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[Page 385]

My Brother, Dr. Kotel (Mordechai Zvi) Wlodowsky
(Based on the Collected Testimony of Meir Lustgarten at Yad Vashem, Record No. 03/1361)

By Chanan Wlodowsky

Donated by Rebecca Entwisle

My brother, Max (Mordechai Zvi) Wlodowsky (known by the nickname Kotel) was born in 1914 in Janów, Poland. He graduated with honours from the Tarbut Hebrew Gymnasia in Pinsk, and in April 1932, he went to Berlin to study medicine. When Hitler rose to power in 1933, he escaped to Italy with a group of Jewish students and there in Siena, he met one of the professors, who allowed him to live in one of his residences, and also gave him the opportunity to learn Italian. My brother managed to skip one university year and was accepted into the third study year at the Faculty of Medicine in Siena, from where he graduated in 1937. During his year as a medical practitioner in Italy, 1937–1938, he also studied and was ordained a rabbi, and became a certified shochet (Jewish ritual cattle/poultry slaughterer) and mohel (performer of circumcision). He did this to more easily gain entry to the United States, because at the time it was easier to get an entry visa as a rabbi, than as a doctor.

At the end of 1938, he returned home to Poland to say goodbye to us. Despite the Polish government's assurances that he would be granted a discharge from the army, my brother was recruited to the Polish army in March 1939 and, a few months later, he was appointed as an army doctor in the 61st Infantry Regiment in Bydgoszcz, where I was also serving, at the time.

When war broke out in September 1939, he was attached to the general staff. Two weeks later, we were separated, and for a long time I did not know what his fate was. It became clear to me that he had been captured by the Germans and was also employed by them as a doctor. When prisoner exchanges took place between Russia and Germany, my brother managed to infiltrate Russian–occupied territory together with a group of wounded prisoners.

During his time in the Janów Ghetto, he worked as a doctor, and was also directed the Christian Hospital for Infectious Diseases, located outside the ghetto. In addition, he worked at a general healthcare facility in the city and was private physician to the Lándwirt – German agricultural workers.

On the eve of the massacre, I had left the ghetto to meet with my brother at a suburban hospital. I wore a shirt with a red cross on the sleeve and managed to get as far as the hospital. In the meantime, my brother had returned home to the ghetto, apparently with the intention of taking me away from there, because the atmosphere in the ghetto, at the time, was uncertain. When he came into the ghetto, special Lándwirt delegation arrived to take him away, and by Lándwirt order, they arrested him and held him in jail in the municipality building, together with a few other Jews. It later became clear that this imprisonment was planned in order to save my brother and a group of other Jews (pharmacists and other doctors) from the massacre, which commenced that night. (At the same time, I was wandering in a white coat among the patients at the hospital, without revealing my identity to anyone, since my brother was the head physician there).

[Page 386]

A few days after the end of the activity in the ghetto, my brother returned to the hospital to continue his work together with another Jewish doctor (whose name I do not remember) who was also among those who had been arrested. One night, a disorganised band of Soviet partisans appeared and invited my brother to join them.

Meanwhile, the Germans had declared that any surviving Jews could return to the city and work in their professions, and that they would receive food and not be harmed. As a result of this announcement, tens of Jews returned and were admitted to the “small ghetto”, where they worked. When the contact was made between my brother and the partisans, he began to organise the Jews to join the partisans. A few days later, my brother was summoned by the Polish Mayor, a former close friend of my brother, Z”L. He warned my brother that someone had reported his activities for escape to the partisans. So, that was when we decided to leave and flee to the forest.

In the course of that day, we gathered all the medicines and some food at the hospital. We had two pistols, which we had got from my brother's German patients. Together with a few other people, whom my brother had previously hidden on the roof of the hospital building, we went left for the Wierchuszka Forest.

In the forest we met the partisans with whom we had contact. They transferred my brother and also me, thanks to my brother, to the Poslovsky Forests.

The other Jews who were with us were not accepted as partisans. This was a time when the partisans were getting organised into platoons. We joined the Lazar platoon of the Sviadania Kosorova, Molotov partisan brigade. In that platoon, there were already a few Jews from our city.

My brother worked as a doctor and I was in one of the combat groups. My brother organised a sanitary post for our platoon, and trained a team of nurses to care for the sick and the wounded. He also participated in combat operations. During one of operations, came face to face with his Lándwirt. On one occasion, the partisans received word that the Germans had gone out to the neighbouring villages to collect grain and food provisions from the farmers. The partisans ambushed the Germans, and a battle began. After an exchange of gunfire, the partisans attacked the Germans at the entrance to the village, and a face–to–face battle ensued. So, by chance, my brother came across one of the Lándwirt, who was wounded in this battle. He managed to exchange a few more words with him and finally sorted out his issues with him...

After a while, our platoon began organising a new one in the neighbouring forest, and my brother was sent there together with another group of partisans. When the new platoon was set up, it was given the name of Kutuzov Platoon, and after that, my brother remained there. So I said goodbye to him, but maintained contact with him.

[Page 387]

At the same time, I was sent, together with some of the partisans, as commander of an observation point near the border between the partisans and the Germans. It was a few kilometres away from the location of our platoon. There, I was with another 7 or 8 partisans, and it was our role to inform the general partisan organisation of everything happening in the area.

Occasionally, I would meet up with my brother, and he would come to visit me. In the autumn of 1943, my brother received an order summoning him to Moscow. He had to get to the partisan airport and to fly from there. The platoon accompanied him, and he had to get a weapon at the airport, also, in exchange for bread. Then, I had to bid farewell to my brother, who had come specially to tell me about it.

A few days later, some scouts came from another platoon. They were passing by my post, and they told me that the entire Kutuzov Platoon had run into a German ambush on the banks of the river, near the town of Stolin. The partisans ran to get across the river. My brother jumped into the river, but injured his shoulder while in the water and consequently, he drowned.

I should also mention that my brother had a bad relationship with the commander of the Walodka Platoon. Their relations worsened particularly as a result of my brother's repeated defence of the Jews and especially the Jewish girls, who often complained to my brother about their bad treatment by the commander. On one occasion, they even came to the point where, after a heated exchange, my brother pulled out his gun and threatened to kill the commander, if he did not stop his actions against the Jews. This aroused my suspicions, which will never be confirmed, that it was the commander's bullet that wounded my brother. Whether my brother died from an enemy bullet or that of his commander remains a mystery.


[Page 388]

Partisan Operation: The “Tongue” of a German
(Based on the Collected Testimony of Meir Lustgarten at Yad Vashem, Record No. 03/1361)

By Chanan Wlodowsky

Donated by Rebecca Entwisle

After I learned of my brother's death, I was overcome with despair and decided to end my life. I was in a state of shock. I did not know what was happening to me, I drank myself into a stupor and then, even tried to end my life (I took the gun, put it in my mouth, intending to kill myself). One of the partisans noticed, and forced the gun out of my mouth, and after that, the partisans began keeping a close eye on me. When I calmed down, I decided to take part in all the dangerous activities. I wanted to fall in battle.

At that time, I was commander of the border post. One day I was called to the headquarters, where I received an order to choose a team from among the partisans to conduct a dangerous and complicated operation, and to head their execution of the operations. We were charged with the task of bringing a German “tongue” to the partisan headquarters – this meant a live German soldier. I told the commander I wanted to participate personally in this operation. I selected a team of six from among the partisans. I did not tell them what the purpose of our operation was; only that they must obey all my instructions strictly. I warned them to refrain from drinking alcohol, and we set off. On the way. I went over my instructions again, and cautioned them that if anyone felt unwell and unfit to participate in this operation, he should return to headquarters. One partisan complained of a sore stomach, and I released him immediately and he went back to the platoon.

I arrived at the border post, where I had been in command up until this operation. From there, by night, we made our way to one of the “chotrim” (single outposts on open ground) located within the partisans' area of operation. One of our contacts lived at the outpost. We stayed the night there, and the whole of the next day. We fixed up a lookout point for ourselves in the attic of the house, to enable us to receive information from other contacts on what was happening on the other side, in the area under German control. We learned that the Germans would need to come, the following day, to outposts in the area, to collect (cover–story) contingency supplies of grain.

So I devised a plan of action. I decided that we needed to reach one of the outposts located at a distance of 500 meters (from the German headquarters) to set an ambush for the Germans and wait for them. We arrived on the scene after nightfall, and after warning the landlord that we would be required to help us with the operation on pain of certain death, otherwise, for him and family. I told him that there were hundreds of partisans in the area, and he must tell me everything he knew about the Germans. I told him I wanted to capture the Germans, when they came to collect supplies, and he must not say a word about this to anyone, not even his family.

With another, I selected a spot for myself in the basement near the house and I waited, secretly there. I positioned three more partisans a few dozen meters away in the attic of a barn on the main road, and they were to let me know if there was any danger.

[Page 389]

I should note that we were each armed with an automatic rifle, hand grenades and pistols. I gave instructions anyway. I said we should avoid firing, because that might tip off the Germans to bring in reinforcements. At 10 a.m., I heard the clicking of horses' hooves, and saw three Germans on horseback approaching the outpost where we were stationed. They got off their horses, and entered the building together with the landlord, who was waiting for them outside. In that instant, I saw one of the Germans retrace his steps, and the officer shouted after him: “Aber schnell!” (“But make it fast!”). I feared that the farmer might have informed on us and that the German had been sent back there to bring reinforcements. Therefore, I decided to advance our action plan. I leaped briefly into the house, and the other partisan followed after me. The two Germans were sitting at the table, and their rifles were hanging on the wall.

I shouted an order to them: “Hände hoch!” (Put your hands up!). The officer tried to grab the rifle, but anticipated him shoving the barrel of my automatic rifle against his chest, so they put their hands up. I confiscate the weapons from the Germans and gave the order to the three partisans to take the Germans with them and run with them towards the building from which we had started out.

Meanwhile, the other partisan and me took the Germans' horses, sat astride them and regained our group by the river.

When we arrived at the meeting place we took two carts from the farmers, we seated each of the Germans in a separate cart and quickly drove towards the partisan headquarters. I escorted them into the headquarters and handed them over to my superiors. After the interrogation, the Germans were handed over to me. I got rid of them with my own hands.

 

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