(From Yehuda Broinshtein's Letter to Reuven Melamed)
Translated from Hebrew by Corey Feuer and Yonatan Altman-Shafer
...Well done on your decision to commemorate our town Mizoch with a memorial book. You all are doing a great deed. I am not able to return to that period of horrors even in my thoughts, and to write memories means to return to and to relive those dark days -- days of nightmares, anxiety, and humiliation. I will deliver only a few impressions and some knowledge on the last two or three years of the life of the beloved Mizoch:
The Soviet Occupation
As everybody knows, the Soviets conquered Mizoch without war; when the Polish army was crushed at the hands of the Germans and Poland's fate was already determined, battalions of the Red Army entered eastern Polish territory and took western Ukraine and western Belarus with almost no resistance. Many of the Jewish refugees that had fled from the Germans to cities surrounding us did not return to their homes and their cities, which were under Hitler's rule, and stayed to live among us. Our town Mizoch contained 3,500 Jews; during the Soviet occupation, it contained 5,500 Jews. This large growth came thanks to the many refugees who settled among us. A great many of the refugees were arrested after some months, while they were sleeping, as was usual among the Soviets, and they were taken to Siberia in freight cars since they refused to accept Soviet citizenship. This heavy punishment that the poor refugees suffered, however, saved them in the end from a life in hell on earth during the days of Hitlerite control. And about 50 percent of them from death.
Mizoch shifted and changed until it was unrecognizable; the stores disappeared, commerce went dead, the residents wore gloom on their faces, and worry gnawed at their hearts.
All the Jews managed to get a job with the authorities. They did it not so much for the salary as for the sake of obtaining the coveted status of being a decent citizen
After efforts, I too got an accounting position at the sugar factory as a talisman against imprisonment and expulsion to Siberia.
The occupiers treated the Jews with much more trust than they treated the Ukrainians because while the latter dreamed of national independence that they would achieve with help from the Germans, the Jews far preferred the Soviet rule to the situation of war, and some of them preferred the Soviet control even to the collapsed Polish rule.
Little by little, all the Jews adapted to the situation and integrated into the new life of the town while the Ukrainians plotted and watched for Hitler. And here their dream became reality. Germany attacked Russia.
The Days of Horror Under the German Whip
It is easy to imagine the panic that arose among us as a result of the new war. Us Jews were shrouded in gloom and worry while the Ukrainians were rejoicing and happy because here comes Hitler, and not only is he releasing them from the rule they resent, but he is also bringing them national independence. After a little while, they were indeed convinced that they were deceived and that it did not even occur to Hitler to grant Ukraine independence. Hitler kept his promise to them, however, with regards to at least one thing: the Jews were left at their mercy, and they were allowed to participate fully in the Jews' destruction.
Immediately after the German entry into Mizoch, the Gentiles from the surrounding villages organized a massacre of Jews. At the head of the rioters stood Yarmaliuk from the village of Darman. Yarmaliuk, who was known to be a communist, and during the time of the Soviets was close to the leadership, apparently wanted to atone for this sin with Jewish blood. He wounded with his own hands with an ax his acquaintance Eli Shindelhoiz, who survived only by a miracle, and Chana Trochlier and some other Jews were murdered. Gershon Mossman, husband of Rachel Melamed, was gravely wounded in these pogroms. The joke of fate is such that we were then saved from horrible slaughter thanks to the Germans, who opened fire on the rioters and scattered them to the wind.
Leading the rioters did not save Yarmaliuk. His fellow Ukrainian nationalists remembered his collaboration with the Soviets and murdered him.
When things calmed down, the Jews buried their dead and washed the blood that had congealed, and the decrees and harassment started. The Christian that just yesterday and the day before would bow to you and who was your friend no longer recognized you, as if he was seeing you for the first time in his life. And those who in their hearts secretly opposed the persecution of the Jews and wished them well had to act like everyone else and demonstrate their hatred for Jews.
The Jews slowly, slowly lost their security and with that their dignity.
Poverty took its toll, morality declined, and division and suspicion amongst the Jews increased. We knew that in times of trouble and distress, unity increased among the Jews. Unfortunately, this time was different. You know, Reuven, of the terrible incident when Bernio Sannis's son-in-law snitched on Zayde Gelman that he slaughtered a cow in the ghetto and sold its meat to Jews. Bernio did it because he did not get his share from Zayde. Zayde was hung for his transgression in front of the whole community, and the snitch lived in the ghetto as if nothing happened. A similar incident happened in the Judenrat, which I will tell you about below.
The Judenrat was established by the Germans for the further exploitation and easier eradication of the Jews. They would collect all sorts of contributions for the Germans; gather clothes, furniture, jewelry, silver, and gold for them; and organize labor groups for them. In exchange for this, Germans would promise personal safety and comfort to the members of the Judenrat. Of course, after these duties were fulfilled, the Judenrat members were killed together with the rest of the Jews and sometimes in a crueler manner.
I will note with satisfaction that with us the Judenrat members did not lose their humanity and even kept their morality and righteousness. Of course, we also did not exactly have it easy with the Judenrat, but the relationship we had with the Judenrat was ideal in comparison to that of other places. The role of the Judenrat was not at all easy because on the one hand, they had to fulfill all of the Germans' wishes, and on the other hand, they did not want to harm the Jews. And this could not be done. But relatively, our Judenrat was okay.
The Judenrat was officially headed by Abba Shtivel. He was, however, too weak for the role, and so Melech Gusack managed virtually all matters. In the Judenrat were experienced politicos like Yonah Namirober and Mendel Dordick as well as some members from amongst the refugees.
When the time came to fulfill the Germans' demands for various items, the Jews of course did not want to part from their property. It was necessary to create a Jewish police force in order to prevent the activation of the Ukrainian police, and that is how the Judenrat turned into the lowest kind of hell. The members of the Jewish police believed, like their masters the Judenrat, that for their faithful service to the Germans, they would be saved from extermination. I must again note that we did not blame the Judenrat for taking advantage of their positions for their own self-interests, and I could testify that everything that was done at their hands was done out of the necessity of the bitter reality and was inevitable.
I blame them only for one thing -- for their criminally naive trust in the Germans. Seeing how they wiped out community after community, without leaving a trace behind,
still believing the Germans that promised them that Mizoch would stay standing if German orders were fulfilled to the letter
Moshe Rudman served as secretary of the Judenrat. His moral standards were always dubious, and he fit the role quite nicely. Over time, he wanted to be the Judenrat's final adjudicator, and when they denied him, he went to the Gestapo and informed on the Judenrat that they had betrayed the trust of the authorities; he informed the Gestapo that he had proof that the Judenrat had exempted the Rabbi from the requirement of handing over of his cloak to the Germans and that they themselves not only did not hand over their jackets but took for themselves those that were intended for the German army
For its part, the Judenrat blamed Rudman for the disturbance in order and for the incitement of the population against the Judenrat. The two charges were of course baseless and fundamentally lies, but they constituted a big danger to all of us. In the end, Rodman was incarcerated, and two days after, his wife and two children were also incarcerated. They were shot in the basement of the Ukrainian police, but the rumor went that they were transferred to the Zdolbuniv jail.
A testament of the extent of the helplessness and blindness of the Judenrat was the fact that: we knew that all the towns in our area were purified of Jews. In Dubno, Równe, Radzibilov, Rokovich, Ozerna, and other towns, not one Jew remained there. The Germans, however, managed to convince the Judenrat members of the fabrication that those Jews were wiped out because they had not followed the instructions of the authorities and had incited rebellion. The murderers wanted until the end to exploit the blood of the Jews, their strength, and their assets.
During the German occupation, I worked in the sugar factory as a roustabout. About a week before the day of the extermination, the boss of the sugar factory called me into his office (he was a Pole and had been a good acquaintance of mine for a long time) and told me that during his visit to the brick factory, which was administratively linked to the sugar factory, he noticed a motorcycle. While he stood and wondered about the motorcycle rider, he saw Otto the German gendarme inspecting the brick factory's pits. To his question as to what he could do for him, the gendarme replied that he received a command to determine whether one hundred thousand bricks, much needed for German construction, could be obtained here. The manager, suspicious of something, called the gebietkommissar [area commissioner], and the gebietkommissar answered that they did not at all have a need for bricks. He therefore, risking his life, informed me that the end was near and that what could still be saved should be saved.
I of course immediately relayed what the manager had said to the Judenrat. Without delay, they sent Hersch Goldbrenner from Biłgoraj, who represented the refugees in the Judenrat, to the Germans. He, who by the way was a good friend of mine, knew how to
behave with the Germans and was well received by them. Loaded with precious gifts and with lots of gold coins, he presented himself before the Germans.
He returned without the gifts but not quite calm. He of course did not mention the manager's name to the Germans; he only told them that the Ukrainians were bragging that the end was near and that it was even known to them that the brick factory's pits were chosen to serve as the mass graves for the community. The Germans answered him that this idea was born out of the Ukranians' own desires, and since they wanted our extinction, they fabricated it. In the end it was advised not to listen to the lies and to continue to work. Just in case, one of the Germans solemnly reiterated his promise that if matters were to be worsening, he would notify Goldbrenner a few weeks beforehand. Eventually, Goldbrenner became emboldened and said that the Ukrainians were even saying that he, the very same Otto who made the promise, was himself seen by the pits. Regarding this, the Germans did not reply with a single word.
This fact indeed saddened some of Judenrat, but they wanted to believe in the Germans' lies, and so they dismissed every warning. And so the day of extermination came about.
I have sat down a few times already to write something for the book, but I have failed. I hope you understand my state of mind and forgive me. I will always help you in other matters.
by Miriam Kashuk-Szprync
Translated from Hebrew by Corey Feuer
In the first days of Nazi control in Mizoch, life carried on as usual, and the Jews were hardly harmed. I remember that the mothers whose sons had fled with the retreating Soviet army cried and mourned, jealous of the mothers whose sons had stayed in Mizoch, as it seemed that things were not as bad as expected. My mother was one of these mourners. Her only son -- my brother Yitzhak -- wandered far away, to suffering and hardship, while others were living in Mizoch with their families safe and sound.
The quiet days, however, did not last. Already on the fourth day of German control of the town, we all realized how miserable we were. And it was just my luck that I happened to be among the first harmed. As ordered by the Ukrainian police, about two dozen of us girls, the prettiest and most educated of the town -- including the sisters Bella and Tzvia Trochlier, Eva Finkel, Mnucha Miller, Adla Fidelman, and two of the refugee girls whose names I forgot -- presented ourselves at the government offices. Our parents and loved ones of course parted from us with cries, prayers, and beating hearts.
When all of us were gathered, we were stood up in lines, and we marched in procession through the town streets. On the way, the police harassed us, abused us with the rudeness characteristic of the Ukrainian rioters, and tried to make love with us. We did not respond. We concluded amongst ourselves not to cry and not to plead with the rioters no matter what. We therefore marched in silence and sorrow without muttering a word. After going around the town three times, we were led to the hospital, which was at the time installed in the count Karwitzky's palace and was full of wounded Germans from the battlefront. They brought us into the laundry room and gave us piles of undergarments and clothes stained with smelly blood to be washed immediately. It was terrible and awful. But we worked and did not break. Only when Anton the policeman took with him one of our friends, a refugee girl, did we break. We did not see anything -- we only heard her terrifying screams from the adjacent room. When half an hour had passed, she returned, and he followed. She was as pale as whitewash and did not look at us. An oppressive silence prevailed in the laundry room. Anton walked out and she asked: Why aren't you asking anything? We continued to be quiet. There was no need to ask; everything was clear. Suddenly, she began to wail in an inhuman voice. She dropped face-first onto the floor and banged her head against the bricks. We all broke out into bitter crying and mourned our bitter fate.
At the memorial service, I was asked to tell of our lives in the ghetto, in the forest, and in hiding places, and to tell of the miracle of our rescue. But I have no more tears left in me and do not have strength to return to those terrible days.
I am no longer that cheerful girl that you, my fellow townsmen, knew and were acquainted with. I am already a mother to two daughters, a broken and destroyed person who has the period of the Holocaust imprinted in their flesh and blood. I cannot, however, refuse you and will tell you only a little about my life from the day of the ghetto's destruction in our town. I cannot recall everything, and there are many things I also do not want to remember. Before my eyes stands my old elderly 80-year-old grandmother, with her white hair unkempt, her face fiery, her skinny hands spread out to the sky, and she is praying to God: Master of the universe! I want to come to you. But please not by the hands of the murderers. I remember my parents and their parents, all of our loved ones, surrounded by the murderers, rushing and hurrying and seeking refuge. Screams and gunshots were heard. On the Ghetto's fence were already lying the corpses of those who had tried to flee. We resembled at that time mice looking for a hole to escape from the claws of a predatory cat. I hear my mother's voice, unforgettable: Manitchka, you are young, save yourself. My death will be made pleasant when I know that you are saved, I will go dancing to the pit if I do not see you there. And from that point on, I decided to live. I turn to my father to show me the path to Meizlitch's flour depot, where I worked all the time, and which was three houses away from ours', and where I was used to going month after month, every day. He does not know how to answer me, and I am confused. We all looked insane. Terror ran rampant and wives fought with their husbands, parents with their children, young people and old people. I was pushed as if by an unknown force to the fence and I jumped to the other side, not that far from the police officers that kept anyone from crossing over. But they did not notice me and that to me was a good sign. From a distance, I noticed Yakov Grossblatt and his relative from a nearby village. I approached them, and together we broke a board off from the wall of the flour depot and went inside. And there immediately arose the problem: and what next? Through the cracks of the walls, we saw death moving about in the form of the Gestapo men with big dogs. They all wore steel helmets with the symbol of death on them. Shooting machines are in their hands and everyone is dragging and beating Jews. We saw how they were dragging a mother with her baby who was found hiding between a pile of wood in the yard of the depot. We saw blood marks all over. We heard screams and gunshots, looked at each other, and were silent. Eventually, following Yakov's instruction, we all started to break off a floorboard, and the three of us crawled into the hole that was created. For three days and two nights, we lay motionless in that grave of a hole. I felt all my strength leaving me. I was suffocating. I begged the others in the pit to let me leave, but they refused, saying it would be better for us to be burned alive in the big fire that spread at that time through the town -- because the living Jews had lit their houses on fire before they were taken out to be executed-- than fall at the hands of the Germans. However, the Germans succeeded in controlling the burning and the fire did not reach
the mill. The Gestapo dogs wandered through the spacious yard of the mill, sniffing and sniffing but never finding us. And then the others acquiesced to my leaving the pit on the condition that if I were caught, I would not reveal the hideout. Stunned and shattered, barely able to stand up, I left the hole and managed to call the manager without anyone noticing. I had trust in him and revealed to him our secret. Under the pretext of closing the floor on which we were hiding, he came to take my companions out from the hole and gave us something to eat and drink. We were a terrible sight, and our situation was hopeless. He advised us to separate for our own good.
He directed the guys to Horvy village and decided to take me to a different village. On the way, he told me that he was bringing me to his sister under the condition that if I was found by the Germans, I would not reveal to them that I was helped by him. He walked a few meters ahead of me and led the way with a lit cigarette. That is how we reached his sister. I was there [with the sister] for two days, until the Germans announced heavy punishments for those who were hiding Jews. In the darkness of night, I was expelled from the house and reached the forest. To describe my life in the forest in hiding, my many encounters with death -- I will not be capable. Chills grip me even now to remember those days. I will tell only a few tragicomic incidents that, with. all their horror, put a bit of a smile on our faces. We once hid 11 Jews in a pit dug in a stable, below the living space of a large workhorse. The pit was covered in manure and its entrance was through a small, narrow lid which was always covered with manure and on top of that the horse. We breathed in the air from a few narrow cracks. During one of our sleepless nights, the ceiling suddenly collapsed, and the horse fell right on us. Its feet were in the pit and its body in the space above. We stayed without air and without the option to move. We were certain that this time the end of our suffering had come, and they would find us. In the pit were nine men and two women -- me and Senka, a cute teenager from nearby Varkovychi. However, this time as well the matter ended in fear. They rescued the horse and also removed us from the pit, and we were only forced to move to a different pit. We migrated to a new place and to a new pit. On the way, some among us met their merciful death, and among them was my companion in suffering and sorrow -- Senka. She was incredibly beautiful. Everyone who saw her was fond of her. She had two long braids, deep eyes full of sadness, a gorgeous figure, and a delicate face. Once, during our time in the pit that had collapsed, she fell gravely ill. She was always suffering from a headache and complaining of strong pains. Us doctors started to check her head and discovered the disease; her head was covered in wounds and in the wounds swarmed hundreds of lice We cut her braids, cleaned her, and she recovered. Later, after she had regained her strength, she was murdered. And she was only 17. Here I wish to mention the good and righteous man Yonah Firer, may God avenge his blood, who saved some Jews with his money and gave a slice of his bread to those who were hungry. I too made it this far
thanks to his helping me. May his memory be blessed, and his soul bound in the bundle of life.
The day of joy arrived. The Red Army expelled the Germans, and we went out into the light of day. How much did we hope for this day? How much did we wait and pray for it? And here it had come and we, how miserable we were, I -- of all of my extended family was left by myself and alone. Sick, broken, and penniless. I could not really walk. My friends carried me out from the pit, and with their help I practiced the art of walking. I made it to Mizoch. More accurately, the place where Mizoch once stood -- my beautiful and dear town. I came to say goodbye to the grave of the brothers of our martyrdom, to those youthful days of happiness that I once had there. I stood by the grave and saw a plot of land covered with fresh grass. But when I kept looking, it seemed to me like the ground was rising and I heard a voice crying softly, similar to the sound of my mother's cries. I tearfully choked up; my eyes cried on their own. Broken and exhausted, with a curse in my mouth, I ran away from the place forever.
Translated from Yiddish by Clair Padgett
From faraway Brazil he came to the land of Israel. He came with his brother Barukh, with whom he had lived through the horrific age of Hitler. He came so that he could get together with friends and relatives, introduce his wife, and meet new incoming family members. He had already long dreamed of a visit to the country. The various businesses of his had, however, not made this possible.
And here he sits at my work table. Slim, elegant, and well-dressed. He smokes without pausing and tells. His dark, penetrating eyes run around restlessly in their sockets. His hands and feet, all of his facial features work together to help him express clearly and distinctly what his speech alone is not capable of rendering.
For a while, I close my eyes and carry myself away with the memories of the remote past, to our beloved little shtetl, Mizoch. I picture him now: Dovid, he stands before my eyes a barefoot little boy: emaciated, but so lively. A slightly soot-blackened, clever little nose, sharp eyes, and always ready to earn a piece of candy. Before my closed eyes quickly pass countless images of daily life in Mizoch. The years run by, and Dovid stands before me as a fully grown young man. He works under his father in the photography business, immortalizing with the Leica apparatus countless peasants from the surrounding countryside. He yells orders at them, drills them, showers them with little Ukrainian jokes so that they laugh and the photo turns out to be a happy one.
I open my eyes again and the same Dovid sits before me. The same, yet so different; a skinny young man has become an enterprising adult. From a shtetl boy he grew into a man with an acute understanding of the world and its many disappointments. From a backward provincial to an interesting conversationalist. Only the eyes are the same. They are, however, much more restless than they used to be. This becomes especially apparent when he talks about the horrors he lived through in the ghetto and the forest. At these moments he relives that time, and it is as though I too am dragged into reliving it.
I remained at home when everyone was already concealed in the hideout. He takes another drag from his cigarette, thinks a little, and sits there a while. You remember Mamtsye Srolik's wife. In the ghetto she gave birth to another child and they lived together with us at my grandfather's house. The child was abandoned in that house during the chaos. I remained with the child until I saw the Ukrainian police coming. ?he child was sobbing and I barely managed to make it to uncle Shmuel's hideout. I couldn't even get in the hideout. It was disguised from the outside and if I tried to move everything out of the way I would endanger everyone inside. Before I got into the hideout in the attic I heard the police shoot the child. It became painfully quiet after the child's crying was silenced.
From the hideout we heard the Ukranians discovered my grandfather's hideout. My grandfather was already a very old man. Living in the ghetto had aged him even more and he had become blind. With glasses he could still see a little, but without them he was as helpless as a child. When the murderers found him and my grandmother, they began beating the old couple and broke grandfather's glasses. We heard how he pitifully begged them to give back his glasses and how the murderers beat and mocked him. He then asked my grandmother to give him a hand and lead him, since he couldn't see well enough to take a step. In powerless rage, Shmuel ripped his clothes and bit his fingers until they bled. Through his clenched teeth came a desperate cry and we were all pained with inconceivable sorrow until we heard my grandparents driven out of the house. The house that they had built and cared for, in which they had nursed children and grandchildren and hosted the parties, which had always been so bright, happy, and good.
That night, we crawled out of the hideout and approached the ghetto's fence. Two Ukrainian policemen were standing there armed with two rusty guns. We started begging them to let us through, but it was futile. They drove us away with ridicule and threats. Now, looking back, I see how senseless and stupid it was how we, around 30 young people, stood there and begged two murderers armed with two rusty guns. We could have easily run them off and been free. Instead of doing that, we ran back to our hideouts.
From an attic window, I saw how the murderers dragged Jewish infants from every corner and flung them into peasant wagons which stood ready by Finkle's drug store. The infants cried and screamed and the murderers laughed. It reminded me of the times we used to ship geese to the slaughterer. If anything, the geese were handled better. We were careful not to hurt them. These small Jewish children were thrown in wagons as geese right after slaughter…
I quietly knocked on the door of my father's hideout and gave the sign that I was one of us. My father came out and told me that my mother had lost her mind and was laughing uncontrollably. We cried good and hard together and parted ways.
At dawn the Ukrainians returned again with the Germans to rummage through the house. They looked into every hole, checked every corner. I heard the German policeman, a good friend of ours, shout angrily that he didn't see a single one of the Flitters at the collection point… We readied ourselves deeper in our holes and held our breath waiting for nightfall.
Together my brother Barukh and I knew all the paths and routes in our big house. We knew about every hidden passageway and cavity and that our photo-studio opened out into Rakovtchekhe's orchard.
As soon as I took my first step outside the ghetto, I felt freer. I became a completely different person. Something became lighter on my soul and I desired to live. Even more, I felt in myself a force to fight for my life.
With one sip he finished drinking his glass. He lit a fresh cigarette and became lost in thought. With half-closed eyes he sat and looked out at the distant past. You could see him relive every dramatic day. He stood up and began walking across the room . He finished smoking his cigarette, lit a fresh one, sat down and continued.
We were both very hungry. We had eaten next to nothing for several days. Soon we were in the Czech village Zalisie. We set out to find a Czech we knew to beg for a little bread.
Barukh stood outside while I went into the courtyard to beg for food. The Czech told me to wait in the barn while he went to get food. I did what he said. Then he dashed over and slammed the barn door shut. He began shouting Jew! I caught a Jew! Police!. His wife and neighbors begged him to let me free, but neither their begging or my desperate cries helped. The Czech only shouted louder and more vehemently: Police! Quick! I caught a Jew!
Barukh didn't skip a beat. He ran up and gave the Czech a good knock on the head. The Czech then struck at Barukh, and, fighting the Czech all the way, Barukh succeeded in reaching the barn, opening the door, and yelling Dovid, it's open - run!
In the middle of this the police arrived. Barukh saw them immediately and told me. I was able to go back in the barn and grab my coat and boots. When I came back out of the barn, the police were already coming close to us. We took off running like an arrow from a bow. The police shot after us, whistled, chased us, and we barely made it out of their hands.
Tired, hungry, but glad about our first victory in our fight to live, a Czech acquaintance of Barukh's who lived completely separated from the rest of the town. This Czech gave us food and drink and agreed to shelter us. However, we couldn't trust anyone anymore after the disaster with the other Czech we knew.
And so we set out on the road again. The road went back to Mizoch. Going to and from Mizoch we faced gangs of beaming peasants. They were content, weighed down with Jewish property. We boldly went on and pretended that we were with them.
The ash-tray was already over-full. Dovid ordered a strong coffee, wiped the sweat from his face, lit a cigarette from a new pack, and continued.
He told me the details of everything he lived through, all of the miracles of survival from when his life hung by a thread- it wasn't possible. Entire books could be written about the things in his head. I will record only the particular events that have become engraved on my memory.
One time we ran into a little old Jewish woman who must have been around 90 years old. When we asked her why she was running from the ghetto, she answered at a hundred and one it's all still the same, meaning that even hundred-year-olds have a will to live.
|The Flitter family - a picture from 1930|
The old woman was in hiding at a safehouse somewhere and came out now due to some danger or dire circumstance. We decided then that it wouldn't be bad for us to have a hideout somewhere, too. We took this seriously and with the help of a Czech we knew we made a hideout.
At night we would sneak around in search of food and during the day we would lay hidden. When we went in or out of the hideout, we would always wipe our footprints out of the snow so that nobody would find us.
The hideout wasn't even suitable for an animal, but we were happy to have a place to hide. After a few weeks of living in the hideout, in darkness, moisture, cold, and desperation, Barukh caught a terrible cold. He was so far gone that he couldn't speak. He wrote down that he was very ill. A heavy rain poured and we felt it in our hideout. The rain came in, flooding the floor and bed with water. We quickly fled the hideout and searched for shelter under thick trees.
We walked a few dozen meters and heard a thunderclap like a cannon. We went back in the direction of the sound and came to the hideout, which we had left minutes earlier. It was in shambles. If we had not abandoned it then, we would have been buried alive… another miracle. We then went to the Czech who had helped us build the hideout and told him everything. He took us into his house and began healing Borekh with warm compresses. We put warm compresses on him the entire night and he became better by morning.
From time to time we would run into Soviet partisans. All of our arguments and requests to join them were of no help. They demanded we give them weapons as a stipulation for joining. One time they ordered all the inhabitants of the village we were staying in to go inside their homes and not show their faces. Through the window we saw the Ukrainian police being disarmed by the partisans. The partisans sat down and ate with the police and they spent an entire day together. At night they got up and left at once and in the morning they came back with all of the weapons.
One evening when we were eating with a Czech we knew, the door opened and a group of Banderites came in. The leader demanded a room for himself. He shook everyone's hand and ours too. I soon recognized him as an old school friend. He, however, didn't recognize me. Afraid that he would, I left the room claiming I had something to take care of outside. In the yard there were plenty of Banderites, some of whom I recognized. They had also survived and lived to see the day when the Red Army arrived in the region. That was in January 1944.
Jan-u-ar-y nine-teen four-ty-four. For some long moments he sat there and was silent. It was clear that the memories from that time were causing him anxiety. I poured him another glass. He lit and began smoking a fresh cigarette. The sadness disappeared from his face and he continued with a smile.
You have to understand, my dear. No! You can't understand and feel what it means when I say 'we were free'. But we were also out of strength and exhausted, naked and barefoot, without relatives and without friends. Alone without a home and without a future. We both chose to enlist in the Red Army. There we would take revenge for everything and everyone. For the youth that was stolen from us, for the blood of our parents and all of our relatives, for our destroyed home and for all the suffering and tears. Secondly, we could bathe and have clean water, eat until we were full and rest soundly.
We presented ourselves to the recruitment officer to enlist . The major asked us multiple questions and eventually said that they were searching for the people who wanted to evade service. However, those that came voluntarily to the military would go into civilian service. Given that we were photographers by trade, he would find a way for us to use our profession for our benefit and theirs.
I got a suit instead of the usual clothes and put them on. However, when I went out in the street with the black, elegant suit, people laughed at me- and rightly so. I had to go back and change. At least in my dirty, torn up clothes I wasn't a laughingstock.
Our former partner, the Czech named Savulke, assisted us as much as he could.
In Mizoch we were quickly convinced that the world was only for the goyish thugs. All of the German accomplices, all of the Ukrainian lowlifes and antisemites held all of the important positions and offices under the new regime.
I went right away to the NKVD and spoke plainly. I pointed out all of the Banderites and Jew murderers to them and demanded that they be punished.
Matsiuk, the baker's wife, was known as a Jew hater by everybody. She was a big shot among the Jew killers during Hitler's occupation. The greatest thieves and bandits used to stand by while she instructed them who to rob. I discovered huge quantities of stolen Jewish goods in her cellar. Unfortunately, I was forced to let her have them, due to the antisemitism that ran rampant even after the Germans were defeated.
Such events quickly made me realise that it was impossible to get rid of all the antisemites. Even worse, I was convinced that my life was in danger. The Soviet security agency plainly and clearly informed me of that. The earth was truly burning under my feet. I became consumed by animosity and grief seeing how the world treated Jews. I went to Rovne and with luck began working as a photographer. Little by little, I cooled down.
Once, as I was walking in the neighborhood of the market in Rovne, I ran into one of the most relentless Jew murderers who had headed the Banderites in Mizoch. This model citizen was armed and accompanied by a group of Soviet officers and wore the badges of a Soviet partisan officer.
I walked right up to him and began yelling- how dare a Banderite like him desecrate a Soviet uniform. He didn't panic, but instead came at me with a stream of verbal abuse. His friends, the Soviet officers, quickly came to his side and began berating me, arguing that while he was fighting with them in the partisan ranks, I was hiding in Tashkent. The mob with him burst out laughing and voices were heard, in Hitler's own style, saying that no one should dare dishonor Ukrainian heroes.
The tallest officer in the group, a major, forcefully pushed me aside and with an admonishing voice told me that I should be more careful accusing partisans who he personally knew to be heroic fighters.
And you didn't have any other choice than to go along with it? I asked, throwing in a question. My Dovid became upset. It was apparent that my question had irritated him. He answered me with clenched fists:
Do you really think I was the same little Dovid that you once knew? I fell flat on the ground and screamed so loud that the partisans were frightened. I told the major that he was taking a great responsibility upon himself by sheltering a German spy who had handed over Soviet partisans to the Gestapo. I demanded he take us both to the police so that they could question both me and Orlov, the head of the NKVD in Mizoch.
Meanwhile, a large crowd was gathering. They were all eager to see how this would end. The partisans couldn't belittle my accusations on the spot to save the murderer. The Major then began arguing with me that perhaps I had made a mistake. It had been years, how could I recognize someone with such certainty? Secondly, it was a fact that the young man had been a Soviet partisan and he would testify himself that the young man used to fight among the partisans.
However, I was certain about his identity and I was determined that the murderer would not escape this time. He had too many Jewish lives on his conscience to go free. I then questioned the major and asked: comrade major, when did you meet the miscreant? When did he join your partisan regiment? Did you investigate his background before you took him into your detachment? Do you mean to say, comrade commander, that you took a dangerous liability when you defended such a criminal? I am convinced and responsible for everything I have said. I demand that we both be arrested until the hearing for my accusations.
Although the antisemitism was strong enough and everyone wanted to save the murderer from justice, it was, after all, very hard to ignore my accusation that he had handed Soviet partisans over to the Gestapo.
The military police arrived with the investigator. They soon called for me and put together an official report. The major temporarily let the murderer go free and said he would be responsible for him appearing in court and that I was obligated to appear as a witness and testify against him.
A few days later the major came to me in my studio, apologizing to me and asking that I not involve him in the matter. He asked me to say that the individual had changed sides after his career as a Banderite, and that I had of course recognized him. I began talking with the major, speaking very plainly. I told the major that I had no problem with him personally, and that if he didn't do everything in his power in order to save the miscreant, I would in turn make an effort to help him get out of the situation and would forget his conduct at the beginning. He then told me that the man had already been arrested and that he was sentenced to death. He thoroughly apologized for his conduct. He told me that he was a friend of the Jews and that he thought I had made a mistake, since the bandit had disguised himself well and was a brave partisan.
From my talk with the major, I discovered that the lowlife had joined the partisans once everyone saw that the war was being lost. The major had believed all of his stories and took him in as a partisan. He had advanced himself, and would have become a big shot among the Soviets if it weren't for me.
The major left and feverish days ensued for me. I had to look for witnesses, particularly among the Ukrainians against the criminal. This was not easy, since Banderites made people tremble with fear.
I knew that his friends and fellow antisemites would do everything possible to save him. I also knew that the accusation of murdering Jews wouldn't be enough to bring him to the gallows. That is why I stressed that he handed over Soviet partisans to the Gestapo. I brought enough witnesses, even among the Ukranians, who confirmed my accusations. He only confessed to killing Jews. He claimed that it was Soviet paratroopers that he had turned over to the Germans.
His guilt, however, was clear and demonstrable. He was sentenced to death and I was there at the execution.
Shortly after, we left Rovne and escaped the land that had absorbed so much Jewish blood.
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.
Mizoch, Ukraine Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2021 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 29 Aug 2021 by JH