into the town, set fires on all sides and shot 30 German policemen.
The S.S chief that ran the slaughter in Zhetl was tied up and brought alive to the forest. We hung him from a tall tree, just like Haman. This is how the Jews from Kazlaytchine took revenge for their old rabbi who the murderers tied to a wagon, dragged around and buried alive.
The attack was led by the Russian lieutenant Bulat, who was missing a hand.
Meanwhile we received new greetings from the partisans. A large force was put together to build mud huts, and take care of getting cows, horses and a lot of weapons. A short time later we attacked Deretchin, surrounded it from all sides, set the houses on fire, shot and took many Germans prisoner.
The Death of Dr. Atlas
At the end of 1942 the Germans sent a giant force against us which surrounded the forest. We withstood bloody battles for three days. Many of us fell heroically, among them Dr. Atlas, the famous Jewish fighter and hero who did not know fear or danger.
He died in my arms. His last words before he died were:
Hang in there brothers, take revenge for the spilled blood of our misfortunate people!
We buried him on a hill in the forest. Giving him the last honours of a partisan we fenced his grave with shell cases.
Let the surviving partisans know and remember that here rest the bones of their commander, and perhaps one day he will have a Jewish burial?
Shoot, If I Deserve it
Realizing we could not oppose the German forces we took down our encirclement and left for the Slonim forests. Potatoes and peas were all we had to eat during the days of the siege. People were starving. The Russian commander sent people to bring food from the surrounding villages however they gave the Jews smaller portions. I sent people from my group to find food. On the way the Germans were shooting so they returned empty handed. Due to anger and bitterness I took my group back to the previous forest.
The next morning the angry head commander asked:
Who gave you permission to leave the brigade?Noticing two partisan girls without weapons he asked again:
My people are starving, therefore we can no longer be with you.
Where are your guns?The girls explained when they ran from the siege they threw down their weapons. With lightning speed the commander took his automatic off his shoulder and shot the girls. Then he aimed at me.
Shoot, I said,: if I deserve it. Putting down his automatic he said:We returned to the brigade.
You're right, you don't deserve it. Remember this time I forgive you.
A short time later a group of parachutists came from Moscow led by Captain Kovolov. This was a group of officers and soldiers that took over the running of the partisan movement. They demanded our commander give 4 people who were very skilled and knew the region's highways and railroads well.
My commander chose me as a guide. I joined the commando group where I carried out various operations. The Red Army crossed the White Russian border and within a few weeks we stopped the German trains from Minsk to Baranovitch. Under our leadership a partisan army of 70 thousand was assembled in the Nolibok forests.
This army ruled the entire region. They received weapons and explosives by airplane and sent the wounded to hospitals in Moscow.
I am Wounded
One beautiful bright day in 1943 a German division supported by tanks and aviation, seized the forest. We fought them for 15 days.
Being familiar with the area I excelled in many battles. As recognition I received a first rank partisan medal, the Red Star medal and the Fatherland War medal, second rank.
In 1944 they honoured me with the medal The Order of Lenin.
On January 19th 1944 in the battle behind Stolptzi, I was assigned to a tank group whose task was to blow up armoured German bunkers made of iron and cement. After a four hour battle we partially succeeded to finish off the bunkers. The Germans consolidated and responded with heavy fire. Then we received an order:
Enter the bunkers immediately with grenades!I succeeded in throwing in two grenades through a little window of the bunker where there were 18 Germans. They were all blown up.
Retreating quickly from the bunker, a bundle of bullets from another bunker cut off all the fingers from my right hand. In these fiery moments I jumped on my horse, I was a rider, and swam across the Nieman with a boot full of blood.
I arrived at a partisan aid station on the other side of the Nieman. There they bandaged my hand and sent me to another medic station.
The doctors explained they had to amputate my fingers but they did not have any narcotics. I practically broke my teeth from such pain. Then my friend came to me, the partisan Borukh Levin, shoved his fist in my mouth and said:
Bite my hand! Then he turned to the doctor and said: Cut![Page 394]
When things lightened up I was already at the airfield in the forest and flew by plane to Moscow.
I lay in various hospitals for 8 months. My hand was operated on a few times. As a hero of the Soviet Union I was well looked after with great devotion.
In Zhetl and in Volkovisk
When I recovered I returned to our old towns which had been liberated. However I did not find anyone, only graves. I returned with the few surviving partisans to Zhetl. We erected a monument in memory of our brothers and sisters who were annihilated and whose wails and screams, until today, still fill the air over their graves.
From Zhetl I went to the city where my best years flowed, where I got married and had the honour of becoming a father of dear children, in Volkovisk.
There I didn't even find graves. The honest and dear Jews of Volkovisk were burned, transformed into ashes in the ovens of Treblinka and Auschwitz. I wanted to fall to the ground and cry without stopping!
An acquaintance peasant, Boris Sharyako, met me and invited me to come in and sit down. Then he asked if I wanted to eat. I replied:
I'm full. In the name of our old friendship, give me a bit of ash.I covered my head with the ashes, went out on the street and sat on a stone. I sat Shiva (Jewish mourning period) for my wife and children and all the other dear, beloved Volkovisk Jews who will never return. The Christians looked at me with compassion.
So I said to them, Now it's good for you. The Jews are no longer here, now you are happy!They responded that they were innocent and they did not get involved.
There, where the sickle and hammer rules, it is still possible for a Jew to hold a small position, his life is not abandoned. However, after all the problems I said goodbye to everyone, took my backpack on my shoulders and went on my way. I passed through destroyed cities and towns, all without any Jews!
My feet took me toward the east, to the Alps, on my way to the Land of Israel.
by Azriel Shilovitsky, New York
(became Irving Shiloff upon immigration to US)
Translated by David Goldman
Around the 8th of August, 1942, 20 men appeared in the forest, the first refugees from the Zhetl slaughter. There was no food and every rustle made us nervous. It seemed, if we were found, our lives would end.
However, destitution teaches. We began slowly to go out at night and bring food from the nearby villages and began to adapt to our new life. The small advantage of the forest Jews, was they immediately understood they had to organize and collect weapons in order to provide food and in order not to remain unprotected.
The Organization of the Jewish Military Detachment
On August 20th 1942 the first group was organized in the forest near Ludzhitch. Hirshl Kaplinksy was chosen as commander. After dividing into groups of ten the commanders were: Yisroel Shilovitsky, Pinye Green and Sholem Ogulnik. We began immediately to organize these tens with military training and provided weapons.
Meanwhile, Jews from Zhetl who had escaped the camps in Novogrudek began to arrive. The groups grew. We received a lot of support from the Russian First Detachment in Lipitchansker Pushtche, under the leadership of Nikolai Vakhanin.
The influx of Jews in the forest rose with the arrival of Zhetl Jews from Dvoretz.
The Jewish detachment now had 200 Jewish boys and girls. We put up tents and camps. We already had almost enough weapons. Our group had 5 machine guns and rifles for everyone.
There were already about 600 partisans in the forest, besides 400 men who lived in small family groups not far from the detachment and each in his own way supported his family.
The groups created an autonomous region on the backs of the Germans and this was beneath their dignity. It went so far that we did not allow grain, potatoes or meat to reach Germans anywhere in the region of Zhetl and Kazlaychsin.
German patience exploded when partisans began to drag out weapons and artillery which the Russians abandoned when they retreated. Not far away was the White Russian village Valiye. The Christians in that village removed the weapons or showed the partisans where they were.
This is where the partisans in general and the Jews in particular made a living in weapons, especially, bullets. The Germans saw this and waited for the opportunity to take revenge.
The Rudeh Battle
In the heart of Pushche was the socalled partisan capital city the village of Rudoyovarske. There were many partisans all around the village including our Jewish detachment. The village was swarming with partisans.
The Germans knew very well what Rudeh meant to us and they actually prepared to capture our capital city and give a death blow to the partisan movement. They thought about installing a strong garrison in Rudeh which would control the roads and restrain our development.
We would receive news that the Germans and their servants, the Ukrainians and Belarusians, were preparing an offensive against our headquarters. This happened at the end of 1942. As usual, we were sitting in the forest near Palatka, each doing his own work. Some were cleaning weapons, some were sleeping as they were exhausted after completing a job such as: cutting telegraph poles, bringing weapons and food for themselves and the dozen horses. Others prepared food, sang, sewed and mended clothing and shoes. Suddenly, we heard from Rudoyovarkse violent shooting from machine guns. As always, at the time of an alarm we received the following order:
In five minutes be prepared to fight!
We immediately sent out an intelligence group to find out what happened. I was in this intelligence group.
With great effort, one behind the other, we headed in the direction of the shooting. No one spoke a word. We only heard the orders of our commander. We arrived at a small house, approximately 200 metres from the village. A peasant peeked out of the window. We called him out and asked what was happening and who was shooting. We learned that Germans and Ukrainians arrived at Rudeh and people were saying they wanted to install a post.
This is where we met the intelligence group of the Russian detachment led by Nikolai Vakhanin.
When we learned the news we returned to tell the leadership of our camp. The situation in our detachment became strained. Everyone understood that a battle would ensue the next day in order to chase out the Ukrainians.
The order for our detachment was: strengthen your posts and prepare dry food for the trip.
Meanwhile all the commanders of the detachments in Pushche were consulted: Hirshl Kaplinsky, Nikolai Vakhanin, the famous Bulak, for whom the whole world trembled, and it was decided that tomorrow, everyone jointly would chase out the enemy from the village. They also worked out an exact assault plan.
After releasing a communique about the joint assault, the moods were happy. We hoped we would win the battle.
The next day, very early in the morning, we marched to the battle field. Women and the elderly stayed behind in the camp. They remained dignified, they did not cry and wished well and said we would meet again after our victory. We went to the battle one after the other, and spent the night in a house, 250 metres from Rudeh, in order to begin the battle at dawn.
At exactly 6 o'clock the first sounds of the cannons echoed. This was the sign our assault must begin. Soon after shooting began from all types of weapons: cannons, automatic machine guns, which lasted 5 minutes. The assault stunned the enemy and they barely responded. Immediately we received this command:
Attack! We streamed into the village from all sides. Together with the stream of people, our only tank stormed in which belonged to Bulak. This was the culminating point. When the Ukrainians saw our tank they ran away. There was an extraordinary panic.
Dozens of dead and wounded Ukrainians lay on the streets who we had shot with great excitement. Out of the 160 men that were in Rudeh, 50 were killed, 12 were taken prisoner and the rest managed to escape.
The village celebrated with joy. We took some weapons and supplies which the Germans managed to bring in and left in the village. Upon our return to the detachment we were greeted with songs appropriate for the victors.
The Big Raid
After the great victory the Germans planned a raid which was to smash all the partisans.
The raid fell on us unexpectedly. Besides which at that time we did not have experience in open battle. Therefore the success was sad. The main problem was our spirits fell.
Our commander Hirshl Kaplinsky fell in this battle. It seemed our end had come. The Germans captured our camps and burned food and items.
The raid had a particularly bad effect on the socalled family groups who lost around 70 men, besides those who died from frozen feet and typhus.
After the Big Raid
The raid lasted for three weeks. Then the enemy withdrew from Pushche.
A few weeks passed. The partisans regrouped and began to reorganize but there had been great losses in weapons and artillery which we felt.
The Germans left us alone until the fall of 1943. Until then many changes took place in our partisan lives. Firstly, our Jewish detachment merged with the Russian detachment led by Nikolai Vakhanin. We began diversion work which greatly harmed the enemy. We blew up trains, bridges, made ambushes, attacked German garrisons, activated a tank which the partisans captured and due to this the Germans organized the raid on August 15 th 1943. This raid was not very big. Its goal was to destroy the tank.
We burned the tank ourselves in Pushche. We then returned and settled into a camp where we would remain until liberation.
From September 1 st 1943 until July 1944 we were busy with Russian traitors who ceded from Russia in fear of the Russian army. The Russian traitors' goal was to annihilate, although at the last minute, the partisans. They organized a big raid which lasted an entire month. This was the worst raid we experienced.
by Khane Mayevsky Klar (Cholon)
Translated by Janie Respitz
The end of October 1942. Lipitchanska forest. A frosty night. I lay on a pile of straw covered with a fur pelt. In the six weeks I had been in the detachment we changed our location three times. We built half winter huts. The work goes quickly. I am used to living in the forest. In the evening we gather around the fire and tell stories of our horrific experiences. Sometimes we sing quietly and sadly.
Female Typist at Headquarters
I go to work at the headquarters of the detachment. The commander Hirshl Kaplinsky tells me to type attestations which we give to the peasants as receipts for the food we take.
Vertilo, the leader of the Christian partisan detachment, calls me to work at his headquarters. I type notices for the October celebrations which will take place on the 78 of November. In the evening I go home. The same every day.
Unexpectedly the winter arrives, cruel with severe cold and snow. Some in our detachment are building earthen huts in the winter camp, large, comfortable completely underground so as to not feel the cold.
On November 12th 1942 Vertilo came to take me to work for a few days at his headquarters. They already have nice winter huts. So I will not feel alone, he introduces me to the Jews in his detachment.
I type a long command about uniting the two detachments, with exact lists according to companies, platoons. At night I am informed a large military force of 35,000 Germans and Ukrainians are concentrated in the forest.
The Big Raid
December 12th 1942. The guys left for ambushes. A battle takes place very close by. Artillery shots mixed with machine guns echo through the air. We sit in a wagon and ride: Vertilo, Dorosh, Dr. Miesnik, Feya the medic, the nurse from Leningrad and me. The canons are loud and seem to be quite near. The horse begins to gallop wildly and we turn over.
We run where our eyes take us. I ran after Dr. Miesnik. We reached the group of Minke and Yakov Senderovsky. All the roads to the detachment are occupied by Germans. We stay with them and hide in their caves.
Minke had a few potatoes and shared them. We also eat raw peas. We hear the shooting nearby. The surrounding farm houses are burning. This lasted for more than two weeks. The raid is not yet over but the shootings are less frequent. A group of our friends arrive including Yishayahu Levorontchik.
The rest of our detachment groups together in Nakrish forest. We go there. There sad news awaits us: many have been killed, our commander Hirshl Kaplinsky, Yudl Krugman, Sonia and Fruma Shilovitsky, Soreh Shulevitch, Dr. Garber and many more.
Many partisans have frozen feet and are despondent. There is talk that many women will be excluded from the detachment.
January 1943. We moved to Podyavorke, an island surrounded on all sides by swamps. I find myself in a platoon with Yoyne Medvetzky. Our hut is two stories, the only one of its kind in the detachment. It is extremely cold. We hardly have any clothes to change into. We have to share our bunks, my hands are covered in scabies, my feet with abscesses.
The hut is mixed, men and women together. One by one, when everyone is asleep, we rub our scabies with pitch ointment and dry them in the tin oven.
The straw on our beds is full of lice. Typhus is spreading. There is little food. At that time there was an attempt to get food by the partisan from the Lida detachment, Mayrim Dvoretzky, who was killed. Mayshke Mankovitch's hands were wounded badly and Soreh Alpert was tortured to death.
February 23, 1942, the day of the Red Army, 23 Ukrainians ran to us from the Zhetl garrison. They were still wearing Ukrainian uniforms. There was great joy. They were highly skilled in diversion work.
Yisroel Busel works with them and displays great heroism, destroying many trains until he is killed carrying out a diversion operation.
The beginning of March 1943. We moved to our summer camp near the village Krufitzi. The huts are nice, airy and on the ground surface.
Our detachment grew. We took back the girls which had been sent away after the raid.
March 8th 1943. They are preparing a second raid. People said whoever does not have a gun should remain in the camp. Many girls were kicked out of the detachment. A tragedy! We leave in the darkness of night.
After the village Gezgali we cross the train tracks on our backsides so as not to leave footprints.
We arrived at Kushelyevo near Novogrudek. A boy goes into the ghetto. I gave him a letter for my sister Peshke. After a few weeks of wandering we return to the forest.
May 1st 1943. There is a celebration and many of our comrades receive honorary distinctions. At this time the Nakrishk battle took place. There was a strong fortified German garrison. Moshke Senderovsky was killed.
In the middle of June the following were killed: Isar Likhter, Yosef Yudelevitch, and a Christian from Zatshepitch. Dovid Alpert was severely wounded.
July 1st 1943 a group goes to the Third Reich. A few of them return 10 days later. The following were killed: Yishayahu Levorontchik, Khonen Gonshor, Mendele, and Meir Rozhansky. No one even knows under what circumstances.
July 15th 1943. Our detachment is divided. A portion joined the Lenin Detachment. The commander of our third company is Panchenko. His assistant and commander of the first platoon is Sardak, a tall, barefoot guy with a long stick in his hand. He walks around with Pushkin's works and quotes him at every opportunity.
On the Eve of the Raid
End of August 1943
The socalled Railroad War is raging throughout White Russia. Our comrades are actively participating in this fight. Dozens of trains are blown up with the Germans, weapons and ammunition. We were extremely satisfied. On that day Hirsh Robetz and Hillel Levenbuk were killed.
September 4th 1943. We prepare for the raid. Our men prepare a successful ambush. A lot of Germans are killed. There is a decision to bury the typewriter as I cannot carry it. I took Yosef Mankovitch as a witness. In the event something happens to me, he will know the spot…
We continue to wander. We arrived at the Shchtara. We cross it by foot. The water is up to our chests. Someone almost drowned. On the other side of the river we divide into groups. We lit small fires and dried our things. During the day we rest. At night we walk 40 kilometres. It is pitch black. In the morning we arrive at the high mountains near Slonim.
September 18th 1943. After two weeks of wandering we return home. I dig up the typewriter, dry it, and return to work.
September 1943. The victory in Stalingrad affects us like a charm.
November 78 1943 the October celebrations begin. Many express their gratitude. The commander of our company Fantchenko was so drunk he almost shot me.
Some troops under the leadership of Captain Davidov, a Jew, set up beside us in the forest. I go into their headquarters. Their goal is: to fight the White Poles on the other side of the Nieman and in the Third Reich.
In December 1943 we moved to our winter camp. The headquarters of the brigade is near us. I go there often to see my uncle Yakov Dzhenchelsky. Before every raid he gives me boots.
We now have nice comfortable huts. In the other company there is an oven to bake bread, and in the first, a bath. Only the men wash there. The women wash in the hut. We hang a curtain in the corner, send everyone out and wash in a washtub with hot water. In the summer we wash outside.
In January 1944 a group of comrades went over to the newly founded Red Guards Detachment.
In the middle of January parachutists begin to arrive regularly from the other side of the front. They come night after night at the same time. They bring weapons and explosives for the brigade. The guys go out and lay ambushes for the train. The parachutists lodge near us.
In the evenings we arrange entertainment with them.
The two boys Aron Haydukovsky and Shloime Itzkovitch lay mines on the Lida Grodno train tracks. On their way back they are killed by the White Poles.
February 13th 1944. There is a celebration for the anniversary of the Red Army. I was happy to be included among those recognized for excellence: Partisan Medal 2nd Class, for dedication and precise work.
Recently I have been working a lot. First of all, reports told about the victories of the Red Army are written in hundreds of copies. Every battle is registered. There is also information distributed to the detachment and with the Christian villagers. We also prepare two weekly wall newspapers with exact lists of partisans who were killed.
May 1st 1944 there is a celebration. After the official celebration everyone continued to celebrate in his own way. Some danced the Kosatzka while others danced a tango or a waltz.
End of May. There is talk about a new raid. At night we often have battle drills. Food is scarce. One stormy June night all the men left on an ambush. The women guarded the camp. We were all together in the large hut of the third platoon. We change every few hours. It is thundering and lightning. It's pouring buckets. I felt the world was ending. In the morning all was calm. Our comrades returned safely.
The 15th of June 1944. We learn the forest is blockaded. Once again I bury the typewriter. We bury food and a few other things in a big hole. Everyone is nervous. German airplanes circle low over our heads. We prepare for battle. We send a Christian, Vasya, on reconnaissance. He does not return. A second goes. He too does not return. Whose turn would be next?
We were lucky to avoid the German raid. We received an order not to leave the forest. Given that the front is approaching we will have to help the Red Army. The forest is so blockaded it is impossible to leave.
The allies of the Germans are after us in the biggest swamps. We wander at night and their rockets light up the entire forest. On one such night the Soviet airplanes bomb the German garrison in the forest. A radio technician sits near our tent, receives information and transmits.
Once again we have courage and hope. In the morning we continue. It is more than three weeks. The emergency food is finished. A horse was standing in the marsh. We killed him and made lunch.
The Fate of the Women
The third platoon leaves on an assignment. Maliye Kravietz, Mirke Levenbuk and Lyuba Inderstheyn decide to join them. It is not a good time to separate from the platoon. I help Lyuba get ready. They leave quickly. This was their road to their death. They walked into a German ambush. The men managed to escape. The women fell into the hands of the murderers.
We take our last desperate steps. We decided to go to the Durbrovchin forest on the road to Kazlaytchine. However we have to pass the Slonim highway which is filled with German bunkers. We cross safely. We practically ran across the highway. For the first time in my life I feel pain in my heart. It stabs me and I cry against my will.
Our sister Hindke Mirsky gives me valerian drops and tells me to put cold water against my heart. Later we washed some laundry in lye from ashes. We dragged water from a kilometre away. Again I don't feel good. I started to cry. I don't tell anyone. Who would be interested? And who could help me? That same night we were shot at with artillery. We decided to return, taking the same road we came on.
We are led by Elye Glazkov. He ordered the women to go last. Each woman received a pail with a bit of food. Quiet, without saying a word the train moves on. Here we are, the last ones, we crossed the highway and entered the forest. Suddenly artillery fire opens on us. It's very dark. We run. I trip over a fallen tree, I fall and lose my pail. I look for it but I can't find it. I get up and all I see around me are shadows. I don't recognize anyone. I ran after the disappearing shadows. The shooting stops. We were lucky: the very tall trees in the forest protected us. There were no human losses.
And then the tragedy happened. As usual, in difficult times, they realized there were too many women. From company headquarters, without any reason, they abandon Henie Gertzovsky, Malke Smulevitch and a few Christian women.
From the second company they want to abandon Lyuba Yoselevitch and a Christian woman because they lost their pails. Lyuba tells me to bring her a pail from another group.
The commander from the Panchenko company knows I lost my pail. There were two more pails in our group and there was enough to cook our lean breakfast. But how do you pass such an opportunity and not teach a Jewish girl a lesson? They sent me to Commissar Kavyazin. He sends me back and says: Go Khanke to the company. Tell them I sent you.
I return to the company. Panchenko decides to punish me by not giving me food. No is no. When everyone sits down to eat I walk 200 metres away, I turn my back and sink into sad thoughts…
Later, when I looked at the place where everyone was sitting I noticed no one was there. They left and left me alone. Is this possible? Did Panchenko go against the commissar's decision? Will no one look for me? Where are my Jewish friends? I lay in the bushes and felt the hair on my temples was turning grey.
Suddenly I remembered that Abrashe Garber and Kokeh Zhukhovitsky went somewhere as liaison officers and will most certainly return. I calm myself saying I can go five days without food…
Three hours later Kokeh and Abrashe actually return. My joy is immense. They know where everyone is and we go to the detachment. I cry from joy and resentment.
The abandoned women are not with the detachment. The Christian women calmly returned to their villages. But our misfortunate Henie Gertzovsky and Malke Shmulevitch were caught by the German murderers at the Shchtare, brought to Zhetl and tortured to death.
From the Forest to the Front
The front was getting closer. The forest was filled with retreating Germans. We are milling flour with a hand mill in the first company. In the second company, Motke Zakraysky is baking bread for the detachment. And here, the last days before liberation, he was killed.
Vanya and I dig up the typewriter and once again I can earn my bread.
Retreating Germans march out of order. We take revenge on them for innocent spilled blood. They are thrown into the Shchtare.
Practically the entire detachment went to Zhetl. The Red Army is already there. A military division marches through the forest. Our leaders hand them over to the partisans. Everyone, except the highest leaders go to the front. All night I type battle characteristics for our friends. In the morning they return from Zhetl and inform us they are going to the front. There is no shortage of silent tears.
They are standing in formation. Everyone, the entire brigade. I wanted to scream, cry. After so much suffering, we have to separate again? One more look, one more smile, and they left.
I will repeat their final requests: Mayrim Galiansky asked me to take care of Mashe. Yoyne Brestovitsky asked me to send regards to Khane Layke (the women remained in Zhetl).
We return to our former home, Zhetl.
Three days later, July 18th 1944 the first of our partisans fell victim on the front. Among them are Dovid Likhter and Zaydl Finklshteyn. They were killed crossing the Svislatch River near the village Khomutovzky, in the Grodno region.
Zhetl Jews are wandering around. I feel I can't live without them. I cannot remain here where everything which is so dear and close to me is no longer.
I go with the current!
July 711 1944, all Zhetl partisans and family camps were liberated by the Red Army.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Dzyatlava, Belarus Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2022 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 08 Oct 2021 by JH