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.
by Tzile Zernitzky Yoselevsky (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Janie Respitz
The surrounding villages had already been blocked for a few days. The peasants told us there is a great concentration of German forces, Ukrainians and police. All the roads are cut off. The situation worsens from minute to minute.
Winter is in full force. It snows during the day and the nights are freezing cold. There were still no tents in the detachment. The armed comrades were more or less prepared for winter, some with boots and shoes, others with pelts and other warm things, but the majority were naked. The summer clothes we were wearing when we ran from the slaughter tore during the few months we were in the forest.
Our third company, one of the three companies in the Jewish detachment led by Hirshl Kaplinsky, stood between the first and second companies near the villages Ruda Yavarsky and Refitch. There was no lack of food. The famous Host Group'' provided meat and bread. The kitchen, supervised by the head cook Dvoyre Tinkovitzky, worked non stop. The large pots are cooked three times a day. Everyone had his job. Some fought and others hosted.
Suddenly something tore through the silence. There was a command: To the battle!
All the detachments in the forest left to fight the enemy. In our company 1215 remained, girls, the sick and the unarmed. The work in the kitchen intensified. We prepared lunch in good spirits as we were sure our comrades would return from battle victorious as had happened a few times before.
Although every finger was wrapped individually with rags, our hands froze and the knife out of habit cut the potatoes on its own. We tap our feet and sing a song. The bonfire is crackling and the soup with pieces of meat is bubbling. From time to time we glance in the direction from which our victors should return.
And suddenly, the sky lights up as if it is lightning, the air trembles, there is a shot. Very close by. We look around and hear a voice from a nearby tent. We are terrified. Another shot, even closer. A series of machine gun fire aimed at us and stop! Stop!'' They are shouting. They are shooting from all directions. We hear screams and heart wrenching sighs.
It is too late to do any reckoning. Our brains have stopped thinking. We begin to run disorientated, not knowing where to go. The forest is unfamiliar to me and I do not know the area, except for the bonfire and the half frozen potatoes. This is all I did in the 2 ½ months.
I see girls from other companies. Here is the road that leads to Karshuk's farmhouse. They are also shooting from that side. Germans everywhere.
Save me, Mother! Stop! Stop! I hear people scream. We ran along the road seeing dead bodies. Soreh Shmulevitch is already dead. A minute later the sisters Sonia and Frume Shilovitsky are also killed. Running beside me are Khane Gertzovsky, Muliye, her brother, Mirke Levenbuk, Khayke Savitzky (Magid) and Yudis Mashkovsky.
Realizing we could not cross the highway that would take us to our winter camp in the Nakrishk forest, we turned right, among the young birches near Karshuk, right near the main road which leads to Zhetl.
Everything is becoming more difficult, our feet no longer serve us, as if someone was pulling them back. We are sinking into the deep mud and snow. We tried to penetrate deeper into the marshes, and all five of us intertwined, like young birch trees, and each one hearing the other's heartbeat. The shooting does not stop. We hear screaming and the barking of bloodhounds.
It gets dark. The dark December night is lit up by rockets, projectiles and fires in the surrounding farmhouses. The dense shooting is mixed with cries and shouts from peasant women and children who the Germans are shooting near their homes for helping and collaborating with the partisans. We hear the creaking of wagons, the squealing of pigs, the bellowing of cows which were confiscated by the Germans.
Kids! Rub your feet! Mirke whispered constantly. During the day when the sun warmed up the ice in the marsh melted, but at night, in the cold our feet froze with the water. However we did not feel it. The one common thought
and feeling that dominated: not to be taken alive by the murderers.
We sat like this for three days and four nights, tortured by hunger, cold and danger. By the fourth night things calmed down. We decided to crawl out of the marsh and go to our old camp with the hope of finding surviving partisans. Holding each other, we heard whispering sounds from a distance. The assuredness that these were ours and not Germans gave us courage, and with our last bit of strength, we dragged ourselves to the camp.
We saw a white horse near the burnt kettles, which in the darkness looked like a ghost, moving and licking the ground. Beside him there were moving black shadows scraping the kettles. Who are they? People or ghosts? They were neither ghosts nor Germans. They were hungry, frightened Jews from the family groups near Mayak who came looking for food in the local kitchens.
Here, we actually found, in a non destroyed tent, a few armed partisans: Zelik Kroyer, Sholem Ogulnik, Veveh Kravetz and Shaul Savitsky of blessed memory. Our joy was interrupted by the sad news they shared with us: the German army withdrew two divisions from the front in order to eradicate the partisans. The surrounding villages were still blocked, all the farmhouses burned, the family groups were murdered, and the partisan groups chased away. There was no way out and no hope.
At that moment I did not think about the future. These people have to eat. We light a few fire sticks, it warms up and we feel it in our limbs. We fall asleep. But day breaks and we must leave this place. I wrap my feet again in the wet rags and then shoes, but I can't get my shoes on. My feet are swollen, my shoes are wet. There is no time to make a fuss, I see they are leaving. The situation is such that everyone worries about himself. Whoever can stand remains, without sentimentality or feelings.
Small groups form, no one tells the other where they are going. Everyone wants to be close to those who are armed.
I leave my shoes, wrap my feet in rags and try to follow them, not noticing that they are chasing me away, even threatening me with the butt of a gun.
We had not even crossed the first ice hole when dense shooting echoed in the forest.
The Germans attacked our camp. Those who had not managed to escape were killed.
We wandered for a few days and nights, often under a hail of bullets, until we arrived at the Nakrishk forest, where our winter camp was supposed to be ready. At that spot we found many partisans, Jews and Christians, exhausted from battle. Some had weapons other did not, beaten, with frozen feet, wounded, covered in lice, hungry and depressed. At that moment of disorganization and lack of discipline anti Semitism flared up with edicts, persecutions and victims. And on top of all this a typhus epidemic breaks out.
Approximately one kilometre from the camp was a family group with 50 60 Zhetl Jews. These were unarmed families, elderly people and small children. In calmer times they scrounge for food in the surrounding villages. Some reclaimed their hidden items from the peasants, others had acquaintances or children in the fighting groups who supported them. Now in the heat of the raid, they shared the same fate of all the partisans, to a certain extent, more terrifying and fearful.
Frozen and hungry I crawled to one of their tents from which the owners ran away. It was hard to notice it from outside as it was so well masked.
There are people inside sick with typhus. Where are you going? someone asked.
This did not interest me or scare me. Life and death stood in balance. What was important to me was to warm up my feet, which I could no longer feel. Perhaps I could also get a piece of bread?
I enter the tent through the little door and I'm standing in water. Darkness, dampness and the moaning of the sick is what welcomes me in the tent.
I'm overcome with fear. I feel like I've fallen into a live grave. Touching the wooden bunks I feel the difference between feet and clothing. I haven't seen anyone but they noticed me from the light when I opened the little door. Suddenly, someone grabs me and calls out my name. We both begin crying hysterically. We recognized each other: my little brother, the only one I had left from my whole family. He was saved in the last battle and was now battling typhus. His hands quickly fall hard, his cries
transform into heavy sighs and incomprehensible speech. He's burning with fever and loses consciousness.
The tragedy hardens me and gives me energy and courage. With the help of a thin ray of light I recognize a few other people on the bunk including Khane and Muliye.
Everyone is breathing heavily and rambling from the fever. Between the bunks and both walls, on a low plank of wood, someone is sitting like an iron statue, not moving. From the gasping and moaning one feels the angel of death is lying in wait for his prey.
This was the beginning of desperate, fearful days. No one opens the little door to bring good news, or medical aid. It's cold, dark and damp.
Khane, who got better, and I wet the lips of the weak and feverish with the filthy water that reached as high as the bunks. Every morning we removed the only covers, the pelts off everyone and tried to remove the countless lice. We would have had much better results if we had a fire but such a luxury was not possible. Two lonely helpless girls like us, without any tools could not possibly cut down trees for wood. We had to freeze in this dark cave.
Meanwhile the typhus epidemic controlled the entire forest. The amount of graves in our group, near the little Mayak, grew by the day. Little children without their parents wandered around swollen from hunger, frozen and in pain. Those with typhus were fighting death.
Sometimes, Jewish partisans returning from a task would toss bread or meat into the family camp. But this rarely happened. And you had to be able to actually catch anything.
Early in the morning, in a helpless state, typhus stopped me in my tracks with fever and unconsciousness and frozen feet. My fight to exist ended. I began a bitter terrifying battle between life and death.
The amount of inhabitants in the dark cave was dwindling. Some went to the detachment while others went to the family group. My brother who had a weapon with him was taken half sick back to his division.
There were three dying people in the tent waiting every day for inevitable death.
From time to time the little door would open and someone, without pity, would toss in a piece of bread, or a loaf, but no one could enjoy it, it was too late. The bread lay in the dirty water nourishing the worms and cockroaches.
Opening the cave, I would still recognize the statue in the corner, but this time, no longer breathing or sighing. This was Borukh Lipsky, a 16 year old boy. He died sitting quietly, with eyes half open, as if he still wanted to see our suffering. The boards of the bunk in the two corners held up his dead body in a sitting position not allowing it to fall into the filthy water.
Yosef Busel (Avreymche the blacksmith's son) lay beside me on the bunk. He came to the forest after the slaughter in Dvoretz. During the raid both of his feet froze. Finding this chaotic tent, he moved in. Worms ate his open wounds. He rotted away and this is where he breathed his last breath.
The horrible smell in the hole carried far on the surface of the earth. It was dangerous for people who came close to the place. I heard later from stories from friends that people would pass by daily to to see for themselves if there were still moans coming from the hole or if they should close the door for good and place a pile of sand in its place. This happened in the family group in Lapchinske where an entire tent died of typhus and the dead, in their bunks, found their mass grave.
Apparently miracles do happen. Such a miracle happened to me thanks to Mineh Senderovsky. If there are people who sacrifice their lives for another, Mineh Senderovsky is one.
Walking by one day she heard a cry from the House of Death. Paying no attention to the danger which faced her and her family, she came the next day with Hilye Zhukhovitsky and took me on a sled to their tent in another forest.
Thanks to her motherly devotion she succeeded, despite fate, to rescue me with force, from death.
My strength returned very slowly. In May 1943 I returned to the detachment.
by Yekhiel Yoselevitch (New York)
Translated by Janie Respitz
We were a group from Zhetl that set out on the road. However, when we examined the situation we realized if we went to Nolibok forest we would lose contact with Zhetl and would not be able to bring the kids over. So we decided instead to create a group that would go to the neighbouring Bork and Rahat forests.
The forest was not big but there was no other recourse because we could not go to Lipitchansk forest due to the event with Alter Dvoretzky. The Bork forest is near Dvoretz and from Dvoretz we can make contact with Zhetl. There was a large Jewish work camp in Dvoretz where people lived in better conditions than in the Zhetl ghetto.
Around July 15th 1942 I went with Shepsl Nakhmanovitch, Dovid Kantarovitch, Shloime Shifmanovitch, Shaul Shakhnovitch, Binyomin Yurush, Khaim Slamke, Frenkl and Sholem Ogulnik with 6 rifles to the Bork forest.
When we arrived in Bork forest we met 3 boys from Maytchet, including Moishe Daykhes, who ran away from the slaughter in Maytchet and thanks to a few guys with guns they succeeded in escaping the encirclement and getting to the nearby forest.
They also told us the surrounding Christians, led by the secretary of the township and his son, capture escaping Jews, rob them and hand them over to the gendarmerie.
After a brief consultation we decide to take revenge on the secretary and his family and at the same time convince the surrounding Christians there is a punishing hand for the murderers who spill Jewish blood.
On July 25th 1942 at 9 o'clock in the evening our group armed with 6 rifles, sticks and a litre of benzene set out for the secretary's house. By one o'clock in the morning the secretary's farmhouse was surrounded. Each window was guarded by two men and a gun waiting for my commands.
We sent comrade Daykhes to the window to ask for bread. We thought the secretary and his son would run out as they had always done to capture the unarmed Jews and turn them into the gendarmerie.
However, the proprietor this time felt the danger and his wife threw some bread out the window. Then Daykhes said he is not a dog and they should let him into their house. At this point the secretary and his son began shooting out the window from automatic guns. We were not afraid and responded with fire while Moishe Daykhes took the benzene and set the house on fire. From a distance, we did not stop shooting until the house was engulfed in flames.
Meanwhile the Maytchet garrison opened heavy fire on us. We retreated. The next day we learned from our contacts the secretary and his family died in the flames. The only one rescued was the five year old boy who the mother probably threw from the window when she was shot.
After this act of revenge I sent the following four comrades to Zhetl: Shepsl Nakhmanovitch, Dovid Kantarovitch, Shloime Shifmanovitch and Frenkl, to bring more friends and weapons which were in Yoyne Medvedsky's cellar. These listed men, except for Shloime Shimanovitch who remained with wounded feet one kilometre from Zhetl, were killed on August 6th, 1942 at four o'clock in the ghetto.
An hour later the Zhetl ghetto was surrounded by German military.
The three comrades led by Shepsl wanted to break through the barrier with stones and clubs (when they did not receive the weapons) not far from Mogilnitsky's gate. Dovid Kantarovitch was killed by a murderer's bullet. The brave 19 year old Shloime Busel also broke through the barrier with a pistol in hand. As he shot he tore through one but at the second he was shot. Shepsl was wounded in the stomach. He managed to stand up on his feet and shout with his last bit of strength:
Murderers, you will pay dearly for this spilled blood!
The murderers wrapped wires on a stick and beat his wounds until he died from pain. His last words were: Death to the murderers!
by Zavl Mordkovsky (New York)
Translated by Janie Respitz
I escaped from the camp in Novogrudek with Dovid Berman, Yenkl Mankovitch and his three sons: Moishe, Itche and Yosef. After three days of wandering through fields, not knowing where we were going, we arrived in Lipitchansky forest.
The first Jewish partisan we found was Sholem Ogulnik. He informed us that in order to be accepted into a partisan detachment we must have weapons.
We remained where we were and tried to acquire guns in order to join the detachment.
One day, walking through the forest we met a group of partisans from the detachment. They suggest we go with them to Faretch, a village where they produce whisky, to burn the rye depot, so they will give us guns.
When we arrived in the village they sent me with one other guy to scout the place. I learned that a large group of German soldiers arrived that day and fortified the village. I tell this to the commander and we decide to return to the depot where we received three guns. We were happy to leave and go join the Jewish partisan group.
On a winter night in 1942 we received an order from our commander, Hirshl Kaplinsky, to go to the Novoyelniye highway to destroy the telephone communications, cut down the posts and cut the telegraph wires. Nosn Funt was chosen as the leader. He was the nephew of Alter Dvoretzky. The others in the group were Zelik Grayer, Motke Haydukovsky, Yisroel Burda, Areleh Leyzerovitch, Leyzer Savitzky and me.
It was a very dark night. Our assignment had to be carried out near the village Maldutch. When we completed our diversion work we decide to enter the village and settle accounts with the village murderers, first and foremost the village magistrate, Matusevitch.
We had many accusations against him. He sent a Christian to Maytchik the baker to buy his scale. After the Christian paid him for his scale he came back with a German, demanded his money back and took the scale for free.
Saturday evening, when my uncle Borukh and I sat at Meir the tailor's in the small prayer house, Matusevitch came with a German and demanded glass for 16 windows from my uncle. Understandably, with the help of the German, he got what he wanted from my poor uncle.
Matusevitch also betrayed an entire Jewish family to the Germans. This happened right after the first slaughter. The carpenter Yirmiyahu Kravetzky built a house for Matusevitch and considered him a friend.
Hiding from slaughter in a cellar, he ran out with his family at night to Maldutch with the hope Matusevitch would hide them. When they arrive Matusevitch let them into his barn and promised to bring food. Instead of food he brought the German police who shot them all on the spot.
We walked into the village and asked where Matusevitch lived. We knocked on the door and after a few minutes nobody answered. Leyzer Savitsky noticed through the window someone was moving in the house. We barged into the house.
When I opened the door the light in the house shone on us. We saw the big Matusevitch standing beside us. We took him inside and asked him if he remembered sins he perpetrated against Zhetl Jews.
He did not deny he did all those things, but he claimed he was innocent. He said the Germans forced him to behave this way.
Nosn ordered him to come with us to headquarters. He began to argue. We tried to take him by force but we couldn't. He then began to scream like a wild man. We assessed the situation and realized we were only a few kilometres from Zhetl and his screams could be heard from far away. I loaded my gun, held it to his temple and shot. Matusevitch dropped dead.
This is how we took revenge on an enemy of Israel who helped the German murderers kill our brothers and sisters.
by Sholem Gerling (Ramat Gan)
Translated by Janie Respitz
It was September 1942. Two peasants informed our headquarters that 40 German trucks crossed the Nieman and surrounded the village Dubrovke.
The Germans, with their machine guns, drove the peasants into a few large barns, loaded all the possessions of the village onto trucks and crossed to the other side of the Nieman.
What was now going on, they did not know. They barely managed to escape. We understood this was a punishment for the village that helped the partisan movement.
The partisans went to help.
All of our weapons consisted of three cannons, one high caliber machine gun, around 1012 machine guns and rifles. There were about 250 people.
The day was hot, the road was sandy. The place was far, about 30 kilometres away. We rode there, two on one horse. Only the reconnaissance team of 35 were privileged to each ride on their own horse. The trip took five hours. When we arrive we saw the entire village was burning.
The reconnaissance team returned with information that the Germans were still in the village. However they had no details about their numbers or location as they did not meet any civilians in the area.
Without thinking too long we continued on closer to the enemy. In the lead were 40 men, all Jews led by the company commander Hirshl Kaplinsky. The situation was such that the group I was with was distanced from the remaining group.
Our group stopped at a sparse small forest on a hill. Upon receiving a certain signal we were to spread out and take our positions. However, before we could managed to carry out the order bullets came pouring down on us. We were so close to the enemy we heard the reloading of weapons, however it was impossible to go back.
In truth, we were not very afraid of the bullets because due to our proximity they fell beyond us. However, we were worried that at any moment they could surround us and that would be worse than meeting a bullet.
Lying near me were Sholem Ogulnik and Shaul Savitzky. A little further away were Yoyne Medvedtsky and Khaim Slamky. Our commander Hirshl Kaplinsky was far from us on the left. I quickly oriented myself and quietly gave the order: Fire!!
Luckily our artillery understood to open fire at that moment. The Germans were sure they were fighting against a large unit and began to retreat.
The shooting lasted 15 20 minutes. Later it became quiet. I crawled to the top of the hill to observe the area. I did not see anyone. We waited a bit then began to move forward. We arrived at the Nieman.
We gathered at the river bank with everyone we had lost during the sudden enemy fire. Hirshl Kaplinsky kissed us when he saw us. The same with Binyomin Yurish. They were sure we were killed.
Meanwhile we noticed a ferry on the other side of the river, probably used by the enemy to run away. Four of our comrades got into a half broken boat, rowed to the ferry and set it on fire.
We walked through the village. All of Dubrovke was burned. Among the embers and ashes from the burned stables we saw human bodies, peasant boots and burned feet.
We arrived too late…
The entire village, all the peasants and their families were killed in the flames.
We met our detachment behind the forest. The partisans were astonished that in such an open fight and overpowering enemy forces we all returned safely without casualties.
They shook our hands, kissed us and praised our boldness and cold bloodedness.
For a long time after the commanders used us as an example for the detachment.
Learn cold bloodedness and endurance from the Jewish detachment Orliansky!
by Lialeh Kalbshteyn Yakhas (Johannesburg)
Translated by Janie Respitz
After the second slaughter, when Zhetl had been cleansed of Jews, I left for the Ludzhit Forest. At night I would go to Christian acquaintances in the villages and ask for food.
One time I went with my mother Rokhl. It was late at night. The moon was shining, the stars sparkling and the snow squeaked under our feet. From a distance we saw the glimmer from Christian houses. We approached a small house and knocked on the door. The Christian opened the door for us. As always our first question was:
What's new in town?
The Christian tells us it is calm in town. There is no military. However the non Jews in town are saying a raid is being organized on the forests and bunkers have been built on the roads. We feel we are surrounded by two wolves that want to devour us.
The Christian gave us some grain and milk for those gravely ill in the forest. Another Christian gave us potatoes and flour. By the way he told us the same thing as the first Christian.
We take the bit of food and return home.
The question bothering us is: Will we eat this?
With sacks on our shoulders and quiet steps we approach our forest. The moon and stars have disappeared, dawn is breaking and our hearts are pounding from fear. Who knows what the day will bring?
On the highway we met a man wearing a black coat. We did not see his face. He was wearing a hood and his feet were bound with rags. It appeared he was going from town to the forest. This man made a bad impression on me and I told my mother he must be a spy.
We quickly crossed the highway. I stopped and looked in the direction of the stranger. He also stopped to see where we were going.
We continued. When we were in the forest I looked around. The covered man was not there, he disappeared.
Everyone was sitting around the tents waiting impatiently. I shared the sad news with them as well as our encounter on the highway. I threw off my boots and the wet rags from my feet and made a fire to warm up and cook something for the sick. I cooked the milk and went to feed the sick, Yente Riveh Gal and her uncle Kalman Savitsky, who were sitting on the hill. As I approached the hill German buttons and greatcoats flashed before my eyes. I shouted:
Germans! and ran.
Shooting began. Running out of strength I fell and remained lying under a bush. The sick were shot on the spot.
While lying under the shrub I saw how Mertche Gal, Yente Riveh's mother, came out of a hiding place talking to herself:
If Yente Riveh is gone, I don't want to live any more. She barely walked a few steps and they shot her. My only desire was: not to fall into the murderer's hands alive. I dragged myself until I was able to stand up and run.
I ran to a marsh with fallen trees and sat down to rest.
From time to time I heard shooting. Suddenly I heard someone crawling through the trees. I was sure it was a German murderer, but to my great joy it was my little brother Moishele.
We crawled together under a birch tree and spent the night. From there we went to Ludzhit forest where we knew the following fallen victims during the attack: Mikhal Rozovsky (Tuviya Idl's son), Yente Rive Gal, Mertche Gal and Kalman Savitsky.
That same night, after we buried the victims we returned to Lilpitchansky forest and continued our difficult struggle to exist.
by Shmule Mnuskin (Kfar Saba)
Translated by Janie Respitz
The few Jews saved from the second slaughter who escaped to the Lipitchansky forest organized a partisan group under the leadership of Hirshl Kaplinsky in the first days of August 1942. At first they did not have weapons, but the desire to take revenge on the murderers of our people and the need to defend themselves from a German assault forced us to think about where we could acquire weapons.
It was decided everyone had to figure out how to obtain a weapon and newcomers to the partisans must have a gun. As a result, many women, children and the elderly remained outside the detachment.
Those who were not organized and unarmed were called Semayns. They were mostly concentrated behind the partisan camps in order to benefit from their protection as well as their food.
Concentrating in one place risked being discovered by the enemy which could have, easily and quickly surrounded all of us. The unarmed and elderly had to spread out in small groups throughout the forest. Another looming danger were the Christian partisans who in masses romped through the forests often attacking and robbing them. There were incidents when defenceless women and children were attacked by the Christians who often raped young girls.
This situation did not last long. In time there was order and discipline among the organized partisans and such acts were severely punished.
As a result the food problem grew worse. During the day they lay hidden in the bunks, listening with perked up ears for approaching danger. At night, when a dead silence took over the forest, some would crawl out of hiding and leave for a piece of bread, a few potatoes or a glass of milk.
We Go Begging in the Villages
Many Jews had Christian acquaintances in the villages who would toss the hungry, ragged beggar a piece of bread or some black flour to cook. At first begging did not come easy to well off men and women, but with time we were forced to make peace with the concept.
And this is how they went, in the darkness of night through the forest roads and paths with a sack on their backs. Looking for ways to stay alive, women, children and the elderly, walked barefoot, shivering from cold with chattering teeth. The shadow of a tree and a tweet from a night bird frightened them. They avoided dirt roads and waded through plowed fields and swamps. The earth was soft and the bare feet would bang into a stone, often sharp, and suddenly it would feel warm between their toes…with careful steps, quietly, holding their breath, they would approach a peasant's house. A light tap on the window and a sleepy voice asked from the dark house:
Who's there? (In Russian)
A small window opens and a sleepy face looks out.
What do you want and why did you wake me up in the middle of the night? asks the angry peasant. He does not wait for an answer. He knows what the poor hungry person wants. He disappears immediately and a few minutes later returns with a piece of bread or a few potatoes in his hands. Some peasants did this out of pity, others, out of fear.
Sometimes we would come across a peasant we knew well. He would open his door for Jews. The peasant would light a kerosene lamp or a dry piece of kindling and a pleasant warmth would embrace the cold bodies. The peasant would roll some tobacco in a piece of newspaper and smoking the cigarette would warm and soothe the soul. The warmth of the house, the long wooden table with benches, and the smells of the evening supper awakened a longing for home. The heart gnaws and almost explodes with jealousy.
At times, the peasant would tell some happy news from the front providing a ray of hope.
Then, when there is a piece of cheese, a bottle of milk and a piece of bread in your sack, your feet feel lighter, the road seems shorter, and the weight on your shoulder, easier. You even allow yourself to sit under a tree and catch your breath.
The sky slowly becomes lighter, the stars are dimming. The forest is echoing with the songs of birds and the branches are swaying with the early morning breeze. A rabbit runs by pricking up its ears detecting a person. Frightened, it jumps away, leaving on the sand, small, dainty tracks. You want to shout:
Little rabbit, don't run away! We are persecuted by the same fate, hunters are lying in wait for us…
The sun rises in all its magnificence. A fragrant scent of resin fills the forest. The tired body inhales it and sleepiness takes over. The eyes stick…you fall asleep for a while, but suddenly, you are overcome with fear, you glance at your bag of food and remember someone is waiting for you with a trembling heart.
The First Raid
The first raid began in December 1942. Forty five thousand well armed Germans were removed from the front to fight the partisans. The battle lasted three days. When the partisans began to feel the lack of bullets the resistance was broken. The Jewish commander Hirshl Kaplinsky was wounded and later beastly murdered. The partisans spread out throughout all corners of the forest and the result was sad. Hundreds were wounded or killed. The store houses of ammunition and food were depleted. One by one the partisans, hungry and tattered, dragged themselves through the forests and marshes.
Those who suffered the most were the Semayns, those who were unorganized and unarmed who lived near the detachments. The murderers agitated the unarmed women and children, shooting them on the spot. During the attack the panic among this group was so great, as they ran from danger they ran into the hands of the Germans. The German newspapers wrote that hundreds of partisans were shot and the forest was strewn with corpses. Of course their losses were not stated.
This operation lasted a few weeks. Those who survived in the forest were starving. The filthy cold tents were rampant with typhus. Not having the necessary medication and suffering from hunger, people dropped like flies. The forest was filled with graves of those who avoided bullets, but not typhus. When everyone in one tent died, it was transformed into a communal grave.
It was a strong, angry winter. The epidemic stopped with the advent of spring. A freshness and happiness dominated the people in the forest. Detachments once again began to organize and rebuild the destroyed camps. Those unarmed were forbidden to live near the partisan camps. Now they had to hide in more dangerous places, like at the edge of the forest, near the roads. Every step the Germans made resulted in casualties.
At the beginning of the summer the Germans began to place police garrisons in all surrounding villages. This forced the unarmed, unaffiliated, to learn from mistakes after the first raid, and build well camouflaged hiding places.
The Last Raid
Our situation improved in the first months of 1944. We were more acclimatized and were more familiar with all the pros and cons of the forest. The food situation was also easier. Everyone now had their source for food. Spring was approaching. The berry bushes were blooming and the birds were singing. Who knows, perhaps they were songs of freedom for us, the chased and tormented.
Then we were informed the camps of German bloodthirsty murderers were besieging the forest. The peasants told us the Germans were threatening to rid the forest of the last partisan.
We began to prepare ourselves for difficult dangerous days. We began to build caves but food was still an issue. Nothing remained from the winter and going to a peasant was impossible. Dvoyre Gorodaysky and I tried to leave the forest a few times but the Germans opened fire on us from all sides and each time we had to turn back empty handed.
One quiet morning the reconnaissance informed us the raid was beginning.
My hiding place was almost completed, I just needed a door to close it up. With my last bit of strength I dragged over a few trees and placed them at the opening. My wife and I and our three children lay in the hole with pounding hearts
and held our breath. My sister in law Shayndl Mnuskin and her children, Khane the gentile, Rive Novoprutsky and Motl Dunetz were hiding in a cave not far from us. We lay there all day.
The sun set. It became quieter. My brother Shleymke and I stood under a tree and watched the bullets which flew over us like fireworks. According to where they were flying and landing, the Germans were not far from us.
It grew dark. We called the women and the children to come out of the cave. My wife lit a fire to cook a few potatoes and warm some water to freshen up our weakened hearts. I went to the people from Zhetl whose cave was half a kilometre from ours. When I arrived at their tent, no one was there. There was a frightening silence, as if everyone had sunk. I went to the cave and called out quietly:
Moishe! Moishe! Come out, it's me Mulke!
Suddenly I noticed, from behind a shrub, the blond disheveled hair of Moishe Abramovitch. After him, his brother Itche crawled out and one other. They stared at me with fear in their eyes and waited for me to say something comforting, or bring good news. I told them the Germans are half a kilometre from my cave and I'm afraid the children who range in age from 2 6 will cry and disclose our hiding place. I stayed with them for a half hour and returned to my family.
Upon my return I met a few people from Zhetl standing around a fire. They asked me what I was planning to do. They wanted to move to another place because there were too many footprints from living people. I told them it would be difficult for me to leave with small children.
You are all adults. Do what you feel is best.
We hid our few potatoes in a hole and the few pieces of bread behind a thick shrub and returned to our cave as day was breaking. The children were sleeping sweetly on the grass. They did not feel the mosquitos sucking their blood.
We went into the cave and masked the entrance with branches and grass. I lay down with the children and tried to sleep. I lay with my eyes open while thousands of thoughts ran through my mind.
My wife Yokheh asked me if it was day yet. I tried to lift the little door to our cave. Bright rays of light blinded me. Yes, it is day, probably around 10 o'clock. It is very quiet. We heard the loud noise of a motor. Trucks and tanks are driving through the forest. We hear frightful voices.
In the evening I crawl to my brother's cave. They are still sitting confined and apparently don't know the sun is already set. I called him out. He asks me:
How should I know? I was lying all day in a cave.
I surmised the Germans had besieged the forest and were driving around on the forest roads. When it was really dark we called the women and children to come out. Our nightlife started again. They prepared something to eat as well as food for the whole day.
People arrive from other tents. We discuss politics and what's happening on the front and try to prophesize. The Germans are only 500 metres from us. We can actually hear them talking. They continue to shoot and the bullets fly over our heads. But we are in the forest and are protected by the dense trees.
At dawn we return to our caves. It is impossible to breathe. The children are sweaty and itchy. The mosquitos and lice are eating their skin. The air is damp and heavy. Our new enemy are the conditions in the cave.
At dawn I crawl out and try to listen to the noises. It is quiet. I only hear the birds singing. I tell my wife and children to come out for some fresh air. Who knows how much longer we will be tormented?
I consulted with my brother Shleymke. My opinion is that we must change our location. We are too close to the road and the Germans will most certainly come here.
We Search for a Better Place
It is calm and quiet in the forest. We decided to look for a better place. Tzviya Lantzevitsky, Khane the gentile, Moishe Abramovitch and Motl Dunetz went with us. On the way we picked some berries and were happy to find the first mushrooms. I noticed a newspaper beside a bush. I picked it up and my eyes quickly scanned the German lines. It was dated just a few days before. We were quite sure Germans had been at that spot. I took the paper with me. It could be used to roll a cigarette.
We soon crawl closer toward the edge of the forest. Suddenly we hear shooting from artillery. We notice the bullets are headed toward the Lida detachment.
We did not understand the reason for the shooting as we knew the Lida detachment had left long ago.
We decided to return to our tents. Suddenly we heard singing from a distance. Was it a drunk group of partisans? Who knew?
We were not far from our tents. I sat down for a minute. Then I saw my friends running. I stood up and saw three standing with guns. Instinctively I began to run. I ran to the left, they shot. I ran to the right, they shot. My brother Shleymke and the others ran to the right. I understood we were surrounded.
I caught up to my brother and the group. As we ran we decided, not far from where we were there was a Jewish cave and we must run there. We are anxious about the women and children. We left them at the surface, they should at least know how to cover up the opening.
We ran to the cave, we looked for the door. We whispered quietly for them to open the door and let us in.
However, no one answered, and the shooting was getting closer and closer. Finally we managed to open the door. We crawled into the cave.
We saw 18 people sitting pressed together and afraid. We told them what brought us. They were not happy we were there. Maybe the cave will be discovered. Maybe the Germans followed our footsteps.
By evening things were a bit calmer. We lifted the door and crawled out. We hurry to our wives and children. At first we crawled on all four but slowly we stood up. It was calm and quiet. My brother Shleymke walked behind me.
We were approaching our tents. There was smoke winding behind the trees. My heart was jumping from fear for the fate of our loved ones.
We crawled on our knees. Perhaps the Germans were still there waiting for human skeletons to crawl out of the caves. I crawled to the cave and called out:
I heard a reply. I could not believe it. Yokheh crawled out of the hole. We fell into each other's arms and cried from joy. She told me that right after we left they decided to return to the cave because they were afraid to remain alone. The Germans had come to the tents and were close to the cave. Luckily they did not notice our tracks. Before they left, they set the tents on fire.
On that day many Jews from the family groups in the corners of the forest were killed.
Heroic Dates in the Battles of Zhetl's Partisans
August 20, 1942 the first Jewish detachment was organized.
December 12 1942 the first big raid against the partisans.
June 7 1944 the second large raid against the partisans.
July 7 1944 the partisans from Zhetl were liberated.
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