Liza Berger, Brazil
Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah B. Fischthal, PhD
Edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD.
My agony started when the bandits first came into the shtetl. They caught people for labor. The Judenrat supplied the workers. We were about 50 girls, women, men, and children. Girls were chosen to wash the vehicles in the river.
20 trucks were brought in, and we girls stood in the river up to our belts and washed the vehicles, from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. It was September 1941, and it was very cold, freezing. When we were told to go home, we each received three blows from their gunsthat was our pay.
When we got home, we had nothing to eat; the farmers had not brought anything into the shtetl that day.
* * *
We young people got together and agreed that we need to accomplish something and not be so naïve. We decided to escape into the forest. We left near Mantyn. The boys found a barn. They remained there while we girls searched for bread. When we came back, we found the boys naked and dead. Our aimless, lifeless wandering began then. No Christian we approached wanted to give us a piece of bread, and we did not have where to rest our heads.
The other girls separated from me, and I remained alone in the forest. I was in Pańska Dolina at night, and I tried to go into a Christian's barn. He saw me and drove me out of there. That was midnight. The snow was a meter high. It was in November. I was only in a pair of shorts, without shoes and without a dress, because a few Ukrainians had caught me earlier and demanded money.
I gave them all my clothes.
Like that, I would search for something to eat at night. I used to grab and devour like a wild animal. Sometimes a farmer threw out a couple of dirty potatoes. Many nights I was too late, and I had to go back into the forest with nothing. On the way I saw the Angel of Death, cold and hunger, in front of my eyes.
One time I snuck into a barn very late at night. I suffered from extreme hunger and cold. I fell asleep there. I dreamed that my mother was coming to give me a piece of bread. I got up. It was only a dream. My soul felt a premonition that in this barn a person can starve. A farmer came out with a little cup of cold potatoes. When he came into the barn, he found me bellowing. When I saw him, I wildly grabbed the cup and almost bit him. When I finished the small amount of food, I felt a little quieter.
* * *
December 25th. The Christians went to church until midnight. I was very weak. I had not eaten again for five days, so I thought, let it already be what it will be. I can no longer endure it. I went to search for bread, hoping maybe someone will have pity on me. I knocked on the door of a Pole.
Immediately I heard from inside: A Jew is there!
I was practically naked. My feet were wrapped in rags. When the Christian woman opened the door, she saw a living corpse. She got scared, and she threw over a piece of bread and a piece of onion and started to scream out to her family, You see how a woman became crazy!
I was happy with the little piece of bread. Then again another five days without food. I was in the forest. I went again to search for something. From a distance I saw a house, and I started to walk there. The way was as long as the Jewish exile. I could not reach the end. It was 3:00 a.m. and it was freezing, about 30 degrees. The sky was full of stars and the moon was full. When I came out of the forest, I saw that someone was following me.
So I started to run. He ran after me. So I lay down under a hill. Then I realized that I had been chased by my own shadow. It was very difficult then to pick myself up and go further, and if it were not for the power to live and survive, it would have been very easy to remain there forever.
* * *
One time I went to a Pole in the village of Pańska Dolina, a rich village. When I got to the door, they immediately recognized me, Liza Berger! They took me into a corner of the kitchen, so that I could not be seen from outside, and so that I would not dirty their house with my lice. They gave me a piece of bread with a glass of milk. The oldest daughter kept pouring me more milk, but she did not add any bread. However, when the daughter went out of the kitchen for a minute and I noticed from a distance a couple of raw potatoes and seven carrots, I swallowed them up in one minute!
* * *
One evening a Pole called me into his house and gave me a little food. I stood like a dog and ate it up. Suddenly a division of Germans came into the village; they were searching for Jews. The Pole tore the food out of my hands and chased me out. My life was at risk.
I said to the Christian, If I will go out, I will be shotso it would be better for me to sit at the table with you, and everything will look okay.
They consulted each other, and an older woman had a suggestion: they should put me in bed and bind up my head and say a child is sick. And so it was. I was put into bed. The German bandits came into the house and searched for Jews. They went into the barn, into the stalls, and searched. Then they left with Wiedersehen.
* * *
One time I came out of the forest and went to a woman who was well off near Mlynov. I knew her for a long time. She was a widow, and I had an account with her. I thought she would let me stay in her stable. An entire night I was lost and could not recognize the village. It was almost 6:00 a.m. when I came to her.
Her reception was cold. She asked me how I dared to come to her, when there were so many Germans around.
She quickly led me out and told me to sit down; she will go and make me something to eat. She made me a warm cup of milk and led me to an unfinished house nearby. On the ground she gave me the milk and a large piece of bread. And she told me she will go to another village to get me something to wear.
But when she went out of the house, I heard her say to her mother that she was going to the village magistrate. And I did not like that. So I stood alerted, and through the cracks of the unfinished wall I saw her leading the magistrate in order to hand me over to the Germans.
The house was near a river. I jumped out of the window into the river, into reeds.
The Christian came into the house and started to scream, Liza, where are you? I want to give you something to eat.
I heard all that while lying in the river. She asked her mother, Why did you let her go?
And to the magistrate, You will certainly think that I fooled you.
I heard all of that. I lay in the water, cold and wet until the evening. At night, birds with long and sharp beaks pecked me.
Almost dawn, when the hens crowed the third time, I came out of the water and started to run as much as I could. After running a long distance, I came to another shtetl with cows. I became warm and the lice sucked my last bit of blood.
But that did not last long. The owner came and drove me out with wires, so I ran further. To where? Barefoot, scantily clothed, and additionally in the middle of the day. I was half dead when I got to the forest.
Even more bitter times started. No Christians let me cross their thresholds. The snow was very deep. One time I left the forest and let myself go to a village, to a Pole. I was starving. That was a Sunday. I figured that Sunday the villains would not come, but my reasoning was wrong.
The Germans actually came on Sunday to catch Poles and send them to forced labor in Germany. I was also caught, and we were transferred to Dubno to the train station.
Translator's and editor's footnotes:
by Aleph Katz
Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah B. Fischthal, PhD
Edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD
|Why is it exactly like this?
An eternal oy flickers in the question,
He cries and he demands, like the writing on a wall
He cries only because of himself, from regrets,
There is no power that can contain him,
by Shaulik Halpern, Toronto, Canada
Translated by Hannah B. Fischthal, PhD
The 22nd of June 1941, the Nazi murderers trespassed over cursed Polish earth and, like lightning, conquered Poland in hours. They immediately started to murder the Jews, and Jewish blood was pouring.
Screams of woe were soon heard from Jewish homes. The Nazis ran around like devils, like wild bloodthirsty beasts, from house to house. Battered mercilessly, murdered without an explanation. Jude Schwein, and Jude, heraus! [Jew pig; Jew, get out!] were all that was heard. Mothers pulled their hair out of their heads. People ran wherever they could. Children were torn from their mothers, and mothers from children.
The Ukrainian murderers helped them with their nauseating work. Shooting was heard from one corner of the town to the other. Already in the first days, in their horrible manner, they shot our rabbi, Rabbi Yehuda Leyb Gordon, who had earlier been tortured in a village near Mervits. They also shot 10 young children on the landing field, accusing them of espionage.
We lived in fear. No eating and no drinking. Like for Pharoah, we labored hard. The 10th of July 1941, the shtetl was fenced in with barbed wire. The Jews were driven from the surrounding area to Mlynov. The ghetto had been created. The Ukrainian police guarded us day and night. The number of illnesses multiplied; people died of hunger, need, and fear. Bodies were swollen from hunger.
Every day new orders came from the murderers: today, supply gold; tomorrow, silver, clothes, furs. Every day we survived the difficult burden.
And all at once, the 10th of October 1942, we heard that graves were being dug between the mountains to bury the slaughtered, innocent Jewish population.
The ghetto was well surrounded by the Ukrainian murdering police and with SS people. People searched for ways to tear out of the enclosurebut it was too late!
Early in the morning, trucks full of SS came into the shtetl. Women and men, old and children, were flung out of the houses and brought to the graves. Undressed, naked, they were positioned in rows near the graves, and mercilessly shot and thrown into them. The heartbreaking scenes are indescribable; many children were simply buried alive.
This was how Mlynov-Mervits was liquidated, wiped off the earth; that is how our parents, brothers and sisters became martyrs; that is how our dearest ones were torn away from the world. We will never forget them!
* * *
Some were able to save themselves and run into villages and forests, but they were very few. I also was among the lucky ones. Together with Toybish Gordon, we were able to hide by good Czechs who saved us; we will never forget them.
We will also remember, to their shame, the Ukrainian murderers who, with their dirty hands, helped the devil to kill our dear ones. We must remember how after their nauseating tasks, they ran into the emptied ghetto and robbed everything that was remaining. They danced for joy.
by Icek Kozak, Philadelphia
Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah B. Fischthal, PhD
Edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD.
As soon as the Germans came in, they took us, a group of old and young Jews, to work on the military airfield. Several murderers went over to the people who were working, and they chose the best-looking boys. My children and I were standing a little further away and we saw how the murderers shlepped 10 boys down into the old trenches which were there from the First World War. The boys were killed there; Shloyme Sherman (he was the eleventh) covered them with dirt. Afterwards he came back.
Shloyme did not have to be asked about the boys; his face told us everything. I will never in my life forget that day. The mothers in the shtetl looked for their children to come home before night, but they were already dead.
* * *
The next day, several Jews and I left to work for Uzhynets, on the bulwark, and we worked there a long time. In the beginning we would go home every night to sleep, until something happened.
My children and I came home tired from work. We sat on a bench in the yard to rest up a bit. Two Ukrainian murderers came over to us and told us to take two shovels and go with him. My younger son Moyshe and I went with them. On the way, they picked up Moyshe Shnayder and Avrohom Koval, and led all four of us to the S.S. From there we were taken underneath Yosl-Mayer's mill, and the murderer told us to dig a grave for us four. We saw black in front of our eyes. Many Germans were standing around us.
All of a sudden, we heard a shot. Another murderer called us away, and we saw a dead Russian. We buried him. The grave was too large for one person, and the killers started to look at us. In the end, they told us to go home. We were afraid because it was nighttime. My Moyshe, barefoot, stepped on a broken beer bottle and his foot was badly injured. The blood poured out.
The next day we went to work on the bulwark. Moyshe went also, even though his foot was swollen. He was afraid to remain home. From that day on, we did not return home at night. We spent our nights at the bulwark.
* * *
The summer passed and outside it became cool. The Judenrat sent for me and said that the Germans needed a driver, so they confirmed that I would do it. I drove the Germans wherever they needed to go. When these Germans left, they turned me over, together with the horses, to the Sovitsky, the Russian official of the community. The official gave me a paper so that the Ukrainian police would not trouble me.
After Passover 1942, in the afternoon, they started to catch Jews. My Reuven and I hid in the small attic, and my Moyshe was with a Christian for whom he worked. They searched for but did not find us, so they took [my wife] Chava with the two girls. In the morning, I went to Mervits to Sovitsky and took the garbage out of his stable. Two policemen came over, one a Ukrainian and one a Jew, Yosl Kanamins from Mervits, today in America.
The Ukrainian policeman did not want to take me and said to the Jewish one that I was not a Jew, but the Jewish one said: Take him; he is a Jew.
We were taken to Dubno and concentrated in a synagogue. Suddenly, many Ukrainian policemen came over and called out for us to leave the synagogue. I went into the shammes's little room, and I hid in a small closet.
It was hard even for a child to hide there. When the people were taken to the train, I jumped over the barbed wires of the Dubno ghetto, and I went home. The mothers and women asked me how I had saved myself, so I told them that it was because of Sovitsky's paper.
* * *
I continued to drive Germans with horses and wagons. My Reuven worked in Kozyn, and Moyshe was in Studenky near Kremenets. The German whom I drove around thought I was a Russian. He assigned non-Jews to work in Germany.
One time I was with my German at a Czech's in Novyny. When I needed to give the horses a drink it was raining, so I put on my jacket. I forgot that my two yellow patches were sewed on it, and the German saw this through his window. He called me in and asked about it, so I answered in Ukrainian that the day before I had killed a Jew, and I had taken his jacket. The Czech translated my words into German, and my excuse was accepted.
* * *
Now my real troubles began. All the Jews were in the ghetto while I drove around with my German. Every day I would come home and tell all the latest sad news: here the shtetl was destroyed, and there another shtetl was liquidated. I used to go to Christians that I knew, and I begged them to allow me to hide there. They answered that maybe they would accept my sons and me, but Chava and the girls, no way.
Then I received a promise from a Ukrainian with the name Anapry Tsereshok, who lived in Mervits. With great effort and step by step, I little by little brought over my entire family with my wagon, for which I had the certificate. I would lay each of them one by one in the wagon and pile hay on top. This way we all got together at Anapry's, the Ukrainian's. Meanwhile graves for the little Jewish children were prepared. That was Thursday, the 1st of October 1942.
At Anapry's, we hid in his earthen hut, but we did not receive any food; Anapry himself didn't have any to spare. He was a poor Christian. We used to sneak out at night and go on the fields, but not near Mervits. We especially went a couple of kilometers further, so that we would not be recognized. Once we found two rotten onions, so we ate them up at once. That did us harm and we got sick from them.
* * *
We were with this Ukrainian until the 14th of January 1944. The local Ukrainians had learned about us. Remaining there longer with Anapry was very dangerous. Anapry and his wife came over and warned us to run away. The weather was then extremely cold, and the snow was very deep. We had nothing to wear. Whatever we used to have, we had sold for a piece of bread. We left and entered a dirt hut that belonged to a Pole. All the Poles had left the area, fearful of the Ukrainians. They would come during the day to feed their animals, but at night they slept in Mlynov.
When the Pole and his wife came in the morning and saw us in their home, the man said nothing. He cooked a few little potatoes for us, and he warned us that At night we could have Ukrainian guests when they would come to burn the Polish villages. We had no choice; we had no place else to go.
The Soviets entered and freed us on the 9th of February.
* * *
[The great day of the Lord is approaching],
That day shall be a day of wrath,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of calamity and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloom
A day of densest clouds.
Translator's and editor's footnotes:
by Mendel (Anshel's) Steinberg
Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah B. Fischthal, PhD
Edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD.
October 1942. I was then working in the so-called M.T.S. We were 13 Jews, among us the Rav of Mervits, Shmuel-Ber Katz. From the Judenrat, of which a few members were then in Dubno, I learned that by the 10th of October our entire neighborhood needed to be Judenrein. By that date, all the Jews had to be slaughtered.
So I went to a Christian whose name was Andrey Kravets, and I promised him riches if he would hide my wife, child, and myself. I used to deal with this Christian, and he knew that I was one of the richest people in the shtetl. He agreed. So I went back to the M.T.S. and begged the director to send a horse and wagon into the Mlynov ghetto to bring over my wife (Sheindel Benyomin's [daughter]). My son Anshel had stolen out of the ghetto earlier and had come to me.
One of my cousins, Memtsi Note's, also worked with me. I asked her to travel to my wife and bring her back. I gave her a letter to take along to my wife, that she should take out all the expensive things that were hidden in the old sofa, as much as she was able. The horse and wagon would wait for her, and she should slip out of the ghetto. My wife, however, got very frightened. She came to me only with two large breads. Our entire fortune remained in the ghetto.
But I myself had a nice quantity of gold five-ruble coins plus $200. It was Shemini Atseres. I left my job and said:
Children, run wherever you can; today or tomorrow everyone will be exterminated!
We kissed each other and cried, and we left. We went into a dirt hut that was standing in the middle of the field, and we waited until it was very dark. Then we left through the fields to Andrey Kravets, who a had prepared a place for us in a dirt hut that was standing in the middle of the field.
After two days Andrey came to us and demanded that we leave. He was afraid he would be shot together with the Jews. No talking helped. So I left for where my brother Getzel was hidden; I knew the place. My brother advised me to go to Alexey Novartsky. So I went to that Christian. Coincidentally, Srolik Zelig's with his wife Ite and his two girls came to Alexey at the same time. He got very frightened, and I had to leave. A few months later those Jews were killed there.
I was thinking of a Christian, Martin Gabovsky, who lived in Pańska Dolina. But I went instead to another Christian, Soldatuk. I used to do a lot of business with him, and we were very friendly. When I came to him, he was in a dirt hut, and he was grinding. It was late at night, and I did not know what to dogo inside to see him? He had five Christians with him, all of them Banderovtses who searched for Jews to murder. I risked my life, and I went inside to see him. Maybe really this is how we will be saved? Here the Christians maybe will not kill me? I turned to him and said that my life was in his hands. The oldest Christian, Andrey, was with him; he is located now in Czechoslovakia, and I still write to him up to this day. At first they were frightened, but afterwards Soldatuk said that he had to get advice from his wife, and he went to ask her. He came back with the news that such a good Jew as I am needs to be saved. So I left to get my wife and child and we went into a little stall where he used to store wood.
The next day I told him of the fortune that I left in the ghetto in the house of Moyshe the tailor. Moyshe was my wife's uncle. The Christian knew him too. He told me that he will go to Mlynov. So I gave him a letter to Moyshe, he should take the things out of the sofa, and my wife's brother, Yosel Grinshpan, should smuggle it out of the ghetto. I also begged for Zelig, one of Moyshe's children, an engineer, to come join us, so that we could be together. The Christian agreed. The outcome was, however, different. Moyshe was not home. He was working.
And his wife wrote a note that she was afraid to send the things out. She would not send Zeligwhat will happen to everyone, will also happen to him. The end was, that after the general slaughter, all four of them were shot: Moyshe, his wife, and the two children.
I told the Christian, that if he had brought me nothing from Mlynov, I had nothing. However, he need not worry, because my brothers were hidden close by, and they had many gold five-ruble pieces and dollars, and I would be able to take cash from them. I did not want to tell him about my own money and gold that I had with me, because I was afraid. There were many instances where Christians robbed the money and murdered the Jew. He was content. The next day I told him that my wife had a dream about her grandfather, a Jew over 90, who was the first victim in Mervits. The Christian knew him well.
Her grandfather told her, in the dream, that she should not leave this place where she is now. She should not leave, because it is the only place where we can remain alive. Nothing bad will happen to the family supporting us.
I told him that. If he would ever want to drive us away, I would use the dream.
Friday, 29 Tishrei [Oct. 10, 1942], Soldatuk was in Mlynov where he heard that all the Jews in the ghetto had been exterminated. If anyone would find a hidden Jew, both the hider and the Jew would be killed. He came to us at night when we were lying down, and he told us to get out. My wife started to cry. How can she leave from there after such a dream?!… However, not a single thing helpedwe must go! I went to all the Christians that I knew, with whom I had had business dealings, but nobody wanted to let me in.
I went back through the fields to my wife and child hiding at Soldatuk's. I saw on the field a little ditch. That was a potato field. On that place grew a few willow trees. I took long pieces of wood, and I put them on the ditch. On top of the wood, I put potatoes and plants so nobody could tell that it was a trench.
I took my wife and child away from the Christian, and we went into the ditch on his field. It was very small; we could only sit in it, not lie down. We were there three days and Soldatuk did not know it. He thought that we went to someone else. We had left all our things in his hut; we only took my tallis and tefilln and something to eat.
On the third day, he noticed the ditch. He came over, pushed aside the potatoes, bent down a little and asked me, why I did not leave his property. So I answered him that my wife did not want to leave because of the dream with her grandfather.
I arranged another place with Safke Krave. He was a rich Christian. But when I came to get my wife, she did not want to go.
Meanwhile, Soldatuk liked this new place to live, and he told me that he will bring me something to eat. I informed him that I had been at my brother's hiding place and took from him 100 rubles in gold, which I immediately gave him.
That same night, the Christian came again and brought us food. He said that when his wife heard how we were lying in the ditch she wept, and they decided to make us a hiding place in his carriage shed where he kept his machines. I went right over and spent the entire night digging the new ditch; it was large, and all three of us could lie down. On top of the ditch we put machines, ploughshares, and other things, and nobody could tell. The entrance hole we made on the other side of the wall, where the horses were. We stayed there. Every time, when Soldatuk heard that Jews were being caught, he would chase us from the place. Then I would say that I was going to my brother to get money to give him, and thereby shut his mouth. When I would go out, I used to go to a Pole that I knew, Fartun Zikofsky, and there I would hear all the news about what Jews were caught, about the front, and so on. Once he told me that the day before he had seen Nokhum Teitelman (now found in Israel). He knew where he was located, but he would not tell me. The decent Poles would act that waythey would not tell. I went back home through the fields.
Soldatuk came to me after Passover and told me categorically that we had to leave. I already wrote that I always used to give him gold five-ruble pieces, which I supposedly got from my brother. But now he was concerned about something else:
The Poles, he said, attack the Ukrainians, and they set fires and murder.
He was afraid that they will find out that he is keeping Jews. I responded that my wife was now sick and as soon as she would be better, we would go to my brother or to the rich Christian Safke Kravets. He waited a week. After that he came again and threatened that if I do not leave his place, he will have to do something. But where do we go? I thought, that as long as I could, I will delay him, because it was already all the same to me. If we would go, we would meet death, and if we would stay, he would turn us over to the Gestapo. Every day, therefore, was a gift.
At night I went out and told him that I was going to the new place, but in the morning, I returned to the ditch. He was upsetwhy were we not going away? So I made up a new story, that I went to Safke Kravets, arranged the place and came to take my wife, but my wife refused to go because of her dream, that only here would she survive; if she would leave, she would be killed. He could see a sign that the dream was correct: she dreamed that nothing would happen to the Christian protecting them, and that was true. From all the families, men were taken for work to Dabrowa, and only he was not bothered.
And secondly, I said, she is sick, so how can she leave?
Again we had another few days. Every day he used to come and ask how my wife was; he waited every day for her to die already. I also learned he had a plan to kill her; after all, she was dying anyway. Meanwhile, I was able to drag out the time.
Then the village was burned down. A large Christian came into the barn and drove out all the animals because the entire village was burning, and the fire already had reached our neighbor. Afterwards he closed the door from the outside with an iron stake. The surrounding houses were on fire.
The smoke odor was inside and we were locked in! We did not have a single thing with which to break down the door. We started to scream and say goodbye. But God here performed a miracleour boss's house did not catch fire! When he came again, I explained to him that it was more proof that the dream was correct. Then I begged him to permit me to dig out a ditch in his field, and he gave me permission.
Saturday night I went out to his potato field and dug a ditch. I covered it with wood. On top of the wood, potatoes were growing in the dirt; from outside nothing could be noticed. The ditch was quite large. All three of us could lie down comfortably. But we were missing something to eat and drink, because everyone in the entire village had escaped into the shtetls and very few people remained.
And after a miracle, another big one: The next morning, Sunday, after I had brought my wife and child into the ditch, the Christian's entire house was burned down, including the place where we had been hidden. Our things which we had not taken out when we left were burned up. The owner was not homehe had left earlier for the shtetl Trovits. After the fire, he came back. He searched for our burned bones, and as he did not find them, he went to search in his field. There he noticed something, because the potatoes on the ditch had not yet been gathered.
He started to scream: Pan Ansheluk, Pan Ansheluk!
That is what he called me. I recognized his voice, picked up a kind of box and called him over. He came to the hole and explained how he searched for our burned bones. I begged him to bring us something to eat, and mainly a little water for my child. He promised me he would fill up a pitcher of water and leave it in his walled cellar and that I should go get it at night.
At night I went to get the water. Meanwhile, on the way, Ukrainian Christians lay in wait for the Poles. The Christians grabbed me.
I knew two of them and their fathers. I had dealt with them for many years. They beat me up so badly that they assumed they killed me; and then they left me lying on the ground. My wife in the ditch heard me scream a kilometer away. My screams were also heard by the Pole Zikovsky, to whom I used to go. He heard my last groans.
I lay like that a long time and roused myself a little. With all my strength I got up and started to think where I was. Afterwards I slowly crawled and barely shlepped myself into the ditch. I met my wife and child dressedthey wanted to give themselves up to the Gestapo; they thought I was already dead. We all went back into the ditch. I lay wounded and beaten and did not even have anything with which to tie up my wounds.
Monday at dawn my wife heard the owner's voice: Mendelekha, Mendelekha!not Ansheluk. She opened the hole and called the owner. Seeing me, he crossed himself. He thought I was already dead.
He screamed at me: Get away from here already; you did not tell me that there are Jews around here with weapons! I started to cry that I didn't know anything, not about Jews and not about weapons.
So he told me this story: yesterday two Christians came to him, Pavlo and Volotke, and they told him that in his field they caught and killed Mendel Ansheloyks. And when they told their commander, he got angry because they didn't bring him in alive, because if he is here, there are more Jews to find. I would have had to tell, because they cut pieces out of you, and you must tell. The commander ordered them to bury the Jew, because if the Gestapo would find out that he were not caught alive, they would scream. The Christians went out to find the body, but people started to shoot, and who then would shoot if not Jews? They did not find the dead body; probably the Jews buried him.
I explained that the shooters were Poles who had heard my screams.
The evidence that there were no Jews who buried meis that I am still alive!
The Christian again ordered us to go because the others will find us. I answered that we will not leave, and we will be careful. He asserted he will not come here anymore because he was afraid. That actually was his last visit, because the Poles killed him. That was the night before Yom Kippur.
A short time later. At night I left the ditch and went to Andrey Kravets to learn about the war, and to beg him for something to eat; my child was pleading for a piece of bread. I went to the window and knocked. Andrey saw me and let me into his house. Everyone in his house stood up and cried looking at me. In his house was his son-in-law from the village Pidhaitsi. He was a commander of banderovtses searching for Jews, so I got very frightened. They noticed my fears, and he assured me that he will not do me any harm. Andrey said that he will cut my hair and shave me. I was afraid he might cut my throat with his razor-knife, but I had no choice. He cut my hair, gave me a good meal and a nice package of food. I made up a story that I was staying at the house of a Pole who was not home. I quietly returned to the ditch. Imagine the joy when my household members saw a bread and something more to eat!
But from then on, I was afraid to go out, and for a while I only went out to take some greens, apples, and more fruits which were growing in the surrounding orchards. However, as I wanted to know what was going on in the world, I went again at night to the same Christian, to Kravets. When I came over to his orchard, he recognized me and said that nobody was in his house because they were afraid; the family was in Dobryatyn. He went into his house and brought me a bread with a piece of butter and said that a Christian, Petro Ivan, was in his house and would also give me something to eat. So I left the bread and butter and went inside to see Petro. Petro was happy to give me something to eat, but he told me to leave right away.
I went back to the tailor to take the bread and butter. He told me that he was going away now, and that no longer was there any bread and butter.
I immediately understand that something had happened. Nearby, there was a wheat field that had not been cut yet. I went there and started to run, but someone was shooting bullets at me! I ran on the side of the Polish colony where they were afraid to run after me. I waited the entire night in the Polish colony, and before daybreak, slowly, hunched over, I went back to my ditch. My wife and child thought that I was already murdered. From then on, I did not go anywhereif God had shown me a miracle and I was not killed, I would not go anywhere anymore!
Winter was approaching. What will we do without food?! The entire colony had been burned down. I went into a few burned houses and found a piece of iron and burned pots, and I brought them into the ditch. I picked potatoes and onions in the field and at night, in the dark, I would cook. I had 14 matches altogether. I used to pray to God when I had to make fire that the first match would light. If the first match would, unluckily, not catch fire, we all cried as though someone had died. Without matches we would starve because nobody was in the vicinity.
Another few weeks passed. During a snowstorm, I went out of the ditch to carry out the slops and take in a little snow for water. Being outside I heard a commotion on the highway. From a distance, I heard soldiers marching. I heard talk, but in which language I did not know. As it turned out, it was not German. That night we did not sleep. I stuck my head out of the ditch a little bit. Day was approaching. Meanwhile I saw that two riders on horses were getting close to the direction of our ditch, so I covered up the ditch and listenedthey were speaking Russian!
With great surprise I screamed out tovarishtshi (friends)! and I stuck out my head. They got scared and aimed their rifles at me.
I screamed to them: Don't shoot, I am a Jew. My wife and child are here with me!
They told me to raise my arms. They got down from their horses, went over to the ditch, and saw my wife and child. They asked how long we had been lying in the ditch. I told them that we had been lying like that for nine months. They began to cry.
They asked, Why are you still lying there? We have been here already for eight days! Go to our headquarters and they will help you. We have to leave now.
They pointed the direction. Crying, they went away from the ditch.
I alone came out of the trench. First I went to the place where my brother Getzel had been hidden. That he was murdered I knewAndrey Kravits had told me. Getzel had been in a dirt hut near Dobryatyn, and he was killed there. I also knew that my brother, before he died, knew about my death, because when the two Christians killed me, the Pole Fartun heard my last screams. He told Sharek's Christian, with whom my brother was staying; my brother had learned of it from him.
So I went to that Christian. But everything had been burned down, and nobody was there. I decided to go to the headquarters; maybe I would learn something helpful. On the way I met a Pole that I knew. We used to call him Yarmashke the drunk. He saw me and said, Good morning, Pania Mashka. He thought that I was Moyshe the shoemaker, because now I had a beard like him. The entire time I had no mirror and therefore did not know what I looked like. Yarmashke told me that there are Jews in Pańska Dolina at a Pole's.
When I arrived at headquarters, I was suspected of espionage. They even examined my beard to see if it were not glued on. I started to tell them everything that happened to me. Hundreds of soldiers surrounded me and listened to my stories.
I looked like a wild person. A captain approached. He sent away the soldiers and asked me himself what happened. I told him everything, and he cried. He gave me something to eat and told me to bring my wife and children. However, I left for Pańska Dolina to search for Jews.
I came to a certain house and saw three girls whom I knew well; we had grown up together. They were Rokhele Kwasgalter, Liza Berger, and Frida, Zshanka Goldreich's sister.
Through the window I heard, There's a Jew coming to us.
I was very surprisedwhy are they not using my name, Mendel Anshel's [son]? I went inside and they asked me, Uncle, who are you?
I answered: Liza, you don't recognize me?! Rokhele, Fridayou don't recognize me?!
I began to cry and say that I am Mendel Anshel's [son]. They all started to weep, and they soon asked me if Sheindel was alive. I told them everything. They gave me a bread. They had baked bread. They also told me, that at Mesarke in the forestas far as they knewBaske Sues and Reuven Goldreich were there with Zshanke and the children. I got right up and left to go to them.
When I got thereagain the same question: Uncle, who are you?…
From them I learned that my brother Getsel, with Pesye and the child [Zelig], were alive; also my sister Bunia was alive. They told me that they were with a Pole. It became late and they told me to bring Sheindel and our child. I knew that they will soon think it over, so I left to get them. When I got to the ditch, it was already dark. I came in and told everything that I saw and heard.
My child saw the bread, so he immediately put it under his lice-ridden shirt and said, Nobody will eat from it, only he himself.
We lay at night in the trench. That night there was a big snowstorm; there had been none like it yet that winter. We got out of the ditch and started to walk, but my wife fell down and could not go. My child could not walk at all, so I carried him a little, and put him down, then I carried my wife a little and put her down.
And so I suffered until I came to a road; soldiers riding by had pity on us, and they took us up to Mesarke. There were Jews from the shtetl there. When we arrived, it was eveningthat was the Friday before the new month, Shevat 1944. The first Friday in the new world!
Imagine the meeting with Baske Shues and the Goldreykhs! After 18 months with my wife and child in one ditch! The next day, Shabbes, at dawn, I left for the place where my brother was, with another two families: Nokhum and Mendel Taytelman's. I came in and said, Gut-shabes.
They asked me right away: Who are you, Uncle?
My brother and my sister were not in the house then. I again cried and could not speak; I could not say a word. I only wept.
Uncle, why are you crying?
They did not know who was crying. My brother came into the house and saw someone who did not speak but only cried. He also did not recognize me!
He asked them, Maybe he is dumb?
They answered: When he came in, he said, ‘Gut-Shabes’.
My brother started to talk to me: Do not cry, Uncle, we also lost our families, and we are not crying.
And he still did not recognize me.
He talked a long time until I came to myself and shouted out: My brother, you do not recognize me?!
There was screaming.
Mendel, they didn't kill you!
And he told me how Sharek's Christian informed him about my death. He told me how our mother and our two brothers, Hershl and Yankel, were killed. I had not known this, because I had been the first in the family to leave the ghetto.
We were together in this place for a week. After that we all went to Tsheshke Novene's where we met my wife's brother, Yosel, and Berel Rabinovitch, and also Shloyme Nokhum-Moyshe's (son), Shalek Halpern, and Tabeshe the Rabbi's. From there we went to Rivne.
Translator's and editor's footnotes:
by Miriam Barber (Blinder)
Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah B. Fischthal, PhD
Edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD.
We had a decent life in Mlynov. My father was a tailor and had a good clientele. My mother managed the household. I had just turned 13 when the German-Russian War broke out.
June 1941. As soon as the Germans entered the shtetl, a succession of big troubles began, which increased from day to day. Beatings, cutting off beards, and other terror tactics were a daily occurrence.
In our house our big troubles started earlier than everywhere else, because my father had been taken right away. Unfortunately, he did not return. My mother had to become the breadwinner for the whole family. The bread rations were then 90 grams of bread a day, and even children had to go to work.
I, therefore, looked for a way to help the family with some food. I went to work for a farmer with the name Grabavetski. The work was difficult, but I was glad because the farmer helped me to feed my house somewhat. When I used to bring home the little bit of food, it was a holiday in the house. My mother always waited for me and used to always go to the ghetto fence to be able to see me from a distance.
* * *
But death was getting closer. I remember the last day before the ghetto was hermetically sealed. My mother warmly gathered all of us children and kissed us; the source of her tears had already dried up. That was the last time I saw her.
And now I started a series of hiding. I began to wander, in the nights, from place to place. During the day it was impossible to walk around without having a job.
And so I went to a forest, and I met seven Jews there who were hiding in a sod hut. They allowed me to stay with them.
Winter. Snows and rains. The clothes on our bodies were filthy and soon were completely tornbut not a thing affected our health. Nights we went out to more or less secure houses begging for something to eat. Thanks to our neighborhood having a Czech population that generally was tolerant of us, we were successful in getting a little food from time to time. We asked several of the better Czech families, who lived deep in the forestFrankov, Tikhov, Halatke, and so onand they sustained our souls.
One day we were attacked by a group of banderovtses; they discovered us through our footsteps left in the snow. They came to our ditch searching for good things. When they found nothing, they told everyone, except for me, to get back into the ditch.
One of them asked me, Say, do you want to live?
My answer was: I am still a child and I have not yet benefitted from life. You surely have childrendo you not want your children to live?
My words, evidently, worked and they let me go. They gave me a few good wishes and led me out of the forest (they did not know that I knew the way well), and they even warned me to not go to the Ukrainian side, only the Czech, because the Ukrainians would kill me.
I left, but where to go now?
Meanwhile it was getting dark. I moved towards a house and recognized that a Czech family called Shirts lived there. We used to often receive a piece of bread from them. They had a girl Kzshysya, and she recognized me. She called her mother over and I told her everything that had happened to us. She was surprised that the banderovtses left me alive; she simply couldn't believe that such a thing could happen. She told me to go into the barn and bury myself with straw. She brought me warm food. She did this a couple of days, until a worker, a stranger, discovered me.
Then I had to abandon the place, in order not to betray my good people.
I left again. But where does one go farther? With great sorrow, I decided to go back to Mlynov. By then everything was all the same to me. I went at night and arrived in peace. My steps led me to the family Grabavetski, for whom I still worked when I was in the ghetto. And here again I had difficultiesif the maid would see me, they would not let me in, being afraid of her. So I went up to the hay in the attic; I knew all the little corners there. In the morning, when the server came to get hay, he discovered me and reported me to the owners. Quietly, they took me away and locked me in a room and gave me a meal. But after two weeks, they told me I had to go, because the servants had discovered me again. So I had to go againbut to where? . . .
Not having any other choice, I went once more to the good woman Shirts. I arrived there in the evening, and I saw her immediately. Crying, I explained to her that if she would not let me in, I would end my life. That moved her. She promised to support me. She brought me warm food, made me a warm bath, and gave me clean clothes. I remained with her again.
A little later I suddenly saw a strange woman bringing me food. I was very frightened, but the woman calmed me down, and she told me that she was taking me to her own place, and that I would be able to go about freely. From great joy I cried and kissed her. She said she would wash all my clothes, so as not to bring any diseases into her poor house. She also told me that she was a Ukrainian who married a Czech.
We made up that I should first go to the Grabavetskis in Mlynov and bring over my clean clothes. The woman succeeded in convincing Shirts's son to take me to Mlynov; that was at night. I arrived in a big frost and the door of the stable was locked I was afraid to go into the housemaybe a stranger was sitting there? So I went into the pigpen; it was warm there. I thought that in the night somebody would come in, and I would be able to speak with him.
I managed a little straw but I could not sleep. It was very cold. So I decided to wake up the boysI knew where they slept. They told me where to sleep on the ground. The next day they hid me again. I was there two weeks.
I took a few clothes and went to Mrs. Shirts. She immediately took me into the basement until nighttime. Then my future caregiver took me in with love. Her name was Tikhi. Her husband and children loved me too, and despite their poverty, they took care of all my needs. I felt happy there. I used to work for Shirts and give them my earnings.
Untilthe Russian army liberated the neighborhood. Then I was really free. I left for Dubno, where I found an aunt with a six-year-old child who had been saved. I was in Dubno a short time and met my good, future husband there. With him I arrived in our country.
|Drawing water. The water carrier.|
Translator's and editor's footnotes:
by Basye Kaptshik (Blinder), Haifa
Translated from by Hannah B. Fischthal, PhD
To be among the living is a natural thing, but to be among the dead, nobody heard of it. I was someone who remained alive by being among the dead. As frightening as this seems, it is a fact that I was saved by hiding for a while among the tombstones. I was with my older sister Khaye, then a child of 10; an old woman from Mervits, Freyde Teitelman; and her three grandchildren Rikil, Mordkhe and Maye, may their memories be blessed. We ran away from a hiding spot in the ghetto a day after the general slaughter. We were driven away from every Christian house. Not having where to hide ourselves from the eyes of the murderers, Freyde Teitelman, may she rest in peace, led us to the former trenches that were dug for the First World War in the cemetery at Mervits. We were there a few days (weeks?). Every evening Freyde sent us out to beg for a piece of bread and a little water, and that is how we were nourished.
According to older people, the children of townspeople tell me, Freyde used to pray every day, all day, in the ghetto, begging God, with hot tears, that she be buried as a Jew in the Jewish cemetery. That was her goal. As an old woman, she sensed that she would not be able to wander around in these circumstances for long, but she saved three grandchildren and my sister and me. We all were hidden well. The evening after the slaughter, late at night, she gathered the surviving children, I among them, and led us straight towards the Mervits cemetery. Wherever we had tried to beg for help, we were refused. We had even been threatened to be handed over to the hands of the murderers. So there was no choice. We had to run further so that daylight would not expose us. Freyde took us to the trenches, and that is where we were, with Freyde in charge and supervising us.
From Danger to Danger
Every evening we would beg for a little food from the better Christians in the area. One night, when I returned with a little food I obtained from begging, I did not find them there anymore. As it was still in the early evening, I went to the Christian family who had always lived as keepers of the monuments to ask about my people. I was answered that they were no longer alivea murderer shot them. They advised me to run away from there, because it appeared that one of the neighbors had betrayed them. How I, as a seven- year-old child, reacted to all this misery, I do not remember anymore. One thing my childish wisdom did tell me was that I could no longer live among the dead in their graves, and I had to protect myself from evil eyes.
That same evening, I went to wherever my eyes led me. I went to Mervits into a house neighboring Mendel Teitelman. The Christians saw and laughed at me.
There is a sight, a small żyd (Jew)!At that same moment I noticed one of the sons of the house laughing. I, even though a child, feared treachery. In a few minutes I was out of their house. I entered the nearby empty and abandoned Jewish house of my Uncle Shaye. I heard the Christians searching for me.
They kept asking: Where did that small soul suddenly go?
A woman said she would bring in a so-called specialist who could very easily shoot a Jew, because she claimed she was not capable of killing such a little one. In that heated moment, I got out.
I still do not understand what kind of secret strength protected me in various situations from murdering hands. How did I, so young, understand that I needed to run from that place? And so I went in the direction of Lutsk, not knowing where I was going. I accidently met, wandering near a forest, my cousin Moyshe Neyter, older than I, a boy 17 years old. He took me into the forest where he himself was hiding in a fox hole.
I thought I had found an angel to help me. But my cousin Moyshe started to realize how much more difficult his ability to survive was with me around. I had no clothes or shoes. My childish feet were wrapped in rags, extremely filthy. I also had a skin disease. I understood that I was not allowed to cry. That would not give him any problems, but he had bigger worries about food and clothing.
After a little while, he naturally started to feel I was a burden. He had an idea to get me out of his place. He explained to me, as far as I can remember, that I was sick, and that I had no clothes or shoes. Here my life was very dangerous. Therefore, he said he decided to send me away. As a little girl I would be in less danger.
He led me out of our hiding place, took me to a house, and he told me, Go inside the house. I was promised that you would be kept inside.
I have never suspected any bad motives on his part. It is possible that he saw I would not last long.
No choice, he thought, Maybe someone will take pity on a child.I entered the house with Moyshe's promise.
I said, Moyshe told me that you will take me in.
They were simply amazed. What Moyshe? Who Moyshe? Their murderous hearts had no pity for me, and they quickly drove me out.
I tried my luck and went into another house, where I found an older woman with a young man, maybe a relative of hers. The man quickly glanced at me, and he did not need to spend a long time asking questions. He immediately recognized my Jewishness. He demanded I go out of the house with him. With curses and insults he was ready to take me to have me killed. The older Christian woman started to beg the murderer not to bring any child into her house, and he agreed with her.
He gave me a strong kick which booted me out of the house. With hasty steps, I went further, passing the couple of houses in the village of Krasnaya Gora. Not knowing the way, I ended up in a large creek. I became very wet, very exhausted, very hungry, and soaked through and through. I came into a neighboring village.
My Savior Angel
Depressed and despairing, I started to go wherever my eyes led me. I did not know where and in what kind of village I was. I marched helplessly during the day, where the Jewish remnant was not permitted to show itself. In the early evening I went to a poor hut. As if testing it out, I begged for a piece of bread. With my childish understanding, I observed what kind of house it was, and I usually tried to gage what kind of reception I would have. I found in the house only a middle-aged woman. With a sorrowful but motherly hand, she immediately gave me a piece of bread, and she invited me to share her poor supper with her. I accepted gratefully. Without my asking, she proposed that I sleep with her. I remained there overnight. I had felt in her a motherly attitude towards me. Immediately that same day, she washed my wounds with warm water, and she washed out my few poor, filthy, half-torn clothes. And she did that several times until she had cleaned up my dirt and uncleanliness. With a primitive, old- womanish cream, she healed the skin disease I had picked up when I stayed in the forest.
I felt her motherly hand everywhere. With her good heart, she adopted me as a daughter, and worried about me like she would for her own child. Certainly a few evil neighbors looked at this with critical eyes, and I do not know what stopped them from handing me over to the government to do to me what was done to all the other Jews.
A kind of secret power watched over me and protected me from all the evil. My adoptive mother showed me devotion and protection. She gave me the impression that she would do anything to save me.
My life normalized, so that I almost forgot that this was not the home into which I was born. I had early on taken over a part of the responsibility of my poor bread-giver's tasks. I helped, meaning I fed her cow and her poor single pig, travelled with her into the forest to bring in wood for cooking and warming our poor hut. I grew to be a part of her family. She immediately changed my name to Vira, and I became Virni to her, devoted to her and to everything around her. Because of her care and dedication to me, I began to forget my roots, and with my childish mentality I did not hope for anything better.
Liberation and its Problems
This life stretched out until the hooligan power aborted, quickly abandoned the territory, and retreated, which was in the beginning of 1944. And even though I had so connected with my protector, and could not think of anything better, something in my childish mind reacted to our total liberation. I wondered if I would find someone alive from my family, and then all of us together could thank my protector for her good deed.
To my great disappointment, I did not find anyone from my family still alive. With my visits to Mlynov, I was discovered by Jews who had miraculously survived.
A secret hand attracted me back to my source and roots, but my childish mind started to gnaw at returning to my savior. When Leybush Vinokur came and ordered, like an official leader, that my protector must free me, and he took me, I really experienced terrible moments of conscience. I was grateful to and had bonded with my protector. I suffered on two levels: on one hand, I was attracted back to my own people, and on the other hand, it was hard for me to separate from my faithful savior, who, like a mother, protected me from harm. I was bound to her with all the threads of my soul.
When I had been in Mlynov several days, more than once I expressed myself and cried, I want to go back to my aunt.
Several times I was brought back on the way, when, longing for my savior, I had started to run to her village.
In Mlynov itself there were a few Jewish souls, and in every house, there was an addition of a found Jewish soul. So, for example, three children of Mendel Teitelman were found; by Mendel Steinberg there were a few children and parents. Also at his brother Getsl's there were children. The Goldreich family took me. Even though they had their own two small children, they took me in and gave me a loving home until I came to Israel and became independent. I will never forget the care they gave me.
My savior, whose name was Vladimirets, from the village Boyarka near Mlynov, with her family, also became attached to me. When I was in Mlynov, she would come to visit me because she missed me. I admit that I grew to love the family Vladimirets. I will never forget them my whole life. It must be said that their help to me, what they gave me, can never be repaid; there is no amount of payment for such aid.
From my own family I have nobody in the world. The villainous hands, in my earliest youth, took away my father Yitskhok Blinder, may he rest in peace, and my mother Pini, and my grandmother, and my aunt Roza, already a widow due to the murderers of her husband Zelig Muravitsky, one of the first victims; and her baby born afterwards in the ghetto, Yankev Zelig. And my Uncle Shimeon and wife and children, and many many more of my family, whose names I unfortunately do not remember. I strove to go to our land, and I built a nest there for my husband Gad Kuptsik and myself, with our little son Yigal and our little daughter Einat, surrounded by my friends from our Mervits, and by my special friends, the Goldreich family.
Translator's and Editor's footnotes:
Batia's mother, Pnina, was daughter of Yaakov (Jaakow) and Yakhed (Jachid) Neiter. They also had a son, Shimon, and a daughter Roza. Shimon Neiter was born in 1907 in Muravica (Mervits) and married a woman named Golda and had three children. Roza (19171942) married Zelig Muravitsky and they had a son Yankel. All of this family died in the ghetto liquidation except Batia.--HS Return
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