(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, Rףwne, 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.
|The train station in Mizoch|
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.
by Ida Eisengart-Pliter
Translated from Hebrew by Eiden Harel Brewer, Noa Etzyon and Ofir Horovitz
Hey, you! Where are you? Do you hear me? The dawn is breaking and you need to scram! I heard- and oh how I heard. I hadn't slept, and it was so warm in the pile of hay. It was so nice and safe until…
You must escape! Escape where? Where would I go? Is there a place for me under the sun?
The voice continues and increases in agitation! Come on, where are you? I can't have them see you here. Take some bread for the road and get out of here right now.
I left my hiding spot, wrapping myself with the scarf that I got from a woman farmer in exchange for my Jewish sweater, I took the bread and left the silo. Darkness still ruled the universe, and I took off without being seen. To try my luck with another farmer, that might let me hide at his place for a day or twoI couldn't. Everyone was sleeping deeply. If I try to wake someone from their sleep, I'm prone to wake their anger and frustration and then… and the moments crawled on like forever.
I entered the yard next door and tried to dig myself into a pile of hay that stood and seemingly waited for me. The dog burst out and barked so loud that it woke his owners.
A light turned on inside the house and two farmers came out with axes in their hands. Who's there? they called angrily.
I'm begging you, I answered, throat saturated with tears-- don't you also have children----
Don't come any closer, one of them yelled at me. Don't come any closer! I'll cut you into pieces! he added as a response to my begging. I noticed the other disappeared in darkness and I realized that he went to alert the police against a dangerous criminal like me. Every precious second, every little delay was bound to be fateful. Hidden by the darkness, I ran for my life from Kunyn Village. I just couldn't understand why the murderer yelled don't come closer. Was he really so afraid I would kill him?
I ran with all my might and tried to get as far away from the dangerous zone as I could at maximum speed. At dawn I arrived at a new place and hid in the first hut I saw on my way. I will never forget the owner of that hut for as long as I live and will always remember her with warmth. She was a lonely old woman with a heart of gold and a sensitive soul. She made room for me in the compartment above her stove, fed me and was ready to help me. She spoke to me in almost a whisper because the wall of her hut bordered that of her greedy and swindling son, and it's a miracle she survived his murderous hands. While she was away from her home, he tended to enter through a covered passageway to the hut and steal all that he could. She tried not to leave me alone - for, if the son discovered me, we were both doomed. It was good for me to stay with her. It was warm above the stove, quiet and safe.
A few days later, the old woman was forced to leave me alone for a few hours. Her son was aware of her absence, and he entered the hut through the covered passageway. Obviously, he immediately saw me and was no less startled than I was. Once he recovered, he asked me to not tell his mother about his intrusion into the cabin, and promised me help whenever I may need it in return.
Once the old woman returned, I told her everything and she agreed to let me stay one more day. The night passed by full of mental torture and negative thoughts, and only once the sun rose, the old woman headed to the city. That's when I got off the stove to stretch my body and take a peek outside the window. The worrying thoughts of tomorrow continued to intrude. I got back onto the stove and started to think. At noon I got off the stove and looked outside once again, and immediately felt a weird movement. And then - oh no, what a sight! Three German Gendarmes are walking towards the hut. I froze and was scared out of my wits.
|Public meeting in front of Dom Strzelecki (Shooting House) in Mizoch|
A hand touched the door and I could already feel death creeping upon me. But then I hear a voice saying: not here. Not here. His mother is here. The entrance to his hut is on the other side. Immediately I heard noise and conversation from the other side of the wall. Then followed the weeping of a woman and children but it quickly turned to silence. The noise stopped, the screams stopped and a threatening silence lurked. It was hard for me to believe that they hadn't meant me and that I had been forgotten.
By nightfall, the old woman came back and she explained it all; her son belonged to the Banderites and believed that the Germans would grant independence to Ukraine. When his hopes proved to be in vain, he began to hate the Germans. He once said what was in his heart in front of a large audience in Mizoch when he was drunk and later forgot about it. And in time, he got his punishment from the German police.
I remained at the old woman's house. Indeed, I never forgot that her son was likely going to reveal to the Germans that I was at his mother's house, but the woman's resilience and her good spirits kept me in place.
One day, I saw what I didn't hope to see. It was in the early morning, I was sleeping deeply when I was awoken by the old woman yelling, Run for your life. We're all burning!
I ran outside and from fragmented, nervous sentences I started to understand. In response to the murder of three German soldiers, the Germans invaded the village, ordered all the men into one of the big cowsheds, and burnt it together with all the people. In the meantime, I mingled with the crowd and turned into one of them. I managed to see the Ukrainian murderers, who were thirsty for Jewish blood and who were happy when the Germans abused and killed Jews, now being chased and burned by their German friends. All of a sudden, a decision was made in my head: Ida does not exist anymore. From now on, I am a young Ukrainian woman named Lida. I am from a Polish-Ukrainian village whose inhabitants were punished by the Germans in the same way as the people from the village Kunyn, just to live and I will still have days of vengeance on all the people who hate Israel and in order to curse the Germans with Hitler in command. Just to live!
I arrived at a Czech town in the area of Zdolbuniv. They were in need of working hands, and I was gladly accepted. After a couple days of work, I felt like they were paying too much attention to me… I also heard the man of the house saying to his wife, She speaks Ukrainian like a Ukrainian from birth, but that face… who knows? I didn't wait to see what would happen and I ran away to a different place. Here, the first farmer I turned to for work asked me why I lit a match like a Jew.
Another said there is no way I am who I say I am, and nonetheless they want to help me, but surely, I know the current situation they are in now. And I knew very well in what situation we were in!
Only when the harvest time came and they lacked helping hands was I able to get a job from a Czech man and played my part there for a while.
Then came a cold wintry day. I worked in a potato picking field. The two little girls of the Czech man I worked for ran towards me in excitement.
Lida, they yelled. Two nice men, with guns on their shoulders, came and asked for you. My heart felt like it stopped beating. I felt like giving up and thought: maybe now I really should end my dog-like life? Winter is approaching. Running away from here to another place will not be easy. I won't be able to get a job. And even so… the girls are urging me to come to the guys.
Once I recovered, I told the girls: these guys are good acquaintances of mine. Go fast because I'm coming right away. I'll just gather my belongings and brush my hair.
The girls left and I faced towards my home. I didn't take the main route but rather went by way of the fields with the intention of reaching the forest that bordered the house. Running away to a different place hadn't even crossed my mind then. I thought that I'd get to the forest that borders the house and there decide what to say and how to act towards the murderers. I arrived at the garden that bordered the forest and saw my friends that came to visit me. They sat beneath a nut tree and snacked on some fresh nuts. They sat, ate and enjoyed themselves, waiting for their victim. I entered the forest. For a long time, I'd been known as Lida, the hardworking Ukrainian laborer. However, having to run across the fields after the harvest while the hay was prickling my feet was still not something I could do. This time I made my way to the forest, across the post-harvest fields, like an experienced expert. Interestingly, I didn't feel any pain in my feet. Could this be because I was so preoccupied with the fear of dying? Maybe. However, I think it actually happened because of my will to live. This will to live is what pushed me towards these daring adventures. To live! Every hour of breathing freely was worthwhile for any suffering. To live! Even without tomorrow, without hope, without family and living the life of a beaten and wandering dog, with constant danger hovering your head. But to live! Just live! To live and hope! To fight and to outwit but live!
I sat in the forest until sundown. I then got up and headed towards my landlord's daughter who lived in the far corner of the village.
Ah, Lida, I was greeted with reluctance. You may not be Zhidovka, but you also may not enter our house. It's enough that you're suspicious. Then the landlord continued with a stinging remark: you may not be Zhidovka, but Ibraika for sure.
I believe you, said the woman, but, it's only for your own good if you escape here as fast as you can. The men said they have no interest in killing you. They want to capture you alive. They told my dad that he will need to dig a grave in his yard. What should we do? They want to capture you alive, it seems, so they can torture you a little. They even offered a reward to anyone who would bring you alive.
That night, I slept in the silo. At night, I returned to my landlord, and was faced with a prolonged silence as he looked at me as if he was seeing me for the first time. It was hard for him to believe I was Jewish. I remembered then, how in one of the evenings when Jews knocked on the window and asked for just a little bit of food, he answered that he would willingly give them food but was afraid to do so in front of the Ukrainian woman that worked there.
Despite the honest doubts of the Czech, I distanced myself from the village. The reward for my head enticed many of the farmers in the village…
Later I came to know that one of the policemen that put the reward on my head had been an acquaintance of mine for a long time. This guy wanted to be near me and made advances. Once, when he went too far, I decisively rejected him. And then he told me for the first time: Lida, you are not Ukrainian. You are a rude Jew! A Ukrainian woman would never act the way you do. I managed to remove the disguise from your face.
The next day I left the village and went on to graze cows at a different pasture. And here they discovered me yet again.
I walked at daylight towards an unknown direction. Police, soldiers and German officers passed by me. I walked with confidence and enjoyed the beauty of the world. In my head I started rewriting the history of my life and made-up explanations for the reason for the absence of my identity documents. Once the connections in my head were completed, I entered the village not far from the city of Dubno. My confidence in my abilities grew, the will to live beat with all its might, and I was Lida, the authentic, typical Ukrainian cowherd once again. Lida Romanchenko was hired for work.
The days pass and I am disconnected from the newspaper and society. I pass my days with the cows or the sheep, in the pasture or in the field. The village in which I work in is not far from the bustling road of Rivne-Dubno.
On one of the days, I discovered that the traffic on the road is different than any other day. At night, I saw a German army driving panicked towards Dubno. Sometimes, German units spend the night at my village. I listen to the officer's conversations and discover that the defeat of the Germans is near, and redemption is coming. It was hard for me to believe this miracle and I was living on high alert. The echoes of the Soviet raid can be heard. The village is full of retreating German soldiers. Lida, among other girls, was recruited to peel potatoes. I'm peeling the potatoes on high alert and listening to the German soldier's conversations. One of the officers offers to take Lida with the retreating army. I run and hide with a family that's leaving the village due to the fear of the retreating soldiers. The Czechs are perplexed. They're scared of the Germans' strength and trembling with fear from the Russians. Meanwhile, the Red Army enters the village. Four months have passed, and I am still playing the role of a cowherd. Why? It's hard to explain. I was scared. I was scared of the new reality and I was scared of the loneliness, until fate brought me back to life with the surviving Jews.
by Yona Oliker
Translated from Hebrew by Nida Kiali
The last of the Soviets had left Mizoch. The situation was yet unclear. A threatening calm before the storm had spread throughout the town. The German army had yet to enter the town and the Ukrainian thugs roamed the streets, looking for an excuse to begin attacking Jews and plundering. They threw rocks at the Jews' windows and shouted profanities at us. However, no one responded. We swallowed the insults, condoned the minor damages and kept to our houses.
All of the residents felt great astonishment as they saw that the leaders of the provocateurs who were openly calling for attacks on the hated Jews were none other than Ivan Pickoretz and his friend Yarmolyuk. Both were known veteran communists, who were arrested at times for communist activity in the days of the Polish regime.
These two rounded up the bloodthirsty peasants nearby, agitated them and led them to wreak havoc. If it wasn't for the quick intervention of the German army, this day would have led to the town's demise and only a few might have escaped death. But, as it happened, after the first few victims were killed, the German army marched into town before the aggressors
could manifest their lowly desires. Then, their commander announced that they were the ones who would order when and how the hated Jews would be attacked and that they were ordering everyone to back down for now and disperse. But still, during their rampage, the Ukrainians had managed to murder Hannah Trochler, Chaya Bicks and a small refugee girl. They had mutilated many bodies and looted a lot of property. Elie Shindelhaus was especially severely injured at the hands of some of his good Ukrainian acquaintances.
The organized German regime was then established. They founded the Ukrainian police and placed that scoundrel (shaygitz) Winogradsky from the village of Mizochik as its captain. The primary duties of the police were to oppress and scorn Jews. By their command, Jews were forbidden to leave their houses from sunset till sunrise, or from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Shopping in the marketplace was allowed only after 10 a.m. and after the Christians had finished shopping.
On the first days of this new ruling, the memorial day (Yahrzeit) for the Shindelhaus's father was supposed to be held. Having a Yahrzeit in the synagogue like in years past was impossible; houses of prayer were desolate come evening and no Jewish foot walked the streets. But the Shindelhaus brothers wanted to say Kaddish for their dead father on his memorial day and decided to secretly arrange a minyan in their house in with their neighbors.
Since our house included several males, we were also asked to join the minyan. I did tell my father and brother they should not risk themselves at this hour and go to the minyan. However, as a very religious Jew accustomed to praying in a minyan, father said that we must not refuse such an important mitzvah and urged his sons and the rest of the neighbors to join the minyan. We had only begun praying when the Ukrainian officers barged in, drove us out while beating us senseless, and led everyone to the police building located at that time at Meir Rosenblatt's house on the other side of Mizoch. They started investigating us with cruelty while abusing, humiliating and brutally beating us. At midnight we were released. The next morning, all of the participant in the minyan were gathered according to a list. Accompanied by two German officers, we were marched across town several times and finally were brought to the police station.
They rounded up any Jew who happened to cross our path, guilty or not. Everyone was savagely and relentlessly beaten by the time we reached the police station. Then Abba Shtivel, who served as a Soltis while the Poles ruled and later as the chairman of the Judenrat,
explained to them the meaning behind the custom of the minyan. He then clarified that many were arrested who did not participate in the minyan.
The Germans then exempted those who did not partake in the minyan and drove them away with lashes to their homes. We, the participants in the minyan were led to the Gemeine and were tortured to exhaustion. We were later carried because we couldn't walk to a prison cell near the Gemeine that could barely hold three men and crammed all ten of us inside. We were there for four whole days, narrowly escaping death only thanks to the post office employee Broinowski's wife. She was of German descent and during the Polish regime had a close friendship with the Jews.
Mrs. Broinowski was appointed as an official translator when the Germans captured Mizoch. She helped many Jews, but the Ukrainians informed on her to the authorities and she was moved to Ostroh as a result.
One of the punishments for our participation in the minyan was doing chores for the gendarmes. Once, after completing my day's work at the commander's house, he called me aside, gave me a pack of margarine, and said, You fools, why didn't you retreat with the Russians? Did you not know that the Germans are exterminating the Jews? Weeks and months passed. The Jews managed to bribe the local German government, befriend the authorities, and outsmart rulings and aggressions. Besides two or three tragic cases of killing or the disappearance of some Jews, we hardly felt the aggressor's hand. Some Jews worked, some traded, and nothing was lacking. When the Ukrainians saw the German's tolerance towards Jews, they too stopped harassing us, and many of them even renewed commerce with their Jewish acquaintances.
However, to our great detriment and misfortune, it was not the local officials who decided our fate. When the order came to exterminate us all, they followed it with great conviction and belief.
One dark night, on a Tuesday in October of 1942, we found ourselves surrounded by armed officers and large German shepherds. Only a few managed to escape the encirclement. Some hid in pre-made hiding places, some managed to hide at the last moment, but most of the ghetto's inhabitants were forced to gather at the town square, in front of the stores, and were sent on the death march into the pits.
Before leaving their homes, a few Jews managed to light them on fire, which spread out and engulfed the whole town. The Christian population and the authorities began
extinguishing the flames, but it took a while to get the fire under control. In the meantime, several Jews took advantage of the mayhem, broke through the encirclement and fled.
The town square became crowded. We were horrified by the screams and shouts of those found hiding and forcibly brought to the square. When the officers canvassing the ghetto houses finally announced that there were no others in hiding, the death march began to the pre-made pits in the vicinity of the Sosinsky woods by the sugar factory.
We followed suit, trudging almost in silence as the Gentile neighbors gazed upon us. There were no emotional outbreaks, no crying or defiance. Everyone had humbly accepted their fate.
When we got on the bridge on the river Stoblke, I snuck out of line, quickly got down under the bridge unnoticed and hid in a corner. The officers did not notice me and the march moved on.
Much to my surprise, I immediately felt that I was not alone under the bridge; a woman hid not far from me, a refugee from Brisk who resided in Mizoch in the last days of its existence. She already had experience, surviving the exterminations in Rivne, Dubno, and nearby Borkovich and now she had succeeded also in surviving Mizoch. She told me she had a daughter married to a Christian in a village near Dubno and that she was trying to reach her now. At night, we both came out of hiding. I showed her the way to Dubno and headed back to Mizoch. I went into our home and found my father dead. All of our belongings and furniture were missing. All had been stolen. I entered my brother-in-law David's house, to face the same horrendous sights. My uncle lay dead and the place was stripped bare. A dog started barking in the distance and I ran into Isaac Shindelhaus's house. Like the ones before, this house was completely empty, with only the murdered lying naked inside. The killers stripped them of their clothes before or after murdering them. I left the house and the sound of a child's weeping had reached my ears.
I followed the sound and came across a horrifying scene: Miriam Koppelman, my cousin, sat dead with her son between her arms. I tried to pry the child from his mother's frozen arms but couldn't do so. I tried over and over, but the child kept weeping even more and I couldn't remove him from his mother's embrace. The child's weeping and the gunshot sounds nearby alarmed me and I ran for my life. Later I found out that the child agonized in his mother's arms for two more days, until his pure soul perished. I was told that one of the Ukrainian wives wanted to save and adopt him, for she was barren, but she was not allowed.
I traveled from one acquaintance to the other, seeking a place to rest for a day or two, but was lucky to even find a place where they would look the other way for one night as I slept at the granary.
For the most part, I was chased out with threats and sometimes even beatings. Finally, the situation became unbearable and I returned to Mizoch to surrender to the Gestapo. A few dozen meters from the Gestapo building, I came across an unknown Gentile. He berated me, comforted me, and said, My dear one, it's too soon to die. Run and fight for your life. I took his words to heart and headed to Ozirky Village. Peasant Gerasimchuk's wife let me into her house and introduced me to Perel Mizoch, Lyssa Melamed, and her son Yasha.
Lyssa told me that on the day of the extermination, she was hidden in a bunker with many other Jews. Jacob Mizoch (Yankel Crisis) and his wife Raizel and their children were among them. Raizel was forced to strangle her little daughter with her own hands because she wouldn't stop crying and they could have been discovered
We stayed up all night, sharing more and more stories of the miracle of our survival. At the break of dawn, I continued my travels. During these travels, I met at least fifty surviving Jews like myself. We were always thrilled during these meetings. We would sit and exchange stories and notes, and part ways hoping to meet again someday. I once entered the house of a Ukrainian acquaintance named Krupniok. I sensed his son promptly sneaking out of the house and I suspected he went to call the police. I immediately left the house; the officers that came by could only shoot at me from afar. I once again managed to escape unharmed.
With the lack of a better option, I returned to Ozirky Village, to the house of the Czech where Lyssa Melamed hid. However, he was poor and could not support us all. So, I was again forced to leave.
Hungry and thirsty, afraid and suffering from the cold, I wandered about. I looked into houses through the windows and when I saw food served on the table, I barged in, took whatever I could and ran like hell. I quenched my thirst with snow.
When I've once again returned to Mizoch, some people gave me food, but in no way would they provide me with shelter.
I was able to get in touch with the Soltis (Magistrate) of the Ukrainian Mizoch, Madas Puchibula, my long-time acquaintance, and he agreed to help me. I arrived at his house, bathed and shaved, and when I wanted to take my shoes off, I couldn't. My legs had swollen, and the shoes stuck to them. Puchibula carefully cut the shoes with a knife and carefully removed them. He comforted me and promised to accommodate me until my feet healed. From him, I went to his brother-in-law Milter and back again at night. In the evening, I slept in the granary, and at dawn, returned to the woods and fields. I stayed with them for a while in that manner. Once I was late to exit the granary,
|A HaShomer HaLeumi group in Mizoch|
and I saw that Milter came and closed the hole I used to come and go from. I immediately made a second hole, and since then came and went unnoticed. However, since it was made clear that I was not wanted, I had to seek another place to hide. I found a granary that fit my needs with another farmer and made it my sanctuary without its owners knowing about it.
At this granary, I met with Isaiah Broinshtein. He had undergone such a transformation that I didn't recognize him until he identified himself to me. The poor man perished after a while, along with Gittel Broinshtein and Rachel Mindiok. Some say they literally starved to death.
In Mizoch, someone informed on me and the police came looking for me at my hideout. I happened to be away at that time and was saved. After that, I decided to relocate permanently to the woods with Nahum Kopit. I couldn't find his hiding place and got lost, ran into some officers and survived only through unimaginable miracles.
At that time, respect for us had risen somewhat among the Gentiles, thanks to the partisan company of Isaac Wasserman. Everyone dreaded him and many feared his vengeance. In this forest where Nahum Kopit lived, there gathered many of the survivors of the Mizoch ghetto. We used to meet every so often and provide each other with advice and any needed assistance. We came across the Banderovites every once in a while, and each of those encounters would result in many a sacrifice.
Once, I saw Arye Firer talking to someone. After inquiring about him, I've offered to eliminate him, for I sensed him to be an agent of the Banderovites. Many resisted my proposal, saying that he was Polish and also a refugee like us. I then suggested we flee and see what would come to be. However, while we were debating and thinking, that man came accompanied by a company of Banderovites and opened fire on us. I was once again successful in escaping. It is interesting to note that the Banderovites, as they came across small groups of Jews, would present themselves as Soviet partisans, offer food, and suggest that all those in hiding should go with them. They managed to cunningly trap the naןve every now and then. After gathering a large group of Jews, they mercilessly eliminated them.
Once, Neona Langer and her daughter found themselves in their midst. They fed her and told her to bring all the other Jews hiding with her under their protection. She promised and went to get them. But unlike the other naןve victims, she saw through their deception, ran far away, and was saved.
I was then forced to again ask for the favors of that Czech peasant where Lyssa Melamed hid. To my surprise, he happily accepted me, for his conscience bothered him for having sent me away before. He was sure I had perished, and when he saw me alive and well, he was delighted and immediately provided me with shelter.
After that, the Czechs protected me until the arrival of the Red Army. When the survivors from Mizoch met after the war, we numbered only nineteen, out of the many hundreds who managed to escape on the day of the Mizoch Ghetto extermination and who perished while stubbornly fighting for their lives.
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.
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